In the USA...United Surveillance America
November 25, 2013
Obama Signals a Shift From Military Might to Diplomacy
By MARK LANDLER
WASHINGTON — The weekend ended with the first tangible sign of a nuclear deal with Iran, after more than three decades of hostility. Then on Monday came the announcement that a conference will convene in January to try to broker an end to the civil war in Syria.
The success of either negotiation, both long sought by President Obama, is hardly assured — in fact the odds may be against them. But the two nearly simultaneous developments were vivid statements that diplomacy, the venerable but often-unsatisfying art of compromise, has once again become the centerpiece of American foreign policy.
At one level, the flurry of diplomatic activity reflects the definitive end of the post-Sept. 11 world, dominated by two major wars and a battle against Islamic terrorism that drew the United States into Afghanistan and still keeps its Predator drones flying over Pakistan and Yemen.
But it also reflects a broader scaling-back of the use of American muscle, not least in the Middle East, as well as a willingness to deal with foreign governments as they are rather than to push for new leaders that better embody American values. “Regime change,” in Iran or even Syria, is out; cutting deals with former adversaries is in.
For Mr. Obama, the shift to diplomacy fulfills a campaign pledge from 2008 that he would stretch out a hand to America’s enemies and speak to any foreign leader without preconditions. But it will also subject him to considerable political risks, as the protests about the Iran deal from Capitol Hill and allies in the Middle East attest.
“We’re testing diplomacy; we’re not resorting immediately to military conflict,” Mr. Obama said, defending the Iran deal on Monday in San Francisco. “Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically,” he said earlier that day, “but it’s not the right thing for our security.”
Still, diplomacy is a protracted, messy business with often inconclusive results. It is harder for a president to rally the American public behind a multilateral negotiation than a missile strike, though the deep war weariness of Americans has reinforced Mr. Obama’s instinct for negotiated settlements over unilateral action.
White House officials suggest that the president always planned to arrive at this moment, and that everything that came before it — from the troop surge in Afghanistan to the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden — was cleaning up after his predecessor.
“In 2009, we had 180,000 troops in two wars and a ton of legacy issues surrounding terrorism,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “So much that was done out of the box was winding down those wars. We’ve shifted from a very military face on our foreign policy to a very diplomatic face on our foreign policy.”
Much of that diplomacy has been on public display in the hypercaffeinated travels of Secretary of State John Kerry, who, in addition to his work on Iran and Syria, has persuaded the Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. A few hours after sealing the nuclear deal in Geneva, he flew to London for talks on the Syria conference.
But some of the crucial dealings have occurred in the shadows. In March, administration officials said, Mr. Obama authorized a small team of senior officials from the White House and the State Department to travel secretly to Oman, the Arab sultanate, where they met face to face with Iranian officials to explore the possibility of a nuclear deal.
The cloak-and-dagger was necessary, the officials said, because it allowed the United States and Iran to discuss the outlines of a nuclear deal without fear that details would leak out. Cutting out others eliminated the competing agendas that come with the six negotiating partners engaged in the formal Geneva talks.
But the disclosure that the United States and Iran had been talking privately angered France, which registered its displeasure two weeks ago by warning that the proposal then being discussed was too lenient and that it would not accept a “sucker’s deal.”
For all of Mr. Obama’s emphasis on diplomacy, analysts noted that the United States often depends on others to take the initiative. In the case of Iran, it was the election of Hassan Rouhani as president, with his mandate to seek a relaxation of punishing sanctions.
In the case of Syria, it was a Russian proposal for President Bashar al-Assad to turn over and destroy his chemical weapons stockpiles, an option the White House seized on as a way of averting a military strike that Mr. Obama first threatened and then backed off from.
“The C.W. deal made the Iran diplomacy much more viable and attractive to the administration,” said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former Obama administration official. But he added, “Neither in Syria or Iran is there an ambition for something larger.”
Mr. Obama has called for Mr. Assad to give up power. But his diplomatic efforts on Syria have done little to bring that about, and next month’s conference in Geneva is likely to demonstrate that far from negotiating his departure, Mr. Assad is digging in.
Similarly with Iran, the administration is adamant that it is negotiating what amounts to an arms-control agreement in response to a specific security threat. A broader opening to Iran — one that could make it a partner on regional issues like Syria or Afghanistan, or even open its political system — seems far-off.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Mr. Obama listed his priorities in the Middle East as Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Promoting democratic principles, while still important, was no longer an overriding interest.
That more pragmatic approach was on display this month when Mr. Kerry visited Egypt, where the military-backed government is prosecuting its ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, and cracking down on his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Mr. Kerry emphasized continuity with Egypt’s generals and said little about their brutal tactics.
For Mr. Obama, all of this may matter less than resolving the nuclear threat from Iran, an achievement that would allow him to reduce America’s preoccupation with the Middle East and turn to another of his foreign-policy priorities, Asia.
“This was a president who was elected on the promise to wind down two wars responsibly,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former administration official who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “He can now also say he has avoided a third war.”
Before he can be sure of that, though, Mr. Obama faces the treacherous task of negotiating a final agreement. This time, the administration will have to do the bargaining with its partners, and it faces vocal skepticism from Israel and members of Congress.
“The Iran talks are a four-ring circus,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state who coordinated Iran policy during the Bush administration. “This is going to be among the most complex and difficult diplomatic cases ever.”
“We’re trying to deal with very difficult, cynical countries through different means,” said Mr. Burns, who now teaches at Harvard, where he has started the Future of Diplomacy Project. “But the public is weary; they want us to work things out without fighting.”
Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from London.
Obama defends Iran policy amid Israeli criticism
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 25, 2013 19:10 EST
US President Barack Obama defended his administration’s Iran policy on Monday but said “huge challenges” remained to successfully implement a landmark deal on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Obama has come under fierce criticism from Republican rivals at home and key allies abroad, such as Israel, for pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Iran question.
Israel decried the breakthrough agreement reached in Geneva on Sunday — under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for an easing of sanctions — as a “historic mistake.”
Obama, however, insisted that the US policy of diplomacy twinned with sanctions had been more productive than rhetoric, stating that “tough talk” alone would not guarantee US security.
“For the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress on Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said. “Key parts of the program will be rolled back.”
Obama said diplomacy would continue over the coming months in a bit to settle “once and for all” the “threat of Iran’s nuclear program.”
“Huge challenges remain, but we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems,” Obama said.
“We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of violence, and tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.”
Earlier Monday, France said the European Union could begin lifting sanctions on Iran next month as world powers set about implementing the deal with Tehran while seeking to placate a furious Israel.
In a radio interview, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said EU foreign ministers were to meet next month to discuss lifting some sanctions as part of the deal, a move he said could take place “in December.”
One senior Western diplomat, who refused to be named, told AFP the focus in the coming weeks would be “swift implementation”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday decided to send his national security advisor to Washington for talks on Iran after warning the deal will convince Tehran it has a free hand to achieve a breakout nuclear capability.
Obama has repeatedly tried to reassure Netanyahu, calling him on Sunday to discuss the issue.
The Geneva deal came just days after Iran’s supreme leader described Israel as a “rabid dog” that was “doomed to collapse”.
Tehran has a long history of belligerent statements towards the Jewish state, and Israel — the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power — has repeatedly warned that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat.
‘Israel’s security at heart’
Speaking in Jerusalem, the EU ambassador-designate to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, told a crowd of diplomats and the country’s intelligence minister that the 28-member bloc had “Israel’s security at heart.”
The so-called P5+1 world powers that negotiated the accord with Iran — the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany — say it is a key first step that wards off the threat of military escalation in the volatile Middle East.
Under the deal, which lasts for six months while a more long-lasting solution is negotiated, Tehran will limit uranium enrichment to low levels used only for civilian energy purposes.
It will also neutralize its existing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, which is close to weapons-grade and therefore an area of top concern.
In return, the Islamic state will get some $7 billion in sanctions relief in access to frozen funds and in its petrochemical, gold and precious metals and auto sectors.
But the raft of international sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy remain untouched.
Fabius said that Iran committed “to giving up the prospect of a nuclear weapon” as part of the interim deal.
“As much as Iran can move forward where civilian nuclear energy is concerned, it cannot do so for the atomic weapon,” he added.
But these pacifying moves have failed to convince many Israelis, and a poll conducted by the daily Israel Hayom found more than three-quarters of Israeli Jews believe Iran will keep up its nuclear drive despite the Geneva deal.
Most Iranian newspapers on Monday hailed the Geneva deal, attributing the relatively swift success to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Zarif, who led the Iranian delegation at the talks, received a hero’s welcome when he returned home and insisted Monday that the “structure of Iran’s nuclear program was preserved.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Christian American Patriots Militia leader: We now have authority to shoot Obama
By Travis Gettys
Monday, November 25, 2013 13:43 EST
In apparent threat made against President Barack Obama’s life posted on Facebook has caught the attention of the Secret Service.
Agents declined to comment on the post, which has been removed but was preserved in screen captures by Social News Daily, made Tuesday by Everest Wilhelmen, leader of the Christian American Patriots Militia.
“We now have authority to shoot Obama, i.e., to kill him,” Wilhelmsen posted on his Facebook page. “His willful violations and alienation of our Constitution, constant disregard for our peaceful protests and corruption of all the three branches of government, (i.e., rogue and illegitimate government), reveal the dictator that he is. Obama and his co-conspirators disrespect our Constitution (constitutional rule of law) and abuse the American people.”
The post was made the same day as a gathering of right-wing cranks, conspiracy theorists and gun advocates met at a park across from the White House demanding that Obama voluntarily leave office.
Wilhelmsen does not refer specifically to the Reclaim America Now rally, but he does circle the date as he attempts to constitutionally justify his apparent call for the president’s murder.
“The authority to kill Obama comes from the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution: He is levying war on the United States and aiding and comforting our foreign enemies – the 2nd Amendment gives us the right and duty (authority) to engage an enemy of the United States that does so with the design to reduce us under absolute Despotism. I would be very surprised, if Obama does not leave Washington DC today (Nov. 19th) … never to return, if he is not dead within the month,” Wilhelmsen posted.
Wilhelmsen is listed as the group administrator of the Christian American Patriots Militia’s Facebook page, which claims more than 1,400 members who operate as a “closed group” and cites a hodgepodge of Bible verses to justify armed rebellion against the U.S. government.
“God judges time morally and He will use whatever He sees fit to accomplish His ends,” the group says in its social media description. “So be prepared to wage war. And this is in fact why Obama has labelled Christians and other patriots as ‘terrorists,’ a lie to his army. Obama knows God may lead us to wage violent war in the defense of our Constitution.”
Wilhelmsen posts a variety of anti-Obama and anti-Muslim messages on his own Facebook page and Twitter account, including multiple links to a blog post that attempts to argue that military personnel are duty-bound by their oath to remove Obama from office as a criminal.
His social media accounts frequently compare to Obama to Hitler and warn against impending genocide, particularly against Christians and conservatives.
Two other apparent threats against Obama’s life drew the Secret Service’s attention in recent weeks.
A University of Connecticut student, 32-year-old Joshua Klimas, underwent psychiatric evaluation after agents said he admitted to sending threatening emails to the White House.
“If you do not resign by the end of the year I will kill you! You are a traitor and it is my duty under the United States Constitution to end your life for crimes against the American people,” one email read. “There will not be any more warnings only bullets flying in your direction from drones I built for the sole purpose of removing you from the office you stole from this country.”
An 81-year-old Wisconsin man, Elwyn Nels Fossedal, was ordered held last week by a magistrate after prosecutors said he told neighbors he would shoot and kill the president if he suddenly appeared in front of him at the post office.
Witnesses reported the incident, and Secret Service agents said Fossedal repeated the threat after they met with him to investigate.
If convicted of the threat, Fossedal could face up to five years in prison.
The Religious Right With Their Weaponized Jesus Are Not Christians
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Tuesday, November, 26th, 2013, 7:28 am
It is instructive that Lieutenant General William G. “Jerry” Boykin (retired), who now works as the Family Research Council’s executive vice president, cares more about what Jesus looked like than what Jesus taught.
Boykin, another one of those who says Islam is not entitled to First Amendment protections, and thinks God, not the American people, chooses our presidents, told the audience of a Men’s Prayer Breakfast at William Jessup University, that,
[Jesus] was a man. He was a man’s man, but we feminized him in the church…he was a tough guy and that’s the Jesus that I want to be like. That’s the side that I want to be like. But we’ve feminized Jesus in the church and the men can’t identify with him anymore; not the kind of men that I want to hang out with, they can’t identify with this effeminate Jesus that we’ve tried to portray. He was a tough guy. He was a man’s man.
For Boykin it was bromance at first sight and perhaps a wee bit of latent homosexuality as he waxed over Jesus’ “big, bulging biceps…thin waist” and “strong shoulders” (Who knew Jesus was the Marlboro man?)
Boykin’s accidental outing of himself aside, we don’t know what Jesus actually looked like. But we do know that he was not the strangely Germanic blond guy of popular imagination. He was a dark-skinned Semite.
There is also no doubt that Jesus smelled bad. They didn’t have deodorant in the first century of the Common Era so Jesus smelled bad, Peter smelled bad, Pontius Pilate smelled bad, Caiaphas smelled bad, the guys who nailed Jesus to the cross smelled bad, and so did the two rebels he was executed with and the people who watched, including Jesus’ mother. We get that. But smelling bad doesn’t make you a man when everyone – women included – smells bad. This sort of reasoning is why Boykin is working for the FRC.
We get that too.
But it’s a shame Boykin and the FRC care more about what Jesus smelled and looked like than they do the important things, like what Jesus taught about the poor coming first and the rich, having sold their souls to the dark powers that ruled the age to become rich, coming last. That would be swell, but people like Boykin prefer the Weaponized Jesus of the twenty first century to the apocalyptic prophet of the first.
Jesus is often portrayed as a carpenter but he might well have been, like Socrates, a stone mason, since the word used, in Mark 6:3, τέκτων (tekton), means only that he made things with his hands; it does not specify which craft he practiced. So yes, he would have been a hardy, no doubt muscular fellow, though Geza Vermes, whom I often cite here, points out that the language used – “son of a carpenter” – is used in the Talmud to mean somebody who is “learned” and therefore might have simply signified that Jesus was wise. Of course, we already figured that out, given what he said about rich people chances of getting into heaven (Matthew 19:24).
He might have been big, strapping, smelly AND wise. We’ll just never know. And it really doesn’t matter.
And that is because most of us would agree that what Jesus said was more important than what he looked like. Think about the Beatitudes and Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and think about them particularly in terms of what President Barack Obama has accomplished with regards Iran and its nuclear program.
Because it is Obama the Republican response was automatically negative but their response should have been to remember Jesus’ words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7).
What we get instead is Bryan Fischer proclaiming that God will curse America for making a deal with Iran. Fischer forgets Jesus entirely and goes all Old Testament on us:
What he cursed us with are people like Bryan Fischer and Jerry Boykin and groups like the Christian America Patriots Militia, who have been claiming that Jesus and the Second Amendment together gives them the right to assassinate the president.
If Republicans really cared about Jesus, and what Jesus taught, they would be talking less about their Savior’s manly odor, flip open the New Testament that supposedly informs their beliefs, and realize that having done what Jesus wanted, Obama is blessed, not cursed, and that even if he does something you don’t like, you forgive him, not kill him.
It is too much to say that Jesus would say he wants his religion back. It was never his religion to begin with, after all. It is beyond contestation that Jesus was a Jew who preached an apocalyptic message to the Jews, that he ignored the Gentiles (Pagans) and not only ignored them, but told his disciples to avoid them, referring to Gentiles in true Jewish fashion as “dogs” and “swine” (Matthew 7:6).
Jesus did not invent Christianity. Christianity is a religion that was invented about Jesus, based, allegedly, on his teachings and not his appearance. But Jesus would certainly want those teachings heeded. He did not walk all over a Galilee infested with bandits, rebels, Herodians, and Romans, just for yucks. It was hot, dangerous – and smelly, after all.
We have to assume (assuming a historical Jesus in the first place) that he was serious about what he said.
He died for it, after all.
Whether Jesus was right or wrong about what he taught, whether he was an illiterate Galilean craftsman or divine, he died miserably and in great agony on the cross. And in at least one of the mutually contradictory versions of his death, he told his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He did not say “nuke ‘em till they glow” or “bomb them into the Stone Age,” like would a Republican.
We should respect that, Christian or otherwise.
But Jerry Boykin and his ilk have no genuine respect for Jesus. Jesus has become “weaponized” – a club used to bludgeon enemies. This is not at all what Jesus would have wanted, since he said to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) and that if somebody steals your shirt to give them your cloak as well (Matthew 5:40) and to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
The only weapon here is love.
But conservatives hate that Jesus. Hate is more their speed. Old Testament wrath. A god who tosses nukes with his fingertips. That god profits them and their friends in the military industrial complex. That’s a Jesus they can get behind. That’s the Jesus Boykin really loves with all his manly man’s heart.
Unfortunately, that’s not the Jesus in the gospels, which is, after all, supposed to be a good message, not a bad.
The thing is, if Christianity is a religion about what Jesus taught, then these people on the Religious Right are not Christians at all. How much greater their crime if they claim Jesus actually created Christianity.
Yes, I do think Jesus would want his gospel heeded if he put in an appearance today. And I suspect he would have a few words for the dogs and swine on the Religious Right who have been masquerading as followers of the rabbi from Galilee.
Right Wing Extremists Say God Will Help Them Overthrow President Obama
By: Jason Easley
Monday, November, 25th, 2013, 4:22 pm
After their plot to overthrow the president before Thanksgiving failed miserably, right wing extremists are now claiming that God will help them overthrow Obama.
After Larry Klayman’s plot to mobilize millions in front of the White House in order to overthrow Obama became an epic fail by drawing dozens, the hatemonger declared victory and pulled out the big guns.
Klayman is turning to God to overthrow President Obama,
Neither yours truly nor other members of our ever-growing coalition will be deterred by these actions of the far left, no more than other revolutionaries in past U.S. history were. Indeed, our Founding Fathers – Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson and others – were attacked similarly not just by King George III and his British crown, but by colonial Tories. And, while I do not equate myself to Jesus Christ or Moses, so too were these true revolutionaries, one of which is the Son of God and the other a messenger and agent. They were called every name in the book in unsuccessful attempts to destroy them, and I am not talking about the Bible.
We the People will not be deterred in our revolution to free the nation from the corrupt establishment class that has driven the country into the ground, of which Obama sits atop as the current president, no matter how we are smeared and threatened and no matter how the left and their allies in the media and elsewhere try to destroy us all.
So we must act alone, with the support of our Creator. As it declares in the Declaration of Independence, which we read to the crowd Tuesday, “A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of free people. … And for support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
What makes extremists like Larry Klayman different from the Founding Fathers is that Barack Obama isn’t a king. Obama has been twice elected president by a majority of the voters in this country. He isn’t a monarch, or a tyrant. He’s your president. If you don’t like it, deal with it.
The right has gotten seriously desperate when they are counting on God to overthrow the president. The arrogance of the assumption that God is on their side is undercut by the results of the last two presidential elections. Judging from 2008 and 2012, God is either a Democrat or non-partisan. Either way, God is most definitely not on the side of people like Larry Klayman.
However, if the right can claim God is floating above with a tea bag on his or her head, why can’t the left claim the endorsement of the divine as well?
God apparently thought that a kid named Barack Obama should be president. God gave that president the inspiration to reform the health insurance system so that more people could have access to affordable healthcare. Over the last few years, God has been very helpful to the Democratic Party.
Maybe God has nothing to with it, and politics is politics.
A thought that these extremists will never entertain is that God is not on their side. Even worse than God not being on their side, God may be an Obamabot.
God is never going to overthrow President Obama, and Klayman’s antics demonstrate that the Founding Fathers were right. Religion and politics don’t mix.
John Boehner’s Socialism: Taxpayers Pay 75% of His Premiums and His Wife is On Medicare
By: Sarah Jones
Monday, November, 25th, 2013, 2:58 pm
“Next year Mrs. Boehner will be on Medicare.” This news was brought to you by Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times, in the midst of his fact-checking of John Boehner’s claims to be paying tons more money post-ObamaCare (shockingly a lie).
Also, “Boehner’s premiums are partially covered by his employer, the federal government, which pays up to 75% of employee premiums, up to a cap of $426.14 a month (for 2014).” This is confirmed by Factcheck.Org, which finds that the government pays on average 72% and up to 75%.
Not only do we, the taxpayers, fund 75% of Boehner’s premiums, but his wife is going on Medicare.
Republicans have been trying to kill Medicare for years.
Republicans call public servants like teachers “thugs” for any perks they get, but have no problem with getting 75% of their own premiums paid for.
Republicans like to pretend that their health insurance is the same as any federal employee. U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, made that claim in Florida. And while it’s technically true that their plans are the same, and federal employees get a much better deal than the private sector employees, Congress gets other perks (is this a bad time to remind Boehner that he kept the House gym open when his party shutdown the government?). PolitiFact explained:
(M)embers of Congress do have two optional health perks that not all other federal employees enjoy.
One is use of the Office of the Attending Physician, a low-profile Navy clinic on the Capitol’s first floor that offers basic medical services to members, Hill staffers and sickness-stricken tourists. The clinic was started in 1928 to respond to accidents and emergencies on the Hill, according to a July 2011 profile of the operation by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Members can opt to regularly access the clinic for services such as X-rays, flu shots and physical therapy at an annual fee of $503.
The other is access to medical and emergency treatment at military hospitals. There’s no charge for outpatient care at Bethesda Naval Hospital (or at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, though it has closed).
Also, most Americans don’t have their premiums picked up by other tax payers.
If austerity were really such a priority for Republicans, surely they’d take aim at the lazy entitlement taking among their own ranks. Why go on Medicare? Why let the government (aka, taxpayer) fund your premiums? My fiscally conservative grandparents refused such payments and paid their own way so I see no reason why austerity preachers wouldn’t do the same.
This proves that John Boehner doesn’t know anything about what most Americans deal with when it comes to healthcare… and for that matter, most Congressional members do not. But Republicans are the people trying to derail affordable healthcare for Americans.
So maybe they should hush up about things they don’t understand, and get on with the business of being total hypocrites on our tax dollars. It’s what they do best.
November 25, 2013
As Homeless Line Up for Food, Los Angeles Weighs Restrictions
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
LOS ANGELES — They began showing up at dusk last week, wandering the streets, slumped in wheelchairs and sitting on sidewalks, paper plates perched on their knees. By 6:30 p.m., more than 100 homeless people had lined up at a barren corner in Hollywood, drawn by free meals handed out from the back of a truck every night by volunteers.
But these days, 27 years after the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition began feeding people in a county that has one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, the charity is under fire, a flashpoint in the national debate over the homeless and the programs that serve them.
Facing an uproar from homeowners, two members of the Los Angeles City Council have called for the city to follow the lead of dozens of other communities and ban the feeding of homeless people in public spaces.
“If you give out free food on the street with no other services to deal with the collateral damage, you get hundreds of people beginning to squat,” said Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives two blocks from the bread line. “They are living in my bushes and they are living in my next door neighbor’s crawl spaces. We have a neighborhood which now seems like a mental ward.”
Should Los Angeles enact such an ordinance, it would join a roster of more than 30 cities, including Philadelphia, Raleigh, N.C., Seattle and Orlando, Fla., that have adopted or debated some form of legislation intended to restrict the public feeding of the homeless, according to the National Coalition of the Homeless.
“Dozens of cities in recent years,” said Jerry Jones, the coalition’s executive director. “It’s a common but misguided tactic to drive homeless people out of downtown areas.”
“This is an attempt to make difficult problems disappear,” he said, adding, “It’s both callous and ineffective.”
The notion that Los Angeles might join this roster is striking given the breadth of the problem here. Encampments of homeless can be found from downtown to West Hollywood, from the streets of Brentwood to the beaches of Venice. The situation that has stirred no small amount of frustration and embarrassment among civic leaders, now amplified by fears of the hungry and mostly homeless people, who have come to count on these meals.
“They are helping human beings,” said Debra Morris, seated in a wheelchair as she ate the evening’s offering of pasta with tomato sauce. “I can barely pay my own rent.”
There are now about 53,800 homeless people in Los Angeles County, according to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development last week, a 27 percent increase over last year. Only New York had a higher homeless population.
The problem is particularly severe here because of the temperate climate that makes it easier to live outdoors, cuts in federal spending on the homeless, and a court-ordered effort by California to shrink its prison population, said Mike Arnold, the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an agency created by the city and county in 1993.
All told, about $82 million in government funds is spent each year on helping homeless here, Mr. Arnold said.
Tom LaBonge, one of the two City Council members who introduced the resolution (the other, also a Democrat, was Mitch O’Farrell), said food lines should be moved indoors, out of consideration to the homeless and neighborhoods. “There are well-intentioned people on both sides,” Mr. LaBonge said.
But, he added: “This has overwhelmed what is a residential neighborhood. When dinner is served, everybody comes and it’s kind of a free-for-all.”
Ted Landreth, the founder of the food coalition, said his group had fought back community opposition before — it moved to this corner after being ordered out of Plummer Park in West Hollywood in 1990 because of similar complaints — and would do so again.
“The people who want to get rid of us see dollar signs, property values, ahead of pretty much everything else,” he said.
”We have stood our ground,” he added. “We are not breaking any law.”
Communities that have sought to implement feeding restriction laws have faced strong resistance. In Philadelphia, advocates for the homeless won an injunction in federal court blocking a law there that would have banned food lines in public parks. Even before the court action, religious groups had moved in and began setting up indoor food lines.
In many ways the agonies of the national battle over dealing with homelessness are etched into this four-block-square section of Hollywood, where industrial buildings, including the Cemex cement factory, film production facilities and the stately former headquarters of Howard Hughes’s enterprises, sit two blocks up North Sycamore Avenue away from a middle-class neighborhood of Spanish Mission homes. Construction in the area is bustling, reflecting the gentrification that is taking place across this city.
The coalition’s truck, a Grumman Kurbmaster, arrives every night at 6:15, drawing as many as 200 people from across the region.
The other night, men and women lined up for firsts and, if desired, seconds. Some were quiet and grateful, and a few were loud and agitated. “You all right?” Mr. Landreth asked one man who was shouting to himself.
Just up the street, 75 people filled a living room, anxiously exchanging stories about what many described as a neighborhood under siege, and demanding help from local officials.
“You guys have had your fill here — we know that,” Officer Dave Cordova of the Los Angeles Police Department told them. “And the food coalition doesn’t help. Where do all these guys go after they get something to eat?”
Peter Nichols, the founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, which helped organize the meeting, said there has been a steady increase in complaints about petty crime, loitering, public defecation and people sleeping on sidewalks.
“While it sounds good in concept — I’m going to pull up to a curb, I’m going to feed people, I’m going to clean up and I’m going to leave — well, there are not restrooms,” he said. “Can these people get a place to sleep? To clean up? We want there to be after-care provided every day they do the program. But they don’t and they can’t.”
What Mr. Landreth described as the most serious threat in its existence — a powerful combination of opposition from homeowners, businesses and city officials — is stirring deep concern among the people who come here to eat most nights.
“I know because of the long lines, a lot of times we have trouble and confusion,” said Emerson Tenner, 46, as he waited for a meal. “But there are people here who really need this. A few people act a little crazy. Don’t mess it up for everyone else.”
Aaron Lewis, who said he makes his home on the sidewalk by a 7-Eleven on Sunset Boulevard, chalked up opposition to what he described as rising callousness to people in need.
“That’s how it is everywhere,” Mr. Lewis said. “People here — it’s their only way to eat. The community doesn’t help us eat.”
Matt Hamilton contributed reporting.
Low Wage Work Rebellion May Finally Bring Down Our Poverty Rate
By: Deborah Foster
Monday, November, 25th, 2013, 9:40 am
This has been the year of the low-wage worker rebellion. Fast food workers walking out for a day. Wal-Mart workers trying to unionize, only to face retaliation. Protesting workers taking their plight to the media. Part of inequality is the gross amassing of wealth in the hands of a tiny number of individuals comprising the overclass. But, the other major part of inequality is the mass of unemployed, underemployed, and low-wage workers who cling to the labor market precariously. The fact that the minimum wage has barely budged (in real dollars) in 45 years contributes to the fact that wages have fallen behind productivity. Tired of their constant struggle to survive and spurred by knowledge of the nation’s unprecedented inequality, minimum wage workers have been striking and protesting across the country. They know the corporations and businesses they work for are making record profits (e.g. Wal-Mart, McDonalds, etc.), yet these same employers falsely cry, “Bankruptcy,” whenever someone suggests that they pay their workers better. It’s not like these companies are unaware that their workers are struggling. McDonalds set up a website (related video) chock full of ideas and a hotline that encourages its workers to seek out government benefits or work two jobs. If all else fails, McDonalds suggests its employees sell their Christmas gifts. House Democrats have published a report estimating that Americans subsidize Wal-Mart wages at a rate of $5,815 per employee. A Wal-Mart store is asking their employees to donate canned goods to other Wal-Mart workers in need. So, even as the money-hoarding six members of the Walton family who inherited Wal-Mart’s profits have the same wealth as the bottom 30% of Americans, they pay their workers wages that require them to seek canned food donations. No matter what the answer to their employees’ inability to make ends meet, in their minds, it is not a living wage, despite evidence Wal-Mart could pay workers $25,000 a year without raising prices.
Twenty-five years ago, William Julius Wilson introduced us to the term, “underclass,” to describe the 10% of people in poverty who were concentrated in urban areas in pockets of extreme poverty, tormented by entrenched social problems like drug/alcohol abuse, violence, damaged families, and poor educational prospects. Wilson explained that these communities were the result of economic forces including the loss of manufacturing jobs, the movement of middle and upper class people to the suburbs, and the loss of services in urban communities. Conservatives insisted their intergenerational poverty was a trap caused by welfare, so they hollered loudly that welfare must be reformed, and then the “underclass” would disappear. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, or welfare reform went into effect. Thereafter, healthy people could not receive welfare benefits for more than two years at a time, and for no more than five years over their lifetime (notably, it is truly amazing how many conservatives still don’t know these rules two decades later).
For a brief period of time, employment rates went up and poverty rates went down, even among the “underclass.” But this short-lived situation, which seemed to bolster conservative arguments that welfare was holding people back, had an alternative and much more obvious explanation: the economy of the 1990s was remarkably strong. People who were forced off welfare were able to find jobs with relative ease. However, a new class of people was also created, or rather, expanded, the working poor. Despite working full-time, their jobs did not bring their families above the poverty line. The low-wage, no-benefit jobs former welfare recipients took could not sustain a family, yet conservatives lauded the fact they were employed, saying just having a job was sufficient. They were unconcerned about the swelling numbers of the working poor. The dilemma of the working poor was invisible, however, because they typically could receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which effectively supplemented their wages by giving them tax-payer supported, annual checks that would give them a small boost, sometimes up over the poverty line.
As the nation moved into the 2000s, recessions pushed these low-level, typically low-skill, workers into unemployment and back into poverty, often without welfare as a safety net. While extreme poverty had declined in the 1990s, it went soaring back up in the 2000s, especially after the 2008 recession. Though it is surely bittersweet, Wilson can turn to his conservative policy opponents, and say, “I told you so.” Welfare was not causing people to be poor; their job prospects were. Poverty disproportionately affects people of color, and so too, do low wages. Although they are only 32% of the population, they comprise 42% of minimum wage workers. If the minimum wage was raised to $10.10, almost 6 million people would be brought out of poverty, 60% of whom would be people of color.
Millions of “expendable” employees occupy the temporary worker force, stuck with low wages, no benefits, and uncertain futures. People who used to have relatively decent-paying jobs working for the government, even in low-level positions, now work for private contractors that pay them minimum wage. This year, these workers went on strike not once, not twice, but three times as part of the Good Jobs Nation campaign. Most remarkable is the fact that 4 in 10 low wage contractor employees qualifies for and needs government benefits (e.g. Medicaid, food stamps) to get by.
If making staggering profits off of underpaying your workforce isn’t exploitation, it is difficult to find a more appropriate description. Raising the minimum wage is a popular idea; 4 in 5 Americans are in favor of doing so. Americans know there is a “wage crisis.” Robert Reich reminds us that Henry Ford paid a decent wage, because he knew his workers could not afford to buy his product without one. And in fact, Wal-Mart’s profits have decreased as our nation’s low wage workers struggle to even buy products from them. It’s time that corporations across the country remembered Ford’s economic lesson.
November 25, 2013
Inquiry in Cover-Up of Ohio Rape Yields Indictment of Four Adults
By TRIP GABRIEL
Four adults in the school system of Steubenville, Ohio, including the superintendent, were indicted Monday by a grand jury looking into the cover-up of a rape that drew national attention and outrage because students recorded it on social media but did not alert the authorities.
Michael McVey, 50, the superintendent of Steubenville City Schools, was indicted on a charge of obstructing justice, along with three others including an elementary school principal, eight months after two teenage football stars were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.
The case was widely followed because social media also seemed to be on trial: teenagers exchanged scores of text messages and cellphone images documenting the assault, during a night of drunken parties in August 2012. The police learned of it only when the girl’s parents gave them a flash drive two days later filled with graphic Twitter posts and video.
“While this started out being about the kids, it is also just as much about the parents, about the grown-ups, about the adults,” said Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, in announcing the charges.
The attorney general offered no details on Monday about what led to the charges against the superintendent, including felony counts of tampering with evidence and obstructing justice.
But a person in law enforcement with knowledge of the grand jury said the charges were related not to the August 2012 rape, but to an accusation of an earlier rape, in April 2012, of a 14-year-old student, who came forward after the publicity over the case involving the football players.
Both cases have been handled by the attorney general, who stepped in after the local prosecutor recused herself.
Online activists, including Anonymous, a hacker group, turned the case into a cause célèbre by accusing the community of closing ranks to protect its athletic heroes.
Many in Steubenville, a struggling industrial town on the Ohio River border with West Virginia, resented the scrutiny, accusing outsiders of painting with too broad a brush.
After a four-day trial in March, a judge convicted the two football players, a former quarterback and a former wide receiver.
The indictment against the elementary school principal, Lynett Gorman, 40, on a charge of failing to report child abuse, related to the earlier case of the 14-year-old girl. Two others were charged in the case of the 16-year-old: a high school wrestling coach, Seth Fluharty, 26, charged with failing to report child abuse, and Matthew Bellardine, 26, a former assistant football coach, who was charged with allowing under-age drinking and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
In an interview last year, Mr. McVey said that he was satisfied at the time of the episode that the head football coach, Reno Saccoccia, would take care of the matter and discipline his players.
Mr. Saccoccia was not indicted. His winning Big Red teams are so popular they regularly fill the hometown side of a stadium known as Death Valley, whose 10,000 seats could accommodate more than half Steubenville’s population.
At the trial of the two players convicted in March, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, a text message was read from Mr. Mays stating that he had persuaded Mr. Saccoccia “to take care of it” and that his coach “was joking about it so I’m not that worried.”
Asked at a news conference about the head coach, Mr. DeWine said he was forbidden to speak about the grand jury investigation, which he praised as thorough. “Every possible charge against any possible individual was considered,” he said.
Earlier, seeming to anticipate the question, Mr. DeWine said: “Some may ask why others were not indicted. Under our system of justice the grand jury must have probable cause to believe all the elements of a criminal offense are present.”
“It is simply not sufficient that a person’s behavior was reprehensible, disgusting, mean-spirited or just plain stupid,” he said. Mr. DeWine said he did not anticipate further indictments, barring new evidence.
Robert Fitzsimmons, a lawyer representing the victim and her family, said the system had worked. “We’re very satisfied with the decision,” he said. That the head coach was not indicted after being the subject of rumors, he added, “teaches everyone we shouldn’t point fingers until the evidence is known.”
If convicted, Mr. McVey could serve more than five years in prison.
Mr. DeWine criticized the adults who he said had failed to set boundaries for teenagers, and he criticized social media, for allowing people to instantly spread information without responsibility.
“Technology makes it possible to disseminate words and information, either true or false, at the push of a button,” he said. “We don’t have to look each other in the eye — leaving an electronic barrier that divorces us from shame and from the hurt felt by others.”
Juliet Macur and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 25, 2013
An earlier version of this article, a picture caption and a web summary misstated the link between the four indictments announced by Ohio’s attorney general and the rape of a 16-year-old girl last year. While the grand jury actions resulted from an inquiry into a cover-up of that case, two of the indictments — including the obstruction charge against the schools superintendent of Steubenville — resulted from another rape case, involving a 14-year-old, last year. The article also incorrectly described one of the adults indicted. She is an elementary school principal, not an elementary school teacher.