Bernie Sanders: Koch Bros want to end equality, dignity and hope in America. Don’t let them.

Sanders against Koch BrosBernie Sanders lays out exactly what the Koch Brothers want.

With money comes power, and these guys have plenty of money, so watch out America: the Koch Brothers wealth increased by $12B in 2014. They are after your food stamps and other nutrition programs. They want Obamacare dismantled … and same for the United States Post Office, Social Security and housing assistance programs. They want prison populations increased and public education, gone forever. They want to house our parents and grandparents in homes where they decide what food and care they will get.

The Koch Brothers, the Walton Family (that owns Walmart) and their colleagues in ALEC want America to experience the type of crushing poverty portrayed by Dickens in Victorian England.

Your first defense against these monsters: to vote in politicians who are community minded and responsive to the needs of the people they serve – by voting out politicians loyal to their interests. No excuses about why you shouldn’t vote! Giving up your vote is the same as giving 2 votes to people who want to make you suffer: when one of those people cast his/her vote – and you failed to balance out the election results with your own vote – you just gave their vote double power.

Secondly, boycott. The sad truth is that a lot of these people’s wealth comes from selling us toilet paper, cleaning products and items like these. So learn what products their companies make – and don’t buy them. Ever. Once they get their hands on it, your money will be used against you, in every possible way.

Uber CEO calls it: the GOP objects to Obamacare because it frees workers

Obamacare Facts
I’ve been waiting for someone with authority to come out and say this. Now Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has, and a New York Magazine reporter expands on the theme: universal healthcare in America is a problem for capitalists (represented by the GOP), because it both frees workers from staying at a job just for the health benefits and it knocks down a barrier to entrepreneurship. Capitalism always need an underclass to exploit but quality universal healthcare will make it harder to exploit workers. The worker that can easily leave a job for better conditions, opportunity or pay is a worker who has negotiating strength and may even have enough money to compete with his boss.

Kalanick told reporters that Obamacare had been a crucial element in his firm’s success. “It’s huge,” he said, according to BuzzFeed. “The democratization of those types of benefits allow people to have more flexible ways to make a living. They don’t have to be working for The Man.”

The destructive power of this blunt statement works in two ways. The first, of course, is that it rebuts the Republican indictment of Obamacare, opposition to which is a matter of holy writ within the party. Of all the grounds for Republican hatred of Obamacare, the most deeply held is the belief that it amounts to onerous regulation that holds back capitalistic dynamism. That belief is not only foundational on the right, but nebulous enough that, even as conservative predictions about Obamacare’s cost and functionality obviously fail, the deeper suspicion that it is invisibly rotting away the foundations of capitalism can linger without any real evidence.

Robert Wood Johnson shares facts and data that support this premise:

Traditionally, individuals considering leaving their job to strike out on their own have worried that they may be denied health insurance coverage because they have preexisting conditions, fear losing access to a trusted physician, or are unable to afford the premiums without an employer sharing the costs. This brief examines how provisions in the ACA will impact entrepreneurialism:

The number of self-employed Americans will be 1.5 million higher in 2014 because of the Affordable Care Act.

Access to high-quality, subsidized health insurance coverage will no longer be exclusively tied to employment, which could lead people to pursue their own businesses as self-employed entrepreneurs.

Evidence strongly suggests that the number of self-employed individuals in the United States will increase with full-implementation of the ACA.

Biden helped put millions in prison & tightened noose on student loans

student debt
Highest student debt is in Biden’s home state of Delaware
All I can tell my fellow Dems is: if you want a true democracy in the United States, vote for Bernie Sanders because the competition ain’t looking so good. I’m sorry to report some disturbing facts I’ve learned about our Vice President, Joe Biden, who seems not to be the egalitarian playing-field leveler that his media image portrays him to be.

Along with Bill Clinton, Biden helped drastically increase the United States prison population. According to the ACLU 1 in 99 US adults are living in prison and, “One in 31 adults are under some form of correctional control, counting prison, jail, parole and probation populations.”

Vice writes,

It should be pointed out that while being far to the left politically might seem incompatible with investing in prisons (or managing a hedge fund in the first place), the Democratic party is totally fine with the incarceration rate. Although Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan are largely responsible for the drug-war policies that caused the prison population to skyrocket, Bill Clinton was a “tough on crime” president who continued their ideas. And Vice President Joe Biden was a principal player in the Clinton era’s crime policies—he wrote the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

The Act allocated $9.7 billion to build new prisons, strong-armed states into making parole tougher and as Mother Jones writes, it:

…expanded the number of crimes that qualify as death penalty cases, encouraged states to keep inmates locked in jail*, criminalized gang membership, eliminated Pell Grants for inmates, and put in place mandatory drug testing for people on supervised release.

Stiffer penalties are part of the mechanism used as an easy excuse to lock more people up.

chomsky on student loan debtBiden also substantively helped the finance industry by crafting tighter laws to prevent US students from declaring bankruptcy in order to bust free of crippling college debt. The International Business Times tells us:

Then came the 1990 Crime Control Act, whose chief sponsor was Biden. Though the bill was primarily focused on toughening criminal sentences, Biden’s legislation also included provisions that further lengthened the amount of time debtors would have to wait before they got access to traditional bankruptcy protections for their federal and nonprofit student loans.

E Warren on affordable higher edIn 1997, a federal panel appointed by President Clinton recommended that Congress reverse all the changes, and once again make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy court like other forms of consumer debt. But lawmakers went in the other direction, making it even harder for student debtors to get bankruptcy protections. With Biden’s support, Congress in 1998 passed a law limiting bankruptcy protections for educational loans to students who could prove their loans were an “undue hardship.”

Play about Central Park’s land 1825 Black Village showing at Kean U through 9/20.

Stephen Van Cleef, a fictional Seneca Village resident played by Billy Eugene Jones (left), meets a New York City police officer, played by Andy Truschinski, in The People Before the Park at Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union, NJ Foto: Mike Peters/Premiere Stages
Stephen Van Cleef, a fictional Seneca Village resident played by Billy Eugene Jones (left), meets a New York City police officer, played by Andy Truschinski, in The People Before the Park at Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union, NJ Foto: Mike Peters/Premiere Stages
In the middle of Central Park between 82nd and 89th Streets, heading east from its Western border on Central Park West, sat a village in 1825 with a population of about 300 mostly free Blacks. Cynthia Copeland of the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History spoke to NPR about the smear campaign the press ran against the villagers in order to

…help justify destroying people’s homes and cemeteries, using eminent domain to make way for what would become the most visited city park in the country. The village was leveled in 1857, the same year construction began on Central Park.

Kean University’s Premiere Stages Theatre is showing a play based on this slice of history through 20 September 2015: The People Before the Park by Keith Josef Adkins, directed by John J. Wooten. Tickets from $15. Here’s their description:

1856. New York City. A hard-working man and his son live in a respectful African-American community called Seneca Village. However, their solitude and safe haven are threatened when the City decides to remove the community from their homes to create the world-renowned Central Park.

US Colonel: slavery was the SINGLE reason for the Civil War (video)

North was agrarian tooColonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, sets the record state on the question of what the reason was for the United States Civil War. In this interesting short video Col. Seidule makes the case that the single reason was slavery. Does a good job with it, too.

Here are some highlights:

The buzz term “States’ Rights” was coined by Southern state residents and referred to the right they believed they possessed, to continue slavery.

Southern states claimed they needed slaves because their society was more agrarian than the North, but this wasn’t true. Seidule points out that the North not only paid their agriculture workers, who were, “free to come and as they pleased,” but they also produced much greater yields than Southern states did.

I’d like to point out that this historical fact pretty much lays to rest the modern-day argument that paying workers a living wage will destroy the economy.

social ladder

Seidule briefly touches on another important point, which may be the underlying reason that systemic racism became so deeply woven into the social fabric of American society. The ‘Peculiar Institution’ that justified slavery in Southern states, also became a bond of honor to which wealthy Southerners ascribed. It consisted of a social contract that a safety net for poor whites would always ensure sufficient social and financial support to prevent them from ever ending up at the same lowly rung of the socio-economic ladder as slaves (and by extension, any Southern people of color).

It seems entirely possible that white Americans’ sense of entitlement may have originated from precisely this social policy.

Graphics are from the video, which is a PragerUniversity production.

Ramos is a champion of truth and real reporting, not a disrupter

Jorge Ramos at UnivisionAnyone who thinks of criticizing Univision’s Jorge Ramos for confronting Donald Trump on August 25, should know what Ramos experienced with Trump before the confrontation … should also understand why Ramos felt it was important for him, as one of the US Latino community’s most notable leaders, to get Trump’s immigration policy out in the open and on record … and should definitely understand the sorry state into which United States journalism has fallen in recent decades. Those who do, will appreciate Ramos for taking a stand in defense of real reporting and will applaud his bravery and service to the public.

The Washington Post describes Ramos as, “..the top news anchor at Univision and one of the country’s most recognizable Mexican-Americans.” Ramos also made Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list for 2015.

Before their public confrontation, Ramos tried several times to get an interview with Trump and even sent him a handwritten note requesting one. Instead of replying, Trump shared Ramos’ note and Ramos’ private cellphone number to his Instagram account. More details published by this ABC affiliate and on NPR.

The job of a journalist is to ask hard-hitting questions that the public needs to hear the answers to. NPR reports:

Ramos said that the use of force to “suppress freedom of expression” worried him. He also defended his aggressive approach at the press conference.

“My job as a journalist is to ask questions from the powerful, and that’s what we tried to do,” Ramos said, adding that he had on various previous occasions tried to set up an interview with the presidential candidate. (Trump posted a picture of a handwritten note from Ramos to his Instagram account. The note included Ramos’ phone number.)

In an interview with ABC, Ramos said that another responsibility of being a journalist is to “denounce” the “dangerous words and extreme behavior of Donald Trump.”

Ramos was asked what he would say to critics who say he is more of an advocate than a journalist.

“I think the best journalism happens when you take a stand, and when it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public life, dictatorship or human rights, as journalists, we are not only required but we are forced to take a stand, and clearly when Mr. Trump is talking about immigration in an extreme way, we have to confront him, and I think that’s what I did yesterday,” he said.

Salon’s Robert Mann openly voices his disgust with US News Media in an article entitled “The modern news conference is a scripted farce: Why Jorge Ramos’ badgering of Donald Trump was a necessary corrective”, in which he comments that reporters acted like “trained seals” at Trump’s press conference. He adds,

On Fox News, Jesse Watters of “The Five” observed, “Ramos acted like an illegal alien and got treated like one. He cut the line, was disruptive and then was deported and then Trump let him back in.” In a column, Fox’s Howard Kurtz complained, “Ramos broke in without being called on—and I’m sorry, that’s not some polite society rule, that’s basic civility when a presidential candidate is taking questions.”

“Sorry” is the right word, but only to describe the collective media behavior during and after the episode. It confirmed what many of us already know: American political journalism is a pitiful, cowardly shell of its former self.

Hispanic voters deserve to know what kind of a man, and a candidate, Donald Trump is. So, thank God for Jorge Ramos and his courage to stand up to Trump’s bullying and get the facts about this man out in the open. And thank you too, Univision, for supporting both Mr. Ramos and real journalism.

It’s also important to recognize that Trump is pissed off at Univision for canceling the first-ever Spanish Language simulcast of the Miss USA Pageant, and is suing the company for $500 million dollars.

The Spanish-language broadcaster announced in a statement on Thursday that it will not air the Miss USA telecast – partly owned by Trump – on July 12th because of the statements he made about Mexican immigrants during a speech on June 16 announcing his presidential run.

Additionally, the company announced that it will not work ‘on any other projects tied to the Trump Organization.’

The statement reads in part: ‘At Univision, we see first-hand the work ethic, love for family, strong religious values and the important role Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans have had and will continue to have in building the future of our country.’

…Trump opened his fledgling presidential campaign by condemning Mexican immigrants and what he decried as their ‘dangerous’ contribution to America.

When voting day comes around, I hope that all eligible voters will get to the polls and show Trump that might does not make right … and that plenty of Americans still believe in democracy, equality and respect. Check to make sure you’re registered to vote. Don’t forget that Vote by Mail is possible in some states too and is convenient if your schedule makes it difficult for you to get to your polling place.

Thousands join mayor’s Occupy the City rally on Saturday to support Newark, youth & to stamp out violence

Mayor Baraka and CommonLed by Rapper-activist-actor Common joined Mayor Ras J. Baraka, the Newark Municipal Council and actor-rapper-activist Common, thousands of Newark residents united to “Occupy the City” on Saturday, August 8, meeting at a designated location in each of Newark’s five wards at 3:30 pm and marching to the City’s historic downtown “Four Corners” at Broad and Market Streets for a huge anti-violence and community support rally.

Building on the success and support from Newark residents during his “Occupy the Block events, Mayor Baraka hosted the “Occupy the City” event to unite residents against despair, violence, and crime in Newark and to promote love, hope and empowerment. “Occupy the Block” is a community engagement tool modeled after the historic “Occupy” movement, which advocates the social disruption of harmful or ineffective social constructs. Marchers wore purple t-shirts specially made for the occasion.


The Mayor called upon residents to take action against violence in their neighborhoods by reporting incidents of crime to the police, organizing themselves and their neighbors as communities and providing hands-on nurturing and mentoring to children, beginning in their own homes and neighborhoods.

“We need peace in our community. We need it now. No more silence! Stop the violence,” the Mayor urged. “It’s not enough to be on Twitter and Facebook cursing people out. You have to get out into the street and stop blaming people. How many kids have you talked to? How many kids have you mentored? How many organizations have you joined? What are you doing? Have you gone into your schools? Have you joined the PTA? Have you gone to School Board meetings?”

Walking up Market St

“Our kids should not have Chinese-made assault rifles. It’s easier to get a Chinese-made assault rifle in our community than a decent loaf of bread. Our children should not lie on our streets, dying in pool of their own blood, from bullets from a foreign-made assault rifle. Our children should not have to lie on the floor to avoid the bullets. Our children deserve to live in a safe neighborhood and grow up to be surgeons and doctors and Supreme Court justices,” he asserted.

The Mayor also spoke directly to parents and guardians of children in attendance. “Do you talk to the child in your kitchen? Do you talk to the child in your living room? Do you talk to the child on your corner, wearing his pants down and a white t-shirt? You should be talking to him.

“These kids who are committing crimes are babies, 14 and 15 years old. They don’t pay taxes, they don’t vote, they don’t run this city, and they don’t bring jobs to community. They don’t decide who is the Superintendent of Schools or who the mayor is. So how are they in charge of your house, building, street, and block? You are the adults! You have to stand up straight.”

Mayor Baraka called upon parents to set examples by using culture as a positive force, noting that while many parents use social media to complain about conditions in Newark, their neglected children are misbehaving and listening to music that preaches violence and destruction.

Mayor Baraka speaks“Turn off that radio,” Mayor Baraka exhorted repeatedly. “They listen to songs that say ‘I got high last night’ and ‘murder, murder, murder.’ We need music that is positive. Teach your babies to sing positive songs at age 8, 9 and 10. We want them to sing at age 10, ‘I am beautiful on purpose and outstanding.’ Not, I’m going to shoot some dude on the corner. Put on songs that make babies love each other and make kids think they are big strong and powerful. Put on songs that say we can do anything we want to do and that we should love each other. If you don’t have one, I’ll give you my playlist. Listen to that in your house instead of complaining on Facebook about where are police at. They should be in your living room. Take responsibility. Culture is a weapon. It can be for us or against us. It is for us and kept us as a people from slave shouts to gospel, jazz to blues. The music that is going on is aiding in death and destruction of own children.”

The Mayor also addressed pain the community experiences as an underlying cause of violence. “We have to address the pain of hopelessness, poverty, unemployment, and death. We have to address the pain of destruction in community, of powerlessness and of inequality. We have to address the pain our kids feel – of having no money in pocket, having no clothes to wear to school for five days, and no food in the house when our kids get get home. We have to address the pain of having an older brother in jail or a youth being in jail at age 17 or having just got out of jail and not being able to get a job, or a driver’s license. We have to address the pain of being a crime victim. We have to address the pain of being 17 years old and can’t read.”

Mayor Baraka called on residents to organize outside their homes. “When we leave here, what are you going to do? We didn’t come here just to make you feel good. When you go home, become part of a block association. If you haven’t got one, start one. If you have one, join it. Start a block watch. Patrol your neighborhoods. We need people to question people who are on the block who don’t live there. If you live on the block and don’t know your neighbors, that’s a problem. Ring doorbells and introduce yourselves.”

The mayor also reminded attendees of the importance of speaking up, particularly when the criminals are known to community residents or are family members.

1000s rally

“People aren’t dropping these kids from helicopters or UFOs into neighborhoods. We know these kids. They’re related to you all. They are our sons and brothers. But instead of taking action, you hide them in your basement. You get them out of town. They cause havoc in the neighborhood in the neighborhood and you protect them. You don’t stop them. You don’t grab them up. You don’t tell on them. But then you’re on Twitter complaining about what the mayor should do when your son is out there creating havoc. You need to say something to hem. Pull them aside. Have a rally in your own living room and kitchen. Hold an ‘Occupy Your House’ rally,” he said.

“We have to open our mouths. No more silence. Tell. It’s over. When you tell, you’re not a snitch. It’s different. When you tell, you’re saying, ‘I’m not with you. I’m not part of what you’re doing. Being a snitch means ‘we’re together.’ Telling means you’re saying: ‘You don’t belong on my block – you’re causing problems in the community, I’m calling the police. We should all be telling. Then go to the next block, and make them tell, too.”

The Mayor also called upon state and federal agencies to replicate the Marshall Plan that rebuilt western Europe after World War II in America’s urban cities. “When we fought wars in other countries, we rebuilt their roads, gave money for police and built hospitals, schools, and the whole infrastructure. Our cities and infrastructure are crumbling. We need new schools, hospitals and roads. We need jobs. Not 100, or 1,000, but 5,000 and 10,000. We need this in Newark and every city in country. We need it now.

“We must end poverty. It is the number one enemy. It is the worst form of violence. It is killing us. That is why we are fighting. Violence is a public health issue. Violence is a disease that spreads everywhere. It kills people. We all know mothers who have lost children to prison and shootings. We must treat it as a disease. No more silence. Stop the violence. Say, ‘We are human beings. We don’t deserve to die on sidewalks at age 13 or 14 years old.'”

The rallying points and contact organizers for each ward were:

  • North Ward: Victoria Avenue and Cutler Street. Contact: Daniel Figueroa (201) 566- 6097
  • South Ward: Brunswick Street and Astor Street. Contact: Stacey Hillsman (973) 715-3629
  • East Ward: Pennington Court. Contact: Ligia DeFreitas (201) 566-3137
  • West Ward: 15th Street and 15th Avenue. Contact: Marques-Aquil Lewis (201) 566-5108
  • Central Ward: Central Avenue and 9th Street. Contact: Al’Tarik Onque (201) 463-6372

Many groups joined in led by city and community organizers and Municipal Council members led marchers from their wards to the rally. Chief of Staff Amiri Baraka, Jr. served as Master of Ceremonies.

Common speaks“From Chicago to Newark, we are one people. We must work to find peace within ourselves and to be at peace with each. Violence destroys the beauty inside of us and kills our communities. Let’s unite and do what is right,” Common told the crowd.

Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, co-founder and President of GrassROOTS Community Foundation and Assistant Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, served as the rally host. Speakers included Abyssinian Baptist Church pastor Reverend Perry Simmons; Nicole Paultre Bell, fiancée of police shooting victim Sean Bell; and representatives of clergy and community organizations.

Actor, director and Newark native John Amos“When I was growing up here and misbehaving, people would say, ‘Amos, if you keep doing that, you’ll wind up in Rahway State Prison,'” recounted Newark native and actor John Amos. “Well, I cleaned up my act, and I did wind up in Rahway, only I was making a movie with Sly Stallone! We need for our children to be able to achieve the same dreams – to be actors, lawyers, doctors or Supreme Court justices.”

During the rally, the Newark Fire Department provided information about their drive to recruit new firefighters, while the Mayor’s Read and Believe program gave out free children’s books.

Photo Credits: City of Newark Press Information Office

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When police become revenue agents to keep towns fiscally solvent

cash-strapped-cityThe community policing model becomes completely distorted when policeman – the civil servants you’re most likely to see and interact with in the course of a normal day – are turned into revenue producing instruments by the cities they work for. When a police officer’s job depends on whether s/he can generate enough revenue to keep his employer out of bankruptcy, a lot of people are going to be unhappy. And some of those unhappy people are going to be people grievously harmed, or excessively fined, for behaviour that shouldn’t be a big deal.

Mother Jones reporter Jack Hitt offers both thoughts and carefully collected data on this topic in his article, Police Shootings Won’t Stop Unless We Also Stop Shaking Down Black People: The dangers of turning police officers into revenue generators:

There is still no comprehensive study to determine just how many cities pay their bills by indenturing the poor, but it is probably no coincidence that when you examine the recent rash of police killings, you find that the offenses they were initially stopped for were preposterously minor. Bland’s lane change signal, DuBose’s missing plate. Walter Scott had that busted taillight—which, we all later learned, is not even a crime in South Carolina. Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. When Darren Wilson was called to look into a robbery, the reason he initially stopped Michael Brown was for walking in the street—in Ferguson, an illegal act according to Section 44-344 of the local code. Between 2011 and 2013, 95 percent of the perpetrators of this atrocity were African American, meaning that “walking while black” is not a punch line. It is a crime.

And not just a crime, but a crime that comes with fines that are strictly enforced.

Hitt points to a disturbing trend in which some towns have created sets of seemingly random and bizarre laws that seem unnecessary – until you look at how much revenue violations of those laws are bringing in for the municipalities. Hitt explains:

“Essentially, these small towns in urban areas have municipal infrastructure that can’t be supported by the tax base, and so they ticket everything in sight to keep the town functioning,” said William Maurer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice who has been studying the sudden rise in “nontraffic-related fines.”

Take the St. Louis suburb of Pagedale, where, among other Norman Rockwell-worthy features deemed illegal, “you can’t have a hedge more than three feet high,” Maurer says. “You can’t have a basketball hoop or a wading pool in front of a house. You can’t have a dish antenna on the front of your house. You can’t walk on the roadway if there is a sidewalk, and if there is not a sidewalk, they must walk on the left side of the roadway. They must walk on the right of the crosswalk. They can’t conduct a barbecue in the front yard and can’t have an alcoholic beverage within 150 feet of a barbecue. Kids cannot play in the street. They also have restrictions against pants being worn below the waist in public. Cars must be within 500 feet of a lamp or a source of illumination during nighttime hours. Blinds must be neatly hung in respectable appearance, properly maintained, and in a state of good repair.”

Where did this Kafkaesque laundry list come from? Maurer explains that in 2010, Missouri passed a law that capped the amount of city revenue that any agency could generate from traffic stops. The intent was to limit small-town speed traps, but the unintentional consequences are now clear: Pagedale saw a 495 percent increase in nontraffic-related arrests. “In Frontenac, the increase was 364 percent,” Maurer says. “In Lakeshire, it was 209 percent.”

It is probably no coincidence that when you examine the recent rash of police killings, you find that the offenses the victims were initially stopped for were preposterously minor.
This racket now has many variants. South Carolina hosts “Operation Rolling Thunder,” an annual dragnet in which 21 different law enforcement agencies swarm stretches of I-85 and I-26 in the name of catching drug dealers. In 2013, this law enforcement Bonnaroo netted 1,300 traffic citations and 300 speeding tickets. But after everyone had paid up, the operation boasted exactly one felony conviction.

How did we get here?

The sad answer is: Bill Clinton … with the generous help of then-Senator Joe Biden.

Clinton was a “New Democrat” – part of a new coalition of Democrats who believed that the liberalism represented by the New Deal and Great Society had run its course, and that Democrats must court Big Business and certain right-wing interest groups in order to forge a new party.

Included in this policy shift were things like “welfare reform,” the North American Free Trade Agreement, and deregulation of the telecommunications and banking industries. But perhaps Clinton’s earliest and most intense shifting of traditional Democratic Party liberalism was with respect to crime. This took the form of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (later commonly known as the crime bill). To helm its passage, Clinton tapped none other than our current vice president, then Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.

Joe Biden: Clinton’s Crime Bill Enforcer

Biden was the chief author of the 1994 crime bill, which vastly increased the number of police officers on American streets, eliminated Pell Grants for prisoners, expanded the federal death penalty and upped the Border Patrol presence (recall that this bill was passed around the same time as NAFTA, which increased migration from Mexico).

The bill was passed in a political climate of hysteria about crime and Biden and Clinton used that climate to their advantage. Recall that during the earlier 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton himself flew back to Arkansas during the presidential campaign to ensure a mentally ill black man was executed. Following the execution, Clinton said, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”

That was a sentiment Biden and congressional Democrats also sought to project.

Obama at Georgetown on breaking the cycle of poverty. Real talk.

Obama at Georgetown Poverty SummitAt the Georgetown University #PovertySummit President Obama made some very real comments, tying his own background to modern society’s challenges in the areas of education and social investment; access to jobs, internet, transportation; mentoring, youth, fatherhood, families and community:

I am a black man who grew up without a father, and I know the cost that I paid for that. And I also know that I have the capacity to break that cycle, and as a consequence I think that my daughters are better off … For me to have that conversation does not negate my conversation about the need for early childhood education, or the need for job training, or the need for investment in infrastructure or jobs in low-income communities…

But when I’m sitting there talking to these kids, and I’ve got a boy who says, you know what, how did you get over being mad at your dad, because I’ve got a father who beat my mom and now has left, and has left the state, and I’ve never seen him because he’s trying to avoid $83,000 in child support payments, and I want to love my dad, but I don’t know how to do that — I’m not going to have a conversation with him about macroeconomics. (Laughter and applause.)

I’m going to have a conversation with him about how I tried to understand what it is that my father had gone through, and how issues that were very specific to him created his difficulties in his relationships and his children so that I might be able to forgive him, and that I might then be able to come to terms with that.

And I don’t apologize for that conversation.

Amen, Mr. President.

Here’s the full transcript of President Obama’s remarks.

For the GOP, Latinos are criminals, rapists and people to leave town over

Christie & Trump
A justified but quiet uproar is taking place around the country in response to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calling Mexicans criminals and rapists:

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. [Applause] Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Trump hairMy son Ari was baffled at the Republican’s enthusiasm for this crazy man, whose poll numbers are surging. “There are a lot of haters out there,” I explained. But WaPo points out the good news about all this hate: Latinos are the swing vote in the US and Trump and Christie are doing their level best to completely piss them off. Now would be a good time to register to vote so you can make sure one of these bozos doesn’t actually make it to the White House.

Ted Cruz, who hails from the Cuban elites that exploited dark-skinned people for generations until Castro took over, naturally agrees with Trump. Only the clueless GOP thinks of Cruz as an ambassador for the Latin American people.

A Mexican worker who’s out with his crew building a home for wealthy folk in 107ºF weather gave an Occupy interviewer an earful about Trump. BTW the translation of what this guy says is not exactly accurate – it’s been toned down a lot for public consumption.

Not only politics is being affected by Trump’s position. A number of Latino and even national brands quickly moved to distance themselves from the man and his businesse. Another WaPo reporter comments:

What’s more, Latino consumers – the vast majority of of those watching Univision – were expected to control about $1.5 trillion in consumer buying power this year. That figure represents what Nielsen’s consumer research division last year described as a “staggering 50 percent increase” from the group’s buying power as recently as 2010.

Trump owns part of the Miss Universe competition. The reigning Ms. Universe contributed this remark:

“I find Mr. Trump’s comments unjust and hurtful,” Paulina Vega wrote in an Instagram post. “As a Colombian and as Miss Universe, I want to show my support and validate the sentiments of the Latin community.

Trump’s buffoonery would be funny if he weren’t so obscenely rich the lives of too many people reside right in the palm of his hand. Oh wait. It is still is funny! Check out what Jon Stewart says.

Jon Stewart on Donald Trump

Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Chris Christie is busy making black people understand that his family fled Newark not because of persecution, hunger or homelessness, but just to get away from them. As Bob Braun puts it:

The Christie family did not escape from English monarchs who insisted on a state religion. Not from revolutions in southern Europe. Not from the potato famine. Not from the czar. Not from pogroms or the Holocaust. Not from grinding poverty. The Christie family escaped from black families moving into the neighborhood–new neighbors whose ancestors were brought to this country as slaves in chains. The Christies did not face the unknown wilderness or the known hostility of earlier settlers. They faced the grass, the open space, the all-white neighborhoods, of Livingston, New Jersey.

Exploitation by the light-skinned a tradition in the Dominican Republic and Ted Cruz’ Cuba

Slaves dance on Cuban plantationSen. Ted Cruz is an elitist Cuban-American, representative of Cuban plantation owners who imported and exploited African slaves for generations. A lesson plan from PBS’ Black in Latin America feature shows that by persecuting Haitians the Dominican Republic is simply following Cuba’s tradition of persecuting dark-skinned workers once the workers have been exploited to breaking point. This is the Cuban history:

When revolution broke out in the French colony of Saint Domingue (later known as Haiti), sugar production there came to a virtual halt. This caused a sudden demand for sugar. Cuban plantation owners quickly stepped in to fill the gap created by neighboring Haiti, placing Cubans in a position to profit immensely. By the mid-1800’s, Cuba replaced Haiti as the world’s leading producer of sugar, making Cuban plantation owners very wealthy. Sugar is a very labor intensive and the increased pressure to fill market demand for this lucrative crop resulted in a high death rate among slaves. Plantation owners responded to the labor shortage by purchasing more slaves thereby reinvigorating the Transatlantic slave trade even after the British sought to curtail it.

Many whites in Cuba feared that blacks there would rise up against whites and take over the island just as in Haiti during its slave insurrection and then successful revolution. White plantation owners feared both loss of privilege, property, economic gain as well as violence from blacks who might seek to avenge their enslavement and inhumane treatment. Not unique to Cuba, this was a common fear among the ruling establishment in many colonial societies.

In the Dominican Republic, dark-skinned Haitians have also been exploited and have similarly been forced into slave-like work and living conditions:

Large-scale sugar production began in the Dominican Republic in the 1870s. In many ways, little about the process has changed since then: The sugar cane still grows tall, wild, and sweet, and Haitian laborers – poor, desperate, and hungry – still work day in, day out, to cut it.

Haitian-dominican batey housingThe Haitian workers, then as now, typically live in bateyes – company towns located within the sugar plantations. Some have electricity. Most lack running water. There are no phones, no playgrounds, and no mattresses on many of the rickety beds. The workers earn, typically, the equivalent of $2.50 a day, out of which they often must pay a percentage for company social security and pension funds – money, they say, they never see again.

New report: Walmart has hidden 10s of $BILLIONS of revenue to evade taxes

Walmart tax evasion reportAmericans for Tax Fairness has published their findings of a Walmart tax evasion investigation. I’m not devious enough to quickly understand how Walmart is doing this, and I sure don’t know if what it’s legal, but I’m glad to know eyebrows are being raised.

Their scheme goes something like this: Walmart has lied in corporate earnings filings about how much money they’ve sent overseas. They have stashed that money in secret accounts, mostly in Luxembourg, to avoid paying United States taxes on it. An interesting sidebar is that they now Walmarts wants to bring a lot of that money back into the US in order to expand their operation – again, without paying taxes on the earnings it represents. This just stinks, don’t you think?

I already knew Walmart and its owners are the scum of the earth. I can only hope that learning how little the Waltons are willing to share with the countrymen who have made them so rich will motivate people to stop shopping at Walmart. After all, it isn’t the bargain people think it is. As Politics USA writes:

Not only does Walmart keep their workers in poverty through low wages, kill small locally owned businesses when they move into an area, cause an increase in local taxes by getting sweetheart tax free deals from local politicians, tax dodging by corporate giants like Walmart increases taxes on small businesses by $3,200 a year.

Walmart’s no bargain

Oh, and then there’s the thing where Walmart solicits donations from shoppers so workers will have enough food for their Thanksgiving dinners. And let’s not forget that Walmart pays its workers so little, many need foodstamps to survive:

“The same company that brings in the most food stamp dollars in revenue — an estimated $13 billion last year — also likely has the most employees using food stamps.”

The name of the mammoth food stamp-reliant company is no secret: Walmart.

As journalist Krissy Clark notes in Marketplace’s valuable new series “The Secret Life of the Food Stamp,” Walmart benefits from food stamps in multiple ways, as taxpayers both underwrite the company’s food sales and also subsidize its payroll costs.

There is no doubt that food stamps (and a host of other public subsidies from Medicaid to home heating assistance to the Earned Income Tax Credit and beyond) reduce Walmart’s employment costs substantially. A study released last year by staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce found that a single 300-employee Walmart Supercenter may cost taxpayers anywhere from $904,542 to nearly $1.75 million per year.

Politifact answers the question: Just how rich are the Waltons?

Sanders tweeted that “the Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America.”

The statistic correctly compares the combined net worth of the bottom 41.5 percent of American families with the six Walton family members. We think the additional points — that many people with a negative net worth are not necessarily poor and that percentages about wealth distribution can be deceiving — are important and interesting. Nevertheless, Sanders’ claim is solid. We rate it True.

Kathryn Longo and Leen De Weerd Mosley for sharing articles about the new report.

Christie’s dismal record on union/labor rights just got worse

Christie, sweeney, bookerChristie has assaulted vulnerable New Jersey residents and labor rights all the years of his governorship. Next City shares the low-down on what Christie’s gotten away with, and how he’s done it.

Take public education: having promised when he was campaigning to take care of New Jersey’s teachers, after getting into office Christie proceeded to systematically destroy public ed, along with teachers’ and students lives and the bloodshed is far from over. Newark and Camden have been among the communities hardest hit.

Christie has now taken his assault to an entirely new level by wrangling a court victory for his refusal to fund state pensions. It seems clear that Christie wants to make sure that union workers – whose organizations finance Democratic candidate’s campaigns – won’t have comfortable lives or enough money to wage battle.

New Jersey Law Journal writes:

A divided New Jersey Supreme Court ruled June 9 that Gov. Chris Christie is not bound by a 2011 pension reform law that he championed and trumpeted as a highlight of his administration … The ruling, authored by Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, is a clear win for Christie, who will not be required to repay nearly $2.5 billion that he diverted from the pension system the last two years in order to balance the state’s budgets.

So, who is fighting GOP darling Christie? Civil rights groups are taking a bold stand against him for education, worker’s rights and the environment, aren’t they? Well, not exactly. Justice is why it seemed to be such a stunning betrayal of what the NAACP stands for when the New Jersey NAACP President secretly invited Chris Christie to keynote at the 2015 convention luncheon. Some members were appalled, citing damage Christie has caused to people of color in the Garden State. Daniel Hardwick of Camden told the Star-Ledger:

He’s abolished our school district. He’s disenfranchised 77,000 people of color. We no longer can vote for our school board, like all the other cities … So, Chris Christie? As keynote speaker? Everything he’s done is completely contrary to what our organization has fought for.

Christie’s traveling companion the day of the convention lunch was none other than New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat. If you have asked yourself why Dems never take a stand against the harm Christie dishes out, the friendly relationship between these two gentlemen and between Dem Sen. Cory Booker and Christie, might be the answers you’ve been seeking. The friendship should cool now that Christie has shown the breadth of his considerable backside to Sweeney and union members over pension benefits … but will it? The GOP doesn’t rely on union votes to elect its candidates, but the Dems sure do. It seems high time for New Jersey’s Dem politicians to wake up and smell the coffee.

In a different article, New Jersey Law Journal’s Michael Booth shares Sweeney’s reaction to the NJ Supreme Court ruling (emphasis mine),

…Democrats who backed the (pension) reform law received criticism from the public-sector unions, who believed that their interests had been sacrificed for political gain.

But if immediate reaction to the ruling is any indication, Christie’s invitation to the Democratic leadership and the unions to resume pension reform talks might prove to be wishful thinking.

The cooperation of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, was vital in reaching the 2011 agreement. But at a press conference held after the court’s ruling was released, he made it clear he was not open to further negotiations with Christie.

“I listen to the governor say come back to the table,” Sweeney said. “Who in their right mind would come back to a table and negotiate with someone that didn’t keep the first part of the deal?”

We can only pray that Sweeney’s state of mental health remains intact and that he has finally decided to advocate for the wellbeing and rights of the people who elected him.

Feel-good social analysis fails to show how real change happens

the wire hbo image
HBO’s The Wire (Photo courtesy of HBO)
Through analyzing what’s wrong with The Wire, Dave Zirin takes a hard look at what is missing altogether from supposedly progressive TV shows that supposedly delve into the social injustices that are screaming for attention all across the US recently. Interesting read. Dave says:

I always shoved it to the back of my mind when my friends in Baltimore – I live about 45 minutes from the city – almost uniformly would tell me they either did not like or would not watch the show. People were hostile toward The Wire for a multiplicity of reasons. Some felt it was like gangster rap for a more sophisticated audience, glorifying black-on-black hyper-masculine street violence while selling itself as somehow more literate and ennobling to consume. My friend Mark once pissed me off fiercely when he told me that my favorite show was “NWA for people who read The New Yorker.”

…The events of the last two weeks, however, have changed my view of The Wire in a very fundamental way. I have spent most of my time listening to people in Baltimore speak about how this uprising came to be and why the anger runs so deep. I’ve been primarily speaking to black Baltimoreans in grassroots organizations who have, in a state of MSM invisibility, been building movements for years to fight poverty, end street violence, and challenge police brutality. This is humbling to admit, but this experience has made me reassess my favorite show, as if a very dim light bulb was being switched on above my head. I am now seeing what the The Wire was missing, despite its much lauded, painstaking verisimilitude: the voices of people organizing together for change. Everyone on The Wire seeks individual solutions for social problems: the lone cop, the lone criminal, the lone teacher, the lone newspaper reporter. Yes, it is certainly true that when entrenched bureaucracies battle individuals, individuals lose. But when bureaucracies battle social movements, the results can be quite different.

Hat tip to Sally Gellert for the share

Prison to Whole Foods Pipeline: artisanal foods crafted by inmates

Prison work in progress
Flickr: kathrynsdays / Via Kathryndays Flickr
Fortune publishes the oddest stuff. This intriguing article covers the burgeoning artisanal food prison business, thriving because its labor force is prison inmates that earn – get this – 60¢ an hour. Although, Colorado Corrections Institute director Steve Smith points out, a whole $3-400 a month can be earned with incentives (emphasis mine). Naturally, the prison industry itself profits handsomely from these relationships as middleman and overseer, making it pretty clear what has been driving Big Money’s strategy to lock up 1% of the United States population. The US is returning to a slave labor model … and calling it “help” for prison inmates. UK politics professor Genevieve LeBaron says,

The practice has long been controversial. Prisoners earn meager wages and have no recourse if they’re mistreated, LeBaron argues. Plus, they can take jobs from law-abiding citizens. “It’s hugely concerning in the face of economic instability and unemployment.”

Artisanal Foods

Buzzfeed writes: 8 Artisanal Foods You Didn’t Know Were Made By Prisoners: “Inmates help make a surprising amount of the feel-good food products you eat, from cage-free eggs to goat cheese sold at Whole Foods.” Artisanal foods are the high-priced items sold in elitist markets like Whole Foods, and their high price tags are supposed to reflect intensive care and handling by skilled workers. Here’s a definition of artisanal I like:

In Ye Goode Olde Days, most things people owned and consumed were made by hand. Artisans were skilled craftspeople who created products that required extensive training and specialization to produce. In Medieval Europe, artisans formed guilds to set standards for their crafts and prevent competition. But when production moved to factories, machines and factory workers replaced skilled craftspeople. The mechanization of food processing came later, but today, most foods sold in the United States are processed in factories. Obesity and diabetes followed.

Dissent Magazine shares public reactions to the Forbes exposé.

It’s not clear what shocked people most about the report in Fortune that Whole Foods Market sells goat cheese and tilapia prepared with prison labor—the horrendous exploitation of prisoners for a base rate less than one-tenth of Whole Foods’ starting wage, or the fact that even after paying prisoner-workers sixty cents an hour, that tiny wheel of goat cheese still costs upward of seven dollars. Whichever reason it was, for many the story disturbed the experience that Whole Foods carefully cultivates…

So when customers found out that prisoners were being paid appallingly low wages for helping to create some of the artisanal foods that line the store’s shelves, they were outraged. Why shouldn’t they be? Beyond exploiting a vulnerable population of workers housed in the nation’s prisons, Whole Foods had essentially defrauded these customers.

The pretty image of Whole Foods’ good labor practices has been ripped away, and now customers are getting a glimpse at the ugly reality beneath it.

Makes me glad I’m never tempted to pay the exorbitant prices for artisanal food products and don’t shop at Whole Foods.