An entirely new kind of law firm has opened up in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Its stated mission is to take the side of average working people against the big dogs: the corporate polluters, discriminatory employers and unsafe manufacturers whose policies, behaviors, products and activities make life difficult for the rest of us. The new, high-powered public interest law firm specializes in fighting for beleaguered, regular working-class clients and on the way getting court rulings that will benefit entire communities. The group, Advocates for Justice Chartered Attorneys (AFJ), is made up of activist-minded attorneys who have extensive experience litigating against big corporations in specialty areas like labor and employment, consumer rights, environmental justice and civil rights. “Our mission is to ensure that high-quality legal representation is not limited to the wealthy, but is available to those who need it most. We represent regular, working people who suffer the bulk of our country’s legal problems,” says Sharon Y. Eubanks, one of the firm’s founding attorneys. Ms. Eubanks is an example of the high caliber of attorneys at AFJ — she served as lead counsel for the United States in the largest civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) enforcement action ever filed, United States v. Philip Morris USA, et al., also known as the federal tobacco litigation. Other attorneys at AFJ are Arthur Z. Schwartz, Cate Edwards, Richard Soto and Tracey Kiernan. AFJ’s website is afjlaw.com. In one of the firm’s current cases, AFJ is representing 170 parents and community members in a civil rights action against a school district in New York. The suit alleges that the school district violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by intentionally segregating white students into private schools, while cutting funds to the primarily black and Hispanic student population of the public schools. AFJ Law in D.C. is located at 11 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036. The group also has an office on Broadway in New York City. If you need help or want a consultation, contact information is on the firms’ web site.
In a Sunday, August 19 interview on the “Jaco Report” on St. Louis’ Fox Channel, House Rep. Todd Akin, the tea party Republican running against incumbent Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, was asked whether he would support a woman’s right to have an abortion in the case of rape. Referring to pregnancy resulting from rape, Akin responded, “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape,” he continued, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” Akin’s outrageous statement revealed not only his extreme lack of knowledge about basic human biology, but also an incredibly callous attitude towards women. His comments immediately drew outrage from a national audience. Akin tried to take back his comments shortly after the interview by issuing a statement that said, in part, “In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.” Akin’s biosketch on his campaign website says he has an engineering degree and a Master of Divinity Degree from a theological seminary, and his children are home-schooled. His campaign website credits solely God for helping him win his primary election. Akin did not explain in the interview what he believes constitutes a “legitimate rape.” Rep. Akin teamed up with House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) last year to try to redefine the term “rape” in a federal bill. The bill sought to change the term “rape” to “forcible rape” in a bill regarding Medicaid funding, to try to further restrict women’s access to abortions in the event they are raped.
This article was updated at 6:56 p.m. MDT, August 20, 2012
Rush Limbaugh called her “brilliant.” The Tea Party made a movie about her. Ron Paul says she “tells the truth” and GOP vice presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan once said that “more than anyone else, she explained the morality of capitalism and the morality of individualism” to him and inspired him to run for office. The woman about whom all these hard right wingers gush is Russian immigrant Ayn Rand, a political philosopher and novelist whose books and writings promote objectivism, a philosophy that holds that people should elevate their own self-benefit over all else. Rand believed that the there is no obligation whatsoever to care for your fellow man, and that the only real moral imperative is pursuit of your own happiness and self-interest, even at a high cost to others. Rand believed that people should be unconcerned with those who are less fortunate. But the politicians and right wingers who extoll the virtues of Rand and he extraordinarily hard individualist philosophy also ignore the fact that she was an atheist who scorned churches and the concept of God. “I am against God,” she once stated. “I don’t approve of religion. It is a sign of psychological weakness…I regard it as evil.” Some even regarded Rand as a psychopath after she praised serial murderer William Edward Hickman as her ideal man and a “superman” who exemplified her philosophy of ultimate self-centeredness. In 1927, Hickman kidnapped and gruesomely dismembered a 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker, returning her torso to her parents with her eyes wired open after he extorted $1,500 in ransom from the child’s father.
1. If you use something, put it back where you got it.
2. If you get something dirty, clean it.
3. If you open it, close it when you are done.
4. Always arrive at the time you promised to be somewhere.
5. Say at least two nice things to someone before you criticize them.
6. Use initiative. Look around, anticipate what needs to be done, and then do it.
7. Do tasks to the best of your ability, not just to get them over with. People can tell the difference.
8. Take care of things that belong to you.
9. Take care of yourself. It’s a gift to others who care about you.
10. Occasionally leave the computer screen or put down the newspaper and interact with other human beings in your presence.
11. Do more than the minimum you need to do just to get by.
12. If you have a dog, walk and play with him every day.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) has formally asked (pdf) to the city of Frankenmuth, Michigan to remove a 55-foot tall Christian cross from a public park. The cross was erected in a 1976 ceremony attended by then-Mayor of Frankenmuth Elmer Simon, who, at the dedication ceremony, said that “The simple cross of Christ assures us that life does not end with death. From our local heritage, this Christian symbol suggests that we are also a community under Christ.” More recently, the City has referred to the cross as “a tribute to the religious commitment of the Frankenmuth community.” AU points out that the display of a Christian cross in a taxpayer-supported public park is an unlawful endorsement of Christianity. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government from promoting one religion above all others, and from promoting religion over non-religion, the group says, citing legal precedent for the symbol’s removal. AU suggested the City remove the cross to private land, and wrote, “Failure to remove the cross will expose the City to a significant risk of litigation.” AU requested a response from the City within 30 days. Frankenmuth is a city of about 5,000 nicknamed “Little Bavaria” that trades on its Bavarian-themed, timber-framed architecture, shops, breweries and German culture.
A University of California, Berkeley physics professor and longstanding critic of prevailing global warming science has reversed course and now attributes climate change directly to greenhouse gases produced by human-related activities. Professor Richard A. Muller, a climate change skeptic in the past, has taken funding from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation named after billionaire Charles G. Koch, owner of the big petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries and one of the most prolific funders of climate change denial and misinformation on Earth. Muller says a research project he undertook actually showed “that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover,” he says, “it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” Muller further concludes that “Humans are entirely the cause” of global warming. He calls his stance a “total turnaround” from the way he used to think. Muller authored an opinion piece in the Saturday, July 28 issue of the New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic.”
Source: Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2012
Guest post by Ken Gordon, former Majority Leader of the Colorado Senate
It would take you less than an hour to drive from Columbine High School to the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora. Both venues are in the suburbs of Denver and subject to the laws created by the Colorado Legislature.
Few politicians have mentioned laws when talking about the shooting in Aurora. The following story will help explain this reluctance.
I was the Minority Leader in the Colorado House when the Columbine shooting occurred.
Most of the guns used at Columbine were bought at the Tanner Gun Show in Adams County. Robyn Anderson, a friend of the Columbine shooters, Harris and Klebold, went with them to the show, and helped them buy the guns. She testified in a House hearing that they purposefully bought guns at tables that were not federally licensed dealers, because they did not want to give their names and addresses for a background check.
Following Columbine, I sponsored the legislation to require background checks for any purchase at a gun show. We referred to it as “closing the gun show loophole.”
Colorado’s first annual Secular Conference kicked off today in one of the most conservative and deeply religious areas of the state: Grand Junction. Mesa County, where the conference was held, is the second most conservative county in the state, after El Paso County (Colorado Springs), home of Focus on the Family and the Air Force Academy, with its iconic Cadet Chapel. About 120 people from around Colorado and many other states spent the day in the second floor ballroom of Colorado Mesa University’s Student Center discussing the future of the secular movement in Colorado and the U.S. The conference opened with a discussion involving the entire group about the goals secular citizens hope to accomplish by organizing and becoming a political force in Colorado. Attendees shared stories about the discrimination and stigma they have suffered as a result of their lack of religiosity. Several speakers pointed out that non-religious citizens now comprise fully 19 percent of the U.S. population, yet have little to no representation in government or policy matters. Kelly Damerow, Research and Advocacy Manager for the Secular Coalition for America, who traveled to the conference from Washington, D.C., discussed the threats that ongoing religious extremism pose, like attempts to restrict the types of health care that can legally be delivered, loopholes exempting religious people from having to comply with laws and regulations that govern the rest of society, and efforts to enact “personhood” amendments that elevate the rights of fetuses over the rights of the women carrying them. A new statewide secular lobbying group, the Colorado Secular Coalition, was officially created at the meeting, bringing a resounding round of applause from attendees. A speaker from the American Civil Liberties Union enlightened the crowd about how the 12 year-old Patriot Act has eroded citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Afternoon speakers gave attendees tips for creating new secular groups in their schools and hometowns. The conference will conclude tomorrow, on Sunday, after more talks, a tour of the Colorado National Monument and western Colorado’s wine country. The conference was organized by Humanists Doing Good, a secular group in Fruita, Colorado, a town of about 13,000 people located ten miles west of Grand Junction. The conference was free to all attendees, and will be an annual event.
Mesa County, Colorado County Commissioner Craig J. Meis epitomizes the self-important, small-town elected official. During his stint as County Commissioner, Meis has repeatedly broken the law and then used his elected position to pressure law enforcement officers to drop actions against him. In 2007, police showed up at Meis’s home in response to a loud party complaint. Meis dropped the names of prominent local Republican elected officials attending his party to pressure the officers to stop demanding he turn the music down. Then, in 2010, Colorado State Parks officer Craig Johnson issued Meis a $50 ticket at Mesa County’s Highline Lake State Recreation area for allowing his 14 year old son to operate a personal watercraft on the lake in violation of the law. In his report about the incident, Officer Johnson wrote that Meis repeatedly tried to use his elected position as a county commissioner to pressure him to reduce the ticket to a warning. According to the report, during the encounter Meis boasted repeatedly that he was good friends with the District Attorney. After Officer Johnson refused to reduce the ticket to a warning, Meis complained about him in an email to the director of the state Department of Natural Resources, saying officer Johnson exhibited a “lack of discretion” in issuing the ticket. Meis copied the email to a long list of other public officials. When asked about the incident, Meis claimed Officer Johnson lied about the statements he made during the incident. Meis then insisted on taking the ticket all the way to a jury trial, was found guilty and had to pay a $78 fine. Now, just this month, a Chaffee County Deputy ticketed Meis for lighting an open grill in a forested area during a highly-publicized, state-wide fire ban that came amid severe drought and extreme fire danger. After getting the ticket, Meis wrote an email to the Chaffee County Sheriff explaining that he was aware of the fire ban but didn’t understand what a fire ban “truly means.” He wrote that he is “getting educated on it daily.” Meis argued that the disposable charcoal grill he used was far too small to be troublesome and asked for “discretion” regarding the ticket.
Chaffee County Sheriff Pete Palmer emailed Meis back saying, “It’s not often I receive a request to have a ticket fixed, and yours is the first from a county commissioner.” Palmer pointed out that either Stage I or Stage II fire bans had been in effect for weeks, and the information had been posted publicly for over a month on the Chaffee County Sheriff’s website. At the time, Colorado’s Waldo Canyon fire — the most destructive wildfire in state history — was raging and had destroyed hundreds of homes, killed one person and caused over 30,000 people to have to evacuate their homes. Yet amid this disaster, Meis cavalierly lit an open fire, and then tried to avoid the legal consequences. Throughout his time in elected office Craig Meis has constantly shown he thinks his position as county commissioner puts him above the law. His behavior has been an embarrassment to Mesa County and caused the County added expense. Help us get Commissioner Meis to leave his position by adding your name to our petition, Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis: Resign.
RushOutOfMissoula.com, the grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off the air in Missoula, Montana, reports making “fabulous headway” this week in their effort. Six more advertisers have opted to pull their advertising from Limbaugh’s show on KGVO radio in just the last week, bringing the total of businesses shunning his show in Missoula to 41. “They made a good decision, but only because we made our voices heard,” said Dave Chrismon, who organized RushOutOfMissoula.com. Some of the remaining local advertisers include Adair Jewelers, Bagels on Broadway, The BBQ Pit and Big Sky Glass, Montana Republican Party/Denny Rehberg for Senate and Montana Pro Life Coalition. National advertisers include Allegiant Airlines, Blackjack Pizza, and MaxMuscle.
The family of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. has filed a $21 million civil rights lawsuit against the City White Plains, New York and the White Plains Police Department. Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., 68, was shot dead inside his own home in the early morning on November 19, 2011 by White Plains police after he accidentally set off his life aid medical alert pendant while sleeping. Police arrived at his apartment, but responded as though a crime was in progress instead of as if responding to potential medical emergency. The police knocked in Chamberlain’s door and demanded he open it. Chamberlain told the police he was okay, and didn’t need their help, but the police continued to pound on Chamberlain’s door, yelling racial slurs and demanding Chamberlain open the door. Afraid, Chamberlain refused. Police then broke down Chamberlain’s door, shot him with a taser, then fired beanbags at him. Finally, White Plains Police Officer Anthony Carelli shot Chamberlain dead. Police claimed Chamberlain tried to attack them with a knife. Video from a camera on the taser gun surfaced in May, showing police breaking down Chamberlain’s door and shooting him with the taser. Chamberlain is seen standing inside his apartment, shirtless and wearing boxer shorts. The family filed the lawsuit just under two months after a Westchester County grand jury refused to indict Police Officer Anthony Carelli for the shooting.
Source: Democracy Now! July 2, 2012
RushOutOfMissoula.com, the grassroots effort to push Rush Limbaugh off KGVO Radio in Missoula, Montana, announced this week that three more advertisers have walked away from Limbaugh’s show in the last week, bringing the total to advertisers who have ended their sponsorship of Limbaugh’s show on KGVO to 35. Dave Chrismon, organizer of RushOutOfMissoula, thanked supporters for “helping draw attention to this bully and his track record of nasty, personal attacks.” When RushOutOfMissoula first debuted on April 13, 2012, the Limbaugh Show in Missoula aired four public service announcements. By June 29th that number had jumped to 13 as the radio station struggled to fill gaps left by advertisers fleeing the show. Ads for local businesses dropped from 26 in April to 17 on June 29th. KGVO is still filling the same number of ad slots but is repeating many of the same ads frequently and running many more PSAs in place of paid ads. Adair Jewelers, Sunshine Motors, Trader Brothers, and H & H Meats are some of the local advertisers whose ads have run more than once in the same program. Adair Jewelers, whose owner denounced the RushOutOfMissoula effort as “blackmail,” has had as many as eight ads run in the same program. Businesses and nonprofit groups who have removed their advertising from Limbaugh’s show report they have continued to receive harassing phone calls from Rush supporters. To stop this, RushOutOfMissoula stopped listing these businesses on the site’s “Rush’s Advertisers” page, and changed to an “opt-in” policy where businesses will appear if they request it. The group will continue to keep records of advertisers who pull their ads as a result of efforts by RushOutOfMissoula.
A Republican legislator from Pennsylvania inadvertently confirmed what liberals have long suspected: that so-called “voter I.D.” laws are a political strategy to help Republicans win more elections. While speaking at a meeting before the Republican State Committee in Hershey, Pennsylvania on June 23, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai proudly listed the Republican Party’s accomplishments in the state while the party controlled both the governorship and the legislature. His list included enacting a “Castle Doctrine” act (a “shoot first” law like the one George Zimmerman claimed shielded him from prosecution after killing unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin earlier this year) and regulations that make it harder for women to obtain abortions. Then Turzia added, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania. Done.” Democrats pounced on Turzia’s statement as evidence showing that co-called “Voter ID” laws are really a strategy to suppress liberal votes and help put Republicans in office. Republicans have long argued that requiring citizens to show photo ID at the polls is necessary to maintain the integrity of elections, but opponents point out that voter fraud is an almost non-existent problem. In their practical implementation, voter ID laws have had the effect of wrongfully disenfranchising legitimate voters across the country, and making voting more difficult for members of discrete groups that tend to lean more Democratic, like city dwellers, students, minorities and the elderly.
The big biotechnology firm Syngenta is facing criminal charges for covering up a U.S. study that showed cows died after eating the company’s genetically-modified (GM) corn. The charges came after a long struggle by Gottfried Gloeckner, a German dairy farmer and former supporter of genetically-modified crops, agreed to participate in authorized field tests of “Bt176,” a corn variety manufactured by Syngenta that was genetically-modified to express an insect toxin and a gene that made the corn resistant to glufosinate herbicides. Gloeckner allowed the GM corn to be grown on his farm from 1997 to 2002, and fed the resulting corn to his dairy herd. By 2000, Gloeckner was feeding his cows exclusively Bt176 corn. Shortly after, several of Gloeckner’s cows became sick. Five died and others had decreased milk yields. Syngenta paid Gloeckner 40,000 euros as partial compensation for his losses and veterinary costs. Gloeckner brought a civil suit against Syngenta over the loss, but Syngenta refused to admit its GM corn could be in any way related to the illnesses and deaths of Gloeckner’s cows. The court dismissed the civil case and Gloeckner received no further payments from Syngenta, leaving him thousands of Euros in debt. Gloeckner stopped using the GM feed in 2002, but continued to lose cows. In 2009, Gloeckner discovered Syngenta had commissioned a study in the U.S. of its GM feed in 1996. In that study, four cows died within two days of eating the GM feed, and the study was abruptly ended.
Dell Computers became the latest company to drop its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing group behind the spread of voter suppression laws and “shoot first” laws like the one invoked by George Zimmerman, the man involved in the Trayvon Martin murder in Florida. Deborah Albers, Dell’s principal social strategies, wrote in a letter to ThinkProgress, that the company “will not be renewing our participation” in ALEC. Albers is based at Dell in Round Rock, Texas.
CleanSlateNow.org is a unique Colorado group that is trying to help get big money out of politics by supporting candidates who don’t take special interest PAC money. Currently, only two candidates running for state office in Colorado have made the unusual and admirable public decision to turn down any and all special interest money. They are Jovan Melton, a Democrat, running for a House seat in District 41 (Aurora), and Jeffrey Hare, a Republican, running for a House seat in District 48 (Weld County). The two are running in primaries that are mail-in ballot elections, and so far thousands of people who have gotten ballots have not yet turned them in. The deadline for getting ballots in is 7:00 pm on Tuesday, June 26. Both races are extremely close, and a few votes either way could make the difference. Voters get few chances to vote for candidates who reject corporate money, and they certainly shouldn’t squander this chance. CleanSlateNow.org urges people living in these districts to cast ballots as soon as possible for these two admirable candidates and make sure to get their ballots in on time.
Yesterday I stopped at a Natural Grocers market to pick up some ginger ale, and the store gave me a free copy of the June issue of a magazine called “Energy Times” with my purchase. As I glanced through it before throwing it out, I noticed it contained big ads for supplements that promised weight loss, “digestive perfection,” better blood circulation, additional energy and sexual enhancement. Page 12 had an article saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is “attacking health freedom.” Right next to the article was a prepaid, business-reply tear-out postcard with blazing red lettering screaming, “Don’t Let the FDA Take Your Vitamins Away! …Join the [National Health Alliance] and protect your health care rights.”
I follow much of what the FDA does, and I just didn’t buy the idea that the FDA was out to take away vitamins or infringe on my health care rights. But it got my curiosity up about how I ended up with this crazy magazine.
The wall of separation between church and state in the military has completely disappeared. A network of hard-line Christian chaplains and fundamentalist parachurch ministries that operate inside the military are using it as a fertile recruiting ground for coercing soldiers to become Christians. A video posted June 15, 2012 by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation contains actual footage of military chaplains saying young people who enter the military become “government-paid missionaries when they leave here.” The missionaries’ strategy? Pounce on soldiers with the gospel at the most difficult points in their training, when they are most vulnerable. Army Ranger School Chaplain Major Jeff Struecker explains,
“Army Ranger School puts the Ranger student in the absolute worst possible conditions. Most of them will go a couple of days with no food. Some of them have gone as long as three days without any sleep whatsoever. My goal has been to meet them when they are at their absolute worst, when they’re coldest and they’re most tired and the most hungry that they’re going to be, because the more difficult the circumstances [a person is in], the more receptive the average person becomes to issues of faith. Many of them are … confronted with the gospel for the first time with no distractions, and I think that’s part of the reason why a number of them will respond.”