Thursday, October 30, 2014

Seasonal Changes: Tensions Between Russia & Ukraine Thaw As Temperatures Dip

With October coming to a chilly close on a Halloween Friday and temperatures set to start dipping down into the 30's for the next few days here in New Jersey, my thoughts are lingering on the seasonal changes.

I'm a sentimental type, so I love the fall with the approach to Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

While the clocks going back an hour on Sunday does give us the pleasure an extra hour's sleep, that adjustment to darkness at 5pm takes some time to get used to.

But it is a time of seasonal change both weatherwise and otherwise.

With November but two days away, I'm cautiously encouraged by the news today that Russia and Ukraine reached a deal on the resumption of natural gas supplies from Russia just in time for the arrival of colder winter weather.  

The deal was brokered by the European Union and hinges on Ukraine making upfront payments for gas supplies prior to delivery via pipeline, and Europe guaranteeing those payments will be met.

It's a win-win for Europe, Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the globe as well. Russia makes money and millions of people across Europe and Ukraine will sleep more soundly knowing they'll stay warm without the lingering threat of gas shutoffs in the middle of winter.

But just take a look below at those grim expressions etched on the stern faces of Alexi Miller (left), the head of Russian natural gas behemoth Gazprom, and Adriy Kobolev (right), the head of the Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz, in a Reuters photo posted on the BBC News Website.

Their stiff handshake obviously masks lengthy and tense negotiations between two nations with traditional ties that have to be growing weary of the armed conflict that's been in the headlines for months.

Ukraine knows it has to get it's economic act together to spur foreign investment. And Russia certainly has to be feeling the pressure of US and European sanctions on the banking and currency transactions of Russian companies; and let's be honest.

Russia clearly takes pride in projecting an image of a tough global player to the world, but their public image has taken a serious beating lately and the glow of the Sochi Winter Olympics has long since worn off.

As CNN.com reported yesterday, during a 24-hour period there were 19 different instances of Russian military aircraft making highly unusual flights over NATO territory in Europe.

Recently hackers contracted by Russia are alleged to be behind a cyber attack on an unclassified White House computer network used by White House staff. Harmless shenanigans or muscle-flexing?

Perhaps a little of both.

But the DOW and S&P 500 both soared today, partly in response to news of increased stability between Russia and Ukraine and a steady supply of energy for the winter months; so let's hope the natural gas agreement is a sign of thawing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking of thawing tensions, like many Americans I'm tired of all the political commercials and unsolicited robo-calls and anxious to see the outcome of next week's November elections. With some Senate races too close to call there's a very real possibility that the nation won't actually know which party will control the Senate until January.

Polls show an increased frustration on the part of Americans tired of a dysfunctional hyper-partisan Congress with so many people not feeling the benefits of the economic recovery.

Major initiatives that cut across party lines like badly-needed increases in educational spending (shouldn't all kids have music and arts classes?) and so many different major infrastructure projects across the nation just waiting for spending authorization from Congress.

Speaking of Halloween, NJ Governor Chris Christie's decision last month to nix authorization for state funds to begin construction on the long-awaited and desperately needed project to boost commuter rail capacity (and safety) between New Jersey and New York could come back to haunt him; or his legacy.

His chickenshit "pass the buck down the line" decision caused $3 billion in Federal funding to be left on the table that would have helped to offset the costs of the estimated $8.7 billion project. Christie wouldn't dare take back the disastrous tax cuts that went to the wealthiest NJ residents; he'd rather goose step in line with the failed GOP economic model based on long-disproved trickle-down economics theory.

Just ask Kansas Governor Sam Brownback how his failed Tea Party fantasy experiment worked for the people of Kansas. Funny how both Kansas and NJ lag amongst states in new job creation yet the wealthy got a huge tax cut.

But I digress. A real leader taking responsibility for a once-in-a lifetime project like that takes vision and guts; all Christie has is a voracious appetite to slavishly appease a Republican voter base that's been brainwashed to blindly believe any government spending is evil so he can win the nod as the GOP presidential candidate in 2016.

Besides, commuter safety is way down on Christie's list. He flies around in a helicopter or chauffeured SUV paid for by NJ tax payers, or private planes paid for by GOP fundraisers - what the Hell does he know about sitting on the fucking tracks for fifteen minutes on a Friday night on a New Jersey Transit train between Seacaucus and the entrance of the Hudson Tunnel because only one track is operating in the tunnel for the ongoing repair projects to keep the dangerously old tunnels safe?

There's a sense that languishing projects like that, and the nation as a whole is in a kind of political limbo because we won't know how power will flow in Washington until the make up of the Senate is decided. President Obama is enduring the same trials that face any 2nd term President; though I don't think it's exactly fair to call a man of his charisma, accomplishments, intelligence and vision a "lame duck".

None of the major presidential candidates (including Hillary) has actually declared their candidacy yet, even though they're stuffing our email in-boxes, collecting money and playing coy.

As a political junkie, I guess I'm just stuck feeling like a kid waiting for Halloween tomorrow; except I just want November 4th to hurry up and get here so we can see what the coming year will bring; Trick? Or Treat?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rotten Peaches: Fulton County Georgia Judge Christopher Brasher Denies Petition to Process Nearly 50,000 Missing Voter Registration Forms

Fulton County (GA) Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher
Looks like it's back to business for the state of Georgia as a court ruling shut the door to the polling booth for almost 50,000 newly registered voters whose registration forms (some sent in months ago) have mysteriously vanished.

Earlier today the Republican-appointed Superior Court Judge of Fulton County, Christoper Brasher denied a petition brought by the NAACP and the New Georgia Project that sought to compel Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to immediately process thousands of voter registration forms that were submitted over the summer but do not appear on the state's official voter registration rolls just days before the critical November elections.

The bulk of the missing forms are from newly registered young voters and minorities from three counties in Georgia that are critical to the upcoming Governor's and Senate races; Fulton, Muscogee and Clayton Counties. 

It was only last June when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the1965 Voter Rights Act (Section 4) that mandated that districts with a proven history of racial discrimination against voters must first obtain pre-approval from the courts for any changes in voting laws that could impact minority votes.

Writing for the majority opinion in the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice John Roberts stated:
"...voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, “the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.""

One can only wonder what Justice Roberts thinks of the "constitutional requirements" of the state of Georgia to allow almost 50,000 newly registered (and mostly black) voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote in next week's gubernatorial and Senate elections.

By the arcane logic of the Roberts Court, the abstract issue of "disparate treatment of the States" trumps the very real issue of the denial of basic voting rights of marginalized citizens seeking to have a say in the electoral process.

What's next in Georgia, a poll tax? Guys in hoods standing at polling places with clubs?

America isn't the only nation in the midst of critical elections. In Ukraine, parliamentary election results seem to have favored pro-European leaning candidates as Ukrainian citizens began heading to the polls last week; unfortunately the political voice of Crimea was not heard as President Putin ordered it annexed in violation of international law.

As the world knows by now, opposition political parties are a definite no-no for Mr. Putin.
 
On a lighter note, an electrician named Victor Shevchenko was denied the chance to vote in the Ukrainian elections, but for far different reasons than the sickening voter repression tactics being employed by the Republican party here in the states. 

The gravity and seriousness of the Ukrainian elections received a highly-publicized respite when the mischievous Shevchenko showed up to vote last Sunday dressed as Darth Vader.

Shevchenko, who actually ran under the name Darth Vader, milked his fifteen minutes of fame for all it was worth by pulling up to the polling site atop a dark colored van blaring composer John Williams' imposing 'Imperial March'. 

He was denied the chance to cast his ballot when he refused to remove his mask.

At least Ukrainians have logical reasons for denying their citizens the right to vote.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pretty Little Liar: Fox's Megyn Kelly Busted for Lying About Colorado Voter Fraud

Fox host Megyn Kelly
As a rule I really try my utmost to refrain from mentioning Fox News anchor/host Megyn (It's Meagan with a "Y"!) Kelly if at all possible.

The cacophony of half-truths, uninformed reactionary drivel, fictional controversies and flat out stupidity that spills out of this woman's mouth is such low-hanging fruit that the blog could basically be about her.

Admittedly it is difficult to resist her moments of hard-hitting journalism, like when she boosted everyone's holiday spirit last December by assuring her younger viewers that Santa and Jesus Christ are both white.

Yup. That Megyn Kelly.

Denver TV station KUSA was one of the first media outlets to report that during the Tuesday October 21st broadcast of Fox News' "The Kelly File", the bubbly blond anchor took to the air to whip up concocted fears about a provision of the new Colorado voter law.

In an ominous tone Kelly suggested that 2013 changes to the law enacted by Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper allowed Colorado voters to print out a ballot on their home computers and simply give it to what she termed were unspecified "collectors".

Turns out she lied TWICE on that one. First: active duty Colorado citizens who are serving in the military, or are overseas ARE permitted to print out their own ballots and mail them in; but that law has been on the books for years, it wasn't changed in 2013 as she claimed.

Second: Colorado citizens are NOT allowed to print out a ballot on their printer and give it to a "collector", they must vote at their assigned polling site or state law allows them to mail in a ballot - which is also allowed in many other states and is perfectly legal.

True to form, neither Fox News nor Kelly has bothered with any kind of apology or explanation; they rarely do after being caught trying to pass off lies as truth.

But kudos to the local Colorado TV stations who took responsibility for publicly calling out Kelly on her lies in order to clarify the issue for Colorado voters; a number of whom actually contacted television stations to ask about Kelly's bogus claims.

Her comments reflect a Republican party desperate to try and win back a majority in the US Senate and there's no tighter Senate race than the one in Colorado. Democratic incumbent Mark Udall is locked in a tight race with GOP candidate Corey Gardner (Republican Congressman representing Colorado's 4th District) who has a slim 1-percentage point lead over Udall according to an article on the Latin Post.com Website.

It's sad enough that the GOP has to lean on Fox News chief Roger Ailes to use faux-tainment hosts like Kelly to pass off false information about Colorado voter laws, but the laughable part?

The Republican party are the ones openly using a national campaign of voter discrimination, voter repression and voter misinformation to try and achieve victory in November.

Take these examples that were reported on ThinkProgress.org, Texas election judge William Parsely was forced to turn away a 93-year old US veteran who came out early to vote - the man was registered to vote but his driver's license had expired a few years ago as he no longer drives. So he was turned away and will have to obtain a valid state ID before the elections to vote as he has for years.

Or how about Georgia, where campaign workers have labored to fan out across the state to register as many black voters as possible in the past few months. When organizers checked their databases against the state's in August, they found that some 50,000 new voter registrations have simply vanished - mysteriously most of the missing registrations are for minority voters who live in the counties surrounding Atlanta; areas with large black populations where Republicans are desperate to keep voter participation low because of the large increases in black, Latino and and Native American populations in the state in recent years.

Reps from progressive groups like the New Georgia Project and the NAACP have taken Secretary of State Brian Kemp to court in an effort to get the missing voter registrations counted in time for the November elections; Kemp refused repeated requests to meet with the groups to provide information on how the state lost 50,000 registration forms.

Remember Brian Kemp is the same Secretary of State who was caught on tape at a GOP fundraiser earlier this summer warning attendees that "registering all these minority voters" could tip the balance in favor of Democrats.

Yup, same guy responsible for "misplacing" 50,000 new voter registration forms.

It's a pretty sad state of affairs for today's GOP. Unable to win on the issues, they view stripping people of their voter rights as a logical strategy to win the November elections; an idea that is repugnant to the basic principles of Democracy and the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution.

So it's not surprising that false information about Colorado voter laws are spread by a pretty little liar like Megyn Kelly. You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. 


  







Friday, October 24, 2014

Marissa Alexander: Glaring Disparities in the American Judicial System

My comments about Russia may have been a bit harsh in my Tuesday October 21st blog about the drunk plow driver colliding with Christophe de Margerie's plane at a Russian Airport.

I'm a big fan of Mother Russia, but like many others (in Russia, Ukraine, here and elsewhere) I just happen to be one of those people who hold humanity to a higher standard in a modern civilized world.

As far as rules governing behavior, laws that protect citizens and equal access to education and justice are concerned, that expectation goes for  my own country as well.

For example the systematic unequal application of justice in this country where prosecutions, application of the law and incarceration are concerned.

Case in point: a Florida mother named Marissa Alexander (pictured above center).

If any positives came out of the travesty of justice that occurred when George Zimmerman was found not guilty for following, confronting and then murdering innocent teenager Trayvon Martin, it was the increased focus directed on the tragic case of Marissa Alexander - and the questionable actions of a highly controversial Florida state prosecutor named Angela Corey.

Back in July of 2010, just nine days after giving premature birth to a baby girl, Alexander's abusive ex-husband Rico Gray arrived at her residence, physically attacked her, attempted to strangle her and threatened to kill her. Alexander, fleeing for her life, ran into the garage to escape but the door was locked.

With no other options she retrieved a legally registered handgun from her car and fired a single warning shot into the air to scare off her rampaging ex. The shot didn't hit or hurt anyone, it struck some drywall in the ceiling over Gray's head - and saved her life.

Enter Florida prosecutor Angela Corey (pictured below) a prosecutor known for excessively harsh sentences against black defendants, who would later gain national recognition for bungling the prosecution of George Zimmerman for murdering unarmed teen Trayvon Martin; and be the subject of multiple state investigations.

One for firing staff member Ben Kruidbos out of spite after he testified about improprieties in the prosecution of a criminal case, and another for  using tax-payer funds to pad her retirement pension.

Remarkably, Corey charged Alexander with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, then tried to convince the stunned domestic abuse victim to take a plea deal that would have meant three years in prison - for firing a gun in the air to protect her life.  

Alexander refused, insisting she had a right to defend herself. The case went to trial, she was found guilty and sentenced to a state-mandated sentence of 20 YEARS in prison.

Alexander had NO prior record and under the same Florida 'Stand Your Ground' laws that enabled George Zimmerman to walk free after killing a teenager, by all rights she clearly had a right to use the gun to protect herself from harm, right?
Controversial Florida prosecutor Angela Corey

That might seem obvious to us, but not to Florida state prosecutor Angela Corey (pictured left) who seems to be on some kind of vindictive personal vendetta to keep Alexander incarcerated despite mounting evidence from multiple witnesses (including her ex Rico Gray) that her life and physical safety were in fact threatened by her ex.

Is Corey stubbornly trying to protect her career rather than admit the original charges filed against Alexander were excessive rather than serve justice in this case?

A growing group including legal advocates, outraged citizens, the National Organization for Women (NOW), domestic violence advocates, the progressive activist group Color of Change, human rights activists and clergy members including the Reverend Al Sharpton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson all say yes.

Multiple witnesses, including women who had been in relationships with Alexander's ex Rico Gray, wrote letters to the state prosecutor's office offering to testify that Gray had a documented history of extreme physical abuse - but none were allowed to testify at Alexander's first trial.

But then on September 26, 2013, after Alexander's conviction, an appellate court ruled the jury in the first trial had been issued incorrect instructions and ordered a new trial; one month later, three years and four months after being attacked by Rico Gray, Marissa Alexander was finally released on bail pending her new trial.

But the nightmare isn't over for Alexander. Amazingly, Angela Corey plans to prosecute Alexander again; and has announced plans to seek THREE consecutive 20-year sentences.   

This past July, Alexander's attorneys tried unsuccessfully to be granted a new hearing to argue that the warning shot was permitted under 'Stand Your Ground' laws so she should be immune to prosecution but Circuit Judge James H. Daniel denied it.

The Florida legislature amended the 'Stand Your Ground' law this past June to include warning shots - but the judge ruled she can't use it retroactively since the amended law took effect after the incident occurred.

So Marissa Alexander will once again face prosecution by Angela Corey in December, only this time she's facing 60 years. That's a picture of the justice system in America.

Where Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' laws can be used by George Zimmerman to be acquitted of murdering an unarmed African-American teenager with no criminal record with a handgun; but the same law does not apply when a black woman uses a handgun to fire a warning shot to prevent an abusive man from trying to kill her.

What's the 'Stand Your Ground' law really for then? And who is it intended to protect?

You could ask US airman Michael Giles (pictured above) - he stood his ground too, shot his attacker in the leg and got 25 years. But the answer seems obvious doesn't it?

*There's still time to make a difference before the trial starts in December. Click this link to add your voice to a petition to Florida Governor Rick Scott to free Marissa Alexander and remove Angela Corey from her post as a prosecuting attorney.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Right Wing Media Pundits Use Canadian Terror Tragedy To Attack President Obama

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, killed at the Canadian War Memorial on Wednesday
On some level you have to admire the vacant, uninformed audacity of the modern American conservative movement's efforts to energize their aging and shrinking voter base.

When it comes to their ceaseless quest to find ways to blame virtually any event that takes place on President Obama, there is no level to which they will not sink.
 
While many people in North America and around the globe over the past 48 hours were quietly keeping Canadian soldier Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a 24 year-old reservist who served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, in their thoughts and prayers and struggling to understand his tragic death at the hands of a recent Muslim convert with a history of drug abuse, Fox News was busy concocting ways to rewrite the narrative in such a way as to blame Obama for it.

Let's review. A radical Muslim gunman named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau opens fire on Cpl. Cirillo as he stands guard over the Canadian War Memorial at a complex in Ottawa, killing him. The killer then races into the nearby Canadian parliament building but is killed in a violent exchange of gunfire with members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

This incident came just two days after another radicalized Muslim named Martin Couture-Rouleau used a car to run over two Canadian soldiers in Quebec, killing one of them and seriously injuring the other. 

As reported by Emily Arrowood and Lis Power on  MediaMatters.org earlier this afternoon, despite President Obama specifically mentioning the words "terrorist activity" or "terror" no less than three times during a press conference on Wednesday, the talking heads on the Fox News Channel were busy venting their outrage NOT at Michael Zihaf-Bibeau (the Canadian-born man who used a gun to take the life of Cpl. Cirillo), but at a completely FALSE narrative concocted by right-wing media based on the lie that suggests President Obama won't call terrorist incidents terrorist incidents.  

Consider the transcript of this exchange on 'Fox & Friends' between host Steve Doocy and Fox News "legal analyst" Peter Johnson (as posted on MediaMatters.org):

DOOCY: "Should this serve as a wake-up call to Canada and America, and could the president's failure to recognize terror as terror put us at risk? Peter Johnson, Jr. joins us live."

JOHNSON: "We need to take the wake-up call and say 'don't call back in five minutes.' The president, unfortunately Steve, and our friends out there this morning, has not recognized terror as terror -- Benghazi, Fort Hood, the Little Rock 2009 massacre of our American soldiers here on American soil, Alton Nolan and the beheading as you were talking about before. So the first step is recognition of the problem. We need to be strong and powerful enough to say yeah, there is a problem and we're going to contain it here in the United States."

"But the problem is, we haven't recognized it and called it as such. So today, the president needs to recognize this as terrorism. He didn't recognize it yesterday, although the Canadian prime minister did, and the world did, and anyone that could read about it or see it on the FoxNews.com site or on our television could say, what do you think it is? This is a radicalized Islamist terrorist." 
 [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/23/14]

To repeat, President Obama used the words "terrorist activity" or "terror" three times during his press conference on the day of the attack, so what the Hell are these people on Fox even talking about?

This lunacy wasn't limited to 'Fox & Friends' by a long-shot. On the day of the actual shooting Fox News host Sean Hannity, Fox White House correspondent Ed Henry and host Andrea Tantaros ALL repeated variations on the same theme, taking care to tie it into the Benghazi incident in Libya - as did everyone's favorite gas bag Rush Limbaugh.

The Media Matters article points out an important and glaring weakness of the Republican party and today's American conservative movement - their current political platform is largely based off two things:

1. A highly-distorted mix of theory and opinion disguised as policy (trickle-down economic theory, right-to-work laws, "voter fraud", repealing the Affordable Care Act).

2. And using an irrational and virulent hatred of the President as a rallying point - an unprecedented and disrespectful hatred largely based on portraying him as an "other"; which has the effect of laying out a welcome mat for intolerance and bigotry within the Republican party.

The GOP has shrunk to using Benghazi like some sort of all-purpose Magic Bullet, invoking it like some kind of mantra or charm that will simultaneously zap the President's popularity and take the shine off Hillary Clinton's star.

Even though the actual FACTS of the Benghazi incident are totally different than how conservatives USE Benghazi, as the transcript above shows, they have the gall to cite Benghazi as if it was in any way relevant to the terrible events that have taken place in two large Canadian cities in the past few days.

Were these attacks in Canada actually linked to ISIS threats of retribution against any nation supporting the US attacks in Iraq and Syria?

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was born in Canada and, as evidence suggests, was a loner who only recently became involved with radical Islam - yet with barely any facts known and the investigation just starting conservatives want to blame this senseless attack on the President?

There's something distasteful and cowardly in the way Republicans are quick to use the tragic deaths of innocent people who died at the hands of terrorist killers as political red meat to toss to their constituents.

Why didn't Hannity or Limbaugh talk about the fact that Cpl Cirillo was the father of a young son? Or that he loved dogs and frequently posted photos of his beloved pets online?

They're much to busy trying to capitalize on the fear generated by these unprecedented (for Canadians) terrorist attacks as a means to further channel their loathing for the President.

For conservative media pundits there's no room to honor a fallen soldier who was standing guard at a memorial to fallen soldiers; conservatives can't miss the opportunity to use the brutality of this latest terrorist incident to dishonor the leader of the country they claim to love.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

French Oil Exec Christophe de Margerie Killed After Private Jet Is Struck By Drunk Russian Driver's Plow

French Total Exec Christophe "Big Moustache" de Margerie
It was only back on October 3rd that a Hollywood Reporter article reported about an indignant member of the Russian parliament who made the bold proposal to ban all foreign films that "demonize Russia and Russians".

Well-known Russian director Yuri Kara then publicly suggested using a ban on American films as leverage to pressure President Obama to lift sanctions levied against Russia for having invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in violation of international law.

Just before 12am Monday (Moscow time) French oil executive Christophe de Margerie, the highly-regarded head of France's second largest company, Total, was killed on the runway of Vnukovo International Airport south-west of Moscow along with three members of the crew when a Russian airport plow driver who was drunk at the time, veered into the path of de Margerie's private Falcon-50 jet.

The colorful and outspoken de Margerie, affectionately known within the French company he headed as "Big Moustache" for his distinctive mustache (pictured above)  had just met with Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev to discuss French investment in Russia; including a joint French-Russian venture to extract oil from Siberia; de Margerie's company Total is one of the top ten oil producers in the world.

Now to a degree, I can understand Russian concerns about the way Russian people are portrayed in Hollywood films. As the Hollywood Reporter article notes, there have been a number of recent films featuring Russian villains including 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit', 'A Good Day to Die Hard' and 'The Avengers'. But remember, those are just fictional characters.

The outraged Russians may have forgotten that Hollywood also has had many quality films featuring interesting Russian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian characters too. 'Enemy At the Gates', 'Dr. Zhivago', 'The Hunt for Red October', 'Reds', 'Gorky Park', 'Moscow On the Hudson' and 'The Russia House' are just a few of the Hollywood films to have featured an array of well-written, intelligent and multidimensional Russian characters of substance, complexity and depth. 

So that "outrage" over a handful of American popcorn movies featuring Russian villains struck me as a bit contrived; and opportunistic too given the beating Russia's public image has taken since President Vladimir Putin ordered Crimea annexed and put Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory.

And let's be frank, it's not like Russia has to wag it's finger at Hollywood's fictional depictions of Russian villains.

Russia, like many other nations including America, has it's own share of real-life villains. It was only this summer that a Malaysian Boeing 777 was shot down over Ukraine with Russian technology; including a Russian-built missile launcher that was quickly spirited back into Russian territory.

How about Josef Stalin? Historians and scholars agree that the former Soviet leader was estimated to have killed at least 20 million of his OWN people (some say 60 million) - far more than even Hitler's crazy-ass killed.

Then there's Andrei Chikatilo, the most prolific (known) Russian serial killer in Russian history, who plead guilty to 56 cases of rape, mutilation and murder of women and children after finally being caught. The story was told in the excellent HBO film 'Citizen X'.

Russia's problems with neo-Nazis and violent right wing nationalist hate groups are well-documented as well; just as they are here in the US and other European nations.

It's not my purpose to malign Russia, as I wrote about in this blog back in 2011, I visited the Soviet Union back in 1987 and got to personally experience the rich culture and history of the beautiful city of Leningrad / St. Petersburg; and the generosity and kindness of it's people. I hope to return there some day when the environment is less openly hostile to foreigners and people of color.

But the idea that the public image of Russians is being distorted by fictional villains in Hollywood films, is questionable at best.

The Russian government's actions in Crimea, their tacit support of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, the trampling of human rights, censorship of journalists and outlawing of opposition political parties within their own borders and their complicity in the downing of the Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine make it more than clear that Russians themselves are responsible for distorting their own image around the globe.

It wasn't a fictional villain from a Hollywood movie that caused the death of Christophe de Margerie.

It was a drunk Russian plow driver at a mismanaged Russian airport who collided with a private jet on the runway; killing a respected international businessman who actually believed in the importance of doing business with Russia - even in the midst of international sanctions.

It's not Hollywood fiction that's demonizing Russians; that's just the reality in Russia today.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

UK Protesters March For Fair Wages - Elizabeth Warren Rallies Progressive Democrats in Minnesota

Thousands of Londoners took part in 'Britain Needs a Pay Raise' march [Photo Dominc Lipinski]
If you look at indicators like GDP or unemployment rates, both the United States and Great Britain are well into a sluggish but steady economic recovery.

The sobering reality? Only the top earners in each country are actually feeling the benefits.

Yesterday hundreds of thousands protesters representing a broad coalition of public sector workers, railway workers, nurses & health workers, postal workers, pensioners, climate change advocates and anti-nuclear activists took part in marches in cities from Glasgow, Scotland and Belfast, Ireland to London. Representative from firemen's and police unions took past as well.

Saturday's marches are part of ongoing efforts to protest austerity measures by the British government and the longest period of wage stagnation since the Victorian era 150 years ago. On Monday thousands of nurses and midwives represented by the Royal College of Nurses went on strike to demand a modest 1% pay increase by the National Health Service (NHS) - the UK's publicly funded national healthcare system. The 1% pay increase is still below rises in cost of living.

This week prison officers and hospital radiology technicians will strike as well. Back in July hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in England went on strike for a day to stage protests against stagnant wages, pension losses and flat wages for the working class - which have actually dropped 8% since 2007 when factoring in the corresponding increases in the cost of living.

The demands come as a British report shows FTSE 100 directors (the UK's version of Wall Street execs) have enjoyed a 21% increase in compensation and now make a staggering 120 times the average UK worker.

What gets me is that wage stagnation and inequality in pay is even worse here in America. The overall unemployment rate is shrinking, but far too many of these jobs don't pay a living wage, or don't offer healthcare or 401k packages. Why aren't there thousands of Americans out there protesting stagnant wages?

Case in point: I rent apartments for a living. The other week a woman in her late 60's, I'll call her "Julie" applied for a 1-bedroom. She lost her husband in the past couple years, lives on her own, kids are grown. She's got a pension and Social Security but her husband's pension shrank by half when he passed away so she still works part-time at Wal-Mart as a cashier to make ends meet. 

She told me not only does Wal-Mart not properly compensate workers for over-time and mandate an under-40 hour work week so they don't have to pay healthcare costs, they'll fire someone for missing a day for legitimate medical reasons. She said they fired a man in his 50's the other week who'd worked there for 15 years because he strained his back and couldn't move heavy pallets on the job - he could do everything else, just not the heavy pallets. Wal-Mart fired him.

Millions of Americans like "Julie" have been forced to take jobs that pay a fraction of what they were earning before the start of the Great Recession, so they're employed but haven't made up the losses in wages, 401k's, pension cuts or equity lost from home values that were lost in the mortgage crisis.

Major elections are coming up in November so you'd think there are plenty  of reasons for thousands of Americans to be out there marching as part of a coordinated effort to address the lack of good-paying full time jobs and wage stagnation. 

On the same Saturday that thousands were marching over in the UK, progressive Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren was in Minnesota rallying Democratic supporters to support the senate race of Minnesota Senator Al Franken, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton as well as other candidates. She's speaking up on issues including voting rights, student debt, a livable minimum wage and government investment in education and clean energy.

On Friday she was in Colorado to support the Senatorial campaign of Mark Udall; and she's in Iowa today to support the Senate campaign of Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley who's running for retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin's old seat.

Obviously there many Americans standing up the issues that can make a positive different for the poor and middle class, folks who've been watching the "economic recovery" from the outside. There are wealthy Americans actively supporting a progressive agenda too.

I guess I'd like to see more large scale organizational efforts for people to make the media and politicians on both sides of the aisle pay attention to the needs of people who want everyone to be able to participate in the economic recovery - regardless of what they make or what they do for a living.

The best thing we can do is simply vote this November. Or maybe take a page from the British playbook and get out there and march.