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Friday, November 28, 2014

Ask Not What Your Planet Can Do For You...

 (photo: EcoWatch)
(photo: EcoWatch)

By Harvey Wasserman, EcoWatch
27 November 14
readersupportednews.org

he images we ingest never cease to shape us.

Just 51 years ago, the head of a profoundly gifted young man was blown apart.

A few months earlier he’d given a speech that promised a new dawn.

He reached out to our enemies. He talked of going to the moon, of technological breakthrough and human promise. And he stopped the radioactive madness of atmospheric Bomb testing, a reason many of us are alive today.

It’s easy to idealize John Kennedy.

We still debate what he might have done in Vietnam.

But since the war did escalate, and we know the horrible costs to us all, then the possibility that he might have gotten us out gnaws at our soul.

So does not being sure about who actually killed him.

And then there’s the horror of the moment itself. A fellow human, blown apart before our eyes.

It hurts to think about it. To write about it. How can sorrow not reign in our hearts over this terrible human image that so deeply defines us?

As a nation, we still feel the murder of Abraham Lincoln. Having won a Constitutional Amendment to end slavery, he was the only one to smooth the transition from civil war to progressive peace. We still pay for losing him.

And for the image of a good man, seated happily in a theater, next to his wife … as a time for healing is unbearably shattered by a bullet to the head.

Russia never really recovered after Alexander II, a rare reformist czar, was murdered in 1881 while moving his nation toward a democratic constitution.

Michael Collins was a violent Irish revolutionary who turned to peace amidst a horrendous civil war.

Could he have ended it? All we know is the Troubles dragged on a ghastly seven decades after he was shot.

Mahatma Gandhi led the world’s first successful nonviolent anti-imperial campaign, then fasted nearly to the death to help halt a Hindu-Muslim civil war.

Then he was shot. And what is the outcome?

Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin were also murdered. And what’s come since?

In America … Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy … and then John Lennon.

Around the world, names we don’t know. Faces we haven’t seen. Social movements crushed, freedoms lost, good people killed (too often by our own government) deadening the soul.

And who is next? Does all this mean activists of great heart and artists for social change inevitably court a death sentence?

It’s long been clear, for a wide variety of reasons, that we cannot rely on “great leaders” to save our world for us.

But can our minds and souls ever recover from such horrible images repeatedly rammed into our brains?

Lynn Stuart Parramore has written with brilliance at AlterNet about the traumas we all face in today’s America.

In their wake, we are being poisoned by a ghastly, malignant class of zombie corporations somehow granted human rights and no human responsibilities.

They have gutted the Democratic Party and seized our government.

Their cancer is of injustice, cynicism, pollution and war.

Avoidable poverty, racism for the hell of it, a gutted democracy, eco-suicide for private profit, perpetual war for its own sake … they all metastasize to feed the corporate tumor.

Another election has been bought, rigged, stolen and lynched. The internet is endangered. Likewise our civil liberties.

So do we turn our heads “until the darkness goes”?

Or do we face the unthinkable head-on, and refuse to blink (except momentarily—we all need a break from time to time) at what we see?

Somehow we have survived since John Kennedy was killed. Kids have been born … and so have social movements … along with many surprising twists of fate.

We are winning a culture war barely begun in 1963. 

Silent Spring had just been published. An avid sailor, we don’t know how JFK might have interacted with a nascent environmental movement.

But born it was. A half-century later, Solartopian technologies are poised to green-power our economy. We have the means to survive in harmony with our Mother Earth.

But can we muster the political power to cure our corporate cancer?

Richard Nixon has come and gone. So have Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Now “Hope and Change” join them in the compost of history. They came too cheap. They meant too little.

Apparently we have more lessons to learn, more inner strength to build.

Departed friend, whoever you might have become, whatever you might have done, you have left us no choice.

The better angels of our souls now demand that we ask not what our planet can do for us …

Scalia on how Ferguson Grand Jury was rigged


Supreme Court Justice Scalia Joins Book Discussion In Washington

Never in this country has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify, or to have exculpatory evidence presented. So why did prosecutor McCulloch allow both in the case of Darren Wilson?


It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.
This passage was first highlighted by attorney Ian Samuel, a former clerk to Justice Scalia.

In contrast, McCulloch allowed Wilson to testify for hours before the grand jury and presented them with every scrap of exculpatory evidence available. In his press conference, McCulloch said that the grand jury did not indict because eyewitness testimony that established Wilson was acting in self-defense was contradicted by other exculpatory evidence. What McCulloch didn’t say is that he was under no obligation to present such evidence to the grand jury. The only reason one would present such evidence is to reduce the chances that the grand jury would indict Darren Wilson.

Compare Justice Scalia’s description of the role of the grand jury to what the prosecutors told the Ferguson grand jury before they started their deliberations:
And you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest. If you find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of those things. Because both are complete defenses to any offense and they both have been raised in his, in the evidence.
As Justice Scalia explained the evidence to support these “complete defenses,” including Wilson’s testimony, was only included by McCulloch by ignoring how grand juries historically work.

There were several eyewitness accounts that strongly suggested Wilson did not act in self-defense. McCulloch could have, and his critics say should have, presented that evidence to the grand jury and likely returned an indictment in days, not months. It’s a low bar, which is why virtually all grand juries return indictments.

But McCulloch chose a different path.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving: A Native American Perspective

One of the 1,000 Idle No More protesters who gathered on the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, last January and blocked traffic for several hours. (photo: Geoff Robins/AP)
One of the 1,000 Idle No More protesters who gathered on the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, last January and blocked traffic for several hours. (photo: Geoff Robins/AP)



By Indians.org
27 November 14
readersupportednews.org

or many of us, thinking about Thanksgiving makes us think of the First Thanksgiving between the Indians and the Pilgrims. There are many versions of this story though, but many of us know the one we are taught in school. In 1621, America would have their very first Thanksgiving Dinner between the two different groups. Today it is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.

The very first Thanksgiving was to celebrate a treaty between the pilgrims and the Indians. This was a large feast that had enough food to feed everyone for weeks. On the table was foul such as geese, turkey, swans, duck, etc. There was also lots of meat, vegetables and grains provided by both the Indians and the pilgrims. Everyone had a wonderful celebration, and certainly a wonderful meal. The Native Indians even signed a paper stating that the pilgrims had the right to Plymouth.

Thanksgiving to the Native American Indians may not mean the same thing that it did to the white settlers in American History. To the Indians, Thanksgiving would mean a totally different thing. This was the beginning of their end - a time where they had given up their land in return for gifts that were full of disease - which would kill many of them later down the road.

The White settlers would see this as a friendship being started, knowing that without the help of the Native American Indians, they would never have survived the rough winter. It was a time of celebrating with family and friends and being thankful they were still around to do it. Today, we celebrate it with our own family with turkey, yams and ham.

Thanksgiving will always be remembered as a time when the Native American Indians and Pilgrims sat at a long table and ate together, sharing everything they had with one another.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

1st Thanksgiving: Natives broke bread with immigrants


GOP on Wrong Side of History on Immigration

Leo Gerard

This Thanksgiving, though, there’s no respect or sharing in the homes of GOP nativists.

Suffering amnesia about their personal histories, nativist Republicans want to expel the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants, the people who harvest America’s Thanksgiving vegetables and care for America’s toddlers and grannies. The GOP has threatened to sue, shut down the government and impeach President Obama to punish him for issuing an executive order giving fewer than half of the nation’s undocumented workers a limited ability to remain in the United States. 

Americans would prefer if Congress fixed this problem. But Congress hasn’t. In the year and a half since the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, House leaders have refused to permit a vote on it. So now, President Obama, like all 10 presidents since 1956, Republican and Democrat, has issued an executive order on immigration. The order says America will treat 5 million striving unauthorized immigrants with respect.

Exactly one week before Thanksgiving, President Obama described his order to the American people. It broadens the “dreamer” program that provides temporary reprieves from deportation to unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children. It establishes temporary work authorization for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years and are parents of American citizens or servicemen. It directs the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to focus on deporting criminals and suspected terrorists and orders Homeland Security to help secure the border. 

It disqualifies new undocumented immigrants. Anyone who has entered the United States recently or who enters now without authorization is excluded. The order is limited as well. It lasts only as long as Obama is president. The next executive could continue it. Or kill it.

If such a program had been in place 14 years ago, actress Diane Guerrero, who plays Maritza Ramos on the show Orange is the New Black, would have been spared separation from her parents and brother. Guerrero described her family’s deportation in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month. She was just 14 when she arrived home from school to find lights on, dinner started but her family missing.

Born in the United States, Guerrero was a citizen. Her parents and brother were not. Neighbors broke the news to her that the INS had seized her family and would deport them to civil war-torn Colombia. In the op-ed, Guerrero pleaded for relief for families like hers. President Obama provided it. Thank goodness.

Immigrants like Guerrero’s family don’t enter the United States to take. Like everyone who has has arrived on America’s shores since that first Thanksgiving, these new émigrés work to give their children a better life. Some young undocumented workers today labor to give their parents in Mexico remittances that enable them to survive after NAFTA destroyed their ability to eke out a living from subsistence farms. Americans respect those family values.

Unauthorized immigrants are lured into the United States by the promise of jobs, whether it’s making hotel beds, washing cars or picking produce. Employers want their labor. Farmers who rely on the backbreaking work of unauthorized immigrants found themselves with produce rotting in the fields after some states passed anti-immigration laws in recent years.

As Americans bow their heads before passing the turkey platter this week, they should know that President Obama’s executive order is a blessing to native born citizens as well as immigrants. A study by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that immigration reform is good for the economy, while inaction is destructive.

The task force that produced the study, co-chaired by former governors from both parties, said immigration reform would be a powerful instrument of economic revitalization: “The results make clear that reform has the potential to significantly increase the number of young, working-age people in the economy. This influx of labor would spur economic growth, reduce federal deficits, help the housing sector and mitigate the effects of an aging population. By contrast, preventing unauthorized immigration without providing replacement labor would cause severe damage to the economy.”

In addition, reform means immigrants no longer need fear deportation for reporting violations such as wage theft, perilous working conditions and workplace violence. This protects native-born workers because employers who become accustomed to impunity for illegal exploitation of immigrants quickly attempt to abuse all workers.

While unauthorized immigrants have long prayed for reform, 57 percent of native born Americans now believe those entreaties should be answered. The number is higher – 74 percent– if reform includes a path to citizenship, fines, back taxes and background checks.

But a president’s power is limited, and Obama stopped short extending citizenship. That’s the responsibility of Congress. President Obama asked lawmakers to act: “Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

At a press conference held last week by groups supporting President Obama’s executive action, Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Vote Latino, told the story of one of those strangers.

During the holidays four years ago, she recounted, a young man who had just finished boot camp and was on his way to deployment in Iraq called her for help. He’d just learned that his father had been detained by the INS. On Christmas Eve, the soldier lost his father to deportation, and his family lost a breadwinner.

That is not how Native Americans treated the strangers who arrived on the shores of Plymouth. Those Native Americans broke bread with the immigrants.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

No justice in Ferguson...or anywhere else


(photo: ABC News)
(photo: ABC News)

Terrance Heath

The grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., has reached the decision many of us dreaded, but fully expected. Now, we must forge our profound disappointment into determination to achieve lasting justice, in Ferguson and beyond.

The Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. In the coming days, Wilson will sit down for major media interviews, and Thanksgiving dinner with his new wife. Michael Brown’s parents will sit with his empty chair, and the knowledge that the man who killed him is not only free, but all over the media — perhaps even celebrated in right-wing media, which may or may not stop short of celebrating their son’s death.

We knew this decision was coming. It’s heartbreaking, but it is not a surprise. This decision was coming when prosecutor Tim McCulloch refused to recuse himself, and governor Jay Nixon refused to appoint a special prosecutor. It was coming when McCulloch referred the case to the grand jury, instead of filing charges himself. It was coming when McCulloch failed to recommend charges to the grand jury. It was coming when the governor declared a state of emergency, and law enforcement agencies purchased even more paramilitary equipment to use on protestors. It’s been coming since August 9, and now here we are.

The wheels of justice have ground to a halt in the Michael Brown case, leaving us in sadly familiar territory. As I said on KFPA-FM’s “Saturday Morning Talkies” this weekend, African-American parents have always lived with the sorrow of sons who never return home, while the men who killed them remain free. Michael Brown’s parents are now members of a centuries-old, exclusive club that no one ever wants to join. It’s most recent members include the families of Trayvon Martin, Darrien Hunt, and John Crawford, among others.

On August 9, the same day that Michael Brown was killed, John Crawford was shot and killed by police officers in Beaverton, Ohio. A customer in a Beaverton Walmart called 911 after seeing Crawford walking around with a pellet gun he’d picked up in the store. Police said Crawford ignored commands to drop the weapon.

Ohio’s attorney general Mike DeWine refused to release the store’s surveillance video, asking the public to “Trust the system” and “let the judicial process work.” In September, a grand jury decided not to indict the officers who killed Crawford.

Surveillance video released after the grand jury decision showed that Crawford was talking on his phone when officers entered the store, with the gun pointed at the floor. Officers shot Crawford on sight, within seconds of entering the store.

In Ohio, we were asked to “trust the system,” and that trust was betrayed. Now we are told we must “accept” the grand jury’s decision, and trust that “the system worked.” There is no doubt that “the system worked.” It ran its course, and it yielded the expected result.

“The system worked” quite well for those for whom it is designed to work. We should refuse, however, to call that “justice,” even if the process had resulted in an indictment. It would not amount to the kind of justice necessary to prevent the next city that’s “one dead black teenager away” from exploding into the next Ferguson.

● We must change the way our communities are policed. Law enforcement officers in every department in the country should be required to undergo racial bias training. These departments must prioritize diversity in the hiring and retention of officers, and be accountable to the public. We must demand an end to programs that give military weapons to police departments.

● We must demand an end to racial profiling. Law enforcement departments must be prohibited from relying on race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion in its investigative practices, and required to cease or eliminate existing practices that rely on racial profiling. 

● We must demand economic justice. Ferguson and other cities like it didn’t become hyper-segregated dens of economic despair overnight. Changing them requires undoing damage done by decades of federal, state, and local government policies that created segregated metropolises. We must demand investment in education, jobs, and training for young people, instead of surplus military weapons for police departments. 

We do not have the luxury of time. With the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice — shot by police officers while playing with a BB gun — Cleveland, Ohio, may have already become “the next Ferguson,” for now.

Until no city is at risk of becoming “the next Ferguson” or “the next Sanford,” and no one’s child is at risk of becoming “the next Michael Brown” or “the next Trayvon Martin,” there can be no justice in Ferguson, or anywhere else.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Keep on Steppin’, Mr. President



Obama needs to keep acting alone when GOP won't

Robert Borosage


Instead of suing for peace, the president would be wise to keep on steppin’. President Obama has already shown the way not only on immigration but with the historic agreement on climate with the Chinese (scorned as a “war on coal” by Senate leader Mitch McConnell) and his firm support for net neutrality. Writing in The Nation before the immigration action, publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel urged the president to “double down,” and act boldly, both to make some progress and to frame debates that the country must have. The president has, as he said, has his pen and his phone, as well as the national microphone. There are many critical areas where action is long overdue. Here are some suggestions: 

Restore the Vote: 3.9 million Americans are disenfranchised from felony convictions – mostly for non-violent drug offenses – even though they have paid their debt to society. A staggering 13 percent of all African-American men are prohibited from voting. Led by Attorney General Eric Holder, the administration has already taken long overdue measures to reduce sentences for drug offenders and to begin offering clemency to those sentenced to ridiculous terms. The president should issue a pardon to all those non-violent offenders who have served their sentences, removing their offense from the books. He should combine this with a call on all states to join in ending disenfranchisement for ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society. America is a nation of second chances. It is hard to believe that disenfranchisement would exist at all were it not for its racially disproportionate effects on people of color.

Reward Good Employers and Their Workers: The president should issue a Good Jobs Executive Order to leverage the $1 trillion in federal procurement to reward good employers. Give procurement preference to employers that pay a living wage, provide good benefits and allow their workers to organize and bargain collectively. Reward employers like Costco rather than Walmart that pays its workers so little that taxpayers are stuck with subsidizing their wages. The president has already acted to lift the minimum wage on federal contract workers. He should take the next step – which Demos estimates could put 21 million on the road to the middle class – and urge Governors and Mayors to follow in his course. At a time of record inequality and a declining middle class, it is long pay time to put government on the side of workers and good employers rather than the exploiters.

Demand Action on Green Jobs: With the China deal on climate, the forthcoming Environmental Protection Agency action on carbon emissions, and his underappreciated fuel efficiency standards, the president has acted against the unsustainable fossil fuel economy. Now he should act boldly to demand action to embrace the jobs and growth that will come from leading the transition to renewable energy and the green industrial revolution. He should make green jobs the centerpiece of his State of the Union address. He should call for action for a bold Tennessee Valley Authority-sized jobs and green energy program for “coal country.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell charges that the president is waging war on coal. The president should make it clear this is a choice between the unsustainable, dying economy of the past and a future that offers good jobs and new opportunities. He should complement this by convening mayors from both coasts to map out steps to meet the already rising seas and increasing superstorms. As Hurricane Sandy demonstrated, our decrepit and decaying infrastructure is in dire need of modernization.

Normalize Relations with Cuba: Foreign policy offers many opportunities for presidential action – cutting the deal with Iran to stem nuclear proliferation, acting boldly with Russia to guarantee Ukraine’s independence and unity and avoid a new Cold War, bringing the nation’s longest war in Afghanistan to an end. But there is no longer-lasting American folly than the failed, half-century long economic boycott and effort to isolate Cuba. The boycott has damaged the Cuban economy, but has bolstered support for the regime. It has damaged relations with our neighbors throughout Latin America, to the point where we are isolating ourselves. Congress has limited the president’s ability simply to end the boycott, but he can act to restore normal diplomatic relations, expand travel opportunities, lift private investment restrictions, and end the cap on remittances from Cuban Americans living in the states. He should hail Cuba for its courageous action against Ebola, and remove it from the State Department’s terrorist list. In April, the Seventh Summit of the America’s has insisted on Cuban attendance. The President should go to that meeting, having acted boldly to end a half century of folly.

Hold At Least One Bankster Accountable: Justice delayed is justice denied, and it is too late to prosecute many of the banksters whose excesses blew up the economy. But the president should use the occasion of Attorney General Eric Holder’s departure to put together a real task force to investigate and prosecute bankers who are recidivists, like those at Standard Chartered whose leaders apparently violated the settlement made with the Justice Department as it was signed. It is apparent that little has changed on Wall Street, and that agreements made with the Justice Department are being ignored in the greed for profit. The Justice Department should put all on notice: Violations of signed settlements will lead to prosecution not of the bank but of the bankers, and fines levied not against shareholders but against bankers’ personal fortunes. Just one perp walk would do much to sober up these serial offenders. 

These represent only some of the actions the president should take. No doubt, they will elicit more outrage, wringing of hands, waving of fists from the Congress and the wingnuts. But as the president has already discovered with the China agreement and immigration orders, action frames the debate – and on these and many other issues, the majority of Americans agree with the president – and the base of his voters will be roused by his courage. Republican control of the Congress insures unending fights to stop bad things from happening. The president should act independently to move good things forward. Keep on steppin’, Mr. President.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Will GOP finally let Benghazi go?

A burnt house and a car are seen inside the US Embassy compound on September 12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. (photo: AFP)
A burnt house and a car are seen inside the US Embassy compound on September 12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya. (photo: AFP)

US Congress Report Debunks Benghazi Attack Claims

By Dave Clark, Agence France-Presse

23 November 14
 
probe by a Congressional committee into the September 11, 2012 attack on a US compound in Benghazi debunked allegations that President Barack Obama's administration fell down on the job.

Since the assault on the US mission in the Libyan city, which left the ambassador and three colleagues dead, the White House, CIA and State Department have been accused of mishandling their response.

But the report released Friday by the House intelligence committee, which is led by some of Obama's fiercest Republican opponents, cleared the administration of all the most serious charges.

One claim investigated was that the Central Intelligence Agency had not provided adequate security for its own agents at an annex near the diplomatic mission, and Washington had failed to send support.

But the report, based on "thousands of hours of detailed investigation" and interviews with both senior officials and agents who had been on the ground found that this had not been the case.

"CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA activities in Benghazi and, without a requirement to do so, ably and bravely assisted the State Department on the night of the attacks," it said.

"Appropriate US personnel made reasonable tactical decision that night, and the committee found no evidence that there was a stand-down order or a denial of available air support.

"The CIA received all military support that was available," it added.

The report did conclude, however, that the State Department diplomatic compound where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed had inadequate security and had needed CIA assistance.

The committee also found that there was "no intelligence failure prior to the attacks" as the US mission was aware of the worsening security situation in Benghazi but not of a specific planned attack.

The 2012 attack, which came on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, was carried out by Libyan militias and extremists, some with Qaeda ties.

But after it was carried out, then US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice blamed the attack on a spontaneous local protest provoked by a privately-made propaganda film that attacked Islam. 

- False reports - 

During a highly charged presidential campaign, Obama's critics accused the administration of denying the Al-Qaeda role in the attack in order to protect the president's counterterrorism record.

But the report concluded that Rice had based her remarks -- which did indeed prove false -- on an intelligence assessment that was believed correct at the time.

The report also tried to put to rest a persistent rumor that began after the attacks that the CIA had been using the Benghazi base to covertly smuggle Libyan weapons to Syrian rebels.

"The eyewitness testimony and thousands of pages of CIA cables and emails that the committee reviewed provide no support for this allegation," it said.

In fact, the report said, the CIA agents at the facility were tracking on local groups smuggling weapons, not collecting them themselves.

The report also said that, while some government agencies were slow to respond to its queries, all eventually cooperated with the inquiry and no CIA personnel were intimidated by the administration.