Black Vet Thinks His Florida Home Was Defaced with Racist Graffiti Because of His Interracial Marriage
Wayne Scott was away in Virginia visiting family Tuesday morning when woke up to a text from his Florida neighbor, Jamal Clark. It was a photo of his home in Pinellas Park, Fla., with racist graffiti-sprayed message: “Dumb Nigger Black Lives Matter For Target Practice.”
At first, he thought, “What is this?” because he had just woken up. It took him some time to process the texts. It was only when his neighbor said that his house was tagged and he looked at the photos again that he realized the gravity of what had happened.
The retired Army sergeant who served America for 17 and a half years told AlterNet that he is still processing what happened.
“I’m an injured military vet and they’re doing this to my house,” Scott said. He is black and his wife is white, which is likely why his house was targeted.
Scott has been in the Ciega Village neighborhood for seven years and hasn’t had any issues before, but the neighbor who sent him the text had experienced a similar racial incident in May. Someone spray painted “KKK” on his black Impala. Six weeks later, his wife’s car was sprayed with racist language. Like Scott and his wife, his neighbors are an interracial couple.
"We’re the only two mixed families that are on this block," Clark told Bay News 9. "So, someone’s doing it on purpose."
“The first time they did it to his car, I thought he was some racist prick, he said. “When they did it again, I thought it was personal. And now that it has happened to me, that finalizes it. It’s definitely personal. Racial and personal, if you want to put it together like that.”
Workers from the city have since painted over the racist message.
Pinellas Park Police Sgt. Mike Lynch that there have been at least seven incidents like Scott's that have taken place in the neighborhood. Last week, someone spray painted "impeach Obama stupid n-word" on the vehicle of a 60-year-old white resident. Cops say this may be the work of a serial vandal. There is no suspects but Sgt. Lynch encourages anyone to call his department with any potential leads.
Scott recalled another incident from two years ago with another neighbor.
Between 7 and 7:30 a.m., a man of Asian descent knocked on his door and showed him a note. He couldn’t read the handwriting and asked Scott to translate it for him in understandable English. “Basically, it told him that he needed to go home and used the racial slur for those type of people and that this is America,” Scott remembers the note saying. “We don’t need you here.”
The man left the neighborhood soon after that incident. Scott, however, says he isn’t going anywhere.
For one, he says the neighbors are nice and have been supportive since his house was tagged earlier this week. A Go Fund Me campaign was started on Scott and his wife’s behalf to repair the damage done to their home. So far, more than $2,500 in just two days have been raised.
It is something that makes Scott happy and resolute in his decision not to let a racist scare him away.
“I’m going to be fine,” he said. “I got a military background. It’s going to take a lot more than that to scare me.”
Key and Peele is one of those rare shows that actually gets better with each season and this -- their final season -- had another gem Wednesday night, with a clever sketch showing how Neil deGrasse Tyson uses the wonders of science to trick his angry wife into forgetting she's upset with him.
"Neil, how can you not keep track of the little details?" an outraged Ms. deGrasse Tyson asks after Neil forgets to walk the dog.
"Actually, it's the little details that cannot, by definition, be kept track of," Neil responds with awe in his voice. "In 1927, a German university professor named Werner Heisenberg came to a seemingly paradoxical conclusion: That the more we know about the position of particles the less we know about its momentum, and vice versa."
This was good enough to confound his wife and get him off the hook. The dead-on parody goes on twice more, ending with a philandering deGrasse Tyson trying to get out of a jam -- a scene that, while certainly funny, left me a bit traumatized.
Watch the clip below:Related Stories
Cop Lied About Being Shot at to Cover Up His Car Crash – Massive Manhunt Ensued for Non-Existent Suspect
Millis, MA — A new cop on the Millis police force put a whole neighborhood on lock-down and initiated a massive manhunt when he fabricated a story to cover up his car accident. The officer, 27, said someone in a pickup truck opened fire on his vehicle as they passed in opposite directions on Forest Road.
“My cruiser’s been shot at. I’m at Forest Road. It’s going to be a dark maroon pickup,” the officer radioed to dispatch at 2:17 p.m.
As the story goes, he spun around to avoid the gunfire and seek shelter, whereupon his vehicle slammed into a tree and caught fire. The fire part is true, as the photo shows, but the gunshots were all his own.
“We have determined that the officer’s story was fabricated. Specifically, that he fired shots at his own cruiser as a plan to concoct a story that he was fired upon,” Millis Police Sgt. William Dwyer said. “The evidence indicates the shots were not fired by a suspect, and there is no gunman at large in or around the town.”
The officer was evaluated for injuries at a local hospital and released. Sgt. Dwyer said his employment will be terminated. The officer’s fabrication resulted in a giant waste of money and manpower, put residents in a state of fear, and caused a huge embarrassment for law enforcement.
“I am very upset and don’t know how to feel right now. The public is safe and should feel secure in their homes and the community,” Dwyer said.
It appears the rookie officer may have been playing upon an earlier scare in town. A bomb threat was called in to Millis Middle School on Wednesday morning, after an anonymous call warned about an imminent crime in town. No device was found at the school.
Prison Guard 'Beat Up' Squad Accused of Killing Inmate: Why Prison Abuse Is So Common and Overlooked
Samuel Harrell’s death at the hands of a group of correctional officers at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon N.Y. known as the “beat-up squad” is a tragic, but all too common instance of abuse taking place in America’s correctional facilities.
According to an investigation by the New York Times, Harrell, who has bipolar disorder, got into an argument with correctional officers on April 21, after packing his bags and saying he was headed home. He had several more years to serve on his sentence but Harrell was known to behave erratically.
More than 12 witnesses claim that at least 20 correctional officers joined in kicking and punching Harrell after he was thrown to the floor. One inmate told the Times that correctional officers jumped on Harrell as if he were "a trampoline." An ambulance was called, but correctional officers didn’t mention a physical altercation. They claimed Harrell had likely overdosed on K2, a synthetic marijuana.
According to the autopsy report, no illicit drugs were found in his system. He died of cardiac arrhythmia, “following physical altercation with corrections officers.” The coroner ruled Harrell’s death a homicide. According to the Times, no officers have been disciplined in connection with Harrell’s death, but inmates who have spoken to his family and news reporters say they have been placed in solitary confinement and threatened with violence after speaking out.
New York isn’t the only state that has issues with correctional officers abusing men and women who are serving time in prison. Nearly 50 percent of inmate rapes are carried out by correctional officers, according to a recent study, but prosecutions are rare. When a correctional officer reported a fellow guard at a Florida prison for gouging out a mentally ill inmate’s eye, he was fired. Earlier this year, three former correctional officers at Angola Prison, in Louisiana, were sentenced for abusing an inmate and covering it up.
Statistics on the exact nature and regularity of abuse in America’s prisons are elusive and shrouded in secrecy. There are a lot of reasons for that, but generally, it is because most Americans have low opinions of people who are serving prison time, so prisoners get little sympathy from the public when allegations of abuse arise.
Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, says it’s ironic that society often doesn’t trust the word of inmates when they make claims of abuse, yet no one questions them when they plead guilty to a crime.
“They’re sworn to tell the truth,” she told AlterNet. “And the judge, based on the belief that they are telling the truth, finds them guilty and imposes a sentence. In fact, judges reject pleas when they believe defendants are not being truthful. So, there is a total acceptance of people being truthful when they are pleading guilty to a crime. Then suddenly when they are saying corrections officers have been engaging in criminal conduct and suddenly they’re not being truthful.”
According to the ACLU, America is the only democracy in the world that doesn’t have independent oversight of its prisons. While it is not uncommon for the Department of Justice to enforce oversight of a police department, it is rare for such intervention to take place at a prison or jail. In a rare case, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department just agreed to federal oversight of its jails after several of its deputies were convicted of abusing inmates.
Khalilah Brown-Dean, an associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, says the most disturbing issue with prison abuses is that the public is not demanding transparency of America’s correctional facilities.
“We’re in a time in our country where everyone wants transparency in government. We want to know what people are doing, the source of the money, how our tax dollars are being used. Except when it comes to prisons,” Brown-Dean, whose research focuses on prison reform, told AlterNet. “We’re okay ceding that kind of power to prison officials to not just police themselves but to pay themselves, too. And when you’re talking about life and death, which is what is happening in prisons, it undermines every value that this country is supposed to be built on.”
The U.S. Constitution guarantees legal protections for every citizen, but the rights of prisoners are more complicated because of their incarceration. An inmate who reports a dirty correctional officer still has to rely on that officer for protection. If a civilian reports a bad cop, the civilian doesn’t have to see the officer everyday. People who aren’t in jail have the protection of their homes and the American public is very attuned to challenging police brutality. That simply isn’t the case for people serving time.
A prisoner can file a federal lawsuit, but the Prison Litigation Reform Act makes it difficult. The prisoner must exhaust all administrative remedies at the prison first. Again, the prisoner has no protections against a staff member who wants to exact revenge. Another absurdity in PLRA: If an incarcerated person wants to file a lawsuit claiming emotional abuse, he has to provide proof of a physical injury.
In a 2012 paper advocating for independent oversight of American prisons, Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, wrote that the enormous number of incarcerated men and women in America and the federalist structure of our prison systems makes it impossible for a single national oversight system to work. Deitch recommends that each state should be charged with independently monitoring its prisons and jails, conduct unannounced inspections, have unlimited access to administrators, guards, prisoners, and facilities, and be required to report all findings to the public.
But there doesn’t seem to be much political will to create independent oversight. In Florida, legislators approved a bill for some oversight of its prisons but it falls short of outside supervision. There was once a legislative oversight panel on prisons in Tennessee, but Republicans abolished it four years ago. For now, our country’s prisons are allowed to self-regulate and there is no one recourse for correctional officers who abuse their power.
Soffiyah Elijah believes this is a moral problem the American public has to come to grips with to prevent more tragic deaths behind bars like Samuel Harrell.
“We have to start valuing and appreciating the humanity and dignity of every human being, no matter what they have been accused or convicted of,” she said. “We can’t strip someone of their humanity and their dignity because they have made a mistake and have broken the law.”Related Stories
Holistic healing sounds like a good thing. I certainly believe that each of us is far more than a cluster of discrete organs, bones and cells. I also believe that the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone; the mind and the body are a cohesive unit; that every illness experience is embedded in a wider social context; that environment matters; and that the manner in which a healer relates to a patient can result in widely different outcomes. And while we Americans may be suspicious that some brands of healing are nothing but quackery, unless the healer interferes with standard bio-medical treatment (for example, by telling patients they must stop receiving cancer chemotherapy) we tend to see holistic healing as benign” Even if it doesn’t “work” it helps people struggling with pain and disease feel better.
That assumption, I’ve come to see, needs to be looked at a bit more closely.
A number of years ago I conducted interviews with 46 Boston-area complementary and alternative medicine practitioners who told me during an initial phone call that they treat breast cancer patients.
Their healing modalities ranged from acupuncture to Zen shiatsu therapy and from homeopathy to past life regression.
All of the healers explained that bio-medical treatment alone is insufficient because it only targets the symptom (cancer) and not the underlying causes of the disease. (Only a very few of the healers actively discourage their patients from continuing bio-medical treatment.) The deeper, root causes identified by the healers cluster into a few categories:
*Elements of the modern environment or lifestyle that cause or contribute to the rise in rates of breast cancer; for example, air pollution, computers sending out electromagnetic rays which typically are parallel to the level of a woman’s breast, deodorants and antibiotics.
*Food and drink related causes such as alcohol abuse, dairy products, artificial sweeteners and gluten.
*Personal experiences and character traits including trauma, social isolation, lack of self-acceptance and feelings of resentment.
As I listened to healers (almost all of whom I very much liked on a personal level) I began to understand that through invoking these root causes the healers were actually reframing or expanding breast cancer from a discrete physical disease of a body part to a much larger problem potentially involving all areas of a woman’s life (and possibly her past lives as well).
This reframing is what I’ve come to call holistic sickening – a process in which the illness trajectory is expanded beyond a particular organ, body system or body part into diffuse environmental, lifestyle, personality and volitional issues. Holistic sickening is a necessary prerequisite to holistic healing: Perceiving the whole person as sick is the logical foundation for healing the whole person.
Happily, holistic healers, for the most part, absolve cancer patients of the kind of blame often heard in both popular and bio-medical discourses: if you have cancer that you must have done something wrong, either a crime of commission such as smoking or omission such as not going for timely mammograms (regardless of the obvious fact that mammograms do not prevent breast cancer). At the same time, however, holistic healing saddles patients with another set of responsibilities along the lines of: “If you have the power to heal yourself, then you must shoulder the blame for the extent to which you fail to do so.” This observation challenges the common notion that “if holistic healing doesn’t help at least it can’t hurt.” Because (for better or for worse) holistic sickening reveals an expanding constellation of unhealthy environment, food choices, life history and character traits, holistic healing becomes a lifetime journey or vocation that potentially engages every area of one’s being.
I was particularly struck by the gender-specific explanations offered by many of the healers. “Women [with breast cancer] are too good for their own good,” said a macrobiotic counselor. “They over nourish other people at their own expense. They are too ‘sweet’ and they also tend to eat too many sweet foods such as candies, chocolate and cakes.” According to a chakra-based energy healer, “Women with breast cancer are often nurturing of other people. [But] like they say on the airplanes, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help other people.” In this double-whammy, women are blamed both for behavior that many women see as of the highest possible moral value (caring for others) and blamed lack the self-discipline to avoid eating sweets.
For some of the practitioners, holistic explanations were framed in feminist terms. According to a past life regression therapist, “women want to be recognized and cherished, like everybody else. They want to be heard. Instead, they are shut down and not able to speak for themselves.” But more often, healers voiced nostalgia for patriarchal power and for conservative social arrangements, interpreting breast cancer as a symptom of changing gender roles and relations. A psychotherapist / energy healer explained that there is more breast cancer now because “women have to shut down the heart chakra in order to be super-women, having full time careers in addition to raising children and taking care of the home… There was a time that being a mother and nurturing and raising children was the best possible way to be; now economically it’s not good enough.”
Similarly, a holistic movement therapist, who herself is a cancer survivor, pointed out that, “As the women’s movement brought so much opportunity for women, it also brought women into an arena dominated by men – and we are simply wired differently. If women are not able to voice their truth or express their hearts, there is a build up AMA (yoga term for good) in the body that needs to find a way out…. According to Kundalini Yoga, women are 11 times more powerful, 11 times more wise and 11 times more sensitive than men. … Because of that yogic belief, if women are not given the opportunity to ‘show their true stuff’ there is a real stifling of energy. … Fifty years ago, women’s roles were different, but I wonder if perhaps they had more connection, more community, more support amongst each other. I am feeling like we are still needing that community of support but our lives are about 100 times busier.”
What, then, is a woman to do? As much as I dislike – and distrust -- the cancer industry’s slash / poison / burn (surgery, chemo, radiation) approach and as much as I am nauseated by October’s pink ribbon extravaganzas, I’m not sure that holistic sickening is all that much better. Indeed, in speaking with healers, I often felt that if a breast cancer patient had to resolve her issues with self-esteem, anger, nurturing, balancing work and family, and her relationship with her mother, not to mention transforming her “negative” or “toxic” thoughts into “positive energy” and (somehow magically) cleaning up air and water pollution she would easily die of old age before getting cured!
A longer version of this article can be found here: Susan Sered and Amy Agigian. 2008. “Holistic Sickening: Breast Cancer and the Discursive Worlds of Complementary and Alternative Practitioners,” Sociology of Health and Illness 30(4): 616-631.
Susan Sered, PhD is a Professor at the Department of Sociology and Senior Researcher, Center for Women's Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University.Related Stories
A federal judge has ordered Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who has refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, to jail.
“The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order,” Judge David L. Bunning, of Federal District Court in Kentucky, said. “If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”
According to the New York Times, Judge Bunning said Ms. Davis would be released once she agreed to comply with his order and issue the marriage licenses.
After the Supreme Court declined to Davis appeal on Monday, Judge Bunning ordered her to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples in Rowan County, Kentucky where she is a clerk. She and her staff continued to refuse to do so, on what she claimed were religious grounds. The court then held her in contempt. She continued to deny licenses to same-sex couples citing "God's authority."
According to the Times:Ms. Davis has said little amid her legal battle, but in a statement her lawyers released on Tuesday, she said she would not change her position.
“I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus himself regarding marriage,” she said in the statement. “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a heaven or hell decision.”
Supporters and opponents of Ms. Davis gathered outside the federal courthouse here hours before she was due to appear. One man waved a rainbow flag — a symbol of the gay rights movement — while another clutched a flag that said, “Liberty.”
Only 5 days until the debut of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and already, one of Colbert's first guests, a guy named Jeb!, is shadily trying to raise money off of it.
Colbert made a little video calling Bush out on announcing a contest for a "VIP" ticket to the first show on his campaign website. To bring you up to speed, the show's first guests will be George Cloonery and Jeb Bush, or as the media likes to call it, "Jeborge Cloosh!" Colbert jokes.
After pointing out various idiocies in the announcement, Colbert points out that no one from the campaign actually asked him (the new host!) for permission.
Funny stuff. Watch:Related Stories
In August 2014, the Los Angeles City Council debated whether to call for the renegotiation of the city’s financial deals. A report by the labor-community coalition Fix L.A. found that the city had spent more than twice as much on banking fees in fiscal year 2013 as it had on street services.
To try to balance its budget, Los Angeles had enacted hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts over the previous five years. City jobs had been slashed by 10 percent, flood control procedures had been cut back, crumbling sidewalks were not repaired and alleys were rarely cleared of debris. Sewer inspections ceased entirely; the number of sewer overflows doubled from 2008 to 2013.
The campaign slogan wrote itself: “Invest in our streets, not Wall Street!”
At the city council debate, Timothy Butcher, a worker with the Bureau of Street Services, got up and said, “I don’t know a whole lot about high finance. I’m just a truck driver. But I do know, if I go to a bank and they give me a bad deal, I don’t deal with that bank any more. And I don’t understand why the city can’t use the same kind of concept on some of these big banks, saying, ‘Hey, help us out or, you know, we’re not going to deal with you any more.’ ”
The City Council approved the resolution unanimously.
It was a blow against both the austerity agenda and the iron grip of Wall Street on American cities. State and local governments in the United States rely on Wall Street firms to put together bond deals, manage their investments and provide financial services. For this, banks charge billions of dollars in fees each year. Public officials believe they have little choice but to cough up. When there are revenue shortfalls, cities typically impose austerity measures and cut essential community services, but Wall Street gets a free pass—payments to banks are considered untouchable.
Public officials assume (wrongly) that financial fees are set in stone because they are based on so-called market rates. However, market rates aren’t preordained by God. Banks set them, and public finance officials simply don’t demand anything substantively lower.
So, what if cities took a page from the labor movement and bargained collectively over interest rates and other financial deals?
The simple reason why anti-union politicians are waging a war on collective bargaining by workers is that it works: There is power in numbers. The basic idea behind such bargaining is to shift the balance of power in the employer-employee relationship and empower workers to negotiate with owners on a more equal footing.
But collective bargaining does not have to be limited to the workplace. Student organizations such as United Students Against Sweatshops have forced university administrations to negotiate over labor standards for their merchandise vendors. Consumer unions press retailers over issues like pricing and safety standards. Community organizations are able to negotiate community-benefit agreements with major corporations in their cities and win benefits such as local hiring policies and community investment standards.
Similarly, public finance officials in cities, states and school districts across the country could apply collective bargaining practices to their financial relationships with Wall Street. While there is no established mechanism for them to do so, there are some creative options worth exploring. For example, cities could establish a nonprofit or publicly funded agency to set guidelines for municipal finance deals and refuse to do business with any bank that does not comply. (More on this later.)
This may sound pie-in-the-sky, but the reality is that American taxpayer dollars are a tremendous source of bargaining power. Just three U.S. cities— New York, Los Angeles and Chicago— together with their related agencies and pension funds, do nearly $600 billion of business with Wall Street every year, more than the gross domestic product of Sweden. Wall Street wants a piece of that action. If it has to jump through a few hoops to get it, it will. This gives public officials the leverage to demand lower interest rates and fairer terms, freeing up scarce funds for community services like parks, libraries and schools.
Over the last few decades, the banking industry has shifted its profit model away from interest. Big banks’ profits now rely heavily on fees—the money charged for creating loans, packaging them into securities, selling them and servicing them. This structure incentivizes banks to push more complex and expensive deals, like adjustable-rate mortgages and variable-rate bonds, that require fees and add-ons.
Banking fees do not have to bear any relationship to the actual cost of providing services. Banks charge whatever they can get away with, which is why fees have shot up as banks have consolidated and customers’ choices have narrowed. For example, in 2007, Bank of America raised its ATM fee for non-customers from $2 to $3. In all likelihood, the bank’s costs hadn’t suddenly risen 50 percent, despite a spokesperson’s claim that the fee hike would offset “significant” expansion and upgrade of its machines. Banks also arbitrarily raised prices on credit enhancements for municipal borrowers after the financial crash.
For cities and states, which deal in large dollar amounts, this nickel-anddiming hits particularly hard. A 1 percent fee on a $200 million bond is a lot more money than a 1 percent fee on a $200,000 mortgage. That explains why the city of Los Angeles paid $334 million in publicly disclosed fees for financial services in fiscal year 2013, according to the Fix L.A. report. This amount did not include principal or interest on any debt, and neither did it include fees that are not publicly disclosed, like the astronomical fees hedge funds and private equity firms charge pension funds to manage investments.
In Illinois, a preliminary analysis by researchers at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—full disclosure: where I used to work—found that the state’s pension funds spent approximately $400 million in publicly disclosed fees in 2014 alone. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has released a report showing that nearly all of the returns from the city’s five pension funds over the past 10 years—approximately $2.5 billion—have been eaten up by fees. An investigation by the International Business Times found that New Jersey’s pension funds paid more than $600 million in financial fees in 2014.
Every dollar that banks collect in fees from state and local governments and pension funds is a dollar not going toward essential neighborhood services. It’s not just the streets and sewers of Los Angeles. Illinois is teetering on the edge of a government shutdown. Already, Gov. Bruce Rauner has slashed funding for college scholarships for low-income students, taken a hatchet to vital healthcare programs like Medicaid, and cut state funding for CeaseFire, a highly regarded violence-prevention program with a proven track record.
Most public officials still resist acknowledging that these fees are a problem. When Gov. Rauner tried to cut the municipal share of state income tax revenue by 50 percent this spring, the Illinois House of Representatives responded with a first-of-its-kind resolution urging the state to match any such cuts with proportional cuts to financial-service fees. SEIU also proposed a reduction of financial-service fees during its contract negotiations for state workers, but this was roundly rejected by the Rauner administration.
Of course, Rauner has personally profited from these fees in the past. Before deciding to run for office, he was the managing director of a private equity firm that did business with Illinois pension funds, GTCR LLC.
But even public finance officials who don’t have direct industry ties typically drag their feet on fee reductions. The Los Angeles City Council’s efforts to pressure banks into renegotiating or terminating costly financial deals were met with stiff resistance from the city’s financial officers.
There are a number of reasons why finance staff can be reluctant, if not obstructionist, in efforts to curtail banking fees. One is the revolving door between public finance jobs and Wall Street. Another is the fact that public officials can be outflanked by smoothtalking bankers making dishonest and deceptive sales pitches. But perhaps the biggest reason is that officials truly believe they got the best deal they could. Los Angeles’s finance staff point out that even though they paid $334 million in fees in 2013 alone, they actually did better than many of their peers.
When Councilmember Paul Koretz called for a vote on the motion in Los Angeles, he skewered the City Administrative Officer’s (CAO) office, saying: “Our lack of success in negotiating thus far could partly be a factor of CAO saying that, ‘Hey, this is a fine deal and we’ve done as well on this as anything else we could do.’ ”Financial bargaining power of the three largest U.S. cities. Photo Credit: Refund America Project
Changing the rules
Under the current system, Wall Street sets the rules of the game and public officials think they have no choice but to play on those terms. They may negotiate around the margins and get a fee lowered by half a percentage point, but they do not typically push back on the illogic of the underlying fee structures.
Cities that consider taking a stand against Wall Street are routinely told that if they do, their credit ratings will be downgraded, and banks and investors will stop doing business with them. In reality, the public finance officials who claim they have no choice but to pay high fees and accept onerous terms from Wall Street banks are like elephants afraid of mice. The notion that Wall Street could sustain a prolonged boycott against a city or state as punishment goes against the very nature of banking. U.S. taxpayer dollars are among the largest pools of capital in the world. If there is money to be made, there will always be a bank that will step in to get that business.
Similarly, threats about credit rating downgrades are baseless. Rating agencies are concerned with a borrower’s ability to pay back its bondholders. If anything, negotiating lower fees with banks would free up money and make cities and states less likely to default.
Some cities and states are already blazing the trail. In 2010, then-Massachusetts State Treasurer Timothy Cahill moved state deposits out of Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo because the banks’ credit card operations did not comply with the state’s usury law, which caps interest rates at 18 percent.
In 2012, the city of Oakland initiated a boycott of Goldman Sachs because the bank refused to renegotiate a deal that had put the city on the losing side of a risky interest-rate bet costing $4 milion in annual fees and payments.
And earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors of Santa Cruz County, Calif., voted not to do any new business for the next five years with banks convicted of felonies. The boycott affects the five banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, that pleaded guilty to illegally rigging foreign exchange rates.
These actions are first steps. However, they would be significantly more effective if cities and states joined together. When Oakland—a mid-sized city of 400,000 people—boycotted Goldman Sachs, Goldman didn’t flinch. But if several cities, states and school districts banded together and threatened a boycott, the banking behemoth would be forced to take notice.
Power in numbers
In an ideal world, the federal government would establish standards for protecting state and local officials against predatory financial deals. In the same way that there is a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there is a dire need for a Municipal Financial Protection Bureau whose top priority would be to protect taxpayers’ interests. Even though there are already agencies with oversight over municipal finance—such as the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board and the Securities and Exchange Commission—protecting cities and states from abuse is not their priority. And they have close ties to the financial services industry.
Because federal regulation has proven woefully inadequate, and the chances of effective congressional action in the near future are slim to none, cities and states need to step up.
If just New York, Los Angeles and Chicago banded together and threatened to withhold their collective $600 billion of potential annual business with Wall Street, they wouldn’t have to simply accept the so-called market rates. They have enough bargaining power to set their own.
Together, they could refuse to sign contracts that prevent them from publicly disclosing fees. If they also get their state governments and pension funds on board, they could alter fee structures for things like bond underwriting. They could require any bank that pitches products to sign a fiduciary agreement, meaning they are legally required to put taxpayer interests ahead of their own.
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty has already said he is reaching out to other jurisdictions across the country to urge them to join in refusing to do business with felonious banks. If public officials were to coordinate their demands and present a unified front, they could force the banks to take them seriously.
My organization, the Roosevelt Institute’s ReFund America Project, works with community-labor coalitions in cities nationwide that are calling for a reduction in bank fees and an end to predatory municipal finance deals. Last summer, ReFund America and Local Progress—a network linking local elected officials with unions and progressive groups—led a small meeting called “A Progressive Vision for Municipal Finance.” We brought together organizers, policy experts and public officials to discuss various proposals for fixing municipal finance. Among those present were four city councilmembers and three representatives from mayors’ offices. These officials expressed strong interest in developing a bargaining vehicle that would allow cities to take collective action to stand up to Wall Street.
One idea was the creation of a nonprofit or public agency to set municipal finance guidelines. Individual cities and states could subscribe to these guidelines and the agency would in effect become the gatekeeper for banks wishing to do business with them. The more subscribers the agency had, the more bargaining power it would hold. Strict controls would help ensure the agency remained scrupulously independent of Wall Street. That organization could even be the precursor to a national Municipal Financial Protection Bureau.
People over profit
Together, American cities, states and pension funds hold untold power. If they flex their muscles and organize around coordinated demands, they can radically transform taxpayers’ relationship with Wall Street.
In 2012, a community leader from Oakland attended the Goldman Sachs shareholder meeting in New York City and urged CEO Lloyd Blankfein to renegotiate its interest rate swap with the city to avoid library closures and layoffs. He said it was “an issue of morality.” Blankfein responded, “No, I think it’s a matter of shareholder assets.”
This is the mentality that led Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi to call Goldman Sachs “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
It’s not just Goldman. All of municipal finance has become an extractive industry, pumping billions away from the communities that need them most. Morality is an externality that financial firms seldom concern themselves with. The financial sector’s fee-based business model is designed to maximize profits, not to protect taxpayers.
Banks may not have a moral compass, but their business contracts with our state and local governments can and should. After all, our cities, states and school districts are not simply fodder for Wall Street’s insatiable greed. Our elected leaders have a duty to protect us from predatory financial practices. Cities and states can force banks to charge drastically lower fees, do away with arbitrary fee structures and eliminate onerous terms that divert billions of dollars away from the most vulnerable members of our society into bonus checks for our nation’s wealthiest few.
Governors in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois are waging war on collective bargaining and telling taxpayers that empowering publicsector unions robs state coffers, but the real drain on public treasuries is the billions in fees paid to banks every year. And unlike money that goes into workers’ pockets, most of these fees are not recycled back into the local economy but sent to offshore tax havens or invested in complex financial schemes. The irony is that collective bargaining is one of the most effective tools available to public officials who truly want to do right by taxpayers—and cast off Wall Street’s tentacles.Related Stories
Twitter User Brilliantly Mocks Kim Davis by Posing as Staffer: ‘This Was Supposed to Just Be a Chill Job’
Twitter has been having a lot of fun with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refuses to obey court orders and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
But no one has had more fun with the defiant public official than whoever set up the “Sit next to Kim Davis” social media account.
The tweets imagine thoughts going through the mind of a deputy clerk frequently seen in videos recorded at the Rowan County clerk’s office.
“I sit next to Kim Davis,” reads the account description. “This was supposed to just be a chill job. Goddamn it, Kim.”
GODDAMN IT, KIM, I CAN'T DICK AROUND ON FACEBOOK WITH FUCKING ANDERSON COOPER WAVING A CAMERA IN MY FACE!!! #KimDavis— Sitnexto Kim Davis (@nexttokimdavis) September 2, 2015
The account’s name pokes fun at the #standwithkim hashtag used by Davis’ anti-LGBT supporters.September 2, 2015
#KimDavis says her biblical views means she gets a whole fucking shelf in the break room fridge.— Sitnexto Kim Davis (@nexttokimdavis) September 2, 2015
FYI #KimDavis pulled this same damn shit when someone tried to take the Foreman Grill during the Yankee Gift Swap.— Sitnexto Kim Davis (@nexttokimdavis) September 2, 2015
The deputy clerk was seen treating a gay couple rudely — and referring to them as “girls” — in a viral video recorded shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that effectively legalized same-sex marriage.September 2, 2015
ONE GAME of Minesweeper up during gov't work hours and goddamn @maddow DOES A 20 MINUTE SEGMENT ON IT!— Sitnexto Kim Davis (@nexttokimdavis) September 2, 2015September 2, 2015
The deputy clerk was summoned by U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning to appear along with her boss and co-workers Thursday in federal court for a hearing on possible contempt charges.
Davis appears willing to be jailed as a Christian “martyr,” at the advice of her lawyers with the religious conservative Liberty Counsel, but one wonders what her staffers think.
I just realized. If #KimDavis goes to jail on Thursday, we probably don't get our Labor Day half day on Friday. FUCK. YOU. KIM.— Sitnexto Kim Davis (@nexttokimdavis) September 2, 2015 Related Stories
With all of the outrageous and downright offensive remarks that have been regurgitated by Donald Trump over the past few months, the most logical forecast made by political analysts was that his campaign would implode, sooner than later, as so many have before. Like the stock market, Trump 2016 seems to be based on a bubble of irrational emotions — in this case fear — and at any moment, that bubble could burst. Today, however, it’s looking more and more like Trump’s lead in the polls is not going to burst anytime soon, and that the man who seems to be the perfect manifestation of a stereotypical American — a loud, obnoxious buffoon — actually has a chance of winning the GOP nomination for president.
This is scary to think about. Not just because of his virulent xenophobia and nationalism, but because of how damaging a President Trump would be to America’s reputation in the world. At the same time, maybe it will take a joke like Trump — who, just a reminder, once released his birth certificate to prove that his father was not an orangutan — to show just how much of a farce American democracy really is. Trump is creating a dangerous new nationalist movement that is absolutely adored by white supremacists and Tea Party conservatives alike. His big personality may be a bridge between the more extremist right wingers who preach intolerance and hate, and the moderate conservatives dedicated to blindly loving their country.
That being said, if we take a look at Trump, beyond all of the controversial remarks from him and his supporters (i.e. “Go back to your country!”) and the despicable attack on immigrants, it becomes quite clear that a president Trump would actually be less dangerous than, say, a president Walker. In fact, just about every other major GOP candidate is probably more threatening to progress than Trump.
This is because Donald Trump isn’t really a part of the GOP. He doesn’t depend on corporate funding and is more concerned with his own ego than the party he is currently running in. While his unfiltered remarks have gotten all of the media’s attention, he has also made certain comments that would have probably been enough to kill any other GOP candidates campaign.
Take, for example, his defense of Planned Parenthood. In the midst of the hit job on the women’s health organization, as every other candidate was jumping on the bandwagon to defund the entire organization, Trump correctly said that the abortion services were a very small part of Planned Parenthood, and that they do undeniably important work for women. Compare this to the supposedly moderate Jeb Bush, who said that the organization is “not actually doing women’s health issues. They’re involved in something way different than that,” which PolitiFact.com fittingly rated “Pants on Fire.”
When it comes to economic issues, Trump is also very different than his GOP competitors, and is more or less running against the GOP orthodoxy when it comes to taxes. Last week he almost sounded like a progressive when talking about the tax code:
“I would change it. I would simplify it. I would take carried interest out, and I would let people making hundreds of millions of dollars a year pay some tax, because right now they are paying very little tax and I think it’s outrageous. I want to lower taxes for the middle class.”
When asked about paying more taxes himself, he affirmed his willingness:
“I do very well, I don’t mind paying some taxes. The middle class is getting clobbered in this country. You know the middle class built this country, not the hedge fund guys, but I know people in hedge funds that pay almost nothing and it’s ridiculous, OK?”
Compare this to the basic GOP talking point of lowering all taxes, including those for the hedge funds guys. When Rand Paul and Ben Carson come out with a flat tax program, they promote it is a gift to all taxpayers — especially the middle class — but really it is a gift to the richest of the rich. Trump is running against this GOP dogma and the creepy Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which has long had a hold on the GOP. Whether a candidate promising to raise taxes on the ultra-rich will be able to withstand this force will be interesting to see.
Beyond these issues, Trump has opposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and also, as was made so very clear at the first debate, previously supported universal healthcare and opposed the war in Iraq.
Trump’s bluntness and independence, along with his big mouth and unapologetic nativism have so far proven to have lasting power, at least with the GOP base. The reactionary movement that has grown louder over the past few months, however, may end up being much more dangerous that Trump himself — embracing his nativism and nationalism while ignoring some of his saner policies that could actually help the middle class.
Trump winning the primaries is still a long shot. And he’s even more of a long shot to win the national election. But the scary thing is that America would probably be better off with a president Trump than any of the other major GOP contenders, who are either puppets for their corporate masters or wholly controlled by their dogma (i.e. Mike Huckabee’s Christian chauvinism).
The fact that Trump is the most progressive of GOP candidates, at least when it comes to certain policies, simply shows how very backwards the GOP actually is. Of course, Trump’s supporters don’t much care about policies, and this may be why he is still doing so well in the GOP field. According to a recent poll, 66 percent of Trump supporters believe that President Obama is a Muslim, while 61 percent are not convinced that he is American born. So the majority of his supporters are basically conspiracy theorists operating in the fantasy world of Trumpland. They don’t really know what he supports, but they know that he’s tough and doesn’t seem to like immigrants or Muslims — so he’s their man. Again, the nativist movement that Trump has given energy to may be much more dangerous than Trump himself — but when compared to the GOP at large, Trump is only a minor villain to progress.Related Stories
Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis will appear in federal court today to explain why she believes that God and her personal convictions empower her to break the law and deny gay people their constitutionally protected rights. Ever since this summer’s Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Davis has been refusing to issue marriage licenses – to any couple, gay or straight – citing her religious beliefs. She was ordered by the governor to do her job, but she refused. She was ordered by a federal judge to do her job, but she refused. This week, the Supreme Court rejected her appeal of the federal judge’s decision, which should have been the final word on the matter, but she’s still refusing to the job she was elected by the people of Kentucky to do. And so now she’s being hauled before a judge to determine whether she’s in contempt of court.
There is no debate on that question: Davis is flagrantly in contempt and should be punished for what she’s done. After the Supreme Court rejected her appeal, a gay couple confronted Davis and asked her to explain what authority she had to continue denying them their rights. “God’s authority,” she shot back, which is the absolute wrong answer for a government employee to provide. The Constitution is the governing power in Kim Davis’ office, and she is bound by oath to adhere to the law. She is breaking that oath, defying the Constitution, abusing her authority, and insisting that she suffer no consequences for her behavior.
Davis’ illegal and morally dubious stand against gay marriage does appeal, however, to the slice of the conservative movement that is hell bent on restoring the good old days of godly virtue when you had the state’s blessing to discriminate against gay people. It just so happens that there are a number of Republican presidential candidates who are trying to motivate that highly politically active segment of the population to get behind their campaigns, and that’s led us to a situation in which people running for the nation’s highest elected office are cheering on a rogue government employee’s defiance of the Constitution.
If you were forced to guess which 2016 Republican candidate would line up behind Davis, you would of course choose Mike Huckabee, because Mike Huckabee is a crazy person who says things like “the Supreme Court is not the supreme being, and they cannot overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s god.”
And you would be 100 percent correct. Here’s Huckabee in South Carolina calling Kim Davis a hero for defying the tyrants of the Supreme Court:
“I salute her today, and I stand with her,” Huckabee said, explaining that he called her up to thank her for standing up to “judicial tyranny.” Huckabee added: “I thank God for Kim Davis, and I hope more Americans will stand with her.”
Davis also got an attagirl from her home state senator and increasingly hopeless presidential contender, Rand Paul. Rand wasn’t quite so effusive in his praise of Davis as Huckabee, but he did say: “I think people who do stand up and are making a stand to say that they believe in something is an important part of the American way.” He is correct that American history is full of people who left their mark by controversially standing up for their beliefs in defiance of the law – people like Orval Faubus, and George Wallace. Rand explained that his preferred policy would be to get states out of the marriage business altogether, which would potentially resolve the issue but doesn’t really speak to the immediacy of the problem at hand.
Davis also got a hearty endorsement from Bobby Jindal, who is somehow still running for president despite polling in the mid to low zeroes. “I don’t think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions,” Jindal said in a statement to the Huffington Post.
Not every Republican candidate is behind Davis – Carly Fiorina, for example, has urged Davis to either give up or resign. But the situation could be complicated further depending on how harshly Davis is punished by the courts. It’s possible that Davis could land in jail for contempt, and as ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser notes, as a prisoner she “could inspire others to defy the Constitution if she is perceived as a martyr.” Were that to happen, we could see more would-be Republican presidents championing brazen illegality in the service of anti-gay discrimination.
With the passage of a new law this summer mandating vaccines for schoolkids in California, home school advocates and organizations say they are seeing surging interest in off-campus education options that would exempt them from the requirement.
“The word on the streets is that, yes, people are coming to home schooling,” said Sarah Ford, membership director for Sonoma County Homeschoolers Nonprofit in northern California.
The controversial mandate, co-authored by state Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician backed by the California Medical Association, requires any student in public or private school to have 10 vaccinations as an attendance requirement, with some exceptions for medical conditions.
En route to passage, the proposal sparked scathing controversy on both sides of the issue, with opponents (wearing red to symbolize children who have been harmed by vaccines and often with their own kids in tow) regularly flooding hearings at the state capitol to protest.
Pan even received death threats over the measure, and in the wake of its passage is facing both a recall effort and a statewide referendum to repeal the law. But barring any repeal, the law will go into effect at the start of the next school year.
Lyn Elliott, a mother of a 20-month-old girl, says she is taking a serious look at home schooling because of the law. While her daughter Rebel is “mostly vaccinated”, there are certain shots she feels are unnecessary “and that I feel have risks”.
Next summer she will have to face the choice of giving vaccinations she does not want, or lose access to daycare – where some of the vaccine requirements will also apply. A single parent after her husband died in a motorcycle accident, she says home schooling could mean a critical drop in her income, but it’s a move she feels compelled to make.
“For myself and my personal situation, school was something I was somewhat looking forward to,” she says. “I think it would actually be more beneficial for [Rebel] to be in public school but I am not willing to take that risk or let them make that decision for me just to make my life easier.”
Nicole Arango, a 34-year-old mother of two, said she faced a similar choice and decided to move forward with home schooling now.
She recently moved from Oxnard, California, to Simi Valley with her son, Ryan, 13, and daughter, Juliet, 6. Because Ryan had an adverse vaccine reaction when he was young, Arango has chosen not to vaccinate further. Rather than put them in school in their new town for a year and have to pull them out when the law goes into effect, she is beginning home schooling this fall.
“I was already kind of on the fence about home schooling anyway but the vaccine law really pushed me over because that’s not something I’m going to have shoved down my throat,” she said. “I feel like I have no other alternative.”
Elliott and Arango are likely just the beginning of a wave of parents looking for options as the deadline moves closer. The law, one of the strictest in the country, eliminated both personal belief and religious exemptions to vaccinations, closing opt-out possibilities for the majority of vaccine-averse parents aside from home school.
Teresa Fitzpatrick, president of Anaheim-based California Homeschool Network, said her organization has also seen a mild increase in calls and questions about vaccinations, but since the requirements for shots do not go into effect until next fall, “we are probably going to see a bigger increase then”.
“Home schooling is definitely seeing a bump, absolutely,” seconded Corin Goodwin, CEO and executive director of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (GHF), a resource site for homeschooling parents.
Far from being a few fringe families, home schooling in the US now has a myriad of both nonprofit and for-profit support networks and curriculum possibilities that service about 1.77 million students – a number that has been steadily increasing for years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Nationally, about 3% of kids between ages five and 17 were home schooled in the 2011-2012 school year.
California has one of the largest populations of home-schooled children, with about 177,000 in some form of homeschooling, according to estimates by home-schooling expert Anne Zeise, who runs the website a2zhomeschooling.com.
But few reliable statistics are available for the number of students in California who attend home school because the term applies to different options.
Home school can mean a parent who files the proper paperwork is personally handling a child’s education, or it can mean that the child has a private tutor. It can also apply to kids utilizing private or public charter school programs that offer a home-study option – but those students are often officially counted as part of the traditional school system.
Diane Flynn Keith, who runs home-school information seminars in the San Francisco bay area, said her three-hour sessions have been filling to capacity since the law passed. Her most recent seminar earlier in August drew a sold-out crowd of 40, when normally she would expect about 25.
“At least 10 of the people there asked me specifically about vaccinations,” she said. That demand has led her to add more events in the coming months.
Goodwin added that her organization has also fielded more inquiries from programs and vendors that are interested in doing business or expanding in the state.
“We are hearing a lot more from the charter programs,” she said.
Keith cautions parents that home schooling “is not easy” and those seeking a way out of vaccinations represent a “whole new group that are sort of being forced into it”.
“You may have people that are sort of doing it more out of fear than anything else, they have no choice,” said Fitzpatrick. “If it’s not done because they believe in the philosophy of home schooling and they want the experience of home schooling, then it’s going to be harder for them. And I think it could be more of a struggle for the children too.”Related Stories