Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zimmerman rode with cops, ripped department

This Feb. 27, 2012 photo released by the State Attorney's
Office shows George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch
volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin. The photo and reports
were among evidence released by prosecutors that also
includes calls to police, video and numerous other documents.
The package was received by defense lawyers earlier this
week and released to the media on Thursday, May 17, 2012.
In a city hall forum in 2011, George Zimmerman criticized Sanford police as lazy, saying he knew because he had ridden along with cops.

A year before George Zimmerman killed a Miami Gardens teenager, he stood before a City Hall community forum with a grievance: Sanford cops are lazy, he told the then-mayor elect.

The community college criminal justice major said he knew because he went on ride-alongs with the Sanford Police.

“And what I saw was disgusting,” Zimmerman said, according to a clip of a recording of the January 2011 meeting obtained by The Miami Herald. “The officer showed me his favorite hiding spots for taking naps, explained to me that he doesn’t carry a long gun in his vehicle because, in his words, ‘anything that requires a long gun requires a lot of paperwork, and you’re going to find me as far away from it.’

“He took two lunch breaks and attended a going away party for one of his fellow officers.

Woman Gets 20 Years for Claimed Warning Shot; Judge Rejected Stand-Your-Ground Immunity

Marissa Alexander
Posted May 23, 2012 9:01 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

The latest controversy over Florida’s stand-your-ground law concerns a defendant who argued without success that the defense should bar her prosecution.

Jurors deliberated only 12 minutes before convicting Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Fla., who says she fired a warning shot in an attempt to scare off her abusive husband, report the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and the Florida Times-Union. She was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced earlier this month to 20 years in prison.

A judge had refused to bar the prosecution based on Alexander’s claim she had immunity because of the state’s stand-your-ground law.

The case stems from an August 2010 incident. Alexander had gone to her former home to retrieve her belongings, and encountered her estranged husband there, Time magazine reports. He went into a rage after discovering texts to another man, she says, and threatened her. She went out to her truck, was unable to open the locked garage door, and got her gun from the vehicle, according to her account. She went back inside and fired. The bullet hit the wall.   READ MORE

Several George Zimmerman witnesses change their accounts

By Rene Stutzman and Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel

5:51 p.m. EST, May 22, 2012
Evidence released last week in the second-degree-murder case against George Zimmerman shows four key witnesses made major changes in what they say they saw and heard the night he fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford.
Three changed their stories in ways that may damage Zimmerman. A fourth abandoned her initial story, that she saw one person chasing another. Now, she says, she saw a single figure running.

Here are the key ways in which their stories changed.   READ MORE

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Evidence in Trayvon Martin Case Released to Public

The prosecution evidence that was given to George Zimmerman’s defense last week was released by Special Prosecutor Angela Corey’s office this afternoon. You can read the documents here.
Before the release, someone managed to get out a bit more information favorable to Zimmerman, specifically the fact that Trayvon Martin had traces of THC in his blood and urine when he was killed. From CNN:
Martin’s blood contained THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, according to an autopsy conducted February 27 — the day after the teenager was shot dead.
Toxicology tests found elements of the drug in the teenager’s chest blood — 1.5 nanograms per milliliter of one type (THC), as well as 7.3 nanograms of another type (THC-COOH) — according to the medical examiner’s report. There was also a presumed positive test of cannabinoids in Martin’s urine. It was not immediately clear how significant these amounts were.
Concentrations of THC routinely rise to 100 to 200 ng/ml after marijuana use, though it typically falls to below 5 ng/ml within three hours of it being smoked, according to information on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.
While some states have zero-tolerance policies for any drug traces for driving while impaired, others set certain benchmarks, the website of California’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs notes. In Nevada, that equates to 2 ng/ml for THC and 5 ng/ml for THC-COOH — also known as marijuana metabolite. The cutoff level in Ohio is 2 ng/ml for THC and 50 ng/ml for THC-COOH.   READ MORE

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: How the Obama Administration Has Worked Behind the Scenes to Advance Marriage Equality

Photo Credit:
Ultimately, it's the courts that will ultimately make marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.
May 18, 2012

The Obama administration has a pretty good record on LGBT issues, but it has also had a sometimes contentious relationship with gay rights activists.

Even in the wake of Obama's “evolution” on marriage last week, some critics seized on his statement that the states should decide whether to offer gay and lesbian Americans equal treatment under the law.

Yet it is only the courts – not the executive or legislative branches – that can require the states to honor same-sex marriages. And actions speak louder than words.

This week, Chris Geidner, senior political editor for the LGBT magazine Metro Weekly, appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour to highlight where the administration has missed opportunities to advance gay civil rights, and to explain how the administration has been working to advance marriage equality nationwide in the courts – out of the glare of the political press. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview (you can listen to the whole show here).   READ MORE

What the Mainstream Media Still Doesn't Get About Big Banks

JPMorgan Chase losing $2 billion on a risky trade has many pundits calling for more regulation. But they're still missing so much of the story.
May 16, 2012

Reading over the coverage of JPMorgan Chase’s $2 billion fiasco, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the heady early days of the Lesser Depression. Not because the scale or risk is equivalent, but because the naked hubris, incompetence and greed on display have once again stirred up a regulatory fervor among large swaths of the media. 

All of a sudden pundits and editorial boards are sounding less like Paul Ryan and more like Paul Krugman. There are also the predictable right-wing hacks who claim this episode somehow makes the case against the Volcker Rule, the part of Dodd-Frank that bans commercial banks from engaging in speculative bets to increase their own profits, known as “proprietary trading.”

But unfortunately that’s usually where it ends. The issue remains framed through a partisan lens: you can either be in favor of implementing existing regulation or against it, but few voices move beyond those narrow confines. As a result, regulation gets discussed as an important but isolated issue, largely removed from more fundamental problems like income inequality and the power corporations exert over both parties.  READ MORE

A Night at the Vibrator Museum

Photo Credit: Miss Karen via Flick
Early vibrators were hand-cranked, two-person jobs -- and prescribed by doctors. How far we've come since then.
May 20, 2012

This story was originally published at Salon.

 I can now say that I’ve used a turn-of-the-century vibrator — on my hand, but still.

The silver, hand-cranked contraption is usually kept behind glass at Good Vibrations’ Antique Vibrator Museum in San Francisco — but staff sexologist Carol Queen made a rare exception. “This is very special,” she whispered, unlocking the case and carefully pulling out Dr. Johansen’s Auto Vibrator, a relic from 1904. The “auto” part is not so much: It was a two-person job, with her having to crank the device’s handle to get it thrumming. Pressing my finger tips to its inch-wide circular platform of pleasure, I was pleasantly surprised by its power.

As I was by the two other vintage vibrators that I got to try out — the White Cross Electric Vibrator from 1917, which has a pronged aperture that makes it seem like the ancestor of Jimmyjane’s Form 2, and the Beautysafe Vibrator from the 1940s, which is reminiscent in look, feel and sound to a car waxer.

Are Democrats Bent on Political Suicide?

Photo Credit: Madison Teachers Inc.
With the Republicans outspending progressives 20-to-one, Obama’s Democratic National Committee stubbornly refuses to invest a penny in the battle to unseat Walker.
May 18, 2012

Jerry Brown, my California state’s Democratic governor, is a crushing disappointment.  

We voted for him over the former Ebay CEO, rightwing Republican Meg Whitman, who promised to fire 40,000 public workers and end welfare, mainly because Brown trailed nostalgic clouds of progressive glory.  A one-time governor himself, he banked on us remembering that he is also the semi-hippie son of a much-loved 1960s two-term governor, his dad Pat Brown.  Since Jerry’s election, using the flim-flam Houdini magic of “slimming down the deficit”, he has behaved like Mitt Romney – or Meg Whitman – or any other business CEO slashing and burning at the most vulnerable in programs for the poor, disabled, community-college students and just about all of us who are not rich.   READ MORE

Colonized by Corporations

A change of power requires a destruction of corporate domination and a new mechanism of governance to distribute wealth and foster the common good.
May 15, 2012

In Robert E. Gamer’s book “The Developing Nations” is a chapter called “Why Men Do Not Revolt.” In it Gamer notes that although the oppressed often do revolt, the object of their hostility is misplaced.

They vent their fury on a political puppet, someone who masks colonial power, a despised racial or ethnic group or an apostate within their own political class. The useless battles serve as an effective mask for what Gamer calls the “patron-client” networks that are responsible for the continuity of colonial oppression. The squabbles among the oppressed, the political campaigns between candidates who each are servants of colonial power, Gamer writes, absolve the actual centers of power from addressing the conditions that cause the frustrations of the people.   READ MORE

"The Whole System Relies on These Arrests": The NYPD's Racist Marijuana Arrest Crusade And Its National Implications

New York’s marijuana arrests, says a growing chorus of critics, are a prime example of how the nation’s drug laws disproportionately impact black and Latino communities.
May 15, 2012

Every morning, several sheets of paper are posted to the walls outside the arraignment rooms of New York City’s Borough Courts. They list the names of the accused scheduled to appear before the judge and the legal codes of their offenses. On most days and across the city’s five boroughs, these lists include multiple names next to the numbers 221.10. This is the legal code for the misdemeanor charge of possessing small amounts of marijuana “open to public view,” meaning the public display or public smoking of pot. In 2010, more than 50,000 New Yorkers were arrested for violating 221.10. The number represented 15 percent of all arrests made by the NYPD and allowed the city to keep its crown of Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World.

Not that there is a credible challenger for the dubious honor. The high number of 221.10 arrests puts New York in a league of its own and has become a lightning rod in the national debate over race and the war on drugs. New York’s marijuana arrests, says a growing chorus of critics, are a prime example of how the nation’s drug laws disproportionately impact black and Latino communities.

This is decreasingly a matter of accusation and anecdote. Hard data are emerging that confirm what marijuana reform advocates and public defenders have long maintained: That the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy in high-crime neighborhoods — sold to the public as a way to find illegal guns and reduce violent crime — has instead resulted in racially uneven drug law enforcement practices that seem to violate the spirit and the letter of New York law as well as the United States Constitution.

The 5 Most Offensive Sexist and Homophobic Moves by Conservatives: This Month Alone!

A sign at NYC's 2011 rally for women's health.
Photo Credit: Sarah Seltzer
From homophobic remarks to awful bills, here's a little roundup of a month of assault from the GOP.
May 17, 2012

It seems like with every cultural step forward by the country on the whole, the right-wing has to take a few leaps backward--and women, gays and minorities are the victims.

This month has already brought some great moments: massive protests on May 1 and the historic cultural moment when a sitting US president endorsed marriage equality. But simultaneously the GOP and other conservative institutions have gone on what felt like a vengeful tear. Maybe these racist, sexist and homophobic statements and bills really just constitute business as usual, a continuation of the "war on women," but in contrast to progress, it most certainly brings the term "reactionary" into a new light.
It also shows that the war on women isn't just on women--it's on anyone who doesn't conform to rigid patriarchal gender roles.

Here are five of the worst offenses this month.  READ MORE

Predator Nation: How Endless Drone War Is Turning the Promise of America into a Promise of Death

The CIA’s global drone assassination campaign has long been a bragging point in Washington, even if it couldn’t officially be discussed directly before, say, Congress.
May 13, 2012

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Here’s the essence of it: you can trust America’s crème de la crème, the most elevated, responsible people, no matter what weapons, what powers, you put in their hands.  No need to constantly look over their shoulders.

Placed in the hands of evildoers, those weapons and powers could create a living nightmare; controlled by the best of people, they lead to measured, thoughtful, precise decisions in which bad things are (with rare and understandable exceptions) done only to truly terrible types.  In the process, you simply couldn’t be better protected.

And in case you were wondering, there is no question who among us are the best, most lawful, moral, ethical, considerate, and judicious people: the officials of our national security state.  Trust them implicitly.  They will never give you a bum steer.

You may be paying a fortune to maintain their world -- the 30,000 people hired to listen in on conversations and other communications in this country, the 230,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security, the 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, the 4.2 million with security clearances of one sort or another, the $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center that the National Security Agency is constructing in Utah, the gigantic $1.8 billion headquarters the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency recently built for its 16,000 employees in the Washington area -- but there’s a good reason.   READ MORE

GOP Version of Violence Against Women Act Tries to Push Women Back Into the Home

Photo Credit: Alejandro Hernandez on Flickr
By raising barriers to economic assistance and legal recourse, the legislation sends the message to countless women living in violent households that their place is still at home.
May 17, 2012

Women have been under economic assault in Washington for months. Deficit hawks have taken aim at social programs and civil rights protections that help keep women safe, healthy and able to participate in work and community life. To some lawmakers, none of that is more important than “saving” taxpayer dollars—which is often shorthand for robbing working women of both their earnings and their safety net.

The hostility toward women crested this week as conservative lawmakers pushed legislation that would gut the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). House Bill 4970 isn't just oppressive to survivors; it attacks the civil and social rights of all women. By raising barriers to economic assistance and legal recourse, the legislation sends the message to countless women living in violent households that their place is still in the home.  READ MORE

Will Mark Zuckerberg Ever Pay Taxes Again?

Mark Zuckerberg
Published: Thursday, 2 Feb 2012 | 10:56 AM ET 

Next year Mark Zuckerberg’s base salary will receive a dramatic pay cut—going from a base salary of $600,000 to just one dollar.

Which raises the question: will he ever pay taxes again?

Zuckerberg’s salary cut is being compared to similar moves by other tech titans. Google’s Eric Schmidt and Larry Page are paid just $1 annual salaries. Steve Jobs took just $1 in salary from 1997 until his death last year. Other members of the one-percent/one-dollar club include Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman.

Zuckerberg was paid a base salary of $500,000 in 2011 and is set to be paid a base of $600,000 this year. He got a cash bonus of $250,000 for the first half of 2011 and will likely receive a similar bonus for the second half.

Interestingly, he was alone among the top executives at Facebook who got no stock awards for 2011. The board—which is controlled by Zuckerberg himself—decided that he had enough stock to align his interests with the other shareholders. With 28.2 percent of the company, you would hope so.
Zuckerberg’s pay cut could reduce his income tax burden to nothing.

It’s possible that he might even be eligible for certain types of government aid for those with low-income—although it’s unlikely that he would collect them.  READ MORE

How America Is Like the Serial Killer in Dexter

Dexter Morgan of "Dexter"
Dexter is all about U.S. foreign policy and the moral calculus of a superpower.
May 18, 2012

Everybody loves Dexter. He’s handsome. He’s helpful. He works at the Miami Metro Police Department, and he’s very good at his job as a blood-splatter analyst. Oh, did I mention that he moonlights as a serial killer? Don’t worry: he only kills bad guys. That’s part of the code that Dexter’s adoptive father, himself a police officer, passed down to his son. As a child who had watched his mother die a horrendous death,

Dexter couldn’t overcome the murderous impulses that surged within him. His father, channeling those impulses in the only constructive way he could think of, created a better monster of his son’s nature: a serial killer of serial killers.

The other essential rule of Dexter’s code: don’t get caught. He is very precise in the way he dispatches his victims, and he will do almost anything to evade detection. Dexter works for the law, but his second job is most definitely above the law.

During its six seasons on Showtime, the popular TV show Dexter has asked a vexing moral question: can a person do good by doing bad? Let’s throw in one more twist. Sometimes Dexter makes mistakes and kills people who don’t fit his definition of Really Bad.  READ MORE

Why is the FBI Manufacturing Reasons to Arrest Occupy Protesters While Ignoring White Supremacist Violence?

A sign in Foley Square at the Community/Labor
march in suport of Occupy Wall Street
A recent Rolling Stone article raises troubling questions about FBI entrapment schemes and their targets
May 18, 2012

This story originally appeared in Salon.

Writing in Rolling Stone this week, Rick Perlstein looks at how the FBI regularly entraps and creates “terrorists” out of anarchists and activists, while comparatively ignoring violent white supremacist groups.

Using some recent examples, Perlstein paints a startling picture. He notes the arrest this month of a small group of self-identified anarchists, participating in Occupy Cleveland, who — strung along in an FBI sting — planned to blow up a large Ohio bridge. The target was suggested and (fake) C-4 explosives were provided by an FBI infiltrator. As Perlstein put it, the episode was one among numerous law enforcement schemes since 2001 in which “the alleged terrorist masterminds end up seeming, when the full story comes out, unable to terrorize their way out of a paper bag without law enforcement tutelage.”

Perlstein contrasts the Ohio arrestees with another recently arrested group: The American Front, a “known terrorist group” of Florida-based white supremacists who — without FBI encouragement — “took a break from training with machine guns for a race war in order to fashion weapons out of fake ‘Occupy’ signs which they planned to use to assault May Day protesters in Melbourne, Florida.” While anarchists, animal rights activists and Muslims pass muster as federal targets, organized hate groups do not.  READ MORE

Shafted! Why are Homeowners Still Left to Struggle Against Big Banks Alone?

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks on Flickr
Across the country, states are diverting foreclosure settlement funds to plug budget holes.
May 18, 2012

It was with great fanfare that the Obama administration, alongside nearly every state’s attorney general, announced in February that a $25 billion accord had been reached with the nation’s five biggest banks, settling charges that the banks engaged in widespread foreclosure fraud. Those billions were intended to provide relief to struggling homeowners, using the banks’ own money to help the victims of Wall Street malfeasance.

“These banks will put billions of dollars towards relief for families across the nation,” President Obama said. “They’ll provide refinancing for borrowers that are stuck in high interest rate mortgages. They’ll reduce loans for families who owe more on their homes than they’re worth. “

However, more than a dozen states across the country are doing their best to undermine the settlement by diverting the funds to other areas of their budgets. Arizona recently became the latest state to do so, taking $50 million meant to aid homeowners and instead plowing it into the state’s general fund (after scrapping an earlier plan to use the money to pay for prison construction).  READ MORE

Big Beer Brewers Like Anheuser-Busch Are Drunk on Greed

How the beer lobby is taking advantage of addiction.
May 18, 2012

Big brewers like Anheuser-Busch frequently admonish us imbibers of their grain products to "drink responsibly." Well, I say back to them: Lobby responsibly.

In particular, I point to a disgusting binge of besotted lobbying by Anheuser-Busch (now owned by the Belgian beer conglomerate InBev) and other beer barons this year in the Nebraska legislature.

At issue was the "town" of Whiteclay, smack dab on the Nebraska-South Dakota border. I put "town" in quotes because only 10 people live there -- but it is home to four beer stores. Why? Because right across the state line is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux tribe, which has a devastating problem of alcohol addiction among its 20,000 members, combined with intractable and dispiriting poverty.

Whiteclay exists solely so booze peddlers can profit from the Oglala tribe's addiction miseries. They sell more than 4 million cans of beer a year to Pine Ridge residents! This includes literally making a killing by peddling high-alcohol malt liquors, such as Busch's aptly named "Hurricane High." So much for "Drink responsibly."  READ MORE

How the Conservative Worldview Quashes Critical Thinking -- and What That Means For Our Kids' Future

Photo Credit:
The education of our children is a core cultural and political choice that reflects the deepest differences between liberals and conservatives.
May 18, 2012

The Conservative War On Education continues apace, with charters blooming everywhere, high-stakes testing cementing its grip on classrooms, and legislators and pundits wondering what we need those stupid liberal arts colleges for anyway. (Isn't college about job prep? Who needs to know anything about art history, anthropology or ancient Greek?)

Amid the din, there's a worrisome trend: liberals keep affirming right-wing talking points, usually without realizing that they're even right wing. Or saying things like, "The education of our children is a non-partisan issue that should exist outside of any ideological debate."

The hell it is. People who say stuff like this have no idea what they're talking about. The education of our children is a core cultural and political choice that reflects the deepest differences between liberals and conservatives -- because every educational conversation must start with the fundamental philosophical question: What is an education for?

Our answers to that question could not be more diametrically opposed.   READ MORE

For Kodak, nuclear reactor and weapons-grade uranium proved useful

An Eastman Kodak facility had a small nuclear reactor
and 3½ pounds of weapons-grade uranium for more
than 30 years. (Associated Press / May 14, 2012)

Kodak has the bomb.

 … OK, not really. But according to a report from the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle, an Eastman Kodak facility had a small nuclear reactor and 3 ½ pounds of weapons-grade uranium for more than 30 years.

Kodak. The company that makes cameras and printers.

“It’s such an odd situation because private companies just don’t have this material,” Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, D.C., told the Democrat and Chronicle.

No kidding. A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the Los Angeles Times that the company had enriched 1,582 grams of uranium-235 up to 93.4%, a level considered weapons-grade. Good thing Kodak isn't in Iran; that’s the kind of thing Israel’s been threatening to go to war over.
The company was using the reactor to check its chemicals and perform radiography tests, the commission said, and had upgraded to its in-house system after using one at Cornell University, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. It was reportedly guarded and monitored carefully.
Kodak, not known as one of the world’s nuclear powers, filed for bankruptcy protection in January and has been shedding some of its holdingsREAD MORE