Category - USA: Domestic Issues

To shield tech executives, California’s biggest water users are secret

Reveal News, By Katharine Mieszkowski & Lance Williams, April 16

In the midst of a historic drought, Californians have no way of knowing who’s guzzling the most water.

That’s not an accident. It’s by design, thanks to an obscure 1997 measure that weakened one of the state’s chief open government laws, the California Public Records Act.

For the source of this legislation, look no further than Silicon Valley, where the city of Palo Alto decided it needed to do more to protect the privacy of the tech elite.

“Palo Alto, even then, was home to a number of very high-profile tech-­related residents,” said Ariel Calonne, who was the city attorney at the time. “We had fairly extensive databases that covered a lot of sensitive information for a lot of noteworthy people, and that became a concern for our utility managers.”

Thousands in Germany protest against Europe-U.S. trade deal

Reuters, By Noah Barkin, April 18

Berlin – Thousands of people marched in Berlin, Munich and other German cities on Saturday in protest against a planned free trade deal between Europe and the United States that they fear will erode food, labor and environmental standards.

Opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is particularly high in Germany, in part due to rising anti-American sentiment linked to revelations of U.S. spying and fears of digital domination by firms like Google.

A recent YouGov poll showed that 43 percent of Germans believe TTIP would be bad for the country, compared to 26 percent who see it as positive.

The level of resistance has taken Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government and German industry by surprise, and they are now scrambling to reverse the tide and save a deal which proponents say could add $100 billion in annual economic output on both sides of the Atlantic.

Thousands demand higher wages during #Fightfor15 rallies

RT, April 15

Thousands of fast food restaurant employees walked off the job on Wednesday in order to rally for higher wages as part of a coordinated series of demonstrations held across the United States and the world.

As sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience continue from coast to coast, local reports from mid-Wednesday suggested that planned protests had so far been largely well attended in cities including New York, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Demonstrators had announced previously that they’d be rallying across the US on Wednesday, April 15, to push for increasing the nationwide minimum wage to $15 an hour.

More than half of American fast-food employees depend on public assistance to make ends meet, according to a 2013 report by the UC Berkeley Labor Center, and researchers there said in a report published this week that the majority of Americans who survive off of government assistance are nevertheless members of working families.

Seizing on Latest Police Killing, National Protests Declare: ‘This Must Stop!’

Mass demonstrations held in 30 cities calling for end to police brutality against people of color

Common Dreams, By Lauren McCauley, April 15

Seizing on the growing backlash against police brutalization and discriminatory mass incarceration, people across the country on Tuesday took to the streets. With mass demonstrations, sit-ins, and blockades, protesters in 30 cities demanded an end to “business as usual” within the U.S. criminal justice system.

According to organizers, 1,500 people marched in the streets of New York City, stopping traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, while close to 1,000 rallied outside police headquarters in Los Angeles and hundreds converged on Daley Center Plaza in Chicago. And in smaller cities like Springfield, Mass.; Cleveland, Ohio; Stockton, Calif.; and Gainesville, Fla., community members also joined in the growing chorus of voices calling for change.

The police, however, came out in force against the largely peaceful demonstrations, with numerous reports of injuries and arrests: 15 arrested in Springfield; 3 in Birmingham, Alabama; and roughly a dozen detained in New York City with reported incidents of violence against protesters.

“After a winter of murder after murder, video upon video, passivity has been cracked,” protest organizer Carl Dix, of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, said in a statement. “A door opened to a new wave of defiant resistance to say that this murder of Black and Latino people must STOP.”

Wrong Answer

In an era of high-stakes testing, a struggling school made a shocking choice.

The New Yorker, By Rachel Aviv, July 21, 2014

One afternoon in the spring of 2006, Damany Lewis, a math teacher at Parks Middle School, in Atlanta, unlocked the room where standardized tests were kept. It was the week before his students took the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, which determined whether schools in Georgia had met federal standards of achievement. The tests were wrapped in cellophane and stacked in cardboard boxes. Lewis, a slim twenty-nine-year-old with dreadlocks, contemplated opening the test with scissors, but he thought his cut marks would be too obvious. Instead, he left the school, walked to the corner store, and bought a razor blade. When he returned, he slit open the cellophane and gently pulled a test book from its wrapping. Then he used a lighter to warm the razor, which he wedged under the adhesive sealing the booklet, and peeled back the tab.

He photocopied the math, reading, and language-arts sections—the subjects that would determine, under the No Child Left Behind guidelines, whether Parks would be classified as a “school in need of improvement” for the sixth year in a row. Unless fifty-eight per cent of students passed the math portion of the test and sixty-seven per cent passed in language arts, the state could shut down the school. Lewis put on gloves, to prevent oil from his hands from leaving a residue on the plastic, and then used his lighter to melt the edges of the cellophane together, so that it appeared as if the package had never been opened. He gave the reading and language-arts sections to two teachers he trusted and took the math section home.
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152 Innocents, Marked for Death

New York Times Editorial, April 13

However much Americans may disagree about the morality of capital punishment, no one wants to see an innocent person executed.

And yet, far too often, people end up on death row after being convicted of horrific crimes they did not commit. The lucky ones are exonerated while they are still alive — a macabre club that has grown to include 152 members since 1973.

The rest remain locked up for life in closet-size cells. Some die there of natural causes; in at least two documented cases, inmates who were almost certainly innocent were put to death.

How many more innocent people have met the same fate, or are awaiting it? That may never be known. But over the past 42 years, someone on death row has been exonerated, on average, every three months. According to one study, at least 4 percent of all death-row inmates in the United States have been wrongfully convicted. That is far more than often enough to conclude that the death penalty — besides being cruel, immoral, and ineffective at reducing crime — is so riddled with error that no civilized nation should tolerate its use.

Marco Rubio set to announce presidential bid Monday

Washington Post, By Ed O’Keefe & Manuel Roig-Franzia, April 13

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the son of Cuban immigrants whose rapid political ascent was nearly blocked five years ago by national Republican leaders, will formally launch his campaign for president Monday evening in his hometown of Miami.

Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, will make the announcement in front of the city’s Freedom Tower, an iconic, Ellis Island-like downtown landmark where the federal government once processed Cuban immigrants fleeing the Castro regime. The site holds great personal importance for Rubio, his family and the city’s influential Cuban-American community.

The announcement is expected to launch Rubio near the top of a crowded field of GOP presidential candidates even as recent polls have suggested that he will have to compete for support among other frontrunners, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).

CBS: Five things to know about Marco Rubio
Mother Jones: Marco Rubio Used to Believe In Climate Science. Now He’s Running For President.
Tampa Bay Times: Marco Rubio: The making of a presidential candidate
Salon.com: Marco Rubio’s ugliest moment: The mean-spirited ultimatum that showed the 2016 contender’s true colors
Washington Post: In South Florida, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are forcing locals to pick sides
Tampa Bay Times: Marco Rubio gets a Super PAC, fueling 2016 money race
New York Magazine: Marco Rubio’s 2016 Announcement Teaser Could Not Be Less Inspiring
Hullabaloo: The Koch Brothers’ It Boy
Hullabaloo: Epistemological relativism for dummies
Hullabaloo: “The Endarkenment”
Naked Capitalism: Marco Rubio Throws His Personal Biography into the Ring – a color-coded close reading.

NSA dreams of smartphones with “split” crypto keys protecting user data

Proposal is part of a tense stand-off between US government and tech industry.

Ars Technica, by Dan Goodin, April 12

National Security Agency officials are considering a range of options to ensure their surveillance efforts aren’t stymied by the growing use of encryption, particularly in smartphones. Key among the solutions, according to The Washington Post, might be a requirement that technology companies create a digital key that can open any locked device to obtain text messages or other content, but divide the key into pieces so no one group could use it without the cooperation of other parties.

“I don’t want a back door,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the NSA, recently said during a speech at Princeton University, at which he laid out the proposal. “I want a front door. And I want the front door to have multiple locks. Big locks.”

The proposal is part of a tense debate resulting from the growing number of companies that endow their hardware and software with strong encryption that when used properly makes it infeasible if not impossible for anyone other than the owner to access the contents. Chief among these companies is Apple, which has enabled such encryption by default in newer iPhones and iPads. On the one hand, national security and law enforcement officials say the trend could seriously hinder criminal and national security investigations. Tech industry representatives, meanwhile, chafe at the thought of backdoors, citing a raft of concerns, including abuse by hackers, government overreach, and harm to US competitiveness.

Doctorow/Boing Boing: NSA declares war on general purpose computers

There’s no way to stop Americans — particularly those engaged in criminal activity and at risk from law enforcement — from running crypto without locking all computers, Ipad-style, so that they only run software from a government-approved “app-store.” The world teems with high quality, free, open crypto tools. Simply banning their integration into US products will do precisely nothing to stop criminals from getting their code from outside non-US vendors or projects. Only by attacking the fundamental nature of computing itself can the NSA hope to limit its adversaries’ use of crypto.

Washington Post: As encryption spreads, U.S. grapples with clash between privacy, security
Doctorow: Lockdown, January 2012

Florida House Overwhelmingly Passes Religious ‘License To Discriminate’ Adoption Bill

Think Progress, By Zack Ford, April 9

On Thursday afternoon, the Florida House of Representatives voted 75-38 to pass a bill (HB 7111) that would allow the state’s adoption agencies to engage in any kind of discrimination if serving a particular family violates its “religious or moral convictions or policies.” The state contracts with several private agencies to manage its child-placement services, some of which are religiously affiliated. Under the bill, the state could not revoke a license nor refuse any funding to these agencies based on their decision not to place children with certain families.

Unlike how the “religious freedom” bills played out in Arkansas and Indiana, proponents of Florida’s legislation were quite open during this week’s debates about the bill’s discriminatory intentions. On Wednesday, Rep. David Richardson (D) spearheaded efforts to undermine the bill with various amendments that would have carved out nondiscrimination exemptions. His first amendment would have prevented the state from funding organizations that discriminate; the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Brodeur (R) responded, “This amendment does the exact opposite of the entire bill. I was ask that you vote it down.” It was, in fact, voted down 38-78.

From there, other members introduced separate amendments carving out discrimination exemptions for specific classes: one for race, one for marital status, one for sexual orientation, one for gender, etc. Among the amendment sponsors was Rep. Janet Cruz (D), who explained, “I have a daughter who’s gay and I want to make sure she’s never discriminated against if she decides to adopt a child.” In each case, Brodeur offered a substitute amendment — each of which was identical — adding instead only the words, “An act by a private child-placing agency under this subsection does not constitute discrimination.” The substitute amendments passed every time as the House essentially voted in favor of discrimination based on all of those classes.


Fukushima radiation has reached North American shores

The (Mid-Willamette Valley, Oregon) Statesman-Journal, By Tracy Loew, April 6

Seaborne radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster has reached North America.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected small amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 in a sample of seawater taken in February from a dock on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

It’s the first time radioactivity from the March 2011 triple meltdown has been identified on West Coast shores.
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Florida Supreme Court to Review Solar Energy Ballot Initiative

Broward/Palm Beach New Times, By Kyle Swenson, March 30

The statewide push to get a solar power proposal on the 2016 ballot recently hit a milestone. Backers of the proposal announced last week that they’d secured enough initial signatures to send the proposal to the Florida Supreme Court. It’s an important first step for backers of the proposal, which seeks to cut-out Florida’s powerful utility companies from the solar equation. Considering the opposition the utilities have mounted against efforts to set up a progressive policy for sun power in the Sunshine State, many solar industry folks feel the ballot is the state’s best shot.

In a release last week, Floridians for Solar Choice announced they had secured 72,000 verified signatures for their proposal. Under state law, the language of the ballot proposal will now be shipped off to the State Attorney’s office. The office will then request an “advisory opinion” from the state Supreme Court to verify the legal language of the proposal.

According to a county-by-county break down of those first signatures from the Division of Elections, it appears a good portion of the proposal’s support is coming from Broward. The county notched 10,287 signatures as of March 23. Palm Beach accounted for 4,704 signatures.

“After a short and unnecessary delay, we are thrilled to reach this important milestone. It shows broad support among Florida’ families and businesses for removing barriers to commerce in solar power,” Tory Perfetti, chairman for Floridians for Solar Choice, announced in a press release last week. “Further, we look forward to working with the Attorney General and her professional staff to quickly move this petition to the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion.”

If the highest court OKs the language, the ballot’s backers will need to hit the road and gather an additional 600,000 signatures before February 2016.


Reuters: Florida ballot drive seeks to boost solar energy in Sunshine State, January 14

Florida law prohibits third party sale of electricity by anyone other than the state’s utility companies, such as Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy.

‘Abolishing the Sabbath’: Wisc. Republican proposes doing away with day of rest for workers

Raw Story, By Arturo Garcia, April 3

Democrats in Wisconsin accused a Republican state lawmaker of putting factory and mercantile workers’ chances for rest at the mercy of their employers, the Madison Capital Times reported.

State Rep. Mark Born’s (R) proposal would allow workers in those fields to “voluntarily choose” to waive the state requirement of at least one “day of rest in seven.” The bill is being co-sponsored in the state Senate by another Republican, Van Wanggaard.

“Why would we not want to allow employees who want to earn that money for their family — especially with the tough economic times we’ve just come through — people are picking up second jobs and things,” Born said regarding the measure. “It seems to me the opponents of this would rather have someone go work a second job than just have the simple opportunity to work those extra days when their employer has work.”
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California governor orders first ever water restrictions

The governor of California has implemented the first mandatory water restrictions in the state’s history.

BBC, April 2

The order implements a 25% reduction in water usage for cities and towns across the parched state.

Vast areas of government-owned lawns will be replaced by drought-tolerant landscaping, and towns will be banned from watering ornamental grass.

Last year, Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency after years of drought.

The snow in the mountains is at its lowest level since records began, so water supplies from melting snow will be lower than normal in coming months.

“We are standing on dried grass, and we should be standing in five feet of snow,” said Mr Brown, speaking in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Noose found hanging from tree at Duke University

A noose found hanging from a tree at Duke University in North Carolina has prompted probe into ‘hateful and stupid act’.

Al Jazeera, April 2

Duke University officials are trying to determine who hung a rope noose from a tree, what the president of the elite Southern school described Wednesday as a vicious symbol in a region where lynchings were once used to terrorize black residents.

President Richard Brodhead told a crowd of several thousand gathered in front of the university’s Gothic chapel building that their presence was a rejection of that symbol. And he said that while administrators and campus police investigate who displayed the noose and why, it is up to each individual to reject racism.

“One person put up that noose, but this is the multitude of people who got together to say that’s not the Duke we want,” he told the crowd. “That’s not the Duke we’re here for, and that’s not the Duke we’re here to create.”

Officials say the noose was found about 2 a.m. in the plaza outside the Bryan Center, the student commons building.

Indiana’s Pence to sign bill allowing businesses to reject gay customers

CNN, By Eric Bradner, March 25

Washington – Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is set to sign into law a measure that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of “religious freedom.”

The move comes as Pence considers a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — and just a year after Pence and socially conservative lawmakers lost their first policy battle against gay Hoosiers. In 2014 they had sought to amend Indiana’s constitution to ban same-sex marriages — but were beaten back by a highly-organized coalition of Democrats, traditionally right-leaning business organizations and fiscally focused supporters of Pence’s predecessor, former GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.

This year, though, the Republican-dominated state House and Senate both approved the “religious freedom” bill, and Pence plans to sign it into law in a private ceremony Thursday, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

CBS: Salesforce CEO Says Company Is ‘Canceling All Programs’ In Indiana Over LGBT Discrimination Fears
WISH: San Francisco mayor bans publicly-funded travel to Ind. over new law
Think Progress: When ‘Religious Liberty’ Was Used To Justify Racism Instead Of Homophobia
Reuters: Angie’s List halts expansion of Indianapolis headquarters over new state law that targets gays

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