Tuesday, June 30, 2015

SUPREME COURT - End-Term Rulings

"Supreme Court ends term with rulings on EPA, voter redistricting and lethal injection" PBS NewsHour 6/29/2015


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court ended a dramatic session with high-profile rulings on three issues:  how the EPA regulates air pollution, how to map voting lines and the death penalty by lethal injection.  Judy Woodruff learns more from Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The U.S. Supreme Court closed out a dramatic session today with three more high-profile decisions.  The latest rulings touched on how the Environmental Protection Agency regulates our air, how to map voting lines and how states carry out the death penalty.

Justices also put on hold a Texas law that was set to close a number of clinics that perform abortions in the state this week.

And joining me to discuss it all is our hardworking court expert, Marcia Coyle, with “The National Law Journal.”

No shortage.  They went out — they’re going out with a bang.  Let’s put it that way.

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:  They absolutely are, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So, let’s start with this Texas decision.  This was an emergency appeal that the court granted this afternoon to block the state of Texas from immediately imposing these stricter regulations on abortion clinics.  What was happening here?


A lower federal court had ruled against the Whole Women’s Health clinic and other abortion clinics in Texas in their challenge to the Texas law, which requires the clinic to meet all the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities, which the clinics claim they are not, and also that their physicians have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinic.

This is a temporary delay to allow the clinics to file what we call a petition for cert, their appeal of that lower court decision.  Four justices would have allowed the lower court’s decision to go into effect immediately, the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito.

July 1 was the deadline.  That’s when the lower court decision was to take effect.  So, it’s now on hold.  The appeals by the clinics have not yet been filed in the Supreme Court.

"What the Supreme Court’s mercury ruling means for the EPA" PBS NewsHour 6/29/2015


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency in a case on how federal regulators set limits on mercury emitted from power plants, finding that the EPA failed to take economic costs into account.  Jeffrey Brown examines the implications with Dr. Lynn Goldman of the George Washington University and Jeffrey Holmstead of Environmental Strategies Group.

Monday, June 29, 2015

WAR ON ISIS - One Year Later

"Study:  Arrests for alleged ISIS supporters on the rise in the U.S." PBS NewsHour 6/27/2015


SUMMARY:  Monday marks the first full year since ISIS declared the "Caliphate" -- an Islamic State -- part of the justification for its terror campaign across the Middle East.  A new study from Fordham University has uncovered an increase in the number of Americans arrested for allegedly supporting ISIS.  The Director of Fordham's Center on National Security, Karen Greenberg, joins Hari Sreenivasan with more.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  Monday marks the first full year since ISIS declared the caliphate, an Islamic State, part of the justification for its terror campaign across the Middle East.

Just this week, ISIS claimed responsibility for deadly attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait, and is suspected of an attack in France.

The Justice Department has estimated at least 2,700 Westerners have traveled to join ISIS in the fighting in Syria, including some from the U.S.

Now, a new study from Fordham University Law School shows arrests in the U.S. for allegedly supporting ISIS are growing.  Since last March of 2014, federal prosecutors have charged 56 people for supporting ISIS.  Law enforcement killed three other suspects.

Fordham researchers say most of the accused are U.S. citizens.  More than 60 percent of those charged are 21 or younger, and more than 80 percent of the cases involved recruitment with social media.

I’m joined now by the head of that study, the Director of Fordham’s Center on National Security, Karen Greenberg.

OPINION - Shields and Gerson 6/26/2015

"Shields and Gerson on Supreme Court’s gay marriage and Obamacare decisions" PBS NewsHour 6/26/2015


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the week’s news, including the historic Supreme Court overturning state bans on same-sex marriage, the Court’s ruling preserving the Affordable Care Act and the growing movement to remove the Confederate flag symbols from public spaces in South Carolina.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  And to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

The first topic is going to be a total shocker, gay marriage.  We have talked about it a little bit.  The country struggled with it for quite some time.

Does legal acceptance mean cultural acceptance?

MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist:  Yes.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right.  That was the shortest answer…

MARK SHIELDS:  No, I really — I really do think this has been moving.

Unlike Roe v. Wade, where, quite frankly, 40 years later, opinions are still frozen, as it was moving toward a legislative solution, which is always the ideal in a democracy, that you can do it by popular vote and so forth, I don’t think there’s any question that the momentum behind the support for same-sex marriage, for equity was just exponential.

It went from 40 percent just five-and-a-half years ago of Americans to 60 percent now, 70 percent of men under the age of 49 — 49 — 18 to 49, 70 percent of women.  It’s just — it’s incredible.  So, I think that this just accelerates it and seals it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Michael Gerson, we heard someone from the Heritage Foundation earlier on in the program say that this conversation is not over, that this could be long-lasting.

MICHAEL GERSON, Washington Post:  Well, I think I agree with Mark on this.  This has moved unbelievably swiftly.

Seven years ago this summer in August, the current President of the United States said that he believed that marriage was a sacred woman of a man — a sacred union of a man and woman, seven years ago.  That viewpoint has now been declared illegal as a basis for law in all 50 states, in seven years.  I don’t know any precedent for that.  That’s pretty extraordinary.

If you step back a little bit, there are some broad cultural reasons for this, not just the court.  But there’s really the strategy of coming out, in which more Americans now know people who are gay, which I think has changed and humanized this debate in many ways, change in sexual mores that you see in Hollywood and other places that have taken place over the last few decades, and a change in strategy in the courts, really going — wanting to join a bourgeois institution, marriage, and making a conservative argument to people like Andrew Sullivan and Jon Rauch, making conservative arguments for stability and commitment.

This was an argument that appealed to Middle America.  And it is the argument that won in this court today.

CONNECTICUT - New Workers' Wage Law

"Connecticut Just Passed a Law Requiring Bosses Who Steal Workers’ Wages to Pay Them Back Double" by Ava Tomasula y Garcia, In These Times 6/25/2015

For many employers, wage theft makes good business sense.  The probability of getting caught refusing to pay a worker overtime, shaving hours off their check or paying less than the minimum wage is low.  And even in the small number of cases pursued by victims that see the inside of a courtroom, employees often only recover a fraction of what they’re owed.  A new law in Connecticut, however, aims to change this.

This Wednesday, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy signed into law Senate Bill 914, a measure that will allow victims of wage theft to collect double the amount due them.  By making the cost of breaking the law outweigh the cost of following it, business owners will be deterred from committing the crime in the first place.

“This is going to mean the transfer of millions of dollars each year from cheating employers to low-wage workers,” says James Bhandary-Alexander, a lawyer for New Haven Legal Assistance who represents victims of wage theft.

And yet, as Bhandary-Alexander notes, SB-914 is only a “modest” step in providing workers fair compensation.  Passed after years of effort by workers, immigrant rights advocates and myriad grassroots organizations, SB-914 paradoxically illustrates how large the holes are in existing labor laws across the country—and what an uphill struggle it will be to achieve what Bhandary-Alexander calls “major” progress:  a $15 and hour minimum wage, fair scheduling legislation, the elimination of tip credit and other provisions.

“We can see now how big a battle it is,” he added.

Double down, triple to go

The new law is intended to alleviate a number of gaping holes in state law that allowed bosses to get away with stealing workers’ wages.  Up until now, Connecticut employees had to prove “bad faith, arbitrariness or unreasonableness” on the employer’s part in addition to wage theft, making it extremely difficult for victims to collect.  Courts regularly construed “bad faith” so narrowly that the majority of wage theft charges couldn’t pass muster.

In a 2010 case, for example, Ann Maratea was denied double damages because a Connecticut Superior Court held that her employer, Taylor Freezer, supposedly was “unaware” that it had to pay overtime for the entire 10-year period she worked there.  According to the court, “although it was known to management personnel that Ann Maratea would arrive … well before the official 8 a.m. start of the work day,” failure to pay a single cent for the 10 extra hours Maratea put in every week for a decade didn’t amount to proof of employer “bad faith.”  And so the judge ruled that Taylor Freezer didn’t have to pay Maratea the full amount she would seemingly be legally entitled to.

Now, in order to avoid paying double damages, employers who commit wage theft must demonstrate that they undertook specific investigation into how much constitutes a legal wage, and then somehow made a mistake.  SB-914 lifts the burden of proof from the employee to the employer.

This is crucial because provisions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act for double damages only apply to workers who are part of “interstate commerce” and those whose employers make over $500,000 a year.  This means that, for millions of workers around the country, federal wage law simply doesn’t apply—making legislation at the state level, including SB-914, their only recourse.

Still, even advocates who pushed for the law say it’s far from ideal.

“To be honest,” said Megan Fountain, an organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), a grassroots workers’ and immigrants’ rights organization whose members lobbied hard for the law, “SB-914 is nowhere close to the best wage theft laws in the country.  Ten states make an employer liable for triple damages.”

But even among those states that provide for treble damages (Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia), few make the grade in wage theft prevention.  According to one 2012 study which gave states a letter grade based on the strength of their wage theft prevention laws, the two highest-ranking states, New York and Massachusetts, only got a C+ and a C. Connecticut brought home a D—and 18 states scored effectively zero.

“I’d say wage theft is the biggest crime wave in the country,” Bhandary-Alexander added.

Organize, organize, organize

In 1938, Congress passed the nation’s first-ever wage law, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which made double damages a federal requirement.  Yet nearly a century later, the gap between actual practice and national paper provisions is enormous.

In protests that continue to ripple across the country, workers have attested to the variety of ways by which they are deprived of their due pay:  Employers regularly pay below minimum wage, withhold overtime pay or tips, misclassify their employees as independent contractors and engage in a whole host of other tactics to pay workers less than what they are legally owed.  In many industries, wage theft is endemic.

National studies find that over 60 percent of workers in low-wage industries suffer wage violations each week, and that wage theft costs workers $50 billion a year.  In 2013, the Connecticut Department of Labor recovered $6.5 million in unpaid wages.  But many workers use civil suits instead of going through the DOL, and one can safely assume that many did not file complaints because of language barriers or fear of retaliation.  The way the legal odds are stacked—and thanks to years of budget cuts that have reduced DOL Wage and Hour investigators to only about 20 percent their number in the 1970s—there are few incentives for an employer to not steal wages.

In her testimony in front of the Connecticut state senate in support of the new law, Karim Calle, a full-time student and worker from East Haven who said that in years past she had made as little as $30 a day waitressing, told the court what can happen to a worker trying to get back stolen wages.  Calle spoke about two nail salons in Darien and New Canaan where manicurists were discriminated against, sexually harassed by their boss and paid neither minimum wage nor overtime.  In addition, workers developed health problems because of the toxic chemicals they came into contact with daily.

In 2008, six of the women who worked in the salons filed a lawsuit for $370,000 in stolen wages.  As the case wound its way through the courts, the employer’s three houses suddenly went into foreclosure, and he sold the two salons to his niece before disappearing.  “Fraudulent employers use these practices frequently,” Calle said.  Even though the court came to a judgment for $209,000, the employees had no way to collect it.

Calle is a member of ULA, and fought hard for SB-914 as part of a package of laws, including one that would have brought wage liens to Connecticut.  Wage liens enable workers to put a legal hold on an employer’s property when filing a wage theft claim and ensure that an employer can’t “disappear” assets before being ordered to pay what they owe—as the nail salon owner did.

Liens have been used successfully in Wisconsin, Maryland, Alaska, Idaho and Washington, and are being fought for in states like New York, where it’s known as the SWEAT bill (Securing Wages Earned Against Theft).  Yet SB-914 is the only bill of the group that made it through the Connecticut Congress thus far.

Yet perhaps the most important advance to come out of SB-914 was the high level of community and worker organization that coalesced around the law.  Groups like ULA joined forces with Legal Services lawyers, union members, local students, activists from the Connecticut Immigrants’ Rights Alliance, the Fight for $15 campaign and others to secure the bill’s passage.  According to Calle, this coalition is what made the bill’s passage successful.

“This isn’t just a legal problem,” said Bhandary-Alexander, “it’s a political problem and a cultural problem, too.  We need to keep fighting the legal battles, yes, and keep increasing the cost of wage theft, but, on the bottom end, it’s organizing, organizing, organizing… SB-914 shows you both what you can do with not a ton of resources but a lot of patience and energy,” he concluded.  “But the question is, how do we accomplish more?”

The law becomes effective October 1, 2015.


"Why Chicago Won’t Go Bankrupt—And Detroit Didn’t Have To" by Saqib Bhatti, In These Times 6/22/2015

When Detroit became the largest city in the history of the United States to file bankruptcy in 2013, a question quickly emerged:  Which city would be next?

Because conventional wisdom held that bloated pensions had bankrupted Detroit, the conversation revolved around other cities with large pension shortfalls, such as New York, Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Florida.  Anti-union politicians used the opportunity to hold up Detroit as a boogeyman.  Bruce Rauner, then a Republican candidate for Illinois governor, ran a campaign ad in 2013 that said, “Detroit just declared bankruptcy, and if we don’t change direction, Illinois is next,” explicitly invoking the state’s unfunded pension liability as the reason (it should be noted that this claim was untrue, as federal law bars states from filing bankruptcy).

All of this uproar rested on a basic falsehood in the dominant public narrative around Detroit, that pensions played a key role in driving the city bankrupt.  But those who studied the bankruptcy closely know that the reverse is true:  The city filed bankruptcy so that it could cut pensions.

Detroit’s bankruptcy was not borne out of financial necessity and was not a foregone conclusion.  It was a political decision made by state officials. Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature chose to push the distressed city over the edge in order to accomplish two otherwise difficult political goals:  slashing pensions and regionalizing the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.  It was disaster capitalism at its finest.

Austerity hawks are now hoping to use the Detroit playbook in other cities to force the public to accept extreme measures to fix budget crises.  And the bond markets seem to have finally settled on an answer to that question about which city will be the next Detroit: Chicago.  Moody’s Investor Service, one of the three major credit rating agencies, just downgraded Chicago’s credit rating to junk level—the municipal equivalent of a subprime credit score, cautioning potential lenders that the city may not be able to pay them back—making it the lowest-rated major city in the country after Detroit.

Chicago is not an obvious choice.  It remains the third largest city in the country, has a thriving downtown and is home to some of the largest and most profitable corporations and wealthiest people in the world.  Chicago clearly has money, even though its distribution is wildly unequal.

But as was the case in Detroit, the talk of a Chicago bankruptcy has little to do with the city’s financial health and much to do with a broader political agenda to obliterate the social safety net and slash pensions.  Even though there are numerous reasons why Chicago is not going bankrupt, the fact is that there has been a sustained effort by politicians like Mayor Rahm Emanuel to create a financial crisis and then use the threat of bankruptcy in order to usher in deep and painful cuts, just as the Right was able to do in Detroit.

Chicago is the test case for whether the Detroit playbook can be run in other, more prosperous cities.  If it succeeds there, cities across the country will likely emulate this strategy to balance budgets on the backs of working-class communities while letting banks, big corporations and the rich off the hook.

The Detroit playbook

Most of us learn about bankruptcy through games like Monopoly or Wheel of Fortune, where being bankrupt is synonymous with being broke.  But when it comes to municipalities, not only is bankruptcy a choice, it is a political choice.  Elected officials decide whether to do it, when to do it and how to do it, and their primary reasons for doing it do not even have to be financial.

Municipal bankruptcy is also unique in other ways.  In a corporate bankruptcy, for example, a company can be liquidated and all of its assets can be sold off to pay its creditors.  However, as a matter of practicality, a city cannot be liquidated.  Detroit is not Circuit City.  If all its assets were sold off—streets, buses, police and fire stations—what would happen to the people who continued to live there post-bankruptcy?  Because municipal bankruptcies are premised on the notion that cities should survive their bankruptcy and one day even thrive, the goal is not to obliterate a city in order to pay down its outstanding debt.

Under Chapter 9 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, municipalities may file bankruptcy if they are unable to pay their debts as they come due.  In order to emerge from bankruptcy, they don’t need to be able to pay all of their outstanding debts right away, but rather to pay their bills on time.  Just as a homeowner with a 30-year mortgage only needs enough money to make each monthly payment, cities similarly just need to be able to pay their bills, one bill at a time.

During Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who had been appointed by Snyder to run the city during its fiscal crisis, repeatedly asserted that the city had $18 billion in outstanding debt, so as to imply that the city had to come up with $18 billion in savings to get out of bankruptcy.  This was not true.

First of all, that $18 billion number itself was inflated using non-standard accounting assumptions and by including debt that did not actually belong to the city itself, such as the debt of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.  But more importantly, the $18 billion figure was irrelevant for the purposes of Chapter 9 bankruptcy, since there was never any expectation that the city pay all of its long-term debts immediately.  What mattered, according to an analysis by the think-tank Demos, was the $198 million cash flow shortfall that the city faced that fiscal year.  Detroit’s expenses were $198 million more than its revenues, so it could not pay its bills as they came due.

The $198 million shortfall could have been addressed fairly easily—in part, simply by undoing state actions that had pushed Detroit into bad financial straits in the first place.  For example, Detroit had taken a major financial hit over the course of 2011 and 2012, when Snyder and the Michigan Legislature decided to cut annual state revenue sharing with the city by $67 million.  Restoring that funding would have filled one-third of the city’s shortfall.  Second, there were state-imposed restrictions on the city’s ability to raise local taxes, dating back to the 1990s.  Lifting those restrictions would have allowed the city to raise taxes and bring in new revenue.

Or the legislature could have passed a law requiring suburban employers to automatically deduct city income tax for reverse commuters who lived in Detroit.  The city instead had to rely on reverse commuters to voluntarily pay their taxes.  According to a study commissioned by the Mayor’s Office, in 2009 alone, Detroit lost $142 million as a result of this loophole.  But instead, the $18 billion figure was held up to create a greater sense of urgency in order to justify drastic cuts at the expense of public employees and wrest control of the water department from the city.

Conservatives in Michigan had long been scapegoating Detroit’s pension obligations as the source of its fiscal problems, and Snyder began enacting policies to undermine pensions his first year in office.  However, the Michigan Constitution, like that of many other states, protects government workers’ pensions from cuts—since pensions are, after all, deferred wages for work that has already been done.  Federal bankruptcy law, however, does not protect pensioners when a city declares bankruptcy.  Detroit was a test case for whether municipalities could get around their state constitutions by filing bankruptcy under Chapter 9.  In 2013, during Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings, a federal judge ruled that they can, because federal law trumps state law.

Then there was the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), a source of political power for the majority African-American city, which many white suburban residents had grown to resent.  White suburban voters are an important constituency for Snyder, who needs them to make up for his low approval rating in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city.

The election of Coleman Young as Detroit’s first African-American mayor in 1973 accelerated white flight out of the city.  Even though most of Detroit’s white families moved to the suburbs, they were still dependent on the city-run water department, which serves most of southeastern Michigan and 40 percent of the state’s population.  This created a lot of tension.  Whenever there were service problems or rate hikes, suburban residents blamed it on the mismanagement by what they believed to be corrupt and incompetent city officials.  While corruption was a real problem in Detroit, including in the DWSD, these charges often fed off racial tensions.

Through bankruptcy, the state was finally able to take control of the water department out of Detroit’s hands and regionalize it.  In one stroke, Snyder had achieved two long-sought political goals.

The next Detroit?

Politicians have been raising the specter of a Detroit-style bankruptcy in Chicago for a couple of years now— most recently in the mayoral runoff election this spring, when Sen. Mark Kirk commented that Chicago could end up like Detroit if Mayor Emanuel lost.  But the threat never seemed credible to most people who were actually familiar with Chicago, because Chicago appears to be a fundamentally prosperous city.  Then, in May, Moody’s Investor Service downgraded the credit ratings of both the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools to junk level.  Suddenly, the threat seemed much more real.

The downgrades could force the city and the school district to hand over as much as $2.5 billion in early payments and penalties to banks on various financial deals.  The city was forced to pay penalty interest rates on a $674 million bond offering, which will cost taxpayers an extra $70 million.  The downgrades themselves were a direct response to an Illinois Supreme Court decision affirming the state constitution’s protection of government workers’ pensions, effectively prohibiting the state and local governments from slashing pensions to balance their budget.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel would not be allowed to cut pensions and pay debts.  Chicago seemed to be running out of options.  Talk of a bankruptcy suddenly no longer seemed so farfetched.

Except that it is, because the political will is not there.  Emanuel does not want his legacy to be that he bankrupted the third largest city in the country.  Even though wealth and income are very unequally distributed across the city, Chicago still enjoys a healthy tax base and, unlike Detroit, has no statutory limits on its ability to raise local taxes (although it cannot implement a city income tax without state authorization).  Chicago will not go bankrupt because the mayor will raise taxes if necessary to avoid that fate.

There is one other big reason why Chicago will not go bankrupt:  It can’t.  Under Illinois state law, municipalities are not allowed to file bankruptcy.  Chapter 9 delineates the process for municipal bankruptcy, but it is up to each individual state whether to let cities use that process.  Michigan does.  Illinois, like 25 other states, does not.

As was the case in Detroit, politicians are invoking bankruptcy in Chicago to create public support for slashing pensions.  Like Michigan’s, the Illinois Constitution also protects government workers’ pensions.  There was a bill in the Illinois Legislature this session to allow municipal bankruptcies, and its chief proponents made no secret of the fact that their goal was to let cities use bankruptcy to get around the state constitution’s pension protections.  Elected officials from smaller cities, such as Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, heralded the municipal bankruptcy bill as a godsend that would allow them to “set aside the unmanageable and unsustainable labor contracts and pension agreements with which local taxpayers have been saddled across the state.”

The bill was supported by Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who advocated the use of bankruptcy to help municipalities deal with their budget woes.  Of course, he, too, was taking a page out of the Detroit playbook.  He created a financial crisis for cities across the state by proposing a 50 percent reduction in municipalities’ share of state income tax revenue.  Like state officials did to Detroit, Rauner inflicted financial hardship on cities and then dangled bankruptcy in front of them as the solution.

The municipal bankruptcy bill did not pass before the end of the session on May 31, but even the threat of such legislation can be a powerful tool for officials to strengthen their hand in contract negotiations with public sector unions and convince the broader public to accept an austerity agenda.

The predatory lending crisis no one talks about

Austerity hawks have done a great job of selling budget shortfalls as the result of reckless overspending by incompetent and corrupt government officials.  As a result, the solution gets framed as a choice between cutting pensions or slashing the social safety net.  Working-class communities lose either way, while the 1% remains untouched.

But the real problem with public budgets is that there is not enough revenue coming into public coffers.  Since the Reagan Revolution, there has been a sustained effort to delegitimize government and suppress taxes.  Tax rates for corporations and top income-earners have declined at precisely the moment that the United States has seen the most explosive population growth, leaving all levels of government unable to afford to pay for the basic services that communities need to function.  As a result, government borrowing has skyrocketed.

While it is sound public policy to use debt to fund long-term capital projects, it is deeply problematic when governments are forced to borrow money to deal with revenue shortfalls.  It is even more problematic when they are doing so as a result of a concerted effort to suppress taxes by the same banks and people they are borrowing from.  Banks and the wealthy created a crisis by lobbying hard to suppress taxes, and then they use that crisis to enrich themselves—a page right out of the Detroit playbook.

When cities and states borrow money by issuing bonds, the lenders are typically high-wealth individuals, who purchase the bonds to get a tax break.  It is a perverse system through which, rather than paying their fair share in taxes, the wealthy are instead able to lend that money to us, charge us interest for it, and then claim a further tax break on it.

The banks that underwrite municipal bonds also profit by selling cities addon products like interest rate swaps.  As municipal debt exploded, from $361 billion in 1981 (about $940 billion in today’s dollars) to $3.7 trillion in 2012, banks started targeting cash-strapped cities with more and more of these add-ons, which had high costs and hidden risks, were overly complex and were often designed to fail.  They were predatory finance deals, much like the predatory mortgages targeted at cash-strapped homeowners.  Some of these practices were illegal, while others were merely unethical.  The effect was that banks collected billions in fees from borrowing that was necessitated in the first place by their refusal to pay their fair share in taxes.

At the same time that this was happening, anti-government conservatives started sounding the alarm over rising government debt in order to make the case for privatizing services.  This allowed many of the same corporations that had lobbied for lower taxes to then profit off the revenue crisis they had helped create by literally buying up public assets, such as tollways and parking meters, and then charging us to use them.

Because state and local governments did not have enough tax revenue coming in, they often opted for “pension holidays” to make ends meet, skipping payments to the pension fund.  Over time, this created large unfunded pension liabilities.  In effect, cities and states borrowed money from pensioners to make up for revenue shortfalls.  Now austerity hawks are using these unfunded liabilities to argue for slashing pensions, even though it was their own anti-tax policies that caused the problem.

A progressive playbook

We need to flip the Detroit playbook on its head to create a new class of winners, working class communities.  We must reject the paradigm in which Moody’s points a gun to our head and forces us to choose between closing schools and throwing seniors under the bus.  We cannot allow austerity hawks to manufacture crises in order to push radically regressive agendas that balance the budgets on the backs of those who can least afford it.

We need to define the “austerity” problem as what it is—a lack of revenue caused by the refusal of Wall Street banks, big corporations and millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes— and put forth solutions to make them pay.  This includes progressive revenue measures:  We can pass a millionaires tax and a financial transactions tax, close corporate tax loopholes and end subsidies for profitable companies.  It also includes policies to stop Wall Street from gouging taxpayers, like renegotiating predatory banking fees and toxic financial deals, and creating public banks to cut out Wall Street altogether.

We must reframe the choice for elected officials as one between the 99% and the 1%. Will Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel close another 50 schools to balance the Chicago Public Schools budget, or will he sue the banks that likely broke federal law by selling the school district predatory interest rate swaps that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars?  Will Rauner cut state aid to cities in half and force them to slash essential public services, or will he fight for a millionaires tax? Whose side is he on?

A quick Google search shows that nearly every major city in America has been called “the next Detroit” at some point in the last two years.  The Right plans to use the Detroit playbook across the country to force the general public to accept unconscionable cuts to public works while letting the true culprits off the hook.  We need to expose the people and corporations who are profiting from the crises that they created, and force them to pay their fair share.

GREED FILES - Big Telecoms Buy States to Fight Cities

"How States Are Fighting to Keep Towns From Offering Their Own Broadband" by Leticia Miranda, ProPublica 6/26/2015

North Carolina and Tennessee are the latest states to side with telecoms, which have long lobbied against allowing cities to become Internet providers.

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission voted to ease the way for cities to become Internet service providers.  So-called municipal broadband is already a reality in a few towns, often providing Internet access and faster service to rural communities that cable companies don’t serve.

The cable and telecommunications industry have long lobbied against city-run broadband, arguing that taxpayer money should not fund potential competitors to private companies.

The telecom companies have what may seem like an unlikely ally: states.  Roughly 20 states have restrictions against municipal broadband.

And the attorneys general in North Carolina and Tennessee have recently filed lawsuits in an attempt to overrule the FCC and block towns in these states from expanding publicly funded Internet service.

North Carolina’s attorney general argued in a suit filed last month that the “FCC unlawfully inserted itself between the State and the State’s political subdivisions.”  Tennessee’s attorney general filed a similar suit in March.

Tennessee has hired one of the country’s largest telecom lobbying and law firms, Wiley Rein, to represent the state in its suit.  The firm, founded by a former FCC chairman, has represented AT&T, Verizon and Qwest, among others.

James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School, said it is not unusual for attorneys general to seek outside counsel for specialized cases that they view as a priority.

Asked about the suit, the Tennessee attorney general’s office told ProPublica, “This is a question of the state’s sovereign ability to define the role of its local governmental units.”  North Carolina Attorney General’s office said in a statement that the “legal defense of state laws by the Attorney General’s office is a statutory requirement.”

As the New York Times detailed last year, state attorneys general have become a major target of corporate lobbyists and contributors including AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile.

North Carolina is no exception.  The state’s Attorney General Roy Cooper received roughly $35,000 from the telecommunications industry in his 2012 run for office.  Only the state’s retail industry gave more.

The donations are just a small part of contributions the industry has made in the states.  In North Carolina’s 2014 elections, the telecommunications industry gave a combined $870,000 to candidates in both parties, which made it one of the top industries to contribute that year.  Candidates in Tennessee received nearly $921,000 from AT&T and other industry players in 2014.

The FCC’s decision came after two towns – City of Wilson in North Carolina and Chattanooga in Tennessee – appealed to the agency to be able to expand their networks.

The vote has rattled some companies.  In a government filing earlier this year, Comcast cited the FCC’s decision as a risk to the company’s business:  “Any changes to the regulatory framework applicable to any of our services or businesses could have a negative impact on our businesses and results of operations.”

If the court upholds the FCC’s authority to preempt restrictions in North Carolina and Tennessee, it may embolden other cities to file petitions with the agency, according to lawyer Jim Baller, who represents Wilson and the Chattanooga Electric Power Board.  “A victory by the FCC would be a very welcome result for many communities across America,” said Baller.

For some residents in and outside of Chattanooga, clearing the way to city-run broadband would mean the sort of faster Internet access that others might take for granted.

For 12 years, Eva VanHook, 39, of Georgetown, Tennessee, lived with a satellite broadband connection so slow that she’d read a book while waiting for a web page to load.  In order for her son to access online materials for his school assignments, she’d drive him 12 miles to their church parking lot, where he could access faster WiFi.

Charter, the local Internet service provider, declined several requests by her husband to build lines out to her home.  Only last month did Charter connect her home to the Internet.  “Even the possibility to jump on [the local utility’s] gigabit network would blow our minds right now,” VanHook said.  “There is nothing faster than Chattanooga.  Just through meeting them and hearing them speak and having them understand what’s going on, that’s the kind of place I want to do business.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

SUPREME COURT - On Same-Sex Marriage! (UPDATE)

"Supreme Court extends same-sex marriage nationwide" by Mark Sherman, PBS NewsHour 6/26/2015

The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States, a historic culmination of decades of litigation over gay marriage and gay rights generally.

Gay and lesbian couples already could marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia.  The court’s 5-4 ruling means the remaining 14 states, in the South and Midwest, will have to stop enforcing their bans on same-sex marriage.

Gay rights supporters cheered, danced and wept outside the court after the decision, which put an exclamation point on breathtaking changes in the nation’s social norms.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, just as he did in the court’s previous three major gay rights cases dating back to 1996.  It came on the anniversary of two of those earlier decisions.

No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote, joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.  The stories of the people asking for the right to marry “reveal that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memory, joined by its bond,” Kennedy said.

As he read his opinion, spectators in the courtroom wiped away tears after the import of the decision became clear.  One of those in the audience was James Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court fight.

Outside, Obergefell held up a photo of his late spouse, John, and said the ruling establishes that “our love is equal.”  He added, “This is for you, John.”

President Barack Obama placed a congratulatory phone call to Obergefell, which he took amid a throng of reporters outside the courthouse.

Speaking a few minutes later at the White House, Obama praised the decision as “justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”  He said it was an affirmation of the principle that “all Americans are created equal.”

The four dissenting justices each filed a separate opinion explaining his views, but they all agreed that states and their voters should have been left with the power to decide who can marry.

“This court is not a legislature.  Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent.  Roberts read a summary of his dissent from the bench, the first time he has done so in nearly 10 years as chief justice.

“If you are among the many Americans — of whatever sexual orientation — who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” Roberts said.  “But do not celebrate the Constitution.  It had nothing to do with it.”

Justice Antonin Scalia said he was not concerned so much about same-sex marriage but about “this court’s threat to American democracy.”  Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented.  President Barack Obama welcomed the decision via Twitter, calling it “a big step in our march toward equality.”

The ruling will not take effect immediately because the court gives the losing side roughly three weeks to ask for reconsideration.  But some state officials and county clerks might decide there is little risk in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The cases before the court involved laws from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.  Those states have not allowed same-sex couples to marry within their borders and they also have refused to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.

Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that denied a range of government benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor formed the majority with Kennedy on Friday, the same lineup as two years ago.

The earlier decision in United States v. Windsor did not address the validity of state marriage bans, but courts across the country, with few exceptions, said its logic compelled them to invalidate state laws that prohibited gay and lesbian couples from marrying.

The number of states allowing same-sex marriage has grown rapidly.  As recently as last October, just over one-third of the states permitted it.

There are an estimated 390,000 married same-sex couples in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, which tracks the demographics of gay and lesbian Americans.  Another 70,000 couples living in states that do not currently permit them to wed would get married in the next three years, the institute says.  Roughly 1 million same-sex couples, married and unmarried, live together in the United States, the institute says.

The Obama administration backed the right of same-sex couples to marry.  The Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the federal anti-marriage law in 2011 was an important moment for gay rights, and Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in 2012.

The states affected by Friday’s ruling are:  Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, most of Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.

"Same-sex couples gain equal right to marry" PBS NewsHour 6/26/2015


SUMMARY:  In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down all same-sex marriage bans in the country, thus legalizing marriage for all gay couples in the United States.  Political director Lisa Desjardins reports from the steps of the high court, then Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan to take a deeper look at the ruling.

"Historic gay marriage equality ruling sparks celebration, debate" PBS NewsHour 6/26/2015


SUMMARY:  For reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage across the country, Jeffrey Brown talks to Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church, Austin Nimocks of the Alliance Defending Freedom, Sarah Warbelow of Human Rights Campaign and Tevin Johnson-Campion, son of two of the plaintiffs in court today.

SUPREME COURT - On Housing Enforcement

"Will this Supreme Court ruling lead to greater fair housing enforcement?" PBS NewsHour 6/25/2015


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court ruled today that housing discrimination doesn't have to be intentional for plaintiffs to be able to sue.  Gwen Ifill gets background on the case from Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal, then Hari Sreenivasan gets two views on the ruling from Ralph W. Kasarda of Pacific Legal Foundation and Olatunde Johnson of Columbia Law School.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The justices also ruled on another significant aspect of American life, housing segregation.

As we mentioned earlier, a closely divided court found that housing discrimination, whether it occurs by zoning or home sales, doesn’t have to be intentional for plaintiffs to sue.

And, again, we turn to Marcia Coyle.

Tell us about that case.

MARCIA COYLE, The National Law Journal:  OK.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it illegal to refuse to sell or rent a house, an apartment dwelling when there’s been a legitimate offer because of someone’s race, national origin, color.  It’s been clear for a long time that you can bring intentional discrimination claims under that act.

But intentional discrimination is very difficult to prove.  You have to get into somebody’s motive or mind.  What’s not been so clear to some is whether you can bring another type of claim, what we call disparate impact claim.

GWEN IFILL:  My first definition from you, I want.  Explain what that is.

MARCIA COYLE:  Right.  Exactly.

That’s a claim that says a policy or a decision that appears neutral on its face has a discriminatory effect on someone.

GWEN IFILL:  Give me an example.

MARCIA COYLE:  Well, in this case, all right, the claim is that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs is giving tax credits, federal tax credits to developers to develop low-income housing, but it’s giving most of those tax credits to develop low-income housing in predominantly black low-income neighborhoods, and not trying to steer more tax credits to development in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.

Is the department intentionally discriminating?  Well, again, that’s very difficult to prove.  But if you look at statistics, which is how you usually prove disparate impact claims, they’re saying that what the Texas department is doing has a discriminatory effect.

SUPREME COURT - On the Affordable Care Act

WE (the American people) WON!

"Chief Justice Roberts: Congress passed ACA to improve insurance markets, not destroy them" PBS NewsHour 6/25/2015

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  For the second time, the president’s signature health care program has survived a potentially life-or-death legal challenge.

Today’s Supreme Court decision created waves of relief at the White House and beyond.

PROTESTERS:  ACA is here to stay!

GWEN IFILL:  Supporters of the Affordable Care Act erupted in cheers outside the court as the news reached the marble steps.  An hour later, President Obama and Vice President Biden stepped into the White House Rose Garden to savor the victory.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  There can be no doubt that this law is working.  It has changed, and in some cases saved American lives.  It’s set this country on a smarter, stronger course.

And, today, after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law, after a presidential election based in part on preserving or repealing this law, after multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

GWEN IFILL:  The law had survived a previous Supreme Court test.  This time, opponents challenged the federal subsidies that underpinned its health coverage, specifically in 34 states that didn’t set up their own insurance exchanges.

By 6-3, the court said the subsidies do apply.  Had the decision gone the other way, more than six million people could have lost their health coverage.  Chief Justice John Roberts took note of that potential in his majority opinion, saying:  “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.

But Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent, read aloud from the bench, was scathing.  He said, in part:  “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” alluding to the court’s 2012 decision to uphold the law for a different reason.

The high court also sided with civil rights activists in a high-profile challenge to housing law.  In a case from Texas, the justices voted 5-4 that discrimination lawsuits can be brought even if the action was unintentional.

But it was the ACA decision that dominated the day.

Ron Pollack of FAMILIES USA, which favors the law, was at the Supreme Court and welcomed the outcome.

RON POLLACK, Executive Director, Families USA:  It means that the millions of people who have been receiving subsidies that make all the difference in terms of whether health insurance is affordable, people will continue to receive those subsidies and they will continue to have health insurance.

GWEN IFILL:  Those on the losing side lamented the decision.  Sam Kazman is with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team.

SAM KAZMAN, Competitive Enterprise Institute:  Today’s ruling is a tragedy for the rule of law in this country.  In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court has twisted and somersaulted on traditional rules of statutory interpretation and essentially allowed the IRS to rewrite the very statute that Congress enacted.

GWEN IFILL:  Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, vowed to continue their effort to roll back the whole law.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), Speaker of the House:  Obamacare is fundamentally broken.  It’s raising costs for people.  It’s pushing people out of the ability to afford health insurance.  And it needs to be dealt with.  But, as we know, it’s been — it’s very difficult to deal with it when you have a president that fundamentally disagrees with us.  And so the struggle will continue.

GWEN IFILL:  Also among those vowing repeal, several presidential candidates now running to succeed Mr. Obama.

We will have more on the health care and housing decisions after the news summary.

President's Comments:

"Is this the end of Obamacare legal challenges?" PBS NewsHour 6/25/2015


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court handed down a victory for the Affordable Care Act, ruling that people living in states with federal health exchanges are eligible for tax subsidies despite language in the law.  Gwen Ifill looks at the ruling with Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal, then gets reactions from Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress and Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute.

HOSTAGES - President Obama and an Insider's View

"Shifting policy, Obama pledges U.S. will ‘stand by’ families of hostages" PBS NewsHour 6/24/2015


SUMMARY:  As the number of American hostage deaths have surged in the past year, some families have spoken out about being threatened with prosecution for considering paying ransom and feeling stonewalled by the government.  Judy Woodruff reports on the White House’s efforts today to change the policy for families.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  After coming under fire over the handling of American hostage cases abroad, President Obama today announced a change in policy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  We’re not going to abandon you.  We will stand by you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The President’s pledge to hostage families follows a surge in deaths in the past 12 months.  Six Americans have died in captivity in Syria, Yemen and Pakistan since last summer.  Three of them were beheaded by Islamic State militants in Syria.

Some of the families say they were threatened with prosecution if they had tried to pay ransoms, but Mr. Obama promised today that will change.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  The last thing that we should ever do is to add to a family’s pain with threats like that.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  The U.S. government will maintain its policy against official concessions to terror groups, although, Washington did negotiate last year’s release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.  He had been held five years by the Taliban. And many European countries routinely pay ransoms for captives.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, Foundation for Defense of Democracies:  This is a huge mistake.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  But some, like Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, argue the practice only encourages hostage-taking.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS:  These organizations make hundreds of millions of dollars, when you look at the sum total of them, from hostages.  They will nab a person, they will demand a payment, and then it will strengthen their military capacity and allow them to take further hostages.  This is an enormous problem.

"Refusing to pay ransom won’t stop kidnapping, says former hostage" PBS NewsHour 6/24/2015


SUMMARY:  The White House cleared the path for the families of hostages to be able to pay ransom, and offered other changes for how the government handles hostage cases.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner gets reaction from Michael Scott Moore, a former hostage who was held in Somalia.

HISTORY - South's Confederate Past

"How should the South see its Confederate past?" PBS NewsHour 6/23/2015


SUMMARY:  As more politicians and governments call for the removal of the Confederate flag from public life, and retailers like Amazon and Walmart bar the sale of flag memorabilia, Judy Woodruff talks to Jack Hunter of Rare.us, author Isabel Wilkerson and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention about Southern legacy and confronting difficult history.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The wave of reactions to the Confederate Flag today reached into state capitols across the south.  The governors of Virginia and North Carolina both called for taking the flag off special-order license plates.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, should be taken out of that state’s capitol rotunda.  And, in Mississippi, the speaker of the statehouse called for the removal of the Confederate emblem from the state flag.

We use this moment to take a look at the South of today with Russell Moore, who is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Liberty Commission.  Jack Hunter is a radio host and blogger in South Carolina who has used the identity the Southern Avenger.  And from Atlanta is Isabel Wilkerson. She’s the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Warmth of Other Suns,” about Southern black migration.

And we welcome all three of you to the program.

Russell Moore, let me start with you.

What role does the Confederate Flag play in the identity of the South today, do you believe?

RUSSELL MOORE, Southern Baptist Convention:  Well, I think Confederate Battle Flag is a symbol that causes a great deal of division and reminds us of a really hurtful legacy and past.

So, I think people see it in different ways.  And I think what some people see in the Confederate Flag is a sense of Southern assertion that the South matters.  So, for instance I was at a conference one time where the speaker, every time that he would reference saying something ignorant, would do it in a Southern accent.

I think there are some Southerners, black and white, who feel as though the rest of the country looks down on the South as uneducated and backward.  And for some people, that was a symbol of defiance against that.

But it’s really clear that the way the Confederate Battle Flag has been used, not only initially in terms of the Confederate States of America, but in our more recent history in terms of terrorist acts against African-Americans, that this is a symbol that causes unnecessary division.

ROBOCOP - FCC Crackdown on Robocalls

"Hate those robocall polls?  The FCC is cracking down" PBS NewsHour 6/23/2015

Note the loop-hole 'they' can drive a truck through, the customer has to request.  I expect that phone companies will NOT ASK a customer with this new rule.


SUMMARY:  In the years since the federal "Do Not Call" registry, there's been a big rise in the number of robocalls -- automated and recorded calls and texts that barrage your phone repeatedly.  Judy Woodruff interviews Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, about why the FCC is giving companies more power to block them at consumer request, plus subsidies for broadband internet.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  It’s been more than a decade since the federal government first came up with a do not call registry to block unwanted phone calls.  That move had a major impact initially.  But in the years since, there’s been a big rise in the number of robocalls people get, those automated and recorded phone calls and texts that repeatedly go to your phone.

The Federal Communications Commission is now giving phone companies more power to block or prevent robocalls if consumers request it.

Tom Wheeler is the chairman of the FCC, and he joins me now.

And welcome back to the program.

TOM WHEELER, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission:  Hello, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  So how is this rule different than the previous one having to do with robocalls?

TOM WHEELER:  Well, the original rule is a result of a 1991 act of Congress.  And 24 years ago, the world was a little different in terms of technology.

The people who were making the calls that interrupted your dinner at that point in time literally were sitting down and dialing.  And that technology, that approach got replaced by new technology that’s computerized, like everything else.  So, they just feed a list of numbers in and all of a sudden a list of calls get made.

And our rules didn’t keep pace with that, so that people were arguing that they had a legal right to do this.  And we just said simply, stop.  The consumer needs to be the one who is in charge.  The consumer needs to give consent that they want to be called, or if they are called and haven’t given consent, to remove that consent by saying, don’t call me anymore, or by calling their phone company and saying, I don’t want to get these calls.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


"Finding the roots of Dylann Roof’s radical violence" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2015

Transcript of podcast corrected to match actual text presented in video.


SUMMARY:  The mass shooting in Charleston isn’t just an isolated event, but can be seen as part of a troubled history of racial hatred and violence in the United States.  What makes someone embrace racist ideology and what can be done to stop it?  Gwen Ifill talks with Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center, former FBI special agent Gregg McCrary and Paul Butler of Georgetown University Law Center.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  While lawmakers moved to quell the Confederate Flag controversy, a debate continued about the roots of the Charleston attacks.  Were they motivated by racial animus or individual alienation?

In an unusually blunt contribution to the discussion, President Obama weighed in Friday during a podcast that was posted online today.  In the interview with comedian Marc Maron, he was asked to comment on the roots of racism and, in making his point, employed a racial epithet.

We are not editing that portion of the president’s remarks.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours, and that opportunities have opened up, and that attitudes have changed.

MARC MARON, Podcast Host:  Yeah.


What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination, in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow.  And that’s still part of our DNA that’s — that’s passed on.  Uh, it, we’re not cured of it.

MARC MARON:  Racism.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  Racism, we are not cured of.

MARC MARON:  Clearly.

And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public.  That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.  It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination.  We have — societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.

GWEN IFILL:  The President’s comments spurred a lively online debate that ranged from cause to effect.

Among the questions being asked:  Was this attack a form of domestic terrorism?

For our discussion, I’m joined by Gregg McCrary, a former FBI profiler who has specialized in tracking and understanding violent predators, Paul Butler, a professor of law at Georgetown University who teaches about race relations, and Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

U.S. SUPREME COURT - Decisions 6/22/2015

"Rulings on raisins and hotel registries favor individual rights" PBS NewsHour 6/22/2015


SUMMARY:  The Supreme Court today ruled on cases that set boundaries in the government’s power over individuals.  One concerned the government's right to regulate prices of raisins by seizing crops, and another challenged a Los Angeles law requiring hotels to give guest lists to the police.  Gwen Ifill discusses the rulings with Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  The Supreme Court issued a set of rulings today with a unifying theme, restricting government power and boosting individual rights.

Both cases happened in California.  In one, a Los Angeles hotel owner questioned a city law requiring him to turn guest lists over to police.  Two hundred miles north, in Fresno, another case tested whether the government could seize some of a farmer’s raisin crop in order to control prices.

PIC FILES - From Humor Times and Cute Files

Monday, June 22, 2015

RACE IN AMERICA - Emanuel AME Church Shootings and FBI Hate Crime Report

"What we know so far about suspected shooter Dylann Roof’s motivations" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2015


SUMMARY:  Reuters reporter Luciana Lopez has been in South Carolina covering the fallout of the tragic shooting in Charleston on Wednesday, where nine people were killed at Emanuel AME Church.  What do we know about the motives of Dylann Roof, who has been charged with nine counts of murder?  Lopez joins Hari Sreenivasan from Mt. Pleasant, S.C. for more.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Reuters reporter Luciana Lopez has been in South Carolina covering the story.  She joins me now from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

So, what more do we know today about Dylann Roof and his motivations?

LUCIANA LOPEZ, Reuters:  Well, one interesting thing that surfaced is that what appears to be a white supremacist manifesto has surfaced, and we’re trying to verify that — this does, indeed, come from Dylann Roof.  But it lays out a little bit about how he was radicalized, looking up information about Trayvon Martin, and it lays out some of his feelings about other racial groups as well.

Again, we’re trying to verify that this is, indeed, his.  But this goes a little bit deeper into his ideology.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And what’s in there?  What does he think of and why — was there an explanation for why he did this?

LUCIANA LOPEZ:  There is an explanation of sorts.  Again, he talks about how he was radicalized and looking up information about different racial and ethnic groups in the United States, and then he says he’s picked Charleston, in fact, because of its significance, and because of its historical significance.  And he says that he felt like he really needed to make a statement and that this was really the place to do it.

And he also implies that there wasn’t anyone else to do this, and so, he felt like this was something that he had some sort of mission to go out there to do.

"FBI: Blacks most often targeted in hate crimes" PBS NewsHour 6/20/2015

IMHO:  This is a 'DUH, no kidding' article.


SUMMARY:  An estimated 260,000 suspected hate crimes happen in the U.S. every year.  More than 50 out of every 1 million black citizens was the victim of a racially motivated hate crime in 2012, the highest of any group, according to FBI data.  Washington Post reporter Christopher Ingraham joins Hari Sreenivasan from Baltimore to put this week’s attack in perspective.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 6/19/2015

"Shields & Brooks on church shooting, Pope’s environmentalism" PBS NewsHour 6/19/2015


SUMMARY:  From a racial hate crime that rocked the nation, to the Pope’s call for action on climate change, there has been no shortage of issues to spark national debate and discussion this week.  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks discuss these topics and more.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  So, another terrible race-related story to talk about, this horrible shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, David, where a young white man killed nine black churchgoers.

How — what are we left with?  I mean, is this an isolated — should we think of this as an isolated incident, a racist young man, or do we — or does the whole country need to do some soul-searching?

DAVID BROOKS, New York Times:  Yes.

First, we should mention that the uplifting part of this story, of this terrible story is what happened today in the courtroom, the families forgiving the young man in such a heartfelt and heartrending way.  Mark and I were talking before that is living the faith, that is walking the walk.

And we have a society and certainly a politics filled with people who aren’t forgiving each other, filled with vengeance.  Well, that speech should be seared in our minds.  And so that was an uplifting moment today…


DAVID BROOKS:  … which wasn’t all negative.

The horror is the horror.  I confess, I’m a little confused about how much to generalize.  We have a race problem in this country.  That is so obvious.  But we also have an angry solitary young man problem.  And I’m not sure a lot of the angry solitary young men are directly connected.

They are obviously loosely connected to the history of race in this country.  But they are angry solitary young men looking for hateful and vicious ideologies.  Some of them turn into neo-Nazi skinheads.  I don’t think we have a Nazi problem in this country.  They are solitary and they’re hate-mongers.  And the guy sits with the Bible study group for an hour and then starts shooting them.  That’s beyond — beyond imagination.

And so I — it’s obviously connected, but I’m a little wary of the too pat causations that are linked between our general race problem and this specific, completely bizarre, and completely evil incident.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  How are you seeing this?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated columnist:  I just want to underscore what David said about those people in the courtroom today and them saying, may God have mercy on you, and I forgive you.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It was extraordinary.

MARK SHIELDS:  It is.  These are people of faith.  These are people who do practice their faith.  And it’s a lot more than preaching.

What hit me, Judy, was President Obama, who some of his greatest and most eloquent moments have been at times of crisis and tragedy and sort of putting things in perspective, how yesterday almost seemed — making the announcement, dispirited and a sense of resignation.

And there was a little feeling, I think.  For example, after the Birmingham church in 1963, when the four little girls were blown up in Sunday school, there was a moment in the country.  You could feel it, an inflection moment, where we moved on civil rights.  The passage of the 1964 act was almost assured by that terrible, terrible, inhuman act.

But that was — so there was a sense that we were moving in a direction.  After Newtown and after the slaughter of the innocents there and the teachers, where 90 percent of Americans endorsed a background check, three-quarters of NRA members, according to polls, endorsed universal background checks, and nothing happened.


MARK SHIELDS:  On guns.  And nothing happened.

There’s a sense of, how many more, the enormity of it, what’s it going to take?  And so I just think there was a — there was really just sort of a sadness that permeated everything.  And for him to sit — for this alleged killer to sit there for an hour while these people welcome him into their church and the Bible study, and then to do it, I mean, it’s beyond comprehension.

YEMEN - The Civil War

"This is what a civil war looks like" PBS NewsHour 6/19/2015


SUMMARY:  Many people think of the civil war in Yemen in broad terms - Shia versus Sunni, Saudi Arabia versus Iran.  But what does the constant fighting mean to those in the country?  Jane Ferguson examines how the ongoing struggle is affecting everyday Yemenis, providing an on-the-ground perspective on the war.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Today in Geneva, Switzerland, talks ended between Yemen’s exiled government and Houthi Shiite rebels, who control that country’s capital.  The negotiations failed to reach even a temporary cease-fire.

Tonight, we take a close at the personal cost of the conflict, but first a bit of background.  The latest turmoil can be traced back four years to the Arab spring, when an uprising ultimately led to the ousting of then President Ali Abdullah Saleh.  Earlier this year, Houthi rebels, with the help of soldiers still loyal to the former leader, forced Yemen’s current president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, into exile.  That sparked an international military response led by Saudi Arabia.

The subsequent fighting has killed more than 1,000 civilians and displaced more than one million.

NewsHour” special correspondent Jane Ferguson traveled to Yemen to see firsthand what life is like in rebel-controlled territory.

JANE FERGUSON (NewsHour):  These rebels have ruled much of Yemen for almost a year, marching through the streets of their greatest prize, the capital, Sanaa, in a show strength and defiance.

Houthi gunmen control the streets and their politicians control the government.  The U.S. and Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of backing the Houthis.  And this was Saudi Arabia’s answer to that close relationship.  Intensive airstrikes have pounded the country for three months.

My God.  So, this is where the rocket fell.

We were among the first Western journalists to enter Sanaa since that bombardment began in March.  We found neighborhoods destroyed and people terrified.

RUSSIA - The World in Putin's Eyes

"Charlie Rose on how Vladimir Putin sees the world" PBS NewsHour 6/19/2015


SUMMARY:  Charlie Rose interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin today at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.  Judy Woodruff talks to him about Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict, Russian-American relations, and the enigma that is Vladimir Putin.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Russia’s President Vladimir Putin today blamed NATO ambitions to expand and the United States for fanning the flames of conflict in Ukraine.  He did that at an international economic conference held in St. Petersburg.

Part of the program featured an interview with Putin by PBS’ own Charlie Rose.

Seated in front of an audience of businesspeople, political leaders and journalists, the Russian president blamed the West for the conflict in Ukraine.

CHARLIE ROSE, Host, “The Charlie Rose Show”:  Help us understand, as you see it, where are we, how did we get there, and where do we go from here?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through translator):  Why is there a crisis in Ukraine?

I was quite confident after the bipolar system went into oblivion and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, certain Western partners of ours, particularly the United States, were in a kind of euphoria, and instead of trying to create a new situation, good neighborly partner relations, they started to explore new free geopolitical spaces — well, free in their view.  And that is why we are witnessing the expansion of NATO eastwards.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  I spoke to Charlie Rose immediately following his question-and-answer session with President Putin.

Charlie, you pressed him about what he thinks Ukraine needs to do defuse the situation. What did he say?

CHARLIE ROSE:  Well, he said they need to talk the people — that the people in Kiev need to talk to the separatists.

I mean, that has been — it’s not a new idea from him.  He has always said that, that they need to have real conversations between the separatists and — I think he obviously feels some affinity.  And I raised the question, were they helping the situation by supplying arms to the separatists, by in some cases engagement of Russian soldiers and other weapons — I mean, other connections that Russia has to this?

And I think Vladimir Putin, because of all of his experiences, has a real fear about being — about NATO being on his borders.  He’s always had that.  They had that with respect to Georgia and with respect to Ukraine.  I think he probably worries that if a government in Ukraine was leaning East, it might — I mean leaning to the West — it might one more time entertain the idea of NATO membership, which he really, really — that’s the probably the thing that he dislikes the most.

GREED FILES - Cheating Workers on Overtime

"Are bosses cheating workers out of overtime?" PBS NewsHour 6/18/2015


SUMMARY:  If you work more than 40 hours a week, you are supposed to get overtime.  But if you are an “executive” earning more than $23,600 a year, you don’t qualify.  Economics correspondent Paul Solman explores how this loophole can lead to abuse, and whether regulations will be changing anytime soon.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  This month, the administration is expected to revamp workplace rules that would make millions more workers eligible for overtime pay.

Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.  It’s part of our weekly segment, "Making Sense," which airs every Thursday on the “NewsHour.”

ACTOR:  Time to make the donuts.

PAUL SOLMAN (NewsHour):  Fred the Baker…

ACTOR:  Time to make the donuts.

PAUL SOLMAN:  … icon for the freshness of Dunkin’ Donuts more than 30 years ago.

ACTOR:  We make them at least twice every day.

ACTOR:  Time to make the donuts.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Fred was a fiction, but the reality of one Dunkin’ Donuts worker looked a lot like the ads.

GASSAN MARZUQ, Former Dunkin’ Donuts Manager:  I’m working 75 hours a week or 80 hours a week.

PAUL SOLMAN:  For years, Gassan Marzuq worked Fred-like hours as a salaried manager at this outlet outside Boston.  Problem is, he never saw one cent in overtime.

GASSAN MARZUQ:  If you work 40 hours, or if you work 100 hours, it’s the same pay.

PAUL SOLMAN:  Divide Marzuq’s hours by his barely $800-a-week salary, and, on a per-hour basis:

GASSAN MARZUQ:  I’m making only $9, $10 an hour, which is less — even lower than the regular employees, what they are making.