Western Massachusetts has a chance to elect a real Democrat to Congress

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mlmv4aSqww0

Accepting $2,816,613 from the financial industry and voting to loosen consumer protections sounds typical of a right wing republican, but much to my disappointment it is also what Rep. Richard Neal (MA-02) a democrat, has done.

 I first heard about this in a direct mail piece from the campaign of Andrea Nuciforo who is running against Neal in the Democratic primary to represent the newly configured Massachusetts First Congressional District. At first, I thought it was just a typical piece of campaign literature, laden with outrageous claims and inflated truths. However, looking at Neals' financial disclosure records from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics, it is sadly true.  

This ad relased by the Nuciforo campaign also caught my eye. Reading up some more, his reputation as a crusader for consumer protections, curbing the power of big banks, and his work as a State Senator  in cracking down on predatory lenders seems to indicate he is the real deal.

 

 

 

Eduardo Saverin and The Social Network

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/


In a piece of recent news, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin is renouncing his American citizenship and staying in Singapore. Presumably he is doing this in order to pay fewer taxes.

Eduardo Saverin is mostly known as one of the main protagonists of The Social Network, a film about the rise of Facebook. In the film Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed quite negatively as a nerd and a plagiarizer. Saverin is depicted as the Guy Who Got Screwed by Zuckerberg after loyally helping build up the company.

The fact that the real Saverin switched citizenship in order to dodge taxes conflicts with the Saverin as depicted in The Social Network. Indeed, Saverin originally was a Brazilian citizen who sought and obtained American citizenship and then renounced it in order to pay fewer taxes. Then you have the lawsuit that he filed against Zuckerberg demanding money from the company. This looks a lot less sympathetic when considered with his actions regarding citizenship.

It’s all very different form the fine upstanding young man who we see in The Social Network. Of course, The Social Network is inaccurate in other ways; the other founders of Facebook apparently don’t exist and the producer deliberately gets wrong everything from the relationship level to the ethnicity of Zuckerberg’s love interest. And in general movies do a poor job of reflecting reality. I’ve always found it magical, for instance, how Hollywood quadruples the percentage of white people in downtown Los Angeles.

But the trick about movies is that they have to be somewhat believable. One has to believe, for instance, that a character would have acted like that in real life. It’s probably fair to say that Saverin’s role would have been dramatically different had The Social Network been released after Facebook’s IPO. The real Saverin sounds kind of like a jerk.

 

 

The Right’s Dominance of France

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

The story of the 2012 French presidential election is quite interesting. Right-wing incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy entered the election deeply unpopular. Opinion polls consistently showed him losing by around 20%.

France’s presidential system has two rounds. In the first round, everybody can be a candidate. The top two winners of the first round move to a second round run-off.

As election day approached, Sarkozy’s deficit continually shrunk.  Opinion polls just before the first round showed Sarkozy losing by low double-digits. As the campaign for the second round began, they showed him behind by high single-digits.

Sarkozy ended up losing by 3.2%. That’s a pretty steep drop-off from the polls that showed him behind by 20%.

To be fair, Sarkozy’s opponent François Hollande isn’t the best politician. But the fact that Hollande barely defeated one of the most unpopular presidents in the history of France’s Fifth Republic says something about France.

Indeed, the right has dominated the left throughout the history of French presidential elections.

As this chart shows, the French right has won seven presidential elections; the French left has won just three. The right’s greatest election victory occurred in 1958, when French war hero Charles de Gaulle defeated hapless Communist candidate Georges Marrane with 79% of the vote.

The left’s greatest victory occurred in 1988, when incumbent François Mitterrand took 54% of the vote over Jacques Chirac. A French left-wing presidential candidate has yet to win by double-digits; the right has done this multiple times.

In addition, there are two instances when the French left failed to make it into the second round. This happened in 1969 and 2002, which are colored darker blue above (the margin in these years indicates the first round). In both instances the second round ended up being between two right-wing candidates. So far a French presidential election has never featured two left-wing candidates in the second round.

France has generally had a reputation of being a very liberal place, and this analysis might seem surprising from that perspective.

To be fair, the French right is very different from the American right. France’s right-wing is probably to the left of America’s Democratic Party (at least on economic issues). France’s left used to be the Communist Party; today it is the Socialist Party. Both parties would never win a presidential election in the United States.

Finally, and ironically, as I write these words the French socialists have just won an absolute majority in Parliament. France’s socialists today hold more of the levers of power than they have ever held in the history of the French Fifth Republic. But historically, it has been the right and not the left in power in France.

 

Mitt Romney is Out of Step with the American People on Energy Policy

Last year New Mexico was No. 1 in the nation for installing solar power.

It is one of the top states in the country for wind energy.

New Mexicans also benefit from energy efficiency programs. With $8.9 billion in annual energy expenditures each year, energy efficiency programs could save New Mexico residents some serious money – and reduce the amount of toxic power plant emissions they have to breathe as well.

Yet what’s the crux of the energy vision Mitt Romney laid out in New Mexico today?

He wants to get rid of the renewable energy and energy efficiency programs that are employing New Mexicans and saving them money.  His solution?  Pretend it’s 1900.  More drilling, more fossil fuels, more of the same.

In disclosing his so-called energy plan in Hobbs, N.M. today, Romney didn’t even bother to mention that one of our country’s most significant energy savings programs is about to be finalized as early as this week.

The Obama Administration is about to implement new clean car standards that will push average auto mileage to 54.5 per gallon by 2025, saving consumers around $8,000 on gas during the life of a vehicle.

In New Mexico, that also will mean residents will save a total of 135 million gallons of fuel and $575 million when fully implemented – not to mention reducing thousands of tons of tailpipe carbon pollution each year, according to a NRDC analysis released just this week. For a dog’s-eye view of what these standards will mean for America, make sure to check out: http://www.doublethempg.com/  

Few issues illustrate the stark differences between Mitt Romney and President Obama like their views on where to take America on energy.

If your desire is to:

  • move America backward;
  •  keep us shackled to Big Oil;
  • forever be dependent on foreign oil supplies and the wild price swings in the international oil market; and
  • leave the planet in terrible shape for our children.

Then Romney’s your man.

If you want to move America forward, and keep developing the growing clean energy economy that’s benefitting New Mexico and every other state in the country – then remember what President Obama has done so far.

As Bloomberg News reported this week, electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar has increased by 73 percent since President Obama took office. President Obama’s clean energy programs have helped create an estimated 2.7 million clean economy jobs, according to the Brookings Institution. Those are real jobs, providing real paychecks to real Americans, many of whom live and work in New Mexico.

If Congress ignores Mitt Romney and reauthorizes the Production Tax Credit that has already created 75,000 jobs in the wind energy industry (and that many Senate Republicans support), America could get as much as 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030.

If Romney and the GOP would stop trying to denigrate and decimate America’s solar industry, we could get as much as 25% of our energy from rooftop solar panels alone in 40 states (51% in Nevada and 52% in California). Instead of focusing on the failures of a few companies, they should be noting the enormous growth in solar overall.  Ideology has blinded them, and they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Mitt Romney is simply out of step with the American people on energy policy, as with so much else.   In survey after survey, Americans overwhelmingly say they want Congress and the White House to do more to increase clean energy sources in this country, and wean us off of fossil fuels. Those opinions do not differ in New Mexico, which is why we support environmental champion Martin Heinrich in his bid for U.S. Senate. Increasing clean energy sources is good for our economy, good for our health and strengthens our national security.

Either Mitt Romney doesn’t get this message from the American people or our voices are being drowned out by the millions of dollars in campaign contributions from dirty polluters.

It’s your choice. Which America do you want?

Mitt Romney Energy Plan Fact Sheet

 

 

Romney Tax Return Provides a Window to His Soul

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

When a craven of buffoons and bigots disguised in the bodies of Birthers figured that anyone with dark skin and a foreign name had to be born outside the U.S., Barack Obama provided a birth certificate. Not just the usual “short form,” but a state-certified copy of the “long form” that detailed he was born in Hawaii, which some birthers apparently think is a foreign territory, to a mother who was a natural-born U.S. citizen.  

That, of course, was not enough for the whackadoodles who claimed, among other things, that the President’s birth certificate was altered or forged. All of their claims have been debunked by scientific evidence. Of course, they produced their own poorly-forged birth certificate that they said “proved” President Obama was born in Kenya.

In February, billionaire Donald (Look-at-How-Wonderful I-Am) Trump, an unabashed Birther, stood next to multi-millionaire Mitt Romney in a Las Vegas casino and endorsed him for the Republican nomination. A few months earlier, Trump had gotten significant face-time in the media while flirting with the idea of running for the presidency while whining about Romney. “He’d buy companies. He’d close companies. He’d get rid of jobs,” Trump crowed. But now, with Romney running well ahead in the primary contests, Trump was trying to be relevant and stay in the political spotlight. Romney, for his part, smiled and said nothing to suggest that Trump could be wrong about pursuing the birther argument. Trying to have everyone like him, one of the most unlikable presidential candidates refused to repudiate Trump’s birther views.

Unlike Barack Obama, Mitt Romney does have a secret. This one is buried within what he either did or did not report to the IRS.

It’s traditional, but not required, that presidential nominees release copies of their tax returns. Most people have no idea how to read a tax return, especially one with dozens of amendments, filings, and schedules. But, the posting of the returns is a form of trust.

Barack Obama has released his returns. Romney’s father, George, former governor of Michigan and presidential candidate in 1968, released 12 years, thus setting a standard for future presidential candidates.

At first the flip-flopping Romney said he didn’t plan to release the returns. Then he said, “Maybe.” Then he declared he’d release only the previous two years’ returns. Then he said that because of the complexity of the return, he filed for an extension from the IRS so he could file after the April 15 deadline for the 2011 return. Then this past week before a fundraiser he said he “never paid less than 13 percent. . . . So I paid taxes every single year.” He expected us just to believe him. He never defined whether that was just income taxes, or included all taxes paid, including social security, local, and state taxes, thus making the federal income tax even lower.

Let’s pretend he meant income taxes. Even at 13 percent, it’s one of the lowest tax rates. In 2011, Romney had a gross income of about $21 million, according to a partial return Romney finally allowed to be posted. The effective tax rate for persons with incomes over $1 million, according to the Tax Foundation, averages about 25 percent.

But, most of Ann and Mitt Romney’s reported income in 2011 was based on capital gains. In 2003, the Bush–Cheney administration had lowered capital gains taxes to only 15 percent, primarily benefitting the wealthy. If the Romneys did not take most of their money from investment capital, their tax bracket would be 35 percent.
There are a number of questions that need to be answered.

The first questions are about that extension for the 2011 taxes. With a fleet of lawyers and accountants, why did the Romneys need at least a five month extension to file a return? Was it to massage the data for public consumption? Equally important, if he needed this extension to file a personal income tax return, what does that say about his ability to govern a nation with a $2.3 trillion budget?

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints tithe to the church. The Romneys acknowledge donating $2.5 million in cash to the church in 2011. Were they overly generous? Or, does that contribution reflect that the Romneys’ income may have been about $25 million. If that is the case, where did the rest go? Ann Romney told NBC News, “We also give 10% of our income to charity.” According to a partial return in 2011, the Romneys claim they donated about $4 million to charity. If Ann Romney is a accurate, that would be a $40 million income, twice what is claimed.

Why Romney won’t release tax returns prior to 2010 may be because secrets are buried in 2009. According to BuzzFlash’s Mark Karlin, citing Lawrence O’Donnell’s pointed queries, “Romney may have taken advantage of a 2009 IRS amnesty period to disclose hidden income in offshore accounts but subject to US taxation. The amnesty offer allowed such persons to escape potential criminal prosecution for tax evasion.” It would be nice to know how much income was diverted to off-shore accounts in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Switzerland, and into various tax-shelters the average American has no idea even exist.
That leads to an obvious question. How much of the Romneys’ income over the past decade, not just the two years when he was planning to run for president, had deductions that might be questionable to the average person who doesn’t have lawyers and accountants on retainer? Certainly, taking a $77,000 write-off in 2010 for a show horse isn’t something the average American can do. Working with an onerous tax code, loaded with myriad special interest loopholes, the Romneys know how to take everything wealthy Americans are entitled to receive. It may be legal, but is it ethical?

Frankly, it doesn’t make much difference how much Romney earned, how he earned it, what he did with it, or how he and some extremely bright tax advisors took advantage of the system created by lobbyists and Congress. What does matter is that by stonewalling, obfuscating, and refusing to give full disclosure, he appears to have something to hide. And upon that—and that alone—the people and the media need to pursue why Romney is reluctant to release financial data. It’s a matter not of how rich he is, but a matter of trust and a window into his soul.

[Walter Brasch has been covering local, state, and presidential political races for almost four decades. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the American counter-culture and media of the ’60s as a base to understand today’s social issues.]

 

 

 

Where Does Heather Wilson Stand on the Ryan Budget?

Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate has thrust Ryan’s controversial budget proposals into the national spotlight. On the campaign trail, candidates are being asked about the Ryan budget. Unfortunately for voters, some candidates, like New Mexico Senate candidate Heather Wilson, refuse to come clean about where they stand on this proposal to dramatically shrink the federal government and change or eliminate popular programs - including many that support clean energy investment.

That’s right. While the press has understandably focused on the Ryan budget’s impact on Medicare, the Ryan budget would decimate other critical government initiatives as well.  Just one example – the Ryan budget would eliminate our nation’s investment in clean energy and kill a lot of clean energy jobs in the process.

According to an analysis by Congressman Henry Waxman, the Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Ryan budget “would cut billions of dollars in funding for development of clean energy and eliminate programs that have helped support over 60,000 jobs.”  Waxman’s analysis finds that:

  • The Ryan budget would cut the Department of Energy’s budget by 57%. Cuts of this magnitude would cripple efforts to improve energy efficiency and make renewable energy commercially available at a competitive cost;
  • The Ryan budget would eliminate successful clean vehicle loan programs. These programs are helping the U.S. become a leader in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle technologies and creating jobs in the auto industry; and
  • The Ryan budget would eliminate clean energy loan guarantees that are helping to launch large-scale wind and solar energy projects.

On top of these cuts to clean energy, the Ryan budget preserves nearly $40 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

Where does Wilson stand on this? We don’t know. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Wilson  “has refused for two consecutive years to take a definitive stand on Ryan’s controversial budget blueprints.”

We don’t know whether she and Ryan share the same view on his budget, but we do know that many of the same Big Polluters are funding both campaigns. Over the course of her political career, Wilson has taken $741,132 from the oil and gas industry, making her one of the top-20 recipients of oil and gas money to serve in the House of Representatives. Ryan’s still-hefty haul of $244,250 may pale in comparison, but he takes another prize: Koch Industries’ $65,000 in donations make them his largest energy-related donor.

We know where Wilson’s Dirty Energy donors stand on the Ryan budget. It’s time for Wilson to tell us whether or not she agrees with them.

 

 

 

 

Vouchering an Educational Adventure

 

                      by WALTER BRASCH

 

I hadn’t talked with Marshbaum for a couple of years, ever since he left newspaper journalism for more lucrative work in the fast food industry. But here he was in my office to ask if I would publicize his new educational adventure.

“That’s great!” I said. “You’re finishing the last three years of college.”

“I own the school. CEO of Little Minds Charter and Voucher Corp. We’re on the leading edge of the trend to privatize schools.”

“How does mumbling into a broken speaker box make you qualified to run a school?” I asked.

“Interpersonal communication skills,” he replied. “That, and knowing how to count change and arrange work schedules for the three minimum-wage high school kids on my late night shift. It’s all administration and proper marketing.” He thrust a full-color three-panel promotional flyer at me. Buried in small print was the tuition cost.

“That’s a bit high, isn’t it?” I asked.

“With loans, grants, and governmental assistance, it’s almost affordable.”

“Governmental assistance?”

“We’d be bankrupt if we didn’t get it,” said Marshbaum. “Because the state wants to privatize everything, it gives families a yearly check to send their uncultured little cookie crumblers wherever they want. Family gives us the money, and we teach their children the importance of sexual abstinence and the free enterprise system.”

“I suppose you’re making radical changes in education,” I snickered. Marshbaum didn’t disappoint me.

“You bet your Number 2 we are. We’re on track to become the state’s most cost-effective school. Conservative politicians love us. Cutting expenses is where it’s at.”

“What did you cut?”

“First thing we did was order our classroom supplies from China. That saved us over 50 percent. Got a great deal on ugly desk-chairs.”

“You obviously don’t understand the concept of ‘Buy American’,” I suggested.

“Not true, Ink Breath. We get our school uniforms from Wal-Mart. An all-American company.”

“You are aware,” I pointed out, “that most of the clothing in Big Box stores is made by exploited children and their impoverished parents in Third World Countries.”

“Exactly!” beamed Marshbaum. “Cheaper that way. Besides, we use the labels to teach about world geography. That’s a two-fer!”

“How else are you re-defining education?” I asked, knowing Marshbaum wouldn’t disappoint me.

“Downsized the faculty. All those rich college graduates were hurting our bottom line. Hated to downsize Greenblatt, though. Thirty years on the job. Twice recognized as the state’s best history teacher”

“You fired a tenured history teacher?”

“Had to. He was at the top of the salary schedule. Besides, he was teaching about the rise of the middle class and how unions helped get better wages and benefits for the masses. That’s just downright unpatriotic. He refused to be a team player.”

“What you did is probably illegal!” I said.

“We’re a corporation,” said Marshbaum smugly. “We can do anything we want. We’ll be dumping math next.”

“That’s absurd! Of the industrialized nations, the U.S. is already near the bottom in math and science.”

“No one gives a rotten apple’s core about when trains at different speeds leave their stations and pass each other in Wichita.”

“So you don’t have any faculty?” I asked incredulously.

“Don’t be ridiculous. We outsourced our teaching. There’s Bierschmaltz in Austria and Wang Lin in Laos and—”

“I suppose you have them lecturing by speaker phone,” I said sarcastically.

“Even better. They create the lessons, have some teenage videohead record them, and the students can see it on their own computers. Distance Education and Technology is where it’s at. Besides, it’s cheaper than paying live people who demand a lunch break after five classes, and call off sick just because they broke a hip or some other useless joint.”

“If you’re dumping courses, downsizing and outsourcing, how are you going to improve the scores?”

“Not a problem,” Marshbaum said, explaining that the state has specific questions to which the students must know the answers. “We just make sure we drill the students on what they’ll be tested upon.”

“That’s not education, that’s teaching to the test. Your students may get high scores, but they probably won’t get much knowledge.”

“So where’s the problem?”

And with that, Marshbaum grabbed his backpack and went out to recruit more voucher-laden students.

 [Walter Brasch spent 30 years as a university professor of mass communications, while continuing his work as a journalist. Now retired from teaching, he continues as a journalist/columnist. His latest of 17 books is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at critical social issues through the eyes of a ’60s self-described “hippie chick” teacher who is still protesting war, attacks upon the environment, due process issues, and fighting for the rights of all citizens to have adequate health care.]

 

 

 

Romney & Ryan’s Fossil Fuel Favoritism: Starve Clean Energy, but Feed Oil with Taxpayer Money

Mitt Romney announced last week he would not extend an incentive for wind and solar power if he were elected president. Clean energy is often cast as a Democratic issue, but the incentive has broad Republican support. More than 80 percent of installed wind power comes from Republican-majority states.

Romney, however, persists in deriding the success of renewable energy. In an op ed this spring, he said wind and solar power were part of President Obama’s “imaginary world.”

Yet any American who has taken a road trip this summer knows clean energy is very real. Wind turbines have sprouted on ridgelines across the country, employing steelworkers, producing income for farmers, and generating clean energy that doesn’t endanger our health.

Roughly 35 percent of new power built in the United States in the last four years has come from wind, and more than 100,000 Americans now have jobs in the solar industry.

Clean energy has become one of the brightest spots in our economy and helped retain our competitive advantage in the global market. But Romney can’t see where the future is headed. He wants to end renewable incentives, yet continue underwriting oil and gas companies with billions of taxpayer dollars every year. He wants to turn his back on the innovative edge of the energy market in order to prolong the same coal, oil, and gas habits we have used for the past century.

His new running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, shares Romney’s fossil fuel favoritism. The Ryan budget passed by the House would dish out $40 billion in subsidies to oil companies over the next ten years, but would slash clean energy investments by 90 percent by 2014—down to just $1 billion.

Romney and Ryan’s failure to support clean energy is a failure of imagination. They are so eager to appeal to the far-right side of their party and placate their deep-pocketed donors from the fossil fuel industry that they can’t see what any American driving through Indiana, Kansas, Utah, Ohio, Michigan and countless other states can see: clean energy is already taking root in our communities, already putting people to work, and already making our air safer to breathe. We should nurture this growth and prosperity, not thwart it.

A List of Female Dictators

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

One of the phenomenons of the twentieth century has been the rise of the dictator. Dictators rule countries undemocratically and usually until death, crushing the opposition. Unlike the kings or emperors of old, these men generally don’t have any family linkage with previous rulers.

Notice the gender-specific word “men.” All dictators have been male, without exception. A woman has never ordered the army to crush nascent protests against her authoritarianism. Nor has a woman ever led a coup to overthrow a democratically elected government, replacing its rule by her own.

As the above examples indicate, dictators are generally strongly linked with the army. They generally rise through the army and enjoy its support. There is no institution more heavily dominated by males in society than the army; indeed, until recently the very concept of a female soldier was unthinkable (and still is in many countries). Thus the lack of female dictators.

There are, however, a number of women who have come pretty close to being dictators. Here’s a list, and it’s quite interesting:

Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi (no relation to the most famous Gandhi) ruled as Prime Minister of India during prolonged periods from the 1960s to the 1980s. She came to power as the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru, an independence hero, governed India as the head of the Indian National Congress during his lifetime. Congress was and still is the dominant political party in India. It had and still has a nasty habit of nepotism. Since Indira was the daughter of Nehru, leadership of the party fell to her.

As leader of India, Indira Gandhi did many good things and many bad things. Economically speaking, she seemed to be more in the business of giving poor people fish than teaching them how to fish.

But Indira Gandhi is most famous for her State of Emergency. In 1975 Indira declared a state of emergency, giving her dictatorial powers. Civil liberties and democracy was suspended during The Emergency. Opposition leaders were arrested. A controversial family planning program was put in place, which led to many Indians being unwillingly sterilized.

In this sense Indira Gandhi, although elected democratically, was dictator of India for two years.

Fortunately for India, Indira Gandhi ended The Emergency in 1977. She proceeded to hold elections, lost them, and to her credit stepped down. Indira Gandhi would later return to office. She was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards after taking controversial military action against Sikh militants.

Jiang Qing

Jiang Qing was a dominant figure in Chinese politics during the Cultural Revolution and immediately after Mao Zedong’s death. She was the fourth wife of Mao Zedong, and the only one who played a political role.

At first Mao promised that Jiang Qing wouldn’t be involved in politics, and for a while he kept that promise. During the Cultural Revolution, however, Qing rose to power. She generally took a hard-line stance on policy, opposing for instance economic reforms and determinedly prosecuting her political opponents. She was widely disliked.

Shortly after Mao’s death in 1976, Qing lost power. In 1981 she was prosecuted as part of the “Gang of Four,” scapegoats for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and spent most of the rest of her life in prison.

Elena Ceaușescu

Elena Ceaușescu was the wife of Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who ruled Romania during the latter period of the Cold War. Like Jiang Qing, Elena Ceaușescu gained political power and political positions during this period. However, she had far less influence; unlike Qing, Elena Ceaușescu never directed attacks against political opponents.

The Romanian population widely hated her. In the 1989 revolution, Elena Ceaușescu attempted to flee the country with her husband. She was caught, subject to a show trial, and shot.

Imelda Marcos

Like the two individuals above, Imelda Marcos gained her power through being the wife of a military dictator. Imelda Marcos was the wife of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled over the Philippines from the 1960s to the 1980s. Like Elena Ceaușescu, Imelda Marcos used her position to gain power and political positions. She was quite infamous for her collection of shoes and for the fortune she gained during the dictatorship.

However, Imelda Marcos wasn’t as disliked by Filipinos as the two previous individuals listed. After the fall of the dictatorship in 1986, Imelda Marcos went into exile. She returned in 1991 and started a political career. Today Imelda Marcos is a congresswoman in the Philippines House of Representatives, where she last won 80% of the vote. It’s doubtful that Jiang Qing or Elena Ceaușescu could have won an election anywhere in their respective countries.

Conclusions

There’s a pretty obvious pattern here: all the female “dictators” listed above gained power through family connections. This is a common pattern; throughout history, many of the powerful female political leaders have gained power as wives, daughters, and sisters of male political leaders.

Interestingly, this list is dominated by the Asian continent. One would expect more African and South American countries to be represented. This might be a pattern, or it might just be chance.

Of all these people, Indira Gandhi comes closest to being a dictator. Unlike the others, Indira Gandhi was legitimately the most powerful person in the country. She was the one in control of the army, and she could and did use it to commit multiple human rights violations.

One wonders who will be the next Indira Gandhi.

 

There's more...

The Best Ticket Dirty Money Can Buy

This morning, we awoke to news that Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be Mitt Romney’s running mate. 

I am sure the Koch brothers are smiling this morning because they have been cultivating Congressman Ryan since he set foot on Capitol Hill, giving him one of his first donations in 1999.

Koch Industries, owners of one of the largest petrochemical companies in the world, has been the 6th largest contributors to Cong. Ryan during his career, giving him $65,500.  In fact, the oil and gas industry has given him $244,250 since 1999.  Now sure, the Koch Brothers are behind Philip Morris, and the NRA, but they played the long game with this career-politician pick and Ryan as VP will solidify their support.

The fossil fuel industry was already sitting pretty even before the Ryan selection.  The Romney campaign has already benefited from the overwhelming spending of outside groups, like Restore our Future, a well known Koch-funded entity, that has already spent $14,011,137  in a brazen effort to buy the White House.

What has this money bought for the polluters?

Romney went from standing in front of a coal plant talking about how they kill people in 2003 to standing with one of the most radical members of the Senate, James Inhofe (R-OK) to stop EPA’s efforts to reduce mercury from power plants.  As my colleague at NRDC, John Walke, says, “It’s appalling that anyone would vote to expose our children to more mercury, a dangerous brain poison, and over 80 other toxic air pollutants that power plants in the U.S. spew every day.”  John goes onto note that these standard are projected to prevent 11,000 premature deaths; nearly 5,000 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits; and 540,000 days when people miss work and school. 

For his part, Cong. Ryan, with his abysmal 16% League of Conservation Voters score, has voted to delay long-overdue air pollution control standards for industrial boilers and incinerators that also emit mercury.  He voted against efforts to protect communities from coal ash - the toxic byproduct of burning coal that contains arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals - metals that when some are ingested have devastating results like lower IQ

As someone who spent much of her youth in towns in Appalachia surrounding these coal facilities, I can tell you that the devastation is enormous and the fact that Ryan took the side of the polluters instead of children with learning disabilities caused in some part by that pollution is astonishing.  Add on top of all of this, the cuts that Ryan’s budget proposed - cuts that would’ve devastated community water systems and kept enforcement cops off the street who keep companies from breaking laws that protect our communities.  Heck, his budget would’ve even eliminated programs for sidewalks, not to mention public transportation infrastructure

Yes, Koch Industries is sitting pretty today.  Let’s hope that the voters see in November see that a Romney/Ryan ticket isn’t about protecting their families or helping us get on the right track - it is the best ticket dirty money can buy.  Look no further than the record to see for yourself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHY DOES ROMNEY HIDE HIS TAX RETURNS?

Why does Romney hide his 10 year tax return: Is it because he actually is an equity partner and getting $50 million per year from Bain Capital since he left in 1999. Why is this important. Romney is on record as a Globalist Neo-Con cut from the same cloth as the G.W. Bush national security team. Romney has stated repeatedly that he wants to expand more the USA's military's "nation building" wars in backwater / third World countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Nigeria, Somalia, the Sudan,etc. If elected he will take us back to the era of fighting wars on virtually ever continent and backwater nation where tribal disputes have be rife for centuries. Romney's foreign policy views have gotten endosements from the Bush Family and Karl Rove. The exception to Romney's saber-rattling has come from the key military figure from the Bush era--Colin Powell. Recently Powell told a TV audience that Romney's view on Russia and China were wrong and they were extreme. Romney was quoted as saying both countries were enemies of the United States. Mr. Powell disagreed and pointed out that since the end of the Cold War, we have had normal relationships with both Russia and China. He said the Romney's views toward these countries was a step backward and it was Romney who was out of touch with current US foreign policies in many areas. It is clear why Romney will ramp up budget expenditures for defense contracts and for military expenses. The reason: one can assume that Bain Capital has huge investments in not only oil / mineral extraction companies operating in these resourses rich but backwater-corrupt countries. By taking over these countries, Bain clients such as happened after Iraq would stand to get control of huge reserviors of oil, gas, coal, etc. One can also assume that Bain Capital most likely has very large investments in companies which are in the Military-Industrial Complex. Its not much of a stretch to see us bogged down chasing "evil doers" for years to come in far off oil and resource rich but poor countries. The irony is that Romney nor any one in his family ever has served in the US military (he has 5 sons who do would never volunteer for service unlike the Queen Elizabeths 2 grandsons Prince William and Harry who serve bravely in combat and air-resue operations). Unlike Colin Powell who was wounded in combat in Vietnam, none of the Romney clan has to my knowledge experienced the terror of being shot at by enemy troops. Romney admitted that during Vietnam he didn't serve in the military but instead went to Paris on a sabbatical. The general public and the majority of the US voting public is tired of these brushfire wars and has become hugely opposed to more of this backwater wars. In the media the neo-con driven Fox network cheers on anyone who wants to send thousands of US troops to every dustup firefight anywhere on earth. Consider that in Afghanistan there are only 20,000 Taliban but we have over 100,000 troops fighting there and NATO supplies another 40,000 troops plus 300,000 Afghan security forces. Do you wonder why it takes so many of our troops to fight such a small number of bad-guys? It might have to do with the fact that the Afghan government is so corrupt and they need our support and our dollars to stay in business. Most of us get concerned when we remember back during the war in Iraq and the discovery of the huge no-bid contracts that the Pentagon had with Bush and GOP supporters i.e. KBR, Crane Trucking. I think that we will find that soon after Romney gets elected and he finds the next target of his neo-cons (probably Venezuela but OH WAIT Chavez was democratly elected - however that is NO MATTER to the neo-cons) that Bain Capital military supplier clients would be in line to get BILLIONS of dollars in "no-bid" and sweetheart deals from the Defense Department via the White House i.e. as was the case when VP Dick Cheney the former CEO to the biggest no-bid contractor KBR Corporation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus, we can theorize as to why Romney does not want his tax returns over the last ten years to become public. If as suspected he has not given up his equity in Bain, then as President of the United States it would be illegal for him to pass huge no-bid contracts over to Bain and its clients. No matter that while Vice-President, Mr. Cheney's former employer KBR got billions of contracts for all kinds of operations in Iraq. These contracts were supposed to save taxpayers money but in the end they proved inefficient (regular military operations could do them faster and cheaper than private companies) and of limited benefit to national security. Like ·

 

 

Will the True Extremist Please Stand Up?

It can’t be easy being a climate denier this summer. Record-breaking heat waves, freak storms, enormous fires, and the worst drought in 50 years are making it harder to ignore the reality of climate change.

Many meteorologists, network news shows, and public health officials are speaking candidly about the connection between extreme weather and climate change. These conversations confirm what so many of us can see with our own eyes: We just have to look outside or turn on the Weather Channel to see what global warming is doing to our communities.

And yet some candidates persist in denying the facts in front of them, even while their own states bear the brunt of climate change. Sticking your head in the sand is never a good position for a leader to assume, but it becomes downright irresponsible when people all around you are struggling.

Take New Mexico, for example. In the senate race, Former Representative Heather Wilson paints her opponent, Representative Martin Heinrich, as an environmental extremist because he wants to address climate change. Wilson, meanwhile, has rejected the idea that human activity is causing global warming.

Wilson likes to position herself as a moderate, but ignoring one of the biggest threats to your state’s economy and well-being is not a sign of moderation; it is a sign of recklessness—especially when your state is as vulnerable to climate change as New Mexico.

In May, Governor Susana Martinez declared the entire state was in a drought. “Fire danger is high, water reservoirs run low and in some cases, we’ve seen towns like Las Vegas take dramatic steps to reduce basic water consumption in their residents’ homes and businesses,” the governor said.

Last year was no better. A dry winter and a dry monsoon season left much of the state parched. New Mexican ranchers ended 2011 with the smallest cattle inventory in more than 25 years. This spring saw more cattlemen having to thin their herds as the drought continued. Ed Polasko, a hydrologist from the National Weather Service focusing on New Mexico, says that even if the monsoons bring moisture, the state has been so dry and so deep in a rain deficit that it will take a long time to recover.

The Southwest has always experienced drought cycles, but climate change can make them more frequent and more severe. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report confirming that last year’s record-breaking drought in Texas was made “roughly 20 times more likely” as a result of climate change.

Hot weather and persistent drought have left New Mexico with tinderbox conditions. Last year’s Las Conchas fire scorched more than 156,000 acres, consumed dozens of homes, trashed the watershed of the Santa Clara Pueblo, and nearly consumed the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It was the biggest fire in state history—until it wasn’t. This year’s Gila fire is even bigger, devouring more than 265 square miles of forest and prompting smoke advisories to be issued from Albuquerque to Carrizozo to Roswell.

Many factors contribute to wildfires, but experts have been warning for years that climate change is making matters worse. “The effects of climate change will continue to result in greater probability of longer and bigger fires seasons, in more regions of the nations,” concluded the 2009 Quadrennial Fire Review issued by the U.S Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies. 

The soaring temperatures, prolonged droughts, and intense wildfires now threatening New Mexico are hallmarks of climate change. Heinrich has responded by reviewing the science, accepting the facts on the ground, and proposing solutions to stabilize the climate.

Wilson has chosen to keep her eyes closed. Maybe she is afraid the Tea Party crowd will abandon her if she acknowledges climate change. Maybe she is under the influence of the polluting energy companies who release carbon emissions and support her campaign. Or maybe she simply doesn’t have a grasp on the evidence.

Whatever the reason, Wilson has proven to be the true radical here. Only an extremist could discount the overwhelming scientific consensus and believe that denial is the appropriate response to persistent drought, hot temperatures, and raging fires.   

 

 

 

 

Baffled, Befuddled, and Bamboozled: Penn State Trustees and NCAA are Sinking

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

When we last left the baffled and befuddled Penn State trustees, they were trying to figure out what happened in the Great NCAA Sanctimonious Sanction.

What happened is that the NCAA bamboozled university president Dr. Rodney Erickson. The NCAA—having spent most of its history figuring out ways to make college athletics even more prominent on college campuses—suddenly found religion, created new rules, didn’t conduct an investigation, and shredded anything resembling due process. Using the Freeh Report as its newly-found Bible, NCAA president Mark Emmert piously declared he wanted Penn State to “rebuild its athletic culture,” and preached the lesson that the NCAA hoped “to make sure that the cautionary tale of athletics overwhelming core values of the institution and losing sight of why we are really participating in these activities can occur.”

It was a neat little speech, probably written by PR people. But it couldn’t be Penn State he was referring to. Penn State athletes go to classes and graduate; its football team is often at or near the top of graduation rates for Division I football programs. The university itself, even with a well-recognized party culture, is well-known for numerous academic programs that are among the best in the country.

Nevertheless, Emmert somberly told Erickson that the NCAA was seriously considering the death penalty for Penn State. Death, in NCAA terms, means a suspension of the sport for at least one season. The only time the NCAA had issued the death penalty was in 1987 against Southern Methodist University for blatant and repeated recruiting violations. Death to the Nittany Lions football program would significant harm the university and private business, and affect far more than the football team, not one of them having been involved in what is now known as the Penn State Sandusky Scandal.

But, said Emmert, have we got a deal for you. If you sign on the dotted line, we won’t kill football at Penn State, we’ll just fine you $60 million, ban you from bowl games for four years, reduce the number of scholarships, vacate the 111 wins from 1998 to 2011, require you to follow everything the Freeh Report recommended, hire an athletics monitor, comply with everything we tell you, and place you on probation for five years.

Now, every career criminal and little ole lady who accidentally shoplifts knows the police and DA aren’t serious in their first presentment of charges. They overcharge, trying to scare the defendant into a plea bargain. Plea bargains allow DAs to claim high conviction rates, while not having to get all messy with such things as jury selection and presenting evidence. So, the defendant and the DA negotiate, and a few charges are thrown out, and the defendant agrees to a lesser offense—perhaps instead of felony burglary, it becomes a misdemeanor, complete with a small fine and probation—and everyone is happy.

Dr. Erickson, with Pigskin Proud drops of perspiration flowing freely, was so relieved his university wasn’t getting the electric chair, he agreed to whatever it was that the haughty NCAA demanded, and signed the consent decree that Penn State would never ever appeal the decision.

Back in State College, the trustees, as is their history, were clueless and furious.

For years, they thought their only functions were to approve whatever the university president told them needed approving, raise tuition and fees, and get their friends good seats at football games. Now they faced a greater problem.

They had previously proven they were inept in how they handled the scandal. They had previously violated state law by their secret meetings and failure to extend any semblance of due process to Coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier. Then to hide their meltdown, they commissioned Louis Freeh, former FBI director, to conduct what they claimed was an independent investigation, for which the insurance company paid about $6.5 million.

True to what the Trustees wanted, Freeh miraculously decided that the Trustees needed to reassert their power, and that the people to blame, in addition to the convicted child molester, were the former president who resigned,  a now-retired senior vice-president, a former athletic director, and the dead guy, also known as Joe Paterno. Problem solved.

However, there are still a few problems. The first problem is that the Freeh investigation is just that—a private investigation that was not subject to even the basic rules of due process, the right of individuals to subpoena witnesses and to challenge their accusers under oath.

The second problem is that Jerry Sandusky, convicted of an assortment of felonies, was not employed by the university or was a football coach at the time the crimes were committed. The first suspected felony, reported by Paterno, was not prosecuted by police or the DA.

The third problem is that Paterno and Spanier, who faced media hysteria and took the brunt of the Trustee condemnation, were never charged with having done anything illegal, nor did they ever face their accusers in court.

Enter Ryan McCombie, a Penn State alumnus who was elected to the Board in July as a reform candidate promising to get the Board and the university to be more accountable to the people and to protect the rights of accused. McCombie isn’t some wimp in the disguise of a corporate executive. He’s a retired commanding officer of Navy Seal Team Two, and not someone to be messed with.

One month after his election, McCombie unleashed his first shot, and it wasn’t over the bow. In a letter to the NCAA, McCombie, acknowledged the suffering of Jerry Sandusky’s victims. However, he also said that the NCAA objectives that led to the sanctions “should not be achieved by ignoring or trampling upon the fundamental rights of others. The desire for speed and decisiveness cannot justify violating the due process rights of other involved individuals or the University as a whole.”

He charged that Erickson didn’t have the authority to enter into the agreement with the NCAA. He noted that the lack of an NCAA investigation violated NCAA established procedures, and were “excessive and unreasonable.” But his most powerful torpedo hit dead center. The conclusions and recommendations of the Freeh report, which the NCAA used to justify its moral outrage, was “based on assumptions, conjecture and misplaced characterizations that are contrary to available facts and evidence,” said McCombie.

The final problem is that the NCAA and most of the Penn State Trustees are still paddling in choppy seas and don’t know they have been sunk.

[Walter Brasch is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and university professor. He is the author of 17 books, the most recent of which is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the American counter-culture and political corruption.]

           

 

 

 

Gabby, Ryan, and Home Opportunity for All

Even Olympians are, alas, not immune from America’s homeownership crisis. The Associated Press reported this week that the parents of U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte are facing foreclosure in Florida, while the mother of gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last year, she said, “to protect my home.”

I don’t know the circumstances of these families’ financial challenges. But the fact that families who had the discipline, commitment, and drive to raise Olympic gold medalists did not have the systems or information needed to remain successful homeowners reaffirms that the promise of American opportunity is at grave risk.

Roughly four million American families lost their homes to foreclosure between the beginning of 2007 and early 2012. Some 11 million are struggling with “underwater” mortgages, meaning that they owe more than their home is worth. That’s just under a quarter of all U.S. homes with a mortgage. For most, a perfect storm of financial industry misconduct, inadequate consumer protections, falling home prices, and record unemployment are at the core of the problem.

The Lochte and Douglas families are fortunate. Their kids are now stars who will soon be paid millions in endorsement proceeds—Gabby’s already on the cover of a cornflake box.

But for most Americans, the solutions require broader action. An alliance of consumer protection, fair lending, and housing experts have developed a Compact for Home Opportunity, with over two dozen practical, tested solutions for preventing needless foreclosures, restoring neighborhoods, and rebuilding the American dream. The Compact is powered by Home for Good, a national campaign driven by people concerned about the enduring foreclosure and housing crisis.

The Compact’s solutions range from increased access to housing counseling, to reducing loan principal to fair market value, to increased fair housing and lending protections. Some states, notably California, have adopted important elements of the Compact. But a more robust, national approach is needed. Home for Good is pushing housing issues back into the presidential contest, and onto the national agenda, demanding that candidates and policymakers take a stand on the causes and solutions to the crisis. With foreclosures and bankruptcy intruding even into the Olympic games, their call is increasingly hard to ignore.

Read also:

When Did Compromise Become A Bad Thing?

Chock up another win for the radical. Tea Party darling Ted Cruz trounced conservative David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for the Texas senate seat on Tuesday night. How did a first-time candidate with so little name recognition pull off a 14-point victory over a GOP favorite?

Sheer stubbornness. Cruz and Dewhurst share many conservative beliefs, but Cruz set himself apart by accusing Dewhurst of what the Tea Party has turned into a political sin: compromise.

Cruz loves to criticize others for being too quick to compromise - but isn’t that part of effective governing? This refusal to reach agreement with other members of Congress earned him the support of Sarah Palin, Tim DeMint, and other Tea Party kingmakers.

Other candidates have used a similar brand of obstinacy to beat GOP conservatives in Indiana, Nebraska, and Delaware. This rise in extremism may excite far-right voters, but it doesn’t bode well for nation as a whole. We are facing frightening challenges, from financial turmoil to climate change. If elected officials refuse to talk with their colleagues about how to solve these problems, America won’t be able to move forward.

It’s quite simple really. When my son and daughter squabble with each other or run into trouble on the playground, I tell them to try to work it out amongst themselves first. If every parent knows the value of give and take, why don’t more Tea Party politicians?

In the absence of conversation, we end up with a pack of bullies. Just look at Congress’ record on the environment. GOP lawmakers in the House have voted more than 200 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards. They have moved to thwart the clean energy technologies that will make our air safer to breathe and put American companies at the forefront of a massive global market. And they have forced America to face the threat of climate change without a national plan for fighting it or even getting prepared.

Most of these votes have been cast in the name of lofty principle and anti-regulatory purity. But ideology for the sake of ideology is irresponsible when your citizens are facing real and pressing dangers, whether it is cancer-causing pollution from power plants or extreme weather events brought on by climate change.

I live in California where a new report was released this week by the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Committee. It notes that climate change will bring my state hotter summers, shorter rainy seasons, and drier days.  It will also threaten the state’s electricity sector as the state will have a harder time generating and transmitting power - and let’s not even get into the fact that the report notes the expectation that the sea level along our coasts are expected to rise 31-55 inches by the end of the century.  

But at least my state is examining the hazards of climate change. Short-sighted North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation that would prevent predictions about the state’s sea level rise from incorporating climate change trends. How can people protect their families and their property if the state won’t even acknowledge the problem?

The GOP hasn’t always been committed to sticking its head in the sand. It has a long and impressive tradition of supporting environmental protection. President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, President Bush signed the amendments that made the law stronger, and countless Republican lawmakers have supported conserving America’s natural heritage.

You don’t achieve these milestones by drowning out the voices of your colleagues across the aisle; you do it by conversing, negotiating, and yes, even compromising.

I was pleasantly surprised that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to a budget deal that will avoid a government shutdown. But my next thought was: oh no, the Tea Party is coming to get you John Boehner. You will be punished for making a deal with the Democrats.

Yet if the Tea Party continues to support candidates who only say no, it is in danger of branding themselves into a corner. Americans may have hit record levels of frustration with Congress, but in the end, we want our government to function. We want lawmakers who are at least willing to talk about the issues facing our nation—and maybe even lead us into the future.

 

 

Olympians Medal in London, While the NRA Meddles in Harrisburg

 

 by WALTER BRASCH

 

Shortly before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on an amendment last December that would ban pigeon shoots, the Pennsylvania Flyers Association sent out a bulletin it marked as “urgent.”

“We must act now to preserve our sport,” the Flyers screeched. In a separate letter, the Flyers told its members they “should be very proud that your association has been able to keep the sport alive in PA [sic] for the last 27 years.” For added support, the notice referred to an NRA release, which called pigeon shooting a “Pennsylvania Sporting Tradition.”

Shooting live pigeons in a confined area isn’t a sport. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shoots after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals, and continues to refuse to classify it as a “sport.” At that Olympics, the only time someone could earn a medal for cruelty, 300 birds were killed.

While 11,000 athletes from 205 countries continue to excel at the Olympics in London, 75 pretend hunters and faux sportsmen are at the Wing Pointe club near Hamburg, Pa., this weekend where they are shooting more than 10 times the number of pigeons killed at the 1900 Olympics.

Scared and undernourished, the birds are placed into small traps and then released 30 yards in front of people with shotguns. Most birds are hit as they are launched. Even standing only feet from their kill, the shooters aren’t as good as they think they are. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States.

If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, snip their heads off with shears, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. At Wing Pointe, birds are just thrown into a heap, with wounded birds left to die from suffocation. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The lure of pigeon shoots in addition to what the participants must think is a wanton sense of fulfillment is gambling, illegal under Pennsylvania law but not enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police. At Wing Pointe, each shooter pays a $290 entry fee. According to the rules, each shooter “must play $200.00 anywhere.” Pigeon shooters and the public can gamble more than that, with the club taking a percentage of the “official” bets. A high stakes, invitation-only poker game adds to the opportunity to lose more than a month’s house mortgage.

Wing Pointe earns even more from its pro shop and from shooters and their guests who stay at its luxury suites it claims is “the perfect retreat after you have spent the day enjoying our Sports Shooting playground.”

The failure to ban pigeon shoots leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, can openly shoot pigeons which have just been released from the traps. The NRA claims pigeon shoots are legal in 35 states; however, because those states enforce animal cruelty laws, Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has openly held pigeon shoots. Pigeon shoots are held in southeastern Pennsylvania in Berks County at Wing Pointe, after the Strausstown Gun Club and the Pikeville Gun Club discontinued them; in Bucks County at the Philadelphia Gun Club, Bensalem; in Dauphin County at the Erdman Shoot; and in Northumberland County at a relatively unorganized Berm Gun Club, near Dalmatia. The notorious Hegins Pigeon Shoot, in which more than 5,000 birds were killed or injured every Labor Day weekend, was finally cancelled in 1999 after the state Supreme Court ruled that humane society police officers could arrest participants for committing acts of animal cruelty.

District Attorneys John Adams (Berks) and David Heckler (Bucks) have both refused to prosecute persons accused of cruelty by a Humane Society police officer. Johnna Seeton has filed charges of cruelty to animals in both counties and in all cases the DAs withdrew her charges. A mandamus case is pending against Adams to require him to comply with the law; in 2010, Adams took $500 in campaign donations from the NRA Political Victory Fund. An ethics complaint has been filed against Heckler.

Almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, oppose this form of animal cruelty. But Pennsylvania legislators refuse to ban pigeon shoots, fearful of losing NRA campaign funds, the coveted A+ rating, and what could be a vicious attack upon their re-election bids. Even a grade of “B” by the NRA causes some legislators to cower in fear.

The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claims that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns and, thus, destroying the 2nd Amendment. To those scared by fear-mongers in the NRA and the Pennsylvania Flyers, that was bred solely to support pigeon shoots, the Humane Society—which the NRA calls “radical” and “extremist,” and the Flyers calls “animalist zealots”—carefully explains that absolutely nothing in proposed bills or amendments restricts firearms ownership or usage. However, a paranoid NRA leadership claims banning pigeon shoots would be the “slippery slope” to gun restrictions.

The NRA, says Prescott, misrepresents its members, “most of whom do not support or condone pigeon shoots.”

Pennsylvania allows lobbyists to call legislators off the floor to discuss legislation. NRA lobbyists and their PACs have been vigorous in “explaining” the consequences of a legislator who opposes the NRA philosophy—and in backing it up with campaign contributions. During the 2010 election year, the NRA Political Victory Fund donated $4,500 in direct contributions and $389,696.85 in in-kind contributions to Republican Tom Corbett, who would be elected governor.

But the NRA and its allies are now on the defensive, after taking hits by the public for their unyielding stand in support of the right of owning assault weapons with 100-round magazines, for which no hunter or target shooter has any need. Somehow, in a collective mind with scrambled brain cells, the NRA leadership is unable to distinguish between legitimate hunting and animal cruelty.

In Pennsylvania, the NRA is making a stand. Associating with just about the friendliest state for what it claims is “gun rights,” the NRA has dug in; it knows that if the state bans pigeon shoots, NRA influence will diminish. And so, it continues to pump out fear-mongering press releases, lobbies hard, and freely spreads what is known as the “mother’s milk of politics,” all to a group of legislators too afraid to oppose what they think is NRA strength.

This week, we see two conflicting scenes.

There are no cowards in the Olympics.

But there sure are enough in Wing Pointe and the Pennsylvania legislature.

 [For the past 25 years, Walter Brasch has been covering pigeon shoots and the campaign to ban them as an inhumane practice. Dr. Brasch was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed social issues novel, Before the First Snow, that discusses animal rights and issues.]

 

What Flags Do Russia’s Protestors Use?


By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Russia has recently had a number of protests against President Vladimir Putin. The protests constitute a challenge of urban Russians against Putin’s rule.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of these protests, one interesting thing stands out. This is the fact that the protestors don’t wave Russia’s national flag.

Instead, they always wave different flags.

What are these flags? What do they represent? I’ve done a bit of digging to get at these answers.

Nationalists

One common flag in the protests is this one.

Obviously, this flag is not the national flag that Russia uses. It looks a bit darker – dare I say more threatening – than the white, red, and blue-striped official Russian flag.

Apparently this flag was one of the two flags that represented the Russian Empire before the revolution (the other is the current official flag). It seems to have been much less popular than the other flag.

Here’s another picture with these flags.

In the center there’s a standard of a bird with two heads. This type of standard also often appears in these protests. It seems to be a version of this flag.

This was the imperial standard during the Russian Empire.

These types of flags are often used by Russian nationalists. They seem to be a symbol of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, a Russian nationalist party (which some describe as ultranationalist).

For a person without deep knowledge of Russia, it’s somewhat concerning to see these flags of the Tsar. It seems to imply that the Russian Empire and the Tsar were good, or imply a type of nostalgia for the Tsar.

Communists

There’s another type of flag that’s very prevalent in these protests against Putin.

See if you can recognize it.

The good old flag of the Soviet Union.

Interestingly, there are a lot of variants of communist flags. For instance, this picture there are several red flags with a red star outlined in white and two Russian phrases stamped on top of the red star. This “red star” flag seems to be very popular and has been waved in a lot of protests. Puzzlingly, this doesn’t match the standard of Russia’s official communist party. (EDIT: This is the flag of the Left Front, a group of leftist political organizations including and perhaps dominated by the communists).

Here’s another variant of the pro-communist flags waved in these protests.

In this picture there are a lot of blue and white flags with a red star and sickle-and-hammer. Again, I can’t find where this flag comes from (although it’s certainly obvious what it represents). (EDIT: A reader informs me that this is the Soviet naval ensign.)

Communism seems to be quite popular amongst Putin’s opposition.

Liberals

There’s a final type of flag in these protests. They’re the orange flags in the two pictures above.

Here’s another photo with these orange flags.

These flags seem to represent liberals in the protest movement. The orange flag is a symbol of Solidarnost, a group of liberal Russian organizations.

In the picture there are also a number of red-and-white flags with a red-and-white sun. I have absolutely no idea what these flags would represent. (EDIT: This is the flag of the Russian People’s Democratic Union, a small liberal party).

Conclusions

It’s very interesting how Putin’s opposition has very little passion for Russia’s national flag. Instead, they wave their own flags – flags representing communism, liberalism, and nationalism. This seems to be a sign that the Russian flag as a national symbol is still relatively weak. Of course, Russia isn’t the only country where this occurs.

It’s also pretty concerning when one sees just what flags Putin’s opposition likes to wave. There are a lot of flags of the Tsar and the USSR in the protests. Not quite what most people in the West are hoping for.

 

 

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No Time for Gun Reform

From The Progressive Populist]

Is it ever OK to talk about the politics of gun control? It seems like after every mass murder we are told that it’s not right to take advantage of the tragedy to bring up the need for some controls on America’s most popular killing devices, but with the constant incidents of multiple-casualty shootings, there are few openings to take up the matter. 

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence at bradycampaign.org has a list of more than 400 mass shootings in the United States since 2005. By the Brady Campaign’s count, the July 20 massacre at the Batman movie premiere in Aurora, Colo., was the 61st mass shooting that has occurred in the US since a gunman opened fire Jan. 8, 2011, at a town meeting called by US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. In that incident, a mentally disturbed young man wielding a pistol with an extra-large-capacity magazine is alleged to have fired 32 rounds in 16 seconds before being subdued while trying to reload. Six people, including a federal judge, were killed and 13 were wounded, including Giffords. 

President Obama came in for criticism after that tragedy because he did not take the lead in calling for stricter gun laws, but the National Rifle Association already was speading paranoia on the right and promoting gun sales with irresponsible claims that Obama was coming after your guns.

The NRA is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which is tax-exempt, but it is opposed to letting the public — or its membership — know who bankrolls its lobbying operation. It also operates a foundation as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization to fund gun safety and educational projects for the general public. But the NRA opposed the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, which would let citizens know what corporations and individuals contribute more than $10,000 to political action committees that engage in the sort of independent political expenditures that the NRA makes. The disclosure law was written to allow such groups to keep their ordinary members secret. But NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox in a letter warned senators that their vote will count on the NRA’s legislative scorecard for this Congress, and Republicans obliged by blocking the bill with a filibuster. 

We agree with the US Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), which held that the Second Amendment gives American citizens an individual right to own guns, and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), which clarified that the right to own handguns for personal protection extends to the states. However, the court allowed the states to regulate the sale and carrying of firearms outside the home and it left open the possibility of prohibiting assault rifles and other weapons that are “not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” 

The ban on assault rifles and magazines carrying more than 10 rounds, which was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, seemed to be a reasonable move. A semiautomatic assault rifle is not much use for a deer hunter and it isn’t the best weapon for home defense — a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is a better choice when you hear a disturbance after dark, and there is no mistaking the “ka-chunk” when you rack up a round to persuade a home invader to retreat.

The main use for an assault weapon, on the other hand, is to overpower someone or a group. That is unlikely to be a legitimate use. And no honest civilian needs more than 10 shots to get out of trouble. If they are carrying more rounds than that, they likely are looking for trouble.

After the Democratic Congress, at the prompting of President Bill Clinton, included a ban on the sale of military-style semi-automatic assault rifle and magazines holding more than 10 bullets as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, the NRA lowered the boom, closely coordinating its election strategy with Republican officials, Robert Dreyfus wrote in The American Prospect in December 2001. “Republicans provided the NRA with polling data and lists of vulnerable Democrats in order to coordinate campaigns ... In addition to strategizing with the Republicans, the NRA — ostensibly a single-issue organization — was throwing its lot in with other conservative groups, many of whom had little interest in guns but shared the NRA’s desire to unseat Democrats. Together, these groups pursued lower taxes, free market economics, a smaller federal government, and a cutback in safety and health regulations.” 

The NRA claims 4.3 million members, but it no longer represents the interests of ordinary hunters and gun enthusiasts. It mainly represents the interests of gun manufacturers, it enables mass murderers, and it has increasingly cast its weight behind the Republican Party and corporate interests. The Center for Responsive Politics at OpenSecrets.org reported that between 2001 and 2010, the NRA spent between $1.5 million and $2.7 million on federal lobbying efforts. But during the 2010 election cycle, after the Citizens United decision, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million on independent expenditures at the federal level — messages that primarily supported Republican candidates or opposed Democratic candidates.

There is mixed evidence that the assault weapons ban was effective. National Institute of Justice researchers in 2004 found that assault weapons were used in only a small fraction of crimes before the ban. Large-capacity magazines were used more often than assault weapons, but the researchers noted that assault weapons with large-capacity magazines tend to be used in murders of police and mass public shootings. Following implementation of the ban, a drop in the share of gun crimes involving assault weapons was offset by a rise in use of guns equipped with large-capacity magazines, due to the large stock of pre-ban magazines that were still available in stores.

Since the ban expired in September 2004, gun enthusiasts, at the urging of the NRA, have been stocking up on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. There are now more than 300 million guns in private hands in the US as sales have surged since 2008, when gun owners were told that President Obama meant to confiscate their firearms, though neither he nor other Democratic leaders have suggested any such thing. But that hasn’t stopped NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, who in February told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that the president’s strategy was “crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the US Constitution.”

With many moderate Democrats in the House and Senate intimidated by the threat from the NRA’s millions, and no real monied interests promoting gun control, it would take a dozen Republican senators and 40 representatives to reverse their positions to put a new assault weapons and large-capacity magazine ban in play — and even then the gun-control Republicans would have to put pressure on House Republican leadership to allow a vote on the bill — and neither Speaker John Boehner nor Majority Leader Eric Cantor are inclined to let that happen. 

With so many guns and large-capacity magazines already out there, it might seem like the damage is done. But we might prevent another deranged young man from assembling an armory.

So if you want Congress to pass a sensible gun bill, you are going to have to elect a Democratic House, keep the Senate in Democratic hands and pad that Senate majority by a few seats, as well as re-elect President Obama. Sure, Mitt Romney signed a state assault weapons ban when he was governor of Massachusetts in 2004, but he has repented every moderate view he held in those days, and there is no telling what he might do if he actually made it to the White House. But if Romney is in the Oval Office, chances are that Eric Cantor will be the new Speaker and Mitch McConnell will be the new Senate Majority Leader, and that won’t do the rest of us any good.

Editorial from The Progressive Populist. Reprinted with permission. Cross posted at DailyKos.com.

Sunshine Still Blocked at Penn State

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.--The Penn State Board of Trustees, still sanctimonious in its public moral outrage, continues to violate state law.

The Board held a private three hour meeting, Wednesday evening [July 25] to discuss the NCAA sanctions and the role university president Dr. Rodney Erickson played in accepting the sanctions.

Erickson, according to the Centre Daily Times, had “accepted the sanctions after discussing them with advisors and some trustees, but not the entire board.”

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which covers Penn State, requires that public agencies “shall give public notice of its first regular meeting of each calendar or fiscal year not less than three days in advance of the meeting and shall give public notice of the schedule of its remaining regular meetings.” For special meetings, the Sunshine Act requires an agency to give public notice at least 24 hours in advance. The law doesn’t require a public notice if an emergency meeting is declared, but there was no indication that anything the Board conducted in secret was an emergency, as defined under the Act. The Board gave no indication that the meeting was an executive session to discuss personnel issues or pending lawsuits.

The law also requires that, “Official action and deliberations by a quorum of the members of an agency shall take place at a meeting open to the public.” None of the few exceptions permitted in state law seems to apply to the reason for the latest meeting.

Following the meeting, the Board issued a PR-soaked statement that the meeting was for a “discussion,” and that there was no vote. Apparently, the Board believes that “discussions” without a vote aren’t covered by the Sunshine Act, so it was free to hold yet another unpublicized secret meeting. The Board, as has been so often the case, was wrong.

The Sunshine Act defines a meeting as “Any prearranged gathering of an agency which is attended or participated in by a quorum of the members of an agency held for the purpose of deliberating agency business or taking official action.” Discussions or the lack of a vote are not reasons for exemption. According to local media, at least 15 members of the 32-member board were in attendance at that meeting, with an unknown number possibly connected by telephone communications. A quorum is 13 members.

The Board, in the week prior to firing Coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier in November, had conducted at least two illegal meetings and, in violation of its own rules and state requirements, failed to give Paterno or Spanier due process in their abrupt termination.

The pattern of the Board’s haughty disregard of state law and failure to provide transparency didn’t begin with the disclosure of Jerry Sandusky’s actions on the university campus, but has been obvious to even the most casual observer for years.

On the day after the Board held its latest meeting, Auditor General Jack Wagner, who had been conducting an independent investigation, called a news conference to announce that “the culture at the highest level of this university must change.” Wagner, calling for better “transparency and accountability,” charged that the Board and administration “operate[s] in an isolated fashion without any public scrutiny on certain very important decisions impacting the university.” The Board, said Wagner “cannot operate in secrecy.”

He also recommended that Penn State and the three other state-related universities (University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln and Temple universities), all of which take state funds, be fully subjected to the state’s Right-to-Know Law. The state’s 14 state-owned universities are already covered by the Right-to-Know Law. (Penn State receives $300–400 million a year.)

Wagner also recommended the university president not be a member of the Board, citing the unusual situation of the president being an employee of the Board as well as a member of the governing body. He also recommended that the Governor, a voting member, become an ex-officio nonvoting member to avoid appearance of any conflicts of interest.

Gov. Tom Corbett has come under heavy opposition for what was at least a three year delay while he was attorney general in prosecuting Jerry Sandusky, although there was sufficient evidence to make an arrest; for taking about $600,000 in campaign donations from members of the Board of  Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation and those associated with the Foundation; for awarding a $3 million state grant to the Foundation, which was later rescinded; and then, after his election as governor and a Board trustee, not only failing to inform the Board about Sandusky but then using his political muscle to sway the Board into making personnel decisions. Corbett, a Republican, is also suspected of having a personal vendetta against Paterno, a Republican who refused to endorse him for governor and who did endorse Barack Obama for the presidency. When questioned about his role in the scandal, Corbett has either ignored questions or lashed out against reporters who asked for clarification.

Corbett’s response to Wagner’s suggestions was relayed by his press secretary to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Without answering the issue raised by Wagner’s report, Kevin Harley said, “Jack Wagner can sit on the sidelines and take political shots, but the fact remains that Gov. Corbett was elected by the people of Pennsylvania.” Harley also attacked the auditor general’s suggestion about removing the governor as a voting member of the Penn State Board of Trustees as nothing more than “a proposal made by someone who ran for governor but lost.” Wagner never ran against Corbett, but in a Democratic primary.

Wagner, in a letter to the General Assembly, noted that formal recommendations would be made within 60 days.

In this case, the Pennsylvania legislature, as dysfunctional as it is bitterly partisan, should have little debate about making the state’s largest university more accountable to the people who support it.

[Assisting was Mary C. Marino, a former research librarian. Dr. Brasch spent four decades as a journalist and university professor. He is the recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the Pennsylvania Press Club and the author of 17 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow.]

 

 

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