The NRA Quietly Backs Down On Domestic Violence

A judge served D’Alauro, the NRA’s field representative for New York City and its suburbs, a protective order and ordered police to remove all 39 guns from his home.

 
 
By Laura Bassett & Christina Wilkie 
Huffington Post (4/22/14)
 

WASHINGTON — For nearly a decade, the National Rifle Association successfully blocked a bill in Washington state that would have required alleged domestic abusers to surrender their firearms after being served with a protective order. Only those actually convicted of felony domestic violence, the nation’s largest gun lobby argued, should be made to forfeit their gun rights.

This past year, the NRA changed its tune. As the bill, HB 1840, once again moved through the state legislature, the gun lobby made a backroom deal with lawmakers, agreeing to drop its public opposition to it in exchange for a few minor changes. This February, with the NRA’s tacit approval, the bill sailed through the state legislature in a rare unanimous vote.

The NRA’s decision not to oppose the measure was a stark departure from its usual legislative strategy. For over a decade, bare-knuckled lobbying by the NRA hasdoomed similar bills in state legislatures across the country. Legislators who backed such bills, particularly in states with strong traditions of gun ownership, could practically be guaranteed a challenger after the NRA withdrew its endorsements or backed their opponents.

Scorching a little less earth

But over the past year, the NRA has quietly scaled back its scorched-earth campaigns against stricter domestic violence laws. The group has consulted with legislators in states across the country on bills similar to HB 1840. With the tacit approval of the NRA, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota have all passed or advanced bills banning the possession of firearms by those convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse, those served protective orders, or those deemed by the court to pose a physical threat to their families.

Minnesota state Rep. Dan Schoen (D), the sponsor of one anti-domestic violence bill, said he spotted an opening after the NRA helped pass a similar bill in Wisconsin.

“I called [the NRA's] government affairs person and said, ‘If they can do something in Wisconsin, a Republican-controlled state, there’s no reason we can’t do something like this in Minnesota,’” Schoen told The Huffington Post.

Schoen agreed to work on the bill with the NRA in exchange for its support. The original version required people who had been served restraining orders in domestic abuse cases to surrender their guns to law enforcement or a licensed federal firearms dealer. The NRA asked Schoen to make a few changes, one of which gave alleged abusers the option to turn their guns over to a friend or family member instead.

Once Schoen made the alterations, he said, the group became more agreeable. The bill is expected to pass the Minnesota legislature in the coming weeks.

“The NRA has been really good to work with on this particular issue,” Schoen said. “It pains me to say, but they have been.”

The NRA’s shift on domestic violence bills is not a complete about-face. The group still opposes efforts to broaden the definition of domestic violence to include related crimes, like stalking. It also opposes expanded background checks, which could prevent many convicted domestic abusers from purchasing guns in the first place.

So why did it change its stance on this particular issue, and why did it do so without any public notice?

Top NRA official has issues of domestic conflict

The gun lobby wouldn’t say, but the timing suggests that politics, both internal and external, were at play. Documents and press releases reviewed by HuffPost show that the NRA began to relax its position on gun restrictions for alleged domestic abusers after March 2013 — the same month the New York Daily News reported that a top NRA official, Richard D’Alauro, had pleaded guilty to harassing his wife “by subjecting her to physical contact.” A judge served D’Alauro, the NRA’s field representative for New York City and its suburbs, a protective order and ordered police to remove all 39 guns from his home.

D’Alauro’s wife claimed that he had physically abused her for years. He settled the case by pleading guilty to harassment — a less serious charge than a misdemeanor. But once the case started attracting media attention, the NRA began softening its position on gun rights for accused domestic abusers.

A spokesman for the NRA confirmed that D’Alauro is no longer employed by the group, but said he could not comment for this story due to the personnel issues involved.

Influence of public opinion?

If the desire to avoid the taint of the D’Alauro saga wasn’t what compelled the NRA to change course, then perhaps a shifting political landscape did the trick. While the public is fairly split over tighter gun laws in general, people are less conflicted about the idea of taking guns away from domestic abusers. A 2013 poll conducted in Colorado by Project New America/Keating Research found that 80 percent of respondents believe judges should be able to order someone who is “convicted of domestic violence or given a restraining order” to surrender his guns to the court, compared to 55 percent of voters in the state who favor stricter gun laws overall.

Polling also shows a massive gender gap on gun control issues. A 2013 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted a few months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., showed that 65 percent of women favor stricter gun laws, compared to only 44 percent of men.

And women’s opinions clearly matter to the NRA, which is currently engaged in a high-octane effort to recruit a younger generation of women as both new members and gun rights advocates. The group will hold its first Women’s New Energy Breakfast on Sunday during its annual convention in Indianapolis. The description of the event, which aims to recruit new female members, says it will allow women to “socialize with other like-minded female NRA members women and learn about the many programs and outreach efforts just for the women of NRA.”

The NRA has also launched a new online outreach campaign called NRA Women, which aims to teach young, single women how to be “Armed and Fabulous,” fall in “Love At First Shot,” and “Refuse To Be A Victim.”

For those who follow the debate over gun rights, the NRA’s decision to soften its opposition to domestic violence bills suggests that it may be ceding some of its long-held terrain. Instead of fighting for the gun rights of alleged abusers, the NRA appears to be shifting its focus to bringing more women into the fold …

Read the Rest

Posted in 2014-04-24, Newsletter | Comments Off

Wednesday / April 23, 2014

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” she said. “Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… . Now, look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

– Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Watch: Elizabeth Warren on The Myth of Class Warfare: Nobody Got Rich on His Own.

(See “Teacher”, below.)

 

Posted in 2014-04-23 | Tagged | Comments Off

 

(Reprinted with permission of the artist, Seth L. Taylor)Apathy

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

Elizabeth Warren Is the Teacher And The Democratic Party Needs To Be The Student

“The choices Washington makes right now don’t reflect our values. The idea that billions of dollars would be left with billionaires through tax loopholes rather than spending that money on repairing roads and bridges? Rather than spending that money on helping our kids get through college? Rather than spending that money on NIH? And rather than a better future for all of our kids? That’s the debate we’re on the cusp of having.”

 

(Editor’s Note: Take the time to read this profile of Elizabeth Warren and then forward it to every Democratic candidate you are thinking of supporting. As Warren notes late in the article, we really are backed up in this country; we are on the cusp of losing it all. The Obama/Clinton corporate wing of the Democratic Party will never help us. We need true progressives, like Elizabeth Warren. — Mark L. Taylor)

 
By Charles Pierce
Esquire (4/21/14)

The best teachers are the ones who remain students at heart, the ones who keep learning from their students, and from the world around them, and from their own drive to know even more about even more things, and who then are able to transmit that knowledge—and more important, the drive to know more—to their students. That’s how great teachers echo through time. That’s how great teachers become immortal.

It is the faint beginning of dusk at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D. C., the last rays of the winter sun slanting through the big windows in angled shards across the carpet. The waiting area is jammed with people waiting for the last US Airways shuttle of the day from Washington to Boston. As it so happens, this particular waiting area is a target-rich environment if you happen to be a fan of the Washington power elite. You can see your favorite NBC pundits, waiting to fly to Boston in order to get to the Vineyard for the weekend. You can see celebrity television historians from Harvard and celebrity television astronomers from MIT. If you’re really lucky and stay really quiet in your duck blind behind the Auntie Anne’s stand, you might even spot a random Kennedy or three, headed back to the compound on the Cape. Tip O’Neill, a cigar jammed into his mouth, once worked this space. So did Ted Kennedy, head buried in some document drawn from his battered and overstuffed briefcase. It is the political junkie’s equivalent of the red carpet, especially at the end of a long week.

Not far from the gate, Elizabeth Warren, by the grace of God and somewhat astonishing circumstance the senior senator from Massachusetts, is talking about the day she learned how people make lightbulbs. It was a day on the campaign trail, when she was running against incumbent Republican Scott Brown, and she’d visited a plant where they made lightbulbs, and the process fascinated her, and the way she tells the story fascinates the people listening to her now, because that’s what great teachers do.

You cannot understand how she became a senator—hell, you can’t even understand how she became a public person—unless you understand the fact that, first and foremost, she is a teacher, having taught at Rutgers, and having been a professor of law at the University of Houston, the University of Texas, the University of Pennsylvania, and ultimately at Harvard Law School, where she was teaching bankruptcy and contracts in the fall of 2008, just as the global financial system collapsed and threatened the economy of the entire world. Her first great project as a young law professor in Texas had been to learn about how bankruptcy worked in this country, and more important, it was to learn about the people who found themselves in the process. It challenged her assumptions; she had thought she was going out to study the schemers who were working the system and the moochers who were cheating the people to whom they owed money. She learned from the people in the courtrooms that everything she knew about them was wrong, and then she set out to teach the country that everything it thought about those people was wrong. “It was,” she tells me later, “so much like being in church, quiet and hushed. They were in little groups, talking among themselves. Nobody wanted to look at anybody else.”

That led her to her first book, and thence into the study of how these people came to be in all these courtrooms, the way the great American middle class was being tricked out of its wealth and scammed out of its birthright and crushed by the tectonic forces of underregulated capitalism and money-drenched politics. She saw the dangers of subprime mortgages because she’d seen the damage of what she called the “tricks and traps” of the mortgage lenders, seen what it did to families unaware of the deliberate obfuscation of what they’d signed, only to have the teaser rate of the mortgage run out and find themselves underwater. She inveighed against the fine-print piracy of the credit-card companies; she often said that the conditions on a credit card should be as simple as the instructions on a toaster. She brought these lessons back to Harvard, and she was teaching them to her students in September of 2008, when the roof caved in. And she went right on teaching. She had been warning official Washington for months that disaster was coming.

“I’m down there talking to them about it!” she says, her voice rising and her eyes widening. “I’m telling people and nobody wants to—La, la, la. I can’t hear you. I fly down to Washington. I got to where I just made cold calls. I’d go see congressmen—for me, the lens into what was happening because of subprime mortgages.

“I would explain what was happening here, and how obviously they’re packaging these things and selling them up the line. They are selling grenades with the pins already removed. And they’re going to explode! And the answer from members of Congress was ‘No, I checked with my banker friends, and they’re making a profit.’ So this is going on and I’m actually teaching this stuff. And by golly, Lehman crashes. Now, in the spring I had also been teaching bankruptcy when Bear Stearns had gotten bought out. I mean, it wasn’t down, but it was on its knees. I’m starting to teach them ‘too big to fail,’ to keep the big one from going because they’re worried about the rest. And in the fall, Lehman goes down. I will never forget this—walking into my class, and it’s dead silent.

“Everyone is freaked out. What does this mean? What’s going to happen here? So I put it up on the chalkboard. The whole—what had happened in the subprime mortgages. And how they’ve been packaged together. And then they get sold down the line. And then someone takes on too much risk. So why would the government let it go? Because the government is sending the message that the markets have to discipline themselves. And that the government will not be here to bail them out. And I take everybody through that. And everyone gets it. Very shortly after that, AIG has been bailed out.

“Now, here was the fun. Whatever I was supposed to be teaching that day, we just set all that aside. Then I turned around and said, ‘Okay, fasten your seat belts. Each of you is the CEO of a giant financial institution. We are headed for rough times.’ And I said, ‘So your job, CEO, is to make sure that your financial institution is going to be standing on the other side once the economy settles back down. Some are going to die. So how do you make sure yours is going to survive?’ And hands go up. And so I call on the first kid. He says, ‘Well, I sell off as many things as I can. Narrow down. Keep only high-quality assets and hold on to cash.’ And I’m, ‘Mmm. Anybody else?’ And all the hands go down because that is the classic answer, right? You keep yourself safe. Kind of the bunker mentality.

“And finally, one kid gasps. Almost like he’d been shot. And the hand goes up. And I just keep standing in the front waiting. And then another hand goes up. And another. And another. And another. And you watch kids, with this jolt, some of them laugh out loud when they get it. And I wait until then—maybe a quarter of them have got their hands up, maybe a third—and call on someone. And the kid says, ‘You grow as fast as you can. You buy as much as you can with borrowed money. And you lend and borrow from as many other large institutions as possible. Because then the government can’t afford to let you fail.’ My students invented ‘too big to fail’ sitting in a classroom. Because it’s not that hard.” …

Read the Rest

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

Vernon County Democratic Party Fundraiser This Sunday, April 27

Sunday, April 27, 5 p.m., Viroqua VFW Hall

This is a critical election year. We need to raise funds for a county campaign headquarters and other critical campaign efforts. The campaigns of Gov. Walker and Rep. Lee Nerison are well padded with the money of the Koch brothers. They have both locked up the support of the bankers and Wall Street hedge funders who have looted retirement funds and thrown millions of families into foreclosure. You can bet the snake oil salesman of the greedy One Percent have Walker and Lee Nerison on their speed dial. If we want to win we will do it on a tight budget as citizens reaching out and citizens.

Guest Speakers Include:

  • Daren Von Ruden, State President of Farmers Union

  • State Sen. Jennifer Shilling

  • Pete Flesch, Candidate for 96th Assembly

Pot Luck Dinner, Cash Bar. Suggested Donation $10.

Live music by local musicians.

Please plan to attend and get involved in rescuing our state.

Authorized and paid for by Mark L. Taylor, Genoa, WI., and not a campaign committee.
Posted in 2014-04-21, 2014-04-22, 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

700-Page Economics Text Challenging Capitalism Surges To Surprise Best Seller

Challenges the conservative economic theory of trickle-down economics.

 
 
 
By Emily Cohn
Huffington Post (4/22/14)

The number-one book on Amazon.com isn’t a guide to green juice or an erotic romance novel. No, the top seller on Amazon right now is a 700-page book, translated from French, about rising inequality and the state of modern capitalism.

In what may be a hint of widespread anxiety about the foundations of the U.S. economy, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which is currently sold out on Amazon, is beating books like the science fiction mega-hit “Divergent” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Goldfinch.” Also in the top five on Amazon is Michael Lewis’s latest, “Flash Boys,” about high-frequency trading on Wall Street.

Piketty’s book, which is also a New York Times best-seller, challenges the conservative economic theory of trickle-down economics, or the belief that a rising tide lifts all boats. In Piketty’s view, backed by centuries of data on wealth and economic growth, the typical outcome of unfettered capitalism is rising income inequality. Piketty says the world’s biggest economies have to do something, like impose a global tax on capital, to stop it. As Piketty said in an interview with HuffPost Live last week, income inequality is only getting started, and this century could look a lot more like the deeply unequal 18th and 19th centuries than the more-egalitarian 20th.

The New York Times has called the book a “blockbuster.” Vox’s Matthew Yglesias described it as ”the most important economics book of the year.” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman hailed Piketty’s work as revolutionary, crediting him and his collaborators with getting us all to care about the rise of the so-called “one percent.”

Just be warned: If you’re thinking of hauling Piketty to the beach, you’re going to need a sturdy bag.

Story and Link to Video Interview With Thomas Piketty

 

  • American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest – Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then … Read the Rest
Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

If He Had His Way, This Is What Paul Ryan Would Do To Wisconsin

YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT PAUL RYAN’S REPUBLICAN BUDGET MEANS FOR WISCONSIN

 

3,687 millionaires would get an $87,000 tax break.

BUT…

Middle class families would pay $2000 more in taxes.

75,408 seniors would pay more for medicine by bringing back the prescription drug donut hole.

9,150 college students wouldn’t receive Pell Grants.

703 domestic violence victims would lose access to the STOP Violence Against Women Program.

2,320 children would lose access to Head Start.

Sign your name today to join ONE MILLION STRONG against the Republican Budget >>

Thanks for everything you do!

DCCC Rapid Response

P.S. Can you forward this email to 5 friends so they have the facts?

Or share this link: http://dccc.org/reject-ryan-budget
 

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

Jet Blue Pilots Vote To Unionize By Huge Margin

By Ben Mutzabaugh
USA Today (4/22/14)

JetBlue pilots have voted to unionize, a move thatBloomberg News says ”(ends) the carrier’s status as the biggest U.S. airline without a union.”

The pilots will be represented by the Air Line Pilots Association.

The “yes” vote on unionization comes after the pilots at the New York-based had rejected unionization attempts in 2009 and 2011, The Wall Street Journal reports.

About 74% of the airline’s eligible pilots voted to join ALPA, which already represents about 50,000 pilots nationwide. Capt. Lee Moak, ALPA’s president, called it a great day for the pilots, the airline and the union.

“JetBlue pilots and JetBlue the company are both going to benefit from this relationship as we work together to affect government policy that will enhance the airline industry,” Moak said to USA TODAY.

As to pilots’ motivation to unionize, Moak tells USA TODAY:

“The aviation landscape has changed dramatically over the last few year. Here in Washington especially, if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu. I think they decided to organize so that they were at the table.”

JetBlue CEO Dave Barger offered a brief one-sentence statement acknowledging the pilots’ decision.

“The National Mediation Board will authorize ALPA as the representative body for JetBlue pilots, and then both JetBlue and ALPA will organize negotiating committees,” Barger said in the statement.

Link to Story

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

Joan Baez Diffuses Right Wing Protest At Idaho Concert

(Editor’s Note: This is a few years old but definitely worth the read. — Mark L. Taylor)

 
By Waydownsouth 
Daily Kos (8/12/9)

What would you do if you found yourself standing face to face with people bearing signs accusing you by name of killing babies and encouraging the shooting of American soldiers?  Might you lose your cool?  Might you get involved in an exchange that would ultimately lead to anger or descend into the shouting matches we’ve been seeing at so many Town Halls lately?

Not if you’re Joan Baez, who, in the 50th year of her career, continues to live according to unshakeable ideals of non-violence and compassion in ways that should inspire us all.

Last night, four Vietnam veterans protested Joan’s concert in Idaho Falls with signs reading: “JOAN BAEZ – SOLDIERS DON’T KILL BABIES, LIBERALS DO” and “JOAN BAEZ GAVE COMFORT & AID TO OUR ENEMY IN VIETNAM & ENCOURAGED THEM TO KILL AMERICANS!”

Joan was informed that the men were protesting her concert about an hour before it was due to begin and she immediately walked out onto the street to talk to them.  When she approached, one of the first things they said was “We appreciate the work you did on civil rights and women’s rights.”  They wanted to make that point clear.

She listened closely as they discussed their views.  Primarily, they wanted to express the way they felt betrayed by anti-war protesters when they returned from combat.  Joan assured them that she stood by them then and now.  They had mixed reactions as she explained her actual positions and her support for all veterans, across the board.

At this point, Joan’s merchandise salesman, Jim Stewart, who was a Captain in the US Army during Vietnam, approached the group.  Jim is one of the most kind-hearted people you could ever meet.  He is not one to speak lightly of what he went through in Vietnam.  He took Joan’s arm and said to these four men, “I stand by this lady 100%.  She did the right thing then, and she stood by us when we got home.  She even recorded a song at that time from which 100% of the proceeds went to us vets.”

Here Jim listens, then engages in conversation:

Unbelievably, one of the four protesters began to question Jim in an accusatory fashion, pressing him for details about what division he was in and and where he served, as if, somehow, he were making it up.  It brings tears to my eyes, as I write this, to remember Jim being questioned in this way.  These protesters were there, theoretically, to lament the poor treatment of American soliders and yet they belittled and questioned the service of a veteran because he did not agree with their views.

Jim played their game for a bit before seeing it for what it was and disengaging.  Joan stood by his side and said, “Oh, he’s got the stories all right.  But he doesn’t feel the need to talk about them.”

Ironically, a man on his way to the concert approached at this moment and, without really following all that had gone on, interjected, “Those who don’t realize that what they did in Vietnam was wrong are kind of SLOOOOOOW.”  I watched Jim’s face as he heard that statement – literally getting it from both sides within less than a minute.

At this point I engaged in conversation with the man holding the sign accusing liberals, rather than soliders, of killing babies.  He said “I never killed any babies and I don’t believe in guilt by association.”  I asked him how in the world he could justify holding a sign with Joan Baez’s name on it that basically implied she killed babies if he didn’t believe in guilt by association.  He replied “It’s an analogy, you probably wouldn’t understand it!”

Uhhhh…. yeah.

Jim said he should destroy the sign and he then claimed we were trying to trample his Constitutional right to free speech.  We replied that we weren’t questioning his right, by any means, but rather his sense of decency, considering that he was there having a conversation with Joan and she was clearly not a baby killer.  Since his entire point was that guilt by association was wrong, it made sense to us.  But he replied “I’m Pro-Life and I’m proud of this sign.”  With those words, he held it higher.

As we discussed these things, one of them repeated, “Soldiers don’t kill babies.”  I said that so many horrible things happen in war that it’s impossible to make such a blanket statement, especially when bombs get dropped from the sky, and I said it all comes down to the truth that “War is hell.”

I continued, saying,  ”And you all know that far better than me.”

They were suprised by this statement, as if shocked that anyone on the “other side” recognized what they’d been through.  It seemd to render them speechless for a moment.

At this point, Joan’s continuing acceptance of their stories and her willingness to hear them out began to melt their anger.  In a twist that seems hard to fathom, they then asked her to SIGN THEIR POSTERS!  She replied that she would sign the back but not the front of “those horrible things.”  Incredibly, the man with the baby-killing sign replied that he would take her name off the poster if she would sign it.

She did end up signing them, and also getting copies of her book for each of them, and offering tickets to the show, which they did not accept.  She signed the back of the poster about her encouraging the killing of American soldiers – “All the very best to you, Joan Baez.”

When we got back inside the theatre, Joan broke down in tears.  I said to her “You are so brave to face people like that.”  She wasn’t crying about the way she had been treated, however, but about the way Jim Stewart had stood up for her.  ”Did you hear his voice shaking?” she said.  ”That was bravery…”

And she was right.  Stepping back into the mire of Vietnam was not something he did lightly – he bore the literal denigration of his service by another veteran in order to defend her.

During the concert afterwards Joan dedicated a song to the protesters and said “You know, they just wanted to be heard.  Everyone wants to be heard. I feel like I made four new friends tonight.”

She took the high road, as always.  It wasn’t my name on those signs, yet I gave into anger.  She never did. As we deal with tea parties and increasingly violent right wing protests it would do us all good to remember the example of non-violence and compassion that Ms Baez has exemplified for the 50-plus years of her career.

Her heroes are Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  In my book, she’s right there with them, leading the timeless and essential march along the high road.

UPDATE:  Thanks to everyone for the recs!  I’m so happy that this story has inspired members of this community.  You may want to check out the version of “We Shall Overcome” that Joan recorded in her kitchen in June, with some lyrics in Farsi, in the hope of directly inspiring the people of Iran as they stand up for real democracy against real oppression.  The link follows… http://www.youtube.com/…

Link to Story

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

Top Manager At Fukushima: Radioactive Water Out Of Control

By Yuka Obayashi
www.japantimes.co.jp (4/22/14)

OKUMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – The manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has admitted to embarrassment that repeated efforts have failed to bring under control the problem of radioactive water, eight months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the world the matter had been resolved.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s operator, has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima No. 1 was wrecked by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Abe’s government pledged half a billion dollars last year to tackle the issue, but progress has been limited.

“It’s embarrassing to admit, but there are certain parts of the site where we don’t have full control,” Akira Ono told reporters touring the plant last week.

He was referring to the latest blunder at the plant: channeling contaminated water into the wrong building.

Ono also acknowledged that many difficulties may have been rooted in Tepco’s focus on speed since the 2011 disaster.

“It may sound odd, but this is the bill we have to pay for what we have done in the past three years,” he said.

“But we were pressed to build tanks in a rush and may have not paid enough attention to quality. We need to improve quality from here.”

The Fukushima No. 1 plant, some 220 km northeast of Tokyo, suffered three reactor core meltdowns in the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The issue of contaminated water is at the core of the clean-up. Japan’s nuclear regulator and the International Atomic Energy Agency say a new controlled release into the sea of contaminated water may be needed to ease stretched capacity as the plant runs out of storage space.

But this is predicated on the state-of-the-art ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) project, which removes the most dangerous nuclides, becoming fully operational. The system has functioned only during periodic tests.

As Ono spoke, workers in white protective suits and masks were building new giant tanks to contain the contaminated water — on land that was once covered in trees and grass.

A cluster of cherry trees is in bloom amid the bustle of trucks and tractors at work as the 1,000 tanks already in place approach capacity. Insulation-clad pipes lie on a hill pending installation for funneling water to the sea.

“We need to improve the quality of the tanks and other facilities so that they can survive for the next 30 to 40 years of our decommission period,” Ono said, a stark acknowledgement that the problem is long-term.

Last September, Abe told Olympic dignitaries in Buenos Aires in an address that helped Tokyo win the 2020 Games: “Let me assure you the situation is under control.”

Tepco had pledged to have treated all contaminated water by March 2015, but said this week that was a “tough goal.”

The utility flushes huge amounts of water over the reactors to keep them cool. That water mixes with groundwater that seeps into the damaged basements of the wrecked buildings, requiring more pumping, treatment and storage.

In a rare success, the government won approval from fishermen for plans to divert into the sea a quarter of the 400 tons of groundwater pouring into the complex each day.

But things keep going wrong.

Last week, Tepco said it had directed 203 tons of highly radioactive water to the wrong building, flooding its basement. Tepco is also investigating a leak into the ground a few days earlier from a plastic container used to store rainwater.

In February, a tank sprouted a 100-ton leak of radioactive water, the most serious incident since leaks sparked international alarm last year …

Read the Rest

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

Oklahoma Republicans Ram Through Bill To Charge Customers Who Install Their Own Solar Panels

By Kiley Kroh
ThinkProgress (4/22/14)

Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R).

On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.

“We knew nothing about it and all of a sudden it’s attached to some other bill,” Ctaci Gary, owner of Sun City Oklahoma, told ThinkProgress. “It just appeared out of nowhere.”

Because the surcharge amount has not been determined, Gary is cautious about predicting the impact it will have on her business. She has already received multiple calls from people asking questions about the bill and wanting to have solar systems installed before the new fee takes effect. “We’re going to use it as a marketing tool,” Gary said. “People deserve to have an opportunity [to install their own solar panels] and not be charged.”

“It is unfortunate that some utilities that enthusiastically support wind power for their own use are promoting a regressive policy that will make it harder for their customers to use wind power on their own,” said Mike Bergey, president & CEO of Bergey Windpower in Norman, Oklahoma, in a statement. “Oklahoma offers tax credits for large wind turbines which are built elsewhere, but wants to penalize small wind which we manufacture here in the state? That makes no sense to me.”

The bill was staunchly opposed by renewable energy advocates, environmental groups and the conservative group TUSK, but had the support of Oklahoma’s major utilities. “Representatives of Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said the surcharge is needed to recover some of the infrastructure costs to send excess electricity safely from distributed generation back to the grid,” the Oklahoman reported.

“We’re not anti-solar or anti-wind or trying to slow this down, we’re just trying to keep it fair,” Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman Kathleen O’Shea told the Oklahoman. “We’ve been studying this trend. We know it’s coming, and we want to get ahead of it.”

But distributed energy sources also provide a clear value to utility companies. Solar generates during peak hours, when a utility has to provide electricity to more people than at other times during the day and energy costs are at their highest. Solar panels actually feed excess energy back to the grid, helping to alleviate the pressure during peak demand. In addition, because less electricity is being transmitted to customers through transmission lines, it saves utilities on the wear and tear to the lines and cost of replacing them with new ones.

As the use of solar power skyrockets across the U.S., fights have sprung up in several states over how much customers should be compensated for excess power produced by their solar panels and sold back to the grid — a policy known as net metering. Net metering laws have come under fire from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group backed by fossil fuel corporations, utility companies, and the ultra-conservative Koch brothers. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have net metering policies in place and ALEC has set its sights on repealing them, referring to homeowners with their own solar panels as “freeriders on the system.” ALEC presented Gov. Fallin the Thomas Jefferson Freedom award last year for her “record of advancing the fundamental Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty as a nationally recognized leader.”

Oklahoma “could be the first complete defeat for solar advocates in their fight against utility efforts to recover costs lost to DG [distributed generation] use,” writes Utility Dive. Net metering survived attacks inColorado and Kansas and Vermont recently increased its policy in a bipartisan effort. Last year, Arizona added what amounts to a $5 per month surcharge for solar customers, a move that was widely seen as a compromise, particularly after ALEC and other Koch-backed groups got involved.

While any extra charge placed on potential customers is a concern, Gary hopes that like Arizona, Oklahoma’s fee is modest enough to protect her business from serious damage.

Link to Story

 

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

Protect Your Spirit ~ Native American Musician John Trudell

By Mark L. Taylor
The Daily Call (4/21/14)

How would you describe what is happening here in this place and time where the spirit is dead? Native American musician John Trudell provides a powerful assessment of the crisis that has brought us to a place of spiritual disconnection; a breaking away, or breaking down of the bonds that nurture life and keep us connected to the Earth, and to each other.

There is, he notes, a spiritual disease of aggression and greed and violence in the way we are living and treating the planet that is rapidly consuming the host. The connection to the thread of continuity is stretching, fraying to the point of breaking.

“We live in a time where you need to protect your spirit,” Trudell warns. “Protect your spirit because you are in the place where spirits get eaten.”

3+-Minute Video

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

Dept.Of Much Needed Humor — Obama Spends Another Night Searching Behind White House Paintings For Safes

The Onion (4/22/14)

WASHINGTON—Quietly tiptoeing between the East Room and the Lincoln Bedroom in the dead of night Monday, President Obama once again spent another evening peeking behind the scores of paintings located throughout the White House in hopes of locating a hidden safe or secret passageway, executive branch sources confirmed.

“There are so many fancy old paintings in here, one of them just has to be hiding a safe with some cool old valuables in it,” Obama stated while pushing Francis Alexander’s oil portrait of Martin Van Buren to the side in the library before yanking on a first-edition copy of Ulysses S. Grant’s Personal Memoirs in hopes of triggering the bookcase to rotate. “Who knows what kind of stuff I might find? Maybe a bar of gold or a neat old parchment map, or maybe even a skull! There’s got to be something like that in here.”

Following an hour of trying combinations of keys on President Truman’s grand piano in hopes of opening a sliding wall panel, Obama reportedly tugged downward on each of the White House’s hundreds of wall sconces before moving on to its presidential busts.

Link to Story

Posted in 2014-04-23, Newsletter | Comments Off

How 250 UPS Workers Fired For A Wildcat Strike Organized & Won Back Their Jobs

It’s a win that came through the willingness of 250 people to risk their own jobs to stand up to the boss and to save the job of one of their colleagues. 

 
 
 
By Sarah Jaffe
In These Times (4/14/14)

Two hundred and fifty UPS drivers, clad in their brown uniforms, rallying in a Queens parking lot, must have been quite a sight. Not very many people got to see it, however. The 90-minute work stoppage outside the Maspeth, Queens, UPS facility on February 26 was a spontaneous protest against the firing, allegedly without due process, of one of their colleagues, Jairo Reyes.

On March 26, UPS retaliated by beginning to give all 250 notices that they’d be terminated—but the company did not fire the workers all at once. According to the Teamsters, UPS fired 20 drivers on March 31 and kept the rest waiting for the axe to fall while their replacements were trained.

Nearly two months later, all 250, including Reyes, will be headed back to work, their terminations reduced to ten-day suspensions. Driver Steven Curcio, who says he was one of the first to be fired, credits the support of the community, elected officials and particularly his own customers.

Tim Sylvester, president of Teamsters Local 804, the union that represents the Queens drivers, said, “The drivers delivered their message to UPS about unfair treatment. Now every one of them will be back delivering packages.”

The saga began on Valentine’s Day, when Reyes was told he was fired for clocking in early. His delivery route takes him to a mall in Queens, and he’d been regularly clocking in early—with permission, he says—to get there in time to park at one of the few delivery bays and drop his packages

Under Local 804′s contract with UPS, drivers have an “innocent until proven guilty” clause stipulating that they can’t be taken off the job until they have a hearing, but Reyes was escorted off the job on the 14th.  When he finally received a hearing on February 26, according to the union, he was officially fired for dishonesty.

Curcio says that after the hearing, the union representative in attendance came through the building and gathered the workers outside to explain to them what had happened. That briefing became a rally and work stoppage—a wildcat action that kept the drivers in the parking lot for about 90 minutes before returning to deliver their packages.

Though their contract also stipulates that the drivers have a right to strike if the company does not “abide by the procedure prescribed for the settlement of disputes and differences,” UPS issued termination notices to all 250 drivers. A spokesperson for the company said that they were being let go because of the “seriousness of [their] misconduct.”

The axe falls

The drivers continued to work for weeks, according to Curcio, amidst rumors and speculation—no one seemed to know for sure when the axe would fall. Then one night at the end of their shift, he says, “all of the higher ups of UPS” showed up. Then, he says, management chose 20 drivers, seemingly at random, to fire that day. Curcio was one of them.

“Whether you’d worked there one year or 30 years, we were all considered in that same boat,” says the 19-year UPS veteran. “My first thought was, ‘How are we going to fix this problem?’ ”

The union had been organizing to bring UPS to the table from the date of the first incident. Local 804 began with internal mobilization, activating networks of union members that had recently been used for contract negotiations to circulate information and a petition of support for the fired drivers. Then they reached out to the Working Families Party, of which the Teamsters’ regional body is a member, and the WFP put out a petition to the public on MoveOn.org’s petition site asking for the drivers to be reinstated. The  petitions circulated by drivers and the WFP had a total of more than 100,000 signatures when they were delivered to UPS at a rally on March 21 at the UPS facility in Queens, led by Public Advocate Letitia James, a longtime Working Families Party ally.

Community support

“Hundreds of thousands of supporters rushed to the defense of the 250 workers and their families with petition signatures, social media actions, and phone calls that we were proud to help the Teamsters organize,” says the WFP’s Bill Lipton.

James didn’t just show up at a rally or two. She promised that if UPS didn’t come to the table and negotiate with the workers, the company’s tax breaks, business with the city, and even a “sweetheart parking-ticket program” that lets the company pay a fraction of the price of its parking tickets might be up for scrutiny. Comptroller Scott Stringer also spoke up for the workers, as did many members of the City Council, at a second rally and press conference at City Hall April 3, after the twenty workers were fired. Other unions came out in support as well: Transport Workers Union Local 100 and SEIU 32BJ joined the rally.

UPS responded to the rally by firing another 17 random workers the next day.

The tide turned, though, when Curcio and other fired drivers began to visit their former customers to explain the situation and ask for their support, challenging the company’s line that “we owe it to our customers” to fire the drivers.

“Some of the businesses that we deliver to, I’ve personally delivered to them for 13 years,” he says. “Some may say ‘You know my facilities better than I do.’ I know that girl in their office is on vacation or that gentleman isn’t going to be there but his cousin may live down the block. I know where to bring my stuff, I know where to go, where not to go. I know these people, I see them, especially businesses, I see them four to five times a week.”

Customers rally behind drivers

Curcio was heartened by the reaction from the customers. They wanted to know why he’d been fired, and were happy to show their support for him and his union. He and other drivers took photos and shot a video of their customers calling for their drivers back.

The outpouring of support from customers seemed to take away the last angle UPS had to defend its crackdown on the workers. The company came to the table to negotiate with the union and agreed to a deal that would reinstate all the drivers—including Reyes—and change their terminations to ten-day suspensions. Curcio had already served most of that time; others will take their suspensions on a rolling basis.

The workers are calling this a win, and it’s worth noting that it’s a win that came through the willingness of 250 people to risk their own jobs to stand up to the boss and to save the job of one of their colleagues. But the wildcat action had to be backed up with organizing both inside the union and within the community (and sympathetic elected officials who owe their positions to union support certainly didn’t hurt, either). It can require quite a lot of pressure to bring a massive company like UPS to the table, but the workers succeeded. The WFP’s Lipton says, “When workers stand together in solidarity they can still win against one of the biggest corporations in America.”

It’s also worth noting that this was a workplace that already had a union contract with strong protections for workers against summary firings. Just getting the contract is only the first step; enforcing that contract requires attention and action on the part of the workers. Organizing isn’t over when the contract is ratified—in many ways, it is only beginning. The UPS workers remind us that workplace rights have always been won and held through struggle.

Curcio expects treatment will be a little bit better at the Maspeth facility from now on. “I think everyone involved learned something from this,” he says. “Teamwork usually always prevails in whatever it is in life.”

For now, he’s looking forward to getting back to work. “I can’t wait to get back in my little brown truck and do what I normally do on a daily basis. Go see customers, deliver, do my pick ups and basically back to business as usual.”

 

Posted in 2014-04-22, Newsletter | Comments Off

Iraq: After Staggering Debt & Death This Is What We Left Behind

It was one of eight explosions that struck Baghdad that day, leaving thirty-four people dead. For a moment, everyone sat in silence. Then Maliki turned to an aide. “Go see what that was,” he said.

 
By Dexter Filkins
The New Yorker (4/28/14)

Christmas Day last year, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared on Iraqi television to wish his country’s Christian minority—which has been fleeing by the thousand since the American invasion, in 2003—a happy holiday. Maliki, who is sixty-three, wore a dark-blue suit and a purple tie, and stood almost perfectly still at a lectern flanked by Iraqi flags. His long face conveyed, as it almost always does, a look of utter joylessness. Having spent much of his life hunted by assassins, Maliki gives the impression of a man who learned long ago to ruthlessly suppress his feelings. “He never smiles, he never says thank you, and I’ve never seen him say, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” a longtime associate of Maliki’s told me. For Maliki, the holiday greetings were a pretext. What he really wanted to talk about was protests unfolding in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad. “Thank God, the truth has been revealed,” he said.

When the last American soldiers left Iraq, at the end of 2011, the bloody civil war between the country’s Sunni and Shiite sects had been stifled but not resolved. Now the sectarian violence had returned, with terrifying intensity. For more than a year, thousands of Iraqis, nearly all of them members of the Sunni Arab minority, had been gathering to rail against Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government. Although the protests were mostly peaceful, security forces responded harshly, detaining thousands of Sunni men without charges and, in one encampment, touching off a spasm of violence that left hundreds of civilians dead. Across the Sunni heartland, north and west of Baghdad, the town squares filled with angry crowds, and the rhetoric grew more extreme. In Ramadi, protesters raised black jihadi flags, representing the extremist Al Qaeda offshoot that had dominated the city during the American occupation. “We are a group called Al Qaeda!” a man shouted from a stage in the protesters’ camp. “We will cut off heads and bring justice!” The crowd cheered.

Speaking into the television cameras on Christmas, Maliki ordered the protesters to disband. Largely ignoring his own men’s excesses, he claimed that the protests were dominated by extremists. “This site has become a base for Al Qaeda,” he said, filled with “killers and criminals.” Maliki ended his speech with what for him was a flourish of emotion, lifting a hand from the lectern. “There will be no negotiations while the square is still standing.”

In the protests at Ramadi, a Sunni member of parliament named Ahmed al-Alwani had inflamed the crowds, accusing Maliki of being in league with the Iranian regime, the region’s great Shiite power. “My message is for the snake Iran!” Alwani shouted into a microphone, jabbing his finger into the air. Referring to Maliki and those around him as “Safavids” and “Zoroastrians,” terms that denote Iranian invaders, he said, “Let them listen up and know that those gathered here will return Iraq to its people!”

Our man in Iraq

Three days after Maliki’s speech, security forces surrounded Alwani’s compound. Officials claimed that they had gone not to arrest him—as a member of parliament, he had immunity—but to capture his brother, who was wanted on vague charges of “terrorism.” Gunfire broke out. The troops killed six people and took Alwani away. A photograph apparently smuggled from jail showed him in an orange jumpsuit with bruises on his face. His brother had fared far worse: he was shot to death in the fighting.

Soon afterward, troops cleared the Ramadi camp, on a day when it was sparsely occupied. Anbar Province erupted, along with the rest of Sunni Iraq, and the violence has not ceased. A wave of car bombers and suicide bombers struck Baghdad; in January, more than a thousand Iraqi civilians died, the overwhelming majority of them Shiites, making it one of the bloodiest months since the height of the American war. In the effort to put down the upheaval, Maliki ringed the province’s two largest cities, Falluja and Ramadi, with artillery and began shelling. Forty-four Sunni members of parliament resigned. In Falluja and Ramadi, Sunni police abandoned their posts.

Maliki, apparently realizing that he had miscalculated, ordered the Army to leave both cities. Within hours, dozens of armed men, their trucks flying black flags, swept into the downtowns, declaring that they were from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an Al Qaeda splinter group. Locals said that it was made up of men who had fought the Americans. “They are sleeper cells—local people,” a Falluja resident, who watched the rebels come into the streets, told me. “Al Qaeda was here all along, lying low. And now they control Falluja.”

The capture of Iraqi territory by Islamic extremists, barely two years since the last American soldiers left, prompted an extraordinary wave of soul-searching in Iraq and the United States, which lost more than thirteen hundred men and women in Anbar Province. Much of that reflection, in both countries, centered on Maliki, the man in whom the United States invested so much of its hopes and resources …

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Posted in 2014-04-22, Newsletter | Comments Off