30 June 2011

Shut up and do your job


The Pentagon and Slave Labor in U.S. Prisons

Prisoners earning 23 cents an hour in U.S. federal prisons are manufacturing high-tech electronic components for Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, launchers for TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles, and other guided missile systems. A March article by journalist and financial researcher Justin Rohrlich of World in Review is worth a closer look at the full implications of this ominous development. (minyanville.com)

The expanding use of prison industries, which pay slave wages, as a way to increase profits for giant military corporations, is a frontal attack on the rights of all workers.

Prison labor — with no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding — also makes complex components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter. Prison labor produces night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio and communication devices, and lighting systems and components for 30-mm to 300-mm battleship anti-aircraft guns, along with land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder. Prisoners recycle toxic electronic equipment and overhaul military vehicles.

Labor in federal prisons is contracted out by UNICOR, previously known as Federal Prison Industries, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation run by the Bureau of Prisons. In 14 prison factories, more than 3,000 prisoners manufacture electronic equipment for land, sea and airborne communication. UNICOR is now the U.S. government’s 39th largest contractor, with 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries.

The majority of UNICOR’s products and services are on contract to orders from the Department of Defense. Giant multinational corporations purchase parts assembled at some of the lowest labor rates in the world, then resell the finished weapons components at the highest rates of profit. For example, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation subcontract components, then assemble and sell advanced weapons systems to the Pentagon.

Increased profits, unhealthy workplaces

However, the Pentagon is not the only buyer. U.S. corporations are the world’s largest arms dealers, while weapons and aircraft are the largest U.S. export. The U.S. State Department, Department of Defense and diplomats pressure NATO members and dependent countries around the world into multibillion-dollar weapons purchases that generate further corporate profits, often leaving many countries mired in enormous debt.

But the fact that the capitalist state has found yet another way to drastically undercut union workers’ wages and ensure still higher profits to military corporations — whose weapons wreak such havoc around the world — is an ominous development.

According to CNN Money, the U.S. highly skilled and well-paid “aerospace workforce has shrunk by 40 percent in the past 20 years. Like many other industries, the defense sector has been quietly outsourcing production (and jobs) to cheaper labor markets overseas.” (Feb. 24) It seems that with prison labor, these jobs are also being outsourced domestically.

Meanwhile, dividends and options to a handful of top stockholders and CEO compensation packages at top military corporations exceed the total payment of wages to the more than 23,000 imprisoned workers who produce UNICOR parts.

The prison work is often dangerous, toxic and unprotected. At FCC Victorville, a federal prison located at an old U.S. airbase, prisoners clean, overhaul and reassemble tanks and military vehicles returned from combat and coated in toxic spent ammunition, depleted uranium dust and chemicals.

A federal lawsuit by prisoners, food service workers and family members at FCI Marianna, a minimum security women’s prison in Florida, cited that toxic dust containing lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic poisoned those who worked at UNICOR’s computer and electronic recycling factory.

Prisoners there worked covered in dust, without safety equipment, protective gear, air filtration or masks. The suit explained that the toxic dust caused severe damage to nervous and reproductive systems, lung damage, bone disease, kidney failure, blood clots, cancers, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, memory lapses, skin lesions, and circulatory and respiratory problems. This is one of eight federal prison recycling facilities — employing 1,200 prisoners — run by UNICOR.

After years of complaints the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Occupational Health Service concurred in October 2008 that UNICOR has jeopardized the lives and safety of untold numbers of prisoners and staff. (Prison Legal News, Feb. 17, 2009)

Racism & U.S. prisons

The U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any country in the world. With less than 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. imprisons more than 25 percent of all people imprisoned in the world.

There are more than 2.3 million prisoners in federal, state and local prisons in the U.S. Twice as many people are under probation and parole. Many tens of thousands of other prisoners include undocumented immigrants facing deportation, prisoners awaiting sentencing and youthful offenders in categories considered reform or detention.

The racism that pervades every aspect of life in capitalist society — from jobs, income and housing to education and opportunity — is most brutally reflected by who is caught up in the U.S. prison system.

More than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color. Seventy percent of those being sentenced under the three strikes law in California — which requires mandatory sentences of 25 years to life after three felony convictions — are people of color. Nationally, 39 percent of African-American men in their 20s are in prison, on probation or on parole. The U.S. imprisons more people than South Africa did under apartheid. (Linn Washington, “Incarceration Nation”)

The U.S. prison population is not only the largest in the world — it is relentlessly growing. The U.S. prison population is more than five times what it was 30 years ago.

In 1980, when Ronald Reagan became president, there were 400,000 prisoners in the U.S. Today the number exceeds 2.3 million. In California the prison population soared from 23,264 in 1980 to 170,000 in 2010. The Pennsylvania prison population climbed from 8,243 to 51,487 in those same years. There are now more African-American men in prison, on probation or on parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began, according to Law Professor Michelle Alexander in the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Today a staggering 1-in-100 adults in the U.S. are living behind bars. But this crime, which breaks families and destroys lives, is not evenly distributed. In major urban areas one-half of Black men have criminal records. This means life-long, legalized discrimination in student loans, financial assistance, access to public housing, mortgages, the right to vote and, of course, the possibility of being hired for a job.

State Prisons contracting slave labor

It is not only federal prisons that contract out prison labor to top corporations. State prisons that used forced prison labor in plantations, laundries and highway chain gangs increasingly seek to sell prison labor to corporations trolling the globe in search of the cheapest possible labor.

One agency asks: “Are you experiencing high employee turnover? Worried about the costs of employee benefits? Unhappy with out-of-state or offshore suppliers? Getting hit by overseas competition? Having trouble motivating your workforce? Thinking about expansion space? Then Washington State Department of Corrections Private Sector Partnerships is for you.” (educate-yourself.org, July 25, 2005)

Major corporations profiting from the slave labor of prisoners include Motorola, Compaq, Honeywell, Microsoft, Boeing, Revlon, Chevron, TWA, Victoria’s Secret and Eddie Bauer.

IBM, Texas Instruments and Dell get circuit boards made by Texas prisoners. Tennessee inmates sew jeans for Kmart and JCPenney. Tens of thousands of youth flipping hamburgers for minimum wages at McDonald’s wear uniforms sewn by prison workers, who are forced to work for much less.

In California, as in many states, prisoners who refuse to work are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges as well as “good time” credit, which slices hard time off their sentences.

Systematic abuse, beatings, prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, and lack of medical care make U.S. prison conditions among the worst in the world. Ironically, working under grueling conditions for pennies an hour is treated as a “perk” for good behavior.

In December, Georgia inmates went on strike and refused to leave their cells at six prisons for more than a week. In one of the largest prison protests in U.S. history, prisoners spoke of being forced to work seven days a week for no pay. Prisoners were beaten if they refused to work.

Private prisons for profit

In the ruthless search to maximize profits and grab hold of every possible source of income, almost every public agency and social service is being outsourced to private for-profit contractors.

In the U.S. military this means there are now more private contractors and mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan than there are U.S. or NATO soldiers.

In cities and states across the U.S., hospitals, medical care facilities, schools, cafeterias, road maintenance, water supply services, sewage departments, sanitation, airports and tens of thousands of social programs that receive public funding are being contracted out to for-profit corporations. Anything publicly owned and paid for by generations of past workers’ taxes — from libraries to concert halls and parks — is being sold or leased at fire sale prices.

All this is motivated and lobbied for by right-wing think tanks like that set up by Koch Industries and their owners, Charles and David Koch, as a way to cut costs, lower wages and pensions, and undercut public service unions.

The most gruesome privatizations are the hundreds of for-profit prisons being established.

The inmate population in private for-profit prisons tripled between 1987 and 2007. By 2007 there were 264 such prison facilities, housing almost 99,000 adult prisoners. (house.leg.state.mn.us, Feb. 24, 2009) Companies operating such facilities include the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group Inc. and Community Education Centers.

Prison bonds provide a lucrative return for capitalist investors such as Merrill-Lynch, Shearson Lehman, American Express and Allstate. Prisoners are traded from one state to another based on the most profitable arrangements.

Militarism and prisons

Hand in hand with the military-industrial complex, U.S. imperialism has created a massive prison-industrial complex that generates billions of dollars annually for businesses and industries profiting from mass incarceration.

For decades workers in the U.S. have been assured that they also benefit from imperialist looting by the giant multinational corporations. But today more than half the federal budget is absorbed by the costs of maintaining the military machine and the corporations who are guaranteed profits for equipping the Pentagon. That is the only budget category in federal spending that is guaranteed to increase by at least 5 percent a year — at a time when every social program is being cut to the bone.

The sheer economic weight of militarism seeps into the fabric of society at every level. It fuels racism and reaction. The political influence of the Pentagon and the giant military and oil corporations — with their thousands of high-paid lobbyists, media pundits and network of links into every police force in the country — fuels growing repression and an expanding prison population.

The military, oil and banking conglomerates, interlinked with the police and prisons, have a stranglehold on the U.S. capitalist economy and reins of political power, regardless of who is president or what political party is in office. The very survival of these global corporations is based on immediate maximization of profits. They are driven to seize every resource and source of potential profits.

Thoroughly rational solutions are proposed whenever the human and economic cost of militarism and repression is discussed. The billions spent for war and fantastically destructive weapons systems could provide five to seven times more jobs if spent on desperately needed social services, education and rebuilding essential infrastructure. Or it could provide free university education, considering the fact that it costs far more to imprison people than to educate them.

Why aren’t such reasonable solutions ever chosen? Because military contracts generate far larger guaranteed profits to the military and the oil industries, which have a decisive influence on the U.S. economy.

The prison-industrial complex — including the prison system, prison labor, private prisons, police and repressive apparatus, and their continuing expansion — are a greater source of profit and are reinforced by the climate of racism and reaction. Most rational and socially useful solutions are not considered viable options.

Go to prison, live the American dream!


Just the way we like it!


Ethics? Ethics don't apply to the Supreme Court!


TSA abuse


Capitalism in a simple graphic


Happy Canada day!


The Drug War’s Einsatzgruppen by William Norman Grigg

Einsatzgruppen (German) – "Special task forces" composed of police, military, and intelligence personnel deployed to target and eliminate people identified as "anti-German elements" by the National Socialist regime; also referred to as "mobile killing squads."

The invaders who murdered Hampton, Virginia resident William Cooper swiped about $900 in cash. They seized his gun collection. They took the Lexus from his driveway. By some oversight they neglected to extract the gold fillings from his teeth.

While they made off with a decent haul, the robbers were doubtless disappointed that they couldn't locate the large stash of illicit prescription drugs they had expected to find. They had the luxury of tossing the home at leisure without worrying about being interrupted by the police – on account of the fact that they were the police.

William Cooper, a 69-year-old retiree who suffered from the familiar variety of afflictions attendant to age, was startled awake on the morning of June 18 by two men who had barged into his home with their guns drawn and ready. Since he lived in a neighborhood in which home invasions (of the non-State-sanctioned variety) were commonplace, Cooper slept with a loaded handgun on his nightstand. He made an entirely proper but regrettably ineffective use of that weapon in an effort to repel the intruders, and was gunned down in his bedroom.

The police raid was triggered by an unsubstantiated tip from a still-anonymous informant that the NASA retiree – who walked with a cane and, according to his neighbors, never seemed to have any visitors – was illegally selling prescription drugs from his home. After they murdered Hampton, the police found about two-dozen different prescription drugs in the home, including various painkillers and medications for blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

An apparatchik with the Hampton PD insisted that the lethal home invasion had turned up "evidence" of illegal drug dealing. Someone not required to lie for reasons of professional convenience would admit the obvious: The victim of this needless home invasion was simply a sick, helpless old man who made extensive use of his Medicare Part D benefits. Now that he's dead, the people responsible for killing him are permitted to keep the stolen property as "proceeds" from alleged narcotics dealing.

The lethal June 18 assault on William Cooper's home was carried out under the supposed authority of Virginia's Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force (PNETF).

The "Asset Forfeiture Addendum" to the PNETF's most recent "Memorandum of Understanding" specifies that "TASK FORCE investigations should result in the seizure of forfeitable assets." It is also expected that the plunder will be distributed "in a fair and equitable manner," with a little more than one-third going to the city governments of Hampton and Newport News, a little less than a fifth going to the State Police, and the rest being lavished on the "Peninsula Association of Commonwealth Attorney's Association" (redundancy in the original). At least some of the boodle would be used to cultivate other informants, as well.

To understand what really happened in William Cooper's home on June 18, it's useful to imagine the murdered retiree's body surrounded by police, prosecutors, and local politicians who pick over his lifeless form like a colony of vultures. The cash is divvied up, with Hampton and Newport News getting about $300 apiece, the State Police receiving roughly $180, and the local prosecutors laying claim to about $120. For taking the lead in the heist, the Hampton Police Department is permitted to keep Cooper's car and gun collection, to use or liquidate as it sees fit.

As this is a "civil forfeiture" action, it's not necessary to prove that Cooper actually broke any law. And since he's dead, he can't contest the forfeiture action in court. If police had conducted an actual investigation, rather than staging a home invasion robbery on the pretext provided by an unsubstantiated tip from an unknown informant, they and their cohorts wouldn't have been rewarded with this modest haul.

Gilbert, Arizona resident Ross Taylor was fortunate enough not to share William Cooper's fate when the local counter-narcotics task force staged an assault on Taylor's home.

This has to be considered a species of miracle, given that the raiding party consisted of at least a dozen masked commandos who were clad in riot gear, packing assault rifles, and obviously eager for an opportunity to put a boot on someone's neck.

The throng of armed tax-feeders that laid siege to Taylor's home consisted of five undercover officers and seven from the criminal apprehension team. As the Phoenix New Times reports, the police raid came in response to a tip from the guy who installed Taylor's satellite TV system, a collectivist drone with the soul of a Stasi informant who spied a tiny amount of pot in the house and did his duty. As an overture to the assault, the raiders cut power and water to the targeted home, presumably to prevent anyone inside from disposing of the purported contraband.

Taylor had just purchased his home at the time of the raid. Three employees of a local moving company were present when the storm troopers arrived; they were handcuffed and detained for more than an hour while the raiders interrogated Taylor and ransacked his house.

As it happens, there was marijuana in Taylor's home, but it wasn't contraband. Taylor is a card-carrying medical marijuana patient who is permitted, by what the Arizona government presumes to call the "law," to own up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

Taylor patiently explained these facts to the bellicose bullies who were holding him at gunpoint. When he showed one of the SWAT operators his state-issued medical marijuana card, the masked invader told him, "I don't even know if you're supposed to have this card," referring to a lawsuit filed by Jan Brewer's administration against Proposition 203 (the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act), an initiative that passed last November.

Under the terms of that statute, as elucidated by the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS), those who qualify for medical marijuana cards "can obtain medical marijuana from a dispensary, the qualifying patient's designated caregiver, another qualifying patient, or, if authorized to cultivate, from home cultivation." (Emphasis added.)

Taylor told his unwanted visitors that he had purchased the marijuana from another card-carrying medical marijuana patient. He was informed that this meant he wasn't legally in possession of the marijuana, notwithstanding the fact that the text of the statute and the DHS guidelines explicitly permit transactions of that kind.

According to Gilbert PD press flack Sgt. Bill Balafas, "no one is licensed to sell [marijuana] and no dispensaries are open, yet." Actually, the statute itself, as the DHS admits, effectively licenses anyone with a medical marijuana card to distribute pot to other qualified users.

The agency itself was required to begin issuing permits for marijuana dispensaries at the beginning of June. However, Gov. Brewer instructed Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne to order the DHS to disobey the law by refusing to accept applications for businesses seeking to open dispensaries. This was done to buy time while Brewer filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the voter-enacted medical marijuana law.

Misguided conservatives who depict Jan Brewer as a champion of "states' rights" aren't likely to take note of, or be troubled by, her overture to Washington to practice nullification in reverse by intervening to suppress a voter-enacted measure liberalizing the state's marijuana laws.

The Brewer administration's stated reason for seeking an injunction against the law is a fear that state employees would be subject to prosecution for violating federal anti-drug ordinances. That legal argument was supplied by "Keep AZ Drug Free," the pressure group that opposed last year's marijuana initiative. (It's worth pointing out that the organization's name encompasses the patent falsehood that Arizona, or any other state, is and can be kept "drug-free.") A more honest assessment would lead to the conclusion that in Arizona, as is the case everywhere in the Soyuz, state and local law enforcement agencies have been subsumed into the federal Drug War apparatus – and that the political elite aren't willing to end that lucrative arrangement.

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, which is "responsible for granting millions of federal and state dollars" to police agencies, has designated support for narcotics task forces, along with related asset forfeitures, as its "first priority." The Commission's current "State Strategy" for "Drug, Gang and Violent Crime Control" is commendably barren of idiotic prattle about making, let alone "keeping," the state drug-free. It acknowledges that Arizona "is the arrival zone for most drugs smuggled into the United States"; that marijuana "remains readily available and is considered the most widely used illegal drug throughout the state"; that "cocaine is readily available throughout Arizona, and that the same is true of methamphetamine.

The policy objective of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission – as is true in each of the other fifty federal administrative units called "state governments" – is not to eliminate the narcotics trade, or even to abate it in any dramatic way, but rather to transmute it into a reliable source of revenue for the political class and its armed auxiliaries. Toward that end, the Commission in Arizona, with the help of plundered money provided by Washington, created sixteen state-level "drug task forces" in 2007. Those task forces have "a permanent institutional tie" with the Attorney General's Office of Financial Remedies.

Arizona's coercive sector has benefited tremendously from "the overwhelming success of the asset forfeiture [program] in Arizona," boasts the Commission. In the year following creation of the sixteen state counter-narcotics task forces, revenue from asset forfeitures more than doubled – from $19,576,626 in 2006 to $40,297,456 in 2007.

As Tom Barry of the Center for International Policy observes, the Commission's strategy document leaves the impression it "is a drug war agency, not one dedicated to finding ways to improve criminal justice in Arizona." Once again, this is typical of law enforcement nation-wide: "Whether at the state or county government level, the war on drugs is the main prism through which criminal justice and law enforcement agencies view crime and violence."

What this means, of course, is that "local" police agencies are essentially support systems for a plundering army that is literally waging war against the people in the guise of narcotics enforcement. In fact, a good case can be made that these paramilitary task forces – or, to use the proper German translation, einsatzgruppen – are carrying out the precise role that would be played by the dreaded blue-helmeted UN "peace enforcement" units that haunt the imagination of many "law and order" conservatives.

The idea of a UN "Peace Force" was made official federal government policy in the 1961 State Department Document entitled "Freedom from War: The United States Program for General and Complete Disarmament in a Peaceful World."

That proposal, also known as State Department Document 7277, outlined a three-stage program through which the United Nations would be "progressively strengthened in order to improve its capacity to assure international security and the peaceful settlement of disputes." All national governments would be required to provide military personnel and assets to empower the UN, which – as British author Simon Tisdall reminds us – was always intended to be a "war-fighting machine," rather than a forum for peaceful resolution of disputes.

The Orwellian locution employed to describe this function is "peace enforcement." The ongoing mission in Libya, which Mr. Obama refuses to describe as "hostilities" (meaning, one supposes, that they must be considered "kinetic military congenialities"), offers a perfect example of how the 7277 program works in practice: The president, invoking the supposed obligation to uphold the "credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations Security Council," committed personnel and resources to an aggressive war without congressional involvement of any kind. Once again, that is how the international component of the "Freedom From War" program functions.

In the domestic realm, "Freedom From War" dictates that each national government maintain a centralized, militarized "internal security force." In the intervening decades, many American critics of the UN have speculated that this element of the 7277 program mandated the eventual occupation of the country by Blue Helmet-wearing foreign troops. What has actually happened is that American police forces have been transformed into a domestic army of occupation in the service of a UN-administered program of "global drug prohibition."

The framework for global prohibition, interestingly, was also unveiled in 1961 – the UN's Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. As a recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy (a body that includes several former high-ranking UN functionaries, including former Secretary General Kofi Annan) points out that the UN and the U.S. government, working through the International Narcotics Control Board, "have worked … to ensure that all countries adopt the same rigid approach to drug policy – the same laws, and the same tough approach to law enforcement."

This was described as a campaign to create a "drug-free" world – just as the "Freedom From War" proposal was allegedly intended to abolish international military conflict. In practice, of course, both of those initiatives were actually intended to consolidate the power of a permanent international Power Elite, as well as to expand its ability to regiment and plunder productive society.

It was in the mid-1980s that the federal government began the practice of confiscating money and property as narcotics "proceeds" through civil asset forfeiture. Washington effectively globalized that practice through Article V of the 1988 Vienna Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, which dictates that signatory nations "adopt such measures as may be necessary to enable confiscation" of money and property designated as "proceeds" of the narcotics trade.

The U.S. government has eagerly tutored other countries in the use of "non-conviction-based" confiscation – that is, seizure of property from people never found guilty of a crime.

All of this did exactly nothing to mitigate the problem of drug addiction, let alone put an end to it. It did, however, dramatically amplify the profits enjoyed by both the private sector criminals who distribute narcotics and the immeasurably more vicious political criminals who are their obvious – albeit usually unacknowledged – business partners.

Fifty years after the UN – which has always been an instrument of the Anglo-American Power Elite – called for a "drug-free world," the narcotics trade is the world's largest cash business. According to Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN's Office of Drugs and Crime, during the 2008 global financial meltdown, laundered proceeds from drug trafficking kept the international banking system liquid until the official counterfeiters at the Federal Reserve could take over.

Historian Charles Burris refers to the beast created by "the massive covert intersection of governments, financial institutions, and organized crime in the international narcotics trade" as the "Narcosaurus." Its bloody footprints can be seen everywhere from the opium fields of Afghanistan (which are guarded by U.S. military personnel) to the doorways of people like William Cooper and Jose Guerena – innocent Americans murdered by the Drug War einsatzgruppen in their own homes.

Dayton cops taser handicapped teenager; say speech impediment was "disrespect"

DAYTON, Ohio (CN) - Dayton police "mistook" a mentally handicapped teen-ager's speech impediment for "disrespect," so they Tasered, pepper-sprayed and beat him and called for backup from "upward of 20 police officers" after the boy rode his bicycle home to ask his mother for help, the boy's mom says. Pamela Ford says her "mentally challenged/handicapped" son Jesse Kersey, 17, was riding his bike near his Dayton home when Officer Willie Hooper stopped him and tried to talk to him. The mom says that "Prior to the incident described below, defendant Hooper knew Jesse and was aware that Jesse was mentally challenged/handicapped and a minor child." Nonetheless, Ford says, Hooper "apparently took Jesse's speech impediment for disrespect ... [and] began yelling at Jesse and after Jesse attempted to communicate with him[.] Jesse, being a minor and mentally challenged/handicapped, turned and rode his bike back to his home in an attempt to ask his mother, Ford, to help him communicate with defendant Cooper," according to the complaint in Montgomery County Court. On the way, the mom says, "A neighbor attempted to communicate with Officer Hooper about Jesse's disabilities and was told to go back into his home, or he would be arrested." As Ford opened her front door, she says, Hooper and co-defendant Officer John Howard, "fired their Tasers, striking Jesse in the back with both probes." "Once inside the house, defendant Hooper and defendant Howard began to struggle with Jesse, who was standing against the back door with his hands up in front of his face, saying 'Please quit, please quit.' "On numerous occasions, Ford and a family friend, Christopher Peyton, informed Officer Hooper that Jesse was mentally challenged/handicapped, and that Jesse did not understand what was happening," the complaint states. But the mom says the cops continued their assault: "Officer Howard utilized his Cap-Stun pepper spray and sprayed Jesse ... [and] struck Jesse with a closed fist in the upper chest area. "Officer Howard utilized his ASP and repeatedly struck Jesse in the upper left side of his left thigh. "Back-up units were requested to Jesse's house, wherein upward of 20 police officers from different jurisdictions were present. "At no point, even after being advised of Jesse's mental challenge/handicap by Jesse's family and numerous bystanders, did defendant Hooper, defendant Howard, or any other police officer present, attempt to communicate with Jesse or explain in terms he could understand as to why Jesse was being chased. "Jesse was handcuffed and hogtied before being placed in the back of a police cruiser. "Jesse was charged with assault on a peace officer, resisting arrest, and obstructing official business." However, "Jesse was declared incompetent by the Montgomery County Juvenile Court and the charges against Jesse were dismissed." Jesse and his mom seek damages from the city and the two lead officers, for false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, assault, battery, excessive use of force, infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. They are represented by Richard Boucher.

Which boot is better?


Bachmann? Turn her over! Drive!

I read that rather than acknowledge Michelle Bachmann's mistake of naming John Quincy Adams a Founding Father when he was but a lad of 9 at the time, her followers have taken to Wikipedia to rewrite the JQ Adams page to make their favorite airhead correct.  Naturally, this tells you all you need to know about the rabid right who have demonstrated a propensity for rewriting American history to suit their ends, (especially those thrice damned fundamentalist Christers).  To me this never made any sense.  Either you are proud of your country's heritage or you aren't and if you are indeed proud of it, you don't go striving hard to change it.  If you aren't, too fucking bad!  That's how it happened!

But this sort of denial bodes ill for our future given that we recently have read that these days American students are less proficient in American history than in any other school subject.  And our world ranking in those other subjects are terrible.  Further, this isn't a new trend that has suddenly, astonishingly appeared.  This problem has been plaguing our education system for a while now.  This means that people like Bachmann can say as they damn well please about our history because, by and large, most Americans simply aren't going to know any better.

So I propose an amendment to our Constitution to the powers that be:  No one can run for federal office without passing a senior high school level American history test, strictly administered so as to prohibit cheating.  You don't pass, you can't run for congress or the presidency, period.  Why should a bunch of ignoramus' be allowed to make laws for the nation's future when they don't understand her past or have a fundamentalist Christer revisionist view of it?  My guess is most politicians would fail this test.  Good!  Get those idiots out of our halls of power where there ignorance and stupidity are causing untold troubles and chaos.

Hell, let's add IQ requirements too!  If you don't have an IQ above 125, you can't be a member of congress; if your IQ isn't above 140, you can't be president.  Hoho!  Now we're talking.

Naturally, this idea will never happen because those who own this country and run it like a Southerner's plantation wouldn't meet this criteria nor would their toadies the politicians who they have bought and paid for in bribes in the form of campaign contributions.  These powers would rail against any attempt by We the People to ensure we are getting some kind of quality leadership in Washington.  They would say we are impeding their rights to destroy the nation free expression or free speech.  Maybe they would even have some small point.  After all it is said that the people have the government they deserve and maybe we Americans deserve this turd sandwich our federal government has been corrupted into by greed, arrogance and mismanagement.  The voters voted these Becktards into power, just like they voted the ineffectual Republican Lites Democrats in a few years before that and, again, the Becktards before that.  There is no end to it because we Americans are too fat, too lazy, watch too much TV and are just plain too damn stupid to fix the damage we have allowed to happen because of our passivity and ignorance.  It is said that in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  Would that we could find a politician even that qualified!

29 June 2011

Netflix is pissing me off!!!

So Netflix forgot the old saw that if it ain't broke, don't fix it and revamped their website, fucking it up beyond all belief.  Before they redid their site, I could click "not interested" on the titles available and they would be gone forever and I could see only the titles I was interested in.  This is no longer true.  Further, once I watched or rated a title, it would be sent to the "watch again" category so the stuff I was interested in wouldn't be filled with stuff I had already seen.  This also is no longer true.  Now, all the crap is back, mixed with stuff I've already seen, making it nearly impossible to find anything to watch.

Fuck you Netflix, you dumb bastards!  Your new site sucks and I may cancel membership because of it!

A word from the Dalai Lama

Each one of us is responsible for all of humankind. We need to think of each other as true brothers and sisters, and to be concerned with each other’s welfare. We must seek to lessen the suffering of others. Rather than working solely to acquire wealth, we need to do something meaningful, something seriously directed toward the welfare of humanity as a whole.

Illegally Park-ed - Page 1 - News - Orange County - OC Weekly

No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.

When the case went to trial, however, defense attorney Al Stokke argued that Park wasn't responsible for making sticky all over the woman's sweater. He insisted that she made the married patrolman make the mess—after all, she was on her way home from work as a dancer at Captain Cream Cabaret.

"She got what she wanted," said Stokke. "She's an overtly sexual person."

A jury of one woman and 11 men—many white and in their 50s or 60s—agreed with Stokke. On Feb. 2, after a half-day of deliberations, they found Park not guilty of three felony charges that he'd used his badge to win sexual favors during the December 2004 traffic stop.

Park, 31, was red-faced and unable to control his twitching foot in the moments before the verdict was announced; if convicted, he would have faced prison. When he was found not guilty, he briefly embraced Stokke. In the public seating section, tears flowed from his gray-haired mother's face. His father, a mechanic, closed his eyes and threw his head back. Outside the courtroom, surrounded by his family, a smiling Park said he felt vindicated.

Veteran sex crimes prosecutor Shaddi Kamiabipour—who'd called Park "a predator" during the nine-day trial—said she was disappointed with the verdicts. She also dismissed Stokke's contention that the Orange County District Attorney's office had overcharged the case. At stake, Kamiabipour said, was the principle that no one—not even a horny cop who'd once won honors for community service—is above the law.

"Park didn't pick a housewife or a 17-year-old girl," Kamiabipour said in her closing argument. "He picked a stripper. He picked the perfect victim."

* * *

In the wee hours of Dec. 15, 2004, Lucy (only her first name was used during the trial) finished her final shift at Captain Cream in Lake Forest, not far from the Irvine Spectrum. Management had let her go after an incident involving a female customer in a bathroom stall. According to court records, there had been a small amount of cocaine, kissing and breast fondling.

Meanwhile, Park was on patrol in the southwest portion of Irvine. Prosecutors believe he was craving a sexual rendezvous, and so he watched for Lucy's white BMW to leave the strip club parking lot, then tailed her, waiting for an excuse for a stop. Park insisted he'd been cruising on the 405 north and coincidentally saw Lucy's vehicle weave and speed.

Kamiabipour, the prosecutor, shook her head in disbelief. She knew the facts—that the officer had waited at least eight or nine minutes before stopping the stripper on a secluded section of a highway that was out of his jurisdiction.

"He was stalking her," she said.

Four months earlier, Park had stopped Lucy under similar circumstances. That time, he'd ignored a plastic drug baggie he'd found in her car and her suspended license. But the stop wasn't a waste of time. After friendly chit-chat, the officer had scored Lucy's phone number. Telephone records show that Park called the stripper the next morning. She told him she was too busy to meet.

On the witness stand, Park explained that he'd called Lucy out of concern for a citizen's safety. He also shrugged his shoulders when Kamiabipour slowly listed the first names of nine Captain Cream female employees—Annette, Denise, Rashele, Marlia, Brandi, Andrea, Deborah, Laura and Shannon—whose license plates he'd run through the DMV computer in the weeks prior to his sexual encounter with Lucy. (Another coincidence, according to Stokke.) Jurors also learned that Irvine Police Sgt. Michael Hallinan had previously warned Park as they left work to stay away from the strippers.

Park, who works in construction nowadays, conceded that he'd been given the warning but claimed that he had no clue it was Lucy in the vehicle or that she had an invalid driver's license, even as he approached her car window.

Kamiabipour believed she'd caught the 6-foot-3 cop in a lie. Records show he ran the bosomy, 5-foot, 110-pound dancer's license plate before the stop, did not call for backup despite the potential for an arrest and failed to tell his supervisor or dispatch that he was leaving Irvine. Several Irvine officers testified that Park's behavior that night was odd.

"[Park's] testimony was just incredible," said Kamiabipour. Irvine city officials must have doubted his story, too. After an exhaustive police internal affairs investigation, they felt it was prudent to give Lucy $400,000 to make her civil lawsuit go away—for fear a jury might give her much more.

In a secretly-recorded phone call to Laguna Beach police shortly after the incident, Lucy recalled that she'd told Park she had no license. Park began "rubbing himself up against me," she said. "Then, he said, 'What are we going to do here, Lucy?'"

Park unzipped his pants, took his penis out and got an erection, she explained. "Basically, the officer made me give [him] a freaking hand job and he let me go. I'm so freaked out about it."

(Lucy also told police, prosecutors and the jury that Park had also fingered her vagina and fondled her breasts before he ejaculated on her.)

"I was confused," she told the Laguna Beach dispatcher. "He called me afterwards. I'm scared, you know . . . What's an Irvine cop doing hanging out at a strip club in Lake Forest?"

Telephone records prove that Park made a 19-minute call to Lucy shortly after their encounter. The officer—who told the woman he was "Joe Stephens," an Orange County Sheriff's Department deputy who had died months earlier—said it was a friendly call to make sure she'd arrived home safely. The stripper said he told her to keep her mouth shut.

And then Kamiabipour introduced the bombshell evidence from a high-ranking Irvine police officer: on the night Park tailed Lucy out of the city, the global positioning system in his patrol car had been disconnected without authorization.

"I checked and [the GPS] was not working," said Lt. Henry Boggs.

An unexplainable coincidence, Park's defense countered.

* * *

For all his boneheaded mistakes, Park madea sharp decision picking his legal counsel. Stokke (and John Barnett, Paul Myer and Jennifer Keller) is among the elite of the local defense bar. His fine suits and mastery of courtroom procedures compliment the folksy, grandfatherly style he uses to charm juries. And there was this unspoken advantage over the prosecution: longtime courthouse observers have no memory of an Orange County jury convicting a police officer of a felony.

It wasn't a surprise that Stokke put the woman and her part-time occupation on trial. In his opening argument, he made it The Good Cop versus The Slutty Stripper. He pointed out that she'd once had a violent fight with a boyfriend in San Diego. He mocked her inability to keep a driver's license. He accused her of purposefully "weakening" Park so that he became "a man," not a cop during the traffic stop. He called her a liar angling for easy lawsuit cash. He called her a whore without saying the word.

"You dance around a pole, don't you?" Stokke asked.

Superior Court Judge William Evans ruled the question irrelevant.

Stokke saw he was scoring points with the jury.

"Do you place a pole between your legs and go up and down?" he asked.

"No," said Lucy before the judge interrupted.

"You do the dancing to get men to do what you what them to do," said Stokke. "And the same thing happened out there on that highway [in Laguna Beach]. You wanted [Park] to take some sex!"

Lucy said, "No sir," the sex wasn't consensual. Stokke—usually a mellow fellow with a nasally, monotone voice—gripped his fists, stood upright, clenched his jaws and then thundered, "You had a buzz on [that night], didn't you?"

As if watching a volley in tennis, the heads of the male-dominated jury spun from Stokke back to Lucy, who sat in the witness box. She said no, but it was hopeless. Jurors stared at her without a hint of sympathy.

In his closing argument, Stokke pounced. He called Lucy one of those "girls who have learned the art of the tease, getting what they want . . . they've learned to separate men from their money."

Kamiabipour wasn't amused. "Dancer or not, sexually promiscuous nor not, she had the right not to consent," she told jurors. "[Park] doesn't get a freebie just because of who she is . . . He used her like an object."

Microsoft director admits E.U. data not exempt from Patriot Act spying | The Raw Story

In the brave new world of cloud computing, where data is stored off-site in massive server farms instead of on a user's local hard drive, privacy and security are paramount in the consumer's mind.

Unfortunately for privacy advocates, their concerns are essentially moot thanks to the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which a key Microsoft official said recently permits the U.S. to spy on data stored within cloud servers across the European Union.

The revelation of transcontinental spying, which has long been suspected, came from Gordon Frazer, Microsoft U.K.'s managing director, speaking at an announcement event for the company's new suite of office software.

Frazer's admission was caught by ZDNet reporter Zack Whittaker, who's long covered data security issues as they relate to the Patriot Act.

According to Whittaker's report, Frazer was asked whether the company could "guarantee that EU-stored data, held in EU based datacenters, will not leave the European Economic Area under any circumstances".

Because Microsoft is a U.S.-based company, he replied, they would be bound by its laws.

Provisions within the Patriot Act allow U.S. authorities to conduct surveillance without identifying the person or location to be wiretapped; permit surveillance of "non-US" persons who are not affiliated with a terrorist group; and allow law enforcement to gain access to "any tangible thing" during investigations.

Microsoft Office documents would now be officially included in that -- seemingly no matter where they reside.

9/11: The best thing to happen for our government and greedy politicians since the South seceded from the Union!

Attacked with olive branch


Parasitising Grandma – why alien eggs can be a sign of helpful families | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine

It seemed like such a simple story. Some birds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds of their own species. This practice, known as brood parasitism, foists the burden of parenthood onto other birds, who unwittingly devote their energies to raising someone else’s chicks. The exploiter wins; the victim loses.

This story is wrong, at least for eider ducks. Ralph Tiedemann from the University of Potsdam has shown that among these birds, brood parasites are most likely to target their own relatives, especially older ones who lay smaller clutches of eggs themselves. They aren’t putting their babies on the doorsteps of random strangers; they’re offering them to Grandma. The ‘victim’ isn’t really a victim; she’s the family babysitter.

When the time comes to breed, eider ducks tend to return to the place where they hatched. This trait brings several generations of eiders to the same place, and thousands of birds can gather in coastal islands.

Tiedemann worked with two such eider colonies: one that breeds in the Southern Baltic Sea, and another that nests on an airport runway in Northern Iceland. He took blood samples from 140 females and their 506 ducklings, and analysed seven parts of their genome to work out how related they were to one another.

He found that around a third of the nests contained at least one “parasitic” duckling, and in these nests, around 40% of the chicks had come from a different female. But the eiders are more likely to dump their eggs in the nest of a close relative than those of unrelated neighbours, something that Malte Andersson had found in a group of Canadian eiders in 2007. These eiders aren’t raising a stranger’s chicks – they’re probably raising their nieces, granddaughters or great-granddaughters.

Tiedemann also found that the eiders are more likely to raise parasitic ducklings, the older they get. Around one in six nests belonging to young females (three to six years old) contained parasitic chicks. That proportion doubled for females older than seven. Tiedemann even found three nests where every single duckling was an alien one – all of these nests belonged to very old eiders (15 years or older).

Older females lay fewer eggs than younger ones, but Tiedemann thinks that they can rear more chicks than they actually produce. Their best strategy for contributing to the next generation is help rear the chicks of relatives who bear many of the same genes. Meanwhile, younger females, who produce more eggs than they can care for, can entrust the surplus to their relatives.

It’s not clear whether the same is true for other birds. Brood parasitism is remarkably common among birds in general, and ducks in particular. Scientists have documented the practice in 234 species of birds, a third of which are ducks. The eiders might be a special case, since they breed in big colonies that span the generations. But for them at least, brood parasitism is clearly not a simple case of grifters and marks. It’s more a case of families, cooperating across the generations.

Debt Limit Stakes - NYTimes.com

June 28, 2011, 11:58 am by Paul Krugman

So, here’s where we are on the debt limit discussions: Democrats have agreed to large spending cuts, but are holding out for doing something about

a rule that lets businesses value their inventory at less than they bought it for in order to lower their tax burden, a loophole that lets hedge-fund managers count their income as capital gains and pay a 15 percent marginal tax rate, the tax treatment of private jets, oil and gas subsidies, and a limit on itemized deductions for the wealthy.

And Republicans walked out.

Think about it. There’s a significant chance that failing to raise the debt limit could provoke a renewed financial crisis — and Republicans would rather take that chance than allow a reduction in tax breaks on corporate jets.

What this says to me is that Obama cannot, must not, concede here. If he does, he’s signaling that the GOP can extract even the most outrageous demands; he’s setting himself up for endless blackmail. A line has to be drawn somewhere; it should have been drawn last fall; but to concede now would effectively mean the end of the presidency.

Outcry in America as Pregnant Women Who Lose Babies Face Murder Charges | Common Dreams

by Ed Pilkington

Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder, but the crime she is alleged to have committed does not sound like an ordinary killing. Yet she faces life in prison in Mississippi over the death of her unborn child.

Gibbs became pregnant aged 15, but lost the baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks into the pregnancy. When prosecutors discovered that she had a cocaine habit – though there is no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby's death – they charged her with the "depraved-heart murder" of her child, which carries a mandatory life sentence.

Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby. But her case is by no means isolated. Across the US more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals.

"Women are being stripped of their constitutional personhood and subjected to truly cruel laws," said Lynn Paltrow of the campaign National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW). "It's turning pregnant women into a different class of person and removing them of their rights."

Bei Bei Shuai, 34, has spent the past three months in a prison cell in Indianapolis charged with murdering her baby. On 23 December she tried to commit suicide by taking rat poison after her boyfriend abandoned her.

Shuai was rushed to hospital and survived, but she was 33 weeks pregnant and her baby, to whom she gave birth a week after the suicide attempt and whom she called Angel, died after four days. In March Shuai was charged with murder and attempted foeticide and she has been in custody since without the offer of bail.

In Alabama at least 40 cases have been brought under the state's "chemical endangerment" law. Introduced in 2006, the statute was designed to protect children whose parents were cooking methamphetamine in the home and thus putting their children at risk from inhaling the fumes.

Amanda Kimbrough is one of the women who have been ensnared as a result of the law being applied in a wholly different way. During her pregnancy her fetus was diagnosed with possible Down's syndrome and doctors suggested she consider a termination, which Kimbrough declined as she is not in favor of abortion.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section prematurely in April 2008 and died 19 minutes after birth.

Six months later Kimbrough was arrested at home and charged with "chemical endangerment" of her unborn child on the grounds that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy – a claim she has denied.

"That shocked me, it really did," Kimbrough said. "I had lost a child, that was enough."

She now awaits an appeal ruling from the higher courts in Alabama, which if she loses will see her begin a 10-year sentence behind bars. "I'm just living one day at a time, looking after my three other kids," she said. "They say I'm a criminal, how do I answer that? I'm a good mother."

Women's rights campaigners see the creeping criminalization of pregnant women as a new front in the culture wars over abortion, in which conservative prosecutors are chipping away at hard-won freedoms by stretching protection laws to include foetuses, in some cases from the day of conception. In Gibbs' case defence lawyers have argued before Mississippi's highest court that her prosecution makes no sense. Under Mississippi law it is a crime for any person except the mother to try to cause an abortion.

"If it's not a crime for a mother to intentionally end her pregnancy, how can it be a crime for her to do it unintentionally, whether by taking drugs or smoking or whatever it is," Robert McDuff, a civil rights lawyer asked the state supreme court.

McDuff told the Guardian that he hoped the Gibbs prosecution was an isolated example. "I hope it's not a trend that's going to catch on. To charge a woman with murder because of something she did during pregnancy is really unprecedented and quite extreme."

He pointed out that anti-abortion groups were trying to amend the Mississippi constitution by setting up a state referendum, or ballot initiative, that would widen the definition of a person under the state's bill of rights to include a fetus from the day of conception.

Some 70 organizations across America have come together to file testimonies, known as amicus briefs, in support of Gibbs that protest against her treatment on several levels. One says that to treat "as a murderer a girl who has experienced a stillbirth serves only to increase her suffering".

Another, from a group of psychologists, laments the misunderstanding of addiction that lies behind the indictment. Gibbs did not take cocaine because she had a "depraved heart" or to "harm the fetus but to satisfy an acute psychological and physical need for that particular substance", says the brief.

Perhaps the most persuasive argument put forward in the amicus briefs is that if such prosecutions were designed to protect the unborn child, then they would be utterly counter-productive: "Prosecuting women and girls for continuing [a pregnancy] to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate wanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties. The state could not have intended this result when it adopted the homicide statute."

Paltrow sees what is happening to Gibbs as a small taste of what would be unleashed were the constitutional right to an abortion ever overturned. "In Mississippi the use of the murder statute is creating a whole new legal standard that makes women accountable for the outcome of their pregnancies and threatens them with life imprisonment for murder."

Miscarriage of justice

At least 38 of the 50 states across America have introduced fetal homicide laws that were intended to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from violent attacks by third parties – usually abusive male partners – but are increasingly being turned by renegade prosecutors against the women themselves.

South Carolina was one of the first states to introduce such a fetal homicide law. National Advocates for Pregnant Women has found only one case of a South Carolina man who assaulted a pregnant woman having been charged under its terms, and his conviction was eventually overturned. Yet the group estimates there have been up to 300 women arrested for their actions during pregnancy.

In other states laws designed to protect children against the damaging effects of drugs have similarly been twisted to punish childbearers.

Price of U.S. wars: $4.4 trillion? - Tim Mak - POLITICO.com

The final bill for U.S. military involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan could be as high as $4.4 trillion, according to a comprehensive new report Tuesday.

In the 10 years since American troops were sent into Afghanistan, the federal government has already spent between $2.3 trillion and $2.7 trillion, say the authors of the study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

The report calculates not only direct spending on the conflicts but also the long-term costs of caring for wounded veterans and projected war spending from 2012 to 2020.

At a minimum, say the authors of the study, the final cost for these military engagements will be $3.7 trillion. But the report also points out that their estimates do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments and other costs that cannot yet be quantified. Indeed, the report criticized the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon for poor accounting.

Although the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been made public, the report notes, it is not yet clear how many soldiers return to the United States with injuries and illnesses. New disability claims are being submitted on an ongoing basis, and many injuries among U.S. contractors have not been made public, further complicating calculations of the costs of war.

Even as President Obama recently announced plans for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the report asserts that conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue through the decade, adding to both financial and human cost.

The report puts the number of civilian deaths to date at approximately 137,000, and the total number of deaths attributable to military conflict in these countries, in uniform or out of uniform, to around 225,000. The study also suggests that the number of war refugees and displaced persons now number around 7.8 million.

“Costs of War,” as the study was titled, was a joint project that involved the work of over twenty academics, including economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts and a physician.

After Arizona Medicaid Cuts, Man Earns $12 Too Much To Get Coverage For Heart Surgery | ThinkProgress

Since last year, low-income Arizonans have been feeling the impact of a series of brutal Medicaid cuts that officials predict will kick at least 135,000 people off the state’s health care rolls by next year. Now, thanks to these cuts, a Yuma man may be unable to afford a heart surgery he needs to survive.

Steven Stephenson recently quit his job over health issues. While he was working, his income fell under the federal poverty limit, and he would have been covered by the state’s Medicaid system, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). Yet when he quit his job, he enrolled in Social Security. His income actually increased thanks to this, and while he would have been still covered under AHCCCS just a few years ago, the new cuts actually will make it impossible for him to enroll.

Why? Because thanks to his Social Security payments, he earns $12 too much to apply. Due to his medical condition, he has been ordered by his doctor to not work, and he desperately needs surgery:

Stephenson said he cannot work anymore based on doctor’s orders and has been told not to do anything to avoid stressing himself out. This is a problem for Stephenson. “I love working. I can’t sit around and do nothing,” Stephenson said, evidently frustrated with his situation. [...]Stephenson did not have heart problems until he reached his 40s. While he has not had a heart attack, both of his parents died from one. “It’s what you inherit from your parents. Too bad it wasn’t good looks, I’d be better off,” Stephenson said with a laugh. [...]

[Stephenson's best friend] Weissman said he plans to organize a series of fundraisers in the community to help his best friend out with his medical bills and to get the heart surgery under way. “You know how somebody passes away and all of a sudden they hold carwashes to help bury them … Well, I’m going to do fundraisers to keep mine alive,” Weissman said.

Last week, the Arizona Supreme Court announced that it will not be taking action to stop planned Medicaid cuts or an enrollment freeze; activists had hoped their lawsuit would compel the state to reverse some of its harsher cuts, much like the Washington state supreme court reversed some cuts in that state. While Stephenson’s situation is a direct result of Arizona choosing to cut its Medicaid program, it bears repeating that the United States is the only rich country that does not provide comprehensive universal health care coverage to all of its citizens. In no other wealthy country would a man be told he can’t afford a life-saving surgery.

28 June 2011

Eric Cantor's glaring conflict of interest - War Room - Salon.com

When Eric Cantor shut down debt ceiling negotiations last week, it did more than just rekindle fears that the U.S. government might soon default on its debt obligations -- it also brought him closer to reaping a small financial windfall from his investment in a mutual fund whose performance is directly affected by debt ceiling brinkmanship.

Last year the Wall Street Journal reported that Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, had between $1,000 and $15,000 invested in ProShares Trust Ultrashort 20+ Year Treasury EFT. The fund aggressively "shorts" long-term U.S. Treasury bonds, meaning that it performs well when U.S. debt is undesirable. (A short is when the trader hopes to profit from the decline in the value of an asset.)

According to his latest financial disclosure statement, which covers the year 2010 and has been publicly available since this spring, Cantor still has up to $15,000 in the same fund. Contacted by Salon this week, Cantor's office gave no indication that the Virginia Republican, who has played a leading role in the debt ceiling negotiations, has divested himself of these holdings since his last filing. Unless an agreement can be reached, the U.S. could begin defaulting on its debt payments on Aug. 2. If that happens and Cantor is still invested in the fund, the value of his holdings would skyrocket.

"If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, investors would start fleeing U.S. Treasuries," said Matt Koppenheffer, who writes for the investment website the Motley Fool. "Yields would rise, prices would fall, and the Proshares ETF should do very well. It would spike."

The fund hasn't significantly spiked yet because many investors believe Congress will eventually raise the debt ceiling. However, since Cantor abruptly called off debt ceiling negotiations last Thursday, the fund is up 3.3 percent. Even if an agreement is ultimately reached before Aug. 2, the fund could continue to benefit between now and then from the uncertainty. (One tactic some speculators are using is to "trade the debt ceiling debate" -- that is, to place short-term bets on prices as they fluctuate with the news out of Washington.)

Salon's Andrew Leonard calls the debt ceiling negotiations "Washington’s titanic game of chicken," and the longer the game goes on, the more skittish the bond markets will become.

"Cantor's involvement in the fund and negotiations is not ideal," Koppenheffer said. "I don’t think someone negotiating the debt ceiling should be invested in this kind of an ultra-short. We can only guess how much he understands what’s in his portfolio, but you’d think a politician would know better. It looks pretty bad."

Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring noted that U.S. Treasury bonds make up a large portion of the congressman’s pension, and said investment in ProShares ETF serves to balance that investment and to diversify his portfolio. Disclosure forms indicate that Cantor has considerable personal assets, including real estate in Virginia worth up to $1 million, and a number of six- and seven-figure loans to private entities and limited liability companies. So his investment in ProShares ETF represents only a small portion of his overall portfolio -- but that share could grow a little larger just over a month from now.

27 June 2011

Why the GOP should nominate Barack Obama in 2012 - War Room - Salon.com

With the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, the Republican presidential field is weak on candidates who could appeal to centrist swing voters, including moderate Republicans. But there is one 2012 prospect who has a proven track record of pursuing policies that owe a great deal to the moderate Republican tradition and who could potentially shake up the race for the GOP presidential nomination: President Barack Obama.

If Obama chose to run for reelection not as a Democrat but as a moderate Republican, he could bring about two healthy transformations in the American political system. The moderate wing of the Republican Party could be restored. And the Democratic presidential nomination might be opened up to politicians from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

In the last generation, the old-fashioned moderate Republicans from New England and the Midwest symbolized by Nelson Rockefeller have been driven out of the GOP by the conservative followers of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Streaming into the Democratic Party as voters, and buying it with ample Wall Street cash as donors, this upscale elite has changed the party from a populist liberal alliance of unionized workers and populists into a socially liberal, economically conservative version of the old country-club Republicanism of the pre-Reagan era. The transformation began under Jimmy Carter, accelerated under Bill Clinton and has nearly been completed under Barack Obama. This is not your grandfather’s Democratic Party. It is your grandfather’s Republican Party of 1955.

In his book "The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House," Bob Woodward described a Clinton administration meeting in 1993: "Where are all the Democrats?" Clinton bellowed. "I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "We’re all Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn't that great?"

The Obama administration is the third Clinton administration -- or perhaps the fifth Eisenhower administration, following the four combined terms of Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton (by comparison to both, Richard Nixon, as president, was a New Deal liberal). Under the influence of Treasury secretary and master fundraiser Robert Rubin, the Mark Hanna of the modern Democratic Party, Clinton scrapped the "putting people first" agenda he had run on in 1992 and focused on rapidly balancing the budget -- a longtime obsession of fiscal conservatives in the Eisenhower-Rockefeller tradition, rather than supply-siders in the Reagan-Kemp tradition. Similarly, Barack Obama supported a stimulus that was only a quarter as big as necessary -- half of the $2 trillion that his advisor Christina Romer estimated was necessary, with about half of that wasted on ineffectual tax cuts. In spite of the prospect of years of mass unemployment, Barack Obama, in the spirit of the budget-balancing Rubinomics of the 1990s and Ike-onomics of the 1950s, has called for freezing discretionary spending except for defense. He has allowed the conversation to be shifted from recovery to long-term fiscal consolidation, which conservatives will try to use as an excuse to partly replace Social Security and Medicare with mandatory private accounts that will generate lucrative fees for Wall Street and the insurance industry from a huge captive population of American fee-payers.

If he were to run for the Republican nomination, Obama could point out that in the past few years he has already done far more to thwart American liberalism than any of his rivals in the GOP primary have done in their entire careers. He could boast that when liberal economists called for the temporary nationalization of insolvent megabanks, forcing shareholders to swallow their losses and firing their managers, he stood firm and protected Wall Street.

In the area of job creation, too, Obama can honestly tell Republican voters that he never supported massive public works job creation programs, like those of the New Deal. To the extent that the Obama administration has had any job creation policies at all, other than an inadequate stimulus and diversionary rhetoric about training today’s children for high-tech jobs in the 2030s or 2040s, it has consisted of payroll tax cuts -- a supply-side measure that practitioners of voodoo economics like Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp would have supported.

Of course, there are limits to Obama’s moderate Republicanism. While his economic policy is moderately conservative, Obama’s foreign policy is expansive -- and expensive -- Neoconservatism Lite, not a rebirth of Eisenhower’s cautious, budget-conscious "New Look" strategy of the 1950s.

In spite of an economic boom, Eisenhower worried about the effects of military spending on the civilian economy. In spite of a near-Depression, Obama exempted defense spending from the government spending freeze.

Eisenhower wound down the Korean War that he inherited from Harry Truman. Obama expanded the Afghan War that he inherited from George W. Bush. In Afghanistan Obama pursued the "surge," a strategy backed by neoconservatives that will have led to the unnecessary death and crippling of even more Americans before the inevitable U.S. withdrawal.

Eisenhower refused to take part in the British, French and Israeli attack on Egypt, during the Suez crisis in 1956. Obama, in contrast, agreed that the U.S. would provide most of the muscle in the Franco-British-American attack on Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.

In committing the U.S. to a third ongoing war in a Muslim country, President Obama lied to the public and trashed the Constitution. The administration lied when it said that the purpose of the Libyan war was only to protect civilians in a few areas of Libya from being massacred by Gadhafi’s forces. Pilots from the U.S. and other NATO countries soon began trying to assassinate the Libyan dictator from the air.

Obama had already torn up the Constitution, when his administration announced, in effect, that the part about Congress declaring war was a dead letter, as long as an American war was approved by the United Nations and European countries that belong to NATO. The president then set fire to the torn-up shreds of the Constitution, when his administration informed Congress that the War to Assassinate Gadhafi did not trigger the 1973 War Powers Act, with the Orwellian argument that the attempts at murder by American forces of the ruler of Libya while bombing all of the nation’s territory did not rise to the level of "hostilities."

All of this might help Obama win the Republican nomination. His appeal to some neocons as well as to socially moderate fiscal conservatives would make Barack Obama an attractive Republican presidential candidate in 2012. After all, the chief problem facing the GOP is its over-reliance on high turnout among white working-class populist conservatives. The Goldwater-Reagan conservatives succeeded too well in pushing out Rockefeller Republican RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), many of whom voted for Obama in 2008. If he received the Republican nomination, Obama might bring many of the moderate Republicans back home. His fiscal conservatism would appeal to Republicans worried about deficits and put off by supply-side economics, while his foreign policy of three simultaneous wars, one of them his own, would reassure neoconservative Republicans worried about the kind of right-wing isolationism symbolized by Ron Paul.

Best of all, Obama could run on healthcare. "ObamaCare" after all was modeled on "RomneyCare" in Massachusetts and resembled the healthcare plan set forth in the 1990s by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Another model for the newly enacted healthcare system, based on individual mandates and subsidies to for-profit private insurance, was the plan that Lincoln Chafee, an old-fashioned Northeastern liberal Republican, put forth during the Clinton era healthcare debate. The pedigree of Obama’s healthcare program stretches all the way back to his true role model, Dwight Eisenhower, whose vice president, Richard Nixon, backed the Eisenhower’s administration plan to expand healthcare access by subsidizing private insurance rather than through universal social insurance like Medicare.

Obama’s speech to the Republican convention practically writes itself:

"I have fought against the failed tradition of New Deal liberalism from the strongest possible position -- the presidency. When the liberals wanted to nationalize the banks, I bailed them out and let their executives reap huge bonuses, thanks to the taxpayers. When the liberals wanted an expansion of Lyndon Johnson’s big government Medicare, I said no and pushed for a version of the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare coverage plan and what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts. When the liberals wanted a bigger stimulus, I drew the line in the sand. When the liberals criticized the Bowles-Simpson plan to gut Social Security and Medicare, I praised it. When the liberals demanded tougher action against Chinese mercantilist policies that hurt our manufacturing industries, I said no and sided with the U.S. multinationals that want to appease the Chinese government. When the liberals wanted America to withdraw from Afghanistan, I sided with the neoconservatives and ordered the surge. When the voices of the old, failed liberalism said that Congress has a part to play in authorizing foreign wars, I ignored that radical liberal assault on unchecked, arbitrary presidential power and ordered the U.S. to war in Libya on my own authority."

You can already hear the thunder of the standing ovation in the Republican convention hall, when Barack Obama declares: "America needs a president who can stand up to the kind of Wall Street-bashing, big-government, Franklin Roosevelt liberalism that thinks that three wars at one time are too many -- and my record in the White House proves that I am that president."

Despite Obama’s Repeated Claims That Combat Has ‘Ended’ In Iraq, U.S. Casualties At Two-Year High | ThinkProgress

Two American troops were killed in northern Iraq yesterday while “conducting operations.” The New York Times reports that the military “did not elaborate, but that terminology is usually meant to indicate the deaths were caused by enemy attack.” And earlier this month, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia group attacked and killed six U.S. soldiers. Now, total U.S. combat deaths in Iraq in June has reached 11, the most since May 2009. But despite the fact that Americans are still dying combat related deaths in Iraq, President Obama announced last year that the U.S ended hostilities in Iraq and said as recently as last week in his speech that America’s combat mission there was already over:

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. We have ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country.

This simply isn’t the reality that troops on the ground are facing. Putting the number of recent U.S. combat deaths in Iraq aside, militants there are still attacking U.S. forces there with continuing regularity even though the Americans are relegated to their bases and cannot conduct combat operations without permission from the Iraqis. U.S. forces are facing “an increasingly dangerous environment in southern Iraq,” the AP reported last month, “where Shiite militias trying to claim they are driving out the U.S. occupiers have stepped up attacks against bases and troops.”

Indeed, the Irainian-backed group Kataib Hezbollah, which claimed responsibility for the attack earlier this month, said its attacks on U.S. troops were aimed at stopping the “occupation interference” in Iraq’s affairs and forcing the U.S. to abide by the withdrawal deadline. And while it’s unclear how much Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters are participating in attacks on U.S. forces, he has pledged to unleash his Mehdi Army if the Americans stay past 2011.

One analyst has also said that he has seen an increase in the use of armor piercing IEDs called explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs. “The increase in attacks shows that Iranian-backed cells enjoy greater freedom of movement than they have in the past,” said Michael Knights, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

At the same time, top U.S. officials like incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have said that if the Iraqis ask, the U.S. will keep an unspecified number of troops (some have estimated around 10,000) past the Dec. 31 total withdrawal deadline. Some have cited increased sectarian tentions as one reason for the Americans to stay, but as journalist Mark Kukis noted recently, a prolonged American presence there will only exacerbate the problem:

Secular, nonsectarian Sunni militants, men who consider themselves Iraqi nationalists for resisting a foreign military presence, drift into the company of Iraq’s al-Qaeda contingent when seeking help to lash out at U.S. forces. This drift in effect bolsters al-Qaeda radicals, allowing them to pursue more easily sectarian violence against Shi’ites. Increased sectarian aggression on the part of al-Qaeda produces a violent response from Shi’ite militias such as the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government, whose security forces are quick to indulge in brutal crackdowns against Sunni communities where militants are thought to be active.

Whether sectarian tensions in Iraq will rise to level of the civil war days of 2006 and 2007 if the Americans leave is uncertain but unlikely. However, there is one certainty if U.S. troops withdraw on time: After Dec. 31, 2011, Iraqi militants will no longer launch attacks on and kill American soldiers.