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Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders – Photo: AFL-CIO

There’s been a lot of talk that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will run for President in 2015-’16, but last night’s speech at Pullen Church in Raleigh before a friendly crowd of a few hundred people was all about policy. Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist who will turn 72 in a couple of weeks, devoted the lion’s share of his talk to lambasting the nation’s exploding economic inequality and the people (the Koch Brothers and their fellow plutocrats) and the policies (the demise of campaign finance laws, regressive tax laws) that he believes are behind it.

Sanders highlighted the nation’s dramatic rightward policy shift over recent decades by reading at length from the 1980 national Libertarian Party platform under which David Koch was a candidate for Vice President.  The senator then explained how many of the once-radical right policies that Koch had advanced at that time (e.g. the demise of the social safety net, the end of campaign finance regulations) were now considered mainstream conservative values. Read More

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These come from a recent University of California Alumni Association profile of economist Emmanuel Saez and his work that was linked to by the excellent online newsletter Too Much:

The top 1 percenters in the United States, for example, have seen their share of national income rise from under 8 percent in 1970 to just under 20 percent in 2010. A similar pattern is seen in Canada, which also adopted the same esprit de laissez-faire that made Reaganomics the hallmark of United States fiscal policy in the 1980s.

In contrast, over the same period, the top 1 percenters in Japan saw their share of national income inch up from 8 to 9.5 percent. French and Swedish plutocrats were similarly deprived. (Emphasis supplied).

Meanwhile, check out the following amazing graph of Census data that also comes from the folks at Too Much: Read More

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In case you missed it, North Carolina is about to release yet another person who spent two decades in state prison for crimes he did not commit — thus further highlighting the absurdity of the death penalty in the 21st Century. This is from a post on the N.C. Innocence Project blog:

On Monday, a Superior Court judge in North Carolina dismissed all charges and vacated the convictions of Michael Parker who was convicted of multiple sex crimes against his three children. Parker spent more than 20 years behind bars and is expected to be released from Craggy Correctional Center today.

In January 1994, Parker was convicted of eight counts of first-degree sex offense and four counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He was sentenced to eight consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the first-degree sex offenses and an additional 40 years on the indecent liberties convictions.

Asheville attorney Sean Devereux brought the case to the Duke Law School Wrongful Conviction Clinic in 2011, about a decade after he was approached by Parker. Devereux told the Citizen-Times that Parker was convicted during the satanic ritual abuse frenzy of the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to the Citizen-Times, Devereux said that not a single one of those satanic ritual sexual abuse accusations has proven to be true. He said that all of the defendants have seen their convictions overturned.

According to the judge’s ruling, advances in child medical examinations and forensic interviewing techniques warranted granting Parker’s petition for relief and that most of the evidence presented at trial was unreliable. The motion also listed ineffective assistance of trial counsel and recantation of one of the children’s testimony, among other vital factors to grant relief.

Devereux said that last year Parker was offered a deal to plead guilty, which would have vacated his convictions and allowed him to leave prison based on time served, but Parker refused to take the deal.

Click here to read more details on the Asheville Citizen-Times website.

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There’s a great editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning that ought to be mandatory reading for every critic of our public schools — especially the ones who want to de-fund them and turn their mission over to the the “genius of the free market.” The piece is entitled “Don’t take public education for granted.” Here are a few highlights:

In Wake County, the state’s largest school system, some 156,000 and counting students were back in school this week. And in what is a remarkable feat of derring-do, most things worked smoothly.

Teachers perform miracles, it’s true. But the running of such a system is a miracle in itself: Buses have to be scheduled, enough teachers hired and in the classroom by that first day, food bought and prepared, supplies stored, classrooms decorated, curricula designed and extracurriculars planned.

And this:

Teachers, we hope, will begin the year with adequate supplies, but it won’t be long before they’re off to Target to resupply out of their own pockets. More affluent schools will have fundraisers to cover the multitude of extras not in the school budget. Others will just do without.

At one Wake elementary school toward the end of the last school year, a teacher was overheard telling a principal her pencil sharpener was broken. “Do we have some money for that?” the teacher asked. “I’m sorry, no,” said the principal.

A miracle worker can’t get a pencil sharpener?

And, finally this:

Yes, our public schools have been much criticized, unfortunately of late by self-serving politicians who have actually used underpaid and overworked public school teachers as targets. But every day, from dawn until dark, custodians and principals and classroom teachers and coaches and cafeteria workers and bus drivers pull off the miracle, somehow, and then do it for another day and another and another.

Merlin and David Copperfield had nothing on them. Many a military leader aware of what public school people do would be happy to have them consult on logistics and battlefield strategy. It’s simply amazing, this institution called public education, and we forget that sometimes while we’re taking it for granted.

To which all a body can say in reply is “amen.”

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Casino slots

Image: www.stoppredatorygambling.org

If you subscribe to or frequently check out Raleigh’s News & Observer, you probably saw the featured Sunday story that looked at casino gambling in Cherokee as well as the coming expansions and the efforts to introduce more of the same in South Carolina under the banner of the Catawba tribe. It was a good and well-written story — as far as it went.

Unfortunately,  here’s the one hugely important item that you didn’t see anywhere in the lengthy and quite-thoroughly illustrated story: Any mention whatsoever of the the way that large and predatory gambling corporations exploit Native American tribes along with a huge proportion of the customers who visit the casinos.

One would think it might have occurred. After all, one of the Cherokee customers interviewed for the story admitted that he frequents Cherokee “42-44 weekends a year.”  Good lord, what’s next? An upbeat profile of a regular slot machine player who shares a cheap hotel room with seven other people and frequents the local blood bank?

Not that it would be hard to find out the truth about the predations of the casino industry or the tribes and individuals it exploits. Les Bernal, the longtime executive director of the national nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling (a group that does great work bringing together liberal and conservative gambling opponents) has been in North Carolina multiple times — including this summer — to speak out against the effort to create a Catawba Nation casino. Moreover, SPG’s website is chock full of stories and analyses detailing the disasters that predatory casino gambling typically begets. This is from a section devoted to Native American casinos: Read More