June 25, 2016

Why Britain joined the European Union in the first place

You Tube

Richard Brenneman - Back in the early 1980s, Yes Minister, a genially cynical British comedy, explored the hypocrisies of governance in a faded empire. In this clip, via Iceland Pirate Party founder Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby explains Britain’s policy stance vis a vis the European Union [AKA Common Market]. It’s eerily prescient, given the events now unfolding on the Continent:

The part of ML King's Montgomery speech they don't talk about

One of the great failures American progressive activists has been their inability to understand - and then act upon - all that so many blacks and whites have in common, beginning with the inequities of the economic system. A rare exception was the populist movement of the late 19th century. It is ironic that populism is seen by many liberals today as an undisciplined, even radical force, when in fact it is the very concept that could keep whites from turning to people like Donald Trump. 

Someone who understood this was Martin Luther King Jr. In his famous 1965 speech in Montgomery he tackled the topic directly.  A couple of years ago, Sirius XM host Mark Thompson ran an excerpt from the speech that has gotten far too little attention: 

ML King - Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centered around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland.

Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. That is what was known as the Populist Movement. The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. And he ate Jim Crow. And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion.



The bike powered local food movement

Take Part

Without the pack of bicycles swarming the streets of Orlando, Florida, Fleet Farming would be a garden-variety horticultural club.“The bicycle has made Fleet Farming what it is—a bunch of somethings going somewhere,” said program manager Michele Bumbier. In this case, the somethings are a few employees and a swarm of community volunteers, and the somewhere is a series of “farmlettes”—front lawns that have been transformed into small plots of high-yield crops. With all farmlettes within a two-mile radius, it’s local food on a micro scale.
“It takes the average plate of food 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate,” Bumbier said. “We really want to reduce those numbers.”

A homeowner donates a portion of his or her yard—at least 500 square feet and not more than 60 percent of the lawn, in accordance with a local ordinance. After a black plastic tarp is left over the area for several weeks to kill the grass, the plot is then topped with mushroom compost to amend the existing soil and planted with an array of vegetables. A $500 donation—far less than the cost of landscaping services, Bumbier noted—covers two years of maintenance, including composting, irrigation, and seed transplants, and property owners get first dibs on 10 percent of the produce in return.

The Fleet Farming squad plants high-yield produce, primarily gourmet greens, that can fetch top dollar at market. After harvest, the greens are transported on the back of the Fleet Farming bicycle trailer to be washed and processed at the East End Market and then sold at farmers markets or cooked up at Orlando restaurants.


June 24, 2016

Hundreds of ordinary people who claimTrump didn't pay what he owed them

USA Today   

At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA Today Network, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others.

Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. That includes 21 citations against the defunct Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and three against the also out-of-business Trump Mortgage LLC in New York. Both cases were resolved by the companies agreeing to pay back wages.

In addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens — filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work — since the 1980s. The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.

“Let’s say that they do a job that’s not good, or a job that they didn’t finish, or a job that was way late. I’ll deduct from their contract, absolutely. That’s what the country should be doing.” Donald Trump

The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.

Trump and his daughter Ivanka, in an interview with USA Today, shrugged off the lawsuits and other claims of non-payment. If a company or worker he hires isn’t paid fully, the Trumps said, it’s because The Trump Organization was unhappy with the work.

To be sure, Trump and his companies have prevailed in many legal disputes over missing payments, or reached settlements that cloud the terms reached by the parties.

However, the consistent circumstances laid out in those lawsuits and other non-payment claims raise questions about Trump’s judgment as a businessman, and as a potential commander in chief. The number of companies and others alleging he hasn’t paid suggests that either his companies have a poor track record hiring workers and assessing contractors, or that Trump businesses renege on contracts, refuse to pay, or consistently attempt to change payment terms after work is complete as is alleged in dozens of court cases.

The gun even Reagan banned

NPR, 2013

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have tried banning certain guns before. Nearly two decades ago, they barred the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons, only to let that law lapse 10 years later. But one gun ban has stayed on the books: a measure Congress passed a quarter-century ago making it illegal for civilians to buy or sell any machine gun made from that date forward. That legislation passed with the blessing of the National Rifle Association, which now opposes gun control measures.

In April 1986, after months of efforts, the NRA had finally rallied enough support in the Democratic-controlled House to force a bill onto the floor. The so-called Firearms Owners' Protection Act would undo many of the provisions in the 1968 Gun Control Act, passed shortly after Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot dead.

But just as the bill was about to come to a final vote in that tumultuous House session, New Jersey Democrat William Hughes introduced an amendment. It would forbid the sale to civilians of all machine guns made after the law took effect.

There were enough Democrats to pass the amendment, so nobody objected when the presiding officer, New York Democrat Charles Rangel, called for a voice vote rather than a roll call vote on the machine gun ban.

Former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman, who has since parted ways with the organization, tells NPR that Wayne LaPierre, currently NRA's executive vice president, was willing to let the machine gun ban go forward if it meant the larger bill it was attached to would pass.

Gun laws expert Robert Spitzer of the State University of New York at Cortland says the bill President Reagan signed into law was more significant than it was perceived at the time.

"One can view the Congress' action in 1986 to ban civilian possession of fully automatic weapons as something of a kind of a precedent that would open the door for restricting civilian access to semiautomatic, assault-style weapons," Spitzer says.

Spitzer says a major reason the machine gun ban met so little resistance was a 1934 law passed a month after outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed in a hail of machine gun bullets. It required machine gun owners to pay a hefty tax, be fingerprinted and be listed on a national registry.

As a result, he says, sales of machine guns plummeted.

"It is a good example of something that is little known, which is a gun control law that was pretty effective in keeping such weapons out of civilian hands," he says. "So by 1986, when the provision was added to the Firearm Owners' Protection Act to bar any newly produced fully automatic weapon from possession by civilians, it was really a fairly small step to make, because so few of them were in circulation to begin with."

That's clearly not the case with the semiautomatic guns that polls show a majority wants banned today.

News Notes

How the media has avoided pressing Trump on the hard questions

Warning Label of the Day:  Found on a Star Wars light saber toy, “For Accessory Use Only. Not to Be Used as a Battle Device

Latest Gallup on ending life:
  • 69% say doctors should be allowed to end a patient's life by painless means
  • 51% say they would consider ending their lives if faced with terminal illness
  • About half of Americans say doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable

The true cost of Trump University

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Josh Shapiro is a Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general

Josh Shapiro - Recently unsealed court documents from an ongoing lawsuit against Trump University revealed new details about the alleged fraudulent practices of the unaccredited, for-profit “university” founded by Donald Trump. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has filed a $40 million lawsuit alleging unfair and deceptive practices by Trump and his associates, summarized the case by saying, “It’s straight-up fraud.”

The records indicate that Trump University preyed on people looking for hope, opportunity and new careers in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. A court will determine Mr. Trump’s responsibility, but what this case shows is a fact of life we know too well: Everyday folks will be taken advantage of by powerful interests when no one is looking and no one holds them accountable.

One plaintiff is a Pittsburgh woman named Melissa Norris, who spent $17,000 for a Trump University seminar that included a coach who was supposed to help her find real-estate investments. This “coach” turned out to be a convicted criminal and the investment “opportunity” he directed her to turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.

When Ms. Norris lost a devastating $230,000, she had no way to recoup her loss. With cases pending across the country, there are likely many men and women like Ms. Norris who have been harmed.

Britain: Immigration covering up the costs of austerity

The Nation

Dawn Foster - For the left, the outcome will prompt much soul-searching. The Labour party could use this opportunity to shore up support and lead a progressive fight for the best possible trade and migration terms. Instead, several Labour MPs have put forward a motion to condemn Jeremy Corbyn, dredging up longstanding disgruntlement that has split the party since Corbyn’s surprising victory last year.   

....On the face of it, the vote was less about EU membership despite arguments couched vaguely around sovereignty, and more a referendum on immigration.

.... Many of the areas that voted to leave the EU actually have low migrant populations but share a sharp rise in poverty.

In a country racked by inequality, fear is easy to capitalize on. But as well as being afraid, people feel disenfranchised—and they are. Both Labour and the Conservatives have for decades withdrawn into themselves, creating a political class that is drawn predominantly from a homogeneous and elite tranche of society, wealthy and socially removed from the constituents they represent. Many politicians attended the same university, Oxford, and even studied the same course—Politics, Philosophy and Economics. The media is much the same. It’s easy then to believe the establishment is a stitch-up designed to perpetuate inequality and keep an eye out only for themselves.

This alienation, coupled with the opportunity to kick back at the establishment, led to a seismic vote to withdraw from the European project. For the left to win back lost voters, the root causes of this paranoia and ennui have to be addressed, and that requires a committed anti-austerity movement that can properly challenge the current consensus, rather than bow to it. But at this point, it might be too late to fully repair the wounds inflicted by years of economic deprivation, and the withdrawal from the EU that has now been triggered.

Word: Bernie Sanders on what do we want?

Bernie Sanders

As we head toward the Democratic National Convention, I often hear the question, “What does Bernie want?” Wrong question. The right question is what the 12 million Americans who voted for a political revolution want.

And the answer is: They want real change in this country, they want it now and they are prepared to take on the political cowardice and powerful special interests which have prevented that change from happening.

They understand that the United States is the richest country in the history of the world, and that new technology and innovation make us wealthier every day. What they don’t understand is why the middle class continues to decline, 47 million of us live in poverty and many Americans are forced to work two or three jobs just to cobble together the income they need to survive.

What do we want? We want an economy that is not based on uncontrollable greed, monopolistic practices and illegal behavior. We want an economy that protects the human needs and dignity of all people — children, the elderly, the sick, working people and the poor. We want an economic and political system that works for all of us, not one in which almost all new wealth and power rests with a handful of billionaire families.

The current campaign finance system is corrupt. Billionaires and powerful corporations are now, throughsuper PACs, able to spend as much money as they want to buy elections and elect candidates who represent their interests, not the American people. Meanwhile, we have one of the lowest voter turnout rates of any major country on earth, and Republican governors are working overtime to suppress the vote and make it harder for poor people, people of color, seniors and young people to vote.

What do we want? We want to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move toward public funding of elections. We want universal voter registration, so that anyone 18 years of age or older who is eligible to vote is automatically registered. We want a vibrant democracy and a well-informed electorate that knows that its views can shape the future of the country.

Our criminal justice system is broken. We have 2.2 million people rotting behind bars at an annual expense of $80 billion. Youth unemployment in a number of inner-cities and rural communities is 30 to 50 percent, and millions of young people have limited opportunities to participate in the productive economy. Failing schools all around the country produce more people who end up in jail than graduate college. Millions of Americans have police records as a result of marijuana possession, which should be decriminalized. And too many people are serving unnecessarily long mandatory minimum sentences.

What do we want? We want a criminal justice system that addresses the causes of incarceration, not one that simply imprisons more people. We want to demilitarize local police departments, see local police departments reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and end private ownership of prisons and detention centers. We want to create the conditions that allow people who are released from prison to stay out. We want the best educated population on earth, not the most incarcerated population.

The debate is over. Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity, and it already is causing devastating damage in our country and to the entire planet. If present trends continue, scientists tell us the planet will be 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of the century — which means more droughts, floods, extreme weather disturbances, rising sea levels and acidification of the oceans. This is a planetary crisis of extraordinary magnitude.

What do we want? We want the United States to lead the world in pushing our energy system away from fossil fuel and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy. We want a tax on carbon, the end of fracking and massive investment in wind, solar, geothermal and other sustainable technologies. We want to leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for future generations.

What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life. As Lincoln put it at Gettysburg, we want a government of the people, by the people and for the people. That is what we want, and that is what we will continue fighting for.

June 23, 2016

Just a suggestion

Sam Smith - While just about any Democrat - including Hillary Clinton - would be far better and less dangerous than Donald Trump in the White House, that Democrat still has to get there. Which brings up an issue that the Democrats are ignoring: Clinton is so far a pathetic candidate against Trump, barely above a statistical tie in an average of recent polls. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Joe Biden have far more favorability.

Further, Clinton carries some of the heaviest baggage you'll find in any presidential race. Regardless of what you think of the email issue, a Clinton techie just pleaded the 5th more than 125 times in a law suit related to it. And if there is no prosecution, one can be almost certain that there will be a number of angry FBI officials who will make uncomfortable sounds. Add to this the long list of unresolved issues from Clinton's past that will flourish during the campaign and you could easily have one of the grimiest presidential fights we have ever seen.

Part of the problem is that HR Clinton challenges her husband for unchecked narcissism. The whole idea, employed by her for decades, that anyone critical of her is a "hater" is one of the most successful political cons of our era, but it probably won't hold up during this campaign.

A decent politician, with her records, her issues, and her poor ratings with the public, might say the best thing they could do for their party is to withdraw. That, however, won't happen and so we will be left with an unnecessarily weak alternative to the gross Donald Trump.

Democrats, however, should bear in mind that the real purpose of their convention is to nominate the strongest candidate against Trump and Clinton is clearly not it.

And there is still time to do something about this. Just a suggestion.

Surge of US heroin use


According to the U.N.'s World Drug Report 2016, the number of heroin users in the United States reached around one million in 2014, almost three times as many as in 2003. Heroin-related deaths there have increased five-fold since 2000.

"There is really a huge epidemic (of) heroin in the U.S.," said Angela Me, the chief researcher for the report which was released on Thursday.

"It is the highest definitely in the last 20 years," Me said, adding that the trend was continuing.

The rise could be linked to U.S. legislation introduced in recent years which makes it harder to abuse prescription opioids such as oxicodone, a powerful painkiller that can have similar effects to heroin, Me said.

Another reason for the increase in the use of heroin, which in the United States mainly comes from Mexico and Colombia, is greater supply that has depressed prices in recent years, Me said.

The United States has also seen a spike in deaths related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more so than morphine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Word: The Democrats' war against the left

Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

The rise of the so-called New Democrats, which began under President BIll Clinton, was accompanied by an overt hostility to the progressive left.

In 2013, President Obama, speaking at a fundraiser in Medina, Washington — home to a small community of wealthy donors — expressed a sentiment that has become all too common among Democratic Party liberals.

"I'm not a particularly ideological person," the president said in a reassuring nod to those made anxious by Republican hysteria suggesting that Obama, despite his calm exterior, is in fact a raving revolutionary.

While not particularly remarkable, given the current temperament of the Democratic Party, Obama's casual, throwaway line is rather instructive: It describes quite well the shifting foundations of American liberalism.

Since the presidency of Bill Clinton, Democrats have become increasingly anti-ideological (in word), opting instead for an approach cloaked in the garb of objectivity and pragmatism: No longer, for instance, would liberals favor, in principle, labor over business.

Simultaneously, however, despite liberals' professed disdain for political doctrines, a new ideology arose in the place of the New Deal tradition, an ideology that would ultimately come to infect both of America's major political parties: Neoliberalism.

And with the rise of neoliberalism came an aversion to the politics and projects of the left, including its persistent support for the working class, its focus on rising income inequality, and its opposition to the entrenched free market consensus.

Bill Clinton, the embodiment of neoliberalism's rise to prominence, insisted that it was necessary to end "the era of big government" and to embrace the "third way," a path that would navigate smoothly between the competing visions of conservatism and pro-labor progressivism with the ostensible goal of transcending partisan squabbles altogether.

Riding the tide of an evolving Democratic Party, liberals came to embrace the riches of corporate sponsorship, abandoning, as a result, the party's working class base.

And while many on the left were enthusiastic about the election of Barack Obama, he has insisted all along that he, himself, is no leftist — no break from the trends set into motion by Bill Clinton. Rather, as he noted in 2009, he falls firmly in the camp of the neoliberals.

"I am a New Democrat," President Obama declared, a statement that should have done away with any illusions, still harbored by some, that the president is a leftist at heart — that is, if some of his key appointments had failed to do away with them already.

Although the Democratic Party — the vehicle through which the left forced many important reforms throughout the 20th century — has continued its rightward drift, the left has refused to go away. And in the face of intolerable income inequality, some of the left's core messages are hitting home.

When Bernie Sanders burst onto the scene in April of last year, his candidacy was widely dismissed. Hillary Clinton, everyone knew, was already the nominee — despite the crucial fact that no one had cast a ballot.

At the end of the process, however, the picture looks nothing like analysts predicted it would: Though Hillary Clinton has effectively won the Democratic nomination, Sanders, that obscure democratic socialist from the small state of Vermont, far outperformed anyone's expectations, winning 22 states and sparking a movement that will set out to continue far beyond this race.

Yet despite the support he has garnered and the enthusiasm his campaign has generated among both new voters and longtime Democrats, from the beginning Sanders faced near-total opposition from the Democratic establishment — including politicians, top Democratic donors, and major media outlets.

"The elite freeze-out of Bernie Sanders," writes Matt Karp, "is without parallel in modern party history."

This opposition (in contrast with overall public opinion of Sanders, which is favorable) has not been due to animus toward Sanders, personally — rather, it sprang from the Democratic Party's disdain for the left, for the ideas that the Sanders campaign has pushed on the national stage for more than a year.

Democrats did not merely stand by and watch as Republicans destroyed welfare, deregulated Wall Street, and passed disastrous trade deals: They have been at the front fighting, with impressive gusto, for the interests of corporate America and against the interests of those they claim to support.


The Democrats' flawed sit in


Congressional Democrats took the unprecedented step of conducting an actual sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, demanding that Republican leaders allow votes on gun control legislation.

But this unusually bold and moving tactic was undercut by the fact that its chief goal is a political gimmick that would do little to stop gun violence, while expanding the use of a deeply flawed anti-terror watchlist.

While sit-in participants are also advocating for expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban, their primary call to action is for a vote on a measure that would ban gun sales to people listed on a federal government watchlist – a move clearly designed more for its political potency than for its effectiveness.

And the government’s consolidated terrorist watchlist is notoriously unreliable. It has ensnared countless innocent Americans, including disabled war veterans and members of Congress. Nearly half of the people on these watch lists were designated as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation,” according to documents obtained by The Intercept in 2014. 1226

Indeed, many of those involved in today’s sit-in have themselves recognized these problems in the past. In a 2014 letter addressed to the Department of Homeland Security, lawmakers including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the civil rights hero leading today’s sit-in, complained that the current process for appealing designation on the federal no-fly lists “provides no effective means of redress for unfair or incorrect designations.”

Some members exaggerated the measure’s potential impact. “If the laws had been in place that the Senate tried to pass in the horrific tragedy of Orlando, there would not be 49 dead. If the laws had been in place — no fly, no buy,” Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, said. “Let’s do this for the victims of the Pulse night club in Orlando,” intoned Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore.

But even though Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was reportedly once on the terrorist watch list maintained by the FBI, he was removed from the list before the tragic mass shooting.

Talking Points Memo - American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday sent a letter to senators laying out its opposition to the latest legislation up for consideration, a proposal by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that would bar anyone on certain federal government watchlists from buying guns. “The ACLU strongly urges you to vote against the Collins Amendment because it uses the error prone and unfair watchlist system, along with vague and overbroad terms, as a predicate for a proceeding to deny a firearms permit,” ACLU legislative leaders wrote, saying reliance on the lists “would open the door to arbitrary and discriminatory government action.”

June 22, 2016

Meet Trump's military advisor


A top military adviser to Donald Trump expressed qualified support for Trump’s proposal to kill terrorists’ families, telling Al Jazeera that it would depend on the “circumstances of the situation.”

The statement from Gen. Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, reignited a debate about whether the military in a Trump presidency could be counted on to refuse blatantly illegal orders.

CIA directors past and present have asserted that Trump’s proposal to bring back torture methods “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” was meaningless, because CIA officers would refuse to carry out such orders.

Trump insisted during a Republican debate in March that “they won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.”

Flynn, who was appointed by President Obama, is one of the few credentialed military officials in Trump’s inner circle. But when Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan asked Flynn directly “Would you kill the family of a terror suspect, yes or no?” Flynn replied that he would have to “see what the circumstances of that situation was.”

Third parties and presidential races

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith 2008 -  History suggests that running a third party presidential candidate doesn't do much good. Not only is the electoral system hopelessly rigged against it, but even under the best of circumstances a presidential campaign depends not only on who is leading it but who is behind it. With the except of Eugene Debs, all the most successful third party presidential candidates over the past century have drawn primarily from disgruntled mainstream factions, not radical or progressive movements. Further each of the third parties had only one opportunity to make their point in a big way in a presidential race.

Here are the best numbers for various third party candidates since 1900:

Theodore Roosevelt 28%
Perot (1992): 19%
LaFolette: 17%
George Wallace: 14%
Debs (1912): 11%
Perot (1996): 9%
Anderson: 7%

All other third party candidates got 3% or less, including Debs in three additional runs and Thurmond and Henry Wallace in the hot 1948 race.

Obviously the numbers don't tell the whole story. For example, the New Deal drew  on Progressive and Socialist ideas despite low turnouts for their candidates. The Populists, despite topping out a 9% in a presidential race, influenced the politics of two Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin.

Still, if you want to affect national politics with a national third party presidential run, history suggests that getting over 5% - preferably closer to 10% - is a good way to start. Otherwise, you can probably expect a less direct impact for your efforts, perhaps decades in the future. And, in any case, you can expect your swing at presidential politics to be fairly short-lived.

That does not mean, however, that third parties - like certain insects - are merely born, have sex, and then die. In fact, some of the third parties have had long, remarkably healthy lives, but in large part because they were as concerned with local as with national results. The Socialist Party is the most dramatic example, with a history dating back over 100 years. By World War I it had elected 70 mayors, two members of Congress, and numerous state and local officials. Milwaukee alone had three Socialist mayors in the last century, including Frank Zeidler who held office for 12 years ending as late as 1960. And let us not forget Bernie Sanders.

In fact, some highly successful third parties never ran anyone for president (except in fusion with one of the major parties). An example was the Liberal Party of New York, the longest lived third party next  to the Socialists.

As one of the founders of the national Green Party I have tried unsuccessfully to encourage a backyard Green approach, working from the bottom up and emphasizing local rather than national campaigns. But living in a time when it is assumed that all change ultimately emanates from the television screen, the White House or God, such a grassroots view is regarded as somewhat antiquated

There are, however, other models. For example, the Socialist Party describes its beginnings this way:

"From the beginning the Socialist Party was the ecumenical organization for American radicals. Its membership included Marxists of various kinds, Christian socialists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish socialists, foreign-language speaking sections, single-taxers and virtually every variety of American radical. On the divisive issue of 'reform vs. revolution,' the Socialist Party from the beginning adopted a compromise formula, producing platforms calling for revolutionary change but also making 'immediate demands' of a reformist nature. . . . The Socialist Party historically stressed cooperatives as much as labor unions, and included the concepts of revolution by education and of 'building the new society within the shell of the old.'"

You can't find a single movement on the left these days that could claim such eclecticism.

Word: The Supreme Court's assault on the 4th Amendment

NY Times editorial

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government — or that’s how it works in theory, anyway.

In practice, though, court decisions over several decades have created so many exceptions to this constitutional principle as to render it effectively meaningless in many real-world situations.

On Monday, the Supreme Court further weakened the Fourth Amendment by making it even easier for law enforcement to evade its requirement that stops be based on reasonable suspicion. The justices ruled 5 to 3 that a police officer’s illegal stop of a man on the street did not prevent evidence obtained from a search connected to that stop to be used against him.

The case, Utah v. Strieff, started when the police in Salt Lake City got an anonymous tip of drug activity at a house. An officer monitoring the house became suspicious at the number of people he saw entering and leaving. When one of those people, Edward Strieff, left to walk to a nearby convenience store, the officer stopped him and asked for his identification. A routine check revealed that Mr. Strieff had an outstanding “small traffic warrant.” The officer arrested him based on that earlier warrant, searched him and found drugs in his pockets.

The State of Utah agreed that the initial stop was illegal, because it was not based on reasonable, individual suspicion that Mr. Strieff was doing anything wrong. Instead, the state argued that the discovery of the valid warrant — after the illegal stop — got around the Fourth amendment violation.

The Utah Supreme Court rightly rejected this argument, but that decision was overturned in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas. The officer’s lack of any specific suspicion of Mr. Strieff, Justice Thomas wrote, was a result of “good-faith mistakes.” The illegal stop was, at worst, “an isolated instance of negligence.”

In a powerful dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor took apart that specious reasoning. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language,” she wrote. “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong.”

Trump University: Claimed to teach how to profit from foreclosures


Internal documents show how Trump University offered advice on how to profit off the "Great Recession" that peaked in 2008 and caused housing prices to plummet.
The specific opportunity Trump University was tempting Phoenix-area people with in those 2008 sessions: how to make money off of those foreclosures that were spiking at record levels in 2008, after the collapse of the housing market and the subprime loan system that had artificially puffed it up. "This one class, how to profit from foreclosures, will get you started on the clearest, sure-fire, money-making opportunity available in a long, long time."

Wall Street tells Clinton: Stay away from Elizabeth Warren


Chip Somodevilla - Wall Street has an unambiguous message for Hillary Clinton: Don't pick Elizabeth Warren as your vice president if you want to keep getting our money.

That warning came through very clearly in over a dozen interviews I did over the last week with some of the largest Democratic donors on Wall Street who have helped fund Clinton's campaigns over the years as well as funneled cash to Bill Clinton's political career in the 1990s.

"If Clinton picked Warren, her whole base on Wall Street would leave her," one top Democratic donor who has helped raise millions for Clinton told me. "They would literally just say, 'We have no qualms with you moving left, we understand all the things you've had to do because of Bernie Sanders, but if you are going there with Warren, we just can't trust you, you've killed it.'"

The arguments of course are mostly self-serving. The financial services industry loathes Warren, who more than anyone in the last 80 years has channeled the rage against Wall Street that began with the Great Depression and continues to course through the nation following the 2008 financial crisis. Warren wants to break up the nation's largest banks. She created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The mere mention of her name draws groans from bankers.

The bankers I spoke with also said they thought there was no chance Clinton would tap Warren. The arguments: The two don't really get along; Clinton would never pick a number two who could outshine her; Clinton doesn't want a VP who would create her own power center in both the campaign and the White House.

The disaster of NAFTA

Economy in Crisis

The North American Free Trade Agreement has been nothing but a disaster for the U.S. Just by taking a look at the auto industry, we see how thousands, if not millions, of auto jobs have been shipped down south. Here in the U.S., the lowest paid autoworkers make $38 an hour with benefits. That is roughly four more times than the average auto worker in Mexico. It is no wonder that Mexico is the most attractive place in North America to build auto factories.

In addition, within the past two years, a whopping 8 automakers have opened plants and expansions in Mexico. Those are jobs that could’ve supported thousands of families here in the U.S. We were told time after time that NAFTA was going to be amazing for America.

In 1993, former president Bill Clinton, a strong supporter of NAFTA told us: “I believe that NAFTA will create 200,000 American jobs in the first 2 years of its effect. I believe that NAFTA will create 1 million jobs in the first 5 years of it’s impact.”

It wasn’t just president Clinton who made those claims. The very conservative Heritage Foundation told us that “virtually all economists agree that NAFTA will produce a net increase of U.S. jobs over the next decade.”

Not to mention that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in 1993 that “American firms will not move to Mexico just for lower wages.”

NAFTA was supported by every major corporation in America and Wall Street.

Looking at 20 years later, we see that all of these predictions were dead wrong. The Economic Policy Institute estimates a loss of 682,900 jobs to Mexico. That is the complete opposite of Bill Clinton’s prediction of the creation of 1 million jobs.

Spreading the labor cause

American Prospect

Rachel M Cohen - [The] idea of “bargaining for the common good”—and working in partnership with local allies—is not a new idea for labor unions, but its potential has never been fully realized, and past efforts have not gone deep enough. One major obstacle has been that labor law tries to limit unions to bargaining just over issues of wages and benefits.

“Unions have been significantly hobbled by the legal regime, and a lack of imagination to challenge it,” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime labor organizer.

But now, partly because of the historic action the Chicago Teachers Union took in 2012, when its members went on strike not just for themselves, but also for increased public services for the broader community, more and more unions have started to reconsider their fundamental roles and responsibilities. By expanding their bargaining demands beyond wages and benefits, unions are recognizing that they can more fully support, and engage their community partners—and get those community groups to support them in return.

“I think there’s a growing feeling that if you operate within the confines of the law, you restrict the things that potentially give you power,” says Lerner. “We have to be willing to go beyond what the law allows.”

In 2014, leaders from public sector unions and community organizations gathered at Georgetown University for a national conference, entitled “Bargaining for the Common Good,” aimed at charting this new path forward. Writing in Dissent, Joseph A. McCartin, the director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown, said that three distinct priorities emerged from the proceedings: using the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; working with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognizing militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.

The time had come, in sum, to politicize bargaining.

A burst of activity followed the Georgetown conference. “It’s been amazing to see how many unions, community groups, and people have adopted the ‘bargaining for common good’ frame and language,” says Lerner.

This past December in Minneapolis, a coalition of unions and community groups brought 2,000 people together to craft a collective agenda for social justice. “Participants highlighted the immense control wielded by a dozen huge corporations, including U.S. Bank, Target, and Wells Fargo, over Minnesota’s economy,” wrote McCartin, and “agreed to collaborate on an array of interlocking campaigns and direct actions in 2016.” Since then, the groups have already successfully pushed for paid sick leave in Minneapolis, and similar ordinances are on the horizon in Saint Paul and Duluth. Groups that can endorse candidates are also working together “with an eye toward building independent political power and wielding greater influence in state elections,” says Dan McGrath of TakeAction Minnesota.


June 21, 2016

Britain and the EU

The UK's EU referendum: All you need to know

A guide to the UK's referendum on 23 June on whether to stay in the European Union. Send us questions you want answered ahead of the vote.

Homicides at 51 year low

Activist Post

The homicide rate in the U.S. is actually at a 51-year low, according to FBI data. The homicide rate in the U.S. for 2014, the most recent year available, was 4.5 per 100,000. The 2014 total is part of a long downward trend and is the lowest homicide rate recorded since 1963 when the rate was 4.6 per 100,000. The last time the homicide rate in the U.S. was lower than it is now was in 1957 when the total homicide rate was 4.0 per 100,000.

Contrary to what the public has been led to believe, as the homicide rate in the U.S. has fallen to a 51-year low, gun ownership has increased drastically.

Word: The Democrats' war on due process


Before the bodies were removed from the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last week, Democrats began eagerly exploiting that atrocity to demand a new, secret “terrorist watch list”: something that was once the domestic centerpiece of the Bush/Cheney War on Terror mentality. Led by their propaganda outlet, Center for American Progress ), Democrats now want to empower the Justice Department – without any judicial adjudication – to unilaterally bar citizens who have not been charged with (let alone convicted of) any crime from purchasing guns.

Worse than the measure itself is the rancid rhetoric they are using. To justify this new list, Democrats, in unison, are actually arguing that the U.S. Government must constrain people whom they are now calling “potential terrorists.” Just spend a moment pondering how creepy and Orwellian that phrase is in the context of government designations.

News Notes

A court where prison is not the solution

The national League of Women Voters is coming out for DC statehood, another sign of the changing politics of this issue. When the statehood movement started four decades ago, the local LWV was a major opponent.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, tree mortality from bark beetles and drought has reached over 29 million trees, up from 3.3 million trees in 2014. Researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science have learned that approximately 58 million additional large trees are suffering from severe canopy water losses.

About one in 10 of California State University’s 460,000 students is homeless, and one in five doesn’t have steady access to enough food,  according to the initial findings of a study  launched to  better understand and address an issue that remains largely undocumented at the nation’s public universities.

Things the media forgets to tell you

Pivoting is not something a decent politician does. It is based on the assumption that integrity in positions, approaches and behavior is no longer necessary in politics, another example of the media adopting the standards of politicians and their managers over those in serving the interest of the public,

Moody Analytics: There would be a Trump recession


Donald Trump’s presidency would “significantly” weaken the country, driving the U.S. into a “lengthy recession” with nearly 3.5 million job losses and a 7 percent unemployment rate, according to a Moody’s Analytics analysis.

The analysis examined the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s economic plans at face value, based on interviews, speeches and his campaign website. The authors of the report, however, warned that quantifying the real estate mogul’s economic polices “is complicated by their lack of specificity.”

“Broadly, Mr. Trump’s economic proposals will result in a more isolated U.S. economy. Cross-border trade and immigration will be significantly diminished, and with less trade and immigration, foreign direct investment will also be reduced,” Mark Zandi, Chris Lafakis, Dan White and Adam Ozimek wrote in the report.

His policies would also diminish the country’s growth prospects, grow federal government deficits, increase the nation’s debt and finance his “mix of much lower tax revenues and few cuts in spending” with “substantially more government borrowing.”

“Driven largely by these factors, the economy will be significantly weaker if Mr. Trump’s economic proposals are adopted. Under the scenario in which all his stated policies become law in the manner proposed, the economy suffers a lengthy recession and is smaller at the end of his four-year term than when he took office,” the authors wrote. “By the end of his presidency, there are close to 3.5 million fewer jobs and the unemployment rate rises to as high as 7%, compared with below 5% today. During Mr. Trump’s presidency, the average American household’s after-inflation income will stagnate, and stock prices and real house values will decline.”

The collected lies of Donald Trump

Collected by Gary Trudeau

“No one is more conservative than me.”
“No one is stronger on the Second Amendment than me.”
“No one respects women more than me. No one reads the Bible more than me.”
“There’s nobody more pro-Israel than I am.”
“There’s nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have.”
“There’s nobody who feels more strongly about women’s health issues.”
“Nobody knows more about taxes than me, maybe in the history of the world.”
“I have studied the Iran deal in great detail, greater by far than anyone else.”
“Nobody’s ever been more successful than me.”
“Nobody knows banking better than I do.”
“Nobody knows more about debt than I do.”
“Nobody’s bigger or better at the military I am.”
“I am the least racist person you’ll ever meet.”
“Nobody knows the system better than me.”
“Nobody knows politicians better than me.”
“Nobody builds better walls than me.”
“Nobody knows more about trade than me.”
“There is nobody more against Obamacare than me.”

Welcome to the collapse of journalism

As real journalist Colin Woodard put it, "Tronc -- the rebranded name of one of the country's major newspaper chains -- just put out this video happily describing how they'll destroy their ability to do real journalism."


Morning Line

Based on the average of recent polls: Hillary Clinton is only 5 points ahead of Trump, 8 is her best lead to date

Irrationality growing in the State Department

Cpnsortium News

Robert Parry - Over the past several decades, the U.S. State Department has deteriorated from a reasonably professional home for diplomacy and realism into a den of armchair warriors possessed of imperial delusions, a dangerous phenomenon underscored by the recent mass “dissent” in favor of blowing up more people in Syria.

Some 51 State Department “diplomats” signed a memo distributed through the official “dissent channel,” seeking military strikes against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad whose forces have been leading the pushback against Islamist extremists who are seeking control of this important Mideast nation.

The fact that such a large contingent of State Department officials would openly advocate for an expanded aggressive war in line with the neoconservative agenda, which put Syria on a hit list some two decades ago, reveals how crazy the State Department has become.

The State Department now seems to be a combination of true-believing neocons along with their liberal-interventionist followers and some careerists who realize that the smart play is to behave toward the world as global proconsuls dictating solutions or seeking “regime change” rather than as diplomats engaging foreigners respectfully and seeking genuine compromise.

Even some State Department officials, whom I personally know and who are not neocons/liberal-hawks per se, act as if they have fully swallowed the Kool-Aid. They talk tough and behave arrogantly toward inhabitants of countries under their supervision. Foreigners are treated as mindless objects to be coerced or bribed.

So, it’s not entirely surprising that several dozen U.S. “diplomats” would attack President Barack Obama’s more temperate position on Syria while positioning themselves favorably in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton administration, which is expected to authorize an illegal invasion of Syria — under the guise of establishing “no-fly zones” and “safe zones” — which will mean the slaughter of young Syrian soldiers. The “diplomats” urge the use of “stand-off and air weapons.”

These hawks are so eager for more war that they don’t mind risking a direct conflict with Russia, breezily dismissing the possibility of a clash with the nuclear power by saying they are not “advocating for a slippery slope that ends in a military confrontation with Russia.” That’s reassuring to hear.

Kentucky musicians get active


Musicians in Kentucky have responded in song to the attacks on women’s reproductive rights, affordable health care, the LGBT community, education, and progress in general in their state through song. This project was organized by a small group of artists and musicians in the community who believe that collectively, they could make their dissenting voices heard through their art.This 43 track digital-only compilation is available for $10 (with additional donations encouraged) and 100% of funds raised from its purchase will be donated directly to Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky.

June 20, 2016

A sinner's view of born again politics

I'm back in trouble again because of my willingness to vote for Hillary Clinton in order to stop Donald Trump, save Social Security, restore at least a semi-constitutional Supreme Court and numerous other damage control exercises. Here's how I described it when  a milder version of the problem came up with Barack Obama

Sam Smith, 2012 – The overwhelmingly negative comments to my piece on a one night stand approach to Obama – elect him, then oppose him – reminded me that while the right may be driven by born again religion, progressives and liberals are often driven by born again politics.

In either case, personal salvation or redemption takes precedence over communal progress.
In fact, whether I truly believe in Jesus or truly disbelieve in Obama changes the world not one iota. Change comes from large numbers of people moving in the same useful direction.
Saints may help show the way, but change is the product of the flawed, the failed, and the frustrated moving in common.

Which is why politics tends to be a more useful tool than many forms of religion. And why a sinner can feel more comfortable at a city council meeting than at confession.

In my article, I mentioned my political roots having been in places like Philadelphia, Boston and Washington where this question seldom arose. Which is one of the reasons politics appealed to me even as a pre-teen. It wasn’t like church, home, or school. You didn’t even have to wash your hands before you took part in it.

As I read readers’ excoriations of my willingness to vote for Obama despite his sins in order to create a better battlefield for struggles we have barely begun, I was reminded of one of the reasons we can’t get these struggles going: you’re meant to be saved before you can join the battle.

This is something that has troubled me for decades about left politics. How do you grow a cause if only proper people can join it? I realized that something bad was happening beginning about 30 years ago. Liberalism was becoming a demographic rather than a movement. And if you weren’t part of that demographic, there was little hope for you.

That was alien to everything I had learned as a New Deal baby, a 1950s doubter and a 1960s activist. Even Martin Luther King told his aides that they must remember that their goal included that some day their enemies would become their friends.

In his marvelous book, Respect, Richard Sennett (who grew up in the Cabrini Green housing project) notes that for radicals in his generation, making bureaucracy the enemy “still did not reveal how to make friends with those who were not radicals. . . The struggle to break apart institutions failed to bring the New Left closer to people unlike ourselves.”

And he concludes, “In society, attacking the evils of inequality cannot alone generate mutual respect. In society, and particularly in the welfare state, the nub of the problem we face is how the strong can practice respect towards those destined to remain weak.”

The problem is particularly acute among liberals who are increasingly separated from the weak either by ethnicity or by class. It has brought a major shift in the priorities of liberals – with a shrinking interest in those policies that truly help the weak and a growing condescension towards those who do not share their cultural enlightenment.

It’s somewhat the same with voting against Obama or staying home. The choice can achieve personal virtue, but whom else has it helped? How many people is one willing to see go without food stamps, lose their jobs or have their Social Security trimmed as a result of one’s noble act?

Saul Alinsky put it this way:
There’s another reason for working inside the system. Dostoyevsky said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution. To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system… They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat.
. . . If we fail to communicate with them, if we don’t encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let’s not let it happen by default.
Alinsky wrote that in 1971, about a decade before America began its long collapse. If liberals and progressives had listened to him instead of becoming a comfortable elite, the story might have been a lot different.

Which is one reason I don’t mind being considered politically flawed. Because politics only works when it is a collective achievement by a bunch of sinners willing to work with each other.

Supreme Court trashes Constitution on illegal arrests

Washington Post

The Supreme Court ruled  that courts need not suppress evidence of a crime even if the arresting police officer used unlawful tactics to obtain it. The decision prompted fierce dissents from three of the court’s liberals.

The court voted 5 to 3 to reverse a decision of the Utah Supreme Court that threw out the drug possession evidence seized from Edward Strieff in 2006. The majority agreed that South Salt Lake police officer Douglas Fackrell did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Strieff. But once Fackrell radioed in and found that there was an outstanding warrant on Strieff for a traffic violation, his search that turned up the drugs was legitimate.

“While Officer Fackrell’s decision to initiate the stop was mistaken, his conduct thereafter was lawful,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. He said the intervening discovery of the warrant meant that the search that discovered the drugs was allowed.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined the court’s conservatives in the majority.

But Breyer’s fellow liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan each wrote blistering dissents, and each was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” Sotomayor wrote.

And writing only for herself and drawing on her “professional experiences,” Sotomayor added that “unlawful ‘stops’ have severe consequences much greater than the inconvenience suggested by the name.” She said that minorities are more likely to be the subjects of such stops, and thus to be treated as “second-class citizens.”

Connecticut's ban on assault weapons stands

Washington Post

The Supreme Court declined to review bans on a lengthy list of firearms that Connecticut classified as “assault weapons,” the latest example of the court’s reluctance to be drawn into an emotional national debate on gun control.

The justices decided without comment not to review a lower court decision that upheld the laws; Connecticut’s was enacted shortly after a gunman used one of the military-style semiautomatic weapons on the list to kill 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012.

The decision was not a surprise, as the court has previously declined to review other court decisions that uphold bans passed by cities and states. Maryland, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, as well as many cities and towns, have similar laws. None of the legal challenges to them have been successful in lower courts.

They were enacted after a federal ban expired in 2004. Attempts to revive the federal ban have failed. But Congress is once again embroiled in a debate over gun control after the massacre at an Orlando nightclub left 49 victims dead.

News Notes

What Donald Trump learned from Joe McCarthy's right hand man
American mass killings larger than Orlando

How Mcdonald's serve as community centers

Ten people the feds shouldn't have put on terror list

Clarence Thomas mulling retirement

Washington Examiner.. .

Justice Clarence Thomas, a reliable conservative vote on the Supreme Court, is mulling retirement after the presidential election, according to court watchers.

Thomas, appointed by former President George H.W. Bush and approved by the Senate after a bitter confirmation, has been considering retirement for a while and never planned to stay until he died, they said. He likes to spend summers in his RV with his wife.

His retirement would have a substantial impact on control of the court. The next president is expected to immediately replace the seat opened by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, providing a one-vote edge in the court that is currently divided 4-4.
Should Thomas leave, that slight majority would continue if Donald Trump becomes president. If it's Hillary Clinton, then she would get the chance to flip two Republican seats, giving the liberals a 6-3 majority.

June 19, 2016

Vermont to launch GMO labelling

Eco Watch...

In less than three weeks, Vermont will enact a historic mandate that requires labels on products containing genetically modified ingredients. The no-strings-attached bill, which the country’s second smallest state passed on May 2014 and goes into effect July 1, has rippled across the food industry and has sparked a bitter and expensive food fight from opponents of the law.

But with only 17 days to go, it looks like Big Food has unenthusiastically surrendered despite spending millions upon millions to fight state-by-state labeling mandates in court and to lobby Congress.

Big Food believes that labeling GMO products for one state without labeling them for the 49 others would be costly, warning that labels would force the buck onto the consumer, or even scare them away completely. Although the food industry has consistently maintained the health and safety of GMOs, the overwhelming majority of Americans support labels on foods with such ingredients.

World heritage sites endangered by climate change


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Environment Program and the Union of Concerned Scientists, [have identified] 31 natural and cultural World Heritage sites across 29 countries that are vulnerable to a range of climate change-related impacts, from increasing temperatures, melting glaciers and rising sea levels to extreme weather events, intensifying droughts and more frequent and more severe wildfires.

"Climate change could eventually even cause some World Heritage sites to lose their status," said Adam Markham, lead author of the report and deputy director of the Climate and Energy Program at UCS.

How to avoid BPA

Environmental Working Group

For consumers who want to avoid bisphenol A, EWG unveiled an easily searchable database of more than 16,000 food and beverage items that may come in cans, bottles or jars containing the hormone-disrupting chemical, better known as BPA. The list was compiled from a little-known food industry inventory and is now available at EWG's Food Scores database.

BPA acts like estrogen in the body and is especially dangerous for pregnant women and children in critical stages of development. Independent scientific studies link it to cancer, infertility, diabetes, obesity and brain, nerve and heart disorders, and it's just been listed by California as a chemical known to cause reproductive problems.

“No other industry in the world is more adept at marketing products to its customers than food and beverage companies––except apparently when it comes to informing them about the possible presence of a toxic chemical linked to hormone disruption and cancer,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “So we decided to give them a little help in making their own data accessible. Our new database shines a light on just how pervasive BPA is in our food system, and will help Americans navigate the supermarket armed with more information.”

Extreme weather in Southwest


An extreme heat wave will grip the southwestern United States through early week.

A strong ridge of high pressure will take control and strengthen into this week, sending temperatures to dangerous levels.

In 10 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit above average through the early part of the week.

"The peak of the heat in many areas will be on Monday, but Sunday and Tuesday will be no slouches either in the high heat department," Clark said.

With multiple fires raging across the region, the heat could pose problems for firefighters.

"The heat and increasing dryness will continue to elevate the wildfire danger," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said. "There will continue to be episodes of Sundowner winds (northerly downsloping winds) that threaten to further fan the Sherpa Fire and spread any new blazes in southwestern California," Pydynowski said.

In central New Mexico, the Dog Head Fire prompted a declaration of a state of emergency from Gov. Susana Martinez. The fire has burned over 17,000 acres.

Not only will it be hot compared to average, but temperatures will likely challenge all-time record highs.

Palm Springs, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and Las Vegas, Nevada, are just some of the many cities which will approach their all-time record-high temperatures into early week.

June 18, 2016

News Notes

Roughly 3,000 activists are gathering in Chicago this weekend to talk about how to build on the momentum of Sanders’ insurgent campaign now that the primaries are over. They say they’re looking to unite forces for changes such as a $15 federal minimum wage, better police accountability, health care for all and preventing climate change.

Oakland dumps three police chiefs in nine days

Garrison Keillor offstage

California is now the sixth-largest economy in the world, surpassing France, thanks to a robust state economy and strong U.S. dollar.

The war on drugs began 45 years ago this month and this journal - then the DC Gazette - was one of the few to oppose it from the start. 

If you had a state bank, you could do this too

Popular Resistance

When first-time homebuyers get ready to purchase a house in North Dakota, Realtors may start handing them information on refinancing student loans as well.

The Bank of North Dakota is partnering with realtors to get the word out about its DEAL One loan program.

Eric Hardmeyer, president of BND, said national reports have shown students graduating with an average of $27,000 to $30,000 in student loans.

“We know they’re delaying major life decisions because of student loan debt,” he said.

Hardmeyer said, in meetings between BND’s student loan and home loan staffs, the housing lenders were seeing the student loans as a barrier to housing loan approval. Those meetings led to an “aha moment.”

“There’s something we can do here,” Hardmeyer said of the conclusion.

A person with a 14 percent interest student loan can refinance it to less than 2 percent interest today with a variable interest loan.

“It’s just huge savings,” Hardmeyer said. “In some cases, it’s a life changer.”

He said, on average, people are refinancing $40,000 worth of student debt at BND. And the average interest rate on the debt was 8 to 9 percent. BND also allows them to stretch payments out from 10 years to 20 or 25 years, which lowers their monthly payment and allows them to get into a home sooner if they choose.

Two thousand physicians call for single payer


A group of more than 2,000 physicians is calling for the establishment of a universal government-run health system in the US, in a paper in the American Journal of Public Health.

According to the proposal, the Affordable Care Act did not go far enough in removing barriers to healthcare access. The physicians’ bold plan calls for implementing a single-payer system similar to Canada’s, called the National Health Program, that would guarantee all residents healthcare.

The new single-payer system would be funded mostly by existing US government funding. The physicians point out that the US government already pays for two-thirds of all healthcare spending in the US, and a single-payer system would cut down on administrative costs, so a transition to a single-payer system would not require significant additional spending.

“Our patients can’t afford care and don’t have access to the care they need, while the system is ever more wasteful, throwing away money on bureaucratic expenses and absurd prices from the drug companies,” said David Himmelstein, a professor in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College and lecturer on medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Where Omah Mateen developed some of his violence skills

Phyllis Bennis, AlterNet

Omar Mateen worked for a company that was perpetrating systemic violence against vulnerable people long before he took up arms against his LGBTQ neighbors. For nine years Mateen worked for G4S Security, a British-based corporation that contracts with the U.S. and Israeli governments for work that often violates human rights on a massive scale.

G4S, which brags about having 600 staffers on the southern border, has contracts with U.S. immigration authorities to detain and deport people back to Mexico, as well as to run private juvenile detention facilities. In Israel, meanwhile, G4S profits from providing equipment and services in Israeli prisons and interrogation centers where Palestinians are routinely tortured. It’s also involved in running Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Incidentally, G4S is the company that trained Mateen to work as an armed security guard, which licensed him to carry and use weapons. And although his coworkers told supervisors that Mateen “frequently made homophobic and racial comments,” the company did nothing. It kept him on board—and kept him armed.

Since 2012, there’s been a major campaign against G4S, resulting in decisions by major mainstream institutions—like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Methodist Church, numerous European universities, important charities in South Africa and the Netherlands, UN agencies in the Middle East, and more—to divest from G4S holdings, or to cancel or not renew service contracts. G4S is profiting from exactly the kind of anti-Arab and anti-Latino racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that are all on the rise in the U.S. right now.

What's happening to the humaniities?

Dan Falcone, Truthout

Michael Bérubé, a professor of literature at Pennsylvania State University, and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, says the idea that the number of students majoring in the humanities has plummeted is untrue, although it is a universal presupposition.

Bérubé contends that while it is true that English enrollments are down in some places since 2008, they are not as bad as they were in the really lean years. Nevertheless, students and families keep hearing the myth that English is a dying subject. This humanities-ending attitude was just recently reflected in April 2016, when Pennsylvania State Rep. Brad Roae (R) proposed ending higher education grants for students studying "poetry or some other pre-Walmart major."

Bérubé says that the idea that humanities majors won't be able to find jobs is turning out to be a "zombie belief every bit as hard to kill" as the idea that enrollment in the humanities is plummeting, and Bérubé is positive that the two beliefs are symbiotic.

According to Inside Higher Ed's Allie Grasgreen, "liberal arts majors may start off slower than others when it comes to the postgraduate career path, but they close much of the salary and unemployment gap over time, a new report shows."

Grasgreen goes on to report that "by their mid-50s, liberal arts majors with an advanced or undergraduate degree are on average making more money than those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields, and are employed at similar rates." But that's just one component of Grasgreen observations. The concerns about the value of a liberal arts degree are essentially unfounded and should be put to rest, she writes. Too often, we put the curriculum above the students for our own preservation in an effort to satisfy management.

Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, states that "[there is] a myth out there -- that somehow if you major in humanities, you're doomed to be unemployed for the rest of your life. [The research] suggests otherwise." Grasgreen cited Humphreys' indication that "we do need more engineers, but we also need more social workers" and that education need not be an "an either-or proposition."


40% of state legislative seats unchallenged


40% of U.S. state legislative elections have only one candidate on the ballot in November. Generally, the fewer contested races in any particular state, the worse the ballot access laws are. States in which over half the legislative races typically have only one candidate on the ballot include most southern states, as well as Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Mexico.

June 17, 2016

13 months of global warming records


Fresh out of the oven that was a warm start to the year, global temperatures are on a roll: For the 13th consecutive month, the globe was record warm in May — the longest such stretch in 137 years of record-keeping.

May 2016 broke last year’s record for the warmest May on record for the globe by 0.04 degrees F, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

The seasonal temperature (March–May) for the globe was the highest for this period on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 0.40 degrees F. On a longer timeframe, the year-to-date (January–May) temperature across global land and ocean surfaces also broke a new record, besting 2015 by 0.43 degrees F.

Word: Charlie Sheen on Donald Trump

London Telegraph

Charlie Sheen - I'm really not a fan. I was once in a restaurant with my then wife Brooke and he came up to me to say that he would like to give me a wedding gift. "He took off his cuff links, told me they were solid platinum and diamonds and insisted I have them. Six months later, I was having some jewellery appraised and remembered the cuff links. When the jeweler took a look she recoiled and said, 'In their finest moment, they were cheap pewter and bad zirconia.' They had 'Trump' stamped on them. I think that says a lot about the man.

Notes from the Texas GOP platform

Houston Press

The Republicans say that "homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples." Therefore, it wants to take away their right to marriage by overturning the U.S. Supreme Court case that granted it nationwide, and wants to make sure that anyone in Texas who seeks to discriminate against gay people won't face any consequences. The platform also seeks to ensure there are no restrictions on "counseling and therapy" to designed to "change" someone's sexual orientation.

As for transgender people, you guessed it: Texas Republicans want to police bathrooms by preventing transgender people from using the restroom that best fits their gender identity, which is generally affirmed by a court of law. Republican leadership is so committed to this goal, in fact, that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said he would be willing to flush more than $3 billion in federal education funding down the toilet just so he could ignore President Barack Obama's directive to school districts not to discriminate against transgender students by denying them access to the right bathroom.

Support for discrimination doesn't end with the LGBTQ community. In order to defeat terrorism, the Republican Party would like to support the "reasonable use of profiling," though "reasonable" is never defined. It would also like to call on all government agencies to sever ties with "all radical Islamic organizations, such as the Council on American Islamic Relations."

Atheist gets to kick off Iowa city council meeting

Huffington Post 

Members of the city council of Waterloo, Iowa, listened respectfully as an atheist offered them guidance according to his sincerely held beliefs. Then they proceeded with business as usual.

It was a historic occasion for Justin Scott, a member of the Cedar Valley Atheists who made headlines earlier this year by confronting presidential candidates about their faith on the campaign trail. In February, Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart reinstated a policy of opening weekly council meetings with prayer. Though those messages have typically been religious in nature, the mayor invited Scott to deliver the city’s first-ever secular invocation.

“Let this chamber "deliberate with the understanding that not everyone in the room shares the same values, the same life experiences, or same religious beliefs,” said Scott. “These differences can help to enrich these governmental tasks, but only when they aren’t used to limit or censor free speech, denigrate or treat certain groups as second-­class citizens, or promote religious belief over non-­belief or one religious belief over all the others.”

When Scott finished his address to lawmakers, there was no fire or brimstone. Instead, the mayor simply proceeded with the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, the lack of controversy surrounding Scott’s presentation could speak to the argument among many atheists who say they want to be included in these ceremonies for the purposes of unity, not to divide or denigrate religion.

Interest grows in long dissed cold fusion

For nearly 25 years, the Progressive Review has been one of the few non-scientific American publications to take this issue seriously - not because of assurance that the theory would work out, but because the available facts and the rampant criticisms didn't add up. 

Popular Mechanics

Cold fusion is rising again, thanks to allegedly successful experiments and demonstrations. Now interest in the field, also known as low energy nuclear reactions, has reached the highest levels, as the House Committee on Armed Services has asked the Secretary of Defense to provide "a briefing on the military utility of recent U.S. industrial base LENR advancements" by September 22.

The Committee quotes a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment that says if cold fusion works, it would be a disruptive technology that could revolutionize energy production and storage. That is putting it mildly. Commercial cold fusion as claimed by Andrea Rossi and others, outlined in our April article, would remove dependence on oil or other fossil fuels, domestic or imported. In military terms, it would enable ships, aircraft, and tanks to continue indefinitely (or at least for months) without refueling, with abundant power for lasers or other directed-energy weapons.

The biggest advantage would probably happen for unmanned systems, which are better suited to long-endurance missions. The Committee also mentions the DIA's view that at "Japan and Italy are leaders in the field and that Russia, China, Israel, and India are now devoting significant resources to LENR development."

The Secretary's report to the House might be a dismissive one-liner. It might state that cold fusion is a crazy idea and always has been, and that its proponents are either misinterpreting experimental results or are the victims of fraud. That would certainly reflect the view of most mainstream scientists.

Yet even in the military there are some who suspect there may be more to it than smoke and mirrors. This is especially true of the Navy, which quietly permitted cold fusion research for some time. A 2015 presentation by Louis DeChiaro of US Naval Sea Systems Command concludes that "Low Energy Nuclear Reactions appear to be real; are probably attributable to something like nuclear fusion."

There is another wild card that might appear in the report. In 2011 Andrea Rossi staged what he described as a public demonstration of a one-megawatt E-Cat cold fusion reactor. Supposedly this was for a secret U.S. military customer, who was supposedly satisfied with the demonstration (unlike many other observers who complained there was no way of telling whether the device was getting power from an external source). Of course, there is no way of verifying whether the customer even existed, one of the many ghosts shadows in this case.

If the device was really bought by DARPA or by the U.S. Navy—who have long wanted a portable, fuel-free energy source for their Expeditionary Power system—they should be able to say whether LENR really works, or whether they were scammed out of a million dollars (Rossi's price for the E-Cat) by a clever con artist and an idea that is just as crazy as the scientists say.

It should be one interesting report.