Nel's New Day

January 21, 2016

Flint’s Poisoned Water Problems Not Disappearing

In the wake of his PR disaster—and the Flint residents’ water disaster—Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released 249 emails to show that he was not to blame. Heavy redactions in the emails don’t hide the administration’s dismissive and belittling attitude toward people concerned about health issues from the brackish water coming into their homes. After traces of “coliform and fecal coliform bacterium” appeared in the city’s water plant, officials just added chlorine to the water. An email from Snyder’s Chief of Staff shows how the administration refused to take responsibility:

 “I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that [State Treasurer] Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.”

The emails accused residents of using their children’s health as a “political football” and refused action after a hospital and a university stopped using Flint water because it was corroding their metal instruments.  An email stated that Flint residents were only concerned about the aesthetics of the water, “taste, smell and color being among the top complaints.”

According to Snyder, the released emails represent all the Flint-related correspondence in 2014 and 2015. Missing are the ones from 2013 which began the debacle through key decisions. Aides have been non-committal when asked about release of these emails. Snyder has been “invited” to appear in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 3, 2016 regarding the poisoned water that government has provided Flint residents. He has not been “called” to appear because only Republicans can do this.

The EPA may also be asked to appear at a congressional hearing.

A few missing pieces from yesterday’s blog on the Flint water travesty:

In December 2011, Snyder appointed Michael Brown as emergency manager of Flint to replace elected Flint officials and act unilaterally as an extension of state executive power. Brown was George W. Bush’s head of FEMA during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. He sent untrained rescue workers to the disaster area while telling fire and rescue departments not to send trucks or emergency workers without a direct appeal from state or local governments. Three days after the disaster, he told the media that he was not aware that the New Orleans Convention Center housed thousands of evacuees who lacked food and water and blamed those stuck in the city of not choosing to leave the city, despite the lack of transportation. Brown quit the FEMA job days after the hurricane. Later he declared that President Obama wanted the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so that he could “pander to the environmentalists.” Brown lasted in Flint for only nine months.

In March 2013, State treasury and Department of Environmental Quality officials ignored external reports showing that changing the water to the Flint River would not save money Three months later Flint’s emergency manager abandoned Detroit water.

In August 2014, Flint River water violated National Primary Drinking Water Regulations twice with more violations in September and December of that year. Last September, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claimed that spikes in illnesses from lead were “seasonal and not related to the water supply.”

The first cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint in five years appeared two months after the water source was changed. After a year with 47 cases and five deaths, Snyder declared that the epidemic was over, but the numbers doubled in the next months. The incidence of this waterborne bacterial infection that can be deadly for between 5 to 30 percent of those who contract it is nine times greater in Flint than the national average. Doctors had predicted the onslaught of the disease because of iron caused by corrosion. No one will ever know the source of the Legionnaires’ disease because Michigan failed to take the appropriate cultures. The disease could return with warm weather because the state has not done any testing.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, the director overseeing a region including Flint, resigned after it was discovered that she told the former Flint mayor that a report from one of its own scientists be concealed until it was vetted and revised.

The EPA has announced an emergency order requiring that the state and city “take a series of immediate steps to address the drinking water contamination in Flint.” It said the city and state’s response to the crisis has been “inadequate to protect public health.” The EPA will take over lead sampling because of repeated delays and a lack of transparency in the water crisis continue to pose “an imminent and substantial” danger to residents. Months after the EPA required corrosion controls be added to Flint’s water system and the water source be shifted back to Lake Huron water from the Flint River, “underlying problems” and “fundamental deficiencies” remain. The state has one day to comply with the order.

Michigan is also ordered to create a public website for all reports and sampling results, and the state is to inventory all homes in Flint with lead service lines. The EPA told Flint and Michigan to establish an independent advisory panel on drinking water issues and required that the city must show “technical, managerial, and financial capacity” before moving to a new Lake Huron water system.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, President Obama announced that the federal government will send at least $80 million next week, some of it to be used to rebuild water lines and other city infrastructure. The funding comes from a federal revolving loan fund that provides low-cost loans to eligible entities, including municipalities for water infrastructure projects. Replacing lead service lines and making other infrastructure repairs could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The EPA, which could also be called to appear at a congressional hearing said to be set for early next month, also requested that its Inspector General evaluate Region 5’s supervision program for public water systems, a move U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., applauded as a way to “better understand how EPA could have helped prevent Flint’s water crisis and what they can do to keep this situation from ever happening again.”

Last September, a Flint lawmaker asked Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Shuette, to investigate the Flint water situation. Schuette, a Republican thought to be considering a gubernatorial run, refused. In December, his staffer said that an investigation was not necessary. Five months after building negative publicity about Flint water, Shuette said he would launch an investigation the day after Snyder asked the president to declare a federal emergency in Flint.

In the weeks after Schuette refused to investigate, national media attention on Flint increased, and on Jan. 14, Republican Governor Rick Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency. The next day, Schuette had changed his tune. He said that he would launch an investigation “without fear or favor.” He office is already defending state officials in a lawsuit generated by protesting Flint residents alleging that officials ignored evidence of the toxic water.

Under state law, the AG has to represent emergency managers when they are sued, but the entity that the manager runs has to pay for the legal costs. Thus the same person who investigates the water poisoning also protect the officials who did it while the people bringing the law suit must pay for the defense’s legal costs. Schuette has not said whether he will bring in outside counsel.

Gov. Snyder was an accountant with no elected office experience before he took over a state with a population of almost 10 million people. Before the Flint water crisis, he had contemplated a run for president. Snyder is a prime example of what happens when the private sector attempts to take over government functions.

After almost two years of Flint water’s fiasco, the state Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh said that “we should have been more aggressive. He blames two top officials in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance for the misinterpretation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, but both officials still have state jobs. They just been reassigned to keep away from the Flint water issues. No one has been fired over the catastrophe.

flint safe to washTen days ago, Rick Snyder told the media that the Flint water is so safe that he would let his grandkids bathe in it. It’s a safe assertion because he doesn’t have grandchildren. This poster on the right has been removed from the government website.

This is Republican leadership at its “finest.”

After I wrote the above, I went into the kitchen and ran the water a few seconds, grateful that I don’t live in a state with governor-appointed emergency managers instead of elected officials.


December 4, 2014

Conservatives Blame Police Killings on Big Government

Some conservatives have joined progressives in decrying the lack of an indictment for a police officer who killed a 43-year-old Staten Island man with a chokehold. Last July, Daniel Pantaleo joined other police officers in taking down Eric Garner while he was standing on the street. Within minutes Garner was dead, as a video of the tragedy shows. After the grand jury released its decision not to indict Pantaleo, people across the country filled streets in protest.

Conservatives objection, however, comes from their belief that big government is responsible for Garner’s death. Without high cigarette taxes in New York, Garner would not have died, according to Lawrence McQuillan in the Washington Times:

“[E]very vote for higher taxes gives police increased authority to exert more force on citizens in more situations. Higher excise taxes inevitably lead to more violent clashes between police and smugglers…. Eliminating punitive cigarette taxes would shrink the underground market and help redirect police resources to combating real crimes of force and violence, rather than empowering police to employ violence in the name of tax collection.”

Those who question such taxes fail to understand the benefits of a law that gives people a better quality of life through reducing smoking. Libertarians argue that these taxes are an undemocratic intrusion into private lives. Yet McQuillan’s logic requires the elimination of all taxes because they use police resources “to employ violence in the name of tax collection.” He fails to understand that no taxes means no government services—including police.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), potential presidential candidate, followed the same distorted line of reasoning last night when he appeared on Chris Matthews MSNBC program, Hard Ball. After expressing initial dismay about the video of Garner crying out “I can’t breathe” multiple times, Rand concluded:

“I think it’s also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes. So they’ve driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician also had to direct the police to say, ‘Hey, we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.’ And for someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians.”

Rand ignored the fact that Garner died because a police officer violated NYPD rules by putting Garner in a chokehold and holding his head against the ground.

It’s not the first time that Rand has exonerated police action by blaming “politicians” and “the war on drugs.” In a Time op-ed piece published after the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson (MO), Rand wrote:

“Escaping the poverty trap will require all of us to relearn that not only are we our brother’s keeper, we are our own keeper. While a hand-up can be part of the plan, if the plan doesn’t include the self-discovery of education, work, and the self-esteem that comes with work, the cycle of poverty will continue.”

According to Rand, Brown was responsible for his own death because he failed to participate in “self-discovery.” Nowhere did Rand mention that Brown was only one month away from attending a vocational education school after having graduated from high school—those pieces of “education” and “work.”

Rand also got his information wrong. According to his op-ed, “In Ferguson, the precipitating crime was not drugs, but theft.” Much of the information released before the grand jury proved that Wilson didn’t know that Brown had participated in an alleged crime. Brown’s crime was jaywalking.

According to conservatives, the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner had nothing to do with racism: it was only because of the liberals’ insistence on the “nanny state.” Without taxes and handouts, the poor would disappear, and the police would have no need to kill those who they are employed to protect.

Yet conservatives ignore the problem of police across the United States who evidence racial prejudice in their community. Five officers in Montgomery County (OH) are being investigated but are still being paid, three of them remaining on the job, for such text messages as “I hate n*ggers. That is all” and “What do apples and black people have in common? They both hang from trees.”

Brown and Garner aren’t the only black men recently killed by white officers. John Crawford is dead after he shopped in Walmart and picked up a toy gun; Darrien Hunt was killed with multiple shots in his back for carrying a toy sword; and 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed in Cleveland because he openly carried a toy gun—legal in Ohio.

According to footage, Rice was shot within two seconds of the police officer’s pulling up in his car. The killer, Timothy Loehmann, had been judged unfit for police work two years ago by his then-employer, Independence (OH), that cited his “dismal” handgun performance. An investigation into Cleveland’s police division for the past 18 months revealed that officers “carelessly fire their weapons, placing themselves, subjects, and bystanders at unwarranted risk of serious injury or death.” Two examples were police shooting an unarmed hit-and-run suspect in the neck and firing 24 rounds in a residential neighborhood, hitting 14 parked cars and another six hits of houses. A police chase two years ago used at least 62 vehicles and 137 bullets to kill two unarmed black suspects, each sustaining over 20 gunshot wounds.

Last spring, a police officer, 47-year-old Frank Phillips, was photographed choking a drunken student at an end-of-the-year party at the University of Tennessee. Two other police officers handcuffed the man. Within hours of the photo being published in the UK Daily Mail, Phillips was fired, and the officers handcuffing him were placed on leave. The choked man is white and still alive.

Ethan Couch is still alive after he killed four people and injured two others in a drunken joy ride. He is now safe in an upscale rehab facility and facing another nine years of rehabilitation and probation. Kevin Miner, who kicked an officer and broke his hand when found hiding in a stranger’s basement, was arrested with no one shot or otherwise hurt. Cliven Bundy is considered a hero after he organized an army in Nevada that threatened government officials with high-powered weapons. All these men are white. White people are inconvenienced; black people are killed. Much more information is available at hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite where white people are recording their easy escapes from police action after committing crimes.

Satirist Andy Borowitz has a solution for the grand jury lack of indictment: supply them with eyes. Dorrinson is a mythical senator used in several of Borowitz’s columns. In this one he said:

“Body cameras are an important part of the solution. But I strongly believe that if you take video evidence and add eyes, the combination would be unstoppable.” [In response to the request for working brains:] “Yes, in a perfect world, all grand juries would have brains. But progress is an incremental thing. Let’s start with eyes and eventually work our way up to brains.”

Even former RNC chair Michael Steele understands the problem in the United States when white police officers can kill black people with impunity although evidence shows that the police are in the wrong. He said that “a black man’s life is not worth a ham sandwich” to grand juries and the prosecutors who are hired to fight for an indictment.

Those who are convinced that there was no racial motivation in no indictment in the Garner case should imagine the response from Fox and other far-right sources if the police officer had been black and the victim a wealthy white man.

December 2, 2014

Ferguson: White Entitlement Defeats Justice, Part II

People all over the United States are still protesting the grand jury’s lack of indictment against Darren Wilson, who killed Michael Brown almost four months ago. St. Louis DA Robert McCulloch firmly believed that Wilson is innocent and manipulated the evidence to present that case. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) will not appoint a new prosecutor, but, according to state law, Maura McShane, presiding judge of the 21st Circuit, can appoint a special prosecutor. There is a precedent for this action:  in State v. Copeland (1996), a Missouri court replaced the prosecutor because the judge “sensed that [the prosecutor’s] sympathies for [the defendant] may have prevented him from being an effective advocate for the state.”

There are many reasons that there should be an indictment to send Brown’s killing to a trial.

After the shooting, Wilson removed evidence by washing the blood of his body before there was any investigation. His actions allowed the spread of rumors about the extent of his injuries. Wilson’s gun was not tested for fingerprints, allowing Wilson to claim that Brown had grabbed the gun. In fact, Wilson didn’t immediately turn over his weapon to investigators. He left it in his holsters, took it back to the station, and put it in an evidence bag himself. The shooter was the last person with chain-of-custody control of the murder weapon.

The first officer who interviewed Wilson took no notes; he gave testimony over a month later from memory. The interview came after Wilson was taken to the hospital. “I didn’t take notes because at that point in time I had multiple things going through my head besides what Darren was telling me,” the officer stated. Wilson changed his story between the first interview and later testimony. Originally, he said he didn’t know that Brown may have been a suspect in a theft from the local liquor store. In the original interview, he said he didn’t know that Brown gave to Dorian Johnson but later reported that he saw the cigarillos, leading him to believe that Brown was the thief.

McCulloch demonstrated a possible conflict of interest. As president of The Backstoppers, Inc., he was involved in fundraising for Wilson with a T-shirt drive featuring a picture of Missouri with the statement “I SUPPORT OFFICER D. WILSON” to raise money for the Darren Wilson Defense Fund.

The lack of indictment, although not surprising, was highly unlikely. Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich,” a statement backed up by data. Of the 162,000 federal cases prosecuted in 2010, grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them. Wilson’s case was in state, not federal, court, but a lack of indictment is extremely rare in those courts as well. “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

The exception to these statistics is police shootings. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County (TX) grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries returned on indictment out of 81 reviewed shootings between 2008 and 2012.

McCulloch set up the grand jury for no indictment when he presented “all evidence.” The usual procedure is to present only evidence necessary to establish probable cause. McCulloch also allowed Wilson to testify for hours in defense of his actions. The DA admitted his team acted in Wilson’s defense when he said that prosecutors “challenged” and “confronted” witnesses to discredit their accounts.

At the very least, Wilson should have been indicted for negligence, based on documentation. McCulloch, however, had given no instructions to the jury. He just presented the case like any defense attorney would, adding a tremendous amount of non-related material.

Not considered by the grand jury was whether Wilson could have avoided killing Brown.  The “de-escalation” training in other parts of the country has reduced the unnecessary use of force and improved safety for both officers and civilians. De-escalation means that multiple officers respond because of just one person, calmly introducing oneself, listening, and using body-worn cameras that helps both officers and civilians to behave better. Instead of waiting for backup, Wilson got out of his car and pursued the Brown after stopping him for jaywalking. As a police officer, Wilson had a nightstick, mace, gun, and self-defense training. The question is why he would leave his car without backup and chase a man who terrified him.

The social media is not the only source of discontent in the way that McCulloch handled the case. The National Bar Association has released a statement pointing out the flaws in how the AG handled the case. It is pushing for the Department of Justice to continue its own investigation.

Past events have shown police that they can harass and bully people—especially blacks—with no retribution. The lack of indictment in the Ferguson case reassures police that they can continue to do so while the false information distributed to the public makes people comfortable with this, and future, killings.

Ben Carson, the first person to become a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, blames the women’s liberation movement for Brown’s killing. According to Carson, women are incapable of teaching their children to respect authority. The result is a high number of black youth killed by police or incarcerated. He believes that Michael Brown could still be alive if we women had not fought for our rights. Warning: Caron is a neurosurgeon. Anyone seeing him professionally should be warned to get a second opinion. There certainly should be a second opinion on the grand jury that failed to indict Darren Wilson.

Places such as Ferguson and St. Louis County have the opportunity to change their strategies after the killing of Michael Brown, and an 11-year-old explained how this can be done. Eleven days after Brown was killed while protesters faced tear gas and arrests, Marquis Govan spoke to the St. Louis County Council. He said:

“The people of Ferguson, I believe, don’t need tear gas thrown at them. I believe they need jobs. I believe the people of Ferguson, they don’t need to be hit with batons. What they need is people to be investing in their businesses. You’re paying attention to the looting and things like that, when the real issues aren’t being solved. There’s a reason why those people are out there.”

Marquis was in foster care before his great-grandmother took custody of him when he was two years old. She took him with her when she went to vote, and he said he began to think about politics when he was five. Marquis is one of those people who can make a difference—if he lives long enough.

marquisOn the same day that Marquis spoke to the council, Eugene Robinson wrote, “Anyone who thinks race is not a factor in these fatal encounters should have to cite examples of unarmed young white men being killed by trigger-happy police or self-appointed vigilantes.”

People want to think that we live in a “post-racial society” because those who attempted to quiet the Ferguson protests- the Missouri highway patrol commander, the U.S. attorney general, and the president—are black.  Yet millions of blacks are blocked from achieving this high level through failed schools, lack of high-paying blue-collar jobs, and racial bias in arrests and imprisonment. Brown had managed to graduate from high school with no police record and head to technical college. A police officer stopped him for jaywalking and then ran after him and killed him. That’s what happens to many young black men in the United States. Brown is dead, and Wilson was not punished. How can anyone be surprised that the end result is rage?

As Gary Younge wrote, “In Ferguson the violence of the state created the violence of the street.”

December 1, 2014

Ferguson: White Entitlement Defeats Justice, Part I

Filed under: Racism — trp2011 @ 8:15 PM
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One week ago, St. Louis DA Robert McCulloch gave a rambling, defensive press conference announcing that the grand jury had not indicted Darren Wilson, 28, for killing Michael Brown. Since then, the killer, a police officer, has resigned from the Ferguson force, but his action does not stop the news that about the inconsistencies, bad police procedures, and cover-ups that the 4,799 pages of grand jury testimony reveal.

Initially Assistant District Attorney Kathy Alizadeh told the jury to base their decisions on a law that was ruled unconstitutional almost 30 years ago. She told the jury that Wilson had the legal right to shoot and kill Brown as soon as Brown ran away from the police officer, that Wilson could legally do this even if he didn’t feel threatened. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional any law stating that an officer is “justified in the use of such physical force as he or she reasonably believes is immediately necessary to effect the arrest or to prevent the escape from custody.” Alizadeh failed to make any correction to these instructions for two months and then was extremely vague, saying only that “the statute in the state of Missouri does not comply with the case law.” When a juror asked if “federal court overrides Missouri statutes,” she said, “Just don’t worry about that.” Assistant prosecutor Sheila Whirley added, “We don’t want to get into a law class.” There was no explanation of what was incorrect about the unconstitutional law that she had given them. This mistake greatly contributed to Wilson’s exoneration.

The case in front of the grand jury was not about the dead person, Michael Brown. Yet on the first day of testimony, McCulloch referenced only Michael Brown—four times—while making no mention of Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown. The first mention of Wilson came from a witness, on-scene medical examiner Sheila Whirley. The prosecutor spent time discussing Brown’s tattoos, clothing, etc., anything that would present the victim as a social reject, but avoid any mention of homicide. The questioning appeared to be focusing on the indictment of Michael Brown.

According to Justice Antonin Scalia, in the 1992 Supreme Court case of United States v. Williams, “the suspect under investigation by the grand jury [has not] ever been thought to have a right to testify.” Yet McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify for hours before the grand jury and presented them with every piece of exculpatory evidence available. McCulloch erroneously told the grand jury that an indictment required them to “find probable cause” that Wilson “did not act in lawful self-defense” and that he “did not use lawful force in making an arrest.” Because several eyewitness accounts indicated that Wilson was not acting in self-defense when he killed Brown, McCulloch should have presented this evidence, likely returning an indictment in days rather than a lack of one in months.

Wilson said that Brown looked “like a demon” and felt like a “5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” Both men are the same height although Brown is heavier than the police officer. Wilson’s testimony described himself as being almost pleasant when he asked the two young men to move to the sidewalk. He also claimed that he suspected Brown had stolen the cigarillos. After Wilson fired two shots, Brown ran away before Wilson pursued him and shot him in the head when he was 8 to 10 feet away. Evidence indicates that Brown was actually about 148 feet from Wilson when the last shots were fired.

Wilson testified that Brown handed cigars to his friend Dorian Johnson at the same time Brown was allegedly hitting Wilson in the face with the same hand. “When I start looking at Brown, first thing I notice is in his right hand, his hand is full of cigarillos,” Wilson said. Asked later which hand Brown used to hit him, Wilson said the right hand.

Johnson said that Wilson grabbed Brown by the neck through his car window although Wilson said that he grabbed his arm. Brown reportedly struck Wilson before he unholstered his gun. Wilson’s face didn’t show the wounds that such a confrontation would cause. He never had damage to his “orbital eye socket”—just a bruise and a slightly reddened area. Even Wilson admitted that Brown had his hands in the air when he came back toward Wilson.

Wilson said he fired his gun in self-defense because Brown assaulted him through an open window, yet police officers reported that the front driver’s side window was shattered outward and blood was on the outside of the vehicle. In addition, Wilson claimed that he fired two rounds from inside the car, but one of the empty shells was outside.

The released documentation from the grand jury contains no copy of Wilson’s police record about the event although the police officer gave three different narratives about what happened.

The prosecution told witnesses that they could not compel them to testify. The power of the subpoena actually gives the prosecution this power. McCulloch introduced the officer defendant as a witness “against” the officer in a violation of both the U.S. and the Missouri State Constitution, the right of due process, and both U.S. and Missouri codes.

In his press conference, Robert McCulloch said that the grand jury disregarded testimony from witnesses that didn’t match what he perceived as the facts of the case. The question is which testimony. The PBS Newshour analyzed over 500 pages of transcripts and created a chart of responses. Over half the witnesses said that Brown had his hands raised when Wilson shot him. Only five people said that Brown reached for his waist. Over half said that Brown was running away when Wilson shot him, compared to the 20 percent who disagreed with this statement. Ordinarily such diverse testimony would send a case to trial where it could be examined.

One of the people who said that Brown didn’t have his hands up also posted this on his white supremacist blog:

“Well I’m gonna take my random drive to Florissant. Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks Niggers and Start calling them People.”

During his announcement about the results of the grand jury, McCulloch cited the reason for Wilson’s encounter as theft of cigarillos. Both the police chief and the caller dispatch disagreed with McCulloch’s claim. According to the attorney for the store where Brown allegedly stole the cigarillos, neither the owner of the store nor its employees called police to report any shoplifting. The police did not see any video of the action until after Brown was killed.

The conservative media had dredged up photos of other people badly injured and in the hospital, purporting these men to be Darren Wilson. According to the released documentation, these photos of Darren Wilson were taken at the hospital following the shooting and show no injuries.

darren wilson

Three witnesses who testified before the grand jury were medical examiners. Only one of them came to the crime scene, and he didn’t arrive for at least three hours after the shooting while Brown lay in the street in the August heat. The ME took no photographs because the battery in his camera was dead, and he failed to take any measurements. He said he didn’t need to because “it was self-explanatory what happened. Somebody shot somebody.” He also failed to have any equipment to make any measurements.

For 108 days, the Ferguson police maintained that Brown died just 35 feet from Wilson’s SUV. Only after the announcement of the grand jury findings did McCulloch say that it was 150 feet from the SUV. Wilson got out of his car and pursued the man who he claims was a terrifying “demon.”

Correction: The above reflects that Wilson’s testimony is constitutional but highly unusual. The defendant lacks the constitutional right to testify or have exculpatory evidence presented to the grand jury.

Tomorrow: Part II of “Ferguson:  White Entitlement Defeats Justice

November 24, 2014

No Indictment for Michael Brown’s Killer

Geraldo Rivera, pretend journalist on the Fox network, usually feeds the racist watchers by denigrating minorities. His position on the killing of Trayvon Martin is that it was his fault for being “dressed like a thug,” wearing a hoodie. About the arrests of Democrats such as Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon and California State Senator Leeland Yee, Rivera said:

“Usually, the politicians who are robbing on the Democratic side tend to be ethnic politicians, as in these cases…We are the antidote to that particular problem.”

When he failed to feed the racist watchers, however, they turned on him. His support for President Obama’s executive actions on immigration led to racist, violent messages on Rivera’s Facebook page.

Rivera said on the air:

 “Bravo Mr. President for having the courage or political will or for doing the hard cold political calculation finally to do the right thing for five million undocumented, but otherwise law-abiding immigrants.”

His angry viewers responded:

“Really why call yourself an American if you don’t recognize the constitution, go take Obama and live free in which ever country you would like. Other than ours!! Jeez!!” – A.g. Garrison

“go green and kill your self.”—Jerry Allen

“Don’t let the door hit you. You will be judged by the Almighty for being on the side of the lawless one. Thank God when Jesus comes if you and your cahoots have not repented you all will be kicked off planet earth for good, not just America.”—Marsha Gordon

Unhappy by the postings, Rivera wrote:

“Just checking some of your responses to my recent posts on the president’s immigration action. Most are spirited, but within the normal boundaries of decent discourse. Some, however, are hateful, ignorant and racist, even mentioning my family. That is something I cannot abide. I’m turning your posts over to Fox News and Facebook authorities because you little pieces of shit hiding in the shadows of your mother’s basement deserve no less.”

He shouldn’t hold his breath to see what Fox does. As for Facebook authorities, he’ll find out that there are none.

Rivera has discovered on a personal level the backlash from viewers who believe they are entitled to the hatred that Fox has promoted during the past few decades. This backlash is a minor blip when compared to the release of the grand jury findings of Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson (MO) on August 9, 2014.

Tonight, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch held a press conference to announce what most people had already assumed, that there would be no indictment of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson who killed the teenager last August. With a self-righteous smirk, he blamed the media, the Internet, and “the 24-hour news cycle” for the protests in the town after Brown lay dead in the street for over four hours before justifying the lack of indictment. Some of his statements were highly specific; others were oddly vague, for example when he referred to Wilson firing “several shots.”

Part of his speech focused on the hard work of the grand jury as they “gave up their lives” while deliberating. Sounding like a defense attorney, he indicated that Wilson knew Michael Brown had stolen cigars from a convenience store before the shooting, but Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson stated that Wilson was not aware that Brown was involved in any alleged robbery. The only charge against Brown every publicized was that he was in the middle of the street—apparently against the law in Ferguson. The question that this discrepancy raises is how many others exist.

Even the timing of the press conference was peculiar. McCulloch waited all day until 9:00 in the evening to announce the grand jury’s findings.

There was no question of the grand jury’s outcome from McCulloch’s first statement, and the press conference was a travesty—as CNN legal expert Jeffrey Toobin described it, “an extended whine” and “entirely inappropriate and embarrassing.”

There will be much said about McCulloch, the lack of an indictment, and the deaths that are sure to result from the protests occurring all over the country. For tonight, however, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary New York, best addresses today’s tragedy on November 24, 2014—51 years and two days after the killing of President John F. Kennedy:

“It was with sadness and growing anger that many in our community at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York took in today’s news out of Missouri. While we cannot claim to know all that led to the decision, we are deeply concerned about all it implies about our nation and the violence that lives with us.

“The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against young men of color in this country is abominable. It is cruel and sadistic, and undergirding it is the scourge of white racism with the myriad privileges and fears attached to whiteness.

“The brutality of racism and the harms it inflicts on black and brown bodies directly contradicts every tenant of our Christian faith — indeed, the tenets of all the world’s major religions. Until it is addressed directly and with sustained commitment by all of us, we will repeatedly fail to be the country we dream of being.

“We must not turn back from facing this harsh truth.

“As John F. Kennedy cautioned years ago, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ We are committed to peaceful change, and we confess that our democracy is so profoundly broken that nothing short of a people’s movement for deep, systemic change can fix it.

“We are hopeful that out of our anger will continue to spring forth activism rooted in a faith bigger than any one community. We remain firm in our belief in a God that gives life and seeks goodness in all things. Using the fierce, biblical model of love and non-violence claimed by our forbearers, we stand evermore committed to working together for real change.

“That change must start today, growing out of our profound sadness, disappointment, and anger at what has occurred — not only in Ferguson but in far too many of our communities — and flowering in the righteous will to overcome the challenges we face to build the nation we believe in.”

We can only hope that memories of this disaster will lead to positive change instead of fading away like the other horrific events of the past. Tomorrow, however, Rivera can go back to blaming another black teenager for being killed.

August 23, 2014

Ferguson (MO): Two Weeks of Strife

brown bodyTwo weeks ago today, Michael Brown’s body was allowed to remain on a Ferguson (MO) street after a police officer killed him. During the ensuing demonstrations, militarized officers intimidated, tear gassed, assaulted, and arrested protesters including threats to kill journalists and refusals to give them names when asked.

More news ensuing from Brown’s killing:

This catalog of military gear and weapons used in Ferguson is horrifying.

This interactive map shows the way that free federal supplies have militarized the United States, allowing many places to resemble war zones. One of the heaviest armed areas is Maricopa County (AZ) because of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s aggressive perspective on serving his community. Not listed on this site are such acquisitions as the snow parkas sent to New Orleans.

The ACLU released this report in June, less than two months before police officer Warren killed Brown. It reflects the increase in militarization that will continue because of the weapons’ industry contributions and lobbying to legislators.

It doesn’t matter if Michael Brown stole a box of cigars. But he didn’t steal them. The complete video of Brown in the store shows him paying for the cigars. And neither the owner nor employees called the police to report any theft. The call came from a customer in the store

Although a grand jury has been convened to determine a prosecution of Darren Wilson, the man who killed Brown, Missouri law will most likely exonerate him because prosecution must disprove a defendant’s claim of self-defense. “Any reasonable doubt on the issue requires a finding for the defendant.” Missouri law also permits deadly force “to effect the arrest.” The grand jury has nine whites and three blacks, two of them women.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch said that there is no incident report on Brown’s killing. Two weeks after the death, people are petitioning McCulloch’s recusal from the case on grounds of bias.

jamilah nasheedWhen State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed tried to deliver 70,000 signatures to St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch on a petition calling for a special prosecutor, police threatened to arrest her. After two minutes, the police backed down, and she was allowed to enter a public building.

St. Louis County police raided a Ferguson church last Wednesday—for the third time. Greater St. Mark Church used part of the property for first aid treatment of people injured in police attacks during demonstration; people were also able to get food and water there. The latest raid had 20 police, but unlike earlier raids, they didn’t carry assault weapons or remove supplies.

“I’m into diversity. I kill everybody, I don’t care.” That’s what Oathkeeper and St. Louis police officer Dan Page told fellow Oathkeepers (the same group that caused the standoff at the Cliven Bundy ranch in Nevada). An investigation following Page’s pushing CNN’s Dan Lemon resulted in Page’s temporary suspension from the force. The video of his speech to the Oathkeepers is here.

A St. Louis-area police officer working in Ferguson falsely accused a group of protestors of shooting at police, said Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson holds a racial “double standard,” and asserted that he would like to punch attorney general Eric Holder. Later he had to admit that he wasn’t telling the truth about the shooting because reporters had a video tape. He also accused Johnson’s approach as “Hug a Thug.” Other police officers have referred to demonstrators as “animals.”

After eyewitness Piaget Crenshaw came forward with a video of Brown’s killing, the police confiscated her phone and refused to release the video. She said she witnessed Officer Darren Wilson running after Brown and shooting him several times for no apparent reason after Brown stopped running and turned to face Wilson. She also described the struggle at the police car when it appeared that Wilson tried to pull Brown into the car and Brown broke away.

Ferguson gets the second-largest part of its budget from fines and court fees. An annual average of 1.5 cases and three warrants in this town of 21,000 nets the government $2,635,400. Although the town is two-thirds black, whites who are stopped in cars are half as likely to be searched or arrested. The discovery of contraband is far more likely with whites than blacks.

The ACLU sued Ferguson for barring journalists from reporting and sought a court order to tell police that this was illegal. A judge provided a court agreement “that the media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgment unless it obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.” The police ignored the order. Information about treatment of the journalists is here.

Getty images staff photographer Scott Olsen, who took the following photo, was one of the members of the media who was arrested and later released.

scott olsen

Because voting participation is extremely low, 12 percent in the most recent election in the Ferguson area, community members set up a tent in town for a voter-registration drive. One volunteer said, “We’re trying to make young people understand that this is how to change things.” Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills has expressed outrage about this action and called it “completely inappropriate.”

The city of Ferguson has hired the PR firm Common Ground [below] to help them with their problems that resulted from racial differences.

Ferguson PR firm

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told the press that police shooter Darren Wilson had no disciplinary reports in his file. He’s probably correct because until 2010 use of force complaints were filed with the cases and not the officers’ files. The officer would complete non-fatal use-of-force reports and give it to the supervisor before it would be put with the case file. Jackson started to change the protocol, but there is no record of how long it took to implement the process. No one knows if he had any disciplinary reports.

In defending the U.S. justice system, Missouri’s Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said, “We have legal processes that are set in motion, that are designed after centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence tradition…. That’s one of the great advances of Anglo-American civilization, is that we do not have politicized trials. We let the justice system work it out.” Kinder was admitting that the justice system in this nation is based on white ideals and white standards.

Hedy Epstein, 90-year-old human rights activist and Holocaust survivor was arrested in front of Gov. Jay Nixon’s office in St. Louis with seven other protesters for failure to disperse.

Fox contributor Todd Starnes wrote on his Facebook page that President Obama is “orchestrating the Michael Brown tragedy.” Alex Jones called the demonstrations a “staged (by the military) race war.”

On Fox and Friends, contributor Bo Dietl explained away the police officer’s shooting Michael Brown by saying “bullets go that way.” He also condemned Captain Ron Johnson, who led the Highway Patrol in Ferguson, for apologizing for Brown’s death in a speech at an African-American church.

Both Egypt and Russia have called for international intervention in Ferguson following the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. For the first time ever, Amnesty International has sent a delegation of observers and organizers to provide support to community members and watch police response to protests because of the police violence in Ferguson. The police forced the observers out of the protest area at gun point.

The good parts:

Julianna Mendelsohn, a North Carolina teacher, has raised over $150,000 to feed children in Ferguson because the delay in school opening is causing them to go hungry. In a district of 11,000, over 68 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

With school not yet opening, teachers have volunteered their time to work with students in the public library, providing a safe place for children. About 120 children came for the “classes.” The library also gave residents a place to get bottled water and check their emails.

black guns 1And:

This image from Texas may soon be reflective of Missouri. The white police force in Ferguson police was heavily armed while demonstrators, primarily black, had almost no weapons. Photographs of whites–mostly male–proliferate on the net in stores, restaurants, shopping malls, parks, etc. and see black people open carrying. In a protest against police violence, the 30 members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club want a change. Their website reads:

black guns 2“The recent murders of unarmed black, brown, and whites across the United States of America has eradicated trust in the police states. Individuals across this nation have been stripped of due process, subjected to state-sponsored police terrorism, and continue to suffer the fate of being terminated extra-judicially.”

Black activist Huey P. Newton co-founded the militant Black Panther party with Bobby Seale in 1966, resulting in U.S. gun control laws. The Huey P. Newton Gun Club might encourage gun control.

August 15, 2014

Ferguson: An Example of Segregated Schools

Filed under: Education — trp2011 @ 9:33 PM
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Much has been said about the political situation in Ferguson (MO), but a huge problem lies in the schools. GOP legislators have cut trillions of dollars from budgets through massive tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations while spending more trillions on George W. Bush’s manufactured wars. Transferring federal fiscal obligations to states left them unable to fund their responsibilities. Problems in badly underfunded schools were exacerbated by punitive measures for artificial evaluation. Ferguson is a prime example of the GOP approach toward educating young people in the nation.

A remembrance of Michael Brown, the slain teenager, highlights our country’s low regard for educating its youth. Despite great disadvantages, Brown earned his diploma nine days before he was killed. He was scheduled to being schooling at a vocational school specializing in air conditioning and heating just a short time after he was murdered.

Brown’s graduation photograph was taken almost four months before he graduated because Normandy High School owned only two graduation gowns for the entire class. Two students would wear the gowns at one time, sit before the camera for their graduation portraits, and then pass the gowns on to the next two students. Needing more credits, Brown didn’t graduate with his class and went to summer school to earn his diploma.

Brown’s school district was formed by combining Normandy and Wellston districts. The poverty rate for families at Normandy was 92 percent; at Wellston, it was 98 percent. Every student at Wellston was black. Wellston, one-tenth the size of the almost 5,000-student Normandy, had been unaccredited for seven years; Normandy was on provisional accreditation for 18 years.

The state education board voted to merge these two districts in 2010, the first time that it changed school districts in 35 years. White flight in the districts had crashed property values and destroyed tax revenues. Better-off residents in the districts sent their children to private schools. To support the school, residents kept voting to raise their own property taxes, resulting in the highest rates in the state, but district revenues kept decreasing.

In 2012, the state board rated Normandy as a failed district, removed its accreditation, and put it under direct state control. Although the purpose was to redesign the district, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that students in a failed district could go to other districts. Hundreds of Normandy students transferred to other districts, some of them majority white.

In Francis Howell (a 90-percent white) district, parents rebelled at the thought of having black students in their schools. During a school board meeting there, one mother said, “I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed.” Another parent added, “We don’t want this here in Francis Howell.”

Their fears did not come to fruition, and Francis Howell found that the 400 students who transferred into their district worked well with the other students. Normandy, however, suffered more financial problems because it had to pay for transportation and tuition to the districts where students transferred. Those who stayed at Normandy held pep rallies and welcome-back-to-school gatherings; students tutored each other to improve the school’s academic ranking. They said that there was a sense of optimism despite the deprivation of resources.

Funding for transfer students cost the district more than educating students within the district because other districts spent far more on students than Normandy could afford. The state board of education took over the district’s finances and gave Normandy “accreditation as a state oversight district.” Nothing had changed for the district to obtain accreditation, but students were no longer able to transfer to other districts. The revised minutes from June read:

“The Missouri State Board of Education, pursuant to its statutory authority to waive its rules, including those regulating accreditation, has accredited the Normandy Schools Collaborative and thus its schools. Because of that accreditation, the Plaintiffs are not entitled to relief….”

Some members of the Missouri Board of Education had opposed the transfers with the argument that parents moved into the Normandy district last summer just to have their pick of high-performing school districts. No data supported this fear. After former Superintendent Stanton Lawrence was replaced by a white superintendent in the midst of this process, he wrote this description of this school reform of punitive disparity in “How Missouri Killed the Normandy School District.”

When students were told that they had to return to Normandy, Francis Howell, among other districts, was pleased and issued this statement:

“FHSD has consistently held the beliefs that transferring students from an unaccredited school district is not the solution to improving struggling schools, and that the funds spent on tuition and transportation for transfer students can be more effectively spent on educating the whole Normandy student population.”

Normandy no longer had any legal rights because it wasn’t a district. According to the state board of education, it was a special collaborative and “not in any district in this state.” The Normandy school district was now run by the president of the state board of education, Peter F. Herschend, of Branson (MO). With no background in education, he owns Herschend Family Entertainment which runs Silver Dollar City and other amusement parks. He is also one of the biggest contributors to the Republican Party in the state. The person in charge of Michael Brown’s school district, an urban, minority district so poor that students have only two graduation gowns to share, was a white Republican millionaire who lives over 200 miles away.

Late this afternoon, a St. Louis County Circuit Court ruled that students can again transfer from Normandy to other schools. The children of four families can enroll immediately, leaving the door open for another 500 students to return. The ruling invalidates decisions made by the Missouri Board of Education in June intended to get the Normandy Schools Collaborative out from under the school transfer law. Judge Michael Burton wrote:

“It is in the public interest for the plaintiffs to prevail. Every child in this community has a right to a decent education.”

No one knows what will happen now. There may be appeals, or students may be able to transfer to other schools. No matter what, this is the state of education in one state—and may be better than in other states.

Sixty years after the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was intended to stop school segregation, schools are more segregated than ever—and segregated economically as well as racially. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows the isolation of black youth.

Court orders to integrate have mostly been lifted, many of them during George W. Bush’s terms, leaving schools to re-segregate. For example, Tuscaloosa (AL) had a thriving, demographically mixed high school until the integration mandate was lifted. White parents lobbied for districts to separate white and black students.

In a classic case of haves and have-nots, black neighborhoods have fewer primary care physicians and fewer grocery stores, and children growing up are more likely to be exposed to lead paint and to have asthma. Parents work less-flexible jobs with less time to foster learning by taking their children to zoos, libraries, and museums. Before kindergarten, minority kids are behind, and few of them ever catch up. Teachers in schools with the neediest students are usually the least qualified.

Young people in poor schools lack the resources that booster clubs and PTA funding in advantaged schools provide, and every year lack of funding requires parents to fund more and more things that taxes used to provide. Yet the poverty of many minorities demand greater resources than middle-class white students need in order to achieve success.

We are a country of elitist education, and Ferguson, Missouri, is an example of what happens because of this inequality.

[Note: The Daily KOS story drew many comments about whether people had to pay for graduation gowns. The gowns are a symbol of poverty that runs far deeper.]

August 13, 2014

Protests Might Make a Difference – Stop the Brutality

Ferguson, Missouri, is a suburb of St. Louis. Two-thirds of its population of 21,203 is black, but four out of five city council members are white. The black superintendent of schools was forced out for unknown reasons last November and replaced by a white man. Of the 53 police officers, 50 are white, yet blacks account for 93 percent of the arrests.  Of the 54 police officers, 52 of them are white. As Rachel Maddow pointed out in this video, the police officers’ prejudice against people of color in this town has been rampantly open for many years. The situation came to a tipping point four days ago when a town police officer killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, possibly by shooting him in the back ten times.

When people gathered in protest after the teenager’s killing, police fired tear gas at them, sometimes when people were standing in their own backyards. The FAA banned air travel under 3,000 feet over the town from August 12-18. Yesterday morning, police claimed that the man who was shot and critically wounded by a St. Louis County police officer had pointed a handgun at the officer. A woman was also shot in the head and wounded. Looting has been reported, but townspeople say that these are not by Ferguson’s residents. These photos show the police in this small town.

Police Shooting Missouri

Witnesses to the killing say that Brown and a friend were stopped by a police officer for walking in the middle of the street. Brown’s hands were in the air when the last shots were fired, according to the witnesses. Police claimed that Brown was fighting over the officer’s gun.

One of the peaceful protesters tear gassed Monday was Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal. Yesterday afternoon she asked Police Chief Tom Jackson if she would be gassed again. There was no response until he discovered she is a State Senator when he looked shocked and said, “I hope not.”

tank with people in front

The armored mine-resistant vehicle and riot gear-clad officers give the impression of a war zone rather than police employed to protect citizens. There was no violence when police lobbed tear gas into groups of demonstrators and journalists. Journalist Radley Balko wrote in his book The Rise of the Warrior Cop:

“Law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M–16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield.”

The federal government sent billions in surplus military equipment during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to state and local police departments. Since 2006, they have acquired 435 armored vehicles, 533 planes, 93,763 machine guns, and 432 mine-resistant armored trucks–$4.3 billion worth of equipment. Military equipment in these police agencies increased from $1 million in 1990 to almost $450 million in 2013.

With all this hardware, police departments are looking for more reasons to use SWAT teams and other heavy-handed tactics. Search warrants seem to be a good excuse; 79 percent of SWAT deployments from 2011 to 2012 are for this purpose. The result is sometimes death, as in the case of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a seven-year-old killed during the SWAT team attempting to deliver a search warrant in Detroit.

swat police girl in teal shirt

Recruiting videos for SWAT teams feature images of officers “storming into homes with smoke grenades and firing automatic weapons,” according to The New York Times. SWAT teams resemble occupying forces and enact repressive, punitive policing.

Police have attempted to keep media out of Ferguson. St. Louis Alderman Antonio French wrote, “A line of police cars with high beams on greets anyone trying to enter #Ferguson. It’s shut down. No media allowed.” Two journalists, Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, were arrested. Although both of them were released unharmed, they were roughed up as they sat working in a McDonald’s. Reilly reported that the restaurant was quiet until the police officers came in.  Lowery had just filed this story when he was arrested.

loweryEarlier tonight, when asked on Twitter who he feared more, protesters or police, Lowery (right) replied: “easy answer, i’m a black man – the police.” L.A. Times reporter Matt Pearce said on Twitter that when he informed Ferguson’s police chief what he knew about the reporters’ arrests, he replied, “Oh, God.”

The police requested people to disperse at dark, but the town has no legal curfew. Snipers pointing their guns at unarmed civilians throughout the afternoon. As I write this, police are firing tear gas canisters into the crowds who are using the hands-up signal of “don’t shoot.” It looks like a war scene out of Iraq.

Otherwise, there’s little news coming out of Ferguson. The police have said they will not release the name of the police shooter—although many people know the name in this small town—and will not reveal any other information until after the toxicology report which could take at least four weeks.

Two days after the killing of Michael Brown, two LAPD officers shot and killed Ezell Ford. Mentally handicapped, the 24- or 25-year-old was unarmed and shot in the back, according to his mother. The first shooter, LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said, “Mr. Ford basically tackled one of our officers and went for his gun.”

Although the Ford shooting generated very little media notice, the killing of Michael Brown has gone around the world. The difference is that people protested. It’s time for us to worry about the injustices in the United States as well as in other countries.

October 30, 2012

Bain Capital, Romney – Part Two

Before I continue with Part Two of the Bain Capital debacle, I want to say how sad I feel for the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, both in the Caribbean and in the United States. In addition, I am grateful for the speed with which government has moved to keep the storm’s effects from as much tragedy as possible. In watching all the work that has been done to save people’s lives and make their lives a bit better, I am also angry at the outrageous comments made by Michael Brown, head of FEMA largely responsible for the disaster in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and now a radio host in Colorado. From his safety on the other side of the country, he criticized President Obama for moving too fast. Yesterday he talked about how New Yorkers were saying that the storm, Sandy, isn’t a big deal. The people hit by Sandy are indeed fortunate that he is no longer in charge of government emergency assistance.

The same people are also fortunate that the United States has a president who believes that government should help people in need after such an act of nature. Mitt Romney not only said in the primary debates that the federal government, and probably the state governments, should have no part in emergency aid, he also refused to answer any questions today—14 times after one interview–about how he sees the role of FEMA.

In his writings, David Stockman, budget director for Ronald Reagan, summarized Bain Capital in less than glowing terms: “Bain would put in a little money, borrow much more, and buy out a company. It wasn’t hostile because Bain paid company executives so much they welcomed a takeover. Bain would have the company fire the workers and sell off assets to pay the crushing debt and high ‘management’ fees to Bain. Often the ‘saved’ company would go bankrupt after Bain left. Companies almost never produced more useful goods or services or employed more people after Bain than before.”

Stockman was kind enough, however, not to explain the source of Romney’s capital to set up Bain. When Romney says he knows how to start a small business, he may mean one that is funded by Central American elites linked to death squads in El Salvador. After initially struggling to find start-up investors, Romney traveled to Miami in 1983 to win pledges of almost 40 percent of Bain’s $37 million start-up money. Huffington Post reporter Ryan wrote, “There’s no possible way that anybody in 1984 could check out these families–which is the term that [Romney’s campaign] use, these families–and come away convinced that this money was clean.”

During the 1980s, Romney managed to get lots of cigarettes into Russia. Bain & Co.—and Romney–worked with British American Tobacco (BAT), which is behind brands like Kool and Lucky Strike, to move their products into Russia. Before Bain, BAT was largely locked out of the Russian market; now it controls almost one-fourth of cigarette sales that have skyrocketed since the Soviet Union collapse. Then Bain moved into the U.S.; a month after Romney took over, the first got a $1 million contract with Philip Morris.

Romney clearly described Bain’s goal in 1985: its purpose has never been to create jobs; its purpose is to “harvest” companies. The most recent harvested company is moving into China right before this year’s general election.

Although Romney is no longer active in Bain, he’s still reaping the benefits from moving Sensata Technologies from Freeport (IL) to China. The company made record revenues last year, and workers have been working three shifts for 24 hours a day. They make $14-$17 per hour with benefits. The first thing that Bain did after buying the company was to organize its capital funds in the Cayman Islands so Bain could avoid paying taxes on these funds. Now Bain will get money for relocating the plant offshore while U.S. taxpayers have paid $780,000 to retrain some of Sensata’s fired workers.

Romney has a history with Bain and China. In 1998, when he was running Bain, he saw the horrible conditions of workers making $.24 an hour at the Global-Tech Appliances plant in Dongguan and invested millions in the firm. But he could make money by exploiting these workers.

William Cohen wrote in Bloomberg, “Is there any fairness in a system where a group of people can borrow a bunch of money to buy a company and pay themselves millions of dollars in dividends and fees, while the company itself ends up bankrupt and its employees lose their jobs, health insurance and pensions?”

Romney’s experience with Bain makes him uniquely unqualified to be president of the United States. In campaigning he said, “A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation. Every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love.” Our collective debt is no ordinary problem: According to Romney, the debt will “burn our children alive.” Yet he made his personal fortune by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. His experience with Bain shows that he is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time, piling more debt onto more unsuspecting companies and writing more gigantic checks that other people have to cover than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.

A private equity firm like Bain typically finds floundering businesses with good cash flows. It puts down 10-30 percent of its own money and then borrows the rest from a large bank to buy a controlling stake in the company. Bain avoided the hostile takeover, done without the company’s consent, by buying off the management with huge bonuses. The takeover companies, including Bain, aren’t on the hook for the debt; the company they purchase is. That company is destroyed by just the interest they have to pay, either going bankrupt or slashing benefits and firing workers. Then Bain can swoop in and purchase the company for pennies on the dollar, the vulture approach.

Romney is a prime example of why lowering taxes doesn’t create jobs. He pays low taxes while he destroys jobs or sends them offshore. And he can’t pretend that he doesn’t know what happens at Bain.  “I insisted on having almost dictatorial powers.” Colleagues described him as cunning, manipulative and a little bit nuts, with “an ability to identify people’s insecurities and exploit them for his own benefit.”

In the business world, lying and changing positions is praised because it makes money. Romney seems genuinely puzzled by the public’s insistence that he be consistent. “I’m not going to apologize for having changed my mind,” he’s fond of saying. But that doesn’t translate into successful leadership of a country.

And it’s all legal. The entire business of leveraged buyouts wouldn’t be possible without a provision in the federal code that allows companies like Bain to deduct the interest on the debt they use to acquire and loot their targets. And he couldn’t pay such low taxes if it weren’t for the same tax code. Romney rails against the national debt at the same time he exploits a tax deduction specifically designed for mortgage holders. He bilks every dollar he can out of U.S. businesses before burning them to the ground.

Romney also shows his lack of ethics in his tax avoidance strategies. He used a loophole to “rent” the Mormon church’s tax exemption status and defer paying taxes for 15 years. Bloomberg News reported that Romney set up a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT) in June 1996 just before Congress cracked down on the loophole in 1997. “In this instance, Romney used the tax-exempt status of a charity — the Mormon Church, according to a 2007 filing — to defer taxes for more than 15 years,” Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker explained. “At the same time he is benefiting, the trust will probably leave the church with less than what current law requires.” The amount available to go to the Mormon Church has decreased from at least $750,000 in 2001 to $421,203 at the end of 2011 as Romney has collected yearly cash payments from the trust. Although a small amount when compared to Romney’s fortune, he has many other methods of avoiding taxes.

Romney’s hypocrisy is overwhelming. His strong opposition to federal aid has no relationship to the experiences of himself and his family. According to Romney’s biography The Real Romney, written by  journalists Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, the United States first helped the Romney family in 1912: “Fortunately for the Romneys, the U.S. government, which had once chased Miles [Romney] to Mexico due to his polygamy, now welcomed the Romneys and other Mormons to the United States. Congress established a $100,000 relief fund that enabled the Romneys and other Mormon exiles to receive food and lodging. Initially, the [Romneys’] stay on U.S. soil was to be temporary. The El Paso Herald reported on October 25, 1912, that Gaskell Romney and his family, including little George, had gone to Los Angeles “until it is safe for his family to return to the colonies in Mexico.’”

Much later George Romney received welfare from the federal government. According to his wife,Lenore Romney, [George Romney] was a refugee from Mexico. He was on relief, welfare relief for the first years of his life. But this great country gave him opportunities.” Romney is unwilling to give anyone else the same opportunities that his family had.

The Olympics is a classic example of Romney’s hypocrisy. While describing his magical leadership to save the faltering Winter Olympics in 2002, much of his success came from the $1.5 billion that he took from the federal government, an amount 1.5 times the amount, adjusted for inflation, spent by the federal government to support all seven Olympic games in the United States back to 1904.  These expenditures averaged $625,000 in taxpayer money for each athlete, an increase of 5,582 over the $11,000 average at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. Even Sen. John McCain pointed out that at the time that this was a bailout.

Donald Barlett and James Steele reported that “wealthy Utahans used the games as an excuse to receive exemptions for projects that would otherwise never meet environmental standards, or to receive generous subsidies for improvements of questionable value to the games—but with serious value to future real estate developments.” bailout.

Romney has always been clear about all his priorities. The Salt Lake games came just months after 9/11. When a representative of widows and orphans whose husbands and fathers were firefighters killed in the terrorist attack inquired about free or discounted tickets to games, Romney twice denied the request, saying that there was a policy against giving away tickets. Six weeks later, Romney offered a hundred tickets, valued at $885 each, free to Utah legislators.

Romney has always used Bain to justify his ability to become president instead of his time as governor of Massachusetts. During his one term the state ranked 47th in job growth; suffered the second-largest labor force decline in the nation with only Louisiana greater because of Hurricane Katrina in 2005; lost 14 percent of its manufacturing jobs, double that of the nation at the time perhaps because he vetoed legislation that would have banned companies doing business with the state from outsourcing jobs to other countries; experienced “below average” economic growth and was “often near the bottom”; and piled on more debt than any other state despite his raising fees while he was in office.

That’s what would happen to the United States if he were to be elected—or appointed—president.


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