The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

September 8, 2014
by terrance
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Digest for September 3rd through September 8th

Here are some of the people writing about some of the stuff I wish I had time to write about, for September 3rd through September 8th:

September 5, 2014
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Beyond Ferguson: Sanders To Propose Youth Jobs Bill

At Michael Brown’s funeral, Rev. Al Sharpton lamented that America has “money to give military equipment to police forces,” but not to train and employ young people. Sen. Bernie Sanders is making good on a promise to remedy that.

While eulogizing Brown, Sharpton issued a warning: “America is going to have to come to terms when there’s something wrong, that we have money to give military equipment to police forces, when we don’t have money for training, and money for public education and … our children.”

Sharpton was referring to police use of paramilitary force in response to protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following Brown’s death. The Ferguson police department is one of many to obtain paramilitary equipment via a Pentagon program that has dispensed “excess” military gear worth $4.3 billion to law enforcement agencies since 1992 — $450 million in 2013 alone.

Meanwhile, unemployment among black men ages 16 to 19 is over 33 percent, compared to 18.9 percent among white youth. As I wrote in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death and the ensuing unrest in Ferguson.

Young blacks and Latinos will play an important role in our economic future. Yet most contend with segregated, poorly funded schools, while America spends $4.3 billion on “surplus” paramilitary gear, and then gives it away. If we had invested even a fraction of that $4.3 billion in education, job training, etc., how great a difference might it have made by now?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, Vermont) was among the first to recognize the economic story behind events in Ferguson. In a letter to the New York times, Sanders wrote of the employment gap between black and white youth, and proposed a shift in America’s priorities.

If there is anything that we can learn from the Ferguson tragedy, it should be a recognition that we need to address the extraordinary crises facing black youths. That means, among other things, a major jobs program, job training and vastly improved educational opportunities.

When the Senate returns, Sanders will introduce a bill to address the national crisis of black youth unemployment. The Employ Young Americans Now Act will:

  • provide $5.5 billion in immediate funding to states and localities to employ 1 million young Americans between the ages of 16 and 24, and provide job training to hundreds of thousands of young Americans.
  • provide summer and year round employment opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth, with direct links to academic and occupational learning.
  • provide important services such as transportation or child care, necessary to enable young Americans to participate in job opportunities
  • award $1.5 billion in competitive grants to local areas to provide work-based training to low and moderate income youth and disadvantaged young adults

In a letter to his Senate colleagues, Sanders made a direct connection between the unrest in Ferguson and the lack of investment in job training and employment for black youth.

“”If we are going to address the issue of crime in low-income areas and in African-American communities, it might be a good idea that instead of putting military style equipment into police departments in those areas, we start investing in jobs for the young people there who desperately need them.”

If American can spend $4.3 billion on unneeded military weapons and gear that ends up getting handed out to police departments, shouldn’t we should invest just as much “in jobs for the young people … who desperately need them”?

September 4, 2014
by terrance
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What’s In A Name? Joe Can Get A Job, But José Can’t.

That old nursery rhyme we learned as children isn’t quite true anymore. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but your name can hurt your chances of getting a job.

If you want to know why African-Americans and Latinos have higher unemployment rates than whites, just ask Joe Zamora and Yolanda Spivey.

The black unemployment rate is consistently twice that of whites, and the Latino unemployment rate is about half again as high as whites. Unemployed African-Americans are likely to go without work longer, There’s no consensus as to why, but discrimination has a lot to do with it.

Meet Joe. He used to be José. No matter how many resumes José sent out, he never got a job interview. When José became Joe, potential employers started calling.

Joe’s story is shocking, but it’s happened before.

Meet Yolanda Spivey. Yolanda had 10 years of experience in the insurance industry. She applied for over 300 jobs, but never got an interview. Yolanda thought returning to college and finishing her degree would help. It didn’t.
Yolanda’s phone didn’t start ringing until she pretended to be a white woman when applying for jobs.

The story has been repeated in various forms during the recession. Applicants with “black sounding” or “foreign sounding” names are less likely to get interviews, let alone job offers.

What’s a “black sounding” name? Why does it matter?

Some job-seekers have turned to “whitening” their resumes — dropping “black sounding” names, or using initials instead, and even omitting degrees from historically black universities — in hopes of getting an interview. Spivey simply took the practice one step further.

What’s going on here? James Weldon Johnson summed it up in Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.

So far as racial differences go, the United States puts a greater premium on color, or, better, lack of color, than upon anything else in the world. To paraphrase, “Have a white skin, and all things else may be added unto you.” I have seen advertisements in newspapers for waiters, bell-boys, or elevator men, which read: “Light-colored man wanted.” It is this tremendous pressure which the sentiment of the country exerts that is operating on the race. There is involved not only the question of higher opportunity, but often the question of earning a livelihood; and so I say it is not strange, but a natural tendency. Nor is it any more a sacrifice of self-respect that a black man should give to his children every advantage he can which complexion of the skin carries than that the new or vulgar rich should purchase for their children the advantages which ancestry, aristocracy, and social position carry. I once heard a colored man sum it up in these words: “It’s no disgrace to be black, but it’s often very inconvenient.

It’s called “becoming white.” In How The Irish Became White, Noel Ignatiev wrote that Irish immigrants were not considered “white on arrival.” They were considered “Negroes turned inside out,” until they exchanged their “greenness” — their cultural heritage, and experience of oppression and discrimination back home — for American whiteness.

Every group of non-Western European immigrants that was the wrong shade of white when they got here — Irish, Italian, Polish, Slavs, Jews of every European extraction, etc. — when through the process of “working towards whiteness,”, as David R. Roediger titled his book on the subject. Within a few generations they were considered “white,” while those categorized as racially different — Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, and Native Americans — were denied equal status.

Will “becoming white,” on paper at least, help Joe and Yolanda get jobs? Joe may have a better chance. A number of Hispanics identified as white in the last census; 1.2 million changed their status from “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” to “white” between 2000 and 2010. They can, because “Hispanic” encompasses a range of ethnic backgrounds from dark-skinned Puerto Ricans to lighter-skinned Latinos of mostly European descent. Yolanda Spivey, on the other hand, can only pass as white until she shows up for a job interview.

September 3, 2014
by terrance
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Digest for September 3rd

Here are some of the people writing about some of the stuff I wish I had time to write about, for September 3rd from 16:25 to 21:49:

  • Confessions of a recovering Libertarian: How I escaped a world of Ron Paul hero worship – In the right hands, libertarianism could be a middle-of-the-road philosophy. Instead, here's what turned me away
  • Temper Tantrums in the Air May Be Good For All Of Us – If this continues, perhaps airlines will start disabling the recline mechanisms in their seats once and for all. Just not worth the trouble. And once they've done that, some bright spark will figure out that they can reduce legroom even more. And then we'll all be worse off than before. No one will be able to recline and everybody will have their knees jammed into the seat in front of them. Something to look forward to.
  • Images of Darren Wilson Surface Online – Media have reported that images of Wilson are hard, if not impossible, to come by. The Washington Post and the St. Louis Post Dispatch have speculated that Wilson deleted any social media accounts that he may have had. If that’s the case, the Ferguson police department’s decision to wait nearly an entire week before releasing Wilson’s name may have helped him remove his online presence. It’s unclear what internal protocols may have been in place, but Ferguson’s police department hasn’t been forthcoming with details about Wilson or the shooting itself.
  • The newest triumph of anti-vaxxers: Measles is at a 20 year high – How many ways do we have to say it? Get your kid vaccinated.
  • It’s time to destroy the trolls: Orange-fanged morons are choking the Internet – A brutally violent, hateful and sexist comment culture just keeps getting more out of hand. Time to say enough
  • What Grover Norquist Got Wrong About Burning Man – Grover, if you agree, I promise to meet you outside the convention hall at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland at dusk on the last day of the event whereupon we will play some sick beats, get naked as possible (thongs?) and dance until sunrise. I’ll talk to Robot Heart about DJing. You talk to the Republican National Committee about making sure everyone packs out all their moop and travels only by foot, bicycle or mermaid/butterfly/church/etc. car.

September 2, 2014
by terrance
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Digest for August 27th through September 2nd

Here are some of the people writing about some of the stuff I wish I had time to write about, for August 27th through September 2nd:

  • 6 Habits of Highly Empathic People – Are you a HEP (highly empathic person)? Well, even if you're not, it's possible to cultivate these highly pro-social traits.
  • The terrifying lesson of Ferguson: America really is a war zone – Our toxic mix of militarized police, gun culture and anti-governmentalism is a serious problem.
  • Michael Sam and the NFL’s Virulent Homophobia – The NFL is a league that tolerates homophobia, the lofty words of its officials notwithstanding. San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver saw no suspension for saying gays shouldn't even think about coming out — sent to sensitive training, the feeble penalty we've seen in similar instances with players. Special team coordinator Mike Priefer of the Vikings said all gays should be put on an island and "nuked," and got a three-game suspension — two if he goes to sensitivity training. Just imagine if he'd said that about Jews or any other group. Would he still be on that team?
  • Taking Note: Facts & Figures: Guns for Tots – In 30 states, it’s legal for a child to possess a rifle or shotgun.
  • Black LGBT Activist Arrested For Distributing Voting Rights Information – Police in Charlotte, North Carolina, arrested a black LGBT activist and former state Senate candidate Monday, saying that he violated a city ordinance by distributing literature about voting rights and candidates on parked cars.
  • Three Myths About Police Body Cams – In the wake of the tragic police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, there has been much speculation and debate about what actually transpired. Lots of news commentators seem to believe that the Brown case would be resolved sooner—and there would be less civil unrest—had the officer who shot him been equipped with a body-worn camera. In fact, the Ferguson Police Department has now begun to implement this technology.
  • “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” author: “Everyone is at risk, from powerful celebrities to ordinary people” – Author and law professor Danielle Citron on the hacked nude photos and the thin line between trolls and criminals
  • “I Question America”: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Battle for Full Citizenship – “I question America ” — the famous words spoken by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer 50 years ago this week at the tumultuous Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City — is a fitting reflection of the soul-searching that the country is once again going through in the wake of the turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri.

August 29, 2014
by terrance
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Beyond Ferguson: Tell The President To Take Action

Michael Brown has been laid to rest. The National Guard has begun “systematically withdrawing,” and calm has returned to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. With no more dramatic scenes, and no major news to cover unless or until investigations lead to litigation, media will pack up and leave until Ferguson offers a new story to cover. Continue Reading →

August 26, 2014
by terrance
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Digest for August 20th through August 26th

Here are some of the people writing about some of the stuff I wish I had time to write about, for August 20th through August 26th:

  • Rage in Ferguson Offers Important Lesson – The rage in Ferguson goes beyond the death of Michael Brown. It's about what African Americans in Ferguson and elsewhere experience every day.
  • Michael Brown’s Unremarkable Humanity – The Atlantic – A large number of American teenagers live exactly like Michael Brown. Very few of them are shot in the head and left to bake on the pavement.
  • Fox News objects to calling Michael Brown an ‘unarmed teen’ – So this is where we are. We've got Steve Doocy and company arguing that calling the unarmed teen an "unarmed teen" is misleading, because unarmed American black teenagers are their own dangerous weapons. You shouldn't call him "unarmed" because the unarmed black teen walking down the street is armed with himself.
  • Gun assault injuries alone cost taxpayers almost half a billion dollars a year – It turns out that gun violence isn't just a public safety issue—it's also extremely expensive for taxpayers.

    The total national hospital costs associated with firearm assault injuries ballooned to almost $700 million in 2010, according to a new analysis by The Urban Institute. And the bulk of those costs—almost three-quarters of them, to be more precise—aren't being paid for by the perpetrators, victims, or insurance companies, but rather by the American public.

  • Poll: White people a lot more likely than black people to think police treat racial groups equally – Go figure: White and black Americans have very different levels of confidence that their local police forces treat racial groups equally, use the right amount of force for each situation, and hold officers accountable for misconduct.
  • Opinion: It doesn’t happen to whites – The data in Ferguson are an example of the larger picture in the St. Louis County area. Police stop, search and arrest black people at a disproportionate rate, even though they are less likely to possess contraband than white people.
  • “Shoot, Shoot!” – There is a hyper-aggressive segment of reactionary authoritarians driven by race resentment in America, and it's a bigger group than most people realize or want to admit.
  • Holder Has a Compelling Case in the Brown Killing – Attorney General Eric Holder has a compelling federal case in the Michael Brown killing if he decides to bring civil rights charges against Ferguson, Missouri cop Darren Wilson.

August 20, 2014
by terrance
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Digest for August 20th

Here are some of the people writing about some of the stuff I wish I had time to write about, for August 20th from 14:39 to 14:44:

August 19, 2014
by terrance
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Digest for August 18th through August 19th

Here are some of the people writing about some of the stuff I wish I had time to write about, for August 18th through August 19th:

August 18, 2014
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Ferguson And The “War On Whites”

Rep. Mo Brooks (R, Alabama) recently accused Democrats of waging a “war on whites.” In Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown — an unarmed, 18-year-old, young black man —  was shot and killed by a police officer, there is no question against whom war is being waged.

If there is a “war” on, whites are winning.

  • Whites earn more. In 2012, the median income for white households was $67,000, compared to about $40,000 for blacks and Latinos.
  • Whites have more wealth. Median net worth for white households is more than $90,000 — ten times that of black and Latino households. The racial wealth gap has grown steadily, nearly tripling between 1984 and 2009. By 2010, whites held about 88 percent of the nation’s wealth. Blacks held just 2.7 percent.
  • Whites fared better in the recession. White household wealth fell 11 percent, between 2007 and 2009, compared to a 31 percent drop for blacks, and a 44 percent drop for Latinos. White household wealth dropped 16 percent in 2011, compared to a 53 percent drop for blacks.
  • More whites are homeowners. Whites are more likely to own homes and live in better neighborhoods. A Brown University study found that affluent blacks and Latinos live in poorer neighborhoods than working-class whites.
  • Whites are less poor.  According to census data, the white poverty rate is 11.6 percent, compared to 26 percent for blacks, and 23 percent for Latinos.
  • Whites have lower unemployment. Whites are about half as likely to be unemployed as blacks, while blacks are “first fired” when business or the economy is weak.
  • Whites are more likely to go to college. Whites are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than blacks or Latinos. Meanwhile, 74 percent of blacks, and 80 percent of Latinos attend segregated schools; 38 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Latinos attend “intensely segregated” schools — with just up to 10 percent white students. A 10 percent increase of non-white students in any school is associated with a $75 decrease in per student spending.
  • Whites are less likely to go to jail. Black men are seven times more likely to go to jail than white men. Whites use drugs more, but blacks are arrested for drug possession three times more often than whites. Black men also receive prison sentences 19.5 percent longer than white men, for similar crimes.
  • Whites experience less discrimination. Only about 10 percent of whites surveyed said they’d faced racial discrimination. Young white men with criminal records are more likely to be hired than young black men with similar qualifications and clean records. Black job applicants are often turned away by companies for having a “black- sounding name,” or on the assumption that they use drugs.

What white Americans have lost is primacy — a sense of being primary, preeminent, or more important than any other group. In a 2011 interview, anti-racist author Tim Wise said that white Americans are reeling from cultural and economic changes. Taught that they would be rewarded if they worked hard, many are now working harder for less, or finding themselves in the unemployment line with blacks and Latinos.

Economic insecurity is compounded by demographic trends. As the country becomes more diverse, more of its icons — political leaders, celebrities, and sports heroes — are people of color. For whites, America’s face is no longer a reflection of theirs. They no longer define the American identity.

Republicans have appealed to the economic and racial anxieties of their predominately white base to win elections. The recession made that even easier. A recent New York University study shows that economic disparity “enhances discrimination and contributes to racial disparities,” as  it makes people more racially biased.

Ferguson’s 94 percent white police department resembled an occupying force, as it confronted a 67 percent black community with weapons of war. The paramilitary gear came from the Department of Defense’s excess property program, which provides surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies. Since 1992, the program has given $4.3 billion in military equipment — $450 million in 2013 alone — “free of charge,” to law enforcement agencies that say they’re part of a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area,” on a one-age form. The “free” surplus gear is paid for out of a bloated defense budget, funded by taxpayers.

Angela Blackwell Glover has suggested that the businesses partnering with President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, should open their workforces to young black men, with internship and fellowship opportunities that open up career paths, and lead to jog opportunities. Unemployment among black men ages 16 to 19 is over 33 percent, compared to 18.9 percent among white youth.

Glover’s point underscores that our government has neglected to invest in jobs and education in communities of color. Young blacks and Latinos will play an important role in our economic future. Yet most contend with segregated, poorly funded schools, while America spends $4.3 billion on “surplus” paramilitary gear, and then gives it away. If we had invested even a fraction of that $4.3 billion in education, job training, etc., how great a difference might it have made by now?

Instead, police officers suit up for war, disproportionately treat black citizens as the enemy. Last year in Ferguson, 92 percent of searches, 80 percent of car stops, and 94 percent of arrests following car stops were of blacks; even though police only found contraband on 22 percent of blacks they stopped, compared to 34 percent of whites. Confronted with the same police force in riot gear, black protestors erupted in anger, and Ferguson’s police put their share of $4.3 billion in paramilitary gear to use.

No wonder Rep. John Lewis (D, Georgia), who has seen racist police violence up close, compared the violence in Ferguson to the violence he and others faced during the Civil Rights era. The same fears, anxieties, and resentments that drove violence generations ago are still with us today. The evidence is in our streets.

August 18, 2014
by terrance
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Digest for August 14th through August 18th

Here are some of the people writing about some of the stuff I wish I had time to write about, for August 14th through August 18th:

August 15, 2014
by terrance
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Wingnut Week In Review: Speaking Ill Of the Dead

Two tragic events this week gave right wingers an opportunity to show some humanity and decency. As usual, wingnuts did not exactly cover themselves in glory. Instead of rising to the occasion, they sank to new lows.

Most Americans were sad to learn that beloved comedian and Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams took his own life earlier this week. Within minutes of the news, the web was full of tributes. Williams’ fans and colleagues alike remembered his talent and kindness — even as the world learned that Williams’ had struggled with severe depression of late.

Not everyone was so kind. It’s been considered socially inappropriate to speak ill of the dead sinceChilon of Sparta admonished “Demortuis nilnidi bonus” (“Of the dead say nothing but good”) around 600 BC. That didn’t stop wingnuts from chiming in less than 24 hours after Williams Death.

If we tallied up who brought the most joy to the most people in his life — Rush Limbaugh or Robin Williams — it’s safe to say Williams would win hands down. As for Limbaugh? Well, comedian Lewis Black said it best.

The country was rocked midweek by the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a police office in Ferguson, Missouri — where the population is 67 percent black and the police force is 94 percent white. Brown’s death came less than a month after Eric Garner — another unarmed black man — was allegedly killed by an NYPD officer’s use of an illegal chokehold. Brown was the second unarmed black man killed by police this week, after Ezell Ford was allegedly shot by LAPD officers  while he was lying on the ground.

Brown’s death set off angry protests in Ferguson, which police met with paramilitary force, and constitutionally questionable treatment of protestors and journalists. Naturally, that set wingnuts off.

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowrey, in a CNN interview after his release, invited Scarborough to put down his latte and come down to Ferguson and do some actual reporting.

Here’s the rest of the best of the worse in wingnuttery this week:

August 14, 2014
by terrance
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Blink, And You’ll Miss The Latest “Libertarian Moment”

The latest “Libertarian Moment” is upon us, and will expire once it runs headlong into its own inherent shortcomings and the reality of a populist majority. Blink, and you’ll miss it.

Robert Draper, in the New York Times, asks “Has the Libertarian Moment Arrived?”, and answers by asserting that “the age group most responsible for delivering Obama his two terms” is poised to become a political “wild card.” Turned off by the Iraq war, “reflexively tolerant of other lifestyles,” and appalled by NSA-style invasions of privacy, Draper claims that voters between the ages of 18 and 29 — also known as Millennials —  are uncommitted to either major party, and thus are ripe to be lured into libertarianism. Continue Reading →

August 12, 2014
by terrance
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Re-post: Coming Down Fast: The Manson Murders’ 40 Year Aftermath, Pt. 2

Editor’s note: This weekend was the 45th anniversary of the Manson Family murders. Five years ago, reflected on the 40th anniversary, how the story of the murders ignited a lifelong interest in “true crime” and criminal psychology, and how my own experience changed my view of the events, the victims, and the killers. I am re-posting the two-part series I wrote on the 40th anniversary of the crimes.

iii

Tell me, tell me, tell me the answer…

“Helter Skelter,” The Beatles

His name was Jason. I didn’t remember that right away, but I remembered him. As I closed the book on Dennis Rader and asked myself how people could sit right next to a murderer like him — or like any of the others whose deeds I’d been reading about — and not now it … I thought about Jason. I hadn’t for a long time.

He was, when I knew him, a fairly ordinary guy. I didn’t know him well, and we weren’t close friends. He was part of my social circle in college, for a while. Most of the time, I’d see him in the dining hall, where some of us who had a break in classes at the same time would gather for lunch. Or I’d see him when roughly the same group got together for dinner in the dining hall.

I don’t remember how he came to be a part of the group, which was randomly assembled. He may have been someone’s roommate. Perhaps he had a class with someone in the group, or attended the same high school, or came from the same hometown.

He was average height or maybe a little shorter, kinda skinny, brown hair, blue eyes. He had a nice smile, and a somewhat deep voice. I might even have briefly thought he was somewhat cute, before moving on to crush on some other guy.

Anyway, he was straight, so I likely dismissed the notion quickly. He dated one young woman in our group, for a while. They eventually broke up, but I don’t remember any drama about it. He still hung out with the group afterwards.

Most of all, I don’t remember anything that stood out about him. He wasn’t violent, as far as I remember. He was mild-mannered and quiet, but friendly. I don’t remember anything about him that suggested he would ever be likely to murder anyone.

Like I said, at first I couldn’t even remember his name. But I remembered him. More than that, I remembered his victim’s name.

Continue Reading →

August 11, 2014
by terrance
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Re-post: Coming Down Fast: The Manson Murders’ 40 Year Aftermath, Pt. 1

Editor’s note: This weekend was the 45th anniversary of the Manson Family murders. Five years ago, reflected on the 40th anniversary, how the story of the murders ignited a lifelong interest in “true crime” and criminal psychology, and how my own experience changed my view of the events, the victims, and the killers. I am re-posting the two-part series I wrote on the 40th anniversary of the crimes.

Not every evening, but several times a week — after the kids have gone to bed — there comes a moment when my husband reaches for the television remote and declares that we we will now “watch something in which no one is  murdered.” I chuckle, but I don’t object, because by then he has already indulged my penchant for the “True Crime” television genre.

On any given night, there will be at least one viewing of Dateline, 48 Hours, Deranged, Most Evil, Cold Case Files, Crime 360, The First 48, True Crime, American Justice, Dominick Dunne: Power, Privilege and Justice, Crime Stories, City Confidential, The Interrogators, Notorious, or Forensic Files. Maybe any two of the above. Then my hubby commandeers the remote and it’s either HGTV, DIY, The Food Network, or Logo.

Can’t say that I blame him. But it wasn’t until the first time he made that announcement that I realized I’d had a longstanding fascination — more than half my life at this point. —with crime stories. It was something I took so much for granted that I didn’t notice how much I watched the shows above or others like them. It wasn’t until just recently that I thought about where, when and how it got started.

Continue Reading →

August 8, 2014
by terrance
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Wingnut Week In Review: Rand On The Run

Sen. Rand Paul turned tail and ran away when confronted by undocumented DREAMers. But the GOP has a “Latino problem” it can’t run from, and right-wingers seem determined to make it worse.

Sen. Paul was with fellow-Republican Rep. Steve King in Iowa when undocumented DREAMers Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas confronted King on his immigration stance. King stood his ground, but Paul dropped his burger and scampered away. Sen. Paul later explained to Fox News that he wasn’t running away. He just suddenly had somewhere else to be. Right away, obviously.

Continue Reading →

August 6, 2014
by terrance
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The “Perfect Storm” Behind Toledo’s Toxic Tap Water

On Saturday morning, 500,000 Toledo, Ohio, residents woke to an urgent warning that their tap water could make them very, very sick. Toledo’s water crisis is over, for now, but the “perfect storm” that created it rages on.

Mayor D. Michael Collins lifted the tap water ban on Monday, but that doesn’t mean Toledo residents — or the other 11 million Americans get their drinking water from Lake Erie, or the 25 million who live near Great Lakes — can rest easy. The factors that caused the crisis remain unaddressed.

Why couldn’t Toledo residents trust their tap water? The culprit is a toxin called microcystin, released by cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.

Microcystin is pretty nasty stuff.

  • It causes stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, and fever if ingested.
  • It can cause severe liver damage.
  • It causes rashes, hives, and blisters on skin.
  • It’s been known to kill dogs and other animals.

Boiling water doesn’t kill microsystin. It just concentrates the toxin.

Blue-green algae has been around for 3.5 billion years. Why is it suddenly a problem? Actually, there’s nothing sudden about it. Toxic blue-green algae has been a growing problem for 10 years. The algal bloom troubling Toledo isn’t even very big. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released satellite images of algae blooms on Lake Erie stretching all the way from Toledo to Cleveland, and beyond.

Pollution, conservatism, corporate lobbying and climate change created a “perfect storm” for the algae that poisoned Toledo’s water.

Pollution: Like the classic horror movie mutants of the 1970s, the big green monster that poisoned Toledo’s water is a product of pollution. Scientists blame an overload of phosphorus, caused by runoff from agricultural pollution.

Farming operations have grown, along with the use of manure and new chemical fertilizers containing water-soluble phosphorus. A rise in no-till farming, leaves more fertilizer on top of untilled soil, where it can easily runoff into Lake Erie and other Great Lakes.

About 63 percent of Erie’s watershed is used for agriculture. An Ohio state government task force found that Erie received more phosphorus than any of the Great Lakes — 44 percent of the total for all the Great Lakes. Two-thirds of that phosphorus came from farmland.

Conservatism: In the 1960s, Lake Erie was so polluted with industrial waste and sewage runoff  that it was considered “dead.” Local officials were embarrassed into cleaning up their act, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, and by the late 1990s Lake Erie showed signs of returning to health.

Current problems underscore the Clean Water Act’s limitations. The Act was designed to regulate pollution from fixed points, like industrial outflows and sewer pipes. Today’s agricultural pollution is spread out over thousands of miles. Addressing agricultural pollution the Clean Water Act doesn’t cover has fallen to the states.

On the federal level, conservatives have limited the government’s ability to regulate agricultural pollution. The Supreme Court questioned the scope of the Clean Water Act. In a 2006 ruling, the Court limited regulators’ ability to protect wetlands — which filter out phosphorus before it reaches lakes — and other waterways not directly connected to streams covered by the Act. Republicans in Congress have blocked an effort to expand the Clean Water Act’s authority, claiming it infringes on private property rights and threatens farmers.

Republican-led state and local governments have done little or nothing to regulate agricultural pollution. Ohio governor John Kasich signed legislation to certify farmers who use phosphorus fertilizers. The voluntary program doesn’t start until 2017, and stops far short of mandating restrictions on phosphorus fertilizers.

Corporate Lobbying: Corporate money is now an invasive species in our politics. Agriculture and fertilizer are big businesses, involving big profits. Some those profits are spent on lobbying against federal legislation, and campaign contributions to lawmakers who can be counted on to oppose federal regulate of the industry. Monsanto, one of the largest fertilizer manufacturers, has spent  $6,940,000 on lobbying, and $542,218 on contributions in this election cycle. Koch Industries, which includes Koch Fertilizer has spent  $10,430,000 on lobbying, and $2,217,643 in campaign contributions.

Monsanto is a major client of the Fertilizer Institute, the lobbying arm of the fertilizer industry and agricultural interests that oppose efforts to restore some of the Clean Water Act’s authority. The industry has also fought against limits on fertilizers on the state level; including lawn fertilizers in Florida, and overall pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. In Missouri, the agriculture and fertilizer lobby is advocating a “right to farm” initiative that serve as a legal tool for states to block new regulations.

Climate Change: Conservatives say it doesn’t exist, but climate change is an important factor. Longer, hotter summers combine with phosphorus levels to create ideal conditions for algae growth. Increased water temperatures cause more blooms to grow, and helps them last longer.

Climate change is predicted to increase in rainfall. The midwest has seen a 37% increase in rainfall since the 1950s. Heavy rainfall is expected to increase along Lake Erie’s shores in the next century, becoming four to five times more common by 2100. That means more phosphorus pouring into the lake.

The storms stir up the water, bringing more algae to the surface, and moving it around. The bloom that troubled Toledo wasn’t one of the biggest, but winds and waves pushed it closer to shore, and right into water system intakes, instead of pushing it to the middle of the lake.

Invasive Species: This is good news for zebra and quagga mussels, two invasive species that were introduced into North America in the late 1980s, when they were picked in the ballast water of ocean-going ships, and introduced into the Great Lakes. They’ve spread to 29 states by hitching rides on riverboats moving between the Great Lakes.

Both zebra and quagga mussels on algae, but neither can digest microcystin. So they expel the toxin, thus increasing its concentration.

Toxic tap water will continue to plague Toledo and other cities until we reduce pollution, by reviving the kind of clean water rules that brought Lake Erie back from the brink before. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency joined state water authorities in issuing “An Urgent Call To Action,” to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie. So far little action has been taken.

At the Monday press conference announcing the end of Toledo’s tap water ban, Mayor Collins drank a glass of tap water, to emphasize its safety. It made for nice “optics,” but until our elected official place a higher priority on public health and safety than satisfying corporate donors, Americans can’t even trust the tap water in our own homes.

August 5, 2014
by terrance
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Digest for July 31st through August 5th

Here are some of the people writing about some of the stuff I wish I had time to write about, for July 31st through August 5th:

  • Why I’m for the Brady Bill – The current level of gun violence must be stopped. Sarah and Jim Brady are working hard to do that, and I say more power to them.
  • Did the NRA Know About Robert Dowlut’s Reversed Murder Conviction? – For all its bluster, the National Rifle Association also knows how to maintain a disciplined silence in the face of uncomfortable questions. Most notably, it went to ground in the wake of the Newtown school shooting in December 2012, resurfacing after a few days with bland talking points, followed by Wayne LaPierre's assertion that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that in the week since I published an investigation into the complicated past of the NRA's top lawyer, the gun lobby has not responded.
  • 4 groups of people conservative “compassion” is hurting – Paul Ryan's idea of "help" is doing irreparable harm to immigrant children, women who want abortions and more
  • Robert Reich: The Ivy Leagues are a ludicrous waste of resources – The former secretary of labor on the myth of "paid-what-you're-worth" and how our money can be better spent
  • Fox News Quiet After Congressional Report Finds No Benghazi Scandal – Fox News has gone silent on Benghazi amid reports that the House Intelligence Committee concluded that there was no intentional wrongdoing in the Obama administration's response to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
  • Tea Party Hatred Of Obama Has Always Been About Race. ‘War on Whites’ Philosophy Confirms This. – The recent comment by Republican Congressman Mo Brooks about "the war on whites that's being launched by the Democratic Party" is the latest example of such racially charged hyperbole and highlights a political platform within the Tea Party. The Tea Party and staunch GOP conservatives have overtly proclaimed, in many instances, that President Obama's heritage should be verified and his motives questioned. Most importantly, the first African-American president has been painted as opposing the interests of white people, and while Glenn Beck has stated this verbatim, this sentiment has been a cornerstone of Tea Party politics.
  • This is what happens when you elect a Republican. Don’t elect a Republican. by @DavidOAtkins – San Diego recently had a hard-fought mayoral election after Mayor Filner resigned in disgrace. The Republican won, though the city's demographics are slowly shifting in the other direction.

    This is the result.