Category Archives: News

Drone footage reveals what little now remains of Gaza

via Salon

Gaza was devastated by this summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Hamas, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, 64 Israeli soldiers, and five Israeli civilians. Israeli air strikes destroyed more 17,000 homes, 360 factories (about 10 percent of Gaza’s industrial capacity), and 42,000 acres of farmland. More than 100,000 Gazans have been displaced from their homes.

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Pentagon report slams humanitarian aid missions in Africa

via Salon

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Movie night in Mouloud, Djibouti.  Skype lessons in Ethiopia.  Veterinary training assistance in Garissa, Kenya.  And in this country on the east coast of Africa, work on both primary and secondary schools and a cistern to provide clean water.  These are all-American good works, but who is doing them — and why?

As I sit in a room filled with scores of high-ranking military officers resplendent in their dress uniforms — Kenyans in their khakis, Burundians and Ugandans clad in olive, Tanzanians in deep forest green sporting like-colored berets and red epaulets with crossed rifles on their shoulders — chances are that the U.S. military is carrying out some mission somewhere on this vast continent.  It might be a kidnapping raid or a training exercise.  It could be an airstrike or the construction of a drone base.  Or, as I wait for the next speaker to approach the lectern at the “Land Forces East Africa” conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it could be a humanitarian operation run not by civilians in the aid business, but by military troops with ulterior motives — part of a near-continent-wide campaign utilizing the core tenets of counterinsurgency strategy.

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Young men aren’t allowed to buy emergency contraception 20 percent of the time

via Salon

In 2006, the FDA has supported over-the-counter access to emergency contraception for men. It’s legal for them to buy it, and has been for years. And yet, according to the results of a new study out of Columbia University, men are denied access to the medication nearly 20 percent of the time.

The research is the first to specifically target males’ ability to access emergency contraception, such as Plan B — an effective method of avoiding unintended pregnancy, specifically in cases of rape or the failure of a primary method of birth control. The “mystery shopper” survey included 158 pharmacies in three different parts of New York City, where one might anticipate there to be few barriers to access (unlike places such as Mississippi and Texas, where pharmacists have refused to sell emergency contraception to men in the past). There is plenty of misinformation out there about who gets to buy Plan B, where they can buy it and how old they must be — and, unfortunately, the study only reinforced how prevalent that misinformation is.

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Tell Governor Brown: No Warrantless Drones For California Cops

from Deeplinks http://bit.ly/1uKZMvn
http://bit.ly/1mj6tEn

An important California bill that would require warrants for law enforcement use of drones is currently sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that Gov. Brown will sign AB 1327, which passed the California legislature this August. EFF has long held that a warrant requirement is an essential component of any drone legislation, so while some of the bill’s language is imperfect, we encourage the Governor to sign the bill and ask concerned Californians to do the same.

One way the Brown administration gauges public support for a bill is through Twitter, so we’ve made it easy for you to send him the following message:

No warrantless drones for California cops! @JerryBrownGov, please sign AB 1327 to protect privacy in CA: http://bit.ly/1uKZMvs

What would our ideal drone legislation look like? At the least, it should meet these three criteria:

  1. require that law enforcement obtain warrants before using drones in investigations to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens from overbroad or undue data collection;
  2. hold commercial drone operators to established privacy standards and require disclosure of the details of their operations; and
  3. strike an appropriate balance between privacy and First Amendment protected activities such as newsgathering (if regulating private and media use of drones).

AB 1327 meets the first of these requirements. It also meets the third prong by default, because it doesn’t address private drone use and so doesn’t hinder the use of drones for First Amendment protected activities.

The heart of the bill is in section 14350(b):

(b) A law enforcement agency may use an unmanned aircraft system if it has obtained a warrant based on probable cause pursuant to this code.

There is a danger of loopholes, unsurprisingly. Law enforcement could try to avoid getting a warrant by “outsourcing” its surveillance to other agencies, which could then pass the collected information back. The bill attempts to address that problem by prohibiting other agencies from sharing footage, data, or images with law enforcement agencies that would have needed a warrant to collect that data and have not gotten one.

The bill also lists some explicit exceptions to the warrant requirement for law enforcement. Some of these are reasonable, mirroring existing warrant exceptions, like “emergency situations if there is an imminent threat to life or great bodily harm.” Similarly, there’s an exception to allow the use of a drone to determine the appropriate response to hazards like chemical spills.

Other provisions are more problematic. The bill lists uses that do not require warrants, and some are more obviously reasonable than others. For example, it allows the use of drones in state parks and wilderness areas to search for fires, but also to search for “illegal vegetation.” There’s another exception to allow warrantless use of drones “to assess the necessity of first responders in situations relating to traffic.”

Further, some missing definitions could lead to ambiguity in the future. For example, the bill allows non-law-enforcement agencies to use drones “to achieve the core mission of the agency.” Unfortunately “core mission” isn’t defined; while many activities fall clearly inside or outside that scope for a given agency, others might be in a grey area.

Despite those misgivings, it’s definitely good that the bill requires public agencies to give notice that they plan to use drones. What’s more, it sets a statewide floor, while allowing local jurisdictions to pass more tailored regulations. Both of these provisions are essential in places like Los Angeles, San Jose, Berkeley, and Alameda County, where public outcries around drone acquisition and use have led to spirited discussions about drone use. And in Alameda County, at least, that discussion has halted the purchase of a drone.

While this bill could be stronger in some areas, it’s certainly preferable to unregulated, warrantless police drone use. Law enforcement agencies should be discussing their plans for drones with transparency and accountability, and in a way that allows community involvement, and a warrant requirement here is a no-brainer. Tell Governor Brown to stop warrantless drone surveillance by signing AB 1327.

No warrantless drones for California cops! @JerryBrownGov, please sign AB 1327 to protect privacy in CA: http://bit.ly/1uKZMvs

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Collectors Seize Wages of Millions of Americans Burdened by Debt

from Alternet http://bit.ly/1mj6pVg

http://bit.ly/1tpCDiE

Employees can lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.

This story was co-published with NPR.

Back in 2009, Kevin Evans was one of millions of Americans blindsided by the recession. His 25-year career selling office furniture collapsed. He shed the nice home he could no longer afford, but not a $7,000 credit card debt.

After years of spotty employment, Evans, 58, thought he’d finally recovered last year when he found a better-paying, full-time customer service job in Springfield, Mo. But early this year, he opened his paycheck and found a quarter of it missing. His credit card lender, Capital One, had garnished his wages. Twice a month, whether he could afford it or not, 25 percent of his pay — the legal limit — would go to his debt, which had ballooned with interest and fees to over $15,000.

"It was a roundhouse from the right that just knocks you down and out," Evans said.

The recession and its aftermath have fueled an explosion of cases like Evans’. Creditors and collectors have pursued struggling cardholders and other debtors in court, securing judgments that allow them to seize a chunk of even meager earnings. The financial blow can be devastating — more than half of U.S. states allow creditors to take a quarter of after-tax wages. But despite the rise in garnishments, the number of Americans affected has remained unknown.

At the request of ProPublica, ADP, the nation’s largest payroll services provider, undertook a study of 2013 payroll records for 13 million employees. ADP’s report, released today, shows that more than one in 10 employees in the prime working ages of 35 to 44 had their wages garnished in 2013.

Roughly half of these debtors, unsurprisingly, owed child support. But a sizeable number had their earnings docked for consumer debts, such as credit cards, medical bills and student loans.

Extended to the entire population of U.S. employees, ADP’s findings indicate that 4 million workers — about 3 percent of all employees — had wages taken for a consumer debt in 2013.

Carolyn Carter of the National Consumer Law Center called the level of wage garnishment identified by ADP "alarming." "States and the federal government should look on reforming our wage garnishment laws with some urgency," she said.

The increase in consumer debt seizures is "a big change," largely invisible to researchers because of the lack of data, said Michael Collins, faculty director of the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The potential financial hardship imposed by these seizures and their sheer number should grab the attention of policymakers, he said. "It is something we should care about."

ADP’s study, the first large-scale look at how many employees are having their wages garnished and why, reveals what has been a hidden burden for working-class families. Wage seizures were most common among middle-aged, blue-collar workers and lower-income employees.Nearly 5 percent of those earning between $25,000 and $40,000 per year had a portion of their wages diverted to pay down consumer debts in 2013, ADP found.

Perhaps due to the struggling economy in the region, the rate was highest in the Midwest. There, over 6 percent of employees earning between $25,000 and $40,000 — one in 16 — had wages seized over consumer debt. Employees in the Northeast had the lowest rate. The statistics were not broken down by race.

Currently, debtors’ fates depend significantly on where they happen to live. State laws vary widely. Four states — Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and South Carolina — largely prohibit wage garnishment stemming from consumer debt. Most states, however, allow creditors to seize a quarter of a debtor’s wages — the highest rate permitted under federal law.

Evans had the misfortune to live in Missouri, which not only allows creditors to seize 25 percent, but allows them to continue to charge a high interest rate even after a judgment.  

By early 2010, Evans had fallen so far behind that Capital One suspended his card. For months, he made monthly $200 payments toward his $7,000 debt, according to statements reviewed by ProPublica and NPR. But by this time, the payments barely kept pace with the interest piling on at 26 percent. In 2011, when Evans could no longer keep up, Capital One filed suit. Evans was served a summons, but said he didn’t understand that meant there’d be a hearing on his case.

If Evans had lived in neighboring Illinois, the interest rate on his debt would have dropped to under 10 percent after his creditor had won a judgment in court. But in Missouri, creditors can continue to add the contractual rate of interest for the life of the debt, so Evans’ bill kept mounting. Missouri law also allowed Capital One to tack on a $1,200 attorney fee. Some other states cap such fees to no more than a few hundred dollars.

Evans has involuntarily paid over $6,000 this year on his old debt, an average of about $480 each paycheck, but he still owes more than $10,000. "It’s my debt. I want to pay it," Evans said. But "I need to come up with large quantities of money so I don’t just keep getting pummeled."

Companies can also seize funds from a borrower’s bank account. There is no data on how frequently this happens, even though it is a common recourse for collectors.

The garnishment process for most debts begins in local courts. A company can file suit as soon as a few months after a debtor falls behind. A ProPublica review of court records in eight states shows the bulk of lawsuits are filed by just a few types of creditors and companies. Besides major lenders like Capital One, medical debt is a major source of such suits. High-cost lenders who deal in payday and installment loans also file suits by the thousands. And finally, an outsized portion comes from debt buyers — companies that purchase mostly unpaid credit card bills.

When these creditors and collectors go to court, they are almost always represented by an attorney. Defendants — usually in tough financial straits or unfamiliar with the court system — almost never are. In Clay County, Missouri, where Capital One brought its suit against Evans in 2011, only 7 percent of defendants in debt collection cases have their own attorneys, according to ProPublica’s review of state court data. Often the debtors don’t show up to court at all: The most common outcome of a debt collection lawsuit in Missouri (and any other state) is a judgment by default.

In a Clay County courtroom recently, the court was filled with creditors, but debtors were in short supply. Attorneys for hospitals, debt buyers, and lenders milled about, approaching the podium when their cases were called. Often they simply asked for default judgments when debtors failed to show.

Christopher McGraugh, an associate circuit court judge in St. Louis, said the system is designed to give debtors a chance to dispute allegations in suits against them. But in debt collection cases, "it just doesn’t happen that much."

Some debtors, he said, may believe that they had no reason to attend since they owe the debt. For others, unable to afford an attorney, handling the case on their own is "beyond their sophistication," he said. As a result, the facts of most cases are never questioned, leaving the plaintiff with a judgment and the ability to pursue a garnishment.

McGraugh, who has presided over thousands of debt collection cases, said when defendants do obtain lawyers, particularly in cases involving debt buyers, they can point to possible holes in the suit. Those cases, he said "are rarely pursued."

Millions of debt collection lawsuits are filed every year in local courts. In 2011, for instance, the year Capital One went to court against Evans, more than 100,000 such suits were filed in Missouri alone.

Despite these numbers, creditors and debt collectors say they only pursue lawsuits and garnishments against consumers after other collection attempts fail. "Litigation is a very high-cost mechanism for trying to collect a debt," said Rob Foehl, general counsel at the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals. "It’s really only a small percentage of outstanding debts that go through the process."

"Legal action is a last resort," said Capital One spokeswoman Pam Girardo, and the bank only filed suit after Evans "didn’t complete the payment plan we agreed to."

Experts in garnishment say they’ve seen a clear shift in the type of debts that are pursued. A decade ago, child support accounted for the overwhelming majority of pay seizures, said Amy Bryant, a consultant who advises employers on payroll issues and has written a book on garnishment laws. "The emphasis is now on creditor garnishments," she said. Today, only about half the seizures are for child support, she said.

To illustrate the rise overall, Bryant provided ProPublica and NPR payroll statistics from a major retailer with approximately 250,000 employees nationwide. The company allowed the data to be used on the condition its name was not used. Since 2007, the number of employees who had their pay seized for consumer debt roughly doubled. As of June of this year, 2 percent — about 5,000 employees — had ongoing garnishments for consumer debt and just under 1 percent for student loan debt.

ADP’s analysis also found that the rate of garnishment for child support was most common (3.4 percent), but closely followed by consumer debt, including student loans. The next most common reasons for garnishments were tax levies and payments for bankruptcy plans. (Disclosure: ProPublica retains ADP to provide it with professional employer organization services.)

Wage seizures for student loan debts are governed by different laws than other consumer debts. Collectors can obtain a garnishment after an administrative procedure set by federal rules. Borrowers must also be more than nine months behind before a collector can seek one. Finally, such seizures are capped at 15 percent of disposable income.

Department of Education data shows that approximately $1 billion has been collected each year over the past several years through these garnishments. The amount is up by about 40 percent since 2006, even after the figures are adjusted for inflation. ADP’s analysis did not break out student loans from other types of consumer debt.

Bryant said the rise in garnishments has become an unanticipated burden for employers.

"It becomes very complicated," she said, particularly for national employers who must navigate the differences in state laws. "It’s very easy to make a mistake in the process." If an employer does not correctly handle a garnishment order, she said, they can become liable for a portion or even the entirety of the debt in some states.

The burden was enough to prompt the American Payroll Association to request in 2011 that the Uniform Law Commission draft a model state law on wage garnishment. Bryant said employers are hoping that the new law, which is still being drafted, will be adopted by a large number of states and reduce complications.


MI County Sells Injured Mom’s Home Over One Tax Bill, and Will Keep Extra $80,000 Profit

from Alternet http://bit.ly/XpvRwu

http://bit.ly/1tpAV0T

A dream home turned into a nightmare.

A Michigan mother says that she is devastated because Kalamazoo County is foreclosing on her home after brain bruises from a car accident caused her to miss a single tax payment two years ago.

Deborah Calley told WITI that she paid cash for her dream home in 2010. She had thought that it would make raising two children easier while she was recovering from the traumatic car accident.

But that dream was shattered when she was notified that the county was foreclosing on her home over a missed property tax payment.

“When I paid the taxes in 2012 right there in Richland, no one said, ‘Oh, well you still owe money for 2011,’” Calley said. “So, I didn’t really have a clue. I thought I was right on time.”

Calley’s Realtor, Becky Doorlag, explained that it was not unusual for people who owned their home to forget to pay property taxes because they were usually included in the mortgage payment, which Calley did not have. Calley also speculated that her brain injury may have played a role in the missed payment.

Court documents obtained by WITI showed that notices went out about the missed payment, but Calley said that did not see a single one of them. WITI discovered that all but one of those notices were addressed to banks, instead of the homeowner.

“I’ve never been affiliated with any of those banks, ever,” Calley noted, pointing out that she paid $164,000 cash for her home and did not have a mortgage.

And she said that she had proof that the letter that the county said was addressed to her also went to a bank.

“I know for a fact that it went back to this company called Title Check, because I have a receipt from the person at Title Check who signed it at their address in Kalamazoo,” she remarked.

Calley has offered to pay her back taxes, but the county has said that it is now too late. And to make matters worse, the county will also keep all profits from auctioning her home. The highest bid so far has been $80,000.

“She’ll pay it today if they’ll let her… The government will take her home — the only thing that she has that she owns that’s paid off free and clear. That is her future and her retirement and her kids’ future. She will lose it to the government unless the judge has mercy.” Doorlag told WITI.


Pro-War Talking Heads on TV Have Big Ties to Military Contractors

from Alternet http://bit.ly/XpvP7I

http://bit.ly/XpvNgl

Shouldn’t the public know about these pundits’ links to some of the largest military contractors in the world?

If you read enough news and watch enough cable television about the threat of the Islamic State, the radical Sunni Muslim militia group better known simply as ISIS, you will inevitably encounter a parade of retired generals demanding an increased US military presence in the region. They will say that our government should deploy, as retired General Anthony Zinni demanded, up to 10,000 American boots on the ground to battle ISIS. Or as in retired General Jack Keane’s case, they will make more vague demands, such as for “offensive” air strikes and the deployment of more military advisers to the region.

But what you won’t learn from media coverage of ISIS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry.

Keane is a great example of this phenomenon. His think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which he oversees along with neoconservative partisans Liz Cheney and William Kristol, has provided the data on ISIS used for multiple stories by The New York Times, the BBC and other leading outlets.

Keane has appeared on Fox News at least nine times over the last two months to promote the idea that the best way to stop ISIS is through military action—in particular, through air strikes deep into ISIS-held territory. In one of the only congressional hearings about ISIS over the summer, Keane was there to testify and call for more American military engagement. On Wednesday evening, Keane declared President Obama’s speech on defeating ISIS insufficient, arguing that a bolder strategy is necessary. “I truly believe we need to put special operation forces in there,” he told host Megyn Kelly.

Left unsaid during his media appearances (and left unmentioned on his congressional witness disclosure form) are Keane’s other gigs: as special adviser to Academi, the contractor formerly known as Blackwater; as a board member to tank and aircraft manufacturer General Dynamics; a “venture partner” to SCP Partners, an investment firm that partners with defense contractors, including XVionics, an “operations management decision support system” company used in Air Force drone training; and as president of his own consulting firm, GSI LLC.

To portray Keane as simply a think tank leader and a former military official, as the media have done, obscures a fairly lucrative career in the contracting world. For the General Dynamics role alone, Keane has been paid a six-figure salary in cash and stock options since he joined the firm in 2004; last year, General Dynamics paid him $258,006.

Keane did not immediately return a call requesting comment for this article.

Disclosure would also help the public weigh Keane’s policy advocacy. For instance, in his August 24 opinion column for The Wall Street Journal, in which he was bylined only as a retired general and the chairman of ISW, Keane wrote that “the time has come to confront the government of Qatar, which funds and arms ISIS and other Islamist terrorist groups such as Hamas.” While media reports have linked fundraisers for ISIS with individuals operating in Qatar (though not the government), the same could be said about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where many of the major donors of ISIS reportedly reside. Why did Keane single out Qatar and ignore Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? Is it because his company, Academi, has been a major business partner to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s primary rival in the region?

Other examples abound.

In a Washington Post story about Obama’s decision not to deploy troops to combat ISIS, retired Marine General James Mattis was quoted as a skeptic. “The American people will once again see us in a war that doesn’t seem to be making progress,” Mattis told the paper. Left unmentioned was Mattis’s new role as Keane’s colleague on the General Dynamics corporate board, a role that afforded Mattis $88,479 in cash and stock options in 2013.

Retired General Anthony Zinni, perhaps the loudest advocate of a large deployment of American soliders into the region to fight ISIS, is a board member to BAE Systems’ US subsidiary, and also works for several military-focused private equity firms.

CNN pundit Frances Townsend, a former Bush administration official, has recently appeared on television calling for more military engagement against ISIS. As the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit that studies elite power structures, reported, Townsend “holds positions in two investment firms with defense company holdings, MacAndrews & Forbes and Monument Capital Group, and serves as an advisor to defense contractor Decision Sciences.”


“Mainstream news outlets have a polite practice of identifying former generals and former congressmembers as simply ‘formers’—neglecting to inform the public of what these individuals are doing now, which is often quite pertinent information, like that they are corporate lobbyists or board members,” says Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College.

Media outlets might justify their omissions by reasoning that these pundits have merely advocated certain military strategies, not specific weapons systems, so disclosure of their financial stake in the policy need not be made. Yet the drumbeat for war has already spiraled into calls for increased military spending that lifts all boats—or non-operational jets for that matter.

When the Pentagon sent a recent $2 billion request for ramped-up operations in the Middle East, supposedly to confront the ISIS issue, budget detailsobtained by Bloomberg News revealed that officials asked for money for additional F-35 planes. The F-35 is not in operation and would not be used against ISIS. The plane is notoriously over budget and perpetually delayed—some experts call it the most expensive weapon system in human history—with a price tag now projected to be over $1 trillion. In July, an engine fire grounded the F-35 fleet and again delayed the planned debut of the plane. How it ended up in the Pentagon’s Middle East wish list is unclear.

“I think an inclination to use military action a lot is something the defense industry subscribes to because it helps to perpetuate an overall climate of permissiveness towards military spending,” says Ed Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School for Journalism. Wasserman says that the media debate around ISIS has tilted towards more hawkish former military leaders, and that the public would be best served not only with better disclosure but also a more balanced set of opinions that would include how expanded air strikes could cause collateral civil casualties. ”The past fifty years has a lot of evidence of the ineffectiveness of air power when it comes to dealing with a more nimble guerrilla-type adversary, and I’m not hearing this conversation,” he notes.

The pro-war punditry of retired generals has been the subject of controversy in the past. In a much-cited 2008 exposé, The New York Timesrevealed a network of retired generals on the payroll of defense contractors who carefully echoed the Bush administration’s Iraq war demands through appearances on cable television.

The paper’s coverage of the run-up to a renewed conflict in the region today has been notably measured, including many voices skeptical of calls for a more muscular military response to ISIS. Nonetheless, the Times has relied on research from a contractor-funded advocacy organization as part of its ISIS coverage. Reports produced by Keane’s ISW have been used to support six different infographics used for Times stories since June. The Times has not mentioned Keane’s potential conflict of interest or that ISW may have a vested stake in its policy positions. The Public Accountability Initiative notes that ISW’s corporate sponsors represent “a who’s who of the defense industry and includes Raytheon, SAIC, Palantir, General Dynamics, CACI, Northrop Grumman, DynCorp, and L-3 Communication.” As the business network CNBC reported this week, Raytheon in particular has much to gain from escalation in Iraq, as the company produces many of the missiles and radar equipment used in airstrikes.

In addition to providing reports and quotes for the media, ISW leaders have demanded a greater reaction to ISIS from the Obama administration. In The Weekly Standard this week, ISW president Kim Kagan wrote that President Obama’s call for a limited engagement against ISIS “has no chance of success.”

ISW’s willingness to push the envelope has gotten the organization into hot water before. In 2013, ISW suffered an embarrassing spectacle when one of its analysts, Elizabeth O’Bagy, was found to have inflated her academic credentials, touting a PhD from a Georgetown program that she had never entered.

But memories are short, and the media outlets now relying heavily on ISW research have done little to scrutinize the think tank’s policy goals. Over the last two years, ISW, including O’Bagy, were forcefully leading the push to equip Syrian rebels with advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry to defeat Bashar al-Assad.

For Keane, providing arms to Syrian rebels, even anti-American groups, was a worthwhile gamble. In an interview with Fox Business Network in May of last year, Keane acknowledged that arming Syrian rebels might mean “weapons can fall into radical Islamists’ hands.” He continued, “It is true the radical Islamists have gained in power and influence mainly because we haven’t been involved and that is a fact, but it’s still true we have vetted some of these moderate rebel groups with the CIA, and I’m convinced we can—it’s still acceptable to take that risk, and let’s get on with changing momentum in the war.” That acceptable risk Keane outlined has come to fruition. Recent reports now indicate that US-made weapons sent from American allies in the region to Syrian rebels have fallen into the hands of ISIS.

Keane, and ISW, is undeterred. The group just put out a call for 25,000 ground troops in Iraq and Syria.


Schools Acquire Grenade Launchers, MRAPs and Other Military Equipment — What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

from Alternet http://bit.ly/1tpAP9g

http://bit.ly/XpvMJ8

Better safe than sorry is given as reason for police excess.

Saying they never know when a hostage-taker or shooter could strike, more than 20 school districts across the county have been acquiring surplus military equipment from the Pentagon, including armored personnel carriers, high-powered rifles and other weaponry, according to a handful of press accounts.

The school districts and campus security forces range in size from small Saddleback College in southern California, whose nine-member squad received a MRAP—mine resistant ambush protected—vehicle, their college newspaper reported, to Los Angeles Unified School District, which received 61 M16 assault rifles, three grenade launchers and one MRAP, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. San Diego’s school district also requested and received an MRAP. In Edinburg, Texas, the district has its own SWAT team, according to The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy group, which tried to conduct a national survey and counted more than 20 districts in eight states taking the free weaponry.  

“It is frankly difficult to imagine how a grenade launcher, or any of these items, could be safely used in any scenario involving schools,” the civil rights groups wrote in a letter to the federal program’s administrators, noting that there’s a big difference between prudent policing and paramilitary excesses. “Taxpayer dollars should be steered away from investments in increased law enforcement and militarization of schools and towards supporting solutions that address the root causes of school safety concerns and provide students with the services and supports they need to succeed.”

“Undoubtedly, Saddleback’s new MRAP will strike fear into the hearts of the countless drug dealers and terrorists that make up the student body at Saddleback,” the Daily Titan, the student paper editorialized. “The campus police officers will also be safer than ever from any stray frisbees or overzealous Greenpeace volunteers. Despite the obvious benefits of having a 38,000-pound war machine on a community college campus, the effectiveness and need for such a vehicle is certainly questionable.”

The schools receive the surplus military weaponry under several federal programs. The Pentagon gives it away under the so-called 1033 program, which has transferred $5 billion worth of gear to more than half of the nation’s 17,000 local police departments, program administrators testified last week in the Senate. The Departments of Homeland Security and Justice also grant programs that pay for more supplies—which accounts for the same militarized appearance of local police in protest marches and drug raids. 

School district police defended their military weaponry, saying they could be used to rescue students in violent circumstances.

Steve Zipperman, chief of L.A. Unified’s police department, told the Los Angeles Times that school police never use the weaponry against students, adding one reason that school police have military weapons is because they engage in mutual-aid pacts with other police agencies. In 1997, L.A. police found they were outgunned during a confrontation with shooters at one school, the paper said.

“When we have an emergency at a school, we’ve got to get in and save kids,” San Diego Unified School District Police Department Joe Florentino told a KPBS, that city’s public television station. “Our idea is: How can we get in and pull out a classroom at a time of kids if there’s an active shooter? If there’s a fire [or] if there’s an earthquake, can we rip down a wall? Stuff like that.”

According to San Diego’s KPBS, the MRAP, costing taxpayers $730,000, arrived last spring and students in an auto body repair class painted it in one assignment.

“There is a fine line between preparedness and excess,” the Saddleback College editorial concluded. “While major police departments are usually justified in their acquisition and use of most equipment, a nine-man community college police department owning a military vehicle definitely crosses the line of excess. Aside from lending its MRAP to neighboring police departments, there are almost no practical situations where Saddleback’s MRAP could be used effectively or tactically.”


Three Black Professional Women Say Staff at Exclusive NYC Hotel Accused Them of Being Hookers

from Alternet http://bit.ly/XpvNNg

http://bit.ly/1tpALq8

Does being a professional black woman in public equal solicitation?

When Kantaki Washington and two friends were hanging out at the Standard Hotel in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District several weeks ago, none of them could imagine they’d be accused of soliciting prostitution.

On the morning of August 28, Washington, Cydney Madlock and J. Lyn Thomas say a member of the hotel’s security team accused them of being hookers. The women had just come down from Le Bain, a bar at the top of the hotel, and settled in the lobby when several men approached them and offered to buy them drinks. When they sat down at a restaurant inside the hotel, an African-American man approached Washington and her friends and introduced himself. Moments later, Washinton says a security guard from the hotel whispered something in the man’s ear and ushered him away.

"After the security guard ushers the brotha away, he comes over to me and my friends and says, ‘Come on, ladies. You can buy a drink but you can’t be soliciting,’" Washington told AlterNet in an interview. "We were like, soliciting? He said, ‘Don’t act stupid with me, ladies. You know what you’re doing. Stop soliciting in here. We were like, ‘Soliciting what?’" 

Shocked, she asked the security guard if he was accusing them of prostitution. "Don’t act stupid with me, you know what you were doing," Washington recalls the guard saying.

"Dude, I’m a lawyer and these women are educators," she said in reply. "Why the hell would I be in here soliciting prostitution?" Washington said he answered, "I don’t know but that’s what you’re doing."

Washington and her friends were the only black women in the area and believe they were racially profiled. Outraged, Washington demanded that the guard give her his name and the name of his manager. The guard gave her his first name only and directed her to ther reception desk. When she and her friends approached the manager over their claim, Washington says they were met with indifference. She says the manager then claimed the security guard was outsourced and not technically a staff member.

Several weeks later, Washington received an email from a staff member of the hotel inviting her and "three guests back to The Standard for a bottle of champagne in The Top of The Standard or Le Bain, followed by dinner for 4 (valued at $400) at The Standard Grill." None of the emails, which Washington provided to AlterNet, addressed the prostitution accusation. When Washington asked about specifics of the offer of dinner in a separate email, the staff person did not mention the prostitution accusation.

"Again, I want to apologize for what happened to you here that evening," the staff member wrote in a reply. "We are extending this table for 4 as a gesture of goodwill for you and your friends, plus one more person. Please let me know when you would like to come back."

After repeated attempts to reach hotel management, AlterNet was unable to get anyone to comment on the incident. 

Cydney Madlock, who teaches at a charter school in Brooklyn, told AlterNet that the offer of dinner and champagne isn’t good enough.

"We should have some formal apology," she said. "And the $400 dinner, we all have careers. That’s nothing. We can afford that ourselves. If I want champagne…what is that? I felt like [the security guard] was talking to me like a dog in the street."

Madlock claims the guard was very hostile and spoke so loudly that other patrons in the eating area could hear their discussion.

"It was crazy," she said. "He was being rude. It was embarassing and we don’t know who was in that restaurant. My principal could have been in there. What kind of effect would that have been on my career?"

J. Lyn Thomas, a dance teacher in Brooklyn, told AlterNet that she is still upset about what happened that night.

"I’m just in shock that, in 2014, this is something that I had to take time out of my night to handle," she said. "It’s beyond what I can imagine could happen in 2014. Three black women, and the only reason why we could be there is because we’re soliciting for sex? That’s ridiculous. A lawyer and two people who teach kids for a living. It was very dehumanizing and very degrading. He did it in front of the entire restaurant and they were watching the whole scene. It was humiliating. I’m still in shock. I still can’t believe that happened."

This is not the only case in which professional black women were mistaken for prostitutes. In Los Angeles, actress Daniele Watts was detained by Studio City police officers this weekend after being accused of prostitution. She was eventually released. Her boyfriend, who is white and was with her at the time, believes they were targeted because they are an interracial couple. 


Robert Reich Calls Out Harvard Business School for Its Role in Widening Inequality

from Alternet http://bit.ly/XpvKkw

http://bit.ly/1tpAIL7

The top educator of American CEOs needs to rethink what it is teaching.

No institution is more responsible for educating the CEOs of American corporations than Harvard Business School – inculcating in them a set of ideas and principles that have resulted in a pay gap between CEOs and ordinary workers that’s gone from 20-to-1 fifty years ago to almost 300-to-1 today.

survey, released on September 6, of 1,947 Harvard Business School alumni showed them far more hopeful about the future competitiveness of American firms than about the future of American workers.

As the authors of the survey conclude, such a divergence is unsustainable. Without a large and growing middle class, Americans won’t have the purchasing power to keep U.S. corporations profitable, and global demand won’t fill the gap. Moreover, the widening gap eventually will lead to political and social instability. As the authors put it, “any leader with a long view understands that business has a profound stake in the prosperity of the average American.”

Unfortunately, the authors neglected to include a discussion about how Harvard Business School should change what it teaches future CEOs with regard to this “profound stake.” HBS has made some changes over the years in response to earlier crises, but has not gone nearly far enough with courses that critically examine the goals of the modern corporation and the role that top executives play in achieving them.

A half-century ago, CEOs typically managed companies for the benefit of all their stakeholders – not just shareholders, but also their employees, communities, and the nation as a whole.

“The job of management,” proclaimed Frank Abrams, chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, in a 1951 address, “is to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the various directly affected interest groups … stockholders, employees, customers, and the public at large. Business managers are gaining professional status partly because they see in their work the basic responsibilities [to the public] that other professional men have long recognized as theirs.” 

This view was a common view among chief executives of the time. Fortune magazine urged CEOs to become “industrial statesmen.” And to a large extent, that’s what they became. 

For thirty years after World War II, as American corporations prospered, so did the American middle class. Wages rose and benefits increased. American companies and American citizens achieved a virtuous cycle of higher profits accompanied by more and better jobs.

But starting in the late 1970s, a new vision of the corporation and the role of CEOs emerged – prodded by corporate “raiders,” hostile takeovers, junk bonds, and leveraged buyouts. Shareholders began to predominate over other stakeholders. And CEOs began to view their primary role as driving up share prices. To do this, they had to cut costs – especially payrolls, which constituted their largest expense.

Corporate statesmen were replaced by something more like corporate butchers, with their nearly exclusive focus being to “cut out the fat” and “cut to the bone.”

In consequence, the compensation packages of CEOs and other top executives soared, as did share prices. But ordinary workers lost jobs and wages, and many communities were abandoned. Almost all the gains from growth went to the top.

The results were touted as being “efficient,” because resources were theoretically shifted to “higher and better uses,” to use the dry language of economics.

But the human costs of this transformation have been substantial, and the efficiency benefits have not been widely shared. Most workers today are no better off than they were thirty years ago, adjusted for inflation. Most are less economically secure.

So it would seem worthwhile for the faculty and students of Harvard Business School, as well as those at every other major business school in America, to assess this transformation, and ask whether maximizing shareholder value – a convenient goal now that so many CEOs are paid with stock options – continues to be the proper goal for the modern corporation.

Can an enterprise be truly successful in a society becoming ever more divided between a few highly successful people at the top and a far larger number who are not thriving?

For years, some of the nation’s most talented young people have flocked to Harvard Business School and other elite graduate schools of business in order to take up positions at the top rungs of American corporations, or on Wall Street, or management consulting.

Their educations represent a substantial social investment; and their intellectual and creative capacities, a precious national and global resource.

But given that so few in our society – or even in other advanced nations – have shared in the benefits of what our largest corporations and Wall Street entities have achieved, it must be asked whether the social return on such an investment has been worth it, and whether these graduates are making the most of their capacities in terms of their potential for improving human well-being.

These questions also merit careful examination at Harvard and other elite universities. If the answer is not a resounding yes, perhaps we should ask whether these investments and talents should be directed toward “higher and better” uses.

[This essay originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review’s blog.]