B12 Solipsism

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Archive for the ‘government’ Category

Our government in action, for good, and mostly for worse

The Houston Stadium Grift

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Fire hydrant Flood on Randolph

Speaking of corporate welfare and taxpayer money, professional sports owners are worse than college sports organizations, if that is even possible. We’ve long fulminated at this infuriating trend of billionaire team owners stealing tax dollars from cities, usually with a wink-and-nod from the local politicians.

Dave Zirin of The Nation notes that the City of Houston shoveled money to Lamar Alexander, money that could be spent on more practical matters, like cleaning up after a flood, or purchasing homes in flood plains and reverting them back to flood plains…

Taxpayer-subsidized stadiums have long become a substitute for anything resembling urban policy in the 21st century. And now as roads, bridges, and humanitarian shelters decay, they stand exposed as neoliberal Trojan horses that take public dollars and magically transform them into private profit for billionaire sports owners. They are a scam, a con, and, not surprisingly, a grifter like Osteen has long had his hand in this honey pot.

[Money-changer-in-the-temple Joel] Osteen’s church was once a hoops hallowed ground called The Summit, home of the Houston Rockets and the site of the magic made by Hakeem Olajuwon and his 1994 and 1995 teams that won back-to-back NBA titles. In 1995, flush with this success, Rockets owner Les Alexander demanded a new sports arena from the city. These negotiations eventually resulted in the Toyota Center, which opened in 2003, even though the city voted down this plan in a 1999 referendum. In the end, the people of Houston paid $182 million of the $235 million in construction costs. Toyota paid $100 million in naming rights, all of which went to Les Alexander.

That was just the beginning. Texas taxpayers have continuously paid for upgrades in the subsequent years. In 2013, the public even paid for a new $8 million scoreboard to help prepare Houston for the NBA All-Star Game. (Imagine what that $8 million could be used for right now.)

I spoke to Neal DeMause who runs the stadium news site Field of Schemes. He said, “In a sane world, the city of Houston would still own The Summit, rather than have replaced it at public expense so the Rockets owner could have a shinier plaything, and could make its own decisions about how to use it in emergencies. I suppose it’s a small silver lining that the scads of redundant sports facilities littering the landscape make for a surplus of good disaster shelters now—though if cities would spend billions of dollars a year on flood proofing and reducing carbon emissions instead of subsidizing sports venues, they’d probably get better bang for their buck.”

The Rockets-Osteen connection is tragically just a microcosm in Houston of what tax-funded stadium priorities have produced. The Houston Texans were handed $289 million of public financing for their stadium, with minimal debate. They even took $50 million in public funding just for 2017 Super Bowl renovations. That money went into “installing Wi-Fi in the stadium and upgrad[ing] the club and suite areas of the building.”

As for Les Alexander, he just announced that he was selling the Rockets for a staggering $2 billion. Alexander bought the team in 1993 for $85 million. There is no way Alexander would be able to command that asking price without the public subsidies and new arenas underwritten by the city of Houston.

(click here to continue reading The Houston Stadium Grift Comes Home to Roost | The Nation.)

Vinyl Bird - Townes Van Zandt - Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, TX
Vinyl Bird – Townes Van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, TX

I am of the opinion that billionaire sports team owners should be embarrassed to ask for handouts from municipalities, and should be able to pay for their own damn stadiums. Or else, sell their team to the city, like the Green Bay Packers.

Hoop Dream
Hoop Dream

Oh, and what about sports stadiums automatically being used as shelters, as was once proposed

Written by Seth Anderson

September 2nd, 2017 at 9:01 am

Another College Sports Boondoggle

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The Twelfth Player in Every Football Game
The Twelfth Player in Every Football Game

In addition to the elimination of property tax exemptions for rich nonprofits that we’ve mentioned previously, here’s another piece of tax reform I support – the repeal of the tax payer subsidy to college sports…

Eric Zorn writes:

College sports is a big-time business, tickets are in high demand at major universities and charging what the market will bear is the American way. In fact, judging by the secondary market on StubHub, where single seats to the Ohio State game are going for more than $2,000, tickets to Michigan football games are still vastly underpriced.

What I don’t understand, however, is the law that allows ticket buyers to write off 80 percent of their “preferred seating donation” as a charitable contribution for federal tax purposes.

That’s right. High rollers in the swankiest suites can subtract $4,500 from their taxable income, a benefit worth up to $1,782 off their tax bill, as though they had given that money to a soup kitchen or hurricane relief.

Put another way, for each such privileged fan, the federal government effectively provides a $1,782 ticket subsidy.

And, in the mid-1980s, when these preferred-seating donation scams first arose, the Internal Revenue Service issued a common-sense ruling that a mandatory donation linked to the purchase of seasons tickets was a quid pro quo and so not deductible for tax purposes.

Legislators representing schools in the powerful Southeastern Conference “went crazy,” said University of Illinois emeritus law professor John D. Colombo, a specialist in tax laws governing charitable organizations. And in 1988, Congress added subsection 170(l) to the IRS code that specifically allowed for an 80 percent deduction on donations to “institutions of higher education” that granted “the right to purchase tickets for seating at an athletic event.”

In 2015, the Obama administration asked Congress to repeal subsection 170(l), claiming it will drain at least $2.5 billion from public coffers over the next decade. Duke University law professor Richard Schmalbeck estimated the 10-year tax receipts loss at $20 billion.

Congress ignored the suggestion.

(click here to continue reading If Congress can’t eliminate the college football ‘charity’ scam, what hope is there for a tax overhaul? – Chicago Tribune.)

Ain’t that a bitch? Our tax dollars hard at work, inflating college coaches salaries, fancy high-tech training facilities, inflating player salaries, oh, wait, the colleges don’t even pay their athletes a stipend, the players work for basically, “exposure”.  Hmmm, maybe there are deeper issues that need to be solved with Division 1 teams. 

Oklahoma vs Texas
Oklahoma vs Texas

Written by Seth Anderson

September 2nd, 2017 at 7:58 am

Abolish property tax exemptions for rich nonprofits

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Dom Sub Invoc S Hedwigis
Dom Sub Invoc S Hedwigis.

David M. Simon elaborates on a point I’ve made before: wealthy non-profits like churches and universities shouldn’t be tax exempt.

Illinois is the land of special favors for those with lobbyists, connections or clout. Just look at the state’s property tax laws and the exemptions for rich nonprofits.

Retired homeowners living on fixed incomes pay hefty property taxes, despite the so-called “senior exemption.”

On the other hand, real estate owned by many rich nonprofits is completely exempt from property taxes. This includes private university campuses and their sports facilities, the gleaming skyscrapers of qualifying private hospitals and magnificent church cathedrals. And lots of other expensive real estate owned by other qualifying nonprofits. All completely exempt — and unfair.

Wealthy nonprofits with expensive real estate use and benefit from the same law enforcement, fire protection and other basic services as other property owners. These nonprofits may not principally use their real estate to make money, but neither do most families.

This system also dumps the hefty shares of the tax burden that these nonprofits should pay on the rest of us.

(click here to continue reading Abolish property tax exemptions for rich nonprofits – Chicago Tribune.)

Jesus Is A Hoarder
Jesus Is A Hoarder

What are these organizations doing for our society? Is it justified for them to be takers on the basis of whatever their so-called mission is? For instance, Scientology? Or college and professional sports stadiums? Not if I had a vote.

I had a 3 A.M. thought. Mayor Daley the Younger was bad for the city in a lot of ways1 but inarguably there was one aspect he was better at than the current administration: keeping the city gleaming, especially downtown, but everywhere really. Today, in many nooks and crannies of the city, there are mounds of McDonald’s wrappers, Starbucks coffee cups, cigarette butts, puddles of stale urine that haven’t been touched in years. Rain washes some of this detritus off the streets and sidewalks, but then it accumulates in stairways, alleys, and other locations. Nobody is power-washing the sidewalk, nobody is picking up the garbage that doesn’t make it into a garbage can.

What if in exchange for tax-exempt status, a non-profit had to adopt a city block and keep it clean? There could be some formula based on the annual financial report of the organization and the total number of city blocks. So the Heritage Foundation would be required to keep clean 5 blocks on the South Side somewhere near the Koch Brothers coal dust repository, while Northwestern Memorial Hospital would be responsible for 23 blocks in a cluster near Garfield Park. Or however the math works. 

Impractical, unlikely, and unwieldily, like most 3 AM thoughts…

Footnotes:
  1. enthusiastically privatizing city assets, allowing the police free rein to ride roughshod over civil liberties, frequently walking right up to the line of corruption, and even putting his toe over the line, and so on []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 12th, 2017 at 9:27 am

Posted in government,politics,religion

Tagged with ,

Illinois Senate approves Right to Know online privacy bill

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Eye see u Willis
Eye see u 

Hmm, good news, though I expect Governor Rauner to veto it, for reasons…

The state Senate on Thursday approved the groundbreaking Right to Know Act, a measure that would require online companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon to disclose to consumers what data about them has been collected and shared with third parties.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, now heads to the Illinois House after passing on a 31-21 vote.

“I think this is a step forward for Illinois in terms of data privacy,” Hastings said Friday. “It gives people the right to know what information (internet companies are) selling to a third party.”

Illinois is taking center stage in the national debate over internet privacy legislation, which is shifting from the federal to state level. Congress voted in March to undo the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband privacy rules, which were adopted last fall under the Obama administration and set to go into effect this year.

President Donald Trump on April 3 signed the measure that repealed the broadband privacy rules.

The FCC protections would have required internet service providers, such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, to disclose what personal information they collect and share and would have required consent from consumers before sharing more sensitive information.

Privacy advocates believe Illinois and other states must step up to fill the void left by the shift in federal policy.

The Right to Know Act would require the operator of a commercial website or online service to make available “certain specified information” that has been disclosed to a third party and to provide an email address or toll-free telephone number for customers to request that information.

Major internet companies have been pushing back against the Illinois initiative, ramping up lobbying efforts as the privacy legislation advanced through the Senate, Hastings said. Online trade associations, including CompTIA, the Internet Association and NetChoice, also met with Hastings to voice opposition to the measure.

The Senate bill will head to committee in the House before it can be brought to a vote. A House committee approved a similar measure last month.

(click here to continue reading Illinois Senate approves Right to Know online privacy bill – Chicago Tribune.)

No Repercussions For You Yet
No Repercussions For You Yet

Of course the technology companies who have been profiting handsomely by selling our information are opposed to this bill, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea for consumers. I want, at minimum, to be able to share in the profits, and even better, a way to opt out entirely. Ha. Just for grins, read the text of the IL Senate bill to see what kinds of information being sold.

For instance:

(a) real name, alias, nickname, and user name.

(b) Address information, including, but not limited to, postal or e-mail.

(c) Telephone number.

(d) Account name.

(e) Social security number or other government-issued identification number, including, but not limited to, social security number, driver’s license number, identification card number, and passport number.

(f) Birthdate or age.

(g) Physical characteristic information, including, but not limited to, height and weight.

(h) Sexual information, including, but not limited to, sexual orientation, sex, gender status, gender identity, and gender expression.

(i) Race or ethnicity.

(j) Religious affiliation or activity.

(k) Political affiliation or activity.

(l) Professional or employment-related information.

(m) Educational information.

(n) Medical information, including, but not limited to, medical conditions or drugs, therapies, mental health, or medical products or equipment used.

(o) Financial information, including, but not limited to, credit, debit, or account numbers, account balances, payment history, or information related to assets, liabilities, or general creditworthiness.

(p) Commercial information, including, but not limited to, records of property, products or services provided, obtained, or considered, or other purchasing or consumer histories or tendencies.

(q) Location information.

(r) Internet or mobile activity information, including, but not limited to, Internet protocol addresses or information concerning the access or use of any Internet or mobile-based site or service.

(s) Content, including text, photographs, audio or video recordings, or other material generated by or provided by the customer.

Are you ok with Acxiom, Experian and other similar corporations collecting, collating, selling and re-selling this information about you? I’m not.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 6th, 2017 at 9:01 am

Posted in Business,government

Tagged with ,

Judge Blocks Part of Trump’s Immigration Order

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No Borders No Nations
No Borders No Nations! 

As you’ve probably heard, there was another poorly thought out Executive Order signed by the Lord Emperor Tiny Hands, suddenly banning travel to the US from several countries, quickly stayed by federal judges. One wonders how much thought went into the ban, was it crafted on the toilet using a non-secured Android phone

Around the country, people gathered at airports to protest the travel ban. The Chicago Tribune reported that protesters gathered at O’Hare International Airport after more than a dozen travelers were detained. The Star Tribune reported some 100 people protesting at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport although there were no reports of people detained there. In San Francisco, The Mercury New reported hundreds gathered at San Francisco International Airport as three travelers were detained. And at Kennedy International Airport in New York, The New York Times reported that thousands protesters spread along the parking apron and on three floors of a parking deck shouting their protests.

(click here to continue reading Federal judge bars US from removing legal residents detained at Dulles | WTOP.)

A federal judge in Brooklyn came to the aid of scores of refugees and others who were trapped at airports across the United States on Saturday after an executive order signed by President Trump, which sought to keep many foreigners from entering the country, led to chaotic scenes across the globe.

The judge’s ruling blocked part of the president’s actions, preventing the government from deporting some arrivals who found themselves ensnared by the presidential order. But it stopped short of letting them into the country or issuing a broader ruling on the constitutionality of Mr. Trump’s actions.

The high-stakes legal case played out on Saturday amid global turmoil, as the executive order signed by the president on Friday afternoon slammed shut the borders of the United States for an Iranian scientist headed to a lab in Massachusetts, a Syrian refugee family headed to a new life in Ohio and countless others across the world.

Mr. Trump — in office just a week — found himself accused of constitutional and legal overreach by two Iraqi immigrants, defended by the American Civil Liberties Union. Meanwhile, large crowds of protesters turned out at airports around the country to denounce Mr. Trump’s ban on the entry of refugees and people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

(click here to continue reading Judge Blocks Part of Trump’s Immigration Order – The New York Times.)

Resist (hat)
Resist (hat)

The Executive Order didn’t go through normal vetting channels, so people were on flights that were perfectly legal when they began, but became forbidden by the time they landed. Incompetent White House, or chaos by design? Only Steve Bannon knows.

It wasn’t until Friday — the day Trump signed the order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending all refugee admission for 120 days — that career homeland security staff were allowed to see the final details of the order, a person familiar with the matter said. The result was widespread confusion across the country on Saturday as airports struggled to adjust to the new directives. In New York, two Iraqi nationals sued the federal government after they were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and 10 others were detained as well.

The policy team at the White House developed the executive order on refugees and visas, and largely avoided the traditional interagency process that would have allowed the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance, according to numerous officials who spoke to CNN on Saturday.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said.
Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. 

…Before the President issued the order, the White House did not seek the legal guidance of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Justice Department office that interprets the law for the executive branch. A source said the executive order did not follow the standard agency review process that’s typically overseen by the National Security Council, though the source couldn’t specifically say if that included the decision to not have the order go through the Office of Legal Counsel.

Separately, a person familiar with the matter said career officials in charge of enforcing the executive order were not fully briefed on the specifics until Friday. The officials were caught off guard by some of the specifics and raised questions about how to handle the new banned passengers on US-bound planes.

Regarding the green card holders and some of the confusion about whether they were impacted, the person familiar with the matter said if career officials had known more about the executive order earlier, some of the confusion could have been avoided and a better plan could be in place.

But even after the Friday afternoon announcement, administration officials at the White House took several hours to produce text of the action until several hours after it was signed. Adviser Kellyanne Conway even said at one point it was not going to be released before eventually it did get sent out.
Administration officials also seemed unsure at first who was covered in the action, and a list of impacted countries was only produced later on Friday night, hours after the President signed the document at the Pentagon.

(click here to continue reading Inside the confusion of the Trump executive order and travel ban – CNNPolitics.com.)

As an aside, usually I am content to read my news rather than some television talking head read it out loud to me; yet certain stories benefit from seeing live footage of the event as it unfolds. Natural disasters, perhaps, and certainly protests. Last night I flipped through all the news channels I could think of, and none had any live coverage of the raucous protests in airports around the country. Not MSNBC, PBS, CNN, BBC even. I didn’t try Fox, they were probably suggesting the protestors should all be rounded up into camps. Ironically, CNN was broadcasting its documentary on the 1980s, and as I flipped it on, Ted Turner was talking about what a disruption having a 24 hour network would be. Ironic since there was a genuine news story going on at that very moment, and CNN wasn’t broadcasting any live coverage.

Also, I was pleased that the ACLU jumped into action, and planned to give them another donation (even though I just had given them some money in December). Apparently, I wasn’t alone, as their website was being hammered by traffic…ACLU 2017 01 28 at 9 06 21 PM

ACLU 2017-01-28 at 9.06.21 PM

I’ll have to donate to them later in the week.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced Saturday evening that a federal court in New York had issued an emergency stay on President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The court’s decision, which will affect people who have been detained in airports, came after the ACLU and other activist groups filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqis who were held at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as a result of the order.

“I hope Trump enjoys losing. He’s going to lose so much we’re going to get sick and tired of his losing,” ACLU national political director Faiz Shakir told Yahoo News shortly after the decision was announced.

(click here to continue reading ACLU wins legal challenge against immigration ban: ‘Hope Trump enjoys losing’.)

Written by Seth Anderson

January 29th, 2017 at 10:57 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with ,

Leonard Peltier should be released in the interest of justice

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Exiled and Wandering
Exiled and Wandering

I was going to respond to the unsigned Chicago Tribune editorial titled, “Clemency for Leonard Peltier? Never”, but James Reynolds, former U.S. attorney did a better job, with less swear words.

In response to your Monday editorial “Clemency for Leonard Peltier? Never,” I was the United States attorney who supervised the prosecution of Leonard Peltier during the critical post-trial period. In December 2016, I wrote to President Barack Obama to support his clemency petition “as being in the best interests of justice in considering the totality of all matters involved.”

Although no trial is perfect, Peltier’s was unusually troublesome, particularly when viewed with the benefit of hindsight. The case against Peltier was a moving target, which shifted from a “deliberate ambush” theory in the earlier trial of Peltier’s co-defendants (who were found not guilty) to a “deliberate execution” at Peltier’s subsequent trial before a different judge, and then to an “accomplice” theory on appeal.

As an “aider and abettor,” according to the government’s theory, Peltier was guilty of the murders because he was present, and he had a weapon. It was a very thin case that likely would not be upheld by courts today. It is a gross overstatement to label Peltier a “cold-blooded murderer” on the basis of the minimal proof that survived the appeals in his case.

Following the conclusion of the appeals, Judge Gerald Heaney, an Eighth Circuit judge who sat on two of the appeals, took the extraordinary step of writing to the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs urging it to grant clemency to Peltier in 1991.

Considering all of the surrounding factors, including the prevailing worldview of the time, the FBI’s role in the creation of dangerous conditions on Pine Ridge, the manner in which the case was investigated and prosecuted and the extraordinary length of time already served, in my opinion, Peltier should be released in the interests of justice.

The government has gotten almost 41 years, and 41 pounds of flesh; Peltier is old and sick, and in my opinion, any more time served would be vindictive.

— James Reynolds, former U.S. attorney, Naples, Fla.

(click here to continue reading Leonard Peltier should be released in the interest of justice – Chicago Tribune.)

Exactly, Leonard Peltier has served long enough for a crime he probably didn’t even commit. 

Simply Because It Was True
Simply Because It Was True

A little neutral-esque background from Wikipedia:

Peltier fled to Hinton, Alberta, where he hid in a friend’s cabin. On February 6, 1976, he was arrested. In December 1976, he was extradited from Canada based on documents submitted by the FBI that Warren Allmand, Canada’s Solicitor General at the time, would later state contained false information.

One of those documents was an affidavit signed by Myrtle Poor Bear, a local Native American woman. She claimed to have been Peltier’s girlfriend at the time and to have witnessed the murders. But, according to Peltier and others at the scene, Poor Bear did not know Peltier, nor was she present at the time of the shooting. She later claimed that she was pressured and threatened by FBI agents into giving the statements. Poor Bear attempted to testify about the FBI’s intimidation at Peltier’s trial; however, the judge barred her testimony on the grounds of mental incompetence.

Peltier fought extradition to the United States, even as Bob Robideau and Darrelle “Dino” Butler, AIM members also present on the Jumping Bull compound at the time of the shootings, were found not guilty on the grounds of self-defense by a federal jury in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Peltier returned too late to be tried with Robideau and Butler, and he was subsequently tried separately. Peltier’s trial was held in Fargo, North Dakota, where a jury convicted Peltier of the murders of Coler and Williams. Unlike the trial for Butler and Robideau, the jury was informed that the two FBI agents were killed by close-range shots to their heads, when they were already defenseless due to previous gunshot wounds. They also saw autopsy and crime scene photographs of the two agents, which had not been shown to the jury at Cedar Rapids. In April 1977, Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

Doubts about legal proceedings

Numerous doubts have been raised over Peltier’s guilt and the fairness of his trial, based on allegations and inconsistencies regarding the FBI and prosecution’s handling of this case:

  • FBI radio intercepts indicated that the two FBI agents had been pursuing a red pickup truck; this was confirmed by the FBI the day after the shootout. Red pickup trucks near the reservation were stopped for weeks, but Leonard Peltier did not drive a red pickup truck. Evidence was given that Peltier was driving a Suburban vehicle; a large station wagon style sedan built on a pickup truck chassis with an enclosed rear section. Peltier’s vehicle was red with a white roof—not a red, open-tray pickup truck with no white paint. The FBI agents’ radio message said that the suspect they were pursuing was driving a red pickup truck, with no additional details. At Peltier’s trial, the FBI testified that it had been searching for a red and white van, which Peltier was sometimes seen driving. This was a highly contentious matter of evidence in the trials.
  • Testimony from three witnesses placed Peltier, Robideau and Butler near the crime scene. Those three witnesses later recanted, alleging that the FBI, while extracting their testimony, had tied them to chairs, denied them their right to talk to their attorney, and otherwise coerced and threatened them. Robideau said during an interview in the Robert Redford/Michael Apted film Incident at Oglala (1992), that “we approached” the agents’ cars.
  • Unlike the juries in similar prosecutions against AIM leaders at the time, the Fargo jury was not allowed to hear about other cases in which the FBI had been rebuked for tampering with evidence and witnesses.
  • An FBI ballistics expert testimony during the trial asserted that a shell case found near the dead agents’ bodies matched the rifle tied to Peltier. He said that a forensics test of the firing pin, which would have more definitively matched the gun to the cartridge case, was not performed because the gun was damaged in the fire. A less definitive test indicated that the extractor marks on the case and rifle matched. Years later, after an FOIA request, the FBI ballistics expert’s records were examined. His report said that he had performed a ballistics test of the firing pin and concluded that the cartridge case from the scene of the crime did not come from the rifle tied to Peltier. That evidence was withheld from the jury during the trial.
  • Though the FBI’s investigation indicated that an AR-15 was used to kill the agents, several different AR-15s were in the area at the time of the shootout. Also, no other cartridge cases or evidence about them were offered by the prosecutor’s office, although other bullets were fired at the crime scene.
  • During the trial, all the bullets and bullet fragments found at the scene were provided as evidence and detailed by Cortland Cunningham, FBI Firearms expert, in testimony. (Ref US v. Leonard Peltier Vol 9).
  • According to Peltier, when he appealed his first-degree murder conviction in 1992, the charge was illegally changed to aiding and abetting.
  • The U.S. Parole Commission denied Peltier parole in 1993 based on their finding that he “participated in the premeditated and cold blooded execution of those two officers.” But, the Parole Commission has since stated that it “recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that [Peltier] personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents.”

(click here to continue reading Leonard Peltier – Wikipedia.)

Obama seems unlikely to commute Leonard Peltier’s sentence or pardon him, however, he should

Written by Seth Anderson

January 18th, 2017 at 10:42 am

Posted in crime,government

Tagged with ,

IL Supreme Court Weighs Whether Hospitals Can Avoid Property Tax

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Sun Setting On A Sacred Cow
Sun Setting On A Sacred Cow

Personally, I don’t think hospitals should be exempt from property tax. What exactly is the standard here, that if a corporation “does good” they don’t have to pay their fair share of tax? Who defines what the good is? Who monitors it? 

Lisa Schencker reports:

Illinois not-for-profit hospitals currently are exempt from having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes so long as the value of their charitable services is equal to or greater than their estimated tax liabilities.

But some municipalities argue that many not-for-profit hospitals are more like businesses, making handsome profits. They say hospitals should have to contribute their fair share of taxes to their communities, like any other business. A 2009 report by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability said 47 Chicago-area not-for-profit hospitals had property tax exemptions worth a total of $279 million.

About 156 of Illinois’ more than 200 hospitals are not-for-profit.

In the case before the state Supreme Court, the city of Urbana and others argue that Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana should not be exempt from paying property taxes. They say the 2012 state law allowing hospitals to be exempt if they provide charity equal in value to their property tax liabilities is unconstitutional. The state constitution only allows such exemptions if the property in question is used exclusively for charitable purposes, they say.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said after oral arguments Thursday that regardless of what the court decides — or doesn’t decide — the issue is one the legislature should weigh.

The hospital association might work with lawmakers to craft a new law if the court strikes the current one down. Association President and CEO A.J. Wilhelmi has said the group will “assess all options” once a ruling is made.

“Why should the most profitable companies in the state be shifting their burden onto every other business and homeowner?” Prussing asked.

Last year, a study published in the journal Health Affairs named Carle the 10th most profitable hospital in the country when it came to patient care services, with $163.5 million in profits in fiscal year 2013.

 

(click here to continue reading Illinois Supreme Court weighs whether hospitals must pay property taxes – Chicago Tribune.)

There Are Some Things To Talk About
There Are Some Things To Talk About

I don’t believe that churches should be exempt either, unless they can scientifically prove that god exists. Are medical cannabis dispensaries tax exempt? Planned Parenthood clinics? Is Feeding America’s offices on Wacker Drive tax free? What about ACLU headquarters? Union halls? Bars and taverns? Wrigley Field? Seriously, where does it end? Our society would be much better off and more equitable if corporations didn’t get so many freebies from taxpayers. I’ve always liked the idea of a “mandatory minimum” for corporations above a certain size – the idea that Boeing and Archer Daniels Midland and all the rest can’t evade taxes by exploiting shell corporations and loopholes.

Written by Seth Anderson

January 16th, 2017 at 10:12 am

Ryan Plans to Phase Out Medicare in 2017

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Medicare

Speaking of Shock and Awe, I wonder if the Tea Party types realize that by voting for Trump and his GOP buddies, they are about to get their wish fulfilled, and get government hands off of their Medicare. Because Medicare will cease to exist as soon as Trump takes office. Oopsie…

BRET BAIER: Your solution has always been to put things together including entitlement reform. That is Paul Ryan’s plan. That’s not Donald Trump’s plan.

PAUL RYAN: Well, you have to remember, when Obamacare became Obamacare, Obamacare rewrote medicare, rewrote medicaid. If you are going to repeal and replace Obamacare, you have to address those issues as well. What a lot of folks don’t realize is this 21-person board called the ipap is about to kick in with price controls on Medicare. What people don’t realize is because of Obamacare, medicare is going broke, medicare is going to have price controls because of Obamacare, medicaid is in fiscal straits. You have to deal with those issues if you are going to repeal and replace obamacare. Medicare has serious problems [because of] Obamacare. Those are part of our plan.

First, Ryan claims that Obamacare has put Medicare under deeper financial stress. Precisely the opposite is true. And it’s so straightforward Ryan unquestionably knows this. The Affordable Care Act actually extended Medicare’s solvency by more than a decade. Ryan’s claim is flat out false.

Second, I’ve heard a few people say that it’s not 100% clear here that Ryan is calling for Medicare Phase Out. It is 100% clear. Ryan has a standard, openly enunciated position in favor of Medicare Phase Out. It’s on his website. It’s explained explicitly right there.

Ryan says current beneficiaries will be allowed to keep their Medicare. Says. But after the cord is cut between current and future beneficiaries, everything is fair game. For those entering the system, Ryan proposes phasing out Medicare and replacing it private insurance with subsidies to help seniors afford the private insurance. That is unquestionably what it means because that is what Ryan says. So if you’re nearing retirement and looking forward to going on Medicare, good luck. You’re going to get private insurance but you’ll get some subsidies from the government to pay the bill.

(click here to continue reading Ryan Plans to Phase Out Medicare in 2017.)

Nah, probably not.  Many don’t seem to be particularly well-informed.

Keep govt hands off my medicare

Written by Seth Anderson

November 13th, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Chicago is One of The 50 Best Bike Cities of 2016 | Bicycling

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USPS Blocking Bike Lane - Washington
USPS Blocking Bike Lane – Washington.

I’m skeptical of these sorts of rankings, especially from magazines I’m not familiar with, that said, Mayor Emanuel does seem to be interested in expanding the number of bike commuters. Too bad the Chicago Police don’t enforce parking violations in the bike lanes, and too bad the city cannot seem to afford to maintain these bike lanes once they are created. I’ve nearly died from both idiots parked in bike lanes (not so much in the photo above, that was more of an irritation), and from plummeting into pot holes the size of a petite pond. What would be cool is if certain streets had zero cars and buses, and only bikes and pedestrians were allowed to use it. Oh well, maybe if I moved to Denmark…

In April, shortly after his re-election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Chicago would build 50 miles of bikeways—many of them physically separated from motor vehicles—over the next three years. Such proclamations can come easily (and cheaply) to the lips of politicians, but during his first term in 2015, Emanuel made good on a promise to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes. “Those initial 100 miles of bike lanes cost just $12 million,” says Jim Merrell, advocacy director for the Active Transportation Alliance. “That highlights the cost effectiveness of transformative transportation projects like these.”

When its protected bike lanes are completed in spring 2017 in conjunction with its Loop Link transit project, Chicago will become the first major U.S. city with a downtown network of protected bike lanes—a major boost to the nation’s second-largest bike share system, Divvy. Further, many of Chicago’s existing bollard-protected bike lanes are currently being rebuilt with concrete curbs. This includes the state-owned Clybourn Avenue, a heavily used but dangerous corridor that the city had long pressured the Illinois DOT to rebuild. “The curb protection is aesthetically pleasing, and durable in a city with intense weather,” says Merrell. Plus, the concrete barriers also send an important message: Chicago’s commitment to safe and low-stress cycling is permanent.

The city also recently unveiled a program called Divvy For Everyone, which subsidizes bike-share memberships for low-income residents. A new 35th Street bridge, spanning a tangle of rail lines, will link the traditionally African-American community of Bronzeville to the Lakefront Trail. And the Big Marsh Bike Park, a former industrial wasteland in southeastern Chicago, will open in the fall of 2016 with flow and singletrack mountain bike trails, pump tracks, and a cyclocross course.

(click here to continue reading The 50 Best Bike Cities of 2016 | Bicycling.)

More bikes is more better…

Windy City Hard War
Windy City Hard War

Don't Care About Your Fame
Don’t Care About Your Fame

Falter At The Sight
Falter At The Sight

Never Ending Chant of Construction
Never Ending Chant of Construction

Afternoon Bike Ride
Afternoon Bike Ride

Voting doesn't work
Voting doesn’t work

Divvy and a Red Ball
Divvy and a Red Ball

Wells Street Bike Lane
Wells Street Bike Lane

Written by Seth Anderson

September 19th, 2016 at 6:19 pm

Posted in Chicago-esque,government

Tagged with ,

Diabetes and Low-Carb Diet

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Assembling Tian
Assembling Tian

Almost as if the healthcare industry (doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical corporations, insurance corporations) have a vested interest in making profits before healing people. Not that they are trying to harm people, rather that making money is the first motive.

A low-carbohydrate diet was in fact standard treatment for diabetes throughout most of the 20th century, when the condition was recognized as one in which “the normal utilization of carbohydrate is impaired,” according to a 1923 medical text. When pharmaceutical insulin became available in 1922, the advice changed, allowing moderate amounts of carbohydrates in the diet.

Yet in the late 1970s, several organizations, including the Department of Agriculture and the diabetes association, began recommending a high-carb, low-fat diet, in line with the then growing (yet now refuted) concern that dietary fat causes coronary artery disease. That advice has continued for people with diabetes despite more than a dozen peer-reviewed clinical trials over the past 15 years showing that a diet low in carbohydrates is more effective than one low in fat for reducing both blood sugar and most cardiovascular risk factors.

The diabetes association has yet to acknowledge this sizable body of scientific evidence. Its current guidelines find “no conclusive evidence” to recommend a specific carbohydrate limit. The organization even tells people with diabetes to maintain carbohydrate consumption, so that patients on insulin don’t see their blood sugar fall too low. That condition, known as hypoglycemia, is indeed dangerous, yet it can better be avoided by restricting carbs and eliminating the need for excess insulin in the first place. Encouraging patients with diabetes to eat a high-carb diet is effectively a prescription for ensuring a lifelong dependence on medication.

At the annual diabetes association convention in New Orleans this summer, there wasn’t a single prominent reference to low-carb treatment among the hundreds of lectures and posters publicizing cutting-edge research. Instead, we saw scores of presentations on expensive medications for blood sugar, obesity and liver problems, as well as new medical procedures, including that stomach-draining system, temptingly named AspireAssist, and another involving “mucosal resurfacing” of the digestive tract by burning the inside of the duodenum with a hot balloon.

(click here to continue reading Before You Spend $26,000 on Weight-Loss Surgery, Do This – The New York Times.)

Whether or not you have health issues, I believe a diet consisting of as many vegetables and fruits as you can eat is the best for you. Avoid processed foods as much as possible, etc.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 12th, 2016 at 5:34 pm

A Slight Drawdown in the War on Drugs

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Patience please
Patience please

((During one of this humble blog’s fallow periods, the David Simon incident mentioned below occurred at the White House. An incident custom made for my particular interests, and yet I’m pretty sure I only tweeted about it. Oh well.))

The War on Drugs has been dialed back a bit from the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years, but it does continue. Too many laws have been passed encouraging civil forfeiture, encouraging stripping drug offenders of their voting rights and other civil liberties for the war to ended. President Obama and A.G. Eric Holder have slightly de-escalated the conflict, and various states in the US are de-escalating aspects of the conflict on their own citizens’ initiatives, but too many people are in jail for the crime of altering their own consciousnesses. 

Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker writes:

In May, 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder invited several cast members from the HBO series “The Wire” to Washington, D.C., to help promote a Justice Department initiative called the Drug Endangered Children’s Task Force. “The Wire,” which aired for five seasons and was acclaimed for its nuanced portrayal of the war on drugs, was a favorite of both Holder and President Obama. Holder jokingly ordered the show’s creators, David Simon and Ed Burns, to produce a sixth season. “I have a lot of power,” he said. “The Attorney General’s kind remarks are noted and appreciated,” Simon told a reporter. “We are prepared to go to work on Season 6 of ‘The Wire’ if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive, and dehumanizing drug prohibition.” Fans groaned in despair: the improbable sixth season now seemed to hinge on something even less likely, an end to the war on drugs. But the exchange was significant for reasons beyond its implications for HBO’s programming. Although the catastrophic consequences of that war are widely acknowledged, there is less clarity about what ending it would entail.

The United States has declared war on cancer, on pornography, and on terror, and the lesson to be gleaned from those campaigns is that, unlike most other wars, those declared against common nouns seldom come to a precisely defined conclusion. The wars on cancer and pornography were really instances in which martial language was used to bolster particular policy initiatives by the Administrations that enacted them. The war on drugs has been a multitiered campaign that has enlisted legislation, private-sector initiatives, executive-branch support, and public will. But it actually looks like a war, with military-style armaments, random violence, and significant numbers of people taken prisoner. It has been prosecuted throughout eight Administrations and has had the type of social and cultural impact that few things short of real warfare do. During the Civil War, more than a quarter of a million Southern men died, creating the phenomenon of a vast number of female-headed households throughout the region. Mass incarceration during the war on drugs has produced a similar phenomenon among African-American households.

(click here to continue reading A Drawdown in the War on Drugs – The New Yorker.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 25th, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Posted in government

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Testing of Household Materials

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Star Kiss
Star Kiss

We’ve discussed this inexplicable loophole a few times before, ever since Bill Moyers tested his own body for chemicals and found over 70 different ones. We are glad that maybe something will be done, maybe. Though with the current group of knuckle-draggers and corporate sell-outs inhabiting Congress, I’m skeptical.

You can’t legally buy a drug in the United States that hasn’t undergone rigorous testing, mandated by Congress, to prove that it’s safe and effective. By contrast, that lipstick, shampoo, or deodorant you use every day may have undergone no such testing.

And there’s cause to wonder if those products are safe. More than 21,000 complaints of itching, rashes and hair loss, for instance, have been sent to the manufacturer and distributor of Wen Hair Care products. And hair-straightening products that contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, have caused allergic reactions, hair loss, rashes, blisters and other problems in salon workers and their customers.

A bill introduced by two senators — Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine — would change that by requiring the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate a minimum of five chemicals used in cosmetics every year and to collect fees from the industry to pay for those reviews. The agency would also get the power to order companies to recall dangerous products and to force companies to provide it with safety data and reports of adverse health effects from consumers.

The bill has the backing of public interest groups like the Environmental Working Group and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, as well as much of the cosmetics industry, including big companies like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. But some manufacturers, like Mary Kay, oppose the bill because they argue that its provisions would be too onerous. They are pushing a much weaker measure introduced by Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, that would not require the F.D.A. to review risky ingredients and wouldn’t give the agency authority to order recalls.

(click here to continue reading Is Your Lipstick Bad for You? – The New York Times.)

See, Pete Sessions and his pals are doing their best to ensure you are poisoned by household chemicals. That’s democracy in America folks…

Let The Kiss Free!
Let The Kiss Free!

We are way behind Europe. As Bill Moyers and other pointed out, in the US, chemicals are only tested after they can be scientifically linked to problems: in Europe the chemical has to past those tests before being approved to the marketplace.  

All told, European officials have restricted or banned more than 1,300 chemicals and groups of chemicals, experts say; the F.D.A. has prohibited 11 ingredients. That shocking discrepancy makes clear how far behind the United States is in this area. It also shows that sensible regulations will not cripple companies that make cosmetics, since many of their products are already covered by European law.

 

Written by Seth Anderson

August 18th, 2016 at 10:20 am

Posted in government,health

Tagged with ,

Investment in Science Helps A Nation

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Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds
Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds

The United States should spend less on building aircraft carriers, less on tax breaks for the wealthy, and for corporations like General Electric and ExxonMobil and more on projects like this:

A rocket that shot skyward from the Gobi Desert early Tuesday is expected to propel China to the forefront of one of science’s most challenging fields.

It also is set to launch Beijing far ahead of its global rivals in the drive to acquire a highly coveted asset in the age of cyberespionage: hack-proof communications.

Aboard the Micius satellite is encryption technology that, if successful, could propel China to the forefront of hack-proof communications. Professor Hoi Fung Chau of Hong Kong University explains how quantum physics can be used to frustrate hackers. State media said China sent the world’s first quantum-communications satellite into orbit from a launch center in Inner Mongolia about 1:40 a.m. Tuesday. Five years in the making, the project is being closely watched in global scientific and security circles.

The quantum program is the latest part of China’s multibillion-dollar strategy over the past two decades to draw even with or surpass the West in hard-sciences research.

“There’s been a race to produce a quantum satellite, and it is very likely that China is going to win that race,” said Nicolas Gisin, a professor and quantum physicist at the University of Geneva. “It shows again China’s ability to commit to large and ambitious projects and to realize them.”

Scientists in the U.S., Europe, Japan and elsewhere are rushing to exploit the strange and potentially powerful properties of subatomic particles, but few with as much state support as those in China, researchers say. Quantum technology is a top strategic focus in the country’s five-year economic development plan, released in March.

Beijing hasn’t disclosed how much money it has allocated to quantum research or to building the 1,400-pound satellite. But funding for basic research, which includes quantum physics, was $101 billion in 2015, up from $1.9 billion in 2005.

U.S. federal funding for quantum research is about $200 million a year, according to a congressional report in July by a group of science, defense, intelligence and other officials. 

It said development of quantum science would “enhance U.S. national security,” but said fluctuations in funding had set back progress.

 

(click here to continue reading China’s Latest Leap Forward Isn’t Just Great—It’s Quantum – WSJ.)

In other words, Congressional disfunction, partisanship and misguided priorities are stymieing the United States. 

Written by Seth Anderson

August 16th, 2016 at 9:44 am

Posted in government,science

Tagged with ,

GOP Senator Tillis Hasn’t Read The Constitution In A While, Or Ever

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Oath
Oath

I know there isn’t a civics test a prospective Senator has to pass before running for office, but perhaps there should be.

Republicans have never made it easy for President Barack Obama to confirm judges. But Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) came up with a new reason the Senate shouldn’t be filling empty court seats: It’s not our job.

Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) made repeated requests Wednesday to confirm a batch of Obama’s judicial nominees who are ready for votes. Each time they tried, Tillis objected and suggested the Senate shouldn’t be spending time on judges.

“What we get are things that have nothing to do with doing our jobs,” he said. “I’m doing my job today and objecting to these measures so we can actually get back to pressing matters.”

It’s a weird thing to say since it is literally the Senate’s job to confirm judges, as spelled out in the Constitution. It’s also ironic that Tillis is the one saying this, given that he’s overseeing the longest federal court vacancy in the country. There’s been an empty seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for 3,848 days, or 10.5 years.

(click here to continue reading GOP Senator: Confirming Obama’s Judges Has ‘Nothing To Do With Doing Our Jobs’.)

/Eye Roll!

For reference:

Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Appointments Clause, empowers the President of the United States to appoint certain public officials with the “advice and consent” of the U.S. Senate. This clause also allows lower-level officials to be appointed without the advice and consent process.

He (the President) shall have the Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Councils, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.

 

(click here to continue reading Appointments Clause – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Written by Seth Anderson

July 15th, 2016 at 8:16 am

Posted in government

Tagged with ,

The Struggle to Vote in Kansas

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We Will Vote
We Will Vote

I would be more sanguine about Trump’s odds of winning the presidency if not for a few nagging thoughts. Hillary Clinton is a plodding centrist, not a natural politician. I’m still unconvinced the electronic voting machines are immune to shenanigans, and Trump is motivated to explore cheating so as to avoid an embarrassing loss. And the GOP has been methodically undermining voting rights in state after state after state. 

Like in Kansas:

The right to vote is turning into a tooth-and-claw saga in Kansas, thanks to right-wing ideologues’ determination to force new voters to produce a passport, a birth certificate or naturalization papers as proof of citizenship.

This is unheard-of in most of the nation, where aspiring voters are required only to swear to being citizens under penalty of prosecution for fraud. But in Kansas, the requirement that citizenship be documented has become a grave electoral impediment that is being challenged on two legal fronts.

In the first, a federal district judge in May ordered the state to register thousands of people who had been denied federal voting privileges because they did not produce proof of citizenship when they tried to register at motor vehicle offices. Judge Julie Robinson ruled that the requirement violated the National Voter Registration Act provision that “only the minimum amount of information” is needed to certify a voter. The state is appealing her ruling.

Judge Robinson found that 18,372 qualified voters had been unfairly barred from federal elections — about 8 percent of new applicants. She also found that between 1995 and 2013, there were only three instances in Kansas when noncitizens had voted. This was a humiliating setback for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been a major proponent of the Republican fantasy that voter fraud is rampant.

A separate lawsuit, also in Kansas and brought by voting rights groups, is focused on a brazen attempt to force prospective voters to provide proof of citizenship in state elections as an addendum to the federal government’s voter registration form.

So goes the weakened state of democracy in Kansas. As the courts thrash through the Republicans’ “voter fraud” myth, it is shocking that thousands of qualified Kansans still have no certainty that they will be allowed into the voting booth.

(click here to continue reading The Struggle to Vote in Kansas – The New York Times.)

We can all laugh and roll our eyes at the thought of President Trump, and yet…

Written by Seth Anderson

July 7th, 2016 at 8:24 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with , ,