What's New: Earth Day: scientists say 75% of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in ground

Socialist Project - April 23, 2015 - 4:00pm
Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, a group of leading scientists and economists have said in a statement timed to coincide with Earth Day. Spelling out what a global deal at the UN climate summit in Paris later this year should include, the group demanded governments adopt a goal of reducing economies’ carbon emissions to zero by mid-century, put a price on carbon and that the richest take the lead with the most aggressive cuts.
Categories: Netted News

Cities And States Paying Massive Secret Fees To Wall Street

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 3:36pm
Currently, about 9 percent -- or $270 billion -- of America’s $3 trillion public pension fund assets are invested in private equity firms.

California’s report said $440 million. New Jersey’s said $600 million. In Pennsylvania, the tally is $700 million. Those Wall Street fees paid by public workers’ pension systems have kicked off an intensifying debate over whether such expenses are necessary. Now, a report from an industry-friendly source says those huge levies represent only a fraction of the true amounts being raked in by Wall Street firms from state and local governments.

“Less than one‐half of the very substantial [private equity] costs incurred by U.S. pension funds are currently being disclosed,” says the report from CEM, whose website says the financial analysis firm "serve(s) over 350 blue-chip corporate and government clients worldwide."

Currently, about 9 percent -- or $270 billion -- of America’s $3 trillion public pension fund assets are invested in private equity firms. With the financial industry’s standard 2 percent management fee, that quarter-trillion dollars generates roughly $5.4 billion in annual management fees for the private equity industry -- and that’s not including additional “performance” fees paid on investment returns. If CEM’s calculations are applied uniformly, it could mean taxpayers and retirees may actually be paying double -- more than $10 billion a year. 

Public officials are overseeing this massive payout to Wall Street at the very moment many of those same officials are demanding big cuts to retirees' promised pension benefits. 

“With billions of public worker and taxpayer dollars put at risk in the highest-cost, most opaque investment schemes ever devised by Wall Street for a decade now, investigations that hold Wall Street profiteers accountable are long, long overdue,” said former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Ted Siedle.

Private equity firms have argued that their fees are worth the expense, because they supposedly deliver returns for investors that beat low-fee index funds which track the broader stock market. But those private equity returns are typically self-reported by the firms over the life of those longer-term investments, meaning there are few ways to verify whether the returns are real. Indeed, a recent study from George Washington University argued that private equity firms are using their self-reporting authority to mislead investors into believing their returns are smoother and more consistent than they actually are.

In a 2014 speech, the SEC’s top examiner, Andrew Bowden, sounded the alarm about undisclosed fees in the private equity industry, saying the agency had discovered “violations of law or material weaknesses in controls over 50 percent of the time” at firms it had evaluated. 

To date, however, the SEC has taken few actions to crack down on the practices, but some states are starting to step up their oversight. 

In New Jersey, for instance, pension trustees announced a formal investigation of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration after evidence surfaced suggesting that the Republican administration has not been disclosing all state pension fees paid to financial firms. 

In Rhode Island, the new state treasurer, Seth Magaziner, a Democrat, recently published a review of all the fees that state’s beleaguered pension fund has paid. The analysis revealed that the former financial firm of Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo is charging the state’s pension fund the highest fee rate of any firm in its asset class.

In Pennsylvania, the new Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf used his first budget address to call for the state “to stop excessive fees to Wall Street managers.” 

These moves are shining a spotlight on one of the most lucrative yet little-noticed Wall Street schemes. With so much money at issue – and with pensioners retirement income on the line -- that scrutiny is long overdue.

David Sirota is a senior writer at the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." Email him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website atwww.davidsirota.com

COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM

 

Categories: Netted News

Body Cam: Cop Ignores Dog Sign, Hops Fence in Response to a Burglar Alarm, Kills Homeowners Dog

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 2:07pm
The deputy insists the dog came right at him and that he was “defending himself” for her dog running at him.

Dade City, FL– In body camera footage that was released on Wednesday, a Pasco County sheriff’s deputy is seen shooting and killing a woman’s dog, because of a burglar alarm going off.

The deputy arrived at Carla Gloger’s home after a silent alarm was tripped.  The officer barely attempted to open the gate to her long driveway, and instead hopped a fence to get onto the property, ignoring warning signs about the woman owning dogs.  Gloger maintains that the situation may have been very different had the officer opened the gate and drove up the driveway.

As he approached the home, the deputy saw Gloger’s two Rottweilers running towards him.  As they did, the officer pulled out his service weapon and shot one of the animals.

Fox13 decided to withhold the full footage, apparently favoring sheltering people from very real dangers of police being called to your home, even if you have done nothing wrong.  In the withheld footage, the dog reportedly yelps in pain as Gloger runs out of her home yelling  “You shot my dog!”

Gloger yelled at the officer to “shoot him all the way,” as her pet limped around injured.  The officer eventually complied, shooting the dog in the head, killing him.

The deputy insists the dog came right at him and that he was “defending himself” for her dog running at him, on her property, which he trespassed on.

“I haven’t slept for days. I haven’t eaten. It’s hard for me to even come out,” Gloger told Fox13. “I freaked out. I was like, ‘oh my God, of all people, I would never think a sheriff would trespass, come over the gate, not unlatch it, and come in and just shoot my dog.'”

The department is fully defending the officer’s actions, and even going as far as saying that the dogs attacked the deputy.  The sheriff clearly must have watched a different video.

“We’re negligent if we don’t go to that house and God forbid something happens to her. It’s our duty to go out there and do everything we can to ensure the safety of our citizens,” Sheriff Chris Nocco told FOX 13. “It’s an unfortunate situation that these dogs attacked our deputy.”

According to an unofficial count done by Ozymandias Media, an independent research group, a dog is shot by law enforcement every 98 minutes.

In January, we reported on an Australian postman, armed only with a DriftHD 1080P Camera and some dog treats, who showed just how easy it is to traverse a neighborhood full of dogs without shooting them. It should be required viewing for police departments nationwide.

Watch the video here.

 

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Categories: Netted News

What's New: Teachers strike against Liberals' austerity agenda

Socialist Project - April 23, 2015 - 2:00pm
Monday was the start of an important strike by secondary school teachers in the Durham District School Board. Six other boards could soon be joining them on the picket lines, depending on the speed of the negotiations. Together they, make up what the OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation) has called 'the magnificent 7'.
Categories: Netted News

Scott Walker's Dismal Record: Let's Look at What GOP Candidates Failed to Do as Governors

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 1:47pm
They were supposed to show off the GOP's deep bench. Instead, they highlighted incompetence.

What do Scott Walker, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal all have in common? They’re all sitting governors who’d like to be president, sure. But what else?

How about being embarrassingly bad at job creation? That’s right. From January 2011 through January 2015, Louisiana under Jindal ranked 32nd in job creation with 5.4 percent growth over four years. Wisconsin under Walker ranked 35th, with 4.85 percent growth. New Jersey under Christie ranked 40th, with 4.15 percent growth. This compares with a national average of 8.21 percent.

Even Ohio’s John Kasich, who’s worked more with Democrats—most notably by agreeing to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare—and thus tarnished his brand with conservative purists while puffing himself up with Beltway pundits — only ranked 23rd. He’s still under the national average, with Ohio’s 6.23 percent growth. Ohio has yet to get back to 2007 employment levels, “The nation and the majority of other states reached this benchmark in 2014,” said researcher Hannah Halbert, in a statement from Policy Matters Ohio.

And then there’s Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, once a 2016 hopeful cheered on by Grover Norquist and supported by supply-side icon Arthur Laffer in his crusade to slash (and eventually abolish) Kansas state income tax—a sure-fired job-creation move, according to the promises of all concerned. Justly dubbed a “failed experiment” for the massive deficits it has generated, the experiment also produced only lackluster job growth of 5.95 percent, ranking 28th in the nation—better than Walker and Christie, sure, but lower than its neighbors in Nebraska (25th) and Oklahoma (14th).

After years on end of House Speaker John Boehner whining, “Where are the jobs?” this is a singularly unimpressive lot of contenders, wannabes and dropouts. But it’s not an anomaly, as we’ll soon see. Nor is it an anomaly that the national press, so far, routinely ignores this abysmal record. But can they continue to ignore it going forward—particularly in the age of social media?

Historically, state governors have been the most credible candidates for president. Eight sitting governors have been elected to the White House, compared to just three sitting senators, and four vice presidents (compared to eight who took office after a president died).  As chief executive of a state, governors can claim an experience most similar to that of president (though without the foreign policy part), and the potential diversity of that experience purportedly allows for an influx of proven practical state-level solutions to be ushered onto the national stage.

At least that’s how the political folklore goes. Now, however, it’s something of the opposite. With the off-year Tea Party wave of 2010 sweeping a large number of ideologically extreme politicians into office, decades of right-wing state-level institution-building reached fruition, and helped establish a high degree of uniformly mistaken economic practices—cutting taxes, public investment and much-needed services, all in accordance with a playbook that’s a proven loser. While individual presidential candidates can be expected to blow their own horns, the fact that their basic playbooks are all so similar opens them up to a broader attack: the entire framework of how they think about economic policy simply doesn’t work.

Of course, the GOP’s problem is much bigger than just its current crop of governors, but the pattern of their failures open it up to a new line of attack—provided those failures are seen for what they are. The GOP field can be thought of in terms of three main factions: The governors, all reelected, hence “proven”—with former governors Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee thrown in; the first-term (hence “green” and résumé-thin) senators (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio), and the assorted wild cards (Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina, etc.)  The senators enjoy the prominence of acting on a national stage, but doing so as part of a particularly dysfunctional Congress hardly sets them up to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, JFK or even Barack Obama. Moreover, their relentless attacks on Obama seem custom made to be turned back on them: Was he too young, in need of seasoning? Lacking in executive experience? A glib, superficial media star? Really, Tea Party children of Sarah Palin? Really?

Every cheap shot the freshman GOP senators have taken, endorsed or profited from directed at Obama is now a heat-seaking missile ready to turn back on them. The wild cards are there to make the senators look … well, senatorial, if not presidential. They are a sign of normal politics’ failure. The governors are supposed to be the remedy to all this—normal politics getting back on track, recalling the promise of George W. Bush, after the GOP’s Clinton impeachment fiasco (never mind the details of how that turned out….). That’s why this crop of governors’ not-ready-for-prime-time economic records are particularly devastating: this is supposed to be their strong suit, both as governors and as Republicans. Instead, it is neither.

It’s not just the embarrassing job-creation numbers, though that alone should be enough to disqualify the whole lot of them. New Jersey has just experienced its ninth bond downgrade under Christie, who may end up looking for a bridge to hide under. In Wisconsin, Walker, facing a two-year deficit that could go as high as $2 billion, has responded with $300 million in cuts for higher education, on top of billions in previous education cuts. Still, job creation was supposed to be Walker’s big thing—he promised to create 250,000 jobs in four years when he first ran in 2010, but came up short by more than 100,000 jobs. Making matters worse are the neighborhood comparisons. Wisconsin ranked between 29th and 41st in job growth over the last four years, the worst in the Midwest three of those years, and second worst the other. In fact, the state performed poorly on a whole host of indicators used by Bloomberg News, and suffers markedly in contrast with neighboring Minnesota, where progressive policies have that state’s economy recovering nicely.

Perhaps the pundits are still dazzled by these guys, but folks at home, not so much. Neither Christie nor Walker has any traction in beating Hillary Clinton in head-to-head home state matchups, probably the only kind of polls this early with any potential long-term 2016 value, since they involve figures well-known to the public being polled. Then again, Walker’s job approval fell to 41 percent in the latest Marquette Law poll (56 percent disapprove), which has plenty of other bad news for him as well.

In contrast, Kasich does show signs of life, but the modest dose of political pragmatism he’s shown is hardly what the GOP base is looking for, nor is he actually doing that well. Other ambitious GOP governors should really be thinking about reality TV. Bobby Jindal? (Budget cuts to higher education that “would set us back generations,” according to GOP House Speaker Chuck Kleckley?) Mike Pence? Sam Brownback?

To really appreciate how bad this field is, we need a bit more context. First, let’s be clear, the GOP’s perceived advantage on the economy is entirely a matter of illusion. In his book, “They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010,” investigative historian Erik Zuesse shows that “Democratic economic superiority extends not only to the performance of the stock markets, but also to employment, wages, economic equality, and all other major economic variables,” as he explained in a 2012 column for Business Insider.

The GOP stock market record is particularly noteworthy, since it’s the epitome of what they’re supposed to do best at. However, Zuesse notes, “each one of the nine separate studies (all of the studies that have been done) of the performance of U.S. stock markets under Republican versus under Democratic presidents and congresses, has shown consistent and overwhelming superiority of economic performance with Democrats in the White House, and also with Democrats in Congress, as compared to Republicans.”

There’s also a considerable gap between polarized economic policy debates in Washington and a relatively cohesive consensus among most econmists, as pointed out by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, writing for Bloomberg in 2012 (“The U.S. Economic Policy Debate Is a Sham”). They reference an ongoing survey of leading economists conducted by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, including economists of both parties as well as independents. They note that “92 percent agreed that the stimulus succeeded in reducing the jobless rate,” a point that Republican politicians routinely ridicule. (When repeated in 2014, 97 percent agreed.) “On the harder question of whether the benefit exceeded the cost, more than half thought it did, one in three was uncertain, and fewer than one in six disagreed,” they add. (By 2014, just 6 percent disagreed.) As for the “Laffer Curve,” and the GOP claim that tax cuts will pay for themselves by the growth they produce, Stevenson and Wolfers reported, “The Booth poll couldn’t find a single economist who believed that cutting taxes today will lead to higher government revenue — even if we lower only the top tax rate.”

Two other more recent results are worth mentioning. Democrats have long favored infrastructure spending as a way to stimulate the economy and raise average incomes. Before Obama took office, Republicans agreed, but no longer. In May 2013, 89 percent of economists agreed, just 5 percent disagreed. Later that same year, 91 percent agreed that a U.S. debt default would mean that “U.S. families and businesses are likely to suffer severe economic harm,” even as some Republicans said it would be a good thing to default. Just 3 percent disagreed.

The Booth expert polling results aren’t monolithic, nor are they necessarily infallible—orthodox economists were blindsided by the financial collapse in 2008, after all. But the degree to which key articles of GOP economic faith clash with overwhelming expert judgment is staggering—and there’s nary a hint of it in most of the media. It’s a disconnect reminiscent of global warming, but much less widely recognized.

Indeed, pundits as a class have internalized the notion of the GOP as the “daddy party,” the one that does best at all manner of male-stereotyped roles: fighting wars, running the economy, understanding how things work. The Democrats are supposedly the “mommy party,” the one that takes care of you when you hurt.

It’s utter balderdash, but voters tend to buy into it.  In the same column mentioned earlier, Zuesse cited a Gallup poll headline “Obama Still Wins on Likability; Romney on the Economy.” The figures were telling: “By 54 percent to 31 percent Obama is the more likable candidate, but by 52 percent to 43 percent Romney would ‘better handle … the economy,’ and by 54 percent to 39 percent Romney would ‘better handle … the federal budget deficit.’”

The majority was wrong about Romney’s economic acumen. He promised to reduce unemployment to 6 percent by the end of 2016, a target Obama hit by October 2014. But it wasn’t just about top-line economic targets—it was his entire economic approach.

All the way back in January, 2012, Jim Tankersley wrote a piece for the National Journal, “The Romney Conundrum,” taking note of the disconnect between Romney’s economic plan and the recommendations of his top advisors—a disconnect paralleling the one noted by Stevenson and Wolfers: “Romney issued a 59-point economic plan with fanfare last September. The platform contradicts landmark findings on monetary and housing policies published in 2011 by his top two economic advisers: Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University’s business school; and N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard University professor and the author of the nation’s most widely used college economics textbook.” So Romney was to be trusted because he knew so much, had such smart advisers—who he completely ignored. Yet, somehow, Romney managed to muddle through the whole campaign without this glaring contradiction ever becoming a significant story in the media.

This is not a luxury that the current crop of GOP governors should take for granted. Sure, the press will continue to shill for them, repeating some version of “daddy party” nonsense, and repeating failed Clinton scandals ad nauseam, assuming Clinton wins the nomination this time. But outside groups and social media activists could mix things up a lot more this time around. And Clinton’s “listening tour” approach is custom-made for gaining ground-level traction, homing in on GOP failures of governance, and blowing up the prefab narratives on which the wannabes’ hopes are pinned. She’s already touched on a few highly popular proposals—supporting (however nebulously) a livable minimum wage and free community college, for example—and will obviously build on these over time. There are individual-level appeals to be made here, with significant public support.

But there’s also a wonk side to this unfolding story, which GOP governors are particularly vulnerable to. Not only are Democrats better for the national economy as a whole, they’re better for state-level economies, too. As far back as 2004, it’s been noted online that red states as a whole are takers of federal tax revenues, blue states are donors. Analyzing annual data from 2008 through 2014, red states consistently got more money than blue states, by anywhere from 36 percent to 73 percent. One result of this, naturally, is that red states can better afford to cut taxes, since they’re mooching off all the rest of us. And yet, blue states continue to do better, year after year, decade after decades.

One rough measure of this broad pattern was produced by David Wise, reported on the London School of Economics blog. Wise compared red, blue and purple states, based on presidential election votes since 1988, with special weighting for the two most recent elections. This ignores statehouse and state legislative control, which sometimes diverge, so it’s not perfect, but it does reflect dominant voter values and priorities. Wise combined rankings of dozens of indicators to produce two composite measures. First, he explains, “An Overall Economic Strength Index was based on each state’s performance for positive economic outputs in areas such as the following: per capita income, median household income, household net worth, the poverty rate, economic growth and jobs added over recent years, labor force participation, the human capital index, entrepreneurial activity, patents generated and manufacturing value-added.” Next, “A Social Cohesion/Dysfunction Index was designed to measure the quality of life and social cohesion in each of the states. This index included: life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, the human development index, and the rates of drunken driving deaths, violent crime, teen pregnancy, divorce, incarceration, child abuse, domestic violence deaths and drug deaths.”

The differences he found were dramatic. Comparing the average ranks in economic strength, compared to the midpoint, he found that blue states averaged 3.23 above average, purple states averaged 1.19 above average, and red states averaged 3.67 below average. Looking at the top and bottom, he wrote, “Out of the top ten ranked states for economic strength there were four blue states, three red and three purple. Out of the bottom ten ranked states there were one blue, eight red and one purple.”

The average ranks in social cohesion and dysfunction showed an even stronger difference: of blue states averaged 6.16 above the midpoint, purple states 0.52 above the midpoint, and red states averaged 5.03 below the midpoint. “Against this index, six blue states ranked in the top ten along with two red states and two purple states. No blue state scored in the bottom 10 on this index although two purple states and eight red states did.”

I’ve already noted one potential source of “noise” in this data—the fact that it uses presidential elections to sort states into categories. But another source of “noise” is that economic policies vary over time and only represent part of what contributes to states’ economic performance—as well as their social cohesion.  A more focused way of examining how well certain policies work would be to look at policy rankings, and see how well they correlate with economic behavior.  This won’t eliminate the non-policy factors, but it tell us about the role of policy factors and the impact—good or bad—that they have.

A November 2012 study, jointly produced by Good Jobs First and the Iowa Policy Project, “Selling Snake Oil To The States,” does just that.  It looks at the rankings and recommendations produced by rightwing economist Arthur Laffer (yes, that Laffer) for ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) a once-shadowing, but now well-known group which helps drive the conservative agenda at the state level.

Laffer and others have created an ideologically-driven “State Economic Competitiveness Index” in a report titled “Rich States, Poor States,” starting in 2007. “Selling Snake Oil” found that ALEC’s report was actually a guide to what not to do.

As explained in the executive summary “Rich States, Poor Statesembodies the policy agenda that ALEC pushes to state legislators: reduction or abolition of progressive taxes, fewer investments in education and other public services, a smaller social safety net, and weaker or non-existent unions. These are the policies, ALEC claims, that promote economic growth.”  Although the claim that these are good policies is an ideological one, the claim that they work to promote economic growth is not—it’s an empirical claim, and it can be tested, to find out if its true or false. As the report found “the ALEC-Laffer recommendations not only fail to predict positive results for state economies—the policies they endorse actually forecast worse state outcomes for job creation and paychecks.”

Specifically states that ALEC ranked higher, based on a set of 15 “fiscal and regulatory policy variables,” actually did worse over the period of years studied, while those that ranked lower on ALEC’s scale did better.  “Selling Snakeoil” looked at all 50 states, so there could be no concerns about “cherry picking.”

First they examined change in state GDP, over five years, and found almost no correlation: 0.02, which was not statistically significant. Next, they examined growth in non-farm employment, and found a somewhat stronger correlation—but in the “wrong” direction: -0.09, meaning that “the higher a state was ranked on the A-L Index in 2007 the worse its job creation record over the next five years.” Things were similar, but even worse when measuring state per capita income: The negative correlation of -.27 was statistically significant. Finally, ALEC/Laffer claimed that states following their policy prescriptions would experience more growth and higher incomes, translating into greater government revenue. But again, the correlation was negative, the opposite of what was promised: -.16.

There was actually one measure which turned out as ALEC/Laffer predicted: population growth. But that’s not a measure of economic performance!

The study then went on to test the ALEC/Laffer ranking scale against two other obvious measures of state economic well-being: the median family income and the poverty rate. They examined the results on a year-by-year basis, median income first. “The relationship is not only negative each year, it also became worse over time: the better a state did on the ALEC Outlook Ranking, the more family income declined from 2007 to 2011. The correlation, -.30, is statistically significant.” The same pattern held, but the correlation was weaker (.21), though still “marginally statistically significant.”

There’s a lot more in the “Snake Oil” report. It looks at individual components of the ALEC/Laffer scale, and finds them equally unhelpful for their advertised purpose. It examines a number of key claims in greater detail, such as the arguments for lower taxes, fighting against unions and the minimum wage, and the claim that “state tax rates in many instances approach ‘Laffer Curve’ territory, where tax cuts would actually increase tax revenue.” Of course that claim is nonsense, as already indicated above.

The report also spends time discussing factors that do impact state economies, which ALEC/Laffer simply ignore, despite a substantial research literature. One of the most basic things they point out is that “[I]nstead of ALEC’s extreme policy recommendations, we find that the composition of a state’s economy—whether it has large or small shares of the nation’s fastest-growing industries—is a far better predictor of job and income growth.”  More broadly, they state:

Overall, we find that Rich States, Poor Statesconsistently ignores decades of published research, making broad, unsubstantiated claims and often using anecdotes or spurious two-factor correlations that fail to control for obviously relevant factors. Indeed, our analysis finds that the report repeatedly engages in methodologically primitive analysis that any college student taking Statistics 101 would be taught to avoid.

Because the “Snake Oil” report came out in late 2012, I reached out to one of the authors, Peter Fisher, research director of the Iowa Policy Project, to find out about any more recent developments. There has been some pushback from ALEC allies, but no signs of learning. “There have been two editions of RSPS since then, the latest coming out about 10 days ago,” Fisher told me. “They have not changed the methodology at all, so the criticisms still apply.”

In short, ALEC is treating it as a political battle—the exact sort of thing  Stephenson and Wolfers were criticizing. And what about Laffer himself? Back in 2012, when Brownback gave Laffer a $75,000 contract to help sell his tax cut proposal, he was supremely confident:

Laffer told more than 200 people at a small-business forum at Johnson County Community College that there is a war among states over tax policy and that nowhere is that revolution more powerful than in Kansas. He said Kansas’ tax cuts and political shifts will produce “enormous prosperity” for the state.

“It’s not a left-wing, right-wing thing,” Laffer said. “It’s economics.”

He was wrong about the “enormous prosperity,” of course.  But his second statement was spot on. The more that reporters look past the spin, and focus on the economic records of GOP governors running for president, the more informative the coming election will be. What better time to put the information back in the information age?

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Categories: Netted News

"Running While Black": Protests Swell Over Death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore Police Custody

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 1:30pm
The 27-year-old African-American man died Sunday from spinal injuries, one week after Baltimore police arrested him.

Baltimore has entered its fifth day of protests amid the death of Freddie Gray. The 27-year-old African-American man died Sunday from spinal injuries, one week after Baltimore police arrested him. His family and attorney say his voice box was crushed and his spine was "80 percent severed at his neck." A preliminary autopsy report showed Gray died of a spinal injury. Video shot by a bystander shows Gray screaming in apparent agony as police drag him to a van. Another witness said the police bent Gray like a pretzel. While the police union has described the protesters as a lynch mob, former Black Panther Eddie Conway says Gray is the one who was lynched. "There was a lynch mob. There is a body. There was a death without a trial, without a jury, without a sentence. There was an execution. That’s lynching," Conway says. "They’re blaming the victims. They’re blaming people that suffered the lynching for protesting."

Joining on Democracy Now! with Conway was Dominique Stevenson, a Baltimore-based prison activist and program director for the American Friends Service Committee’s Friend of a Friend Program. She was recently arrested during a protest over Gray's death. "I think that we really need to take a look at how policing is done in Baltimore," she said. "It cannot be disconnected from our high incarceration rate. Black folks make up almost 80 percent of the total population in the Maryland prison system, yet we comprise about 28 percent of the population in the state." Also on the program was Lawrence Bell, former Baltimore City Council president. He represented West Baltimore, which is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested. Bell spoke about the need for change. "We need civilian review," he said. "We need a different attitude within the police department. We need a better attitude in the whole city."

Below is an interview with Conway, Stevenson and Bell, followed by a transcript:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show in Baltimore, where protests over the death of Freddie Gray have entered their fifth day. The 27-year-old African-American man died Sunday from spinal injuries, one week after Baltimore police arrested him. His family and attorney say his voice box was crushed and his spine was, quote, "80 percent severed at his neck." A preliminary autopsy report showed Gray died of a spinal injury. Video shot by a bystander shows Gray screaming in apparent agony as police drag him to a van. You can hear a bystander’s voice.

BYSTANDER: His leg looks broke! Look at his f—ing leg! Look at his f—ing leg! That boy’s leg looks broke! His leg’s broken! Y’all dragging him like that!

AMY GOODMAN: Another witness said the police bent Freddie Gray like a pretzel. Gray was then held inside a police van for 30 minutes. Police said, quote, "During transport to Western District via wagon transport the defendant suffered a medical emergency and was immediately transported to Shock Trauma via medic."

The Department of Justice is now investigating Gray’s death for possible civil rights violations. Since 2011, Baltimore has paid roughly $6.3 million to settle police misconduct claims. Baltimore authorities say five of the six officers involved in the arrest of Gray have now given statements to the Baltimore police. One has not. They remain suspended with pay. Baltimore police union attorney Michael Davey told reporters the officers were right to chase Gray after he ran away when a lieutenant "made eye contact" with him.

MICHAEL DAVEY: They pursued Mr. Gray. They detained him for an investigative stop. Had he not had a knife or an illegal weapon on him, he would have been released. They know what role they played in the arrest of Mr. Gray. What we don’t know and what we’re hoping the investigation will tell us is what happened inside the back of the van. He was placed in the transport van. Whether he was seat-belted in, I don’t believe he was. Our position is: Something happened in that van; we just don’t know what.

REPORTER: Do you think any of the six officers committed a crime that day?

MICHAEL DAVEY: No.

REPORTER: Unequivocally. And what makes you say that?

MICHAEL DAVEY: Based on the information that I know, no.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, on Wednesday, our next guest spoke with residents of the Gilmor Homes housing project in West Baltimore, where Freddie Gray was arrested, including one woman who says she witnessed officers loading him into the back of a police van. In a minute, we’ll be joined by our guest, Eddie Conway of The Real News Network, but first, this is a clip of his interview.

EDDIE CONWAY: How are you doing? I’m Eddie Conway.

TAMIKA: Hi, I’m Tamika.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: And I’m Jacqueline Jackson. I seen it.

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: I live 1628 Mountmor Court. My kitchen faces Mount Street.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: The paddy wagon was right there. They took the young man out, beat him some more. The man wasn’t responding. They took him by his pants, and he was dragged. And I asked them to call an ambulance. They told me to mind my business. I told them it is my business. And they just threw him up in there. They boy wasn’t hollering or nothing. And he wasn’t hollering or nothing. How can you holler if you ain’t saying nothing? They killed that young man. They killed him.

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Conway of The Real News Network interviewing residents of the Gilmor Homes housing project where Freddie Gray was arrested. He was there last night when protesters [calling] for justice in his case marched again. And he joins us now in Baltimore. Eddie Conway is executive producer of The Real News Network, also a former Black Panther leader in Baltimore, Maryland, who was released from prison last year after serving 44 years for a murder he denies committing. We spoke to him last March, just 24 hours after he was released.

We’re also joined by Dominique Stevenson, who was arrested at last night’s protest in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray. She is program director for the American Friends Service Committee’s Friend of a Friend Program, which fosters the peaceful resolution of conflict and promotes reconciliation and healing inside Maryland’s criminal justice system. She’s also co-author of Eddie Conway’s memoir, Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther.

Dominique, let’s begin with you. Can you explain why you were protesting yesterday and how you got arrested?

DOMINIQUE STEVENSON: Well, I was protesting because this is—there’s a history in Baltimore of not so much police shootings, but people being beaten to death by the police. There is a long history. I feel that I needed to be there with the community. We have for some time been doing work in Gilmor Homes housing project, and I wanted to, you know, be there to stand in solidarity with the community. I was arrested because at some point a young woman, Michaela Price, decided to commit civil disobedience. She’s 17 years old. I, one, did not want, or even trust, her being in police custody alone, and so I came over the barrier to accompany her.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dominique, the state of Maryland also has the highest—sorry, Baltimore has the highest rate of incarceration in the state of Maryland. Could you connect that to the action that you took and to what happened to Freddie Gray?

DOMINIQUE STEVENSON: Yes. One, if you look at statistics, that particular neighborhood—Sandtown-Winchester is the neighborhood in Baltimore—has actually the highest incarceration rate in the state. And you cannot disconnect that rate of incarceration from the style of aggressive policing that takes place. We’ve talked to many young men. OK, of course, there’s crime in that community. There are no jobs in that community. There is no economic development happening in that community. But the other issue is the harassment of police, the unnecessary detainment of police. People don’t know what Freddie Gray’s history may have been with those folks that he saw and why making eye contact simply made him run. And so I think that we really need to take a look at how policing is done in Baltimore. It cannot be disconnected from our high incarceration rate. Black folks make up almost 80 percent of the total population in the Maryland prison system, yet we comprise about 28 percent of the population in the state.

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Conway, you were interviewing people in the area. We just saw you talking to a witness. This issue of there being video of Freddie Gray in the takedown, when they are dragging him over to the—or trying to carry him over to the police van, it looks like he cannot move. Yesterday, the police union spokesperson—attorney, said, "Oh, you know, that’s what these perps do. They have to be dragged because they won’t walk." Can you respond to this, based on what you heard from witnesses?

EDDIE CONWAY: Yes, and I interviewed perhaps 30 people from that community that was in that area or either heard the incident or witnessed the incident. The incident actually occurred under one of the police cameras that has been operating for years in that community, and they have been using that camera to make numerous drug arrests over the years. And for some reason, that day, that camera did not work. It would have been directly over Freddie Gray’s head. It would have recorded everything that took place.

One of the things that people say, that one of the police dropped down on his back, on his neck with his knee, and from that point on, he was incapacitated. And later, they even took him back out of the van and shackled his legs and did something else to him and threw him back in the van. So, as far as all the witnesses can tell and all of them report, that he was already fatally injured when they put him in, in the first place. That video that we saw with them dragging him to the van, he was already incapacitated.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And has anyone, Eddie Conway, given an exclamation for why that camera didn’t work that day?

EDDIE CONWAY: No one knows why that camera didn’t work. Everybody in the community says that that camera has been used consistently over the years to lock people up, and used for evidence in drug arrests and other arrests. One of the things is, and I guess I want to raise this issue, when is it a crime for a man to run somewhere? People run throughout the city all the time. People are constantly running. So, you get executed because you run?

AMY GOODMAN: Now, can you clarify, for people who haven’t been following this case? The police union attorney yesterday said, in a high crime area, yes, you can arrest someone if they simply run. And no one alleges anything other than that Freddie Gray ran. What about this?

EDDIE CONWAY: Well, it’s not a high-crime area. It is a "broken windows" police area in which people and residents in that area are arrested for sitting on their own steps. They are loitering in their own community, on their own steps, and they’re harassed constantly. And this had been the reports that I have received. The Real News and myself and Friend of a Friend, we have been going down in that area trying to establish a relationship with the people in that area. And one of the things that they said is that they’re not even allowed to sit out in the area on their steps, even though they live there. The police will come and harass them. That level of harassment causes verbal responses. It causes physical contact. It causes people to be arrested. And before you know it, they have an arrest record, even as—I’m talking 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-year-old juveniles. And they end up in the prison system. And that’s why that becomes the high-crime system—the high-crime area.

AMY GOODMAN: A statement—

EDDIE CONWAY: Go ahead. I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: A statement from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, Baltimore’s police union, compared the protesters calling for justice in the death of Freddie Gray to a "lynch mob." During a news conference Wednesday, reporters questioned the union’s president about the comparison.

REPORTER 1: I just was reading the statement you all just handed out to us just now. And just reading it, the tone, I mean, it says that the images on TV look and sound much like a lynch mob. Are you—I mean, what do you—how do you expect that to be received?

MICHAEL DAVEY: I haven’t seen that. I haven’t—

GENE RYAN: I put that, because they’ve already tried and convicted the officers, and that’s just unfair. They still get their day in court. They did not give up their constitutional rights when they became a law enforcement officer. That’s what I was getting at with that. Some of the protesters and some of the stuff I’ve been watching on the news, they want them put in prison. Well, they haven’t been charged, number one. Number two, they still get their day in court. So how can they request that they be put in jail? We haven’t even got to that process yet. The investigation has to be completed before we move forward.

REPORTER 1: Right, but are you concerned with the tone of the statement at all?

GENE RYAN: No, because I was quite offended by some of the things that were being said yesterday. Me, personally. That’s coming from me. That didn’t come from Mike and the law firm. That’s coming—that’s—

REPORTER 2: But it says—this says it comes from the Fraternal Order of Police.

GENE RYAN: Yes. That’s—I’m the president.

REPORTER 2: So are you likening these citizens protesting in this rally to a lynch mob, specifically?

GENE RYAN: Well, let’s put it this way: If they’re tried, convicted, and they would have put them in jail, where’s the due process with that?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Gene Ryan, the police union president. Dominique Stevenson, this likening to a lynch mob. Yesterday, you did get arrested. You went over the barrier. What is your reaction to the police union president?

DOMINIQUE STEVENSON: Well, actually, if you take a look at what happened to Freddie Gray, he was tried, convicted and executed. And so, I resent likening people who are simply protesting and demonstrating and responding to a situation that was extremely unjust in their community to a lynch mob. As a person of African descent and understanding the history of lynching in this country, I find that statement offensive. I think that people are very frustrated because this is not the first time that this situation has occurred in Baltimore. I think that people have spent years of seeing these situations occur. People have experienced police brutality on so many levels, whether it’s witnessing the mistreatment of loved ones or community members or experiencing it firsthand. There were so many people in the community yesterday who were willing to come up and talk about their experiences with the police, that this is something that has been so harmful to black communities across the country, but particularly here in Baltimore. So I think that it is—basically, it’s a statement designed to garner attention and to garner a response. I think that people have a right to protest. They should continue to do that. But along with that, we need to really begin to organize. We need to take control of how policing is done in our communities. And that will begin to resolve some of the problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Dominique Stevenson, we want to thank you for being with us.

EDDIE CONWAY: And—

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie, I’d like to ask you to wait for one moment, because you’ll be staying with us.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Conway with the Baltimore-based Real News Network. We are also going to be joined by the former president of the Baltimore City Council. This is Democracy Now! Major protests planned for today in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray. He was taken down by police on April 12th. He died on April 19th. His family and lawyers say 80 percent of his—that 80 percent of his spine was severed. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guests are—well, Eddie Conway is continuing with us right now. Eddie Conway is an executive producer for The Real News Network, former prisoner. He was in prison for more than 40 years. Lawrence Bell is also with us now, former president of the Baltimore City Council. He represents West Baltimore, which is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

So we’re going through the facts as we know them. On April 12th, Freddie Gray was arrested by police. It is not clear why. His family, his attorney said he was arrested for running while black. No one contends anything other than he was running and they arrested him. They then drag him into the police van. The police union attorney said that could be because he was resisting. What the witnesses around him are saying is that he looked like he could not move. He could not use his legs, and he was yelling. He is put into this van. At least 30—or was it 40?—minutes before any kind of medical or medics were called. He would be in the hospital for a week. He died on April 19th, last Sunday. Five of the six police who were involved have given statements; one has refused to. They’ve all been put on leave with pay.

Lawrence Bell, how typical is this? What are you most concerned about right now as the former president of the Baltimore City Council?

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, first of all, I want to say it’s good to be here, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this subject. Unfortunately, Baltimore has had a long history, a very long history, of these kinds of incidents going on. And I think, really, what’s changed here in Baltimore, as well as around the country, is that we live in an age where there’s technology and people have cellphone smartphones, where they have cameras. Years ago, I remember, over 20 years ago, I was one of the people that led the struggle to try to get civilian review, strong civilian review, here in a city of Baltimore. And that’s something that has been resisted for many, many years. And I think it’s because there has been a camaraderie within the police department, kind of a "stop snitching" mentality among police.

AMY GOODMAN: Misconduct settlements involving Baltimore police officers have cost the city more than $6 million since 2011. One victim, Barbara Floyd, told The Baltimore Sun that a detective ground her face into the concrete in 2009.

BARBARA FLOYD: I stood by the tree outside of my door with my back facing the street. All of a sudden, I feel arms around my neck. So I was struggling, because I didn’t know who it was. Yeah, I was screaming, when I could, "Get off of me! Leave me alone! Why are you all doing this?" They never answered my questions. They don’t answer your questions. All they do is tell you to shut the hell up.

NARRATION: In March 2009, Barbara Floyd was watching a disturbance outside her home when, she said, a police officer grabbed her.

BARBARA FLOYD: He put another leg in the small of my back. He was grinding my face into the pavement. He kept telling me to lay down. I was already down.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Barbara Floyd. She received a settlement for $30,000. So you’re the former president of the Baltimore City Council, Lawrence Bell.

LAWRENCE BELL: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: More than $6 million for police misconduct over the last few years. Now, you weren’t president during that time, but can you talk about this?

LAWRENCE BELL: Yeah, I mean, this has been going on for a number of years. And what’s interesting is that the problem in Baltimore, I believe, became exacerbated in the early 2000s, when former Mayor Martin O’Malley began the zero-tolerance policy. And what happened is that basically, you know, they’d been arresting people for petty nuisance crimes, petty things, more arrests, more arrests, and there’s been a devaluation of black life. And so, these things have happened. Now, one thing to note is that many of the settlements back over the several years occurred outside of the public meeting setting in the—at the Board of Estimates in Baltimore, so you didn’t have a great groundswell of talk about it, because a lot of it wasn’t really out in the public view as it is today. But this has been going on for a while.

And I think that it just speaks to the need for change. We need civilian review. We need a different attitude within the police department. We need a better attitude in the whole city. And I think, as I said earlier, we need to have jobs in these communities. You know, something that’s concerned me is that, not only in Baltimore, but around the country, even among a lot of the black leaders, we’ve heard them talk about the issue of police misconduct, but we haven’t talked about the ways that black lives are minimized when we are economically depressed and more money is going into prisons, building prisons, than has gone into jobs in places like Sandtown in Baltimore.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lawrence Bell, what is your response to the way that the mayor has responded to what’s happened? Both the mayor and the police commissioner in Baltimore are African-American, and some have pointed out that this means their response has been much better than what it was, for example, in Ferguson after what happened with Michael Brown.

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, I think the mayor is sincere. I think that there’s still a problem with a lot of leadership, even black leadership, being out of touch with the people on the ground. You know, there’s an emotion that people feel, and that has to be recognized. And I think the mayor and the commissioner, number one, they need to move a lot faster. I mean, we know that there was a certain number of people on the scene when this incident occurred. It shouldn’t be—take rocket science to determine something went wrong. And we need answers a lot faster, a lot quicker. And the length of time that this is taking is the thing that’s really inflaming the passions of the people in the community. So I think that the mayor should do a lot more, a lot faster.

I think that—again, as I said earlier, some years ago there was a video in Baltimore called Stop Snitchin’, and it talked about people in the drug arena snitching on one another. But here’s the thing. Police, apparently, have a mentality of "stop snitching" among themselves, not only in Baltimore, but around the country. And that’s what people are upset about, the whole idea that there’s cover-up and that we know these kinds of things have happened for years, years. And I think if you interview some police officers who are honest, maybe people who are retired, they’ll tell you that this goes on all the time. So, we need to have a whole change. We also need to recruit more African Americans on the police force, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Billy Murphy, the attorney for the Gray family, says police brutality is a pervasive problem in Baltimore.

LAWRENCE BELL: Absolutely.

BILLY MURPHY: And Baltimore has a sorry history of police brutality and an even sorrier history in terms of a governmental response to police brutality. Typically, the police deny, deny, deny, no matter what the facts are. And it is not unusual for them to promote the police officer, even after he’s been found guilty of brutality. We had one case—I handled this—where we got a $44 million verdict against a police officer who rammed my client into the brick wall at the back of his holding cell and paralyzed him from the neck down.

CNN HOST: Oh, my goodness.

BILLY MURPHY: That police officer was promoted to sergeant, after the verdict against him. And the city refused to pay and made us appeal at every level. So we had to go to the Court of Special Appeals, the Court of Appeals.

CNN HOST: Yeah.

BILLY MURPHY: We won in all of the appellate courts. And still they wouldn’t pay the verdict. So, it’s a sorry, sorry situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Family attorney Billy Murphy speaking on CNN. On Tuesday, Michigan Democratic Congressmember John Conyers reintroduced a bill to curb racial profiling and provide relief to profiling victims. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland introduced a companion bill in the Senate. During a news conference, Congressman Conyers cited the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: All lives matter. All lives matter. And I’m thinking now of Sean Bell, Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and now, sadly, Freddie Gray. And so, all of these African-American young men were killed at the hands of local police officers. Ultimately, they are tragic examples of the risk of racial profiling and the use of excessive force.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Congressmember John Conyers after reintroducing a bill against racial profiling. Lawrence Bell, would you call stopping a man while he’s running is racial profiling? Again, the police union attorney said yesterday in the news conference that if they’re running in a high-crime area, that’s cause enough. Now, I was just watching on television Leonard Hamm, the former police chief of Baltimore, being interviewed, and he said, "No"—he was the former police chief. He said, "No, running is not enough." Lawrence Bell, your thoughts?

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, I think these people need to study the law, because there is a concept of probable cause that exists. And I think it’s absurd to say that somebody simply running, after they make eye contact with a police officer, is probable cause. So it makes you wonder, really, you know, where are these people being trained, and where do they get this mentality. And I’ll tell you something. Quite honestly, there is a question of how they perceive black men. The perception of black men and the value of black men is on display right now, when we see these kinds of incidents go on. So, I think that that’s something we need to deal with right away.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Eddie Conway, we’d like to get your comments on the clip that we played earlier of the police union president, Gene Ryan, likening the protesters to a lynch mob. Could you comment on that?

EDDIE CONWAY: You know, as a journalist and a reporter, I have to question the language. I mean, a lynching did occur: Freddie Gray was lynched. There was a lynch mob. There is a body. There was a death without a trial, without a jury, without a sentence. There was an execution. That’s lynching. So, for anybody to say that people that exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand justice, to demand an investigation, is a lynch mob, it’s 1984. It’s doublespeak. They are blaming the victims. They’re blaming people that suffered the lynching, for protesting about the lynching, about their behavior. And I think that is—I mean, they do not serve and protect the citizens of the community, the people that pay them, when they kill those citizens and then, in turn, accuse those citizens of acting out of order, and arresting those citizens for protesting the violence that they inflict upon the citizens. That’s absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: There is a big difference in the way North Charleston, South Carolina, dealt with the killing of Walter Scott and what’s happening today. A police officer was arrested. The mayor and the police chief went to see the family of the Scotts to give their condolences. Now, I understand the Baltimore mayor did call the family to visit them, and they said it wasn’t the time to do that. But on the issue—and I wanted to put this question to Lawrence Bell—of these six police officers, they have all been suspended with pay. Five have given statements; one has not. There’s been very little information released. There’s an internal investigation. There’s a Justice Department investigation. There are a few others, apparently. What do you feel—and I’ll put this question to both of you—needs to be done now? Apparently, the state will be releasing Freddie Gray’s body soon.

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, there needs to be some finality in terms of the investigation. It has to happen a lot faster. We do—you know, we even have—doctors here at Johns Hopkins University have already said that the kind of injury that Mr. Gray suffered had to occur from—well, it had to be a very strong contact that he had with somebody, it seems to say. And so, you know, we don’t—we’re not rocket scientists. We don’t need to study this forever to come up with certain conclusions. We need to have the statements that were made by the police officers released. We need to know everything that happened right away. We need to—we need speed here. We need to know what has happened. And we need to have some people charged. And I’ll tell you, when you have people who are suspended but are still getting paid, that’s the kind of thing that really inflames the passions of the people. And they feel that there’s a two-tiered justice system: There’s one for police; there’s a different one for just regular citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally—

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, and I would add that if any other citizen or any other six citizens had been involved in the death of another citizen, they would all be in central booking. They would all be up for bail hearings. They would all be at least investigated in that kind of manner. They wouldn’t be receiving paid vacation. So there’s a double standard here in terms of the lives of citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow this. More than a thousand people are expected in protests today in Baltimore. Eddie Conway, executive producer of The Real News Network, a former prisoner for more than 40 years. Lawrence Bell, former Baltimore City Council president, represented West Baltimore, which is an area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

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Tulsa Cop Facing Manslaughter Charges Allowed to Take Caribbean Vacation

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 1:15pm
A judge's decision suggests yet more special treatment for the wealthy former insurance executive.

Robert Bates, the Oklahoma volunteer sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed an unarmed man earlier this month, is heading to the Bahamas on vacation with the blessing of a local district court. Currently free on $25,000 bond, Bates says he thought he was firing his taser when he fatally shot Eric Harris. The 73-year-old appeared before a judge on Tuesday to enter a not-guilty plea on a charge of second-degree murder. While he was there, he requested that he and his family be allowed to take a “previously planned vacation” to the Caribbean. The judge agreed, stipulating that Bates needed to be back for his July 2 court date.

Reports of the court-sanctioned vacation follow news that a former supervisor of Bates is now in jail for murder. The Daily Beast notes that during a Today show interview, Bates identified former Tulsa deputy Warren Cole Crittenden as the man who oversaw and approved of his training to serve as a reserve officer. Crittenden is currently in jail awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge.

These facts add to the troubling laundry list of issues around Harris’ tragic shooting death. Records suggest that Bates, a wealthy former insurance executive who “donated weapons, stun guns and vehicles to the [Tulsa] Sheriff’s Office,” was essentially allowed to act as an officer because of his generosity toward the sheriff's department. There are questions about whether Tulsa officers skimped on Bates’ training, leaving him ill-equipped to participate in law enforcement activities, much less carry a gun.

Some people are wondering whether the judge’s decision to allow Bates to leave the country isn’t another example of the special treatment privilege affords. Royal Oakes, a Los Angeles-based attorney who spoke to USA Today, noted that while "[t]here's no hard and fast rule against letting a defendant leave the country,” the particulars of this case make the judge’s decision beyond unusual. "[I]n a manslaughter case where Bates is accused of buying his way into a position for which he was unsuited, the court is inviting major-league second-guessing of the order.''

The family of Eric Harris released a statement about the judge’s decision. The message states, in part, “Mr. Bates’ vacationing in the Bahamas at this time sends a message of apathy with respect to the shooting and Eric’s life…At a time when we are still mourning the death of a loved one that he shot down in the street, Mr. Bates will be relaxing and enjoying his wealth and privilege.”

If convicted, Bates faces a maximum sentence of just four years and $1,000 in fines.  

 

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Clint Eastwood Claims He Didn’t Threaten to Kill Michael Moore, Though 'It Isn’t a Bad Idea'

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 12:06pm
The curmudgeonly director addressed rumors that he threatened to shoot Moore back in 2005.

During a panel at CinemaCon this week, Clint Eastwood addressed longstanding rumors of a feud between himself and director Michael Moore. Moore has claimed that the “American Sniper” director threatened him at the National Board of Review Awards Dinner back in 2005 — where they were being honored for “Farenheit 9/11″ and “Million Dollar Baby,” respectively — with Eastwood saying he would kill Moore if he ever showed up at his door with a camera. Clint, for his part, denied the whole thing — although he certainly doesn’t seem to object to the idea.

“Everybody’s saying I threatened to kill Michael Moore,” said Eastwood at the CinemaCon panel. “That’s not true.”

“It isn’t a bad idea,” he added, after which there was a pause, followed by “nervous laughter,” according to a report from Variety.

While the story has been floating around for years, it re-entered the conversation this January, when Penn State Professor Sophia A. McClennen mentioned the incident in a Salon piece titled “American Sniper’s” biggest lie: Clint Eastwood has a delusional Fox News problem.” The piece describes how Eastwood represents the larger myopia and delusions of the GOP, and points to the 2005 incident as a troubling example of Eastwood’s violent attitude.

Writes McClennen:

After Eastwood accepted his award, he directed comments at Moore. “Michael Moore and I actually have a lot in common – we both appreciate living in a country where there’s free expression.” Eastwood then added: “But, Michael, if you ever show up at my front door with a camera – I’ll kill you. I mean it.” The tone was I’m sort of joking, but maybe not really joking, provoking nervous laughter from both the audience and Moore himself.

Eastwood said he would kill Moore if he showed up at his door. This was his response to a film that raised much-needed conversation about U.S. gun culture. Eastwood’s reaction tells us a lot about the way that some members of the GOP treat those with whom they disagree. If you don’t agree with me on guns, I’ll just kill you.

Moore corroborated McClennen’s account two days later on Facebook, saying that Eastwood did indeed threaten to kill him and shoot him, adding that he was “stunned to hear Eastwood, out of the blue, make such a violent statement.”

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How the NYPD Is More Humane to Coyotes Than African-Americans

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 11:39am
Who knew the NYPD had dart guns and Tasers?

This morning I saw a weird headline in the New York Times that really piqued my interest: "Coyote Roams Upper West Side, With Officers in Pursuit." Of course, I had to click it and see if it was a joke. It wasn't. A wild coyote had somehow found its way into Manhattan and was roaming the streets.

I almost didn't read the entire article. It was short, but I was in a hurry to get my day going. Then my eyes spotted a few words that surprised me even more. At first I was surprised, then I laughed a little, then I grew angry. Here's the sentence that got me:

Earlier this month, the police captured a coyote in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan by shooting it with a tranquilizer dart after a pursuit.

Immediately I googled the words "Chelsea" and "coyote" and learned more:

“There was a lot of cops running around with Tasers; with those long sticks,” said witness Maciej Magier.

Witnesses who saw the coyote said it was the size of a German shepherd. The coyote played cat and mouse with New York’s Finest – bobbing and weaving away from officers from the Emergency Unit toting tranquilizer guns.

It all lasted about an hour before the coyote was tranquilized with a dart and captured.

And more below the fold:

“When we felt it was safe enough, we used our animal noose to capture the animal, and then we placed him in an animal containment box and had him taken out to the center for animal control so they could, I guess, evaluate his health and his future,” said Detective Robert Mirfield, who helped rescue the animal.

“He didn’t want to get captured,” he added.

Eventually the wild coyote is scheduled to be released back into the wild.

Who knew the NYPD had dart guns and Tasers?

Claiming that they thought unarmed teenager Ramarley Graham had a gun, the NYPD chased him down on the street and shot him in his own house in front of his family. He died because dart guns and Tasers weren't used, but lethal firearms. His family was just paid $3.9 million for his wrongful death.

Too bad the NYPD didn't "accidentally" shoot and kill Akai Gurley with a dart gun instead of a pistol in his Brooklyn stairwell.

I wonder if Amadou Diallo would've survived 41 tranquilizer shots from the NYPD instead of the 41 bullets they fired at him in his doorstep?

While it's widely accepted that it would've been grossly inhumane and unsightly for officers to pull out their pistols and blow that wild coyote to bits, lethal force is used over and over and over again on unarmed New Yorkers. In other words, the NYPD is perfectly willing to chase a wild animal with sticks and darts and Tasers for hours on end, but let a calm cool black man sell a few cigarettes on the corner and see what happens to him.

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A Letter of Apology to My Grandson: 'It’s Not the World I Wanted to Leave You'

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 10:57am
Our world is a far more screwed up, degraded place.

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com  here.

Dear Grandson,

Consider my address book -- and yes, the simple fact that I have one already tells you a good deal about me. All the names, street addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers that matter to me are still on paper, not in a computer or on an iPhone, and it’s not complicated to know what that means: I’m an old guy getting older. Going on 71, though I can hardly believe it. And that little book shows all the signs of where I’m headed. It wasn’t true a few years ago, but if I start flipping through the pages now, I can’t help but notice that the dead, with their addresses and phone numbers still beside them, are creeping up on the living, and that my little address book looks increasingly like a mausoleum.

Age has been on my mind of late, especially when I spend time with you.  This year, my father, your great-grandfather, who died in 1983, would have been 109 years old.  And somehow, I find that moving. I feel him a part of me in ways I wouldn’t have allowed myself to admit in my youth, and so think of myself as more than a century old.  Strangely, this leaves me with a modest, very personal sense of hope. Through my children (and perhaps you, too), someday long after I’m gone, I can imagine myself older still.  Don’t misunderstand me: I haven’t a spiritual bone in my body, but I do think that, in some fashion, we continue to live inside each other and so carry each other onward.

As happens with someone of my age, the future seems to be foreshortening and yet it remains the remarkable mystery it’s always been.  We can’t help ourselves: we dream about, wonder about, and predict what the future might hold in store for us.  It's an urge that, I suspect, is hardwired into us.  Yet, curiously enough, we’re regularly wrong in the futures we dream up. Every now and then, though, you peer ahead and see something that proves -- thanks to your perceptiveness or pure dumb luck (there’s no way to know which) -- eerily on target.

The Future Foreseen

Back in 2001, before I even imagined a grandson in my life, I had one of those moments (and wish I hadn’t).  It was sometime just after the 9/11 attacks when, nationwide, Americans were still engaged in endless rites in which we repeatedly elevated ourselves to the status of the foremost victims on the planet, the only ones that mattered.  In those months, you might say, we made ourselves into Earth’s indispensible or exceptional victims.

In that extended moment of national mourning (combined with fear bordering on hysteria), the Bush administration geared up to launch its revenge-fueled global wars, while money started pouring into the national security state in a historically unprecedented way.  It was a time when the previously un-American word “homeland” was being attached to what would become a second defense department, secrecy was descending like a blanket on the government, torture was morphing into the enhancement of the week in the White House, assassination was about to become a focus (later an obsession) of the executive branch -- and surveillance?  Don’t even get me started on the massively redundant domestic and global surveillance state that would soon be built on outright illegalities and rubber-stamp legalities of every sort.

In October 2001, I had no way of grasping most of that, but it didn't matter.  I peered into the future and just knew -- and what I knew chilled me to the bone.  I had mobilized decades earlier as part of the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era, which was in its own way a terrible time, but when I looked at where our country seemed to be heading, as the president promised to kick some ass globally and American bombs began to fall on Afghanistan, I had no doubt that this was going to be the worst era of my life.

I wasn’t, of course, thinking about you that October and November.  You were then minus 11 years old, so to speak.  I was, however, thinking about your mother and your uncle, my children.  I was thinking about the world that I and my cohorts and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and George Tenet and Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of that crew were going to leave them.

In a quiet way I had done good work -- so I felt -- since demobilizing (like so many Americans) from the Vietnam era.  In my spare time as a non-academic, I had written a very personal history of the Cold War of which I was proud.  I had been a book editor for two publishing houses, specializing in bringing into the world works by what I used to call “voices from elsewhere” (even when they came from here), including, to name just two, Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback and Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy.

But when I somehow stumbled into the future in all its grim horror, more of that work didn’t seem like an adequate response to what was coming.  I had no sense that I could do much, but I felt an urge that seemed uncomplicated: not to hand your mother and uncle such a degraded country, planet, new century without lifting a finger in opposition, without at least trying.  I felt the need to mobilize myself in a new way for the future I’d seen.

At that point, however, my knack, such as it was, for previewing the years to come failed me and I had no sense of what to do until TomDispatch more or less smacked me in the face.  (But that’s a story for another day.)  This April, more than 13 years after I first began sending missives to the no-name listserv that turned into TomDispatch, it’s clear that, in my own idiosyncratic way, I did manage to mobilize myself to do what I was capable of.  Unfortunately, I’d have to add that, all this time later, our world is a far more screwed up, degraded place.

A Fragmenting Reality

Stretch anything far enough and it’ll begin to tear, fragment, break apart.  That, I suspect, may be a reasonable summary of what’s been happening in our twenty-first-century world.  Under stress, things are beginning to crack open.  Here in the U.S., people sometimes speak about being in a Second Gilded Age, a new era of plutocracy, while our politics, increasingly the arena of billionaires, seem to second that possibility.  Looked at another way, however, “our” Second Gilded Age is really a global phenomenon in the sense that ever fewer people own ever more.  By 2016, it is estimated that 1% of the people on this planet will control more than 50% of global wealth and own more than the other 99% combined.  In 2013, the 85 richest people had as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion, while in certain regions inequality seems to be on the rise. (Whether China and India are major exceptions to this is an open question.)  Dark money is rampant not just here, but globally.

Though you don’t know it yet, you’re already living in an increasingly lopsided world whose stresses only seem to be multiplying.  Among other things, there is the literal fragmentation going on -- the collapse of social order, of long established national units, even potentially of whole groupings of states.  Astonishingly enough, from Ukraine to Greece, Spain to France, that mood of fragmentation even seems to be reaching into Europe.  Across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, fragmentation has, of course, been the story of our moment, with nations collapsing, wars endemic, extremism of every sort on the rise, and whole populations uprooted, in exile, under almost inconceivable pressures -- and for much of this, I’m sad to say, our country bears a painful responsibility. 

In these years, I wrote repeatedly (not to say repetitiously) on the subject; about, that is, a group of mad American visionaries who had dreams of establishing a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East by force of arms and then lording it over the world for generations to come.  In the name of freedom and democracy and with a fundamentalist belief in the transformational power of the U.S. military, they blithely invaded Iraq and blew a hole in the heart of the Middle East, from which the fallout is now horrifically apparent in the Islamic State and its “caliphate.”

And then, of course, there was our country’s endless string of failed wars, interventions, raids, assassination campaigns, and the like; there was, in short, the “global war on terror” that George W. Bush launched to scourge the planet of “terrorists,” to (as they then liked to say) “drain the swamp” in 80 countries.  It was a “war” that, with all its excesses, quickly morphed into a recruiting poster for the spread of extremist outfits.  By now, it has become so institutionalized that it wouldn’t surprise me if, in your adulthood, Washington were still pursuing it no less relentlessly or unsuccessfully.

In the process, the president became first a torturer-in-chief and then an assassin-in-chief and, I’m sorry to tell you, few here even blinked.  It’s been a nightmare of -- to haul out some words you’re not likely to learn for a while -- hubris and madness, profits and horrors, inflated dreams of glory and the return, as if from an earlier century, of the warrior corporation and for-profit warfare on a staggering scale.

All of this happened in a country that still bills itself as the wealthiest and most powerful on the planet (though that power and wealth have proven ever harder to apply effectively) and all of it happened, despite obvious and honorable exceptions, without much opposition.  If this is a Second Gilded Age -- .01% of Americans, 16,000 families, control 11% of all wealth (as they last did in 1916) and 22% of all household wealth (up from 7% three decades ago) -- it is also, in the words of historian Steve Fraser, an “age of acquiescence.”

This has been true for the return of plutocracy, as well as for the growth of a national security state that has, like those billionaire plutocrats, gained power as the American people lost it.  If that state within a state has a motto, it might be this singularly undemocratic one: Americans are safest and most secure when they are most ignorant of what their government is doing.  In other words, in twenty-first-century America, “we the people” (a phrase that I hope lasts into your time) are only to know what their government does in their name to the degree that the government cares to reveal it.

That shadow government could never have gained such power if it hadn’t been for the trauma of 9/11, the shock of experiencing for one day a kind of violence and destruction that was common enough elsewhere on the planet, and the threat posed by a single phenomenon we call “terrorism.”  The Islamic extremist groups that come under that rubric do indeed represent a threat to actual human beings from Syria to Pakistan, Somalia to Libya, but they represent next to no threat to what’s now called the American “homeland.”

Of course, some whacked-out guy could always pick up a gun and, inspired by a bizarre propaganda video, in the name of one extreme organization or another, kill some people here.  But mass killings by those with no ideological animus are already, like death-by-toddler, commonplace in this country, and no one thinks to organize trillion dollar “security” systems to prevent them.

That the fear of this one modest danger transformed the national security state into a remarkable center of power, profits, and impunity with hardly a peep from "we the people" has been a kind of bleak miracle of our times.  What were we thinking when we let them spend something like a trillion dollars a year on what was called “national security” in order to leave us in a world that may have little security at all?  What did we have in mind when we let them fund their blue-skies thinking on the weaponry of 2047, instead of on the schools, energy sources, or infrastructure of that same year? I could pile up such questions endlessly, but if what we ceded to them is still of interest to you 20 or 30 or 40 years from now, and you have the luxury of looking back on our times, on the origins of your troubles, I’m sure you’ll find a clearer view of all this in the histories of your moment.

I have no way of imagining what the United States will be like in your adulthood and yet I can sense that this country is changing in unsettling ways.  It’s being transformed into something that your great-grandfather would have found unrecognizably un-American.  If we can’t yet speak of “fragmentation” here, phrases like “political polarization” and “gridlock” are already part and parcel of our new billionaire way of life.  What exactly all this is leading to, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t look either familiar or good to me.  It certainly doesn’t look like the American world I’d want to turn over to you.

America on the Couch

You haven’t set foot in school, barely know how to use one of those ubiquitous silver scooters, and can still embrace the magical thinking of childhood -- of announcing, for instance, that you’re “hiding,” even in plain sight, and then assuming that you can’t be seen.  So I know that it’s a little early to bring up the seemingly unhinged nature of the affairs of grown-ups.

Still, if this country of mine, and someday yours, could be put on the couch, I suspect it would, in layman’s terms, be diagnosed as “disturbed” (on an increasingly disturbed planet).  Worst of all, we can evidently no longer see what actually threatens us most, which isn’t a bunch of jihadis, but what we are doing to our ourselves and our world.

Put another way, if we’re not significantly threatened by what we’ve dumped all our money and energy into, that hardly means there are no threats to American life.  In fact, I haven’t even mentioned what worries me most when I think about your future: the increasing stress under which life here and elsewhere is being placed by the exploitation and burning of fossil fuels.

In any case, I had the urge to put all this “on the record,” though I have no way of knowing whether that record has any permanence, whether in the world of 2047 you’ll even be able to access what I’ve written.  In other words, I have no idea whether you’ll ever read this.  I do fear, however, that if you do, it will be from a more fragmented, unhinged, stressed-out version of the planet we’re both on today, and I’m aware that our responsibility was to provide you and all other children with what you minimally deserve -- a decent place to grow up.

For that record, then, I want to say that, despite my own best (if modest) efforts, I feel I owe you an apology.  In ways I find hard to express, I’m sorry for what is and what may be.  It’s not the country I imagined for you.  It’s not the world I wanted to leave you.  It’s not what you deserve.

Nonetheless, I still have hopes for you and your moment.  As a wonderful writer of my time once pointed out, the darkness of the future is a kind of blessing.  It always leaves open the possibility that, against the madness of the moment, the genuine decency, the lovability I see in you, that anyone can see in just about any child, has a shot-in-the-dark chance of making a difference on our planet. 

And more specifically, however much this may be an “age of acquiescence” when it comes to wealth and war, it hasn’t proved so on the subject that matters most: climate change.  Against the forces of genuine criminality and wealth, despite a tenacious denial of reality funded by companies that have profited in historic ways from fossil fuels, a movement has been forming in this country and globally to save humanity from scouring itself off the planet.  From pipelines to divestment, its strength has been rising at the very moment when the price of alternative energy systems is falling rapidly.  It’s a combination that offers at least a modicum of hope against the worst pressures to fragment and, in the end, simply destroy this planet as a welcoming place for you and your children and their children.

So let me just end this way: someday in the distant future, I hope you’ll read this letter and that, given the ingenuity of our species, given the grit to resist madness, given whatever surprises the future holds, you’ll smile indulgently at my worst fears.  You’ll assure me -- or at least whatever trace of me is left in you -- that I had a typically human inability to imagine the unpredictable future, and that in the end things never measured up to my worst fears.  I hope, despite what we didn’t do, that you have the opportunity for a life of wonders, the kind that everyone on this planet deserves.

Your loving grandpa,

Tom

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Jon Stewart: The Difference Between Atlanta Cheating and Wall Street Scandals Is Who Got Punished (Video)

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 10:41am
The lesson is, crime doesn't pay—unless you work on Wall Street.

Jon Stewart compared the “eerie” similarities between the Atlanta teacher cheating scandal with fraud on Wall Street, and discovered that the only difference between the two seems to be who was actually punished. (Spoiler alert: It was the teachers.)

On last night’s Daily Show segment, Stewart looked at the basics of both cases to see where they overlapped and diverged. The similarities were endless: widespread lying for personal gain, a culture of secrecy and intimidation and a refusal to admit to wrongdoing. But the stories had very different endings: teachers and administrators involved in the Atlanta scandal will actually be doing hard time, with some sentenced to years in prison. Wall Streeters “whose financial crimes nearly broke the Earth” escaped almost unscathed, with the exception of one conviction.

Watch the clip below:

The Daily Show
Daily Show Full Episodes,  More Daily Show Videos,  Comedy Central Full Episodes

 

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Waffle House's Diner Empire is Based on Right-Wing Politics and Ripping Off Workers

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 10:20am
Waffle House is financing Republican politicians who advocate for weak labor oversight.

This year, Waffle House, the Georgia-based diner chain that was founded in 1955, celebrates its 60th anniversary. The company, which now boasts over 1,500 restaurants nationwide, began as a modest establishment around six miles from downtown Atlanta, in Decatur. Its simple, three-word logo is, “Good Food Fast”:

Today it has been converted into the Waffle House Museum, and stands as a testament to the rapid market success of a fast food diner that was able to survive the whims of an America where diners' tastes ebb and flow. But while the chain is known for its cheap and delicious eggs, coffee, hashbrowns, and yes, waffles, what's less known is what this cuisine is built upon: a workforce worked to the bone with unfair compensation and a company leadership deeply tied to the Republican Party and the right-wing agenda.

Its practices include charging employees for meals whether they eat or not, underpaying them below the minimum wage, and tightly controlling tips—at one point even seizing a $1,000 tip from an employee. And while they are operating a matrix of policies designed to keep their employees disempowered and unable to organize, they are financing Republican politicians who advocate for weak labor oversight.

Accusations of Wage Theft, Abuse and Disregard For Employees

Waffle House bills itself as “America's Place To Work.” Joe Rogers, Sr., a co-founder of Waffle House, says the restaurant chain is “not in the food business. We are in the people business.”

But employees of Waffle House, particularly those who work as servers, are subject to practices that deny them wages they are owed and reduce their takehome pay in ways that are anything but pro-worker. Interviews with numerous former Waffle House employees, as well as a lawyer representing additional staff, confirm a matrix of rules and regulations designed to maximize Waffle House profits and deny them wages they are entitled to by law.

These policies begin before an employee even starts working at a Waffle House franchise. As a condition of employment, associates at the diner chain are asked to sign an arbitration agreement that essentially disallows more than one employee from joining together to take legal action together against the chain. This is geared toward preventing the most powerful legal weapon workers have to change corporate behavior, the class action lawsuit.

A copy of the arbitration agreement was filed as a public document in the federal lawsuit Masse v. Waffle House, Case No. CIV-12-1301, Doc. # 14-1 (W.D. Okla.), meaning that the public has access to it. We have embedded it below:

Waffle House Arbitration Agreement (Public)

“I have one client who has an unfair labor practice charge pending with the NLRB, and she's claiming that the arbitration agreement that Waffle House and its franchisees have their employees sign is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act because it requires employees [to] pursue claims on an individual basis,” says Mark Kistler, a Kansas-based lawyer who is representing Waffle House workers as clients.

To understand why such action might be necessary, you have to look at how aggressive Waffle House has been to prevent its employees from taking legal action to address their labor grievances.

In 1994, Eric Baker began employment at a Waffle House as a grill operator, signing the arbitration agreement at another Waffle House but not signing one at the restaurant he ended up working at. Within two weeks of starting employment, Baker suffered a seizure as a result of a change in medication. When he returned to work the next day, he suffered another seizure. Waffle House promptly fired him.

Baker filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying his firing was a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The EEOC took his side, filing a lawsuit against Waffle House. Waffle House argued that the arbitration agreement prevented the EEOC from suing, and that there must instead be arbitration. By 2002, this legal fight made it all the way up to the Supreme Court, and in January 2002, the court sided with the EEOC.

The Baker case is a telling example of the sorts of abuses Waffle House hopes to shield with its use of mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment.

One of the major areas for a possible class action lawsuit that Waffle House would likely most fear would be a complaint about wage theft. Under current law, employers are allowed to pay employees below the federal minimum wage if they are, through tips, compensated up to at least the level of the minimum wage (the federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13). “If you're working at a fairly upscale restaurant that does brisk business, this isn't going to be a problem,” notes Kistler. But Waffle House is far from upscale; its menu items are are all well below $10, and tips are proportionally low as well.

When employers fail to compensate employees for a lack of tips, they are engaging in wage theft, intentionally underpaying employees below what they are obligated to under federal law. Although it is difficult to prove that Waffle House is engaging in systematic wage theft —franchised restaurants do not manage each store on a day-to-day basis—numerous interviews with employees reveal a widespread pattern of practices showing the issue is prevalent throughout Waffle House franchises.

Under federal law, employees can only be asked to perform up to 20 percent of their time doing non-tipped work before their employers are required to pay them the full minimum wage rather than the tipped wage. 

Waffle House does not typically hire someone whose job is specifically to do the cleaning – things like washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom. As one testimony on Glassdoor, the employee review website, states, “they...get away with not having dishwashers and cleaning staff by calling their servers salespersons instead, so on top of traditional sidework they are responsible for cleaning all dishes, cleaning windows inside and out, cleaning bathrooms, cleaning the ceiling tiles, floors, etc.”

What this results in is that the same people doing tipped work – the servers – are often spending more than a fifth of their time on a shift doing non-tipped work, such as cleaning, and not getting compensated up to the full minimum wage for it. “I've talked to several Waffle House employees. I can tell you that with regard to at least two employees, that they have at least informed me that in fact was happening, that they're spending far more than 20 percent of their time on cleaning,” says Kistler.

This form of wage theft was so common that when a former Waffle House employee started a blog to interview fellow staff about their experiences, he made sure to always include a question about whether employees were fairly compensated. Terran Mayr told him she “never made enough in one night to equal minimum wage,” and that Waffle House never compensated her up to the minimum wage when she didn't get enough tips. Brandi Thomas, a 23-year-old waitress, said she only “sometimes” received enough tips to make the full minimum wage, and Waffle House didn't compensate her when she didn't.

The techniques for wage theft are sometimes more sophisticated. "Patricia," a former Georgia Waffle House worker AlterNet interviewed, described how daylight savings time became a tool to keep workers at her franchise underpaid. “I worked on the night shift at Waffle House, from 9pm-7am. We clocked in and out with a time clock. When daylight savings time changed in the fall, and the clocks moved back, we worked 11 hours, but the computer only paid us for 10 hours. When I talked to people about it, they said management had said we would get the time back when the time changed the next time,” she explained.

"We needed the money then," Patricia continued. "And when the time changed again, we might not be working at Waffle House then, or might not be working that shift. I was working the night shift when the time changed. So we worked nine hours and the computer thought was 10 hours. So the central office sent a memo to our managers telling them to subtract an hour's pay from our paycheck. The hour or two before the end of our shift was busy, and we made a lot of our tips then. Sometimes we didn't have time to wash the dishes before the end of the shift, so we would have to work past the end of the shift to finish up the dishes. Near the end of my time there, management sent in people to 'help' us by waiting on the tables while we washed dishes. So they got the tips while we washed their dishes.”

Patricia no longer works at Waffle House, but her story describes the way the chain uses its arbitration agreement to protect itself from class action litigation.

Another former Georgia Waffle House employee, "Ann," described to AlterNet one of the chain's most-hated policies. While some restaurants offer free meals for employees, workers at the Waffle House are actually charged $4 per shift for a meal—whether they eat a meal or not. “I got charged for food even if I didn't eat,” explains Ann, who was 21 years old while working at her location. That is, when she was working. Ann's manager would come in “yelling at workers in front of customers about what needs to be done and sometimes it would bring tears to the girls I worked with like we were his slaves. He even called me one day after I got off, fussing about the waffle iron spray because it fell underneath where I couldn't reach and he was mad about food cost.”

Ann lost her job when she was ill one day, and her boyfriend called in to say she was sick and couldn't come in. The manager told her boyfriend that if Ann didn't come in to work she would be fired. That was her last day on the job.

While Waffle House keeps its restaurants open in the worst weather, without regard for the well-being of its employees. When a massive ice storm hit Atlanta in 2011, shutting down the city's bus lines and mail service, Waffle House boasted that “we never closed a single restaurant. Our associates showed up for their shifts,” in the words of executive vice president Dave Rickell. The Federal Emergency Management Agency jokes that if the Waffle Houses in a disaster area are closed, the emergency is especially severe. "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?" FEMA administrator Craig Fugate once said. "That's really bad."

Funding Republicans, Backing Right-Wing Agenda

While Waffle House has built up its business on the backs of an abused workforce, it has also worked simultaneously to bolster Republicans who would foster a policy climate even more conducive to driving down wages and benefits. When Karl Rove started up American Crossroads, the Super PAC he founded to unseat President Barack Obama, Waffle House was one of the first corporations to contribute, writing a $100,000 check to Rove's organization. It also gifted $50,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney Super PAC.

Most of the company's political giving has largely focused on Georgia. It has backed many in Georgia's congressional delegation, such as GOP Rep. Tom Price who is today the House of Representative's budget chief. Price, as well as all of the other House Republicans Waffle House backed, voted against an amendment to limit government contracts from companies that engage in wage theft. In other words, Waffle House's men in Congress voted to ensure it would continue to receive taxpayer largesse even if it was ever taken to task by regulators for what appear to be widespread violations of wage laws.

One of Waffle House's own executives, a lawmaker in the Georgia State Senate, floated a bill that would crack down on workers' ability to protest the conditions they work under: Republican State Senator Don Balfour, a vice president at Waffle House and former treasurer of the short-lived WafflePAC, introduced a bill that would have banned workers from picketing outside the homes of company executives. Despite vigorous protests from union activists, the bill passed the state senate and appeared to be on the verge of becoming law. Then something unexpected happened: tea partiers in the state, led by the eccentric Debbie Dooley, turned against the bill.

“This is not a right or left issue, it is a right or wrong issue. We may not agree with all of the politics...but we will defend their right to speak and protest, because this is America. If we destroy the First Amendment, we cease to be a free nation,” wrote the Atlanta Tea Party/Tea Party Patriots in an email to their constituents. Facing a backlash from both organized labor and the Tea Party, the bill was killed.

As for Balfour, he was indicted in 2013 on numerous charges of falsifying items in his legislative expense account but was later acquitted of the charges, maintaining his privileged position as a senior lawmaker.

Hitting the Limits

In June 2014, Raleigh Waffle House waitress Shaina Brown received a $1,000 tip from a generous customer. Waffle House refused to allow Brown to keep the tip, setting off a public relations firestorm. The customer returned and wrote Brown a personal check for $1,000 and Waffle House wrote a public apology on its Facebook wall to both Brown and the customer.

This incident shows that there are limits that even Waffle House can hit. Its abuse of workers and embrace of anti-worker politics cannot go on forever; when the abuses are exposed, the public's anger overrides the chain's anti-employee ideology. Just as public outrage made sure Shaina Brown was able to keep her tip, public anger could dismantle the chain of anti-worker policies, wage theft and political ideology that keeps the Waffle House workforce under-paid and abused.

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The Drug War: The Primary Reason There Are '1.5 Million Missing Black Men'

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 10:06am
Drug use doesn't discriminate, but the war on drug users does.

On Monday, the New York Times published a deeply upsetting piece titled, "1.5 Million Missing Black Men."

According to the Times, "Black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million. ...For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99."

The primary reasons 1.5 million men are missing from their communities is because they are behind bars or because of early death, the story noted. The numbers are shocking and offensive. The Times states, "One out of six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years have disappeared from daily life."

While the article makes clear that incarceration is a major reason so many African Americans are removed from their communities, it doesn't identify the role of the war on drugs in mass incarceration. Roughly 500,000 of the 2.4 million people behind bars are there for a drug offense. America is the number one jailer in the world, with under five percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

It may not surprise you to learn that there are gross racial disparities when it comes to who ends up behind bars for drugs. According to Human Rights Watch, African Americans go to jail or prison 10 times the rate of whites, despite similar drug use.

There is some sick hypocrisy in our country.

Despite a $40 billion a year "war on drugs" and political speeches about a "drug-free society," our society is swimming in drugs. Every day millions use cigarettes, sugar, alcohol, marijuana, Prozac, Ritalin, Viagra, steroids, cocaine and caffeine to get themselves through the day. There are drugs on every Ivy League campus in this country and drugs are flowing on Wall Street. The vast majority of Americans use drugs on a regular basis.

While it is clear that drug use doesn't discriminate, the reality is that the war on drug users does discriminate. The ACLU found racial disparities in every single state in the country, with blacks being arrested for marijuana from three to 10 times the rates of whites.

From New York to Ferguson, and all across the country we see law enforcement target people of color. Thanks to stop-and-frisk and racial profiling, blacks are ticketed and arrested at outrageous rates for doing the exact same things whites do.

"1.5 Million Missing Black Men" needs to be a wakeup call. We cannot allow one out of six black men to go missing. And ending the war on drugs is an important, concrete step to addressing this.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

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Amy Schumer Is Making Genius Feminist Comedy (Video)

AlterNet.org - April 23, 2015 - 10:03am
On the Season Three premiere of her notorious comedy show, the comedian skewered misogyny in a way that's smart, funny and brilliant.

"It's Season Three, we're gonna do whatever the fuck we want!" And with those words delivered at the Tribeca Film Festival, Amy Schumer laid down the rules for how things will go for the next arc of her popular Comedy Central show. The premiere episode proved audiences are in for a season of comedy that is both funny and unapologetically feminist – proving it can be done – even when it’s making poop jokes.

There’s “Last Fuckable Day,” which brilliantly calls out Hollywood (and pretty much all of society's) ageism against women. The skit features Tina Fey, Patricia Arquette and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who teach Schumer about the titular moment, a coming-of-ageism period when the media decides an actress isn’t “believably fuckable anymore.” (For the record, Schumer says they’d been trying to get this to air since the show began, but had a hard time finding actresses who would agree to appear.) Too many highlights to mention, though an apparently ad-libbed Fey line about “white spiders” coming out of men is an instant classic.

“Football Town Nights,” an obvious spoof of “Friday Night Lights,” is a pitch perfect, laugh-out-loud takedown of rape culture in football. Bonus points for Schumer’s continuously growing wine glass in this one.

“Milk Milk Lemonade” uses the children’s rhyme, but against a glossy, hip-hop video backdrop, to make fun of the current obsession with women’s butts. Sure, it’s one long poop joke—the line “This is where my poop comes out!” literally gets repeated over and over—but it gets the point across. Amber Rose, Method Man and Jemima Kirke all cameo.

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Behind closed doors at Rio Tinto

New Internationalist - April 23, 2015 - 8:20am
Richard Solly reflects on the mining company’s AGM – and why such meetings are so important.
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What's New: Why Everything Sucks

Socialist Project - April 23, 2015 - 2:00am
If a Canadian from the 'Just Society' era of the Pierre Trudeau-led Liberals in the late 1960s was magically transported to present day they might not recognize their country. Since that halcyon period of counter-culture ferment, there’s been a huge shift to neoliberalism, an economic system that puts the economy before everything else.
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Cops Kill Man for Refusing to ID as He Dropped Off Stray Cat to Animal Shelter, Police Remain Silent

AlterNet.org - April 22, 2015 - 8:44pm
What was a seemingly selfless act of kindness would subsequently end with Lawrence being fatally gunned down by a cop.

Dothan, Ala. – In late December of 2014, Robert Earl Lawrence, 30, in an act of compassion, took a stray cat to the Dothan Animal Shelter. What was a seemingly selfless act of kindness would subsequently end with Lawrence being fatally gunned down by a cop.

Almost four months after that fateful day, police have provided the public with no more answers than were given the day after the killing. They have maintained a blanket of virtual silence surrounding the incident.

As we reported previously, the staff at the shelter, rather than simply accepting the cat, proceeded to demand that Lawrence show government issued identification. Per shelter policy, they demanded Lawrence show ID, prior to being allowed to leave, according to information released by police immediately after the shooting.

Lawrence showed them a notarized legal identification in the form of an affidavit, rather than the standard Department of Motor Vehicle issued ID card. In what would prove to be a fatal move, shelter employees refused to accept his form of ID and called the police.

Immediately upon arrival, the police began to force Lawrence to show his ID, eventually attempting to arrest him. In an apparent struggle, Lawrence was fatally shot by the officer in the abdomen, according to police.

“After repeatedly being told to calm down, Lawrence was advised he was being placed under arrest. A physical altercation ensued, to which Lawrence was shot in the abdomen (by an officer),” Police Sgt. Maurice Eggleston told AL News.

After the shooting the police spin machine went into overdrive as they attempted to portray the victim in a negative light. They highlighted past run-ins with the law and labeled him a “Sovereign Citizen,” a claim which his family disputes.

Of course using blanket terms for individuals, such as the law enforcement propensity for calling someone that asserts their constitutional rights a “Sovereign Citizen,” is simply another way to propagandize the public into support. This type of activity can be seen in a leaked 2012 Homeland Security study that claimed Americans who are “reverent of individual liberty,” and “suspicious of centralized federal authority” are possible “extreme right-wing” terrorists.

Now almost four months after Lawrence’s needless killing at the hands of police, police have shunned any thoughts of transparency in the case and numerous questions remain.

Surveillance footage that may have captured the incident has never been released, nor has the name of the officer involved in the shooting.

Additionally, there has been no indication as to why a man that simply refused to show ID was killed by an officer sworn to uphold the law. It was his right not to identify in that circumstance, regardless of shelter policy,

There has been no indication that Lawrence possessed any weapon, which begs the question; what alleged justification did the officer have for using lethal force on a man that simply refused to show the requested ID while dropping a stray cat off at an animal shelter?

These are questions the police have thus far refused to answer. The extent of what police have released to the public, aside from their initial statement, is that an inquiry into the incident is complete and being reviewed by the state.

Earlier this month, Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska said he received the state police investigative report. That was on the 13th and we’ve yet to hear a peep from Valeska. He’s actually stated that it could take up to 30 days for him to simply review it. There is no word on when the family can read about how the police killed their son.

Doesn’t it help you sleep well at night knowing that the state is secretively investigating itself, while providing the public with absolutely no information about the incident?

The effort to keep the public in the dark about the events surrounding this incident do nothing to build confidence in police at a time when they desperately lack public support. Conversely, these actions have actually made people even more suspicious of the institution of law enforcement as a whole.

The public has a right to know why a cop killed a man for simply refusing to ID. If there was no reasonable suspicion of Lawrence committing a crime, then he was under no obligation to show identification.

If you are sick of corrupt government trying to protect their paid enforcers by secretly investigating themselves and keeping people in the dark, then share this article and demand transparency and accountability!

 

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The Love of My Life Died from Suicide and I'm Trying to Share His Music

AlterNet.org - April 22, 2015 - 3:00pm
Keith wanted to be heard. Since his life ended abruptly, I'll be making that happen by spreading his music around the world. I could map out my teenage years and entire adult life by the moments spent with Keith. I first met him in middle school, when he was a shy, curly-haired skateboarder in a Nirvana T-shirt. When we were in eighth grade I learned he had a crush on me. We first kissed when we were in high school. We officially became boyfriend and girlfriend in my college dorm room. He was the artist, a musician, but he was always my muse. We’d been off and on in the seven years since my sophomore year of college, partly because I could never find anybody whose love for me felt nearly as deep. We had been living together for six months, when in March of this year we had a terrible, late-evening argument. That night, Keith died “from suicide.” The night suicide took Keith, we had gotten into an awful fight I’ll regret for the rest of my life, because he was the love of my life. I was still angry when I asked him to turn off the light in the hallway, and when he walked out of the room and did not come back right away, I assumed he stepped outside for a cigarette or a walk, maybe even into the living room to write in his journal. But after peeking through my bedroom window to the stoop out front 15 minutes after he had walked away, I realized his shoes were still in the house. He hadn’t gone for a walk, so I went looking for him inside. That’s when I found him, in the early hours of March 7th, hanging by the neck from the landing above the stairs in our apartment. He stayed alive, his eyes bloodshot and half-open, for about 12 hours after I had cut him down. I knew, though, as soon as the paramedics told me his pupils were not reacting to light, that he wouldn’t survive. I had learned the brain’s failure to modulate pupils is a death sentence from reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which I read after another tragedy in 2013. Had I gone looking for Keith sooner I could have rescued him. I know this because the paramedics, nurses and doctors all asked how long he’d gone without oxygen. I wonder if, during his last moments alive, Keith changed his mind. Did he take his final breath hoping that I would come and find him? Keith struggled with addiction and depression for years and I did everything I could to save him. And yet, I feel like I failed him at the moment he needed me most.

Read the rest of "Sharing My Boyfriend’s Songs After His Suicide" at Modern LossReprinted with the permission of Modern Loss and the author. Find out how to help someone affected by suicide.  

Listen to a playlist of Keith’s music:


 

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Workers Say Walmart Closed Stores to Retaliate Against Activists

AlterNet.org - April 22, 2015 - 3:00pm
The action in Pico Rivera, California, is linked to a store that has been the center of labor organizing.

Walmart workers in Pico Rivera, California, are asking the National Labor Relations Board for an injunction against the company's decision to close its store there for six months. Walmart claims that the Pico Rivera store, along with four others in California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas, is being closed for plumbing repairs. The Pico Rivera workers and the labor group OUR Walmart say it looks awfully suspicious that the closures just happened to hit a store that's been a center of worker organizing, and they're claiming retaliation:

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which backs OUR Walmart, is listed as the filing party on the NLRB complaint, which claims that Wal-Mart targeted the Pico Rivera store because it has been “the center of concerted action by [workers] to improve wages and working conditions for all Walmart [workers] around the country.” The Pico Rivera store was the site of OUR Walmart’s first strike in 2012; workers at that location have participated in strikes and civil disobedience ever since.

Walmart claims 100 or more plumbing problems at each of the stores that have been closed, but rather than getting as much prep work done for the repairs before taking the unusual step of closing stores, the company hasn't yet gotten permits for the repairs. Still, with five stores closed, it will likely be difficult for the Pico Rivera workers to prove that Walmart's action was directed at them.

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Americans See How Extreme Scott Walker Is, As He Lashes Out Against Legal Immigrants

AlterNet.org - April 22, 2015 - 2:55pm
Walker and the other GOP candidates are showing us who they truly are, before the deluge of political ads.

Did you catch the on-again, off-again endorsement this week of Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions by the billionaire ultra-right-wing Koch brothers?

On Monday, Walker went to New York City for a GOP fundraiser and the New York Times reported that he left with a from-the-podium endorsement by David Koch. The next day, Koch modifed his words while his Kansas-based brother, Charles Koch, told USA Today that they like five candidates, including Walker. The press covered this as if it were six weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

Yet as Walker was basking in the limelight, he didn’t strike a more dignified note. The very next day he went on right-wing provocateur Glenn Beck’s radio show and unveiled another extremist stance, saying that America’s legal immigration system is taking jobs away from deserving Americans who need them, especially white southerners.

“I’ve talked to [Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff] Sessions and others out there,” Walker said. “It is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today, is what this is doing for American workers looking for jobs, what it is doing to wages. And we need to have that at the forefront of our discussion going forward.”

There’s something unprecedented going on here—especially among Republicans. The media is covering every hiccup. Yet there are no campaign commercials to speak of. There are few political consultants or press flacks telling reporters that you didn’t hear what you just heard. And the candidates, with Walker as Exhibit A, are loose cannons in ways that only keep getting more extreme. 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is talking tough about cutting Social Security and Medicare. Ted Cruz is attacking Marco Rubio and Rand Paul for not being pro-gun enough. So, either they and the others are pandering in the most shameless ways possible for right-wing slices of the GOP base, or they are showing Americans who they really are.

Even though the Iowa caucuses are nine months away, what we are witnessing today is a remarkable looking glass into who these candidates truly are, in all their extremist, unpolished glory. It’s coming in the start-up phase of the campaign, when candidates are grandiose and have experienced no major setbacks or losses at the polls. And there are no TV ads to hide behind.

Walker is a case in point. As Salon.com noted, his railing against legal immigrants is “to the right of Ted Cruz.” It’s also at odds with John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Rob Portman and John Thune, GOP senators who supported a failed immigration reform bill that still would have imposed draconian restrictions on legal immigrants—including not being able to vote for years.

If Walker knows what he’s doing—and he has proven in Wisconsin that he is not to be underestimated—then one has to conclude that he’s striking a pose calculated to appeal to rural white right-wingers who loom large in 2016 caucus and primary states, even if these extremists are on the fringes of a national presidential electorate.

The American public isn’t seeing a deluge of slick TV ads telling them what a great guy Walker is. Instead, he keeps showing up at events and on right-wing radio making appeals to the furthest reaches of the right, from Christian evangelicals to white nativists.

In London, he drew the scorn of reporters for saying he believed in both creationism and evolutionary science. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, he compared the protesting teachers unions in Wisconsin to ISIS terrorists, saying his success in rolling back collective bargaining agreements prepared him to lead the American military overseas. In other forums, he's refused to affirm President Obama's patriotism and even questioned Obama's Christianity.

There’s some evidence that Walker is being told he needs to present a polished façade—even if he hasn’t officially announced. Politico reports that he’s pulled back from talking to the mainstream media, “closing off events to reporters and refusing to take questions.” The Wall Street Journal reports that last week Walker returned from another trip to Europe with no press and is now focusing on “Israeli issues.”

Nonetheless, Walker keeps demonstrating that his views are small townish and provincial, not statesmanlike and world-wise. More important, there’s an ugly undercurrent to his campaign that has not yet been papered over by political handlers.

Walker’s harsh immigration stance has more in common with Ronald Reagan's 1980 states' rights speech at Mississippi's Neshobe County Fair than with Mitt Romney’s 2012 pronouncement that undocumented immigrants should self deport. As Roger Bybee has written for AlterNet, Walker already has drawn on racist dog-whistle messaging to appeal to southern whites, such as repeatedly demonizing the poor, unions and voters of color.

Walker’s harsh stance on legal immigration plays to the same politics of resentment. Southern states, like much of the country, saw major manufacturers go overseas for cheaper labor in recent years. Until the relatively recent natural gas fracking boom in several Plains and Midwestern states, there has been little new industry in rural America. Auto makers are one exception.

Walker may be betting that his Iowa roots as a rural preacher’s son and his record as a vicious anti-labor Wisconsin governor will help him win Midwestern primaries. He may be calculating that his embrace of harsh anti-immigrant sentiments will win votes as the nominating contests continue down south.

But no matter how Walker’s early draconian positions get refined or buried in political ads as the 2016 contest unfolds, the race's early start has produced an unexpected and remarkable result: the unfiltered, unspun, extremist views of likely contenders.

In coming months, you can be sure that political consultants will water down the candidate's messages and conceal the men who would be president. But for now we are seeing 2016’s Republican extremists for who they truly are—without a billion or more in television ads muddying the view.   

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