November 30, 2015

Ranked choice voting spreads on campuses

Fair Vote -  The University of California, Davis held elections for its student senate using ranked choice voting. Even with sixteen candidates on the ballot this quarter, UC Davis represents just a fraction of the RCV elections held on campuses across California and the US this year. Beyond its already wide-spread use, RCV’s popularity is increasing on California campuses. Last month, UC Santa Barbara’s Associated Student Senate voted unanimously to switch to multi-winner RCV.

RCV is used to elect student governments at colleges and universities all over the US, both big and small. Of the roughly 60 campuses where RCV is used, 16 are in California. This includes internationally renowned institutions like Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA. Popular support for RCV has endured at California schools because it gives students meaningful choice and promotes a more representative student government.

Notes from the past: 50th anniversary of Unsafe at Any Speec

November 30 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ralph Nader’s landmark book Unsafe at Any Speed. The book focused on the faulty rear suspension system of the General Motors Corvair, This defect could cause the Corvair to skid violently and roll over. The corporate negligence that had produced the various Corvair defects, Nader said, was “one of the greatest acts of industrial irresponsibility.” More generally, Unsafe at Any Speed documented how Detroit habitually subordinated safety to style and marketing concerns. The main cause of automobile occupant injuries, Nader demonstrated, was not the “nut behind the wheel” so often blamed by the auto industry, but the inherent engineering and design deficiencies of motor vehicles that were woefully unsafe, especially in terms of “crashworthiness”—no seat belts, etc.

The publication of Unsafe at Any Speed led to GM’s contemptible investigation by private detectives and attempts to smear Nader, GM’s subsequent public apology at a Senate hearing, and ultimately the 1966 auto and highway safety laws that have saved countless lives and profoundly accelerated the pace of auto safety innovation.

On March 22, 1966 at a Senate hearing chaired by Senator Ribicoff, James M. Roche, the President of GM, apologized to Nader saying:

As president of General Motors, I hold myself fully responsible for any action authorized or initiated by any officer of the corporation which may have had any bearing on the incidents related to our investigation of Mr. Nader…While there can be no disagreement over General Motors’ legal right to ascertain necessary facts preparatory to litigation…I am not here to excuse, condone, or justify in any way our investigating Mr. Nader. To the extent that General Motors bears responsibility, I want to apologize here and now to the members of this subcommittee and Mr. Nader. I sincerely hope that these apologies will be accepted. Certainly I bear Nader no ill will.

Thirteen times third parties mattered

From our overstocked archives

A short of history of presidential races in which third party candidates exercised significant influence:

1824: With only 15 electoral votes dividing leader Andrew Jackson from John Q. Adams, William Crawford's 41 and Henry Clay's 37 helped throw the issue into the House where Speaker Clay helped tip the election to Adams.

1848: Slavery foes in the Free Soil Party, led by Martin Van Buren, gave the election to Whig Zachary Taylor.

1856: The Republicans, a new anti-slavery party, came in second, bringing to an end the third-place Whigs.

1860: Abraham Lincoln of the new Republican Party won with only 40% of the vote against three other candidates, including two from a Democratic Party split north and south.

1880: Garfield won the electoral vote but he and Winfield Hancock got 48% each, with the Greenbacks -- who favored an expanded money supply -- pulling 3%.

1884: Again, the Democrat (Cleveland) and the Republican (Blaine) came within one point of each other, enough to make the Greenbacks and the Prohibitionists players in the race.

1888: The same one point divided the Democrats(Cleveland) and the Republicans (Harrison) with the Prohibitionists and Union Labor getting 2% and 1% respectively.

1892: With only 3 points dividing Cleveland from Harrison, the Populists' 9 points became critical.

1912: Once again a new third party (Progressives under Teddy Roosevelt) came in second in a race that elected Woodrow Wilson.

1916: Wilson won again but only by 3 points and 23 electoral votes. The Socialists got 3 points.

1948: Harry Truman's 5-point win was complicated by the presence of a States Rights Party under Strom Thurmond and a Progressive Party under Henry Wallace. They each got a little over two points.

1968: With Nixon and Humphrey each getting 43%, George Wallace's American Independent Party with its 14% became a key factor in the race.

1992: Ross Perot got 19% in a race in which the front-runners -- Clinton and Bush -- were divided by only 6 points.

MORAL: In 13 presidential elections, third parties have been a significant factor. Talking heads who tell you otherwise don't know their history.


Andrew Cohen of New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice: It is the opposite of journalism to call something “controversial” when in fact it is demonstrably false. Now more than ever, when so much fiction and hoax is passed off as truth on the campaign trail, journalists have a professional responsibility, if not a moral obligation, to set the record straight, loudly and quickly, before the myth these politicians seek to perpetuate takes public hold. There is no room today for any sort of cheesy false equivalence, for pretending that one idea or thought or theory is equal to every other.

Just the facts: Police killings

The first reliable statistics on lynching begin in 1882, and they show an average of 67 African-Americans lynched per year between 1882 and 1890. But lynching’s high point came in the 1890s, at the very time when Jim Crow laws were imposed throughout the South. The peak year was 1892, when 161 African-Americans (out of a total of 230) were lynched — an average of more than three every week. Lynchings also became more racialized during this time. Though mobs also lynched whites, Mexicans, Asians and Native-Americans, blacks constituted an ever-growing proportion of victims — 44 percent in the 1880s, 72 percent in the 1890s and 89 percent between 1900 and 1909.

November 29, 2015

Infrequently asked questions

How come the only time anyone blesses me is when I'm in a church or when I sneeze?

Real economics:Black Friday

Activist Post - According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, Black Friday attendance was down over 3%, from 58.7% last year to 55.1% this year. The survey noted that the average shopper was expected to spend $380.95, which was down from $407.02 the previous year. According to the group’s estimates, sales slipped from $57.4 billion to $50.9 billion.

Trump con hit by black pastors

CNN - Several black pastors invited to meet with Donald Trump  have denied reports that they had plans to endorse the presidential candidate at the event.

And Trump's presidential campaign has canceled a press conference with Trump and those religious leaders.

Bishop Clarence McClendon, a Los Angeles-based pastor who like Trump has appeared on reality television, was invited to the meeting but will not attend.

"The meeting was presented not as a meeting to endorse but a meeting to engage in dialogue," he said Friday on Facebook.

"The Preachers of L.A." star said he will not make up his mind to endorse until January 2016.

Bishop Corletta Vaughn, Senior Pastor of The Holy Ghost Cathedral and a star of the Oxygen reality series "Preachers of Detroit," said she was invited to the meeting but will not attend nor endorse Trump.

"Trump is an insult and embarrassment. But he represents the country we have become," she said Wednesday on Facebook. "Zero experience ... Flaunting a ticket of unbridled bigotry, sexism, racism and everything that is wrong with America."

The meeting was described by the campaign in a press release as, "a coalition of 100 African American Evangelical pastors and religious leaders who will endorse the GOP front runner after a private meeting at Trump Tower."

Bishop Paul S. Morton tweeted Friday that he refused to meet with Trump, calling the candidate disrespectful.

Police blotter

Counter Current News - Internal affairs [in Detroit] is investigating a death in police custody after 24-year-old Anthony Damone Clark Reed was left dead following a traffic stop. He was pulled over for the victimless “crime” of tinted windows during a personal medical emergency around 9 pm on Monday.

The father of Reed, Pastor Kevin Clark, is speaking out and saying that his son’s death was caused by negligence on the part of the Detroit police. The pastor also says that the negligence continued after his death, when they failed to contact the family for over two hours.

During the stop over the windows on his new Dodge Charger, Reed, who has previously been hospitalized for asthma, told the officer he was having trouble breathing. Reed reportedly went to reach under his seat during the stop, which his father believes was to look for his inhaler, and for unknown reasons ended up handcuffed and thus denied access to his medication.

The lack of oxygen caused him to fall unconscious while in the officer’s custody. At this point the police reportedly gave the dying young man his inhaler, but it was too late, and CPR as well as other efforts to revive him proved fruitless.  He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Massive criminal detentions by Chicago police revealed

Guardian - Police “disappeared” more than 7,000 people at an off-the-books interrogation warehouse in Chicago, nearly twice as many detentions as previously disclosed, the Guardian can now reveal. Homan Square: an interactive portrait of detainees at Chicago's police facility Read more

From August 2004 to June 2015, nearly 6,000 of those held at the facility were black, which represents more than twice the proportion of the city’s population. But only 68 of those held were allowed access to attorneys or a public notice of their whereabouts, internal police records show.

The new disclosures, the result of an ongoing Guardian transparency lawsuit and investigation, provide the most detailed, full-scale portrait yet of the truth about Homan Square, a secretive facility that Chicago police have described as little more than a low-level narcotics crime outpost where the mayor has said police “follow all the rules”.

Recovered History

Kurt Cobain giving Ronald McDonald
a cigarette in Singapore, 1992

Where is it illegal to drive with a dog on your lap?

A guide to state laws about what you can't do while driving

Pete Hamill on how NYC has changed

National Geographic

Clintons made $35 million from financial services since 2001

AP - In the 18 months prior to announcing her second campaign for president, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination addressed private equity investors in California and New York, delivered remarks to bankers in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and spoke to brokers at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida.Her efforts capped a nearly 15-year period in which Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made at least $35 million by giving 164 speeches to financial services, real estate and insurance companies after leaving the White House in 2001.

Arbitration: The corporatization of justice

NY Times - Over the last 10 years, thousands of businesses across the country — from big corporations to storefront shops — have used arbitration to create an alternate system of justice. There, rules tend to favor businesses, and judges and juries have been replaced by arbitrators who commonly consider the companies their clients, The Times found.

The change has been swift and virtually unnoticed, even though it has meant that tens of millions of Americans have lost a fundamental right: their day in court.

“This amounts to the whole-scale privatization of the justice system,” said Myriam Gilles, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Americans are actively being deprived of their rights.”

All it took was adding simple arbitration clauses to contracts that most employees and consumers do not even read. Yet at stake are claims of medical malpractice, sexual harassment, hate crimes, discrimination, theft, fraud, elder abuse and wrongful death, records and interviews show.

America leads in imprisoning women

About 5 percent of the world's women live in the United States, but America accounts for 30 percent of the world's population of incarcerated women.

Drone whistleblowers abused by Obamadmin

William N. Grigg, Free Thought Project - For having the courage to come forward and expose the drone program for the indiscriminate murder that it is, 4 vets are under attack from the government they once served. Now four former Air Force drone operators-turned-whistleblowers have had their credit cards and bank accounts frozen, according to human rights attorney Jesselyn Radack.

Michael Haas, Brandon Bryant, Cian Westmoreland and Stephen Lewis, who served as drone operators in the US Air Force, have gone public with detailed accounts of the widespread corruption and institutionalized indifference to civilian casualties that characterize the program. Some of those disclosures were made in the recent documentary Drone; additional details have been provided in an open letter from the whistleblowers to President Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and CIA Director John Brennan.

“We are former Air Force service members,” the letter begins. We joined the Air Force to protect American lives and to protect our Constitution. We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruiting tool similar to Guantanamo Bay. This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”

Elsewhere the former drone operators have described how their colleagues dismissed children as “fun-sized terrorists” and compared killing them to “cutting the grass before it grows too long.” Children who live in countries targeted by the drone program are in a state of constant terror, according to Westmoreland: “There are 15-year-olds growing up who have not lived a day without drones overhead, but you also have expats who are watching what’s going on in their home countries and seeing regularly the violations that are happening there, and that is something that could radicalize them.”

By reliable estimates, ninety percent of those killed in drone strikes are entirely harmless people, making the program a singularly effective method of producing anti-American terrorism.

NPR's audience getting older, smaller

Washington Post - Listening among Morning Edition‘s audience has declined 20 percent among people under 55 in the past five years. Listening for All Things Considered has dropped about 25 percent among those in the 45-to-54 segment. The growth market? People over 65, who were increasing in both the morning and afternoon hours. … As audiences drift to newer on-demand audio sources such as podcasts and streaming, the bonds with local stations – and the contributions that come with them – may be fraying.

November 28, 2015

Finally: Banker sent to prison

Oops. . . It was for whistleblowing

Word: Trump

Juan Cole - As Donald Trump supporters beat a ‘Black Lives Matter’ protester at his rally in Birmingham, Ala., Trump himself reminded us of the dark days when a paranoid J. Edgar Hoover had the FBI monitor the Rev. Martin Luther King and black Churches of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Trump said in Birmingham, “I want surveillance of certain mosques . . . We’ve had it before, we’ll have it again. … We have a situation where ISIS has raised its ugly head again and we have to chop off that head like they’re chopping off heads.” He also said he would send Syrian refugees back to Syria if he were elected. Many Syrian refugees have fled because they would be killed in their homeland.

Trump’s desire to spy on American congregations recalls Cointelpro and other domestic surveillance programs of the 1960s that led to massive abuses and in some ways led to Watergate under Nixon.

The ACLU noted that the FBI looked into King in the late 1950s and:

“The FBI formally opened another investigation of Dr. King and the SCLC in late 1962 under an FBI pro gram called COMINFIL that permitted investigation of legitimate noncommunist organizations suspected by the FBI of having been infiltrated by communists. The charge was ludicrous. Dr. King repeatedly criticized Marxist philosophy in his writing and speech es and all evidence indicated the Communist Party had little, if any, influence on Dr. King or the SCLC.”

Since Rev. King and the SCLC advocated nonviolence, there were no actual legal grounds for an FBI investigation of them. They had broken no federal law.

The FBI also tried to stop Rev. King from meeting the Pope, and pressured church leaderships to make sure he received no donations for his work from their congregations. It tried to prevent him publishing in a national magazine, a clear violation of the First Amendment. And, of course, field officers unconstitutionally bugged his bedroom without any warrant.

On another occasion, according to the ACLU says documents show that the FBI spied on a Roman Catholic group:

Trump’s proposals resemble those of other historical figures in other places. It should be remembered that after 1938 in Mussolini’s Italy, as C. Fonio writes,

“Following the racial laws, the Ovra specifically focused on spiritual matters. Surveillance through personal biographical files on Jews, but also on Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, became common practice and special inspectorates carried out ‘religious persecutions’ (Franzinelli 1999, 370).

One reason American cops kill more than European ones

Huffington Post - Racism alone can't explain why non-Latino white Americans are 26 times more likely to die by police gunfire than Germans. And racism alone doesn't explain why states like Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming - where both perpetrators and victims of deadly force are almost always white - exhibit relatively high rates of police lethality.

An explanation may be found in a key distinguishing characteristic of American policing - its localism.

Each of America's 15,500 municipal and county departments is responsible for screening applicants, imposing discipline and training officers when a new weapon like Tasers are adopted. Some under=resourced departments may perform some of these critical tasks poorly.

To make matters worse, cash-strapped local governments like Ferguson, Missouri's may see tickets, fines, impounding fees and asset forfeitures as revenue sources and push for more involuntary police encounters.

More than a quarter of deadly force victims were killed in towns with fewer than 25,000 people despite the fact that only 17% of the US population lives in such towns.

By contrast, as a rule, towns and cities in Europe do not finance their own police forces. The municipal police that do exist are generally unarmed and lack arrest authority.

As a result, the only armed police forces that citizens routinely encounter in Europe are provincial (the counterpart to state police in the US), regional (Swiss cantons) or national.

What's more, centralized policing makes it possible to train and judge all armed officers according to the same use-of-force guidelines. It also facilitates the rapid translation of insights about deadly force prevention into enforceable national mandates.

Nestle admits using slave labor

Reuters - Nestle on Monday disclosed forced labour was in its supply chain after a year-long investigation found migrants were sold and lured by false promises to work in Thailand's seafood sector, kept in debt bondage and degrading conditions.

The disclosure came as a surprise as international companies rarely acknowledge abuses in their supply chains despite coming under increasing pressure from consumers and governments to be transparent about how and where their products are sourced.

Verite, a charity fighting labour injustices, which carried out the research, welcomed Nestle's admission and said virtually all companies sourcing seafood in Thailand, the world's third-largest seafood exporter, were exposed to the same risks.

"Sometimes, the net is too heavy and workers get pulled in to the water and just disappear," Verite quoted one Myanmar fisherman as saying. Another person spoke of barely having enough money to survive despite working on a boat for 10 years.

Nigerian population catching up with US

Yearly change

The case for postal banking

Huffington Post

Correcting Social Security misinformation

Bryann DaSilva, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
  • Social Security is important to young people.  Many young people benefit from Social Security right now:  1 in 5 beneficiaries is younger than retirement age largely due to disability or the death of a parent.
  • Social Security faces future deficits, but it’s also built a surplus.  Social Security’s costs will grow as the large baby boom generation moves further into retirement.  But it has a large surplus to help pay those costs.  Since the mid-1980s, Social Security has collected more in taxes and other income each year than it pays out in benefits.  It has amassed combined trust funds of $2.8 trillion, invested in interest-bearing Treasury securities, which — along with current tax revenues — will keep the program solvent through 2034.
  • Social Security will exist for young Americans.  Even in the implausible event that policymakers do nothing, Social Security could still pay three-fourths of scheduled benefits after 2034, relying on current workers’ contributions to Social Security, according to the Social Security trustees’ 2015 report.  Alarmists who claim that Social Security won’t be around when today’s young workers retire either misunderstand or misrepresent the projections.
  • Social Security’s long-term gap must be understood in context.  Looking at future spending on Social Security and Medicare is instructive only when compared with the size of the future economy.  The long-term gap between Social Security’s projected income and promised benefits is just under 1 percent of the economy over the next 75 years, the trustees estimate.
  • Future wage growth dwarfs potential payroll tax increases.  If Congress restored Social Security’s long-term balance solely by raising payroll tax rates now — without touching the taxable maximum benefit formula or the cap on taxable earnings — workers and employers would each pay only 1.31 percentage points more of wages toward Social Security.  If policymakers delayed for another decade or two, that rate would be higher, but future workers will be more prosperous than today’s, the trustees project.  Under the trustees’ assumptions, the average worker will be about 40 percent better off — in real terms — in 2040 than in 2015, and twice as well off by 2070 (see chart).  It’s appropriate to devote a small portion of those gains to Social Security, while still leaving future workers with much higher take-home pay. 

  • Seniors have earned their benefits and many don’t have much else to live on.  For more than one-third of retirement beneficiaries, Social Security constitutes at least 90 percent of income.  Half of people aged 65 to 74 have no retirement savings.  Without Social Security, almost half of the elderly would live in poverty.
A mix of tax increases and modest benefit reductions — carefully crafted to shield the neediest recipients and give ample notice to all participants — would put Social Security on a sound financial footing indefinitely

Icelanders to get banker pay back

Global Research - First, Iceland jailed its crooked bankers for their direct involvement in the financial crisis of 2008. Now, every Icelander will receive a payout for the sale of one of its three largest banks, ├Źslandsbanki.

If Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson has his way — and he likely will — Icelanders will be paid kr 30,000 after the government takes over ownership of the bank. ├Źslandsbanki would be second of the three largest banks under State proprietorship.

“I am saying that the government take some decided portion, 5%, and simply hand it over to the people of this country,” he stated. Because Icelanders took control of their government, they effectively own the banks. Benediktsson believes this will bring foreign capital into the country and ultimately fuel the economy — which, incidentally, remains the only European nation to recover fully from the 2008 crisis. Iceland even managed to pay its outstanding debt to the IMF in full — in advance of the due date.

Iceland recently jailed its 26th banker — with 74 years of prison time amongst them — for causing the financial chaos. Meanwhile, U.S. banking criminals were rewarded for their fraud and market manipulation with an enormous bailout at the taxpayer’s expense.

November 27, 2015

US death rates decline except for white middle aged

Washington Post - Between 1969 and 2013, the death rate for all causes declined 43 percent from about 1,279 people for each 100,000 individuals in the population to about 730 per 100,000, according to the study published last week in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

Guardian - A sharp rise in death rates among white middle-aged Americans has claimed nearly as many lives in the past 15 years as the spread of Aids in the US, researchers have said. The alarming trend, overlooked until now, has hit less-educated 45- to 54-year-olds the hardest, with no other groups in the US as affected and no similar declines seen in other rich countries.Though not fully understood, the increased deaths are largely thought to be a result of more suicides and the misuse of drugs and alcohol, driven by easier access to powerful prescription painkillers, cheaper high quality heroin and greater financial stresses.

White Christians no longer in majority

Politico - White Christians now make up less than half of the U.S. population, largely receding from the majorities of most demographic groups, with one notable exception: the Republican Party. According to the latest results from Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape survey, just 46 percent of American adults are white Christians, down from 55 percent in 2007.

At the same time, according to the report, the share of white Christians identifying as Republican has remained steady, even equal with the share of the party that carried President Ronald Reagan to his 1984 reelection. Nearly seven in 10 white Christians — 69 percent — identify with or lean toward the GOP, while just 31 percent do the same with Democrats. Among nonwhite Christians, meanwhile, 32 percent identify with or lean toward Democrats, and just 13 percent do the same with Republicans.

In less than a decade, the gap in Christian identification between Democrats and Republicans has increased by 50 percent. According to the data presented, in 2007, 88 percent of white Republicans and 70 percent of white Democrats identified as Christian, an 18-point disparity. By 2014, 84 percent of white Republicans identified as Christian, but the share of white Democrats identifying as Christian fell by 13 points, to 57 percent, a 27-point gap.

Pfizer's tax con

Mother Jones -  The pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan announced a merger worth $160 billion. There's a wrinkle to this deal between the makers of Viagra and Botox: It's being facilitated by a controversial tax trick known as an inversion, which lets American companies move their headquarters abroad, avoiding the IRS while keeping executives stateside. If it goes through, the Pfizer-Allergan agreement will be the largest tax inversion ever.

Inversions have been around since the early '80s, when a tax lawyer masterminded a move known as the "Panama Scoot". Since then, more than 100 companies have renounced their American citizenship. And inversions are just one of many ways US companies stash earnings abroad. Between 2008 and 2013, American firms had more than $2.1 trillion in profits held overseas—that's as much as $500 billion in unpaid taxes.

Portuguese town tries participatory budgeting

Sustainable Cities - The Portuguese town of Ovar recently had an impressive 25 percent of its residents turn out to vote in its first participatory budgeting campaign. A seaside town of 55,398, Ovar is one of the oldest municipalities in Portugal. The city implemented participatory budgeting as a means for the current mayor, Salvador Malheiro, to connect with the citizens and better engage young people.

To get such remarkable civic engagement, the participatory budgeting program, which was allotted 100,000€, used a gamification strategy with a leader board that displayed which proposals were receiving the most votes. It also gave people both online and offline methods of voting, with either paper ballots or through a website.

Everyone over the age of 16, whether residents, workers, or students, was invited to vote, and leading up to the vote, officials organized 36 in-person meetings for information sharing and proposal gathering. These brought together over 1,000 citizens.

Of the 38 proposals that reached voting, five received over 1,500 votes. Most of the the winners were related to social and sports projects, including building a skate park. The total number of votes received was 13,598— almost a quarter of the population.

Romney would wipe out Trump in New Hampshire

Boston Globe - If the former Massachusetts governor were added to the mix of the 14 other Republican candidates running in the Feb. 9 first-in-the-nation presidential primary, New Hampshire voters would, if the election were held now, give him a 2-to-1 win over Trump, the leader of the field. Romney, who said as recently as last week that he is not interested in running, did not file for the New Hampshire primary ballot by the deadline last Friday. He would have the support of 31 percent of Granite State Republicans compared with 15 percent backing Trump, the poll indicates.


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