A GENTLEMAN’S VIEW CHALLENGE TO PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT: A Platform for 2016 Presidential election;
If we continue to do things the same way, they most certainly won’t change…
This is the National Agenda Of The Progressive Party.
- Economic Justice: Prosperity should be accessible to everyone, not merely the few.
- Civil Rights: Every individual’s civil rights must be protected; discrimination and harassment based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or physical and developmental ability should be banned.
- Health Care: Every individual should have affordable, quality health care.
- Education: It is essential that we invest in quality public education for all.
- Environment: We must commit to restoring and protecting our environment.
- Reproductive Freedom: Women and men – not politicians – deserve the right to make personal decisions about their reproductive health in accordance with their own personal and moral beliefs.
These are some specifics that address the issues of today’s reality and the stated Progressive agenda:
1. This country pays American taxpaying dollars subsidizing Fortune Five Hundred Companies during the last year to the tune of 63 Billion dollars. My understanding of the whole purpose of being one of elite prestigious companies on this list besides policies that make Wall Street happy is the ability to a) pay all employees a wage good enough to afford one wager earner per family as to allow real child rearing to take place in America and to do this without having United States subsidizing your employees with food stamps, to pay their fair share of corporate taxes if they have enough money to pay obscene bonuses to their CEO’s, to bring jobs home to America instead of utilizing sub standardly supported employees overseas. Meet those requirements and make them the standard then maybe some relief can be considered but during the last ten years of war in which much profit was made, very little was paid to support the patriotic work of our military much less the support the infrastructure updates needed all around this great nation by those companies making ever so much more profit. These savings will be the foundation funding education discussed below in item #8.
2. Immediate shutdown of all corporate subsides for foreign companies and any American Companies or business entities making profit during this support, manufacturing/operating overseas for avoidance of tax responsibilities (i.e. Apple). This should be about being an American citizen first an recognized American Business entity, proudly willing to participate in forwarding the American cause and Ideals. 50% of this savings should directly be put to education in addition to the savings from item #1 and would not be an added tax on any corporation or individuals to fund.This is simple, show profit, pay huge bonuses you don’t need United States government financial tax payer subsidized support for those benefits to the business or individuals. THIS ARGUMENT WILL NO LONGER BE ACCEPTABLE WITH PROGRESS: ‘Removal of subsidies equals tax increase’.
3. Refinance all outstanding mortgages at 3% and forgive related debt underwater and otherwise to include interest and penalties, give all financial institutions impacted an one time charge off without addition subsides for those outstanding balances. The point here is not to reward those who shouldn’t have taken part in the bad mortgage programs, but give a chance to homeowners who can afford to and not punish them as we did not the bankers. Let us be honest; many people will gain advantage from these saving including some responsible for causing this damage in the first place, so be it.
4. Forgive all student debt to include all interest and penalties, Banks were paid to stay in business while all others suffered, so no charge off for this loss period! The idea is to use avenues of revenue in place today and free up personal household debt. Take the government out of the business of profiting from educating its citizens which America should gladly welcome. See item #8.
5. Mandatory solar on all federal buildings by end of first term (2021). This is a no brainer when it comes to directly setting the tone for Uncle Sam’s responsible and representative behavior and policy about climate. The United States government has a mandate as a national security issue to take any action necessary to reduce this governments carbon footprint production, this and the next item starts us in that direction.
6. Electric government motor pool by 2025 for passenger vehicles, seeking full electronic transportation motor pool by 2040. Again making a statement that Uncle Sugar will take a conscience effort to a much smaller carbon footprint with the government’s motor pool and impact on climate.
7. Single payer modification made to the Affordable Care Act, Complete medical coverage for women’s health that allows for full range and control of choices. This would be the right thing to do to a system stolen from the opposition with the mission of giving to the client (health care patient) as little as possible for their money as put together by the Heritage Foundation in opposition to the Hillary Clinton Health Care plan.
8. Free full academic/vocational college education for all naturalized citizens who desire such education; vocational education and/for advancement can stand in its stead 10 year time limit to completion. See #2 for cost for implementing this educational national push.
9. Minimum wage standard at federal of 22 dollars an hour. $10.10 is not a ‘real living wage’ and an insult that doesn’t address family’s ability to have one parent at home, or childcare costs for single parents. If we claim to be about family we need to invest in the reality of what it takes to have and run a family today.
10. Fully subsidize purchases of electric personal passenger automobiles for 10 years . (Vehicles must meet standard of fully electric operational capability and can not be hybrid) This would be like the homes for vets after world war 2, with the intent of moving as many people as desired to convert to green mobility to be able to do so.
All of this he/she could do by executive order, two for each of Her/His first week in office. These executive orders would directly impact the financial status of the middle and lower strata Americans across a broad spectrum of households in a way that would immediately stimulate economic growth and activity for continued expansion by freeing up money that was being paid to continue to be buried under all this debt. Wall street was taken care of without begging Congress to get off their asses and do what they were elected to do and that is legislate instead of the traitorous behavior this country has witnessed to date. This would adjust the playing field for awhile, there is still much work to achieve a level one. This is where I fail to see the boldness of today’s Progressive Movement…
Pick a point, the economy, make a stand, suggest practical solutions, then put people on the spot, arguing with a fool only proves there are two, we have five years of two parties of fools arguing… Any of my followers who can suggest an even stronger platform, I will post their suggestions, I just thought we should at least attempt to care about and take care of the home front first. These suggestions attempts to address the financial difficulties everyone but the people who cause the catastrophe in the first place are experiencing. If we are not doing anything to give back/restore/build some trust with those who been devastated by the impact of this recession then the rest is straight bullshit! These 10 items address actions that can be taken presently and will positively impact many Americans across the spectrum no matter the party and that would be a good thing for America not just for Wall Streets Billionaires…
Shut down Federal Reserve or offer 75%+ tax as alternative, nothing less because we must admit to an Hedge Fund rape experience going on here. Wall Street Investment Managed Hedge Fund Banking destroy’s America’s financial stability by stealing off the top of all money printed by the United States government to finance their larcenous activities. They strip-mine corporations for personal profit, stifle innovation by dictating company policy by performance standards that suit their goals of personal gain and by doing so crush small businesses innovations and startups. This though presented to be the contrary, is not safe, honest or beneficial to a ‘true’ free market capitalistic society for personal profits reign supreme over country or citizenry gain.
I paused in adding this for the Reserve as it will be the most difficult mechanism in place to dispose of because of illegality of its activities and how much Wall Street emissaries will fight its dissolution defending free enterprise and capitalism to death, namely anyone suggesting their demise) They have stated through their complaints of over taxation that they don’t want to participate any more than the 15% that are presently taxed at, they don’t want people without their perception of ’skin’ (equal wealth level) in the ‘game’ to participate in the political process. To them gambling with the resources of the world is nothing but a game no matter what the damage may be in reality. Dollars equals votes equals enslaved mankind kissing Wall Street and corporate ass for all eternity, sadly if they don’t love this country, if they feel they are superior, if they really believe that all those millions didn’t come from us, we must learn to proceed by all legitimate means to progress forward. I will replace this soon, please stand by. The main point here to to take some action that doesn’t require begging the Congress for every little thing in order to get something done…
A Lesson From Ecuador: “Health is a right guaranteed by the state and whose fulfilment is linked to the exercise of other rights, including the right to water, food, education, sport, work, social security, a healthy environment and everything that promotes well-being. The state shall guarantee this right by implementing economic social, cultural, educational and environmental policies. It shall guarantee permanent, timely and non-exclusive access to programmes, actions and services promoting and providing comprehensive healthcare and reproductive health. The provision of healthcare services shall be governed by the principles of equity, universality, solidarity, interculturalism, quality, efficiency, effectiveness, prevention, and bioethics with a fair gender and generational approach.” President of Ecuador statement about the citizens of his country which we could learn from…A Third World Country like that.
© 2013 – 2014, agentleman.
(RNS) American evangelicals are denouncing a new Uganda law that criminalizes homosexuality, reiterating a position that many have held for years but which has nonetheless drawn scrutiny and skepticism from critics.
Since 2009, several American pastors and leaders have condemned legislation in Uganda that in its initial version imposed the death penalty for some offenders. Under the revised law signed recently by President Yoweri Museveni, the death penalty was removed and replaced with life in prison in some cases.
Now, American evangelicals who insist they never supported either version of the law nonetheless find themselves playing defense, saying their statements against homosexuality at home are being twisted as an endorsement of harsh penalties against gays and lesbians abroad.
Decrying laws in countries such as Uganda and Russia, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he knows no evangelicals who would support legislation like Uganda’s.
“We always must balance a fear of Western cultural imperialism with a responsibility to speak to global human rights around the world,” said Moore, who has also denounced Russia’s anti-gay laws because he has adopted sons from Russia.
“Those of us who hold to a Christian sexual ethic don’t want to see those who disagree with us jailed; we want to see them reconciled to God through the gospel.”
The timing of Uganda’s legislation coincided with heated debates in the U.S. over the proposed legislation in Arizona that would have allowed businesses in the state to deny services to people who are gay if they felt that serving them would violate their religious rights.
“The situations in Uganda and Arizona are galaxies apart,” Moore said. “I think that in Arizona and several other states, in an attempt to preserve our religious liberties, regardless of how we agree with how it’s being done, can hardly compare with persecution around the world.”
California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, too, posted on his Facebook page on Sunday (March 2) denying allegations that he ever supported the Uganda bill. In 2009, Warren posted an “encyclical video” on YouTube saying he opposes the criminalization of homosexuality.
“Last week, the nation of Uganda passed a bad law, which I have publicly opposed for nearly 5 years,” Warren wrote. “I still oppose it, but rumors persist because lies and errors are never removed from the internet.”
Evangelical humanitarian organization World Vision has opposed the bill since 2009, arguing that it could hamper efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS. “More people would be reluctant to seek, receive or even provide care and compassion out of fear of being reported,” the organization said in a statement. “This would also make their families and children even more vulnerable.”
Uganda is not the only country to criminalize same-sex relations. The United Nations estimates that 78 countries ban homosexuality.
Since the law passed, Uganda has been hit with substantial aid cuts from Western nations; the World Bank has postponed a $90 million loan for the country’s health systems. Secretary of State John Kerry has likened Uganda’s law to South Africa’s apartheid-era ban on interracial unions. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Tuesday that “homosexuals are not criminals” and should not receive a sentence of life in prison.
Media reports have connected the bill to a 2009 conference in Uganda, at which three Americans condemned homosexual behavior and promoted therapy for same-sex attraction. One of the men, Scott Lively, a Massachusetts pastor and head of Abiding Truth Ministries, said that he is not responsible for the bill.
“It’s a very insulting argument, that somehow an American evangelical pastor is so powerful that I’ve overwhelmed the intelligence of an entire government and turned them out to do my will,” Lively said. “The Ugandans knew what they wanted to hear.”
He said he does not support the bill in its final form.
“I have mixed feelings about the final law,” Lively said. “I support the portions that increase penalties for homosexual abuse among children, intentionally spreading AIDS through sodomy. The penalties in the law for simple homosexuality are still too harsh.”
He said that if he had power to implement legislation in the U.S., he would make laws related to sexuality similar to new marijuana laws, where the government would be prohibited from advocating and promoting it but advocates who practice it would left alone. He said he also would have recommended reparative therapy, the disputed belief that sexual orientation can be changed.
“There are many who are compelled to same-sex behavior, like alcoholism or any other behavioral disorder,” Lively said. “The government should be concerned with helping them overcome their problems and not just punish them for it.”
Initial opposition to the bill was strong among evangelicals, but it gradually faded due to “Uganda fatigue,” said Warren Throckmorton, a professor of psychology at Grove City College.
“Early on, Rick Warren went out on a big way against the bill, and he still got blamed for it at times. Some of the vigor early on was worn down over time,” Throckmorton said. “The bill came up and then died several times. Just when you thought it was gone and over with, the Ugandan parliament passed it in the middle of the night, so to speak.”
He said he would have expected a more vigorous response from evangelicals who have a stake in Uganda.
“Evangelicals have missionaries there, televangelists have shows on TV there. There is a substantial American Christian presence there,” Throckmorton said. “From the Ugandans’ point of view, the bill was passed as a way to make Uganda a more Christian nation; evangelicals could’ve been more vocal by saying, ‘This is not how it’s done.’”
© 2014, agentleman.
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Four young men were convicted of gay sex and whipped publicly as punishment Thursday in an Islamic court in northern Nigeria, a human rights activist said.
The four were among dozens caught in a wave of arrests after Nigeria strengthened its criminal penalties for homosexuality with the new Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in January.
The men could face further violence in prison if human rights organizations do not come up with an additional fine of 20,000 naira ($120) each meted out Thursday by a judge in Bauchi city, Dorothy Aken’Ova, convenor of the Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights Network, told The Associated Press. The four were sentenced to 15 strokes plus a year’s imprisonment if they cannot pay their fines.
Aken’Ova said the men, aged between 20 and 22, should not have been convicted because their confessions were forced by law agents who beat them.
She said they had to lie on the floor of the court to be whipped on their backsides.
The men’s families, mainly subsistence farmers in rural areas where everyone knows everyone else, refused an offer of legal representation because they preferred to negotiate with the judge and get the case behind them, said Aken’Ova. She said the families were embarrassed by the stigma attached to homosexuality, which many highly religious Nigerians consider an evil imported from the West.
The hearings in Bauchi city, capital of the state of the same name, had been delayed from January, when a crowd tried to stone the accused men outside the court and demanded the judge pass the death sentence. Security officials had to fire into the air to save the men and disperse the crowd.
Under Islamic Shariah law in some north Nigerian states, homosexuals can be sentenced to death by stoning or lethal injection, though that sentence has never been enforced.
Aken’Ova, who got her information from the men’s families, said the judge was lenient because the men had promised that the homosexual acts occurred in the past and that they had since changed their ways.
For fear of further disruption, Judge El-Yakub Aliyu held hearings on Thursday unannounced and in secret. He said the hearing for another four men accused of sodomy would be heard at a later date.
Associated Press writer Shehu Saulawa contributed to this report from Bauchi, Nigeria.
© 2014, agentleman.
Republicans may have bet too heavily on the wrong issue going into the midterm elections.
When the health care law’s website wasn’t working, the law itself was at its most unpopular and its most newsworthy, and the president’s poll numbers were cratering, many Republicans made the calculation that they could ride the wave of woe to an overwhelming electoral victory in November.
But betting on stasis is stupid. Things change.
The White House called in the geek squad, and they fixed the site. Last week, the White House also announced that four million people have now enrolled in the health care program. The president’s poll numbers have stabilized, albeit in negative territory. The news winds shifted. And Democrats have found an issue that they can campaign on and that America likes — helping the working class through things like raising the minimum wage.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Wednesdayfound that 50 percent of respondents would be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who supports increasing the minimum wage, as opposed to 19 percent who said that they were less likely. Twenty-eight percent said that it wouldn’t make a difference.
A closer look at the numbers reveals that 72 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of the all-important independents would be more likely to vote for candidates who support the increase.
The same poll found that 34 percent of respondents are more likely to vote for candidates who support the federal health care law, while 36 percent are less likely to vote for them and 27 percent said it wouldn’t make a difference.
Seventy percent of Republicans were less likely to vote for a candidate who supported the law, while only 35 percent of independents are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports it.
The strength in these numbers is obviously on the side of what the Democrats are for, rather than what the Republicans are against.
This is by no means the determining factor for the midterms, but the sense of impending doom among Democrats is beginning to ease.
To be sure, there are still issues. The health care law remains unpopular, and Obama keeps adjusting the rules that govern it. It remains unclear whether the program will sign up enough young, healthy people to make it work as desired. As CNN put it:
“For months, administration officials embraced CBO estimates anticipating that 18- to 34-year-olds would comprise roughly 40 percent of the total. The current number is about 27 percent.”
And as The New York Times pointed out last week, polls show that Republicans maintain a small electoral edge. But small is the operative word here. As the paper pointed out, “42 percent say they will back Republicans in November, and 39 percent indicate that they will back Democrats, a difference within the poll’s margin of sampling error.”
So now we have Republicans desperately searching for a fallback.
Darrell Issa, the chairman of Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sought to keep the fading I.R.S. “scandal” on life support by once again calling the former I.R.S. official Lois Lerner to testify. He sought a link between how an I.R.S. official managed an avalanche of new applications by politically active groups for tax-exempt status and the White House, or at least a wider anti-Tea Party conspiracy. Once again, Republicans failed. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right, again. And Issa made himself the chief spectacle in a quixotic partisan scene, again, by cutting off the Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings’s mic when he attempted to speak. Bad form.
Paul Ryan has begun to focus on poverty from a Republican perspective, releasing a report this week that calls for cutting programs designed to help the poor. Only in the Republican house of mirrors does this make sense, but he essentially makes the argument that current programs haven’t eliminated poverty but, in some ways, have made it worse. The mitigating factors at play are given short shrift.
Furthermore, Ryan’s version of Compassionate Conservative 2.0 seems to be built on bad, or at least distorted, math, as is Ryan’s wont. As The Fiscal Times reported Tuesday, “several economists and social scientists contacted on Monday had reactions ranging from bemusement to anger at Ryan’s report, claiming that he either misunderstood or misrepresented their research.”
And since President Vladimir V. Putin moved Russian forces into Crimea, Republicans have fallen over one another to be among the first to hang the crisis around the president’s neck.
Senator John McCain said this week that we should care about Putin’s push “because this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength any more.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, never one to be bettered on the outrage scale, attempted once again to demonstrate that among some Republicans, all roads lead to Benghazi, Libya. In a series of tweets Tuesday, the senator said:
“It started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression. #Ukraine”
“Putin basically came to the conclusion after Benghazi, Syria, Egypt — everything Obama has been engaged in — he’s a weak indecisive leader.”
“I think Putin believes Obama is really all talk and no action. And unless we push back soon, the worse is yet to come.”
Conservatives are painting a picture of a president who is domestically dictatorial but internationally anemic, but that is schizophrenic and strains credulity.
They seem to be grasping at straws now that their best cudgel is splintering.
© 2014, agentleman.
Vladimir Putin Said He Hopes Russia Won’t Have To Use Force In Ukraine
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians in Ukraine as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was on his way to Kiev. Tensions remained high in the strategic Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea with troops loyal to Moscow firing warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers.
In his first comments since Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, Putin said he considers him to still be Ukraine’s leader, and hopes that Russia won’t need to use force in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
He rejected the Western threat to punish Russia with sanctions over its action in Ukraine, saying they will backfire against the West.
Earlier Tuesday, the Kremlin said Putin had ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine’s border to return to their bases. The massive military exercise in western Russia involving 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and dozens of aircraft was supposed to wrap up anyway, so it was not clear if Putin’s move was an attempt to heed the West’s call to de-escalate the crisis that has put Ukraine’s future on the line.
It came as Kerry was on his way to Kiev to meet with the new Ukrainian leadership that deposed a pro-Russian president, and has accused Moscow of a military invasion in Crimea. The Kremlin, which does not recognize the new Ukrainian leadership, insists it made the move in order to protect Russian installations and its citizens living there.
On Tuesday, Russian troops who had taken control of the Belbek air base in the Crimea region fired warning shots into the air as around 300 Ukrainian soldiers, who previously manned the airfield, demanded their jobs back.
About a dozen Russian soldiers at the base warned the Ukrainians, who were marching unarmed, not to approach. They fired several warning shots into the air and said they would shoot the Ukrainians if they continued to march toward them.
The shots reflected tensions running high in the Black Sea peninsula since Russian troops — estimated by Ukrainian authorities to be 16,000 strong —tightened their grip over the weekend on the Crimean peninsula, where Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet is based.
Ukraine has accused Russia of violating a bilateral agreement on conditions of a Russian lease of a naval base in Crimea that restricts troop movements, but Russia has argued that it was acting within the limits set by the deal.
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said Monday at the U.N. Security Council that Russia was entitled to deploy up to 25,000 troops in Crimea under the agreement. Churkin didn’t specify how many Russian troops are now stationed in Crimea, but said that “they are acting in a way they consider necessary to protect their facilities and prevent extremist actions.”
Churkin said that Russia wasn’t trying to ensure the return to power of Yanukovych, but still considers him the legitimate leader of Ukraine and demands the implementation of a Western-sponsored peace deal he signed with the opposition that set presidential elections for December. Russian envoy at those talks did not sign the deal. Yanukovych fled the capital hours after the deal was signed and ended up in Russia, and the Ukrainian parliament set the presidential vote for May 25.
There was no sign of tensions elsewhere in Crimea early on Tuesday. A supposed Russian ultimatum for two Ukrainian warships to surrender or be seized passed without action from either side, as the two ships remained anchored in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Vladimir Anikin said late Monday that no ultimatum had been issued.
Early on Tuesday, the Kremlin said Putin ordered troops participating in military exercises alongside Russia’s western border to return to their permanent bases. The order was in line with an earlier plan to complete the exercise early this week.
The maneuvers, which Putin ordered on Wednesday involved scrambling fighter jets to patrol Russia’s western frontiers and stoked fears that the Kremlin might send troops into Russian-speaking regions in eastern Ukraine.
In Brussels, meanwhile, the ambassadors of NATO’s 28 member nations will hold a second emergency meeting on Ukraine on Tuesday after Poland, which borders both Russia and Ukraine, invoked an article calling for consultations when a nation sees its “territorial integrity, political independence or security threatened,” the alliance said in a statement.
President Barack Obama has said that Russia is “on the wrong side of history” in Ukraine and its actions violate international law. Obama said the U.S. was considering economic and diplomatic options that will isolate Russia, and called on Congress to work on an aid package for Ukraine.
In return, Russia’s agricultural oversight agency issued a statement Tuesday declaring the reversal of its earlier decision to lift the ban on imports of U.S. pork. It said the existing U.S. system of checks don’t guarantee its safety.
Putin’s economic advisor, Sergei Glazyev, said that Russia can develop financial ties with other nations to offset any potential Western sanctions.
The European Union’s foreign ministers on Monday threatened Moscow with halting talks on visa liberalization and negotiations on further economic cooperation unless Russian troops on the Crimean peninsula pull back over the next three days.
The bloc’s 28 heads of state and government will hold an emergency meeting on the situation in Ukraine on Thursday that will decide on imposing the sanctions if there is no de-escalation on the ground, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
United States Aid Package:
- Critical assistance with economic reforms, including by cushioning their impact on vulnerable Ukrainians: The U.S. Administration is working with Congress and the Government of Ukraine to provide 1 billion in loan guarantees aimed at helping insulate vulnerable Ukrainians from the effects of reduced energy subsidies. At the same time, the United States is moving quickly to provide technical expertise to help the National Bank of Ukraine and the Ministry of Finance address their most pressing challenges. The United States is dispatching highly experienced technical advisors to help the Ukrainian financial authorities manage immediate market pressures. The United States will also provide expertise to help Ukraine implement critical energy sector reforms.
- Conducting free, fair, and inclusive elections: The United States will provide technical assistance to train election observers, help bring electoral processes in line with international standards, and promote robust participation by civil society organizations and a free and independent media.
- Combatting corruption and recovering stolen assets: The United States is preparing to help the government respond to the clear demands of the Ukrainian people for more robust safeguards against corruption and additional efforts to recover assets stolen from the people of Ukraine. The United States will support the government as it takes tangible steps to reduce corruption and increase transparency, including in areas such as e-government and public procurement. The United States is deploying an interagency team of experts to Kyiv this week to begin to work with their Ukrainian counterparts to identify assets that may have been stolen, identify their current location, and assist in returning those assets to Ukraine.
- Withstanding politically motivated trade actions by Russia, including in the area of energy: The United States is preparing to provide technical advice to the Ukrainian government on Ukraine’s WTO rights with respect to trade with Russia. At the same time the United States is ready to provide assistance and financing to help Ukrainian businesses find new export markets and adjust to trade pressures and to enhance energy efficiency, helping to reduce dependence on imported gas.
© 2014, agentleman.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) may have vetoed SB 1062, the legislation Arizona lawmakerspassed in the hopes that it would enable business owners to discriminate against gay people, but the fight over whether business owners have a legal right to discriminate is far from over. To the contrary, the Supreme Court could give anti-gay businesses sweeping new authority to discriminate in a pair of cases being argued next month. And, unlike the Arizona bill, a Supreme Court decision cannot simply be vetoed to prevent it from working a great deal of mischief.
Although SB 1062 became a subject of infamy because of its likely impact on the LGBT community — one of the bill’s supporters in the Arizona legislature claimed that it would prevent people with anti-gay religious views from being “punished for their religious beliefs” — the legislation was actually much broader. Current Arizona law provides fairly strong protections for people whose religious beliefs are at odds with following the law. The primary change that would have gone into effect if the Arizona bill became law is thatcorporations, business partnerships, or any “other legal entity” would have gained the right to make religious liberty claims as well.
If this issue sounds familiar, it should, because it’s the exact same issue behind two of the most high profile Supreme Court cases being hear this term — Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. In both of those cases, for-profit businesses object, on religious liberty grounds, to complying with Obama Administration rules increasing access to birth control. One of the most important questions presented by both cases is whether a for-profit corporation can have religious faith at all, and if so, whether it can use that supposed faith as the basis for a legal claim.
So if the Supreme Court agrees with the plaintiffs in these cases that corporations aren’t just people, but they can also be people of faith, the outcome will be very similar to what would happen if Congress had taken the bill Brewer just vetoed, passed it at the federal level and then President Obama had signed it into law — except, of course, for the fact that no one on the Supreme Court was actually elected to make law.
There is, however, an open question regarding how the Arizona bill would have been interpreted had it been signed into law that is even more important than the question of whether corporations are religious people. And this issue also looms large in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases.
Both federal and Arizona law provide that the government may not “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it does so “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and it uses the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” Lawyers will immediately recognize this legal rule as something known as “strict scrutiny,” an exacting test that very few laws survive. If this part of both federal and Arizona law is read in isolation — which is what the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobbyand Conestoga Wood essentially urge the Court to do — then people with religious objections to the law would gain sweeping immunity from it. Business owners who want to discriminate against gay people would have a very, very strong legal case under Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood’s legal theory.
The problem with their legal theory, however, is that these words should not be read in isolation. Both the federal law and the bill which became Arizona’s current law incorporate several previous Supreme Court cases into their legal rule. Indeed, the federal law explicitly states that its purpose is to “restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner  and Wisconsin v. Yoder .”
As several church-state legal scholars explain in an amicus brief filed in the Hobby Lobbyand Conestoga Wood cases, both Sherbert and Yoder set out a far less exacting legal rulethan the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood would prefer that they did. In Yoder, the Court held that an Amish family was exempt from a law making school attendance mandatory. Yet the Court also emphasized that it supported this exemption because it believed that granting it would not cause any harm to an innocent third party. “This case,” the Court explained, “is not one in which any harm to the physical or mental health of the child or to the public safety, peace, order, or welfare has been demonstrated or may be properly inferred.”
Likewise, in Sherbert the Court sided with a plaintiff who claimed a religious liberty right to not work on Saturday, which was considered the sabbath in her faith. Once again, the Court emphasized that it reached this holding because “the recognition of the appellant’s right to unemployment benefits under the state statute” did not “serve to abridge any other person’s religious liberties.”
Later cases applying the rule set forth in Sherbert and Yoder are even more explicit that one person’s legal rights cannot be used to disparage the rights of another. Most notably, inUnited States v. Lee, the Court held that religious liberty claims are particularly weak in the business context. “When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice,” according to Lee, “the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.”
Denying birth control to your workers because of your own religious objections to it superimposes your own personal beliefs about conscience and faith onto your employees. So does refusing to serve a gay person due to a religious objection to their sexual orientation. If the Supreme Court winds up holding that one person’s faith can impose itself on another, which is exactly what the plaintiffs in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood want them to do, then all the nightmare scenarios imagined in the debate over the Arizona bill could become very real — at least at the federal level. Indeed, it is even possible that business owners who object to serving African Americans on religious grounds couldchallenge a 1983 Supreme Court decision holding that religious beliefs cannot justify racist discrimination.
If the Supreme Court is willing to overrule Lee, and to embrace the almost oxymoronic notion that corporations can be people of faith, then there could be little end to business owners’ ability to immunize themselves from the law — so long as they cover their objections to those laws in a religious wrapper.
© 2014, agentleman.
“Baggin’ up a thousand grams,” Pyatt raps into the camera, playing the role of proud drug lord.
In another scene, the aspiring rapper shows off the proceeds of his illicit business, standing in front of the Huckabee Heights housing project in Conway, S.C., as a man next to him nonchalantly tosses dollar bills in the air.
“Welcome to Conway,” a sign along the highway reads in another shot.
According to law enforcement officials, Pyatt’s artistic persona closely matched his life off screen. His blue bandana signaled allegiance with the Crips. He was arrested in 2012 for carrying a concealed gun in a bar. The projects where he rapped have indeed been hot spots for drug and gang activity.
Just a few blocks southeast of the projects is where Detective Tyres Nesmith of the Conway Police Department found Pyatt, shot and bleeding, just after 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 this year. He was sprawled on the ground in a cement driveway behind a blue one-story house.
“He was just laying there, right where that car is,” Nesmith told me a few weeks after the shooting, sitting in her unmarked squad car and pointing to the spot where Pyatt had lain. “I was like, ‘Hang on, hang on for me.’” Pyatt died at the hospital. He was 23.
At his funeral, mourners were decked out in blue bandanas, his mother had her hair dyed blue, and dozens of police officers were on hand to maintain order. Photo tributes popped up on Facebook referring to Pyatt as “C.I.P.” — Crip In Peace — and a “fallen soldier.”
Conway is a small city, with a population of about 16,000. Many residents work in tourism-related jobs in nearby Myrtle Beach. The drugs and gangs have made them feel unsafe at home. Dianne Davis, 56, said she tries “not to let the dark catch me” and described other Conway residents as barricading their doors with two-by-fours.
“I want to be able to stand on my porch,” Davis said. “I have a beautiful garden.”
“There are a lot of gangsters running around in that area,” Jimmy Richardson said of the neighborhood where Huckabee Heights is located. Richardson is the chief state prosecutor for Horry County, which includes Conway, and a resident of the city himself.
To South Carolina’s top federal prosecutor, however, the troubles in Conway present an opportunity. U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is testing out a novel approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration. Conway is the third city in South Carolina to implement a version of the plan, and federal prosecutors in other states and the Justice Department are watching closely. If the program’s success continues in South Carolina, it could become a model for law enforcement across the country.
“What I want to do is to make the people’s lives who are law-abiding citizens in this community better,” Nettles said on the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Conway from his office in Columbia last month. “Incarceration is no longer the goal, but is one of many tools available to allow you to effect your goal of improving their lives. It represents a fundamental shift, a seismic shift in terms of how you’re viewing what you’re doing.”
“When you declare a ‘war on drugs,’ the community sees the cops as the occupiers, and the cops see the people in the community as enemy combatants,” Nettles said. “Well, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Nettles’ plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. Next, they build criminal cases against them by reviewing records for outstanding warrants and conducting undercover drug buys. In most cases, arresting all the dealers would be the next order of business, but Nettles has a different idea.
While high-level dealers are still arrested and prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project.
The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.
The ones who are chosen know that not everybody gets this chance. The initiative in each city does not have endless resources. So only certain low-level offenders, those with limited criminal histories and no violent crimes in their past, are given the opportunity to avoid prison.
For a period of time, typically more than a year, they are monitored to make sure they remain law-abiding citizens. If they do, they will remain free of the criminal justice system. Until they complete the program, however, the threat of arrest based on the evidence already collected continues to hang over their heads. If officials receive complaints about anyone involved in the program, a judge can sign off on an already prepared arrest warrant.
“Basically we go and tell them, ‘Go and sin no more.’ If this community calls and says you’re back at it, you’re gonna be arrested,” said Richardson, the Horry County prosecutor.
“These people are being regularly drug tested, they are in a stringent program, and if they fail out or don’t show up or quit doing their stuff for work, I’m going to arrest them,” Nettles explained. “That is what some people call a motivated employee.”
Part of their motivation also comes from the fact that a steady paycheck can actually be more lucrative than the drug business. Contrary to the popular image of drug lords rolling in cash, many street-level dealers are barely getting by.
“Long-term, you very seldom see any drug dealers living in mansions,” Richardson said. “Either they don’t live to see that, or the money isn’t there. There’s no Scarface-type situations out there now in our local areas. Nobody is sitting up fat-cat rich, so that either means they’re dying or they’re in prison before they get the full benefit of what they’re setting out to do.”
Nettles began developing his plan in early 2010, after President Barack Obama nominated him to serve as one of the country’s 94 U.S. attorneys. He was somewhat of a surprising choice for the Justice Department post. Most U.S. attorneys have worked for the government or in the corporate realm — Attorney General Eric Holder himself has spent nearly his entire career at the Justice Department, save for one stint as a D.C. judge and another with a white-collar law firm — but Nettles had spent his career as a public defender and criminal defense attorney, often facing off against the very same federal prosecutors he now oversees.
Politically, too, Nettles sticks out in the conservative state, where the Confederate flag still flies on the grounds of the statehouse just blocks from his office. His friend Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) once described Nettles’ political beliefs as “to the left of Chairman Mao” on C-SPAN, leading Nettles to send the tea party favorite a copy of the Little Red Book of quotations from the former Chinese Communist leader.
Despite his background, Holder has called for “sweeping, systemic changes” to a “broken” judicial system and has spotlighted initiatives that help offenders to re-enter society and to enroll in drug or mental health treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration. Given his background as a defense attorney — when his clients ranged from Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, who was the subject of a criminal probe after he wasphotographed with a bong, to accused murderers facing death sentences — Nettles has also been interested in innovative approaches to criminal justice.
He was particularly drawn to a now-decade-old program that local law enforcement officials had launched in High Point, N.C.
The High Point plan is even more progressive than many of the programs that Holder has highlighted. Recognizing that the “war on drugs” was feeding the divide between minority communities and law enforcement, the High Point Police Department sought an approach that went beyond buy-busts and police raids. By pooling law enforcement, social service and community resources — and getting drug dealers’ family members involved — officials were able to virtually eliminate open-air drug markets in High Point. In its West End neighborhood, violent crime was still down 57 percent five years after the program was implemented.
By late 2010, Nettles was ready to try the High Point model in his own state. He saw the city of North Charleston as a perfect place to initiate the experiment: The area had a high crime rate, and local law enforcement leaders were supportive of his plan.
“At the time it was the seventh-deadliest city in America, so I was thinking there was no way I could screw this up,” Nettles said.
In North Charleston, federal and local law enforcement officials identified a total of 31 narcotics dealers. Most were arrested in January 2011 and charged on either the state or federal level, but eight were kept out of handcuffs. Four of those eight eventually fell back into their old habits and were arrested, but the other four stayed away from drug dealing. None of those four have re-offended, one is up for promotion as a sanitation worker, and another recently earned his GED.
Initially, the plan faced skepticism from narcotics officers on the ground, who referred to it as “hug-a-thug.” Ultimately, they too were convinced it was a better strategy.
“We were inundated with telephone calls for the whole entire deployment, from the time we did the first call-in, from others interested in the program,” said Assistant Police Chief Reggie Burgess, who oversaw the program in North Charleston. “We had corner boys from other surrounding cities outside of our jurisdiction come in and say, ‘Hey, man, what can I do to get in this program?’ … They were telling us, basically, ‘I’m a drug dealer and I want to get off the streets.’”
The program helped not only the drug dealers but also their families. If a job came with health care benefits, Burgess said, the former drug dealer could take his kids to the pediatrician, rather than rely on hospital emergency rooms.
“If we can affect one life, that’s a ripple effect to that family,” North Charleston Sgt. Charity Prosser, who initially resisted helping to run the program, told NBC’s “Dateline” last year. “Their daddy’s not in jail, they have someone there constant, someone to teach them right from wrong, to teach them responsibility. That, in itself — if we could just save one, if we could just help one. The ripple effect? You’re talking countless people. Countless.”
The program was also a hit with residents of the Charleston Farms area of North Charleston and led to a significant drop in crime in that area.
After his success in North Charleston, Nettles helped roll out a similar initiative in the city of Aiken in 2013. When one of the offenders in the Aiken program re-offended, state prosecutors expedited an old burglary case, which led to a 12-year sentence. Others stuck with it.
One of the most positive impacts of the program has been on how the police related to their local communities.
“It was ‘shock and awe’ to our law enforcement system,” Burgess said at a presentation about the program with Nettles and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Crick in July 2013. “We wanted them to help individuals that did not look at us very positively. We were the people standing in between them and their livelihood, dealing drugs. We had to change how we looked at these drug dealers. If we were going to give them the opportunity to do good in their lives, we had to put that attitude behind us.”
It was that presentation that led Conway Mayor Alys C. Lawson to approach Nettles about implementing the program in her city.
“We were so enthusiastic. We really have a community that deserves this program,” she said.
In Conway, Nettles and his local partners are doing things a bit differently from the initiatives in North Charleston and Aiken. Instead of quietly investigating the Conway drug market though undercover buys first, they’re deliberately making their presence known to see if they can cut down on the drug trade before they even start.
“We’re being upfront about it. We’re going to flood this area with federal [confidential informants],” Richardson said. “We’ve already mapped it out. We know for the most part who the big players are, the first, second and third tier. A lot of the people in those areas, there’s already evidence produced on those guys. Now, they don’t know it, but I don’t mind them knowing it.”
“Press is free,” said Conway Police Chief Reginald E. Gosnell, who credited the attention the program has received so far with helping the police make an arrest in Pyatt’s death. At a community meeting in late January, Nettles asked residents to tell any of their friends or family members involved in the drug trade that “if they keep it up, we’re gonna get them.”
Local officials in several cities across the country have implemented versions of the High Point initiative. But the Justice Department’s level of involvement in South Carolina stands out, especially since the federal government is notorious for its heavy-handed approach to drug enforcement. U.S. attorneys in West Virginia, Alabama and Virginia have participated in versions of the program as well, but Nettles has been its most enthusiastic promoter, earning the North Charleston program a mention in a speech by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the “Dateline” special and notice from prosecutors nationwide.
Still, there are a number of obstacles to implementing the program on a larger scale. Helping drug dealers turn their lives around is a lot more complicated than locking them away. The program hasn’t cost the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina any money directly, but the model can require more overtime hours from local police. And long-term enthusiasm must be sustained among prosecutors and police officers, many of whom tend to measure success in terms of number of arrests made or years sentenced.
“It’s harder work. The easy way to do these cases is to let law enforcement go in there, make a bunch of cases, they bring them to your office, they’re in little folders, you send people to prison for a long time. That’s the easy way. It’s harder to go out here,” Nettles said. “But it’s rewarding. I find it immensely rewarding.”
Supporters say the potential benefits of the program far outweigh the costs: Keeping another body out of state or federal prison and turning him or her into a contributing member of society is good for the bottom line.
Nettles will soon be rolling out the Drug Market Intervention Initiative in the state capital of Columbia, and other cities may follow.
“I’m just vain enough that I would like for the things that I’ve done to stay in place after I leave,” Nettles said during the community meeting in Conway. “That’s why I come to these communities here, so after I leave, someone will say, ‘I don’t know, that tall, skinny guy who looked like Jim Carrey, he had some little idea over here, and I want to do it again.’”
© 2014, agentleman.