Originally Published: 10/18/2014
Militarization of Police: We’ve seen how the Pentagon, especially through its 1033 program, has been providing local law enforcement agencies with military equipment - frequently for free. (TWW, Posse Comitatus, 8/23/14) But there are other means of funding military “toys.” There is the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law and state-related forfeiture laws. RICO provides extended criminal penalties and a cause for a civil action for acts performed by ongoing criminal organizations. State forfeiture laws are the same, just done in the states. According to a special investigation by the Washington Post, “Police agencies have used hundreds of millions of dollars taken from Americans under federal civil forfeiture law in recent years to buy guns, armored cars, and electronic surveillance gear. They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel, and a clown name Sparkles.” Let me point out that this exceptional investigation only looked at the federal RICO law. Monies coming to police departments from state forfeiture laws are not included. Then there’s the out-and-out theft by police officers from motorists “not charged with crimes.” (Washington Post) And there’s the money coming from private donors. ProPublica did a piece on this. Police foundations are providing a lot of equipment, particularly software.
While it may seem like a good idea - taking money that fuels criminal organizations - it, like all good intentions, has gone bad. Much of the seizures are from ordinary people. And what’s worse is that in many agencies there are officers whose paychecks come from the assets funds. So, rather than taking care of the woman being raped on the corner, they chase the Ferrari that’s speeding - because seizure and eventual sale of the vehicle will make their paycheck. In addition, local governing bodies, like city councils, in many, if not most, cases are unaware of how much money is coming from these sources. The funds are “off-line” and are not tracked. CBS’ 60 Minutes did an exposé on this back in the 1980s. (I looked and couldn’t find it online.) As I recall the example they used was a man who owned a small charter plane in Las Vegas. A guy showed up and hired him to fly him to Los Angeles. When they arrived, the man was arrested and his suitcase full of drug money was seized. The pilot, not arrested, had his plane confiscated because it transported the cash in the customer’s suitcase. In the words of law enforcement, the plane was arrested for participating in the crime. The pilot had the right to sue the government to get his plane returned, but, without a plane, he lost his business. No business, no money to hire an attorney. He was screwed. That was in the 1980s, yet nothing has changed. Ordinary people who have no connection to criminal organizations are losing their homes, cars, bank accounts, and countless other things. And the money is funding the militarization of police.
Bolivia: They’ve passed a “Law of Mother Earth” law which gives nature “comprehensive legal rights in an effort to halt climate change and the exploitation of the nature world, and to improve quality of life for the Bolivian people.” (Earth We Are One)
Alaska: U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess ruled last Sunday that Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. A spokesperson for Governor Sean Parnell said that Alaska will appeal the ruling. (Guardian) He did, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected it. (Reuters)
Arizona: U.S. District Judge John Sedwick (TWW, Same-Sex Marriage, 10/11/14) ruled that Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and has refused to stay his ruling. “Unless the state appeals the decision, gay and lesbian couples soon will be able to obtain marriage licenses. (Reuters)
Arkansas: The state supreme court struck down the state law requiring voters to present government photo ID before voting, “saying the measure ran counter to the state’s constitution.” (Reuters)
Florida on Tracking Cellphones: The state supreme court ruled that “police must get warrants to track criminal suspects by monitoring their cellphone location signals.” Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote: “Because cell phones are indispensable to so many people and are normally carried on one’s person, cell phone tracking can easily invade the right to privacy in one’s home or other private areas.” (Reuters)
Florida on Same-Sex Marriage: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has requested the state supreme court to decide whether same-sex couples can marry. She had asked the court to delay a decision until the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled, but since the Supremes declined to take any case on the issue, she is now asking the state supreme court to take it on. (Reuters)
Texas on Abortion: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Texas law that had shuttered most abortion clinics in Texas (TWW, Texas, 10/4/14), allowing more than a dozen to re-open. They gave no explanation for their decision. “The justices addressed 2 parts of the Texas law that the United State Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had provisionally let stand while it considered an appeal. One of them required all abortion clinics in the state to meet the standards for ‘ambulatory surgical centers,’ including regulations concerning buildings, equipment, and staffing. The other required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.” (NY Times)
Texas on Voting Rights: A panel of the of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that Texas can go ahead with its voter ID requirements in this up-coming election, temporarily blocking Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’ decision last week. (TWW, Voting Rights, 10/11/14) The panel put off a permanent decision until after the election. It said that “with early voting starting on Oct. 20, a change in the rules could cause confusion among voters and poll workers, something the Supreme Court has sought to avoid in other cases.” (NY Times) The decision, of course, was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supremes ruled that Texas “could proceed” with its voter ID law. There was no formal reasoning for the decision, but Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan dissented. (Washington Post)
Virginia: Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) signed an executive order directing state agencies “to comply with the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state.” (WBOC)
Wyoming: The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Sedwick (see Arizona above) included Wyoming. Governor Matt Mead (R) said “that while the decision went against his personal beliefs, the state would not appeal by the Oct. 23 deadline as such an effort would likely not succeed.” (Reuters)
Cost of War: According to the Costs of War project at Brown University, the total costs for the second Iraq war and the ongoing one in Afghanistan “is going to be close to $4.4 trillion.” These 2 conflicts should be considered as one because it has long been established that they both are drawing away resources from everything else. Everyone in the country could go to college for nearly a decade free of charge with $4.4 trillion.
We’re No. 1: According to a study by 2 New York City cardiologists, the U.S. has 88 guns per 100 people and 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people - “more than any of the other 27 developed countries they studied.” (ABC News) And according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. accounted for 37% of world military expenditures in 2013. The 2 closest competitors are China, which accounted for 11%, and Russia, which account for 5%. I’m not done yet. From 2004 to 2013 the U.S. was the No. 1 weapons exporter in the world. (The Economist)
We’re Not No. 1: The Program for International Student Assessment released a report on how 15-year-old students from 65 nations performed on its tests. U.S. students ranked 17th in reading and 21st in math. (Bloomberg) In 2014 Pearson, a multinational educational services company, put the U.S. at 20th in the world in “educational attainment.” Check out the rankings. As to health care, we’re way down the line. According to a 2014 study in 11 advanced industrial countries, the Commonwealth Fund concluded the U.S. ranked last. But the World Health Organization (WHO) lists the U.S. at 30th in the world. (The Patient Factor) A Yale University study ranked the U.S. for the protection of human health from environmental harm at 35th for health impacts, 36th in water and sanitation, 38th in air quality. Another area of study was protection of ecosystems and ranked the U.S. as 32nd in water resources, 49th in climate and energy, 86th in biodiversity, 96th in fisheries, 107th in forests, and 109th in agriculture. There’s more. The Social Progress Index for 2014 ranked the U.S. 23rd in access to information and communications, 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 31st in personal safety, 34th in water and sanitation, 39th in access to basic knowledge, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, and 70th in health and wellness. And a 2013 report by the United National Children’s Fund noted that, of the 35 economically advanced countries it studied, only Romania had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than the U.S. (Washington Post) Wait. I’ve got one more for you. Most of the U.S. discretionary spending goes for war and preparations for war. (ABC News)
TPP: An updated version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Intellectual Property Rights chapter has been leaked by WikiLeaks. According to a report from Public Citizen, it will hinder affordable access to medicines globally, increase online surveillance, and impinge on civil liberties while benefitting Big Pharma and other corporate interests. Take heed, folks. This thing has got to be killed.
Income Inequality: I guess we’re at - or near - No. 1 on this, too. Even the Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, is “greatly concerned over the widening gap between the rich and poor in the United States.” (AFP)
Police Brutality: Who gets the brunt of it? According to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings from 2010 through 2012, black males aged 15 to 19 were at a 21 times greater risk “of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts.” The rate for the killing by police was 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.”
Ebola: President Obama has appointed a so-called “Ebola Czar.” Yeah. No kidding. It’s Ron Klain who used to be chief of staff for vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore. His job will be to “ensure that efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating, and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don’t distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa.” (Washington Post) I’m not even going to try to summarize all the fear and hype that’s gone on about this, I’ll let Jon Stewart do that.
Climate Change: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that global warming “is changing the way the U.S. trains for and goes to war - affecting war games, weapons systems, training exercises, and military installations . . . to keep up with a growing threat of rising seas, droughts, and natural disasters caused by climate change.” (Guardian) According to NASA, September was the warmest on record. (Climate Central)
Sea Rise: According to an analysis of historical sea level trends, the rise in sea levels seen over the past century is unmatched by any period in the past 6,000 years. The research, led by the Australian National University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, collected about 1,000 ancient sediment samples off of Britain, North America, Greenland, and the Seychelles for 2 decades and reconstructed 35,000 years of sea level fluctuations. They found that there is no evidence that levels changed by more than 20 cm in a relatively steady period that lasted between 6,000 and 150 years ago. This makes the sea rise of the past century extremely unusual.
Great Pacific Garbage Patch: We know about this. (TWW, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 5/31/14) But National Geographic has now collected all the information. It describes the Patch as “a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean . . . [which] spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. The patch is actually comprised of the Eastern Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Western Garbage Patch, located between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California. . . The amount of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch accumulates because much of it is not biodegradable. Many plastics, for instance, do not wear down; they simply break into tinier and tinier pieces.” About 80% of the debris comes from land-based activities. The remaining 20% comes from boats, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships “that dump or lose debris directly into the water.” No nation is taking responsibility for the Patch or will “provide the funding to clean it up.”
Minimum Wage: “At least 10 states and D.C. passed minimum wage increases this year, with 4 more set to join them - if voters approve the hikes this fall.” Sounds good. Here’s where the states stand. (Washington Post)
Dwindling Middle Class: This is the biggest fear of retailers. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, lower consumer spending is the top fear, followed closely by unemployment - which, by the way, leads to lower consumer spending. In fact, unemployment, along with stagnant wages, are the causes of all their fears.