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Pregnant Ferguson Woman Loses Eye After Cops Shoot Car With Bean Bag

Huffington Post News - 10 min 14 sec ago

A Ferguson woman lost her left eye when police officers in Ferguson shot a bean bag round at the car she was in.

Dornella Conners is now blind in one eye and can barely see with the other, she told KMOV.

She said she and her boyfriend pulled into a Ferguson gas station on Tuesday morning, hours after the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown was announced.

As she and her boyfriend were driving away from the station, Conners said St. Louis County police surrounded their car.

Conners said her boyfriend was trying to avoid interfering with the police while trying to drive away from the gas station. But police said the car was heading right for them.

That's when police shot a bean bag round at the car, shattering the passenger window and injuring Conners.

"I’m very upset, very disappointed with tactics that they used trying to get control of situation,” Donnell Conners, Dornella’s father told the station.

The story comes as #BlackoutBlackFriday protests spread across Ferguson and the nation in an effort to call attention to what supporters say was an unjust outcome in Wilson's case and to bring an end to the consumption-based day after Thanksgiving.

"In the wake of #Ferguson, it's become painfully clear that people of color, and Black people in particular, are still unjustly targeted by law enforcement and the criminal justice system," reads a statement on

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Protesters Participating In #BlackoutBlackFriday Shut Down Oakland Train Station

Huffington Post News - 23 min 23 sec ago

As people nationwide actively boycott big businesses on Black Friday, a group of protesters in California forced a temporary shutdown of a BART train station.

Protesters rallied Friday and physically banded together to block train service from the West Oakland train station. In doing so, demonstrators -- many who wore shirts that read #BlackLivesMatter -- drew further attention to their fight for justice days after a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

"There is a major delay system wide due to civil unrest at West Oakland Station," a statement on the BART website reads. "There is no service into or out of San Francisco at this time. Please seek other forms of transportation."

According to NBC Bay Area, the protesters planned to demonstrate on the BART tracks for four hours to symbolize the amount of time Brown's body lay in the street.

Protesters also reflected on the death of Oscar Grant, a teenager from Oakland who was fatally shot by a police officer at a Bay Area BART train station on New Year's Day 2009.

The moments in Grant's life that led up to and followed this tragic event were documented in a 2009 film titled "Fruitvale Station." The award-winning film was directed by Ryan Coogler, who is the founder of Blackout For Human Rights -- a network of artists, activists, filmmakers and lawyers who fight to address inequalities and injustice in America.

Coogler's organization is also the originator of #BlackoutBlackFriday, an online campaign that was created to urge people nationwide to boycott Black Friday shopping.

"In the wake of #Ferguson, it's become painfully clear that people of color, and Black people in particular, are still unjustly targeted by law enforcement and the criminal justice system," reads a statement on

"The lack of indictment in the deaths of Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO, John Crawford III of Ohio, and many, many more victims of police deaths are unacceptable in this modern society. To that end, we will cease spending money on American retail corporations until a change is made."

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Criminal Injustice: 4 Ways Courts Can Restore Faith in the Legal System After Ferguson

Huffington Post News - 25 min 42 sec ago

Outraged, but not surprised.

That would be a fair way to sum up the response of many to the grand jury's decision not to bring criminal charges against Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown. As protests continue across the nation, it is worth asking what, if anything, can be done to address the perception that citizens (and let us be frank -- especially black citizens) cannot expect help from the courts when police officers are accused of unjustifiably depriving them of their liberty, property or even their lives.

For that perception is justified. As law professor Erwin Chemerinsky explained in an important piece some months ago, the Supreme Court has made it very difficult to hold cops accountable for wrongdoing. But there is still room for engaged judges to ensure that badges cannot be used as a license to violate rights.

1.) Don't Rubber-Stamp Warrants

In his essential book on police militarization, Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko describes a 1984 study of the warrant process in seven US cities, conducted by the National Center of State Courts. The study revealed that magistrates spend an average of two minutes and forty-eight seconds reviewing affidavits -- sworn statements -- before approving warrants, and that "most police officers interviewed could not remember having a search warrant turned down." Often enough, it is a rubber-stamp process, not a thorough review. Given the consequences of signing off on a warrant -- including forced-entry raids that can destroy, deafen and kill -- judges have no excuse for failing to so much as ask questions of officers. In one particularly horrific recent case, a Georgia SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade into a playpen, blowing a hole in the chest of a one-year-old child.

2.) Don't Take Cops at Their Word

Simply put, police officers lie in court, and they get away with it. Balko reports that in 1992, a University of Minnesota law professor sent a questionnaire to Chicago judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. 92 percent of judges said that police lie "at least some of the time" when questioned about searches and seizures. In 2011, former San Francisco Police commissioner Peter Keane wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle in which he stated, "Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace... it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America."

3.) Make Prosecutors Obey the Rules

The Supreme Court has said that because prosecutors are representatives "of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all," their ultimate interest should not be in winning a case but ensuring "that justice shall be done." But they do not always fulfill their obligation to seek justice. In 2010, USA Today conducted a comprehensive study that surveyed federal criminal cases since 1998 and identified more than 200 cases in which courts threw out convictions or publicly rebuked prosecutors for misconduct. As former prosecutor turned private practitioner Sidney Powell recounts in her shattering book, Licensed to Lie, prosecutors do in fact deliberately withhold potentially exculpatory evidence that they are constitutionally required to disclose under the rule of Brady v. Maryland (1963). Judges should not assume that they will get complete and candid disclosure the first time they ask.

4.) Make Cops Pay When They Violate Our Rights

The judicially-invented doctrine of qualified immunity protects cops from paying out of their own pockets for their violations of citizens' constitutional rights -- so long as those rights are not "clearly established." There is no constitutional basis for this doctrine -- the Supreme Court made it up for the sake of making life easier for law enforcement. All too often, it is an excuse for judicial abdication, with "clearly established" being read extremely narrowly. But it does not completely insulate cops from liability.

In a recent case, the 11th Circuit held it was not reasonable for officers to believe that they could descend on a barbershop in tactical gear with guns drawn just to check barbers' licenses, without violating the (duly licensed) barbers' Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The court determined that the unconstitutionality of such actions was "clearly established" because the 11th Circuit had held not once but twice that conducting criminal raids under the pretext of an "administrative inspection" is constitutionally unreasonable -- and one case even involved the same sheriff's office that conducted the barbershop raid!

There is no quick-fix solution to the problems with our criminal justice system that Ferguson has thrown into sharp relief, nor is there a simple formula that judges can use to figure out whether the government is misleading them or not. But Americans expect and deserve a level playing field when they seek justice in our courts of law. And the security of our rights depends on judges carefully scrutinizing claims by those who, all too often, are less interested in justice than in seeking their own advancement and avoiding accountability for injustice.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Ferguson Protesters Celebrate Thanksgiving In A Church, Actively Boycott Black Friday

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 18 min ago

ST. LOUIS -- Ferguson protesters gathered in a church basement to celebrate Thanksgiving with one another on the eve of Black Friday, before beginning active boycotts of Walmart and Target stores.

A little over 100 protesters, churchgoers and volunteers celebrated Thanksgiving at St. Luke's African Methodist Episcopal Church on Thursday night. The basement room was filled with joy as people chatted, ate and sang songs, including spiritual hymns and protest chants.

"Victory is mine. Victory is mine. Victory today is mine," people sang triumphantly, just days after mourning upon hearing the grand jury's decision to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August. The protests sparked by Brown's death flared up again after Monday night's announcement by the St. Louis prosecutor.

Thursday's dinner was prepared by "Mama Cat," a woman who's become a mother figure to protesters.

"Just ate this amazing home-cooked meal by Mama Cat and now we're listening to this New York City choir sing. It's amazing right now," said Amy Dalton, 38, a "community minister" from New York who arrived in the area Saturday and was at the dinner.

Dalton continued to praise the singers, known as Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir. "They're bringing energy to this room, using the power of their living memories to give us strength to keep going forward. I just feel very blessed to be witness to this and to living and participating in this and hopefully helping a little bit," she said.

Protesters started chanting, "No justice, no peace" in the first Walmart they visited Thursday night.

After dinner, the group decided to head to Walmart for a demonstration, without a game plan or mention of the protest on social media. Once inside, the protesters grabbed carts and pretended to be shopping. One protester started chanting, "No justice, no peace," and others joined in. Many shoppers looked confused by the demonstration and pulled out their phones to record the event. The protesters were then aggressively escorted by police officers and barking German shepherds out of the Walmart and off the property.

"Shut it down, shut it tight. The bosses can't profit when you fight," the protesters chanted.

Protesters chant outside the second Walmart they visited Thursday night.

The protesters traveled across town to a Target and then to another Walmart. When they reached their fourth stop -- yet another Walmart -- they were met by a line of police officers and locked doors.

Their night of demonstrations ended. However, they had several more actions planned for Black Friday, as part of a larger #BlackoutBlackFriday movement that called for boycotts of stores on one of the largest shopping days of the year.

Black Friday protest at target #live #Ferguson

-- Mariah Randi Stewart (@MzzzMariah) November 28, 2014

Categories: Political News and Opinion

UN Report Criticizes U.S. Record On Torture

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 26 min ago

GENEVA (AP) — Police brutality, military interrogations and prisons were among the top concerns of a U.N. panel's report Friday that found the United States to be falling short of full compliance with an international anti-torture treaty.

The report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture, its first such review of the U.S. record since 2006, expressed concerns about allegations of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly the Chicago Police Department's treatment of blacks and Latinos. It also called for restricting the use of taser weapons by police to life-threatening situations. But it had no specific recommendation or reaction to a grand jury's decision not to indict the white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri who fatally shot a black and unarmed teenager. The report also criticizes the U.S. record on military interrogations, maximum security prisons, illegal migrants and solitary confinement while calling for tougher federal laws to define and outlaw torture, including with detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Yemen. It also called for abolishing interrogation techniques that rely on sleep or sensory deprivation "aimed at prolonging the sense of capture."

"There are numerous areas in which certain things should be changed for the United States to comply fully with the convention," Alessio Bruni of Italy, one of the panel's chief investigators, said at a news conference Friday in Geneva. He was referring to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which took effect in 1987 and the United States ratified in 1994.

The U.N. committee's 10 independent experts are responsible for reviewing the records of all 156 U.N. member countries that have ratified the treaty against torture and all "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Nation's largest all-clay pottery sale moves to Southfield - C&G Newspapers

Berkley Information from Google News - 1 hour 45 min ago

C&G Newspapers

Nation's largest all-clay pottery sale moves to Southfield
C&G Newspapers
METRO DETROIT — Billing itself as the largest sale of its kind in the country, this year's Potters Market will move from its old home in Madison Heights to a more spacious venue in Southfield, to better accommodate the 8,000 people expected to attend ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

Downtowns in Royal Oak and Ferndale see local shopping trend as mall ... - The Macomb Daily

Berkley Information from Google News - 1 hour 53 min ago

Downtowns in Royal Oak and Ferndale see local shopping trend as mall ...
The Macomb Daily
Evan Brook, 2, plays with toys at the Toyology store in Royal Oak with his aunt, Tami Tarnow, and grandmother, Kathy Tarnow of Southfield. Michael P. McConnell - Daily Tribune. By Michael P. McConnell,, @MMcconnell01 ...

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Categories: Berkley Area News

Michael Brown's Legacy Continues To Evolve

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 59 min ago

NEW YORK (AP) — For some Americans on opposite sides of a national debate, Michael Brown has become a symbol, epitomizing their polarized views on who bears the blame for the toll of young black men killed by police officers. Brown was a gentle giant, in one version. A defiant troublemaker, in another.

Yet as more details of the 18-year-old's life and death emerge, his legacy in the eyes of many is more nuanced, reflecting the ups and downs and challenges faced by many young Americans. "He was someone trying to come into his own, trying to grow up in a world that's not that friendly to young people," civil rights lawyer Barbara Arnwine said.

"Other young people see themselves in him. They're not looking for someone who's perfect. It's his vulnerabilities that appeal to them," said Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

In the days after Brown's Aug. 9 shooting death at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a warm, upbeat portrait emerged.

After academic struggles in high school, he had buckled down to get his diploma last summer and was soon to enter a technical college. Friends and family recalled a sizable young man — 6-foot-5, nearly 300 pounds — with a gentle, joking manner, a fan of computer games, an aspiring rap musician.

"His biggest goal was to be part of something," said Charlie Kennedy, a health and physical education teacher at neighboring Normandy High School. "He was kindhearted, a little kid in a big body."

Subsequently, some less flattering details surfaced. A toxicology report showed that Brown had marijuana in his system on the day he died. Ferguson police released a video showing Brown snatching some cigars in a convenience store shortly before he was killed.

Then came the release of evidence and testimony presented to the grand jury that decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Brown. Wilson testified that Brown scuffled with him while he was in his patrol car, trying to grab his pistol, and moments later — after stepping away from the car — started to charge back at him.

"The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that's how angry he looked," Wilson testified.

Some grand jury witnesses disputed Wilson's testimony, saying Brown did not make a charge. But to Brown's detractors, the officer's account reinforced negative feelings about the young man and further fueled their efforts to make him a symbol for their pro-police arguments.

"Here's the lessons from Ferguson America," wrote rocker and conservative activist Ted Nugent on his Facebook page. "Don't let your kids grow up to be thugs who think they can steal, assault & attack cops as a way of life & badge of black (dis)honor."

The Rev. E.W. Jackson, a conservative black pastor based in Virginia, depicted Brown as "in many ways a typical kid growing up the in black community."

"He imbibed a lot of negative attitudes about what manhood is all about," Jackson said. "I wish this kid could have been redeemed to go on to live a wonderful life."

"But something is wrong when you start wrestling with a police officer over his gun," Jackson added. "I have nothing but sympathy for his parents, but you can't absolve Michael Brown of responsibility for this situation."

Arnwine, the civil rights lawyer, was infuriated that Wilson's negative testimony had been made available to the grand jurors and to the public.

"It was meant to portray Michael Brown in the worst possible way, as a foul-mouthed, violent, rude, aggressive person," she said. "It was meant to give people the impression of this scary black man who deserved to die."

She said the turnout of throngs of young people of all races at rallies and protests nationwide gave a truer picture of Brown's legacy.

"When you see their passion, hear the pain in their voices, you can see they honestly relate to this young man," Arnwine said. "They feel that he absolutely embodied the struggles that they are going through."

"He was someone struggling to create his identity, make his music, hang with his friends," she said. "You're caught betwixt and between, trying to be an adult but still in your teens."

The president of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, said he met Brown's parents and some of his young friends in the aftermath of the shooting.

"Michael Brown contained all the virtues and all the flaws of a great many young people, irrespective of race or class," Brooks said. "There was something about him, and what happened to him, that inspired young people to transform a local social-justice challenge into a global civil rights issue, something that spoke to their sense of conscience."

The intense scrutiny of Brown's life and the accompanying moral judgments have angered some of those following the case.

"It's not for us to say if he was angel or if he would have become a billionaire after he got his college degree," said James Peterson, director of Africana Studies and an associate professor of English at Lehigh University.

"I hate the narrative that it's more sad that he was two days away from starting college. What if he wasn't?" Peterson asked. "It doesn't matter what we think his legacy was. He was a human being who didn't deserve to have his life snuffed out."


Follow David Crary on Twitter at

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Bleak Friday

Huffington Post News - 2 hours 46 min ago

Political economist Gordon Lafer offers some "Bleak Friday" predictions about the corporate agenda for public education...

Berkshire: Now I know Black Friday is usually thought of as a day for bargain hunters to mob Walmart stores and their minimum-wage-ish associates, but can I just point out that by swelling the Walton family coffers, these shoppers are actually helping to create more opportunities for low-income youth? Wait -- why are you laughing?

Gordon Lafer: Because it's preposterous -- you can't be an adult and say that with a straight face. First of all, the thing that correlates most clearly with educational performance in every study is poverty. So when you look at the agenda of the biggest and richest corporate lobbies in the country, it's impossible to conclude that they want to see the full flowering of the potential of each little kid in poor cities. To say "I want to cut the minimum wage, I want to prevent cities from passing laws raising wages or requiring sick time, I want to cut food stamps, I want to cut the earned income tax credit, I want to cut home heating assistance. Oh but, by the way, I'm really concerned about the quality of education that poor kids are getting" -- it's just not credible. You're creating the problem that you now claim to want to solve.

Berkshire: I don't know if it's a tryptophan hangover, but I feel very confused about something. There's a long tradition of big corporations in the U.S. trying to reshape public education in an effort to mold their future workers. Think Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller. But does Walmart need vast numbers of college grads? Educate me.

Lafer: Walmart has no trouble filling positions and operating with very high turnover because what's demanded of people who work there is so little. They're certainly not asking "where are we going to find more people who can do algebra and craft well-written paragraphs?" In fact, the big problem with the "send every kid to college" argument is that there aren't jobs for these kids after they graduate. You cannot find an economist who predicts that more than one-third of jobs in the U.S. are going to require a college degree in our lifetime. The real question is not how can everybody be a college graduate, but how can people make a decent living. And here is where you see that the same corporate lobbies that are pushing education reform are doing everything possible to make that harder.

Berkshire: I think when we talk about a "corporate agenda" the reaction is often "oh, there they go again with their leftist crazy talk." But your academic research involves looking at the confluence of law and policy across the country, and you've picked up on what seem to be some definite patterns. What do you see?

Lafer: I worked for the House Education and the Workforce Committee in Washington in 2009-2010 and then came back to my academic job in 2011, which coincided with a huge wave of cutbacks in public services around the country. I started doing these overviews of what's happening in all 50 states, because that's really where you start to see the corporate agenda emerging. One of the things that I saw was that the deepest cuts didn't correspond to where the budget deficits were the worst. It's easy to write a law to say, for example, that we're going to kick 100,000 kids out of Pre-K, like Texas did, but have some trigger for restoring it when state revenues bounce back or unemployment drops. But nobody did that. In fact, a number of states passed or tried to pass things to make those cuts permanent. What this basically says is "let's take the harshest cuts that had to be made because of the worst recession in 70 years and lock them in." So Texas, you'll never get those Pre-K slots back. Or look at Ohio, which eliminated full-day kindergarten and in the same year, voted to phase out the inheritance tax, which only ever effected the richest people in the state. That's another way of saying that putting more money in the pockets of the richest people in the state is so important to us that we're willing to pay for it by having half-day instead of full day kindergarten for five year olds. So I started looking at these intentional cutbacks in public services and thinking about what they mean, and how all of this fits together.

Berkshire: Wow -- these are exactly the questions that keep me awake in the middle of the night: What does it all mean and how does it all fit together? Needless to say I usually fall asleep before I solve the puzzle. I'm curious to hear your take, but please don't make the analysis so grim that I never sleep again.

Lafer: I think the direction that the most powerful forces in the country are pushing is a bleak and frankly scary one -- that at some level they want us to forget the idea of having a right to a decent public education, which is one of the last remaining entitlements, and make it more like health care, which is increasingly seen as a privilege. What's being done to schooling is, I think, devastating on its merits. It has ideological implications for lowering expectations for what you have a right to as a citizen or a resident. And it raises big, profound questions: How does your experience in school affect, not just your skill set for employment, but your sense of yourself as a person and what you think you deserve from life? I think that for the real one percent, the big political challenge is how do we pursue a policy agenda that makes the country ever more unequal and that makes life harder for the vast majority of people without provoking a populist backlash. One of the ways of doing that is by lowering people's expectations, and one of the key places to do that is in the school system.

Berkshire: I've always thought sleep was overrated anyway... Since we're already in a dark place, let's just forge on, shall we? I can't help but note that some of our reformiest states also seem to be on the cutting edge of trying to shape and limit the content of what kids are taught. Take Jefferson County, Colorado, for example, where school board members proposed a curriculum intended to promote "respect for authority." Do you see any connection?

Lafer: I don't think it's a coincidence. You have Florida which passed a law that history has to be taught as fact and not interpreted or contested and one of the facts is the value of the free enterprise system. Or take Arizona, which has one of the highest percentages of kids in charter schools, where officials got rid of Chicano studies and passed a law which says basically that you can't have a class that teaches resentment of one group of people, by which they meant the white ruling class. There's Indiana where Mitch Daniels personally intervened in an effort to keep teacher preparation programs from teaching Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. A lot of this is very local, which is to say that there's not some smoke-filled room where powerful people meet to plan all of this. But let's just say that the last thing that the Walton family wants is for kids in poor cities to be going to, say, the Highlander Center and getting education about the power of collective action or how the civil rights movement started.

Berkshire: I don't know how much more of this I can take! Anything more positive you can send me back to the wassail bowl with?

Lafer: When people have a chance to vote on specific issues there seems to be very broad support for a better version of education, and I think that's really hopeful. The best example of this is the 2010 vote in Florida on class size. Florida has class size caps written into its constitution. In 2010 the legislature wanted to raise the cap, but because it's in the constitution it had to go to the voters. The voters voted 57% against raising the cap during a Tea Party wave election. I tried to do the math to calculate just how many people must have voted for Rick Scott and various conservative legislators, but also voted against raising the cap on class size and I figured that there were about 200,000 people who went to the polls thinking something like: "I hate Democrats, I hate government, I hate taxes, I hate unions, but I want my kids in small classes." I think the corporate education agenda is broadly really unpopular, and all parent want roughly the same thing. All parents want their child to be taught small classes by a mature adult who will get to know their kid as a person, and understand their strengths and weaknesses and how they need to be supported. And that's all the more true in poor cities than in wealthier places. I think most parents want their kids to have a broader education than just math and English and they certainly want them to be taught by people and not just a computer program. You know, despite all the things we've talked about, there's tremendous public support for decent education. That gives me hope.

Gordon Lafer is a political economist and is an Associate Professor at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center. Send comments and rosy predictions to

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Royal Oak cashes in on 'haunted' historical house - The Macomb Daily

Berkley Information from Google News - 3 hours 11 min ago

Royal Oak cashes in on 'haunted' historical house
The Macomb Daily
ROYAL OAK (AP) >> Things that go bump in the night could soon make cha-ching at Royal Oak City Hall. Royal Oak city officials gave unanimous approval last week for a club of 15 ghost hunters to conduct paid tours of the city's oldest structure, ...

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Categories: Berkley Area News

Winter Markt returns to Shain Park - Downtown: Birmingham/Bloomfield news magazine

Berkley Information from Google News - 3 hours 21 min ago

Winter Markt returns to Shain Park
Downtown: Birmingham/Bloomfield news magazine
11/28/2014 - A new tradition will be enjoyed again next weekend, December 5 – 7, at the traditional German holiday market Winter Markt in Birmingham's Shain Park. The event will take place Friday, December 5, from 3 to 9 p.m., Saturday, December 6 ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

Royal Oak friends create company featuring Michigan-made products - The Oakland Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 3 hours 24 min ago

Royal Oak friends create company featuring Michigan-made products
The Oakland Press
Cory Wright and Andrew Chmielewski are the founders of Mitten Crate based in Royal Oak. Photo submitted by Wendy Fayne. Posted: 11/28/14, 10:24 AM EST |. # Comments. Take advantage of Michigan owned, operated and manufactured “made in ...

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Categories: Berkley Area News

Cracker re-lights "Kerosene Hat" combo on new album - The Oakland Press

Berkley Information from Google News - 3 hours 24 min ago

Cracker re-lights "Kerosene Hat" combo on new album
The Oakland Press
Johnny Hickman and David Lowery bring their latest lineup of Cracker to town on Tuesday, Dec. 2, at the Magic Bag in Ferndale. (Photo by Bradford Jones). If you go. • Cracker. • Tuesday, Dec. 1. Doors open at 8 p.m.. • The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave ...

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Categories: Berkley Area News

Obama Faces the Test of Emerging Out of the Gray Zone

Huffington Post News - 3 hours 31 min ago

President Barack Obama insists on adopting mystery, be this constructive or destructive, as the basis of his policies, because he is comfortable in the gray zone. Some see him as a president who is conscious of the fickle attitudes and desires of the American people, and thus backs non-clarity and non-commitment especially as relates to foreign policy. Others oppose for the U.S. president to be diffident at his core, hiding behind ambiguity, and fearing decisiveness. The resignation -- or sacking -- of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been seen in the context of his being one of the opponents of the non-decisiveness adopted by President Obama, by insisting to be mysterious in a key issue of the war on ISIS, namely, the issue of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is good at navigating in accordance with President Obama's ever-moving compass, can be described as the diplomat who is very well adept at coloring and shaping any political scene exactly as the president wants it to be. Thus Kerry colored the extension of nuclear negotiations with Iran as an achievement, when he knows well that the gap remains large, even if it had narrowed a little. The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did the same, not in support of the U.S. president, but of President Hassan Rohani, who was marketed in the global arena as a savior of Iran from extremism and militancy.

Moderation in the Islamic Republic of Iran is on trial today, to the tune of the nuclear negotiations, while the hardliners are practically benefiting from the easing of sanctions as a result of these negotiations. The next seven months will not be easy for Barack Obama, as he tries to reconcile the nuclear negotiations with the Republican-dominated Congress that is hostile to Tehran, and the flames of the war on ISIS and the friendly fire from the poles of the international coalition aimed at the U.S. management of this war. The next seven months will act as a theater for impertinent approaches of all kinds, whether those of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It will also be a space where the repercussions and implications of the policy of mystery and its opposites would play out.

Cities in the United States have broken into protests against a grand jury's acquittal of a white policeman who had shot dead an African-American youth, from the city of Ferguson in Missouri to Oakland in California. The protests, which have swept more than 170 cities against "racism," have dominated the U.S. media news cycle, which usually moves from issue to issue very rapidly, and President Obama will be under increased scrutiny, but this issue will not necessarily become the exclusive focus of U.S. policy, both domestic and foreign. The timing of this event, which coincided with the resignation of the Defense Secretary and the end of the nuclear negotiations with an outcome of non-success and non-failure, has put more pressure on Obama, especially as he gears up for a fierce showdown with Congress, which is now dominated by the Republicans following the midterm elections. This Republican Congress will second-guess Obama on the smallest details, including in foreign policy issues led by the negotiations with Iran, the war on ISIS and its operations in Iraq and Syria, and the fate of the peace process between Palestine and Israel.

On Iran, the Republican Congress plans to head off any possible American concessions on the nuclear issue. Congress also intends to pass additional laws that would step up the sanctions on Iran to punish it for its regional roles beyond its borders. The Obama administration will seek to reduce the punitive tone and measures because President Obama is still hoping his achievements and legacy would be culminated with an agreement with Iran. However, Obama also now realizes the difficulty of reaching an agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue as well as its regional ambitions, and understands that the battle between the forces of moderation and the hardliners in Tehran may not have the outcome he had imagined.

The nuclear negotiations did not collapse, much to the relief of the world, including the Gulf countries. The Gulf nations were relieved by the extension of the negotiations because the alternative was confrontation and further tensions with Iran, amid circumstances that require focusing on ISIS, which is at the Gulf's doors.

The GCC summit, which will be held in Doha in two weeks, will reflect the climate of welcoming the extension and relief on account of it, instead of pursuing a gloating tone or supporting escalation. True, the Gulf countries benefit from the Republican Congress's pressuring Obama into a corner to force him not to be lenient with Iran, but they don't want to act as his "stick" as he threatens Iran on the nuclear issue. The Gulf countries are concerned about events within Iran and their practical implications for the Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, and Lebanese arenas, and are open to accords if moderate forces able to make deals gain the upper hand in Iran.

The division in the Islamic Republic of Iran is clear. Some signs of it surfaced following the extension of nuclear negotiations, in the form of statements made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani, the first waging a campaign against the West and the second highlighting the benefits of the negotiations.

The hardliners chanted "death to America." In the Shura Council, the hardliner MP Hamid Rasaei, said, "It's already a year since Mr Rohani tried his magic key to turn around America's wolfish nature. Instead of turning, the key of trust and optimism broke in the lock." Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard said Iran had learned from the nuclear negotiations that it had a strong hand to play. He declared, "Today, we can speak to the U.S. and its allies with the tone of power. A lesson can be taken from the recent nuclear talks that, for various reasons, the U.S. is not reliable."

Interestingly, Iranian Foreign Ministry adviser Mohammad Ali Sobhani accused the current vice-president of the Iraqi Republic (former Prime Minister) Nuri al-Maliki of following sectarian policies when he was in office, which led to the formation of an incubator for ISIS, as quoted by the Iranian website Nameh News. He said, "Were it not for Maliki's exclusionary policies against Sunnis in the country, the group would not have found a popular incubator among the Sunnis." According to the same website, Sobhani criticized the Assad regime, saying, "The Syrian people initially protested peacefully for legitimate demands, but the Assad regime tried to suppress the demonstrations with excessive force which led to the emergence of armed groups later," and pointing out that if the Syrian state had taken measures at the beginning of the demonstrations to meet the legitimate demands of the protesters, the situation would not be like it is today.

If the debate inside Iran is along the lines of these statements and those in the Shura Council, what could happen in the coming months is a serious review of the Iranian approach that will no doubt impact Iran's regional policies, and not just the Iranian interior.

Russia is outdoing and outbidding Iran on Syria in terms of clinging to Bashar al-Assad in power. That is if we go by what Moscow told Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who was received by the Russian president for the first time, and who made sure to publicly stress the Syrian insistence on having his president remain in power to fight terror. If Moscow is honest about its other insinuations that it is ready for accords with international and regional forces on the basis of a formula that bolsters the war on ISIS and similar radical Islamist groups requiring concessions from Moscow, then Russia understands completely that the language of current accords stress the continuation of support for the regime in Damascus, but not necessarily the head of the regime. So which approach has Vladimir Putin really chosen? Perhaps Putin, too, found deliberate ambiguity a policy that suits him and his "poker-game" approach to his adventures from Syria to Ukraine. But what is clear is the emergence of the importance of the link between the war on ISIS and Bashar al-Assad's position in that war and in international policies.

The Turkish president does not infuse his statements with courteousness and diplomacy, and does not care whether what he says is liked by the U.S. president or Vice President Joe Biden, who made an unsuccessful visit to Ankara. Erdogan denounced what he called the U.S. 'impertinence' on the Syrian crisis, and said in the course of commenting on U.S. demands from Turkey in the context of the fight against ISIS that he rejected them, saying "we are against impertinence, recklessness and endless demands." Erdogan, in reference to the Americans, said, "They looked on as the tyrant (President Bashar) al-Assad massacred 300,000 people. They remained silent in the face of Assad's barbarism and now they are now staging a 'conscience show' through Kobane," where Erdogan refuses to intervene militarily alongside the Kurdish forces.

Most probably, the crisis in Syria will intensify and become more complicated and bloody in the coming period, being an arena for the tug of war between regional and international forces, and also because it is the crucible where the mystery policy pursued by Presidents Obama and Putin is tested, in contrast to the stark clarity expressed by President Erdogan.

The divisions in Iran will certainly be reflected on the fate of Syria, sooner or later, given the depth of the direct and indirect Iranian involvement in Syria. Economic sanctions restrain the hands of hardliners, which benefited from the temporary lifting of some sanctions, but which will now suffer seriously. These extremist forces have wagered -- believing themselves to be shrewd and cunning -- on moderate forces in nuclear negotiations, because their success would lead to lifting the sanctions. The hardliners insisted on opposing the gradual lifting of sanctions, because they are the biggest beneficiaries of the direct lifting of sanctions, as this would put money immediately in their hands. In turn this would allow them to press ahead with their policies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, while they can also use this to bully the moderate forces.

For this reason, the moderate faction may seem like it is the bigger loser in the resulting non-success of the nuclear negotiations. But in reality, it is the hardliners that have lost the most, because the fact that the sanctions have not been lifted contributed to thwarting their regional projects and headed off their plans to turn against the moderates after sanctions are lifted on the Islamic Republic.

This situation may lead to more conciliatory policies on the part of Tehran, so as not to get involved further in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, or Lebanon, especially as ISIS has entered the frayed, and defeating it inevitably requires the participation of Sunni forces. Oil prices also play a role in making Iranian policies more conciliatory, out of necessity, because expansion is expensive, financially and materially, and because the Iranian interior is suffering economically.

Perhaps Lebanon can benefit from such conciliation, with an accord that would help Lebanon emerge out of the presidential vacuum in the next few months, probably more sooner than later. Iraq is undergoing an experiment in conciliation and accord, improving its relations with the Gulf without Iranian opposition. Yemen is a spot too large to be controlled by any of the actors, and therefore, Iranian hardliners will not be able to control Yemen even if this appears possible temporarily. As for Syria, it is an arena open to all possibilities.

President Barack Obama may be forced to move away a little from his policy of non-clarity, because he will not be able to win the war he declared against ISIS as long as he relies on mystery. This is what his outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told him, and this is what any sane person would insist upon before agreeing to lead the U.S. Department of Defense at this stage of President Obama's tenure.

Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi


Categories: Political News and Opinion

Walmart Black Friday Protests Hit Major Cities With Calls For '$15 And Full Time'

Huffington Post News - 3 hours 38 min ago

WASHINGTON -- Dirk Rasmussen had Friday off and could have slept in if he wanted to. Instead, the Maryland resident and Teamster rose early and drove to downtown Washington, eager to join a post-Thanksgiving protest against Walmart.

"Our local [union] president encouraged us to take part," said Rasmussen, 58, who works in a lumber and building-supply warehouse. "I raised eight children on a Teamsters benefit package and Teamsters wage. I'm a firm believer in collective bargaining, and I'm very concerned about the security of this next generation."

Black Friday may be most famous for doorbuster shopping deals, but among progressives it's becoming a regular holiday for labor demonstrations. Friday marked the third consecutive year of scattered but highly visible protests against Walmart. Demonstrators, along with an unknown number of Walmart strikers, are calling for better pay and scheduling practices from the world's largest retailer.

On Thursday and Friday, photos on Twitter tagged with #walmartstrikers showed sizable protests in D.C., Pittsburgh, Northern New Jersey, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Calif., and St. Paul, Minn., among other areas. The protests were led by OUR Walmart, a union-backed worker group, alongside community and labor groups in different cities.

100+ stand in solidarity w #WalmartStrikers on thanksgiving in DC

-- DC Jobs With Justice (@DCJWJ) November 28, 2014

Dan Schlademan, campaign director of Making Change at Walmart, a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said on a call with reporters Friday that he expects the number of strikers to be in the hundreds by the end of the day, though the group could not provide a specific number of workers who'd submitted strike notices to their bosses.

"All the signs that we're seeing is that this is going to be the biggest day ever," Schlademan said.

Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Walmart, told HuffPost that the retailer was more concerned with serving its customers than with protests it views as union stunts. According to Buchanan, more than 22 million shoppers came to Walmart stores on Thanksgiving alone this year.

"We're really focused on our customers," Buchanan said. "We've got millions of customers coming in [on Thanksgiving] and Friday, and we're making sure they have a safe and exciting shopping experience."

In D.C., a crowd estimated at 200 to 400 people assembled outside the Walmart store on H Street Northwest, calling on the retailer to commit to "$15 and full time" -- a wage of $15 per hour, the same rate demanded by fast-food strikers, and a full-time schedule for those who want it. One of OUR Walmart's top criticisms of the retailer is that part-time workers don't get enough hours.

The protest was large enough to draw the D.C. police, who stood at the store's doors and dispersed the crowd after about an hour.

Melinda Gaino, an employee at the store, said she would be missing three shifts this week while on strike. Gaino took part in a sit-down strike on Wednesday inside the H Street store, where she and other protesters sat on the floor with tape over their mouths, calling on Walmart to end what they called the silencing of workers.

Gaino, a 45-year-old mother of four, said she joined OUR Walmart in August out of concern with some of the challenges faced by her colleagues. Many workers, she said, don't get enough hours to support their families.

"This has given me more confidence," Gaino, who earns $9.90 per hour, said of going on strike. "I said I've come this far, so I may as well go all in."

Correction: This item originally misstated the number of Walmart shoppers on Thanksgiving.

Nice of @walmart to set up a lovely tableau for #WalmartStrikers! Roll back? Fight back! #BlackFridayWOA

-- Jess Banks (@ProfBanks) November 28, 2014

Categories: Political News and Opinion

#BlackoutBlackFriday: A National Call To Boycott Black Friday For Ferguson And Beyond

Huffington Post News - 3 hours 52 min ago

Protests in Ferguson, Missouri, have spread nationwide in the past few days, and activists are continuing to speak out against injustice as they plan another peaceful protest -- only this time, it's targeted at Black Friday.

People nationwide are actively participating in the movement. In California, one protest even led to a temporary shutdown of the West Oakland BART train station as demonstrators forced commuters to find alternative routes of travel.

The mission, which is identified and spread online through #BlackoutBlackFriday and #NotOneDime, aims to boycott large retailers on one of the country's biggest shopping days of the year. In doing so, protesters aim to take a stand in the fight for economic freedom and equal human rights.

Blackout For Human Rights, the organization at the helm of the nationwide effort, is composed of a network of artists, activists, filmmakers and lawyers who fight to address inequalities and injustice in America.

"In the wake of #Ferguson, it's become painfully clear that people of color, and Black people in particular, are still unjustly targeted by law enforcement and the criminal justice system," reads a statement on

The group was created in October by Ryan Coogler, the director of the 2013 award-winning film "Fruitvale Station." The film told the story of Oscar Grant, an Oakland, California, teenager who was shot on New Year's Day 2009 by police officers at a Bay Area train station and whose death sparked immediate outrage from the community.

"The lack of indictment in the deaths of Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO, John Crawford III of Ohio, and many, many more victims of police deaths are unacceptable in this modern society. To that end, we will cease spending money on American retail corporations until a change is made," the website continues.

The hashtag #BlackoutBlackFriday has populated online as the movement is quickly gaining steam. Among some of the more notable names who have actively spread awareness of the campaign online are business mogul Russell Simmons, actor Jesse Williams and TV personality Niecy Nash.

Many users have also changed their profile pictures on various social media accounts to all-black images as they stand in solidarity with the movement's mission.

Together we can stand up + spark change. Join @UnitedBlackout for #BlackoutBlackFriday: RT!

-- Russell Simmons (@UncleRUSH) November 25, 2014

11/28 is an exercise in economic discipline & leverage. Sit down & be counted. #BlackoutBlackFriday @UnitedBlackout

-- jesseWilliams. (@iJesseWilliams) November 11, 2014


-- Niecy Nash (@NiecyNash) November 28, 2014

"We ask those who stand with Ferguson, victims of police brutality and us to refrain from shopping on Black Friday and participate in a nationwide day of action and activism," it says on the Blackout For Human Rights website. "Our lives are joined by the money we spend as consumers."

#NotOneDime is another hashtag that was founded under a similar mission. It is an online campaign created by Rahiel Tesfamariam, a social activist and the founder of online lifestyle publication Urban Cusp.

Tesfamariam created a meme including #NotOneDime and sent her message to her magazine's large following, gaining traction almost immediately, reports The Daily Dot.

"African-Americans are a mass consumer force," Tesfamariam said. "In a lot of ways we drive the economy and we drive pop culture, but we don't own it or manage it."

This is one way, Tesfamariam says, that black consumers are able to show the influence of their dollar.

According to a 2013 Nielsen study, African-American consumers have a buying power of more than $1 trillion.

In having such a large influence and being a driving force in the U.S. economy, both Tesfamariam and Blackout For Human Rights echo the underlying message of their mission: If America values their dollar, it should value their lives.

"The US economy depends on our shopping, especially during the holiday season. But the lives of our brothers and sisters are worth more than the dollars we can save on holiday gifts," the activist organization says. "Together, we can make a historic stand against police brutality and spark change."

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Bombs, Gunfire Kill At Least 35 At Crowded Mosque In Nigeria

Huffington Post News - 3 hours 54 min ago

By Nnekule Ikemfuna

KANO, Nigeria, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Gunmen set off three bombs and opened fire on worshippers at the central mosque in north Nigeria's biggest city Kano, killing at least 35 people on Friday, witnesses and police said, in an attack that bore the hallmarks of Islamist Boko Haram militants.

"These people have bombed the mosque. I am face to face with people screaming," said Chijjani Usman, a local reporter who had gone to the mosque in the old city to pray.

The mosque is next to the palace of the emir of Kano, the second highest Islamic authority in Africa's most populous country, although the emir himself, former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi, was not present.

No one immediately claimed responsibility but suspicion fell on Boko Haram, a Sunni jihadist movement fighting to revive a medieval Islamic caliphate in the region.

Boko Haram regards the traditional Islamic religious authorities in Nigeria with disdain, considering them a corrupt, self-serving elite that is too close to the secular government.

The insurgents have killed thousands in gun and bomb attacks on churches, schools, police stations, military bases, government buildings and mosques that do not share their radical Islamist ideology.

At least 35 people died on Friday, deputy police commissioner Sanusi N. Lemo told reporters in Kano.

"Three bombs were planted in the courtyard to the mosque and they went off simultaneously," a security source who declined to be named said.

"After multiple explosions, they also opened fire. I cannot tell you the casualties because we all ran away," added a member of staff at the palace.

Angry youths blocked the mosque's gates to police, who had to disperse them with tear gas to gain entry.


The insurgency has forced more than one million people to flee during its campaign focused on Nigeria's northeast, the Red Cross told reporters on Friday, an increase on a September U.N. refugee agency estimate of 700,000.

Islamic leaders sometimes shy away from direct criticism of Boko Haram for fear of reprisals. But Kano's emir Sanusi, angered by atrocities such as the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok in April, has been increasingly vocal.

He was quoted in the local press as calling on Nigerians this month to defend themselves against Boko Haram. During a broadcast recitation of the Koran he was reported to have said:

"These people, when they attack towns, they kill boys and enslave girls. People must stand resolute ... They should acquire what they can to defend themselves. People must not wait for soldiers to protect them."

Persistent insecurity is dogging President Goodluck Jonathan's campaign for re-election to a second term in February 2015. (Additional reporting by Julia Payne, Isaac Abrak and Abraham Terngu in Abuja; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Categories: Political News and Opinion

The Obamas Welcome The Official White House Christmas Tree

Huffington Post News - 4 hours 4 sec ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the White House now that the official tree has arrived.

A horse-drawn wagon hauled the 20-foot white fir up the driveway to the North Portico for inspection on Friday morning. Receiving the tree were first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha and family dogs Bo and Sunny. The family circled the tree, smelled it and conferred before the first lady said, "Thumbs-up. It's a go. We're taking the tree."

Malia, holding Bo's leash, said of the tree: "It's great. It's big."

It's tradition for the first lady to preside over the tree delivery on the morning after Thanksgiving.

Odds are slim to none that it would ever be rejected. The tree is chosen weeks in advance at the farm that wins the National Christmas Tree Association contest. The winner has presented the official White House tree since 1966.

In late September, a group of White House staffers including the chief usher, groundskeeper and chief horticulturist traveled to the Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, to search for a tree they agreed is perfect enough to stand in the Blue Room, albeit tethered to its ceiling, as the main attraction throughout the White House holiday season. The Blue Room tree cannot be taller than 18 ½ feet, so this tree will be trimmed to fit.

The farm, run by Chris Botek, a second-generation Christmas tree farmer, also provided the official White House tree in 2010 and 2006.

The delivery kicks off an intense few days of round-the-clock tree trimming, wreath laying and other decorating by an army of volunteers who help turn the White House into a winter wonderland. Many of the decorations honor military families, a group that Mrs. Obama is trying to support through a nationwide initiative.

She has invited military families to the White House for a first look at the decorations on Wednesday.


Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter:

Categories: Political News and Opinion

As Bricks and Clicks Merge, Geeks Are Discovering Politics

Huffington Post News - 4 hours 8 min ago

As with the first industrial revolution, the merger of Clicks and Bricks forces us to ask: Which laws need to be updated, which are just irrelevant, and which are barriers to entry created by special interests? Best placed to help our internet billionaires contribute to this important project are -- politicians, civil servants, lobbyists and other political hangers-on, looking for lucrative work.

America's statutes, policies and regulations (Laws) are designed for a non-digital world -- a world where a taxi was something you hailed on the street, not by clicking a smartphone app. The world of Bricks (i.e., the older traditional economy) and Clicks (i.e, the newer tech-fueled economy) are merging. With this merger, we are forced to examine our existing Laws (a point also made by Fareed Zakaria). As companies scramble to lobby the government for the most favorable results, political types and high powered lobbyists will be in great demand (e.g., David Plouffe -- a key strategist behind President Obama's two presidential wins -- recently joined Uber).

Originally, computers (e.g., the IBM 700/7000 series circa 1952 ) had little direct interaction with the world of Bricks. They were used for: artillery trajectory tables, payroll and accounting, and similar behind-the-scenes work. The machines took up entire rooms, and operated in batch mode(1).

Moore's law (computer processing power doubles every 18-36 months) has proved unrelenting. As processing costs decline exponentially and other technologies advance, the worlds of Bricks and Clicks are merging.

Cabs have existed for centuries -- London has had taxi service since 1654. And renting out a spare room has been happening for centuries. What has changed -- and the impact is dramatic -- is the decline in transaction costs and the resulting increase in market efficiency brought about by adding the world of Clicks to the world of Bricks. This has triggered the rise of the sharing economy, among many other manifestations.

Innovations -- such as, Uber's uniting dynamic pricing, smartphones, GPS, stored billing information, a two way rating system (you rate the driver and the driver rates you) and much else -- make the new economy a very efficient system for transacting business, thereby resulting in more business activity.

But merging Clicks with Bricks creates friction with old Laws from the pre-Click world, which can be categorized as:

  1. Laws that remain necessary, in some form, in our digital era: For example, most cities have auto inspection and safety rules for vehicles, particularly for vehicles that carry paying passengers. The safety concerns are the same, whether the passenger is picked up by Lyft, Uber or a traditional car/taxi service. These Laws served a legitimate purpose prior to the merging of Clicks and Bricks, and that purpose remains applicable, even in the digital age.

  2. Laws that are obsolete in the digital era: As an example, in a different time, when horses were the major mode of urban transportation, all sorts of Laws were created specifically for an era of horse traffic. Most of these are now irrelevant, or have been repealed. But those remaining from that era must be re-examined (and eliminated or revised) if unnecessary or detrimental to new needs and goals.

  3. Laws that never had any good reason to exist, but were the result of special interests creating barriers to entry, as discussed in more detail below.

As Adam Smith said:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

One way for businesses to conspire against the public is to have government create artificial barriers to entry, and thereby generate unearned profits for politically connected businesses.

For example, the number of yellow taxis allowed on the streets of NYC at any one time is restricted to 13,437. No matter how great the demand, the capacity of the streets, the time of year, or the strength or weakness of the NYC economy -- only 13,437 yellow cabs are allowed. The number 13,437 doesn't reflect a perfect balance of the laws of supply and demand -- demand for the privilege of driving a yellow cab far outstrips the supply. The current price for a medallion (i.e., the right to have a yellow taxi on the streets of NYC) -- about $1 million -- reflects this high demand.

NYC medallion owners are a concentrated special interest group, with a financial interest in limiting the issuance of new medallions. The general public also has an interest in the taxi industry -- more and better service -- but for most people, this isn't their highest priority. For medallion owners, however, the taxi medallion is of utmost importance since it represents their very livelihood. Medallion owners, therefore, can have an outsized influence on this one narrow issue. But the rise of Uber and similar services means we suddenly have new and powerful interests at the table, challenging old rules.

This isn't just about the taxi industry. This challenge will occur across the entire economy. One benefit of this merging of Bricks and Clicks is a "housecleaning" of our Laws. As significant new participants emerge, they'll seek to remove government barriers that hinder their business models. However, these new competitors will behave as Adam Smith predicted, and attempt to create new barriers to trade benefitting their own interests. Arguably this process has already begun - newcomer Uber was recently accused of encouraging taxi regulations that would favor its business model, and make it more difficult for new entrants. Capitalism is innovative and efficient, but not always admirable.

My one prediction: For both well-funded new competitors (trying to revise or create Laws that benefit their interests), and old form competitors (with tremendous incentives to protect their turf), civil servants, politicians, lobbyists and others of their ilk will be in high demand!

(1) In this period computer programs were typed on punch cards and left to run overnight at a data center; by the way, punch cards were still in use as late as the mid-1980s).

An earlier version of this blog appeared as:
Strauss, Steven. "Regulation for Bricks, Clicks, and the Sharing Economy." Aspen Journal of Ideas. Aspen Institute, Nov. 2014. Web.

Steven Strauss is the John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School and an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Legacy of Racial Subjugation: Denying the Right to Vote

Huffington Post News - 4 hours 33 min ago

During slavery, when African slaves and their descendants were kept like cattle, and denied every and all rights of citizens, they were nonetheless counted as part of the population to enhance the electoral college votes of Southern states as well as to increase the number of representatives to which they were entitled in Congress. This was the infamous three-fifths rule, in which each slave was counted as three-fifths of a person in determining the amount of political representation Southern states enjoyed. This despite the fact that in 1857, in the Dred Scott case, the only case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ever considered the constitutionality of slavery, it upheld it, ruling that blacks had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect." African-Americans as a matter of our highest law were in fact no more citizens than cattle. Yet they were counted as people, or at least as three-fifths of a person, in order to increase the population of the slave states and enhance those states' political power in Congress and in presidential elections. That dreadful principle is still reflected today in felony disenfranchisement laws. More about that later. But first some contextual history.

A few years after the Dred Scott ruling, the Civil War began, and shortly after it was over, Congress passed, and the states ratified, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These Amendments were intended to herald a new dawn of equal citizenship for former slaves. It didn't work out that way.

The 13th Amendment prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime. This exception turns out to be significant, because in the aftermath of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, the criminal law and race-targeted prosecutions became an instrument of racial subjugation and involuntary servitude, literally a replacement system for slavery. Vagrancy, domestic violence and vague offenses like "moral turpitude," were, for example, widely used but selectively enforced against newly-freed slaves, and became the basis of imprisonment, chain gangs and a new regime of virtual slavery engulfing many so-called "freedmen."

The 14th Amendment seemed to enforce the first 10 on state and local governments, thereby endowing citizens, including the newly-freed slaves, with all the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, against state governments. But in 1873, the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated those protections, leaving states free to violate the Bill of Rights at their discretion, which they did for many decades, deep into the 20th century, until the Supreme Court, slowly and incrementally, began to revitalize the 14th Amendment, utilizing it, as many believe it was originally intended, to apply the Bill of Rights to state and local governmental acts. But after 1873, and for nearly another century, the states of the old Confederacy were free to strip former slaves of nearly all of the rights most Americans consider as their birthright. The Black Codes during this era defined blacks as anyone having a single black ancestor, no matter how distant; employment was required in order to avoid a criminal charge of vagrancy but virtually all forms of employment except agricultural or domestic work at serf-like wages were legally barred to former slaves, in effect re-creating peonage as a replacement system for slavery, if not outright conscription into chain gangs of people convicted of vagrancy and other crimes. Former slaves were also prohibited from learning to read or write, and were barred from meeting or assembling outside of the presence of a white person's supervision. Strict separation of all public facilities was required by law. These kind of laws became widespread, and violating them led to public whipping and other punishments reminiscent of slavery. The Black Codes were the predicate for what came to be known as Jim Crow laws, which lasted until the mid-1960s.

The 15th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote without regard to race, skin color or former condition of servitude. But as with the 13th and 14th Amendments, the South found a way around that, aided by a complicit Supreme Court. By the late 19th century, and into the early 20th, the Supreme Court interpreted the guarantee of the 15th Amendment very narrowly, and the South marched through the opening. They passed a range of restrictions on the right to vote, apparently race-neutral, but selectively enforced against blacks, and often, as a practical matter, applying differentially to blacks. These restrictions included poll taxes and bogus literacy tests (which whites were usually exempt from under so-called grandfather clauses, under which you weren't subject to those restrictions if your grandfather wasn't!). Literally, seven Southern states passed laws between 1895 and 1910 exempting anyone from these barriers, including many poor and illiterate whites, who had voted before 1866 or 1867. Since the 15th Amendment giving former slaves the right to vote didn't become law until 1870, these barriers operated to exclude only blacks. Another exclusionary device was the "white primary," a fiction that construed primary elections as private affairs, and barred blacks from voting in them. Since throughout the South, elections were effectively a one-party affair, the nominating primary was the only election that mattered, and blacks were excluded. These devices in effect nullified the apparent guarantees of the 15th Amendment, and were augmented by terrorism, including beatings and killings, against blacks who persisted in trying to vote. With one exception, these mechanisms were abolished, either by the Supreme Court (for example the white primaries, struck down in 1944) or more generally by the landmark civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s. That one exception, which persists to this day, and now bars millions of blacks from voting -- one of every 13 black adults! -- is felony disenfranchisement.

Felony disenfranchisement was an invention of the Southern states, designed to bar blacks from the right to vote, like the other mechanisms described above. No other Western democracy uses it (except in some cases for election fraud convictions) and it has its roots in this country in the post-Civil War period when the Black Codes, Jim Crow laws and enabling Supreme Court decisions combined to create a replacement system of separation and subjugation based on skin color once slavery had been abolished. The replacement system was explicitly designed to force blacks into penurious servitude, and deny them all basic rights of citizenship.

From the start, the criminal law was used to target blacks, get them into prisons, subject them there to involuntary servitude (which, remember, was permitted by the 13th Amendment), and when they got out, if they got out, deny them the right to vote. Eventually, such laws spread to all but a very few states, and remained intact even as Supreme Court decisions and the civil rights laws of the mid- to late sixties swept away the legal underpinnings of most of the other Jim Crow laws. But felony disenfranchisement laws remained.

For a long time, although these laws denied many individuals the right to vote, they didn't have much large-scale effect because as late as 1968, there were fewer than 200,000 people in state and federal prisons for all crimes. Then, in 1968, something happened. 1968 marked the culmination of the civil rights movement. In 1964, the Civil Right Act was passed, outlawing skin-color discrimination in employment and public accommodations like hotels, restaurants, swimming pools, theaters, sports stadiums,water fountains, parks and toilets. A year later, the Voting Rights Act passed, outlawing racial discrimination in voting, and finally abolishing most of the exclusionary devices like literacy tests. (Poll taxes were abolished in 1964 by the 24th Amendment for federal elections and by the Supreme Court in 1966 for state elections.) And in 1968, the Fair Housing Act was passed, outlawing racial discrimination in the rental, sale and purchase of housing. Thus by 1968, the legal infrastructure of Jim Crow laws was destroyed and a new legal infrastructure of civil rights enforcement constructed. Those opposed to discrimination, separation and subjugation based on skin color celebrated, as their like had celebrated after the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments approximately a century earlier. But just as the passage of those Amendments were quickly followed by a replacement system designed to maintain skin-color subjugation, so now, swiftly following the legal civil rights revolution of the 1960s, a new strategy of subjugation emerged. And once again, as was the case in the late 19th century, the criminal law was a key mechanism. Only this time, it wasn't explicitly racial, or didn't seem to be. And like water coming very slowly to a boil, for a long time few saw what was happening, or understood why. But consider:

1. 1968 marks the culmination of the civil rights movement; Jim Crow as a replacement system for slavery, by law in the South and by custom in the North, is destroyed legally, and a legal infrastructure of civil rights is established instead.

2. At that time, there are fewer than 200,000 people in federal and state prisons combined, for all crimes.

3. That number begins to grow, and keeps growing, first slowly, then more rapidly, then explosively, until by the end of the 20th century and the early years of this century, there are over 1.6 million people in state and federal prisons, and more than another 700,000 in local jails, making about 2.4 million people behind bars -- one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. (In the past few years, that number decreased slightly, but not materially; however in the past year it began to creep up again.)

4. During this time of explosive growth in the prison population, the proportion of blacks in prison compared to whites doubles. Doubles!

5. What caused this explosive growth of incarceration, and the doubling of the proportion of blacks who were imprisoned?

During these years, the single most frequent reason for the explosion of incarceration was not rape, or assault, or homicide or kidnapping or robbery or burglary but rather non-violent drug offenses, mostly possession or small-time buying and selling. By the end of the 20th century, these constituted 39% of all the crimes for which people were imprisoned -- close to two-fifths! Few big time drug marketers were among these numbers; modern-day Al Capones were rare among the exploding prison population. Rather, it was mostly small people, caught up in the government's drug war and trapped by the epidemic of brutal mandatory sentences that began in 1973 with the Rockefeller drug law in New York, and quickly spread to many, perhaps most, other states. And although about 80% of those who used prohibited drugs were white, blacks and Latinos constituted about 80% of those incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. According to government statistics, only about 13% of monthly drug users were black -- just about their proportion of the population -- but 35% of those arrested for it were black, 55% of those convicted for it were black, and between two-thirds and three-quarters of those imprisoned for it were black.

6. The electoral consequences of this explosion of race-targeted felony convictions and imprisonment has been startling. Before 1968, when fewer than 200,000 people were in state and federal prisons for all crimes, the number of people barred from voting by felony disenfranchisement laws was modest. But by the end of the 20th century, skyrocketing felony convictions, driven primarily by non-violent drug offenses disproportionately targeting blacks and Latinos, led directly to similarly skyrocketing numbers of people barred from voting. Today, the number of people barred from voting by felony disenfranchisement laws is 5.85 million. And the proportion of African-Americans among those millions barred from voting has similarly skyrocketed, because they have been the ones targeted, arrested, convicted and imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses. Today, one of every 13 black Americans is barred from voting as a result of felony disenfranchisement laws. This has been especially, although not uniquely, true in the states of the old Confederacy, where felony disenfranchisement laws were born and nurtured after the Civil War as one way among many to avoid the commands of the then-new 15th Amendment that guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race or color. And it is the only one of those 19th-century inventions that survived the civil rights movement and its transformative laws in the mid-1960s. To this day, the highest proportions of African-American citizens so barred from voting are in Southern states -- 23.3% in Florida, 22.3% in Kentucky, 20.4% in Virginia, 18.9% in Tennessee, 15% in Alabama, and 13.9% in Mississippi. When you consider that blacks who vote vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and when you consider how close recent elections for the Senate and for Governor have been in these states, it is no wonder that these states have remained solidly in the column that the media have dubbed "red states."

7. The final outrage about all this is that such people, though barred from voting, are counted for the purpose of determining the state's electoral votes and numbers of representatives in Congress and state legislatures. Thus, like the infamous three-fifths compromise during the days of slavery, which counted slaves for the purposes of representation while denying them citizenship, voters not allowed to vote by felony disenfranchisement laws enhance the political representation of the states banning them. How this can be tolerated by anyone claiming we are a representative democracy has always escaped me.

So why did this happen, and what does it mean? The origins of drug prohibition have long been known to have been racially inspired. Laudanum was a wildly popular pain medication containing 10% opium dissolved in alcohol at the turn of the 20th century, and heroin, another opiate derivative was originally marketed, like its cousin aspirin, by the Bayer company. Most users were white. But when Chinese immigrants grew in number, helping to build the railroads that opened up the west, lurid tales of opium dens where Chinese men used opium to prey sexually on helpless white women, led to the first bans on opiates. And although the active ingredient in Coca-Cola was cocaine, lurid tales of cocaine-crazed Negroes sexually exploiting white women and being rendered invulnerable to bullets by the drug led to bans and to the cocaine in Coca-Cola being replaced by caffeine. And the first bans of marijuana were driven by prejudicial fears of Mexicans. But despite these origins, and drug prohibition existing since 1915, as late as 1968 relatively few people were imprisoned for possessing such drugs. But something happened in 1968. What happened was the culmination of the civil rights movement, as reflected in the civil rights legislation of the mid-60s, and especially the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was very similar to the era after the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, when it appeared as if a new dawn of equal citizenship rights for African-Americans had arisen. But just as the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws arose shortly after the post-Civil War Amendments as a replacement system after slavery for the continued separation and subjugation of African-Americans, so the War on Drugs, initially announced by President Nixon shortly after his election in 1968, and kick-started again in 1980 by President Reagan, and tolerated and continued by a succession of Democratic presidents, became, and was perhaps intended, as a replacement system of separation and subjugation of African-Americans in the wake of the destruction of the legal infrastructure of Jim Crow by the civil rights laws of 1964, 1965 and 1968.

Certainly that has been the effect of the War on Drugs. But something revealed in 1994 suggests it may have been intended, just as felon disenfranchisement laws were intended in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to subjugate blacks and frustrate new civil rights laws. In 1994, the diaries and tapes of H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, were published. In them, there appears the following entry:

Referring to the president as "P," Haldeman writes:

"P emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this without appearing to."

Shortly thereafter, Nixon declared the War on Drugs.

For anyone who doubts that the War on Drugs is and has always been a civil rights issue, one need look no further than the explosion of arrests and incarceration it spawned; the doubling of the proportion of blacks among those arrested and incarcerated (despite blacks using drugs no more frequently per capita than whites); and the vast numbers of blacks excluded from the right to vote by felony disenfranchisement laws, originally invented to circumvent the 15th Amendment and hibernating like a dormant virus in our body politic until the War on Drugs provided fertile ground for it to become a way around the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Slavery was America's original sin; it poisoned the blood and infected the bones of our polity, and that poison remains, still doing its sinful work. If we believe what we were taught in school about America as the land of freedom and equal opportunity, about all of us -- all of us -- being equally endowed with inalienable rights, about the purpose of government, as declared in the Declaration of Independence, being to secure those rights, then we have a lot of work still to do. We remain very far from a post-racial country.

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