March 26, 2015

Just a suggestion: Texas license plates

Sam Smith - My right of free speech does not allow me to put a political sticker on my neighbor's car. It does not allow me use a portable microphone in the balcony of the Senate or the House during a session of Congress. I can't scream my free speech into my neighbor's window at 2 am. Most people would accept that.

So why is it necessary, or even legal, for me to express my views on a Texas license plate? Or to plant a sign with the Ten Commandants on the lawn in front of the state capitol?

We actually went for decades without slogans or colored ribbons on license places and the national discussion of major matters was at least as good as it is now.

But what about ads in public subways? Ads are ads and as long as they are presented in such a fashion that everyone knows they are ads, it doesn't imply that the MTA agrees with them. There are issues, such as raised by vehemently anti-Islamic ads, but this could be cured by requiring all such posters be in support of something, rather than attacking something.

The simple solution to the debate over Texas license plate symbols and slogans is to rule that since such plates should have nothing but government matters inscribed on them. Any slogan, like a cross on the capitol lawn, suggests that the symbol or words are the government's idea. That's not free speech; that's poaching on public space.

Obama suggests mandatory voting

Christian Science Monitor -  During a town hall meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, President Barack Obama floated the idea of making voting in America compulsory.

Mr. Obama suggested compulsory voting in the context of speaking about ways to counteract the role of money in politics.

"It would be transformative if everybody voted," Obama said.

"That would counteract money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country, because the people who tend not to vote are young; they're lower income; they're skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups; and they're often the folks who are – they're scratching and climbing to get into the middle class. And they're working hard, and there’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.  We should want to get them into the polls."

[Update: White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued this statement about mandatory voting: “The president was not making a specific policy prescription for the United States,” reported the Washington Times.]

The state with the motto “Live free or die,” where all eyes turn during the presidential primaries, would be on the front lines for implementation of any such plan. But to New Hampshire’s Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan voting is “a right to be exercised, but not forced.”

“Personally, I don’t agree with that idea [compulsory voting] at all,” Mr. Scanlan says. “In a perfect world everyone would vote because it’s so important. I believe every state should strive to generate maximum voter turnout but stop short of forcing people to vote.”

Radio Shack planning to sell private customer information

CBS New York - A report says Radio Shack is ready to auction off customer information as part of its bankruptcy sale.

The report says Radio Shack is ready to sell information they have on some 117 million customers, including names, addresses, phone numbers and other details on purchases.

This despite the Radio Shack privacy policy, which says “We will not sell or rent your personally identifiable information to anyone at any time.”

And some consumer experts say what Radio Shack is doing is nothing new.

“People are looking at Radio Shack now and they are gonna vilify Radio Shack,” said consumer expert Paul Viollis. “But at the end of the day, Radio Shack isn’t doing anything all other major corporations haven’t been doing for many years.”

But states are lining up against the move. The Texas attorney general has filed an objection to the sale.

And now, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has issued a statement, saying “When a company collects private customer data on the condition that it will not be resold, it is the company’s responsibility to uphold their end of the bargain.”

Over a million killed in America's Mid East wars

Physicians for Social Responsibility - [Our] investigation comes to the conclusion that the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs. And this is only a conservative estimate. The total number of deaths in the three countries named above could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.”

The report also notes that the 2006 study by The Lancet, which found that, due to the illegal invasion of Iraq, “655,000 people had died” by that time, was “the most meticulous of all” of the studies that have been done previously.

There is probably no other war that has seen such a fierce and drawn-out controversy surrounding the number of its victims. One main reason for this is the lack of legitimacy for the U.S.-led attack on Iraq – even in the U.S. itself. The original pretexts for going to war quickly turned out to be spurious, and from then on only the “liberation of the country from a violent dictatorship” and the “democratization” and “stabilization” of Iraq remained as justification for the war and occupation. This picture, laboriously constructed with the help of the media, is of course impossible to reconcile with the many hundreds of thousands of war casualties....

Mainstream media … only quote figures given by the pro-U.S. administration in Iraq or by the project Iraq Body Count... The numbers relayed by the media (previously 43,000 and now 110,000) should in themselves be terrifying enough, as they correspond to the annihilation of an entire city’s population. But apparently they are still perceived as tolerable and, moreover, even easy to explain given the picture of excessive religiously motivated violence. The figure of 655,000 deaths in the first three war years alone, however, clearly points to a crime against humanity approaching genocide. Had this been understood and recognized by the public at large, the Iraq policy of the U.S. and its European allies would not have been tenable for long.

A poll carried out by the Associated Press (AP) two years ago found that, on average, U.S. citizens believe that only 9,900 Iraqis were killed during the occupation. With such distorted figures, outrage about the war is hardly to be expected. This state of affairs could be very different if the public were made aware that the actual number is likely to be more than a hundred times higher.

Word: Rahm Emanuel

 

Micah Uetricht, In These Times - A photo of Rahm Emanuel grinning widely while an African-American man stood next to him stone-faced, with the caption “The Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel came by my job, still can't stand this muthafucka tho,” drew significant attention on social media.

The man, who was reached by In These Times via phone and asked to be identified only as “GQ,” works at a health food store on Chicago’s South Side. He said that the mayor had come in to the store several times in recent years, and when Emanuel stopped by two months ago, someone in the store suggested that GQ and the mayor pose for a picture. While GQ agreed, he says he wasn’t happy about it.

“He was smilin’ and cheesin’ and stuff,” GQ says. “I’m like, dude, come on: you’re only doing that because you’re trying to get elected. You’re trying to make it look like you’re a man of the people. But you’re not.”...

The photo is one of several that have circulated on social media of people of color standing near the mayor but looking unhappy to engage him. One photo shows Emanuel extending his hand to an African-American woman at a train stop, where Rahm has done much of his reelection campaigning throughout the city; the woman appears to refuse to shake his hand. Another has been interpreted by some on social media as showing Mayor Emanuel recoiling from a young African-American child, though it is impossible to know exactly what the mayor was reacting to.

GQ says that while he is no fan of the mayor, he doesn’t know a great deal about his challenger, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and doesn’t admire him greatly.

“The only politician I’ve got mad respect for is Elizabeth Warren,” he says. “I love her.”

While GQ is opposed to the mayor’s policies, he says he’s also opposed to Emanuel’s etiquette as a customer.

“He’s real cheap,” GQ says. The mayor is holding what appears to be a shake in the Instagram photo. “My friend who made the drink— [Emanuel] only tipped him like a quarter or 50 cents” on a drink he says cost $7. Reached via phone Wednesday night, GQ’s coworker confirmed this report, saying he has served the mayor multiple times and remembers one incident in which the mayor tipped him “37 cents” on the seven-dollar shake (though he said the mayor's security guards have left him sizable tips in the past).

EU warns: leave Facebook if you don't want Us government spying on you

Guardian - The European Commission has warned EU citizens that they should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep information private from US security services, finding that current Safe Harbour legislation does not protect citizen’s data.

The comments were made by EC attorney Bernhard Schima in a case brought by privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems, looking at whether the data of EU citizens should be considered safe if sent to the US in a post-Snowden revelation landscape.

“You might consider closing your Facebook account, if you have one,” Schima told attorney general Yves Bot in a hearing of the case at the European court of justice in Luxembourg.

Report: DEA agents attended sex parties funded by drug cartel

Huffington Post - Drug Enforcement Administration agents stationed abroad attended "sex parties" that were allegedly funded with money from drug cartels, according to a Justice Department report.

The report, from the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General, discloses that seven DEA agents had admitted to attending parties with prostitutes, and that they had been suspended for between two and 10 days as a result....

The Inspector General officials who compiled the report said they were "particularly troubled" by allegations about the "sex parties" taking place "over a period of several years" while the agents were stationed in an overseas office.

Hillary crowd already censoring the press

Washington Times - The pro-Hillary Clinton group HRC Super Volunteers have warned New York Times reporter Amy Chozick that she is “on notice” for coded sexism and have issued a list of words they believe the press should avoid.

“A group called HRC Super Volunteers just warned me ‘We will be watching, reading, listening and protesting coded sexism,’” Miss Chozicktweeted Wednesday to her 16,000 followers.

“Sexist words, they say, include ‘polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over confident,’” she wrote in a subsequent tweet.

“Also sexist, according to HRC Super Volunteers: ‘Secretive’ and ‘will do anything to win, represents the past, out of touch,” Miss Chozickcontinued.

“‘You are on notice that we will be watching, reading, listening and protesting coded sexism…’ the email reads,” she said.

Recovered history: April 1968

From our overstocked archives



Sam Smith - On the evening of April 4, 1968, this 30 year old was up on T Street with a group of anti-freeway protesters picketing the DC mayor's house, when word came of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. We went home as the police cars poured by filled with shotgun-armed and helmeted cops.

The next morning things were quiet enough that we went about our business as usual. But I came home that afternoon from the office a few blocks away to find a slow stream of people walking down the street with liberated articles: hangers full of clothes, a naugahyde hassock, a television set. Somewhere in our neighborhood a woman had walked off with a case of whiskey from a liquor store. When she got home she realized she didn't have any soda to go with it. She went back and was arrested as she tried to liberate her chaser.

There were only a few whites living in the block; but I felt little tension or hostility. I mainly noted the black smoke drifting down from H Street, four blocks away. Kathy was out back working in our foot-wide strip of garden, listening to reports of looting and arson on a portable radio as a black fog settled in. We decided to go up on the roof for a better look. H Street was burning. Other areas had gone first and the radio reported a lack of fire equipment to deal with the situation a few blocks to the north. I tried to count the fires but they congealed under the curtain of smoke.


H STREET BURNING AS SEEN FROM THE AUTHOR'S ROOF FOUR BLOCKS AWAY

We decided to pack just in case. For about ten minutes we gathered an instinctive selection of nostalgic items, favorite photos, the non-valuable but irreplaceable. Then we looked at what we had done and laughed. Like loyal children of our generation, we then settled down in our smoky living room to watch on television what was happening to us.

At six-thirty the next morning, a white friend from around the corner rang our doorbell. He wasn't in trouble; he just wanted company on a tour of the area. We got into his car and drove to H, Seventh and 14th Streets. As I looked at the smoldering carcass of Washington and observed the troops marching down the street past storefronts that no longer had any windows, I thought, so this is what war is like. As we drove past a gutted store on 14th Street it suddenly reignited itself and flames leaped towards the pavement.

DC FIRE DEPARTMENT PHOTOS

That day and for several days thereafter, we stuck to home. The trouble had flared again. We received anxious calls from friends and relatives in another parts of town and in other towns. We assured them we were all right; they seemed more upset about our physical safety than we were and I did not want to alarm them by speaking what was in my mind.

For a year and a half of running a neighborhood newspaper, I had observed, and tried to report, a part of the community seething with emotions much of the other part refused to recognize. Now it was worse than even I had thought and anger, frustration and helplessness washed up on my mind's shore.

I subconsciously prepared myself for it to get worse. In the middle of one of the riot nights, I awakened to a rumbling noise in the street and ran to the window expecting to see tanks rolling past our house. There were no tanks. In fact, the physical threat of the riots barely touched us.

DC PUBLIC LIBRARY




H STREET THE MORNING AFTER
SAM SMITH PHOTO

The strange ambivalence -- the slashes of violence mixed indiscriminately with the sparkle of carnival, the televised sounds of racial war penetrating the tranquility of a white couple's home four blocks from disaster, our strangely ordinary experiences in an extraordinary situation -- made the disorder a crazy amalgam that took weeks to sort out. For months after, when sporadic violence hit stores in our neighborhood, I expected to find our newspaper office smashed and looted. It wasn't, despite the inviting glass storefront. I was inclined, with normal self delusion, to attribute this to having paid my dues. It was more likely that our second hand electric typewriters weren't worth the candle when there was a whole Safeway supermarket up the street and a cleaners right on the corner.

Some people seemed to think I had something to do with it all. One of my advertisers, the photo dealer Harry Lunn, told me late one night that if anyone firebombed his store he was going to come and personally burn my house down. He had been, or was still, with the CIA so I tended to take him seriously.

Len Kirsten, an advertiser and owner of the Emporium, was more blasé. A lady walked into the gift shop one day and, spotting the pile of Gazettes on the floor, said, "Isn't that a Communist paper?"

"Oh no," Len replied cheerfully. "The editor's a communist but the paper isn't."

The riot did more than $3 million worth of property damage. In the vicinity of H Street and some 124 commercial establishments and 52 homes were damaged. Another 21 businesses were damaged on or near 8th street..

During the riots, the black mayor Walter Washington had been called to the office of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, where he was told to start shooting looters. Washington refused, saying that "you can replace material goods, but you can't replace human beings." Hoover then said, "Well, this conversation is over." Replied Washington, "That's all right, I was leaving anyway."

Black businesses posted large "soul brother" signs on windows and walls. Private social agencies and anti-poverty centers were left alone. A laundry near the US Marine Barracks received special attention; guards with fixed bayonets protected the troop's clothing inside. The riots had created their own rules.

SAM SMITH PHOTO


At Mr. Henry’s – where a young Roberta Flack was the featured singer and who would go on to win two Grammies – the windows were boarded over and a sign was scrawled that read: “Soul brothers & sisters work here. Don’t put us out of work.”

MR HENRY'S, WHERE ROBETA FLACK WAS SINGING

At the time of the riot nearly 25% of the labor force in Capitol East was either unemployed, earning less than $3000 a year or employed only part-time. Over half of all adults living in the east part of the neighborhood had eight years or less schooling. Over a quarter of the housing units in this same area were listed by the census as dilapidated or deteriorating.

Not long after the riots it was Easter and three local ministers held a sunrise service on riot struck 8th Street, refusing what Camus called the sin of despair.

The riots weren't the end of it. Even where there was a building to come back to, business on H Street wouldn't really return for decades. A real estate dealer's home was fire bombed as was a local settlement house. White and black friends no longer saw each other. And one day, in the dingy basement offices of SNCC for which I had been handling the media, Stokely Carmichael arrived and said that we whites were no longer welcome in the civil rights movement. People like me were out.

The dream of a functioning bi-racial community was in pieces. H Street, with its jagged free standing walls and piles of rubble, looked like photos from a World War II retrospective. For me, hope had lost its virginity.

SAM SMITH PHOTO

Four decades later, I was in the block where my office had been and there standing on the corner was a National Guardsman with a rifle in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other. It took me a moment to recall the last time that I had seen a National Guardsman with a rifle on that corner. And then I remembered.

But this day it was different. Because eight blocks away, at the nation’s Capitol, Barack Obama was about to be inaugurated.

Census: Deaths up, births down, moving back to suburbia

Al Jazeera America - New U.S. Census Bureau population estimates show a record number of deaths in the previous year, reflecting the aging of the U.S. population. By the smallest margin in 35 years, births barely outnumbered deaths.

“With few births and many deaths, more than 1,000 U.S. counties [out of 3,144] had more people die in them than be born,” said Kenneth Johnson, the senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.

Migration trends are starting to revert to pre-recession norms, with more people leaving cities for suburban counties — a pattern that came to a halt after the housing bust in the latter half of the last decade. Still, large urban cores are losing fewer people to the suburbs than at the peak of the pre-2007 economic boom or during the heyday of suburban expansion.

Details of anti-American TPP agreement revealed

NY Times -  An ambitious 12-nation trade accord pushed by President Obama would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment “expectations” and hurt their business, according to a classified document.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership — a cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s remaining economic agenda — would grant broad powers to multinational companies operating in North America, South America and Asia. Under the accord, still under negotiation but nearing completion, companies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings — federal, state or local — before tribunals organized under the World Bank or the United Nations.

Backers of the emerging trade accord, which is supported by a wide variety of business groups and favored by most Republicans, say that it is in line with previous agreements that contain similar provisions. But critics, including many Democrats in Congress, argue that the planned deal widens the opening for multinationals to sue in the United States and elsewhere, giving greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.

The chapter in the draft of the trade deal, dated Jan. 20, 2015, and obtained by The New York Times in collaboration with the group WikiLeaks, is certain to kindle opposition from both the political left and the right. The sensitivity of the issue is reflected in the fact that the cover mandates that the chapter not be declassified until four years after the Trans-Pacific Partnership comes into force or trade negotiations end, should the agreement fail.

Conservatives are likely to be incensed that even local policy changes could send the government to a United Nations-sanctioned tribunal. On the left, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, law professors and a host of liberal activists have expressed fears the provisions would infringe on United States sovereignty and impinge on government regulation involving businesses in banking, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and other sectors.

Members of Congress began reviewing the secret document last week in secure reading rooms, but this is the first disclosure to the public since an early version leaked in 2012.

“This is really troubling,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat. “It seems to indicate that savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government, such as made-in-America laws or anti-tobacco laws. I think people on both sides of the aisle will have trouble with this.”

Jazz break