SAY NO TO THE #HOODIEBANBILL
To: The OKLAHOMA STATE SENATE
Oklahoma State Senators: Reject SB 13, which would make it illegal to wear
hooded-clothing in public places.
Why is this important?
SB 13 is problematic for several reasons: 1) It further criminalizes Black youth by targeting what they wear 2) It intensifies a culture of hostility between law enforcement and
Black communities, whereby Black folks are disproportionately targeted,
harmed, and killed by police violence 3) It curtails constitutionally-protected free expression rights 4) Lastly, it doesn't include political protest as one of its exceptions At Million Hoodies, we use hoodies strategically for protest around the
country. This #HoodieBanBill would not only make it more difficult for
us to carry out such protests in the future, but it also reinforces
a culture of hostility and discrimination by unjustly targeting
harmless fashions associated with Black folks. Join us in demanding that the Oklahoma Senate reject this harmful
and unjust #HoodieBanBill!
Bay Area United Against War Newsletter
Table of Contents:
A. EVENTS AND ACTIONS
B. ARTICLES IN FULL
A. EVENTS AND ACTIONS
SHUT DOWN CREECH!
Mass Mobilization to Stop Drone Wars!
A Convergence For Peace in the Nevada Desert
Join us March 4-6, 2015 at Creech Air Force Base, Indian Springs, Nevada, for a national mobilization of nonviolent resistance to shut down killer drone operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan,Yemen, Somalia, and everywhere. Sponsored by CODEPINK: Women for Peace, Nevada Desert Experience , Veterans For Peace, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Voices for Creative Nonviolence. CODEPINK will also hold vigils daily on March 2nd and 3rd, prior to the official beginning of this Creech Convergence For Peace, and welcomes everyone to join them.
In 2005, Creech Air Force Base secretly became the first U.S. base in the country to carry out illegal, remotely controlled assassinations using the MQ-1 Predator drones, and in 2006, the more advanced Reaper drones were added to its arsenal. Creech drone personnel sit behind computers in the desert north of Las Vegas and kill "suspects" thousands of miles away. Recent independent research indicates that the identity of only one out of 28 victims of U.S. drone strikes is known beforehand. Though officials deny it, the majority of those killed by drones are civilians. In 2014, it was leaked that the CIA's criminal drone assassination program, officially a separate operation from the Air Force's, has been piloted all along by Creech's super-secret Squadron 17.
Since 2009 dozens of activists have been arrested for allegedly trespassing at Creech, in attempts to stop the indiscriminate killing and burning of innocent people by drones. At the trial of the "Creech 14," the first Americans prosecuted for trespass at a drone base, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark testified that "to have a baby burn to death because of a 'no trespass' sign would be poor public policy, to put it mildly." In a time of burning children, the "no trespass" signs attached to the fences that protect the crimes perpetrated with drones are not legitimate, and they do not command our obedience. After all, it is the U.S. military that is guilty of lethal trespassing.
The US drone program is rapidly proliferating as air bases are being converted to drone bases across the U.S. and abroad, but Creech remains the primary air base in U.S. state-sponsored global terrorism. Creech is where the killer drone program started--it is where we shall end it.
We must put an end to this desecration of our Mother Earth and all creatures who inhabit it.
We must put an end to the dehumanization of lives from Ferguson to Palestine to Pakistan.
We must close all foreign U.S. military bases. Money for human needs.
We must put an end to drone warfare, drone surveillance, and global militarization.
SHUT CREECH DOWN!
More details to come soon!
Sign up on facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/1525740921010540/?context=create&previousaction=create&source=49&sid_create=3742154553#
Toby Blomé of Code Pink, 510-215-5974 (h)
Brian Terrell of VCNV and NDE, 773-853-1886
Justice for Rasmea: All out for March 12!
Letters for Leniency requested by Feb. 4.
On March 12, Rasmea is set to appear once again in the Detroit courtroom of Judge Gershwin Drain, this time for a sentencing hearing. We are seeking letters to the judge requesting leniency.
For this round of letters, we are NOT looking for a mountain of individual statements, but rather letters from prominent individuals who represent broader constituencies. We need you to work with leaders of faith-based, labor, and community organizations, as well as student governments, student organizations (national), prominent professors, and legislators in your area to draft and submit letters.
Below you will find an outline you can use to draft these letters, but it is important for the authors to write them in their own voices. Letters should be submitted by February 4 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned! Keep sharing Rasmea’s story and organizing fundraisers. Watch for calls for your support as we prepare for sentencing and appeal. Our organizing is key to winning #Justice4Rasmea.
* * * SAMPLE LETTER TEMPLATE * * *
Honorable Judge Gershwin Drain,
I am writing to request leniency from you in the March 12 sentencing of Rasmea Odeh, who I know as .
-In November 2014, Rasmea was convicted of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization. Compassion in her sentencing will serve justice in this case. She was detained for a month immediately following the verdict, including almost 3 weeks in solitary confinement, which was extremely difficult for her.
As a survivor of torture, engagement for the betterment of her community in Chicago is critical to her emotional health; the isolation she endured while incarcerated was a great hardship and may have retriggered her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
-As a 67-year old woman, her health suffered under the cold, damp, and uncomfortable conditions in the St. Clair County Jail, as they surely would in any facility lacking medical services and accommodations to provide for senior citizens.
-If Rasmea loses her appeal, she will likely lose her citizenship and face deportation. This will end life as she knows it, cutting all her ties with family and community in Chicago. This punishment alone is so devastating, it should not be compounded by adding a prison term.
-Since there is a possibility of her conviction being overturned on appeal, keeping her out of prison would allow her to continue as a contributing and productive person, doing the work that is so critical to hundreds of immigrant and refugee women in Chicago’s Arab and Muslim community.
-Rasmea is an award-winning leader of Chicago’s immigrant community who has dedicated 50 years of her life to serving refugees wherever she has lived. In Chicago, she built the Arab Women’s Committee, with some 600 members. Because of Rasmea’s work, immigrant and refugee women who came to the US from countries facing war and political crises – like Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, and beyond – now have a place to seek support, gain empowerment and community, and call their home.
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Copyright © 2015 Committee to Stop FBI Repression, All rights reserved.
Thanks for your ongoing interest in the fight against FBI repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists!
Our mailing address is:
Committee to Stop FBI Repression
PO Box 14183
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Save the Date - UNAC National Conference, May 8 - 10, 2015
UNAC is the major national antiwar coalition in the U.S. today. The existence of a United National Antiwar Coalition is vital and we need your financial support to continue our work and to expand.
With U.S. wars today accelerating and expanding globally in various forms – from drone attacks on Yemen and Pakistan, never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, support to neo-fascists in Ukraine, and proliferating Africom forces to threats of war for regime change in Syria – we have an obligation to do whatever is possible to educate the public and to take action to stop the carnage.
The wars abroad are connected to global warming with most wars fought over energy resources with the U.S. war machine as the largest polluter.
At home, we see hugely growing income inequality, a militarized and racist police force, mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos, and a massive police state apparatus that includes global surveillance and laws to quell dissent.
In spite of the trillions spent by the U.S. corporate war government and its controlled media propaganda machine to keep us in check, the people are fighting back. We’ve been inspired and strengthened by the hundreds of thousands of new activists taking to the streets of this country to stop police brutality, to build Occupy encampments, to fight for decent wages, to demand full rights for immigrants, to win marriage equality, to end global warming, to demonstrate solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza, and to protest unending U.S. wars.
UNAC has played an active, often leadership role, in all of the antiwar and social justice movements of our time. While most activists are focused on their particular issues, the most vital role we can play is to connect the issues to their source. All of the injustices and crimes we protest, stem from the imperialist insatiable drive for expanding profit and control – and the U.S. is the largest imperialist power militarily and economically. When there should be plenty for all, only the obscenely wealthy benefit while the rest of the 99% struggle just to survive.
Some of our recent major accomplishments:
· Initiated protest against NATO and 15,000 marched in Chicago in 2012.
· Called for immediate actions against threats of war and coups directed at Libya, Iran, No. Korea, Africa, Latin America, Ukraine, and maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.
· Organized a national tour for Afghan leader Malalai Joya.
· Sent representatives to international NATO protests and conferences.
· Serve on the Board of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms to act against Islamophobia , racist attacks on Muslims, and attacks on our civil liberties.
· Participated in national efforts to organize anti-drone actions.
· Campaigned to defend victims of government repression who speak out and expose Washington’s crimes, including Rasmea Odeh, Mumia abu Jamal, Lynne Stewart, Chelsea Manning, and the Midwest activists targeted by the FBI.
· Produced national educational conference calls featuring experts on topics such as U.S. intervention in Africa, the destruction of Libya, the developing wars in Syria, and others.
· Built an antiwar contingent in the massive New York City Climate Change march and built Climate Change action in other cities around the country.
· Helped organize protests against Israel’s attack on Gaza
· Helped organize protests against the murder of Blacks by white police and the militarization of the police forces in the U.S.
UNAC has a history of bringing hundreds of activists together at large national conferences to learn about the issues of the day, to discuss the way forward and to vote on an Action Program for the coming period.
The UNAC conference next May will bring activists from all the movements in motion to cross-fertilize these struggles. We are particularly dedicated to bringing young activists together to support and learn from each other. For this, we need your help to offer subsidies to leaders from Ferguson, from the border wars in the southwest, from the Native Americans who are fighting against the pipelines ruining their lands, from the Students for Justice in Palestine, and many others.
Please give generously so that we can continue our work to bring harmony and justice to the peoples of this earth.
You can send a check to UNAC at PO Box 123, Delmar, NY 12054 or click the button below to contribute on-line with your credit or debit card.
On Behalf of Wadiya Jamal and
A Contribution Request
The message following is a forward from:
Sister, Advocate and Friend of the Extended Family
Samiya “Goldii” Abdullah, a daughter of Wadiya Jamal and Mumia Abu-Jamal died on December 17, 2014 after years of battle with breast cancer. Samiya would have been 37 this January 9 and is survived by two young daughters, Aiyanah and Aaiyah, affectionately known as Dolly and Puddy, ages eleven and four.
Samiya was a remarkable woman. She was accomplished as a musician, an activist and rapper on social justice, particularly in the struggle for Mumia’s freedom. She devoured books and education. During her long, often debilitating illness, Samiya finished her Masters Degree in School and Mental Health Counseling from the University of Pennsylvania with honors. She was dedicated to her young daughters and wanted them to grow up loving each other as much as she did her brothers and sisters. And she wanted her daughters to see Mumia (called “Pop Pop” by them) walk out of prison and home with their grandmother, Wadiya.
Samiya's active fight for Mumia's freedom, began at the young age of four. Mumia wrote about this in “The Visit” printed in Live from Death Row in 1994. This was recreated in the movie "Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary."
"My father is still considered to be a dangerous individual … his mind is what they fear, there is over- whelming evidence that would exonerate him of his conviction.
"He is an innocent man and the commonwealth has always known this, but being too Black, too smart, and too strong … The government will silence anyone that possesses the power to open the minds of the people."
Samiya’s strength, character and spirit were nurtured by Wadiya and Mumia and are being passed on to her daughters.
On behalf of Wadiya Jamal and Mumia Abu-Jamal, this is a request for funds to assist Wadiya for care of her granddaughters, Dolly and Puddy.
A financial contribution of any amount will be greatly appreciated.
Please send checks or money orders, made payable to Wadiya Jamal:
P.O. Box 19404
Kingsessing Postal Station
Philadelphia, PA 19143-9998
In loving memory of Samiya and in tribute to her fierce fight for life,
Sister, Advocate and Friend of the Extended Family
Hear Mumia’s Words (and Song) played before the Janazah for Samiya on December 20, 2014: “Samiya Abdullah Makes Transition”:
This message has been sent to you by:
The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
PO Box 16222 • Oakland CA • 510.763.2347
to fight the “gag” law!
Support Prison Radio
$35 is the yearly membership.
$50 will get you a beautiful tote bag (you can special order a yoga mat bag, just call us).
$100 will get the DVD "Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary"
$300 will bring one essay to the airwaves.
$1000 (or $88.83 per month) will make you a member of our Prison Radio Freedom Circle. Take a moment and Support Prison Radio
Luchando por la justicia y la libertad,
Noelle Hanrahan, Director, Prison Radio
P.O. Box 411074 San Francisco, CA 94141
Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson
Lorenzo Speaks Concerning Prosecution's Brief:
JANUARY 1, 2015—The prosecutor has run away from (almost) every issue raised in my PCRA by begging the Court to dismiss everything as “untimely”. When they don’t do this, they suggest that me and my lawyers were “defamatory” towards either my former prosecutor Christopher Abruzzo or Detective Kevin Duffin, in our claims they withheld, misused or hid evidence of my Innocence, in order to secure an unjust conviction in this case. If I charged, a year ago, that about a dozen AGs (attorneys general) were involved in circulating porno via their office computers, people would’ve laughed at me, and seen me as crazy.
But, guess what? During 2014, we learned that this was the truth. How can it be defamatory to speak the truth? Notice the OAG (Office of Attorney General), never said the obvious: That AG Abruzzo didn’t inform the Defense about the relationship between his Motive Witness and his head detective (Victoria Doubs and Det. Duffin); that Det. Duffin doesn’t deny Doubs was his god-sister, and that she lived in his family home, or that he assisted her whenever she got into trouble.
Why not? Because it is true. How can you defame someone who defames himself? Mr. Christopher Abruzzo, Esq., when a member of the higher ranks of the OAG, sent and/or received copious amounts of porno to other attorneys general and beyond. What does this say about his sense of judgment? He thought enough about his behavior to resign from his post in the Governor’s Cabinet. If he thought that his behavior was okay, he’d still be sitting in the Governor’s cabinet, right? The OAG cannot honestly oppose anything we’ve argued, but they try by seeking to get the Court to do their dirty work, how? By denying an Evidentiary Hearing to prove every point we’ve claimed.
The prosecution is trying desperately to avoid dealing with the substance of my claims in Com. v. Lorenzo Johnson. So, they slander my Legal Team and blame them for defaming the good AG’s and Cops involved with this case. They try to do what is undeniable, to deny that they hid evidence from the Defense for years. They blamed me for daring to protest the hidden evidence of their malfeasance and other acts to sabotage the defense. They claim that they had an “Open File” policy with my trial counsel. But “Open File” is more than letting an attorney read something in their office. If it’s a search for the truth it must include what is turned over to the attorney, for how do we really know what was shown to her?
They say it is inconceivable that an attorney would read a file, beginning on page nine (9), and not ask for the preceding eight (8) pages. Yet, it is conceivable if trial counsel was ineffective for not demanding the record of the first eight pages. Pages that identify the State’s only witness as a “SUSPECT” in the murder for which her client was charged! How could such an attorney fail to recognize the relevance of such an issue, barring their sheer Ineffectiveness and frankly, Incompetence.
By seeking to avoid an evidentiary hearing, the prosecution seeks to avoid evidence of their wrongdoing being made plain, for all to see. If they believe I’m wrong, why not prove it? They can’t. So they shout I filed my appeal untimely, as if there can ever justly be a rule that precludes an innocent from proving his innocence! Not to mention the fact that the prosecution has failed to even mention the positive finger prints that ay my trial they said none existed. Don’t try to hide it with a lame argument about time. When isn’t there a time for truth? The prosecution should be ashamed of itself for taking this road. It is unworthy of an office that claims to seek justice.
After the trial verdict The Patriot-News (March 18, 1997) reported, “Deputy Attorney General Christopher Abruzzo admitted there were some serious concerns about the strength of the evidence against Johnson and praised the jury for doing a thorough job.” I guess he forgot to mention all of the evidence he left out to show Innocence.
Now, more than ever, Lorenzo Johnson needs your support.
Publicize his case; bring it to your friends, clubs, religious
and social organizations.
SIGN LORENZO JOHNSON'S FREEDOM PETITION
CONTRIBUTE TO LORENZO'S CAMPAIGN FOR FREEDOM!
Write: Lorenzo Johnson
301 Morea Rd.
Frackville, PA 17932
Email: Lorenzo Johnson through JPAY.com code:
Lorenzo Johnson DF 1036 PA DOC
Click HERE to view in browser
Join the Fight to Free Rev. Pinkney!
On December 15, 2014 the Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan was thrown into prison for 2.5 to 10 years. This 66-year-old leading African American activist was tried and convicted in front of an all-white jury and racist white judge and prosecutor for supposedly altering 5 dates on a recall petition against the mayor of Benton Harbor.
The prosecutor, with the judge’s approval, repeatedly told the jury “you don’t need evidence to convict Mr. Pinkney.” And ABSOLUTELY NO EVIDENCE WAS EVER PRESENTED THAT TIED REV. PINKNEY TO THE ‘ALTERED’ PETITIONS. Rev. Pinkney was immediately led away in handcuffs and thrown into Jackson Prison.
This is an outrageous charge. It is an outrageous conviction. It is an even more outrageous sentence! It must be appealed.
With your help supporters need to raise $20,000 for Rev. Pinkney’s appeal.
Checks can be made out to BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization). This is the organization founded by Rev. Pinkney. Mail them to: Mrs. Dorothy Pinkney, 1940 Union Street, Benton Harbor, MI 49022.
Donations can be accepted on-line at bhbanco.org – press the donate button.
For information on the decade long campaign to destroy Rev. Pinkney go to bhbanco.org and workers.org(search “Pinkney”).
We urge your support to the efforts to Free Rev. Pinkney!Ramsey Clark – Former U.S. attorney general,
Cynthia McKinney – Former member of U.S. Congress,
Lynne Stewart – Former political prisoner and human rights attorney
Ralph Poynter – New Abolitionist Movement,
Abayomi Azikiwe – Editor, Pan-African News Wire<
Larry Holmes – Peoples Power Assembly,
David Sole – Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice
Sara Flounders – International Action Center
MESSAGE FROM REV. PINKNEY
I am now in Marquette prison over 15 hours from wife and family, sitting in prison for a crime that was never committed. Judge Schrock and Mike Sepic both admitted there was no evidence against me but now I sit in prison facing 30 months. Schrock actually stated that he wanted to make an example out of me. (to scare Benton Harbor residents even more...) ONLY IN AMERICA. I now have an army to help fight Berrien County. When I arrived at Jackson state prison on Dec. 15, I met several hundred people from Detroit, Flint, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids. Some people recognized me. There was an outstanding amount of support given by the prison inmates. When I was transported to Marquette Prison it took 2 days. The prisoners knew who I was. One of the guards looked me up on the internet and said, "who would believe Berrien County is this racist."
New Court Date on 4 Motions for Rev. Pinkney
TUES, FEB. 24 1pm Berrien County Court
Background to Campaign to free Rev. Pinkney
Michigan political prisoner the Rev. Edward Pinkney is a victim of racist injustice. He was sentenced to 30 months to 10 years for supposedly changing the dates on 5 signatures on a petition to recall Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower.
No material or circumstantial evidence was presented at the trial that would implicate Pinkney in the purported5 felonies. Many believe that Pinkney, a Berrien County activist and leader of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), is being punished by local authorities for opposing the corporate plans of Whirlpool Corp, headquartered in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
In 2012, Pinkney and BANCO led an “Occupy the PGA [Professional Golfers’ Association of America]” demonstration against a world-renowned golf tournament held at the newly created Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The course was carved out of Jean Klock Park, which had been donated to the city of Benton Harbor decades ago.
Berrien County officials were determined to defeat the recall campaign against Mayor Hightower, who opposed a program that would have taxed local corporations in order to create jobs and improve conditions in Benton Harbor, a majority African-American municipality. Like other Michigan cities, it has been devastated by widespread poverty and unemployment.
The Benton Harbor corporate power structure has used similar fraudulent charges to stop past efforts to recall or vote out of office the racist white officials, from mayor, judges, prosecutors in a majority Black city. Rev Pinkney who always quotes scripture, as many Christian ministers do, was even convicted for quoting scripture in a newspaper column. This outrageous conviction was overturned on appeal. We must do this again!
To sign the petition in support of the Rev. Edward Pinkney, log on to: tinyurl.com/ps4lwyn.
Contributions for Rev. Pinkney’s defense can be sent to BANCO at Mrs Dorothy Pinkney, 1940 Union St., Benton Harbor, MI 49022
Or you can donate on-line at bhbanco.org.
COURAGE TO RESIST
New Action- write letters to DoD officials requesting clemency for Chelsea!November 24, 2014 by the Chelsea Manning Support Network
President Obama has delegated review of Chelsea Manning’s clemency appeal to individuals within the Department of Defense.
Please write them to express your support for heroic WikiLeaks’ whistle-blower former US Army intelligence analyst PFC Chelsea Manning’s release from military prison.
It is important that each of these authorities realize the wide support that Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning enjoys worldwide. They need to be reminded that millions understand that Manning is a political prisoner, imprisoned for following her conscience. While it is highly unlikely that any of these individuals would independently move to release Manning, a reduction in Manning’s outrageous 35-year prison sentence is a possibility at this stage.
Take action TODAY – Write letters supporting Chelsea’s clemency petition to the following DoD authorities:
Secretary of the Army John McHugh
101 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-0101
Washington, DC 20310-0101
The Judge Advocate General
2200 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-2200
2200 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20310-2200
Army Clemency and Parole Board
251 18th St, Suite 385
Arlington, VA 22202-3532
251 18th St, Suite 385
Arlington, VA 22202-3532
Directorate of Inmate AdministrationSuggestions for letters send to DoD officials:
Attn: Boards Branch
U.S. Disciplinary Barracks
1301 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2304
Attn: Boards Branch
U.S. Disciplinary Barracks
1301 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2304
- The letter should focus on your support for Chelsea Manning, and especially why you believe justice will be served if Chelsea Manning’s sentence is reduced. The letter should NOT be anti-military as this will be unlikely to help
- A suggested message: “Chelsea Manning has been punished enough for violating military regulations in the course of being true to her conscience. I urge you to use your authorityto reduce Pvt. Manning’s sentence to time served.” Beyond that general message, feel free to personalize the details as to why you believe Chelsea deserves clemency.
- Consider composing your letter on personalized letterhead -you can create this yourself (here are templates and some tips for doing that).
- A comment on this post will NOT be seen by DoD authorities–please send your letters to the addresses above
Help us continue to cover 100% of Chelsea’s legal fees at this critical stage!
Courage to Resist
484 Lake Park Ave. #41
Oakland, CA 94610
B. ARTICLES IN FULL
1) Middle Class Shrinks Further as More Fall Out Instead of Climbing Up
The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century.
In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year. Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to fall, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets.
But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom. At the same time, fewer of those in this group fit the traditional image of a married couple with children at home, a gap increasingly filled by the elderly.
This social upheaval helps explain why the president focused on reviving the middle class, offering a raft of proposals squarely aimed at concerns like paying for a college education, taking parental leave, affording child care and buying a home.
“Middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change,” Mr. Obama told Congress and the public on Tuesday.
Still, regardless of their income, most Americans identify as middle class. The term itself is so amorphous that politicians often cite the group in introducing proposals to engender wide appeal.
The definition here starts at $35,000 — which is about 50 percent higher than the official poverty level for a family of four — and ends at the six-figure mark. Although many Americans in households making more than $100,000 consider themselves middle class, particularly those living in expensive regions like the Northeast and Pacific Coast, they have substantially more money than most people.
However the lines are drawn, it is clear that millions are struggling to hang on to accouterments that most experts consider essential to a middle-class life.
“I would consider middle class to be people who can live comfortably on what they earn, can pay their bills, can set aside something to save for retirement and for kids in college and can have vacations and entertainment,” said Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a left-leaning research and advocacy group.
Lisa Land, 49, is one of those who have dropped through the hatch. She gets by on her father’s $1,300 monthly Social Security checks and by having her adult daughter pitch in for groceries.
Her circumstances are a stark change from just a few years ago, when she considered herself firmly in the middle class. Despite a relatively modest salary, her pay and other resources went a long way in tiny Eden, N.C., where she worked for 13 years in customer service at a textile factory.
In 2008, however, Ms. Land was laid off. Faced with ailing parents and a recession that tore up the region’s economy, she moved in with her father to offer full-time care.
“We wouldn’t have a lot of money, but we had everything that we needed,” she said. “Now, there’s really no extra for anything. No vacation. No dining out. No stuff like that.”
Even as the American middle class has shrunk, it has gone through a transformation. The 53 million households that remain in the middle class — about 43 percent of all households — look considerably different from their middle-class predecessors of a previous generation, according to a New York Times analysis of census data.
In recent years, the fastest-growing component of the new middle class has been households headed by people 65 and older. Today’s seniors have better retirement benefits than previous generations. Also, older Americans are increasingly working past traditional retirement age. More than eight million, or 19 percent, were in the labor force in 2013, nearly twice as many as in 2000.
As a result, while median household income, on average, has fallen 9 percent since the turn of the century, it has jumped 14 percent among households headed by older adults.
The growing prominence of older people in the middle class reflects, in part, the way Social Security and Medicare — originally set up as safety nets to protect seniors from falling into poverty after retirement — have provided a substantial cushion for them against hard times.
Married couples with children — who make up a category that is shrinking over all — are diminishing even faster as a share of the middle class. In the late 1960s, about 45 percent of all households included married adults and their offspring. But among middle-class households, more than 60 percent had that traditional family arrangement.
Today, married couples with children at home make up just a quarter of households. But even as they diminished as a share of the population, these families surged up the economic ladder as more married women went to work in the paid labor force. By 2000, 42 percent earned more than $100,000 in today’s dollars.
The most recent recession put a halt to the advances of even that generally successful group. Its share in the middle class has fallen by three percentage points and the share earning less than $35,000 has increased.
“In the Great Recession, we lost a lot of middle-income jobs and we gained a lot of low-paying jobs,” said Michael R. Strain, resident scholar at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute. “That’s a slower-burning thing, but it increased in ferocity during the recession, and people are feeling it.”
For more than two decades, John D’Amanda, 54, earned about $30,000 a year running a window-washing service in Oakland, Calif. He had a car and an apartment. Then, in 2009, the calls stopped coming in. His customers no longer had the luxury of paying for someone to wash their windows.
Mr. D’Amanda got a job at a McDonald’s, where he has worked ever since, now earning 25 cents above the state’s new minimum wage of $9. He pays $350 a month in rent to share a small bedroom with a roommate.
“I’m barely able to afford that,” he said.
These days, most middle-class adults reached their status through higher education. As recently as 1992, half of all middle-class households were headed by someone with a high school education or less, according to the Times analysis. Today, only 37 percent of the middle class has not been to college.
Geography also matters. The biggest declines in middle-class households during the previous half-century occurred in the Northeast — states like Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey — where industrial economies gave way to mass suburbanization and increased affluence.
According to a New York Times poll in December, 60 percent of people who call themselves middle class think that if they work hard they will get rich. But the evidence suggests that goal is increasingly out of reach. When middle class people look up, they see the rich getting richer while they spin their wheels.
“The middle has basically stayed the same; it hasn’t improved,” said Lawrence F. Katz, an economist at Harvard University. “You’ve got an iPhone now and a better TV, but your median income hasn’t changed. What’s really changed is the penthouse has become supernice.”
Still, there are some recent signs of hope for the middle class. The economy is improving and more jobs are being created, many of them in better-paying categories like professional services, health care and even a reviving manufacturing sector.
Jason Pappas’s prospects, for example, are looking up. Mr. Pappas, 32, from Muncie, Ind., was earning about $42 an hour as an iron worker in the mid-2000s, but building projects dried up during the recession, pushing him onto the unemployment rolls for a year and a half.
He eventually found a job as a truck driver. Today, he earns just over half the hourly wage he made as an iron worker, but he is happy to have a steady job.
“It pays the bills,” he said, “and I have medical insurance.”
Moreover, Mr. Pappas just learned that he was being promoted to supervisor. Soon, with overtime, he’ll be earning $80,000 a year.
He is feeling a lot better about his future. “Hard work pays off,” Mr. Pappas said.
Marjorie Connelly contributed reporting.
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3) The Humane Death Penalty Charade
4) Investment Riches Built on Subprime Auto Loans to Poor
By Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg January 26, 2015
The loans were for used Dodges, Nissans and Chevrolets, many with tens of thousands of miles on the odometer, some more than a decade old.
They were also one of the hottest investments around.
So many asset managers clamored for a piece of a September bond deal made up of these loans that the size of the offering was increased 35 percent, to $1.35 billion. Even then, Santander Consumer USA received more than $1 billion in investor demand that it could not accommodate.
Across the country, there is a booming business in lending to the working poor — those Americans with impaired credit who need cars to get to work. But this market is as much about Wall Street’s perpetual demand for high returns as it is about used cars. An influx of investor money is making more loans possible, but all that money may also be enabling excessive risk-taking that could have repercussions throughout the financial system, analysts and regulators caution.
In a kind of alchemy that Wall Street has previously performed with mortgages, thousands of subprime auto loans are bundled together and sold as securities to investors, including mutual funds, insurance companies and hedge funds. By slicing and dicing the securities, any losses if borrowers default can be contained, in theory.
Led by companies like Santander Consumer; GM Financial, General Motors’ lending unit; and Exeter Finance, an arm of the Blackstone Group, such securitizations have grown 302 percent, to $20.2 billion since 2010, according to Thomson Reuters IFR Markets. And even as rising delinquencies and other signs of stress in the market emerged last year, subprime securitizations increased 28 percent from 2013.
The returns are substantial in a time of low interest rates. In the case of the Santander Consumer bond offering in September, which is backed by loans on more than 84,000 vehicles, some of the highest-rated notes yield more than twice as much as certain Treasury securities, but are just as safe, according to ratings firms.
Now questions are being raised about whether this hot Wall Street market is contributing to a broad loosening of credit standards across the subprime auto industry. A review by The New York Times of dozens of court records, and interviews with two dozen borrowers, credit analysts, legal aid lawyers and investors, show that some of the companies, which package and sell the loans, are increasingly enabling people at the extreme financial margins to obtain loans to buy cars.
The intense demand for subprime auto securities may also be fueling a more troubling development: a rise in loans that contain falsified income or employment information. The Justice Department in Washington is coordinating an investigation among prosecutors’ offices across the country into whether such faulty information ended up in securitization deals, according to people briefed on the inquiries.
The examinations, which began this summer after a front-page article in The Times reported on potential abuses in subprime auto lending, are modeled on the federal investigation into the sale of mortgage-backed securities — an effort that has already yielded billions of dollars of settlements.
Prosecutors have sent a spate of subpoenas. This summer, the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, sent subpoenas to Santander Consumer and GM Financial. The United States attorney in Detroit subpoenaed Ally Financial in December. And Consumer Portfolio Services, a subprime lender, said last week in a regulatory filing that the company had received a subpoena related to its “subprime automotive finance and related securitization activities.”
“There is so much money looking for a positive return that people get lazy,” said Christopher L. Gillock, a managing director at Colonnade Advisors, a financial advisory firm in Chicago that has worked with subprime auto lenders. “Investors see it is rated triple-A, turn off their brains and buy into the paper.”
Among the borrowers stoking the lending boom are people like Dana Payne.
Ms. Payne, a former administrative assistant in the New York Police City Department, has not made a single payment on a $30,770 Santander loan that was taken out to buy a 2011 BMW 328xi. Ms. Payne, who has no driver’s license, said she took out the loan so her daughter, who lives in New Jersey, could have a car. The loan has an interest rate of 11.89 percent, according to her loan document, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times.
Ms. Payne went with her daughter to a dealership that arranges loans for Santander and other auto lenders to buy the car. She said an employee at the dealership in Great Neck, N.Y., assured her that, even though she was on food stamps, she could afford the loan. At the time, Ms. Payne said she thought she was co-signing the loan with her daughter.
“I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I don’t have any income,’ ” said Ms. Payne.
The dealership did not comment.
The lenders point out they are providing loans to people who might not otherwise be able to buy cars. They say they have acted to insulate investors from losses. In many bonds, lenders take the first losses when loans sour, a safeguard few mortgage deals contain.
“Subprime lending by its nature involves evaluating the creditworthiness and ability to repay of borrowers who may have had financial difficulties in the past, such as a bankruptcy, a foreclosure or difficulty in managing revolving credit,” Stephen Jones, vice president investor relations at GM Financial, said in a statement.
The lenders say they vet their dealer partners, watching for patterns of complaints against dealerships and other warning signs like higher than average defaults.
Laurie Kight, vice president of communications at Santander Consumer, said in a statement that the lender has a “rigorous and active dealer control operation, which is part of the company’s overall compliance framework.” She added, “This operation audits, investigates and — if necessary — ceases operations with any dealers who conduct fraudulent or high-risk activities.”
Investors are betting that the companies are experienced enough to weed out problem loans.
Still, some credit analysts have questioned whether the market has grown too much, too fast.
Some rating firms that faced criticism after the mortgage crisis for blessing shaky investments with top ratings are taking a critical approach to subprime auto deals.
Fitch Ratings will issue its highest ratings only to bonds issued by lenders with long track records and that don’t rely entirely on securitizations to fund their business, like Santander Consumer and GM Financial. And Standard & Poor’s has recently sounded alarms about the declining quality of the loans backing the investments.
Even those warnings, critics say, do not fully capture the fundamental risks.
Mr. Gillock, the financial adviser in Chicago, said that no bond made up of subprime auto loans should ever receive a triple-A rating — a designation that only three blue-chip companies, Exxon, Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson, receive on their debt offerings.
“It is hard for me to place securities backed by subprime auto finance receivables in the same category,” he said.
If You Can’t Beat Him . . .
The financial crisis provided an opportunity for subprime auto loan securitizations.
With the once-enormous market in mortgage-backed securities largely frozen, investors looked for new opportunities. One bright spot was auto lending. Even in the depths of the recession, people needed cars and were willing to pay steep rates for a loan.
Seizing upon this demand, private equity investors began scouring the country looking to acquire lenders or pools of auto loans that banks no longer wanted.
Time and again, however, the private equity firms found that a Texas firm headed by Tom Dundon, an auto finance veteran, had beaten them to the punch.
“We looked on with envy,” said an executive at one of the private equity firms.
Mr. Dundon and a group of partners started the business that would become Santander Consumer in the 1990s, expanding the company — then called Drive Financial Services — from a regional lender in Texas into a national player operating in 35 states.
Drive Financial was known for lending to used-car customers that other lenders rejected. In industry parlance, the company went “deep” — meaning that it made loans to people far down on the credit spectrum.
“They were very popular with dealers because they were able to finance people that others could not,” said Mark Peters, a longtime auto lending executive in Dallas, who is now senior vice president of sales at Skypatrol, which provides vehicle-tracking technology and other services.
In 2006, the Spanish banking giant Banco Santander, looking to expand in the United States, bought most of Drive Financial Services for $651 million.
Mr. Dundon retained a 10 percent stake and was appointed chief executive of the lender, which was renamed Santander Consumer USA.
General Motors, still recovering from a bankruptcy that led to its takeover by the United States government during the financial crisis, was also looking to expand its auto finance business. The car company had sold a majority stake in its in-house finance arm, the former GMAC, which became Ally Financial.
In July 2010, General Motors acquired AmeriCredit, a lender based in Fort Worth, for $3.5 billion.
The rise of both Santander Consumer and GM Financial are a testament to the profits that can be generated by making loans to people with checkered credit histories.
Some of that profit is fueled by securitization, the process of bundling often risky loans into bonds and selling them to investors like mutual funds and pensions.
In the auto market, securitization typically starts at the auto dealerships, which arrange loans for car customers. Lenders then take those loans, bundle them into bonds and then sell them to investors.
Along this chain, there is ample profit. The lenders can often make more loans at a lower cost than if they borrowed directly from the bond market. The Wall Street firms that package the deals earn hefty fees. The investors can earn relatively high returns on securities that the rating agencies have deemed low-risk.
The danger, though, is that lenders may be encouraged to lower their credit standards to churn out loans to keep up with investor demand. The deterioration that securitization can fuel has already begun as lenders reach lower and lower down the credit spectrum to find enough borrowers whose loans can then be put into investments. To entice more borrowers to buy cars, some lenders are lengthening the terms of their loans, for example.
Santander Consumer says it has not sacrificed credit quality in its bonds, and that no investors have lost money on any of its securitization deals. Still, in the $1.35 billion bond deal in September, the number of loans with longer terms rose and the loan-to-value ratio — or the amount of debt compared with the resale value of the cars — also increased, according to a report by Standard & Poor’s Rating Service.
Auto lending has been good to Santander Consumers’ Mr. Dundon. He owns a 13,556-square-foot house in Dallas with a putting green and five fireplaces. Through a company spokeswoman, Mr. Dundon declined to be interviewed for this article.
An avid golfer, Mr. Dundon, 43, has played with the likes of Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Pictures of such outings are posted on the company’s website, and Mr. Dundon muses about the business lessons he has gleaned from the sport. After watching the Masters tournament at Augusta, Ga., he remarked how he was moved by the elite golfers competing for the top prize, a green jacket.
“We should all be inspired to seek out the equivalent of a green jacket in our work and life in general,” Mr. Dundon wrote on his blog.
A Bet on Car Dependence
Mandy Gray of Boiling Springs, Pa., is unemployed and depends largely on her partner’s $11-an-hour salary as a forklift operator. She says she has struggled to keep up with the $306 monthly payments on her Santander auto loan.
A lot is at stake not only for Ms. Gray, but for Santander Consumer.
The calculation by the lender is that Ms. Gray and thousands of other troubled borrowers will go to great lengths to keep their cars.
It is a reasonable wager.
For decades, even during rocky economic times, defaults on cars loans have remained relatively low.
In March, Ms. Gray, 35, received a $13,426.64 auto loan from Fifth Third Bank with a 17.72 percent interest rate. She bought a 2009 Hyundai. But five days later, Santander Consumer told her that her loan was “now owned by Santander Consumer,” according to a letter from the lender reviewed by The Times. Ms. Gray, who has been taking online college courses, says she plans to use her financial aid money to catch up on missed car payments.
Americans are so dependent on their cars that investors are betting that they would rather lose their home to foreclosure than their car to repossession.
Or in the words of a Santander Consumer investor, “You can sleep in your car, but you can’t drive your house to work.”
Cracks in that theory are starting to emerge. Delinquencies on auto loans of 60 days or less are rising, and more Americans are losing their cars each month to repossession. Experian said 60-day loan delinquencies rose 8.6 percent in the third quarter of 2014, from a year ago.
Last year was star-crossed for Santander Consumer USA, its first as a publicly traded company. Shortly after Santander Consumer went public last January, one Wall Street analyst heralded the company as an “attractive way for investors to gain exposure to the auto lending market.” Over the last year, shares of Santander Consumer have fallen roughly 23 percent.
Last year was also difficult for some Santander Consumer customers. Dane Carpe, of Creswell, Ore., borrowed $17,115.83 from the company at a 23.74 percent interest rate to buy a 2008 Dodge Charger, according to a copy of his loan document that was reviewed by The Times.
A former mortgage broker who declared bankruptcy, Mr. Carpe fell behind on his $449.94 monthly auto loan payments and has disputed with the lender over how his payments have been applied to his loan balance. On New Year’s Eve, his car was repossessed, he said.
“I lived through the mortgage bubble, and this bubble is going to burst,” he said.
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6) Georgia Executes Warren Lee Hill for Murder
7) Fidel Castro Shares Views on Warming of Relations
8) Leave a Little Light On for Me
The spirit of our struggle
Counterpunch, January 27, 2015
Fidel Castro sent this message to the Federation of University Students on the occasion of an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of his admission to the University of Havana.
In 2006, as a result of health issues, which were incompatible with the time and effort required to fulfill my duties—which I myself assumed when I entered this University September 4, 1945, 70 years ago—I resigned from my official positions.
I was not the son of a worker, or lacking in material or social resources for a relatively comfortable existence; I could say I miraculously escaped wealth. Many years later, a richer and undoubtedly very capable U.S. citizen, with almost 100 billion dollars, stated—according to a news agency article published this past Thursday, January 22—that the predominant system of production and distribution of wealth would, from generation to generation, make the poor rich.
Since the times of ancient Greece, during almost 3,000 years, the Greeks, without going very far, were brilliant in almost all activities: physics, mathematics, philosophy, architecture, art, science, politics, astronomy and other branches of human knowledge. Greece, however, was a land in which slaves did the most difficult work in fields and cities, while the oligarchy devoted itself to writing and philosophizing. The first utopia was written precisely for them.
Observe carefully the realities of this well-known, globalized and very poorly shared planet Earth, on which we know every vital resource is distributed in accordance with historical factors: some with much less than they need, others with so much they don’t know what to do with it. Now amidst great threats and dangers of war, chaos reigns in the distribution of financial resources and social production. The world’s population has grown, between 1800 and 2015, from one to seven billion inhabitants. Can this population increment be accommodated, in this way, over the next 100 years, and food, health, water and housing needs met, regardless of whatever scientific advances are made?
Well, setting aside these perplexing problems, it is astonishing to recall that the University of Havana, during the days when I entered this beloved, prestigious institution almost three fourths of a century ago, was the only one in Cuba.
Of course, fellow students and professors, we must remember that it is not just one now, but rather more than 50 institutions of higher learning distributed across the entire country.
When you invited me to participate in the launch of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of my admission to the University, which I was surprised to learn of, during days when I was very busy with various issues in which I can perhaps still be relatively useful, I decided to take a break and devote several hours to recalling those years.
I am overwhelmed recalling that 70 years have passed. In reality, compañeros and compañeras, if I were to register again at this age, as some have asked me, I would respond, without hesitation, that it would be to pursue scientific studies. I would say, like Guayasamín: Leave a little light on for me.
In those years, already influenced by Marx, I was able to understand more, and better, the strange, complex world in which it has befallen us to live. I may have harbored some illusions of the bourgeoisie, whose tentacles managed to entangle many students, when they possessed more passion than experience. The topic would be long and interminable.
Another genius of revolutionary action, founder of the Communist Party, was Lenin. Thus I did not hesitate a second when during the Moncada trial, when they allowed me to attend, albeit just one time, I stated before the judges and dozens of high ranking officials of the Batista regime that we were readers of Lenin.
We didn’t talk about Mao Zedong, since the socialist revolution in China, inspired by the same principles, had not yet ended.
I insist, nonetheless, that revolutionary ideas must always be on guard as humanity expands its knowledge.
Nature teaches us that tens-of-billions of light years may have passed, and life in all of its expressions has always been subjected to an incredible combination of matter and radiation.
A personal greeting between the Presidents of Cuba and the United States took place at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, the distinguished, exemplary combatant against apartheid who had become friendly with Obama.
It is enough to indicate that, at that time, several years had passed since Cuban troops had decisively defeated the racist South African army, directed by the wealthy bourgeoisie, which had vast economic resources. This is a story of a conflict, which has yet to be written. South Africa, the government with the most financial resources on the continent, had nuclear weapons supplied by the racist state of Israel, as the result of an agreement between this party and President Ronald Reagan, who authorized the delivery of devices for the use of such weapons to attack Cuban and Angolan forces defending the Popular Republic of Angola against racist troops attempting to occupy the country.
Thus peace negotiations were excluded while Angola was attacked by apartheid forces, with the best trained and equipped army on the African continent.
In such a situation, there was no possibility whatsoever for a peaceful solution. Continual efforts to liquidate the Popular Republic of Angola, to bleed the country systematically with the power of that well equipped and trained army, was what led to the Cuban decision to deliver a resounding blow to the racists at Cuito Cuanavale, the former NATO base which South Africa was attempting to occupy at all costs.
That powerful country was obliged to negotiate a peace agreement, which put an end to the military occupation of Angola, and an end to apartheid in South Africa.
The African continent was left free of nuclear weapons. Cuba was forced to face, for a second time, the threat of a nuclear attack.
Cuban internationalist troops withdrew from Africa with honor.
Then Cuba survived the Special Period in peacetime, which has already lasted for more than 20 years, without raising the white flag, something we have never done, and will never do.
Many friends of Cuba know of the Cuban people’s exemplary conduct, and I will explain to them, in a few words, my essential position.
I do not trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged one word with them, though this does not in any way signify a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts or threats of war. Defending peace is the duty of all. Any negotiated, peaceful solution to the problems between the United States and peoples, or any people of Latin America, which does not imply force or the use of force, must be addressed in accordance with international principles and norms.
We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all of the world’s peoples, and with those of our political adversaries. This is what we are demanding for all.
The President of Cuba has taken pertinent steps in accordance with his prerogatives and faculties conceded by the National Assembly and the Communist Party of Cuba.
The grave dangers that today threaten humanity must yield to norms, which are compatible with human dignity. No country can be denied such a right.
In this spirit I have struggled, and will continue to struggle, to my last breath.
Thanks to Cuba-L.com and Nelson Valdes.
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