Recent comments

  • New York Times Editorial Board: Repeal Prohibition, Again   6 weeks 6 days ago

    Illinois is among the states with the most racially-biased application of prohibition, with a shameful rate of 7.6 times as many African-Americans arrested as whites, despite essentially similar rates of use. Meanwhile, law enrforcement budgets are broken, the jails are packed hell-holes of injustice, our elected officials pander to the closet-racist vote while trumpting their prosecutorial prowess, our prisons are packed to the seams with no resources to rehabilitate the buildings, let along those forced to stay inside them.

    But there's always room for one more ineffectual arrest for marijuana.

    Nationally, the situation is little better in most states...except those few so far who have who legalized, regulated and taxed cannabis. It's obvious ate this point the police have no solutions and everyone in the justice system is just milking this until they hit retirement. I say don't cut their budget a damn cent over legalization, but it's time for this shameful charade of injustice and governmental dysfunction to end. Illinois needs the jobs and taxe revenue of legal cannabis. We don't need 80 more years of failure, which is the only thing prohibition can offer.

    The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests

    by Jesse Wegman

    America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

    In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

    At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.


    The Racial Imbalance in Arrests

    Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses.

    Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

    Meanwhile, police departments that presumably have far more important things to do waste an enormous amount of time and taxpayer money chasing a drug that two states have already legalized and that a majority of Americans believe should be legal everywhere.

    A Costly, Futile Strategy The absurdity starts on the street, with a cop and a pair of handcuffs. As the war on drugs escalated through the 1980s and 1990s, so did the focus on common, low-level offenses — what became known as “broken windows” policing. In New York City, where the strategy was introduced and remains popular today, the police made fewer than 800 marijuana arrests in 1991. In 2010, they made more than 59,000.

    Nationwide, the numbers are hardly better. From 2001 to 2010, the police made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests; almost nine in 10 were for possession alone. In 2011, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together.

    The costs of this national obsession, in both money and time, are astonishing. Each year, enforcing laws on possession costs more than $3.6 billion, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It can take a police officer many hours to arrest and book a suspect. That person will often spend a night or more in the local jail, and be in court multiple times to resolve the case. The public-safety payoff for all this effort is meager at best: According to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report that tracked 30,000 New Yorkers with no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession, 90 percent had no subsequent felony convictions. Only 3.1 percent committed a violent offense.

    The strategy is also largely futile. After three decades, criminalization has not affected general usage; about 30 million Americans use marijuana every year. Meanwhile, police forces across the country are strapped for cash, and the more resources they devote to enforcing marijuana laws, the less they have to go after serious, violent crime. According to F.B.I. data, more than half of all violent crimes nationwide, and four in five property crimes, went unsolved in 2012.

    The Racial Disparity The sheer volume of law enforcement resources devoted to marijuana is bad enough. What makes the situation far worse is racial disparity. Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates; on average, however, blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession, according to a comprehensive 2013 report by the A.C.L.U.

    In Iowa, blacks are 8.3 times more likely to be arrested, and in the worst-offending counties in the country, they are up to 30 times more likely to be arrested. The war on drugs aims its firepower overwhelmingly at African-Americans on the street, while white users smoke safely behind closed doors.

    Only about 6 percent of marijuana cases lead to a felony conviction; the rest are often treated as misdemeanors resulting in fines or probation, if the charges aren’t dismissed completely. Even so, every arrest ends up on a person’s record, whether or not it leads to prosecution and conviction. Particularly in poorer minority neighborhoods, where young men are more likely to be outside and repeatedly targeted by law enforcement, these arrests accumulate. Before long a person can have an extensive “criminal history” that consists only of marijuana misdemeanors and dismissed cases. That criminal history can then influence the severity of punishment for a future offense, however insignificant.

    While the number of people behind bars solely for possessing or selling marijuana seems relatively small — 20,000 to 30,000 by the most recent estimates, or roughly 1 percent of America’s 2.4 million inmates — that means nothing to people, like Jeff Mizanskey, who are serving breathtakingly long terms because their records contained minor previous offenses. Nor does it mean anything to the vast majority of these inmates who have no history of violence (about nine in 10, according to a 2006 study). And as with arrests, the racial disparity is vast: Blacks are more than 10 times as likely as whites to go to prison for drug offenses. For those on probation or parole for any offense, a failed drug test on its own can lead to prison time — which means, again, that people can be put behind bars for smoking marijuana.

    Even if a person never goes to prison, the conviction itself is the tip of the iceberg. In a majority of states, marijuana convictions — including those resulting from guilty pleas — can have lifelong consequences for employment, education, immigration status and family life.

    A misdemeanor conviction can lead to, among many other things, the revocation of a professional license; the suspension of a driver’s license; the inability to get insurance, a mortgage or other bank loans; the denial of access to public housing; and the loss of student financial aid.

    In some states, a felony conviction can result in a lifetime ban on voting, jury service, or eligibility for public benefits like food stamps. People can be fired from their jobs because of a marijuana arrest. Even if a judge eventually throws the case out, the arrest record is often available online for a year, free for any employer to look up.

    Correcting an Old Inequity As recently as the mid-1970s, politicians and the public generally agreed that marijuana abuse was handled better by treatment than by prosecution and incarceration. Jimmy Carter ran for president and won while supporting decriminalization. But that view lost out as the war on drugs broadened and intensified, sweeping marijuana along with it.

    In recent years, public acceptance of marijuana has grown significantly. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia now permit some form of medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington fully legalized it for recreational use in 2012. And yet even as “ganjapreneurs” scramble to take economic advantage, thousands of people remain behind bars, or burdened by countless collateral punishments that prevent them from full and active membership in society.

    In a March interview, Michelle Alexander, a law professor whose book, “The New Jim Crow,” articulated the drug war’s deeper costs to black men in particular, noted the cruel paradox at play in Colorado and Washington. She pointed to “40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed,” and said, “Now, white men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing?”

    As pioneers in legalization, those two states should set a further example by providing relief to people convicted of crimes that are no longer crimes, including overturning convictions. A recent ruling by a Colorado appeals court overturned two 2011 convictions because of the changed law, and the state’s Legislature has enacted laws in the last two years to give courts more power to seal records of drug convictions and to make it easier for defendants to get jobs and housing after a conviction. These are both important steps into an uncharted future.

    Copyright 2014 The New York Times

  • ASA Gives D Grade to Illinois Medical Marijuana Law   8 weeks 3 days ago

    Long article on front page of the News-Gazette today about efforts to site medical marijuana dispensaries and grows in Central Illinois. A long time opponent of any sort of commonsense on marijauana, the paper has regularly editorialized about the topic, but its reporting is now clearly showing that ideology trumps fact when it comes to this topic.

    Musing on the various onerous and frankly ridiculous requirements needed to be met by licensees, the paper somehow believes that there are very few places in this largely rural and agricultural area where cannabis could be grown legally. But wait, there's more...

    What's the biggest reason marijuana might not be grown even where it's legal according to the overly restrictive state law?

    Because people don't want it.

    That's right. Despite polls that over a period of years have shown that somewhere around 80% or more of Illinois citizens support legal medical marijuana -- one big reason this iniatitive, as bad as it is,  finally passed -- the News-Gazette claimed that a survey of residents and business owners in Danville "showed no support for the idea."

    Yeah, Danville doesn't want new jobs, despite typically boasting the highest unemployment rates in the region, often over 10%, but all of the sudden people are getting picky about what the work is? Never in a million years would the News-Gazette print such drivel about a business locating in the area -- unless it involves marijuana.

    It's long been apparent that the News-Gazette caters to a self-selected elite. But pretending that their biased and anecdotal reporting somehow trumps the evidence provided by repeated, scientifically-designed and statistically-exacting public polling takes even their past bad reporting to new lows by just inventing "facts" when reality doesn't suit them.

  • Unpatriotic US Corporations Becoming Hot Political Issue That Unites Right and Left   9 weeks 6 days ago

    The Limits of Corporate Citizenship: Why Walgreen Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Influence US Politics If It Becomes Swiss

    by Robert Reich

    Dozens of big U.S. corporations are considering leaving the United States in order to reduce their tax bills.

    But they’ll be leaving the country only on paper. They’ll still do as much business in the U.S. as they were doing before.

    The only difference is they’ll no longer be “American,” and won’t have to pay U.S. taxes on the profits they make.

    Okay. But if they’re no longer American citizens, they should no longer be able to spend a penny influencing American politics.

    Some background: We’ve been hearing for years from CEOs that American corporations are suffering under a larger tax burden than their foreign competitors. This is mostly rubbish.

    It’s true that the official corporate tax rate of 39.1 percent, including state and local taxes, is the highest among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    But the effective rate – what corporations actually pay after all deductions, tax credits, and other maneuvers – is far lower.

    Last year, the Government Accountability Office, examined corporate tax returns in detail and found that in 2010, profitable corporations headquartered in the United States paid an effective federal tax rate of 13 percent on their worldwide income, 17 percent including state and local taxes.Some pay no taxes at all.

    One tax dodge often used by multi-national companies is to squirrel their earnings abroad in foreign subsidiaries located in countries where taxes are lower. The subsidiary merely charges the U.S. parent inflated costs, and gets repaid in extra-fat profits.   

    Becoming a foreign company is the extreme form of this dodge. It’s a bigger accounting gimmick. The American company merges with a foreign competitor headquartered in another nation where taxes are lower, and reincorporates there.

    This “expatriate” tax dodge (its official name is a “tax inversion”) is now at the early stages but is likely to spread rapidly because it pushes every American competitor to make the same move or suffer a competitive disadvantage.

    For example, Walgreen, the largest drugstore chain in the United States with more than 8,700 drugstores spread across the nation, is on the verge of moving its corporate headquarters to Switzerland as part of a merger with Alliance Boots, the European drugstore chain.

    Founded in Chicago in 1901, with current headquarters in the nearby suburb of Deerfield, Walgreen is about as American as apple pie — or your Main Street druggist.

    Even if it becomes a Swiss corporation, Walgreen will remain your Main Street druggist. It just won’t pay nearly as much in U.S. taxes.

    Which means the rest of us will have to make up the difference. Walgreen’s morph into a Swiss corporation will cost you and me and every other American taxpayer about $4 billion over five years, according to an analysis by Americans for Tax Fairness.

    The tax dodge likewise means more money for Walgreen’s investors and top executives. Which is why its large investors – including Goldman Sachs — have been pushing for it.

    Some Walgreen customers have complained. A few activists have rallied outside the firm’s Chicago headquarters.

    But hey, this is the way the global capitalist game played. Anything to boost the bottom line.

    Yet it doesn’t have to be the way American democracy is played.

    Even if there’s no way to stop U.S. corporations from shedding their U.S. identities and becoming foreign corporations, there’s no reason they should retain the privileges of U.S. citizenship.  

    By treaty, the U.S. government can’t (and shouldn’t) discriminate against foreign corporations offering as good if not better deals than American companies offer. So if Walgreen as a Swiss company continues to fill Medicaid and Medicare payments as well as, say, CVS, it’s likely that Walgreen will continue to earn almost a quarter of its $72 billion annual revenues directly from the U.S. government.

    But as a foreign corporation, Walgreen should no longer have any say over the size of those payments, what drugs they cover, or how they’re administered.

    In fact, Walgreen should no longer have any say about how the U.S. government does anything.

    In 2010 it lobbied for and got a special provision in the Dodd-Frank Act, limiting the fees banks are allowed to charge merchants for credit-card transactions — resulting in a huge saving for Walgreen. If it becomes a Swiss citizen, the days of special provisions should be over. 

    The Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision may have opened the floodgates to American corporate money in U.S. politics, but not to foreign corporate money in U.S. politics.

    The Court didn’t turn foreign corporations into American citizens, entitled to seek to influence U.S. law and regulations.

    Since the 2010 election cycle, Walgreen’s Political Action Committee has spent $991,030 on federal elections. If it becomes a Swiss corporation, it shouldn’t be able to spend a penny more.

    Walgreen is free to become Swiss but it should no longer be free to influence U.S. politics.

    It may still be the Main Street druggist, but if it’s no longer American it shouldn’t be considered a citizen on Main Street.

    obert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

  • Serial School Privatizer "Chainsaw Paul" Vallas Gets Ready For His Next Job, IL Lt. Governor   11 weeks 2 hours ago

    In Emanuel's 'War on Educators,' Hundreds More Chicago Teachers Laid Off

    Public school advocates expected to mount challenge against corporate-controlled city government

    - Lauren McCauley, Commondreams staff writer
    Following the announcement (pdf) that Chicago Public Schools is laying off nearly 1,200 teachers and key staff members, public school advocates on Friday slammed the cuts as further proof of the city government's support of the corporate charter school system which they say is "siphoning students out of public schools and contributing to a system of dysfunction and instability."

    "Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his Board continue their war on our educators by doing nothing to salvage school budgets other than forcing principals to terminate valued teachers and staff," said Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis in a statement.

    Of the 1,150 individuals whose jobs were cut on Thursday, 550 are teachers and 600 are Educational Support Personnel (ESP). This latest round of layoffs is the fourth in the last five years where over 1,000 educators were let go.

    Defending the cuts, public schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett cited "declining student enrollment" as the reason behind the layoffs. However, critics said this was "yet another brutal attack on public education in Chicago" and pointed to the "ever-increasing number of charter schools" opening in the city.

    “This decision further demonstrates the disdain for public education and the lack of leadership and vision for the city from our mayor and his handpicked Board," Lewis said. According to reports, the union president is now "seriously considering" to challenge Emanuel in the upcoming mayoral election.

    "Do we want 'Star Wars' museums or public, neighborhood schools? Do we want presidential libraries or librarians for every child?” Lewis continued.



  • Why Do We Hate the Poor?   11 weeks 2 hours ago

    When I unmasked an Arizona official who made outrageous and anonymous comments on blogs, it revealed more than his bad judgment.

    by Bob Lord

    For years I’d wondered about the identity of a gaggle of anonymous commenters on Blog for Arizona, the website to which I frequently contribute. These guys weighed in a lot and were very eager to burnish the reputation of Arizona School Superintendent, John Huppenthal.

    Ultimately, my fellow writers and I explored the source of the comments. With only modest effort, we figured out these commenters were all aliases of Huppenthal himself. Among other things, the 60-year-old official was posting from the Arizona Department of Education and providing details of his own childhood.

    Nonetheless, we were stunned. By then, I’d had a year-long dialogue with “Thucky,” (a riff on one of his aliases) and knew his economic views were beyond extreme and demonstrably wrong, and that he resorted to intellectual dishonesty without hesitation.

    As this strange tale draws increasing media attention, it’s clear that one of his many unvarnished and outrageous opinions is drawing the most fire: Huppenthal believes that people who benefit from food stamps and other features of America’s safety net are “lazy pigs.”

    Huppenthal said plenty of other incendiary things under his pseudonyms. But that particular gaffe epitomizes his disdain for the millions of people he’s supposed to serve. The “lazy pigs” line also sums up an extreme philosophy gaining popularity among influential Republicans.

    It’s essentially a corollary to the Prosperity Gospel, a strain of Christian belief that emerged in the 1950s. The Prosperity Gospel casts financial wealth as a blessing from God, turning Mark 10:25 — “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” — on its head.

    Prosperity Gospel suits the religious right movement. It justifies the personal wealth belonging to its leaders and televangelists and puts those folks on the same page as major conservative funders, like the Koch brothers.

    What could be more in sync with idolizing the rich than demonizing the poor? Huppenthal hardly invented this demonization.

    President Ronald Reagan sneered at “welfare queens.” During their failed 2012 bid for the White House, Mitt Romney wrote off the “47 percent” while Paul Ryan disparaged a majority of Americans — as “takers.”

    John Huppenthal is a Roman Catholic but his no-longer anonymous blog comments reveal him to be more partial to the Prosperity Gospel and its companion ethos that the poor are bad people than to his own church’s emphasis on charity.

    Pope Francis would surely disapprove of the Arizona official’s comments, such as this one: “You have an ethnic majority, Hispanics, oppressing an ethnic minority, small business owners, exacting a property tax and paying to force students to undergo a toxic indoctrination.”

    In other words, he sees the poor as un-Christian bullies, forcing the wealthy to pay taxes to fund everything from food stamps and child protective services to Mexican-American studies.

    Huppenthal’s comments are out of step with the growing number of Americans who aren’t willing to blame the poor for their plight at a time when wealth and income are increasingly concentrated and the rich are getting absurdly rich.

    His compulsive commenting isn’t the only odd online behavior exposed so far. Huppenthal also spent an alarming amount of time scrubbing anything he didn’t like out of his own Wikipedia page as an “editor.”

    It’s not clear yet what this will mean for his career. He’s running for re-election and faces competition in Arizona’s August 26 Republican primary. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce yanked an award it was about to bestow upon him and is considering whether to call for his resignation.

    Before this scandal erupted, Huppenthal was already taking heat for his promotion of private school vouchers while serving as chief of the state’s public schools.

    Conservatives abhor his support for Arizona’s version of the Common Core. Now he has to explain his extreme views and why his anonymous commenting on websites, including items entered during the workday from the Education Department’s offices, was an appropriate use of his time.

    I hope Arizona voters see Huppenthal for what he is — dangerous and wrong — and reject him. His defeat would send a strong message: Characterizing the poor as un-Christian is politically off limits.

    Bob Lord, a veteran tax lawyer and former congressional candidate, practices and blogs in Phoenix, Arizona. He is also an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow.


  • Report: Militarization of Police Turning Communities into 'War Zones'   11 weeks 1 day ago

    Typically unquestioning in its reporting on the Champaign County "justice" system, the News-Gazette reported in its Friday edition that the county has now acquired an MRAP. I suppose that will help them navigate through all the car bombs, IEDs, and dangerous armed groups roaming the countryside -- oh, wait, that last group is just a bunch of NRA members -- in any case, the Sheriff's Dept. is ready for war.

    Still no word on when the Sheriff's drone will be least it doesn't take up much garage space.

  • Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Six-Month Status Report   11 weeks 1 day ago

    100% of shops in compliance

    by Marijuana Policy Project

    Colorado Sting Operations Fail to Bust Any Marijuana Shops for Sales to Minors

    DENVER, CO — State regulators and state police recently performed sting operations on 20 different marijuana stores in the Denver and Pueblo areas to determine compliance with state law.

    The conclusion they reached was undisputed: None of the stores were breaking the law by selling marijuana to people under the age of 21.

    In Colorado, marijuana is regulated similarly to alcohol, including the stipulation that people without medical marijuana licenses may only purchase marijuana from retail establishments if they are 21 or older.

    The sting operations involved sending underage customers into stores to attempt to buy marijuana while being supervised by police officers. Shops who break the law face huge fines and can have their licenses revoked.

    During the course of these sting operations, not a single underage buyer was allowed to purchase marijuana from any of the 20 shops.

    Business owners have welcomed this announcement as an important sign of the legitimacy of the industry and the effectiveness of the regulatory structure.

    In response to this news, Lewis Koski, the director of the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, issued a statement saying, “We are pleased with the results and will continue to monitor the businesses to ensure that the compliance efforts are maintained.”

    Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for registered non-profit cannabis reform organizations only.

  • Report: Militarization of Police Turning Communities into 'War Zones'   11 weeks 4 days ago

    June 24, 2014
    4:00 PM



    ACLU’s Report on Police Militarization Finds Weapons and Tactics of War Used Disproportionately Against People of Color

    Report shows injustice, suffering, caused by SWAT teams deployed for low-level police work, not crises

    NEW YORK, NY - June 24 - After obtaining and analyzing thousands of documents from police departments around the country, today the American Civil Liberties Union released the report War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. The ACLU focused on more than 800 SWAT raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in 20 states and on the agencies’ acquisition of military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment.

    "We found that police overwhelmingly use SWAT raids not for extreme emergencies like hostage situations but to carry out such basic police work as serving warrants or searching for a small amount of drugs," said Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel with the ACLU’s Center for Justice. "Carried out by ten or more officers armed with assault rifles, flashbang grenades, and battering rams, these paramilitary raids disproportionately impacted people of color, sending the clear message that the families being raided are the enemy. This unnecessary violence causes property damage, injury, and death."

    The report documents multiple tragedies caused by police carrying out needless SWAT raids, including a 26-year-old mother shot with her child in her arms and a 19-month-old baby critically injured when a flashbang grenade landed in his crib.

    "Our police are trampling on our civil rights and turning communities of color into war zones," Dansky continued. "We all pay for it with our tax dollars. The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice give police military weaponry and vehicles as well as grants for military equipment. The War on Drugs has failed, yet the federal government hasn’t stopped the flow of guns and money."

    The report calls for the federal government to rein in the incentives for police to militarize. The ACLU also asks that local, state, and federal governments track the use of SWAT and the guns, tanks, and other military equipment that end up in police hands.

    "Our findings reveal not only the dangers of militarized police, but also the difficulties in determining the extent and impact of those dangers. At every level – from the police to the state governments to the federal government – there is almost no recordkeeping about SWAT or the use of military weapons and vehicles by local law enforcement," noted Dansky.

    In addition, the report recommends that state legislatures and municipalities develop criteria for SWAT raids that limit their deployment to the kinds of emergencies for which they were intended, such as an active shooter situation.

    The report is available here:


    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.



  • Report: Militarization of Police Turning Communities into 'War Zones'   11 weeks 5 days ago

    by Abby Zimet

    Commondreans staff writer

    Last month, 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavahn - aka Baby Bou Bou - was asleep in his crib in Atlanta, Georgia when a SWAT team, armed with assault rifles and acting on a "no-knock warrant," burst into the bedroom where he and his family were sleeping and threw a flash bang grenade into his crib, critically burning him and blowing a hole in his chest so deep it exposed his ribs. Police found no drugs, guns or suspects at the house, which they said they'd had under surveillance while evidently failing to notice that four kids lived, played and scattered their toys around there. They later arrested the nephew of Bou's father, who is Laotian, for allegedly buying $50 worth of drugs.

    In its new report "War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing" - which describes a failed War on Drugs employing "hyper-aggressive, wartime tools and tactics" that is often as much about race and class as drugs - the ACLU finds that Bou Bou's story is only slightly more awful than many other awful stories. Bou Bou remains in a medically induced coma. Doctors say he has a 50-50 chance of surviving. Updates here on what we have wrought.


  • fbi/cia cowards direct brave Young into unjust wars   13 weeks 5 days ago
  • Reset the Net: Don't Ask for Privacy, Take It Back   14 weeks 3 days ago

    Online day of action marks one year since Snowden reporting began and calls for people to "take their privacy back" from prying eyes

    - Jon Queally, CommonDreams staff writer

    'Don't ask for your privacy... Take it back.' (Image:

    To mark the one year anniversary of the first reporting based on information revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on June 5, 2013, privacy advocates, organizations, and technology companies all over the world on Thursday are participating in 'Reset The Net'—an online day of action in which participants pledge to take real steps to protect online freedoms and fight back against mass surveillance.

    "Don't ask for your privacy," goes the call issued by the campaign, "Take it back."

    Coordinated by a broad coalition of policy organizations and activist groups—and initiated by Fight For the Future—'Reset The Net' calls on websites, app developers, organizations, and individual internet users to promote what they call "privacy packs" so that people everywhere can have better access to online privacy and encryption tools.

    On Wednesday, as a way to show its support for the day, internet giant Google announced new end-to-end encryption methods for its widely used Gmail service.

    Websites (including this one), tech companies, and advocay organizations of all stripes—including Amnesty International, Greenpeace, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Common Dreams and scores of others—have all signed on and pledged to improve their privacy protections for their members and users.

    As just one example, Josh Levy, of media reform group Free Press, described what actions his group is taking in a blog post on Wednesday:

    We’ve removed every third-party tracker from our websites. The standard Facebook and Twitter buttons that you find across the Web — the ones those companies use to track your surfing behavior whether or not you’re actually logged in to their services — are gone. In their place are buttons that let you preserve your privacy while you share our stuff.

    In that same spirit we’ve removed Google Analytics from our site. While the service is helpful in telling us where our Web traffic comes from, it tracks your every move after you leave our properties. We find that behavior too intrusive. We’re now using Piwik, the free and open-source Web analytics software that respects the privacy of Internet users.

    And Snowden himself released the following statement in support of the day and its mission:

    One year ago, we learned that the internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives — no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be.

    Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same. That’s why I’m asking you to join me on June 5th for Reset the Net, when people and companies all over the world will come together to implement the technological solutions that can put an end to the mass surveillance programs of any government. This is the beginning of a moment where we the people begin to protect our universal human rights with the laws of nature rather than the laws of nations.

    We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance. That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.

    Join us on June 5th, and don’t ask for your privacy. Take it back.

    Other participants were sharing their support on Twitter using the #resetthenet hashtag.


  • May 3-14: Pete Seeger Events Provoke Memory of 1958 Concert   14 weeks 5 days ago

    by Abby Zimet, CommonDreams staff writer

    After months of demanding a hefty administrative fee for the privilege, national archives officials have announced that due to public interest they will post onlline an estimated 2,500 pages of FBI files on iconic activist, patriot, music historian, alleged seditionist and "well-known left-wing folk singer" Pete Seeger, who died in January at 94. With a cogent look at the way the blacklist of the 1950s, like the NSA abuses and any other form of political repression, worked - through not just the actions of those in power, but the infrastructure of support, cooperation and coercion of many others seeking "their own personal definition of the good" that "made the machine go." With a link to Seeger's memorable appearance before HUAC, when he politely declined to name names but happily offered to sing songs. He was the best.

    “(Redacted) took the tape home and played same and found that it consisted largely of parodies that were highly inflammatory and derogatory toward the Armed Services of the United States, U.S. defense systems and the FBI....(He) became highly incensed (and his) feelings of revulsion were shared by his family and some neighbors who also heard the tape.”


  • Congress Votes to De-fund DOJ Enforcement in Medical Marijuana States   15 weeks 2 days ago

    It's important to note that our local US Rep Rodney Davis (Republican) joined a significant number of Republicans in voting in support of ending DEA enforcement against those in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. Thank you, Congressman Davis, for doing what was right in support of your constituents. I hope this is a good sign that our nation will soon be able to conduct a rational, adult conversation in general on marijuana, the safest therapeutic substance known.

  • Poverty Is Not a State of Mind   16 weeks 6 days ago

    by Cherita Mouzon

    I have lived in Philadelphia, in poverty, for most of my life. I remember the smell of mold and mildew. I would watch as my most valuable possessions were destroyed by them. The smell of decay was all around me. I remember being cold and being in houses with no heat or hot water. My stepfather would use gray duct tape to wrap around the cords of the heaters when they burned out, so we could keep using it. Yes, it was a fire hazard, but who cared – the heater was keeping us warm. On occasion you would hear a sizzle and a pop from the heater.  Despite our efforts we were still cold.

    We never had a working kitchen. My mom would cook food at her parents’ house and then we would take the food back to wherever we were staying at that moment. Most of the places we lived in had no running water and were very unsanitary. We would also go to my grandparents’ house to take baths and we got used to defecating in shoe boxes, putting it in plastic bags, getting on the bus and just throwing it out the window into a lot or something. People who are raised like this simply pass it on down the line. And you grow up thinking that it is ok to live like this.

    As for food, we didn’t starve.  But we were hungry.  We ate whatever we could afford.  This is where the past affects the present. Today I’m somewhat of a food hoarder – I’m afraid of not having enough food for my family and me. I know what it feels like to be hungry but not have the food that you need or want. I have to constantly remind myself that I no longer live that way. But it’s the only way I’ve ever known. I don’t take showers, only baths, because I’m not used to it. If I do get cold or hungry I have learned how to deal with it. It’s like when you are being raped and you go out of your body to survive. That’s what it’s like when you are born into hunger and into a dirty, unhealthy environment.  This kind of living goes back in time, too.  If your parental figure is used to living that way, it’s likely because their childhood was the same way. You are stripped of your dignity. You are ashamed. Your soul feels like a bottomless pit. You feel less than human. The hell that I know came from the environment that I was born into. Now I am in my thirties, and I’m still haunted by the trauma and food insecurity.

    My scars run long and deep – they will always be there. The long lasting effects of trauma stick with you. But I refuse to let my past dictate my future. My memories keep me humble. I’m shaped not by the commonly accepted “fact” that since I grew up in poverty I have to live in poverty now. Instead, I’m shaped by the idea that while you can’t change the past, you can change the future.

    When I go into a market and see and smell food I feel bliss. It’s like I just won the lottery. To know that I can buy a steak if I want to or some seafood is a very priceless feeling. To be able to run hot and cold water is a blessing.

    Today I am far from my childhood of mold, cold, and hunger. But even though I’ve healed so much and don’t have to live that way anymore, the effects of early poverty and trauma are still a part of my being. They shape me into the woman I am today. A woman who is motivated, and works hard to make sure that her daughter will have more opportunities than she had growing up. I take what I saw and experienced as a child, and use that to drive me to be a better person for myself, for my family, and for others who live through the trauma of poverty.

    Sherita Mouzon is a member of Witnesses to Hunger, a groundbreaking project featuring the voices and photography of parents and caregivers who have experienced hunger and poverty firsthand. Sherita is a wife and mother of one daughter, and works as a Peer Mentor for the Salvation Army, running trauma-informed peer support groups in Philadelphia.


  • Mitch McConnell Slams DEA for Obstructing Kentucky Hemp Research Program and for Seizing Legal Hemp Seeds   16 weeks 6 days ago

    Illinois Senate votes unanimously to allow universities to research industrial hemp

    Today, Monday May 19, 2014 the Illinois Senate voted 51-0 to pass House Bill 5085, sending the bill to the House for concurrence.  This bill would allow Illinois colleges and universities to conduct research on industrial hemp and would bring Illinois law in line with recent changes to federal policy on hemp.
    “Illinois has a long history of being a producer of industrial hemp and it is time we get back to our roots and begin the process of growing this important agricultural product throughout our state once again.  Hundreds of millions of dollars of hemp products are sold annually throughout the US and we need to bring the production of the plant back to Illinois instead of out-sourcing it to China, Europe and Canada,” said Ali Nagib, Assistant Director of Illinois NORML
    Currently 12 states have laws which make the production of industrial hemp legal, but with limited exception none of those states have active cultivation of the plant due to federal laws prohibiting such production.  HB5085 does not go as far as the laws in those states and is limited to the research that was recently allowed by changes in federal law.  Industrial hemp is defined by the bill as a cannabis plant with no more than 0.3% THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis.
    Illinois NORML Executive Director Dan Linn added, “When the very first American colonies were founded, not only was hemp accepted as a form of tax payment, its cultivation was actually required by law.  From those early days of our country to the “Hemp for Victory” program during World War II, industrial hemp has played a vital role in our nation’s agricultural history and this bill is the first step in restoring hemp to its rightful place as a valuable agricultural commodity in Illinois.”
    In February, President Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014 which includes Section 7606 dealing with industrial hemp.  This section changes a long-standing policy of the federal government regarding hemp.  Previously, hemp was classified along with other versions of the cannabis plant whose cultivation was prohibited and all research on hemp was strictly controlled.  The new provision allows for states determine whether commercial production of hemp would be beneficial for American farmers and businesses by authorizing their colleges and universities to conduct research on the plant.
    Illinois NORML would like to give our sincere thanks to Representative David Leitch (R-Peoria) and Senator Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) for their sponsorship of the bill and to all the other supporters for helping to get this bill passed.
    -Dan Linn and Ali Nagib
  • Mitch McConnell Slams DEA for Obstructing Kentucky Hemp Research Program and for Seizing Legal Hemp Seeds   17 weeks 2 days ago

    Another rebuke to the skewed enthusiasms of the Illinois legislature on a similar topic, which has repeatedly discussed online gambling in a serious fashion, but has yet to credibly debate a subject that a majority of Illinoisans support.

    by NORML

    TRENTON, NJ — A far greater percentage of Americans support legalizing marijuana than endorse the notion of allowing adults to legally engage in online gambling, according to national polling data compiled by Fairleigh Dickinson University.

    When asked to choose which of the two activities they “prefer to see legalized everywhere,” 52 percent of respondents chose in favor of permitting adults to consume “small quantities of marijuana.”

    Only 20 percent of respondents chose in favor of legalizing online gambling.

    Eighteen percent of respondents said that “neither” activity should be legalized, while four percent of respondents agreed that both activities ought to be permitted.

    Presently, three states – New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada – permit online gambling. Twenty-one states and Washington, DC presently allow for the medical use of marijuana while two states, Colorado and Washington, allow for the plant’s licensed production and distribution to all adults.

    Americans age 18 to 29 (65 percent), Democrats (63 percent), and Independent voters (58 percent) were most likely to support legalizing marijuana, while those age 60 and older (36 percent) and Republicans (32 percent) were least supportive.

    The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent.

    Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for registered non-profit cannabis reform organizations only.

  • Grassroots Outcry Pushes FCC Chair to Backpedal on Internet Rules   17 weeks 5 days ago

    Prepare to Take Action to Defend Net Neutrality. Here’s How the FCC Makes Its Rules.

    by April Glaser

    (Credit: Free Press)

    It’s been hard to go a day without hearing news about the Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, and his highly contested plan for the future of network neutrality.  Google and Netflix signed a letter with nearly 150 other Internet companies calling on the FCC to reconsider its plan, which would purportedly bless the creation of “Internet fast lanes.” Over a million people across the country have spoken out against that idea, worried that a “pay to play” Internet will be less hospitable to competition, innovation, and expression.

    And while Chairman Wheeler and his fellow commissioners have been blogging about the FCCs proposal, no text has been released to the pubic. Not yet, anyway.

    But mark your calendars. This Thursday, May 15th, the FCC will finally unveil its “Open Internet” proposal. The last two weeks have been packed with statements, previewing what we can expect for Thursday, and it’s not pretty. It’s time for Internet users to make some statements of their own.  

    The FCC is calling for public input – let’s make sure they get it.  To help make that happen, we’re creating an easy tool to help the public speak out on May 15th and for the next 30-60 days while the FCC collects public comments on its proposed rules.

    How does FCC rulemaking work?

    When the FCC makes new rules, the agency goes through a series of steps to craft policies that are in the best interest of the public. Let’s break it down:

    1. First, the FCC issues a proposal for what the potential rules might looks like. That proposal is called a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM).
    2. Almost immediately after the NPRM is released, the FCC opens a window to solicit public comment on how the proposal will effect Americans.
    3. This is where you come in. The FCC wants to hear from you. On May 15th, EFF will launch our public comment tool to help you submit your thoughts directly to the FCC.

    These comments are a matter of public record. That means that once you submit a comment, it lands on the FCC’s public docket, and anyone can see it.

    The FCC is required to respond to the public comments. And sometimes after a public comment window, the FCC will still have more questions. When this happens, the agency opens a “Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” and another subsequent public comment window to solicit answers to their questions. It won’t be until after this long process that we see what the FCC’s new rules look like.

    The whole rulemaking process can up to a year, so we need to be in this for the long haul. Be prepared to comment and call Congress as the issue progresses.

    Raise your voice!

    Although the public comment window is the official way to participate in the FCC rulemaking process, it’s certainly not the only way to get involved.

    On May 15th, organizations across the country are staging a massive protest outside of the FCC building in Washington, D.C. If you’re in the Washington, D.C. area this Thursday, you can join the protest in person at 9am EST. It’ll be a huge event and some activists have already been camping outside the FCC for the past few days to ensure that the agency gets the message loud and clear: ISPs should never be allowed to pick winners and losers online.

    Ultimately, the FCC receives its marching orders from Congress. And on May 20th, Chairman Wheeler is scheduled to testify to the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Congress is planning to quiz Wheeler about what’s going on at the FCC, and you can bet that net neutrality will make up the bulk of the conversation.

    We need to be sure to on call Congress to set the FCC straight. More on that soon. In the meantime, get ready for May 15th, and tell your friends. We’ll only have a month or two to make sure that the FCC knows once and for all: It’s our Internet, and we’re going to fight to protect it.


    April Glaser is a staff activist at EFF, where she focuses on community outreach and blogs about a wide range of digital rights issues. She works directly with community organizations interested in promoting free speech, privacy, and innovation in digital spaces, and she lectures frequently on these topics for groups large and small.


  • What Powerful and Greedy Elites Are Hiding When They Scapegoat the Schools   18 weeks 4 days ago

    by Alex Xourias

    What do you think when you hear the word “apartheid”?

    For most folks, it evokes images of Nelson Mandela’s fight to integrate South Africa in the face of extreme racial segregation and brutal violence. Maybe it’s a word you associate with the past.

    But segregation hasn’t gone away. Here we are in 2014, engaged in another struggle for racial equality. This time it’s more covert and just as sinister.

    And the Supreme Court’s recent 6-2 ruling that upheld restrictions on affirmative action at the University of Michigan brings to light important questions for the future of diversity in American education.

    Since 1990, state governments have dismantled integration laws spurred by the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. The effects are clear in cities such as Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where resegregation has created “apartheid schools.”

    These schools are public institutions with white populations of 1 percent or less. ProPublica found that the percentage of African-American students who attend apartheid schools has more than doubled from 25 percent to 53 percent since 1973.

    As a student about to graduate from college and become a teacher in the increasingly segregated city of Chicago, I find this statistic shocking, especially in the context of America’s demographic reality. In 1970, over 80 percent of public school students were white. Now, only about half are white. While America’s schools became more segregated again, its children became far more diverse.

    How is it possible that the Civil Rights movement’s significant achievements could be reversed in just a single generation?

    The simple answer: legal precedents. The 1973 Supreme Court case San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez laid the groundwork for apartheid schools. The court ruled that equal education isn’t a constitutionally protected right.

    This ruling gave states the power to quarantine “low performance” through gerrymandering. Apparently, sequestering groups of poor children of color is their version of isolating “low performance.” A 2012 study by Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis examined the effects of these rulings, finding that these districts’ white populations declined after they were freed from court orders.

    And academic performance suffers when schools become less diverse. The UCLA Civil Rights Group found that integrated schools exhibit “higher performance on test scores, greater future earnings and improved health outcomes.” Interaction between different racial groups contributes to social development as well, especially in a country that’s becoming increasingly diverse.

    Integrated schools prepare all students to participate in an integrated society. In segregated schools, racial isolation contributes to economic isolation, ultimately taking a toll on student performance. The Stanford researchers discovered that family income plays a significantly larger role in student achievement today than it did in the 1970s. Achievement gaps for a given level of income have increased up to 60 percent compared to the 1970s.

    Students at apartheid schools must overcome more barriers than their counterparts in more integrated schools. “Separate but equal” never works. Isolating communities based on race forces them into different economic and social positions. U.S. educational inequality can’t be solved without integrated schools.

    What’s next? By upholding Michigan’s affirmative action ban, the Supreme Court sent the wrong message to school districts nationwide. Here’s the real story: This type of legislation in higher education coupled with the resegregation of K-12 public school students will only lead to further division.

    Jonathan Kozol, an education reform activist and author, is one of the leading critics of school resegregation.”It goes far beyond the question of academic concerns — it goes to the question of whether we are going to be one society or two,” he said in an interview with Salon.

    His words foreshadow a divided dystopia eerily similar to America 60 years ago. The tapestry of American diversity is beginning to unravel. Segregation has never been a driver of equality, and until judges, lawmakers, and school systems acknowledge the value of integration, educational inequality will never be resolved.


    Alex Xourias is an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies


  • Why Is the NAACP in Bed with Racist Donald Sterling?   19 weeks 2 days ago

    by Dennis Parker

    In her heartfelt dissent in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which upheld a Michigan ballot initiative forbidding schools from considering race as one factor in admitting students, Justice Sandra Sotomayor wrote "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race."

    Days following the momentous case, the nation was embroiled in discussions of race sparked by statements made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

    Although the discussions captured the nation's attention, they were probably not what Sotomayor had in mind. These conversations are ultimately empty because they did little or nothing to illuminate the problems of discrimination today.

    Both men made statements that confirmed William Faulkner's observation that "the past isn't dead...[i]t isn't even past." Resurrecting offensive stereotypes, Sterling was quoted as warning his multi-racial girlfriend against being seen publicly with black people, while Bundy waxed nostalgically about all the benefits supposedly enjoyed by black people under slavery.

    Both men seem like caricatures of the historical racist.

    Few things are more deeply rooted in American history than a person espousing virulent racism in spite of the fact that he is financially dependent on the labor of blacks and is intimately involved with a person of color. Bundy's depiction of slavery, owing more to "Birth of a Nation" than "12 Years a Slave," rehashes the offensive depictions of the antebellum South used to justify discrimination beginning soon after the Civil War.

    Both men earned the condemnation that was heaped upon them. But we are mistaken if we pat ourselves on the back for taking the two men to task. In truth, the discussions were more of a sideshow that failed to address the real problems of modern racial inequality. We still have not taken the necessary steps to have the discussion which Justice Sotomayor urged upon us.

    That discussion would have been better served by considering a study which received far less attention.

    In the study, "Written in Black & White," law firm partners were asked to evaluate on a five-point scale a single memo into which errors were deliberately inserted. Half of the partners were told that the author of the memo was African-American, while the other half were told that the author was white. The partners reviewing the memo that they thought was written by a white person rated it at 4.1 while scoring the exact same memo 3.2 when they believed it was written by a black person.

    Most striking was the extent to which the partners were swayed by the believed race of the author. They only found an average of 2.9 errors for the believed white author as opposed to 5.8 for the believed black author, even though the mistakes inserted into the writing sample were totally objective errors, like misspelled words and errors of grammar.

    Far from being color blind, these partners were quite literally blinded by color. Their expectations, whether conscious or unconscious, were so strong that they actually failed to see mistakes by people whom they thought to be white.

    The partners in the study were probably nothing like Sterling or Bundy. They undoubtedly pride themselves on their fairness and impartiality. But the study demonstrates the powerful effect that prejudice, even when it is unconscious, can have – an effect only magnified by the power wielded by the partners.

    Not only do they make decisions regarding their law firms, but they are emblematic of the people who make life-changing decisions, such as who is admitted to a school, who is hired, or who receives a mortgage and on what terms. These people are gatekeepers to opportunity, and the effect that race continues to exert is the real problem we all face.

    We need to condemn those who make outrageous statements but, more importantly, we need to look deep within ourselves to find the deeper roots of inequality.


    Dennis Parker is director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, leading its efforts in combating discrimination and addressing other issues with a disproportionate impact on communities of color.


  • Poll: Over 60% of Illinois Voters Support Marijuana Decriminalization   19 weeks 2 days ago

    Americans for Safe Access has a new website devoted to tracking the voting records of federal officials on legislation of importance to medical marijuana patients. US Rep. Rodney Davis was graded F by ASA, along with other local congresscritters Randy Hultgren and John Shimkus.

    Pain and suffering are non-partisan, so why do Republicans keep voting for big government solutions and opposing individual and state rights to seek the best medical treatment available?


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