REPORT: Michigan Children With Guns — 3rd Worst in the Nation

Update 7-22-15: Less than one minute after this was published, there were reports of another child dead in Michigan’s Antrim County while playing with a gun. See Record-Eagle story HERE. Follow-up with details at UpNorthLive HERE.

It’s No Accident:

This is not a story about “accidental” shootings involving children — because… they are not accidents. When a child uses a firearm and unintentionally harms another person, there’s frequently a guilty party: an irresponsible adult gun owner. And, the numbers indicate that Michigan is teeming with this disreputable breed.

To date this year, Michigan is tied in third-place with Texas for the number of incidents where a minor discharged a weapon resulting in the injury or death of either themself or another individual, often a playmate or sibling. The ignoble first-place position went to neighboring Ohio where a dozen such occurrences have taken the lives of five, injuring seven. Florida checks-in at number two, with a total of ten reports. Thankfully only one of them resulted in a tragically preventable death. However, Michigan wasn’t so fortunate with four out of nine not surviving the trauma. (Now, it’s five out of ten for Michigan, no longer tied with the Lone Star State for third — resulting in it being second worst in the nation)

Among the top four offending states, fully half of the oft-termed “accidental” gun incidents led to an unintentional loss of a life, and all too frequently, that of an innocent child.

Child gun death:injury chart

Source: Every Town for Gun Safety

Every Town for Gun Safety maintains a database on gun-related incidents involving child shooters where someone was unintentionally wounded or killed. Nationally, as of this writing, 146 (147) children have discharged a firearm with tragic results in just the first seven months of 2015. The organization estimates that two million American children live in homes where firearms are inadequately secured.

In their 2014 report, Innocents Lost, the national statistics are beyond alarming:

  • From December 2012 to December 2013, at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings — almost two a week, 61 percent higher than federal data reflect. And even this larger number reflects just a fraction of the total number of children injured or killed with guns in the U.S. each year, regardless of the intent.
  • About two-thirds of these unexpected deaths — 65 percent — took place in a home or vehicle that belonged to the victim’s family, Most often with guns that were legally owned but not secured. Another 19 percent took place in the home of a relative or friend of the victim.
  • More than two-thirds of these tragedies could be avoided if gun owners stored their guns responsibly and prevented children from accessing them. Of the child shooting deaths in which there was sufficient information available to make the determination, 70 percent (62 of 89 cases) could have been prevented if the firearm had been stored locked and unloaded.

These statistics bring to mind the heartbreaking story of the young mother, Veronica Rutledge, who was shot point-blank by her 2-year old son while shopping with gift cards in an Idaho Walmart the day after Christmas last year. Rutledge’s family, along with gun rights activists, rushed to defend her integrity, insisting she was an exemplary parent and very responsible gun owner, having safely secured her concealed weapon in a zippered compartment in a specially designed purse. In the wake of her death, supporters frequently cited the fact that she was a respected chemist at the Idaho National Laboratory — a misguided effort to demonstrate her level of intelligence as proof of her innocence. Her father-in-law turned to the media, angry about her character being brought into question:

“They are painting Veronica as irresponsible, and that is not the case. I brought my son up around guns, and he has extensive experience shooting it. And Veronica had had hand gun classes; they’re both licensed to carry, and this wasn’t just some purse she had thrown her gun into.”

While her story is wrenching, it stands as a prime example of the kind of gross negligence that repeats itself on a daily basis across the country. Had her son instead turned the gun on one of his cousins shopping with them that day, or on himself, she would have been held criminally liable. In the end, she was both the victim and the perpetrator. Her poor judgement leaving her son to grow up to eventually learn the horrific facts surrounding his mother’s death.

The NRA Has Their Say:

Conflating the epidemic with Second Amendment issues only serves to further the notion that these preventable tragedies are mere “accidents.” Gun rights advocates should be ahead of the curve on responsible handling and storage of firearms. Yet we see, time and again, following news reports of another child killing someone, activists focusing their energy on defending their gun rights — fueled by a steady flow of National Rifle Association talking points.Eddie Eagle 2

The NRA’s answer to the problem would be considered comically naive, if it weren’t so miserably off the mark. For years now, they have been promoting a public education-based firearms safety class, titled Eddie Eagle, accompanied by a video of such low production quality it calls into question the multimillion dollar organization’s commitment to promoting gun safety among our most vulnerable.

See the latest video HERE, with a segment indirectly referencing the Rutledge family tragedy, and dialogue saying: “sometimes your mom or dad or another adult may have a gun…”

NRA Sometimes your mom or dad or another adult may have a gunThe program has been around for a couple of decades, and has yet to prove to be effective in any way. Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violencecited a 2004 study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics which found that, although children could memorize the video, they did not put to use the skills in real life tests.

Helmke went on to say the following about Eddie Eagle:

Another study published in the late 1990s by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) noted that Eddie Eagle was like “Joe Camel with feathers,” pointing out that: “The primary goal of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by making guns more acceptable to children and youth… The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA.”

Michigan lawmakers have fairly recently attempted to instate the Eddie Eagle program in its public schools — mostly though as a panacea in lieu of taking any substantive action on gun safety for kids. And while we wait, the news reports pile-up. Just last week, a 4-year old Detroit boy shot himself in the abdomen while playing with a loaded weapon left atop a refrigerator. Thankfully, he is expected to live.

The news report carried this title:

Accident titleIt was no “accident” though.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Update 7-25-15: A 9-year old Saginaw boy was shot by a playmate yesterday with a loaded gun they found in a field. The weapon may have been discarded after it was used in a recent crime. He is recovering, but may have a long-term injury to a limb. Investigation ongoing. Story HERE. Michigan now at 11 and counting.

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Trinity’s Rap Sheet: Sex, Drugs, and Rat Shit — An Aramark Redux

Trinity Food Service’s response to prisoner allegations of food-skimping: “They don’t have a choice. We could have a bigger discussion of why they’re there to begin with. But you’re served what you’re served.” — Jim O’Connell, Trinity spokesperson, January 2015

Democracy Tree catalogued the multiple offenses of Aramark, the soon-to-be former private food vendor for the Michigan Department of Corrections, so now it’s time to compile the rap sheet on their successor, Trinity Services Group.

First though, let’s note that the new vendor was awarded the $158 million dollar contract without a proper bidding process. AFSCME Council 25 plans to challenge the no-bid contract. Union spokesperson Ed McNeil told the Detroit Free Press:

“Changing vendors two years after the open bid was first awarded without going back to the marketplace is bad business because it cheats the public out of the benefit of competitive pricing.”

“Aramark has a poor track record of service and Trinity won’t be any better.”

AFSCME is considering all options, including litigation.

Hungry in the Peach State

Readers may recall that the official response from Aramark whenever their employees were caught smuggling, have sex with inmates, or serving-up maggots was to deflect the offense, claiming it was all the work of anti-privatization activists and disgruntled union members.

Not so Trinity.

When called-out last January over food-skimping at the Gordon County Jail in Calhoun, Georgia, they unabashedly blamed the prisoners for whining. One inmate was forced to supplement his diet by eating toothpaste, another had become so weak for lack of food he trembled at night. The complaints piled-up at the facility, prompting the Southern Center for Human Rights to remind Calhoun County officials that courts have ruled that prisoners must be provided with “substantial and wholesome” nutrition.

Trinity’s official response was to shrug-off the complaints as inevitable, with Jim O’Connell, a company spokesman saying:

“They don’t have a choice. We could have a bigger discussion of why they’re there to begin with. But you’re served what you’re served.”

Sarah Geraghty, of the Southern Center for Human Rights avers that the county is getting ripped-off and the prisoners are paying the price, saying of the Trinity contract “it does not appear the county is getting what they’re paying for.”

Trinity Worker

Hayes, Photo: WITN

Sex and Drugs in North Carolina

On July 10th this year, Dawn Hayes, a Trinity worker in Craven County, North Carolina, was arraigned for having a sexual relationship with a prisoner. When authorities searched her things they additionally found marijuana. The case is pending.

Protests in Pennsylvania

May 2015: Inmates at a Lancaster County lock-up were heard by nearby residents shouting out from windows “we’re hungry!” (Audio HERE), prompting County Commissioner and chair of the County Prison Board, Scott Martin, to deny the food-skimping claims as mere attempts by inmates to “stir the pot”, saying the allegations were “gravely exaggerated.” He told WGAL “if you don’t like the diet, then don’t come into prison.”

Mayhem in Maryland

After losing its contract at a Baltimore facility, Trinity reportedly left it mired in filth. The replacement contractor noted that the “facilities that were handed to us by Trinity were overrun with rats, roaches, mice and birds.”  Thurman Curtis the Chief Operating Officer of the new vendor, Crystal Enterprises, said during their “walkthrough, we witnessed meals being prepared under grid ceilings which were covered with rat droppings.” Trinity denied the claims of vermin and filth, and are now demanding to be reinstated at the lock-up.

rats

Arizona Infestation

Last March, inmates in the Graham County jail found rodent droppings in their food. The County Undersheriff, Jeff McCormies, explained it “looked like rodents of some type had gotten into dry goods.” The facility had to hire an exterminator, and Trinity has made an effort to more safely store its food.

Ohio Denial

Last October, Richland County officials were forced to re-bid on a contract they had entered into with Trinity for food services at their county jail and juvenile detention center. It seems Trinity was losing money with their 93.5 cent per meal bid, so they exercised a 90-day termination clause claiming they made an error on the original bid, and it should have been $1.37 per meal.

Not so fast, Trinity.

If 93.5 cents was some sort of clerical error in Ohio, then they may wish to reconsider the competence of their request for proposal team who offered a 98 cents per meal to the Lehigh County jail in Allentown, Pennsylvania at about the same time last year. It sure is a lucky thing they lost out to a lower bidder, A’viands, LLC, who flew-in under the radar with a 94 cent bid, leading Edward Sweeney, the county Director of Corrections, to remark “I’m a little uneasy about it. It is a very aggressive number”, adding “I’m not really sure they gave it their full due diligence.”

Uneasy you should be, Mr. Sweeney. As the third largest private food vendor in the nation, A’viands knew exactly what they were doing — it’s through these low-ball bids that unscrupulous vendors win contracts with razor thin margins. They then make up the difference by cutting corners and starving inmates. It’s the simple math of privatization.

It’s only a matter of time before we add Michigan to the Trinity rap sheet.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Updated to correct content 7-16-15. Contract amount was 158 million, not thousand.

 

 

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Michigan Residents Rise-Up Against Fireworks Law

Lake Orion, a charming little township nestled in Southeast Michigan’s Oakland County — “where living is a vacation” — is among many communities finding themselves under the assault of rampant abuse of fireworks since Michigan lawmakers enacted Public Act 256 expanding the general public’s access to airborne incendiaries back in 2011.

Lake Orion

Source: Orion Township

Not mincing his words, resident Bob Gritzinger recently took to social media to vent his frustration with neighbors for disrupting the peace and quiet of their lakeside community:

Gritzinger post

He’s not alone. There is a growing grassroots movement aimed at walking-back the controversial fireworks law. An on-line petition at MoveOn.org has also been making the social media rounds garnering over 22,000 signatures to date. Signer Sue Keller of Harrisville made comment on the petition that it’s not just about the obnoxious nature of the professional grade fireworks, but it’s also important to consider that the “[c]ost of human accidents and deaths, the harming effects on nesting birds, wildlife, and pets is the reason to repeal this law.”

Avid birder Roger Taylor, host of Bird Watch on WKZO, wrote to Democracy Tree to explain the difference between traditional fireworks shows and what is currently occurring under this law:

“Large traditional fireworks are a very localized situation and are transitory so exhibitions of the type have a limited impact on birds.” Taylor went on to make a case for repealing PA 256. “To protect birds we need to put high powered fireworks back in the hands of trained professionals and most importantly SOBER trained professionals.”

Rep. Henry Yanez (D-25) is attempting to do just that with a legislative package he introduced in June. House Bills 4725 and 4726 would completely repeal the fireworks law. The tie-barred bills were referred to the House Committee on Regulatory Reform. Yanez related his concerns in a press release:

“As a former firefighter, I am acutely aware of the danger mishandled and misused fireworks pose. Certain fireworks, whether used properly or improperly, can cause serious property and environmental damage, and the injuries can be disfiguring and life-threatening. There’s just no good reason to have rockets, sky lanterns and other fireworks allowed under the 2011 law going off in our neighborhoods.”

This is not the first time lawmakers have taken-up legislation on the matter. Back in 2013 they passed PA 65 which granted local municipalities some leeway to enact ordinances placing limited restrictions on fireworks within their community, along with the authority to additionally levy $500 fines for violations. The result was a hodgepodge of local laws that rarely inspire the adherence of fireworks enthusiasts. And unfortunately, even with the revenue incentive, few violators are nabbed — as reflected in the remarks of petition signer Joseph McDonald of Sterling Heights:

“I’ve been saying this till I’m blue in the face, but a law that is not enforceable is a bad law!! And this is a bad law!!…how many times have I called the police only to have them do nothing about it because they can’t catch idiots in the act of shooting them off!”

The statute has sparked controversy from its inception, and not just in terms of public outcry, but through the troubled mechanics of its regulatory enforcement. Four years ago, PA 256 was enacted hastily by a giddy gaggle of freshly elected GOP lawmakers celebrating their new majority status through legislative treachery — the same group to bring Michigan the Emergency Manager law (twice), plus the loathsome Right-to-Work law, along with a bevy of other legislative bugaboos. And, like those other laws, the fireworks legislation has become a public policy quagmire.

In 2014, Michigan’s Office of the Auditor General conducted a performance audit on the Michigan Bureau of Fire Safety revealing that the state had failed to properly inspect the burgeoning number of brick-and-mortar fireworks retailers popping-up in empty strip-malls across the state.

From the audit report:

Fieworks audit findingThe report went on to submit a laundry list of regulatory failures on the part of the ill-prepared Bureau of Fire Safety, including:

  • improper processing of fireworks vendor applications
  • failure to comply with documentation requirements
  • failure to meet processing deadlines 58 percent of the time
  • Improperly approving ineligible applications received after annual April 1st deadline 55 percent of the time
  • failure to retain site plans, and of those few on file, 58 percent did not meet safety requirements
  • failure to conduct inspections in accordance with the law, and lack of supporting documentation
  • failure to inspect facilities prior to their operation

A follow-up audit has not since been conducted, and according to the Auditor General, none is in the works. With the state government cut to the bare bones, Michigan residents aren’t likely to feel relief any time soon.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

For a comprehensive report on the statewide economic and health impacts of the law click HERE for MLive article.

 

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Aramark Out, Trinity In – What Do We Know About This New Company?

Dumping Aramark as the Michigan prison food vendor was certainly a long time coming, and a good move forward for the state — maybe. What do we know about the new private, for-profit vendor, Trinity Services Group, who’s now earned the state’s blessing to move-in to milk the taxpayer cash cow formerly suckled by the storied maggot-serving, drug smuggling, and kitchen humping corporation?

To start — it remains privatized food service. Those 370 long-term public sector professionals who were displaced are still out of the picture.

According to PayScale.com, Trinity’s food prep employees earn an average of $9.17 an hour, clearly not a princely sum, or anything near it. One of the primary problems with Aramark was their low wages, which attracted some employees ready and willing to engage in illegal and inappropriate on-the-job activities for a little side cash. So, improvement should not be expected there.

A handful of Trinity employees rated the company at Glassdoor.com, giving the employer a 2.5 out of five score. This tells us little more other than that one anonymous former employee complained specifically about the Trinity staff being “hostile” in a prison setting.

The most serious finding is one of gross food skimping by Trinity at a corrections facility in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania resulting in a lawsuit. Aramark too, was cited for similar offenses at multiple facilities in Michigan.

In July of 2014, the Times News reported on a lawsuit filed by 46 inmates at the Schuylkill County Prison over inadequate meal portions being served which led inmates to supplement their diets by way of over-priced junk food provided through the food commissary, also run by Trinity. The lawsuit asserts the following:

  • Inmates went through the chain of command asking for change, but with no results.
  • The suit included, as an example, one inmate who entered the prison on Aug. 6, 2013, weighing 280 pounds, and lost 78 pounds because he lacked money for commissary items (okay, maybe good for him, depending on the specifics.)
  • And not so good…it also said inmates were served 10 kernels of corn, that condiments were watered down, and there was quote: “not even enough to fill a 5-year-old child. This is cruel and unusual punishment.”
  • The suit alleged every inmate had excessive weight loss and hunger.
  • It also claimed inmates were served spoiled food.

Food skimping to enhance the corporate bottom line is nothing new in corrections contracts, in fact, it’s pretty much part and parcel for the business.

As far as the public policy bottom line goes though, Michigan leaders should keep a watchful eye on their new business partner.

As the maxim says…fool me once….

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

 

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Wisconsin’s Gov. Walker Fails in His Attempt to Use the Budget to Shut-Down Transparency

Walker Backs Down Under Pressure Over His Bid to Dismantle FOIA Laws Through the Budgetary Process — Remains on the Hot Seat with Litigation

Walker 3

Just as Michigan’s new and improved Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law kicks into effect this month making it easier and less expensive for its citizens to discover what public officials are up to, their neighbors to the west were busy pondering the dismantlement of their own open records statutes by way of the budgetary process. Under the leadership of Gov. Walker, the Badger State legislature was poised to take a giant goose-step away from democracy.

Acting strictly along party lines, Wisconsin Republican lawmakers voted a budget amendment bill out of the Joint Finance Committee specifically designed to sharply curtail the public’s ability to monitor official communications at both the state and local level. The measure would have allowed legislation and public policy to be crafted in secret. The proposal ran the gamut — from the state house to local school boards, all would have enjoyed the luxury of closed doors and complete anonymity. As a further insult to the public interest, Republicans have refused to divulge who is behind the initiative and why they felt it was necessary. Walker however, remains a “person of interest” among media watchdogs.

In response to the proposed assault on transparency, the Society of Professional Journalists marshaled their “FOIA Soldiers” to unite, urging them to contact lawmakers about the measure. Last Friday they tweeted:

SPJ Tweet

Conservatives too, were deeply critical of the bill, including Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General, Brad Schimel, who had previously established a special office within his department specifically tasked with helping citizens obtain public records. Schimel told the Post Crescent:

“Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the budget bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction.”

Republicans hold a lock on both houses of the Wisconsin legislature. That, coupled with the legendary self-puffery of Gov. Walker, whose systematic decimation of the public sector is renowned for its utter wickedness, led to at least a few days when it seemed pretty clear that transparency was no longer “a thing” in Wisconsin. Yet, after a firestorm of criticism, Walker and GOP leaders tiptoed-back their plan, issuing a succinct joint statement on July 4th:

After substantive discussion over the last day, we have agreed that the provisions relating to any changes in the state’s open records law will be removed from the budget in its entirety. We are steadfastly committed to open and accountable government. The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.

In order to allow for further debate on this issue outside of budget process, the Legislature will form a Legislative Council committee to more appropriately study it and allow for public discussion and input.

“Search for Truth” Under Attack in the Badger State

This isn’t the first time Wisconsin lawmakers have taken aim at transparency through budgetary shenanigans. As recently as 2013 an attempt was made to shut down the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism by preventing them from operating under the aegis of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Surprisingly, at that time, Walker vetoed the motion. But more recently he’s one-eightied, opting to double-down in opposition to the university’s dedication to public awareness.

With Walker about to wedge himself into the bulging clown car of Republican presidential hopefuls, WisconsinWatch.Org (website of the above-mentioned Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, thanks again to the University of Wisconsin) wants to know whether he had a hand in crafting the proposal. A troubling prospect, given the recent FOIA request denials issued from his office and the Wisconsin Department of State. Litigation over the matter is pending. The Center for Media and Democracy filed suit in May this year over the denials. Additional litigation was brought forth that same month by Jud Lounsbury, a writer at The Progressive, along with his labor attorney wife, Katy. They filed suit to obtain records about an attempt traced back to Walker’s office to change the University of Wisconsin’s Mission Statement to exclude the words “search for truth.”

You just can’t make this shit up folks.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Read more about Michigan’s new FOIA law HERE.

Tweet at Last Week Tonight, with Jon Oliver, asking him to feature the Walker story HERE.

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Roberts “Liberal” Court Under Siege from the Far Right

Attacks from the Right mount over “liberal” rulings. But first: Has SCOTUS really tacked to the left?

(Updated 7-1-15 and 7-7-15)

Last week wasn’t a dream — the Supreme Court handed-down three solid victories for progressive causes: healthcare, marriage equality, and the Fair Housing Act all earned the judicial stamp of approval. Add in this week’s thumbs-up for independent commissions on redistricting, and we’ve got a grand slam for team Democrat.

While conservatives and GOP presidential hopefuls bitch and moan about the “new” lefty tilt to the bench, threatening all manner of retribution, Democrats are viewing the recent decisions as some kind of fluke, but are they?

The New York Times Upshot parsed the high court’s data base on rulings from 1946 to 2014, and found that under Roberts the court has demonstrated a nascent pattern of political moderation, in spite of the infamous Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings. Not since 1969 has SCOTUS ventured substantively into liberal territory, albeit not with a Warren Court verve, or anything close to it. The Upshot provided a graphic illustrating that under Roberts the scales of justice have weighed-in on the liberal side four out of ten years, including the past three years — and that’s before the 2015 rulings are factored in.

Supreme Court Rulings graphic

Source: New York Times

Predictably, Justice Robert’s position in support of the Affordable Care Act drew fire from the Wall Street Journal with the assertion that the Chief Justice is “revealed as a most political Justice.” Conversely, he earned some carefully qualified praise from Ruth Marcus at the Washington Post, who described his vote on the ACA thusly:

“This is not judicial activism, rewriting legislation from the bench. It’s judicial deference with a brain.

Does anyone think that John Roberts, citizen, or John Roberts, member of Congress, would vote for the Affordable Care Act? Or President Obama? Of course not. The health-care ruling helps — or should help — undermine the cynical view that all judges are mere partisans in robes, reflexively ruling for their team.”

If we’ve learned nothing else these past few days, we should take home the notion that the judiciary’s role remains unique from that of the legislative and executive bodies — their independence is part and parcel of their effectiveness as a democratic creature. Yet some conservatives are openly calling for extraconstitutional punitive measures in the wake of rulings they simply do not like.

Legislative threats to an impartial judiciary

There have been rumblings from the fringes on the far right for high court impeachment after last week’s judicial assault on their retrograde “values.” Although, court watchers note that this bench has also handed conservatives a spate of prize rulings, especially in the early years. The Upshot reminds readers:

The most conservative term since before the Warren court era was the fourth one of the court led by Chief Justice Roberts, in 2008, and the first term of the Roberts court was close behind. Conservatives certainly have many reasons to be happy with the Supreme Court’s recent work. On campaign finance, gun rights, race and abortion, the justices have delivered strongly conservative rulings.

If states are the laboratories of democracy, then we can expect a troubling swell of political attacks on our Federal Court system. Democracy Tree has reported about various state-level legislative attempts to hamstring their judicial branches in recent years, often over the marriage equality issue, and now we hear calls for similar punishments over the Supreme Court’s definitive ruling on the topic.

Some weeks prior to Thursday’s hallmark decision, Jamie Barnett and Liz Seaton, board members of the watchdog organization Justice at Stake, identified a trend in state legislatures articulated in their article in Governing about the legislative “War on Our Courts” over marriage equality. The attorneys describe the national crisis:

The reality in many states is now this: Legislators are pushing bills to intimidate, punish or fire public employees, including judges, who recognize or grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This follows threats by legislators to impeach judges over single rulings they disagree with. In the wake of judges overturning state bans on marriage for same-sex couples, these impeachment calls have multiplied.

Two years ago, the Iowa legislature attempted to cut the pay of their state supreme court justices by 85 percent after the high court overturned their ban on same-sex unions. Republicans additionally tried to impeach the justices. They subsequently ousted two justices through a richly bankrolled smear campaign.

The U. S. Constitution is clear on the impeachment issue — strictly limiting its application to “high crimes and misdemeanors.” A ruling, one way or another, on any issue is the courts’ constitutionally protected prerogative, not a criminal act. Barnett and Seaton warn:

If one judge were impeached over a decision, who honestly thinks that would be the end? In a hyperpartisan political climate, impeachment hearings could become all too common. No credible system of justice could survive such a political wrecking ball.

Before the ink was dry on the ACA ruling last week, the conservative group Freedom Watch issued a fatwā on the Supreme Court calling for the impeachment of the six Justices who upheld the federal healthcare exchange program. Larry Klayman, leader of the conservative group told McClatchy Newspapers:

“The six U.S. Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold ObamaCare should be impeached for abandoning the rule of law.

These six Justices have violated their own long-established rules of interpretation for applying statutes to instead advance their own political objectives or burnish their public persona. Such personal goals corrode the role of the Court. The justices abandoned the rule of law and have become merely a political focus group.”

A writer on the ultra-conservative website Western Journalism echoed the call for impeachment, but based it on the marriage equality ruling:

“So here’s the challenge, for ‘We the People’ to stand up against tyranny. It’s not free speech. It’s not love. It’s not tolerance. It’s tyranny. And no matter what the Supreme Court calls it, it’s not marriage. Congress now must muster the courage to impeach those Supreme Court justices, just as Associate Justice Samuel Chase was impeached in 1805.”

GOP presidential contender Ted Cruz blogged in the Washington Post calling the Justices “black-robed Houdinis”, but held back on calling for impeachment in a National Review op-ed — not because it’s a bad idea in his estimation, but because he believes the Senate couldn’t muster the votes. While Mike Huckabee, also vying for a 1600 address, was prompted to opine in USA Today that “We can’t bow to judicial tyranny on health care or gay marriage, remained in step with the social agenda of his party. He went on to refer to religious liberty as “America’s most fundamental right” — a sentiment that just as easily applies to the second amendment among avid conservatives when they are otherwise preoccupied with the imaginary loss of their personal arsenals. GOP contenders know that their base is all about God and guns, in no particular order — a combustible cocktail spiked with the potent elixir of irrational fear.

Even the high court isn’t immune to the vicissitudes of mutable gumption. Justice Scalia, disagreeing strongly with the marriage equality ruling, got in on the act of under-cutting the court’s constitutional authority, tagging his fellow adjudicators as:

Scalia

Justice Jiggery-pokery

Constitutional interpretation and application appears to be a situational thing among the sour grapes wing of the GOP, and yet in spite of that — the record of the Roberts Court is surprisingly not quite so bad after all. (Save Scalia, of course – that dude’s pure applesauce)

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Update 7-1-15: Oklahoma lawmakers initiate impeachment against their state Supreme Court over display of ten commandments ruling. Read HERE.
Update 7-7-15: Texas lawmaker starts campaign to impeach five U.S. Supreme Court Justices.
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Twitter Pulls the Plug on Political Transparency Exclusively for U.S. Politicians

“A member of Congress does not and should not have the same expectation of privacy as a private citizen. Power can only be accountable with a generous application of transparency.” — Christopher Gates, Sunlight Foundation President, speaking on Twitter’s new policy exclusively protecting U.S. politicians.

A significant blow to social media transparency in U.S. politics:

Earlier this month, Twitter abruptly cancelled their 2012 agreement with the U. S. transparency advocacy group, Sunlight Foundation – ending the nonpartisan and nonprofit organization’s ability to curate and catalogue deleted tweets of elected officials and candidates from accounts accessed in their official capacity. Up till June 3rd of this year, Sunlight had been charged with the responsibility of archiving the material through a popular searchable public database of U.S. public figures’ regrettable tweets, termed Politwoops, with content ranging from mere typos to colossal 140 character political blunders.

But no more — at least not in the good ole US of A. Elsewhere though — other nations’ Twitter Politwoops websites are still going strong, cataloging political faux pas of all manner from leaders around the world.

Politwoops

In the run-up to the 2016 election, indiscreet political tweets remain a delicious inevitability, and Sunlight’s Politwoops archive would have been a savory resource. One need only consider those 2008 and 2012 non-Twitter screw-ups — with Mitt Romney’s covertly recorded “47 percent” remark, Herman Cain’s overt “Uzbeki-beki-beki-beki-stan”, Sarah Palin’s prime-time choke moment on the reading material query, and Rick Perry’s infamous (pre-smart glasses) “ooops!” — these bungles illustrate the importance of the “in the moment” kind of situations which can make or break a candidate. Late night television continues to relish those slip-ups with the unending pleasure of the kind found in a box of cheap wine.

Christopher Gates, President of the Sunlight Foundation, penned a eulogy for Politwoops expressing deep disappointment in Twitter’s decision and the unprofessional manner in which they delivered the blow.

“We are truly mystified as to what prompted the change of heart, and it’s deeply disappointing to see Twitter kill a project they had supported since 2012. It is also disturbing to us that our feed was cut almost three weeks ago and our only direct communication came from Twitter last night, when we were told that their decision was not something that we could appeal, and, most surprisingly, they were not interested in reviewing any of the email conversation from 2012. Clearly, something changed — and we’re not likely to ever know what it was.”

A few items from the department of irony:

It is unfortunate that Twitter decided to take a Snapchat approach to its political speech content. Gates lamented with this warning:

“Unfortunately, Twitter’s decision to pull the plug on Politwoops is a reminder of how the Internet isn’t truly a public square. Our shared conversations are increasingly taking place in privately owned and managed walled gardens, which means that the politics that occur in such conversations are subject to private rules.”

Speculation of trouble at the top in Twitter

We can’t help but wonder if Twitter was the subject of some political pressure. For weeks speculation swirled about an imminent shakeup in their boardroom which led to the very recent ouster of CEO Dick Costolo, while rumors of a Google takeover continue to circulate. This is not the first time they’ve churned their leadership — The Economic Times likened Twitter to “a place more akin to ‘Game of Thrones’ than Silicon Valley-style nose-to-the-grindstone mettle.” 

Here be dragons?

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Enjoy Politwoops European Union, Australia, and Canada — all still going strong as of this writing.

The U.S. Poltiwoops archive (including Michigan) is available HERE – from 2012 to June 3, 2015.

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Snyder’s Poor Legacy Earns Michigan an “F” and an Infamous Place in the Dictionary

QUIZ: What do the expressions colossal squid, colony collapse disorder, photobomb, emoji,  jegging, WTF, and dark money have in common?

ANSWER: They all made the list of most recent additions to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary:

dark money

Michigan has become “the dark money capital of America.” — Rich Robinson, Executive Director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network

While they didn’t specifically cite Snyder or his NERD Fund, nor Michigan’s infamous high court “dark money” addiction, those were both key players in pushing the phrase front and center in trending electioneering jargon that’s now part and parcel of the new media lexicon in the aftermath of the Citizens United ruling.

A snapshot of Michigan through a few political maps:

On dark money disclosure Michigan brings up the rear, earning an “F” on the National Institute On Money in State Politics official scorecard for “essential disclosure requirements for independent spending.” (No worries Michigan politicians, you are joined by many other states.)

Disclosure Scorecard

Next, let’s examine the desire of residents to relocate from their current state. A 2013 Gallup Poll found Michiganders poised to get outta Dodge.

State Residents' Desire to moveThe final map, published in the Washington Post, gauges a hot social public policy issue — same-sex marriage. The deep south is predictably mixed, but the upper midwest measures-up in support of a more liberal view.

Support ofr Gay Marriage - Washington Post

A picture or two it seems, does tell the tale. Michigan voters remain firmly socially progressive, and they are on the overall, unhappy with the governance of their state.

Beyond Dark Money, Lansing suffers from Colony Collapse Disorder

John Lindstrom, Publisher at Gongwer News Service, identified an interesting political anomaly over the recent passage of the package of bills designed to thwart same-sex couple adoption in Michigan under the guise of religious freedom. When governor Snyder signed the legislation into law, a number of scathing newspaper editorials resulted. MLive in particular called-out the governor and those hyper-conservative lawmakers for turning Michigan into a “backwater, intolerant, anti-economic development state.”  The editorial got thousands of comments and social media was on fire with criticisms of Michigan leadership.

Yet, the response from Lansing was: crickets.

Lindstrom found it odd that in the wake of their legislative skullduggery, none of the politicians responsible, or their staffers, stepped-up to defend the move as they typically do when called to task over their job performance:

“The [MLive] editorial got much comment on the main social media sites as well, particularly Facebook and Twitter. On those sites, the commentary was almost universally opposed to the legislation, especially the adoption bills. A number of commentators identified themselves as Republicans who said they were upset with the direction of their party.

But unusually quiet were the legislators and defenders of the administration.

…after reviewing the Facebook pages of most the legislators who voted for the adoption package, nary a word in defense of their action or in rebuttal to the editorial.”

While silence gripped Lansing, the ACLU was immediately vocal about their intent to bring suit against the state. Attorney Brooke Tucker told the Detroit Free Press:

“The constitution doesn’t allow discrimination based on religion and you can’t do that with state funds. We’re looking at our legal options and especially looking to hear from people who will be adversely affected by this.”

Michigan leadership is clearly way out of step with its electorate. Between gross gerrymandering of voting districts, retrograde public policies, duplicitous politicians, and an avalanche of dark money, mostly benefitting far-right nut-jobs, the Great Lakes State is a sinking ship.

Gov. Snyder’s weakness is clearly illustrated by his recent political caving on the adoption bills. He likely sold-out to get a roads-funding package passed, and it’s a miserable one at that.

Some legacy.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Aramark — The Corporate Citizen: Oh, The Humanity!

As corporate “people” go, Aramark Inc. is pretty pleased with itself recently. You see they’ve found a way around their public relations train wreck over their less than humane treatment of inmates in prisons around the nation. Between the maggot and rodent feces laced food they’ve served in Michigan and Ohio correctional facilities, the illicit sex acts in prison kitchens, the lack of adequate portions, the unsanitary conditions, the smuggled contraband, and of course the infamous hit job solicited by one of their employees who wanted to whack a prisoner he didn’t care for — well, now their corporate personhood needs a little polishing to maintain that stellar stock market rating with those deliciously lucrative contracts, not to mention the continued feeding of the gold-plated tastes of Eric J. Floss, their high-flying CEO.

Media Alert: Aramark’s decided to go all-out humane in the course of providing their food services. It’s a shining new policy of kindness and caring, with one caveat — its restricted to those of cloven hoof and their be-feathered friends: pigs, calves, chickens, ducks, and geese.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word humane is an 18th Century derivative of, somewhat obviously, the word human. The two words were previously interchangeable until that pivotal point in history known as the Age of Enlightenment, when humane took on a loftier meaning. But, in the case of the nascent 21st Century corporate breed of  “person”, that nuanced context appears to be limited to livestock.

While Democracy Tree fully supports the ethical treatment of animals, Aramark’s claim to the moral high ground here is more than disingenuous based on their not so estimable treatment of actual humans.

Yes, in a dodgy PR maneuver, Aramark’s CEO recently boasted:

“Our commitments to health, wellness and sustainability are core to our mission of enriching and nourishing lives and include our pledge to responsible purchasing and animal welfare practices. The broad reach of our supply chain provides an opportunity for us to have a significant impact on animal welfare issues and to shift purchasing practices that impact the clients, consumers and communities we serve.”

Specifically, Aramark pledges to phase-in certain livestock protections:

  • Purchasing only cage-free eggs by 2020
  • Eliminating all pork from animals bred using gestation crates by 2017
  • Since 2011, eliminated the purchase of all foie gras

As a morsel of additional irony, the company intends to build regulatory oversight clauses into the process of negotiating contracts with its food suppliers. Aramark’s own contractual agreements with both the Michigan and Ohio Departments of Corrections have been a tale riddled with gross breaches and punitive measures, leading both states to threaten cutting their ties with the troubled vendor.

pig dinning outThis certainly is good news for animal rights activists, along with the chickens and pigs themselves who will now be afforded some level of dignity in their truncated lives — at least marginally above the “cruel and unusual punishment” level. It speaks little of the private food vendor’s commitment to the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, nor that of those government officials who continue to do business with the company.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

More on Aramark in Michigan and Ohio.

 

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Just Released: White House Report on The Affordable Care Act in Michigan

Below is a fact sheet from The White House Office of the Press Secretary on how Michigan is faring under the Affordable Care Act.

FACT SHEET: Health Care in Michigan

What the Affordable Care Act is doing for Michigan families

The Affordable Care Act has already covered one in four uninsured Americans – more than ten million – and improved coverage for virtually everyone with health coverage. Insurers can no longer discriminate against preexisting conditions, charge women more just for being women, or put caps on the care you receive. Hospitals, doctors and other providers are changing the way they operate to deliver better care at lower cost. In the years to come, the ability to buy portable and affordable plans on a competitive marketplace will allow countless Americans to move, start businesses, and dream big American dreams — without worrying if an illness will bankrupt them. Here is how the Affordable Care Act is working for families in Michigan:

 After Health Reform: Improved Access to Care

· Gallup recently estimated that the uninsured rate in Michigan in 2014 was 10.8 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2013.

· Prohibits coverage denials and reduced benefits, protecting as many as 4,394,173 Michiganians who have some type of pre-existing health condition, including 556,167 children.

· Eliminates lifetime and annual limits on insurance coverage and establishes annual limits on out-of-pocket spending on essential health benefits, benefiting 3,547,000 people in Michigan, including 1,315,000 women and 977,000 children.

· Expands Medicaid to all non-eligible adults with incomes under 133% of the federal poverty level.  399,651 more people in Michigan have gained Medicaid or CHIP coverage since the beginning of the Health Insurance Marketplace first open enrollment period.

· Establishes a system of state and federal health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, to make it easier for individuals and small-business employees to purchase health plans at affordable prices through which 293,843 people in Michigan were covered in March 2015.

· Created a temporary high-risk pool program to cover uninsured people with pre-existing conditions prior to 2014 reforms which helped more than 2,416 people in Michigan.

· Creates health plan disclosure requirements and simple, standardized summaries so 5,677,800 people in Michigan can better understand coverage information and compare benefits.

 After Health Reform: More Affordable Care

· Creates a tax credit to help 228,388 people in Michigan who otherwise cannot afford it purchase health coverage through health insurance marketplaces.

· Requires health insurers to provide consumers with rebates if the amount they spend on health benefits and quality of care, as opposed to advertising and marketing, is too low.  Last year, 184,297 consumers in Michigan received $13,189,718 in rebates.

· Eliminates out-of-pocket costs for preventive services like immunizations, certain cancer screenings, contraception, reproductive counseling, obesity screening, and behavioral assessments for children.  This coverage is guaranteed for more than 4,543,547 people in Michigan including 1,843,405 women.

· Eliminates out-of-pocket costs for 1,411,770 Medicare beneficiaries in Michigan for preventive services like cancer screenings, bone-mass measurements, annual physicals, and smoking cessation.

· Phases out the “donut hole” coverage gap for 205,170 Medicare prescription drug beneficiaries in Michigan, who have saved an average of $1,052 per beneficiary. 

· Creates Accountable Care Organizations consisting of doctors and other health-care providers who share in savings from keeping patients well while improving quality, helping 322,866 Medicare beneficiaries in Michigan.

· Phases out overpayments through the Medicare Advantage system, while requiring Medicare Advantage plans to spend at least 85 percent of Medicare revenue on patient care.  Medicare Advantage enrollment has grown by 212,812 to 610,553 in Michigan since 2009.

After Health Reform: Improved Quality and Accountability to You

· Provides incentives to hospitals in Medicare to reduce hospital-acquired infections and avoidable readmissions.  Creates a collaborative health-safety learning network, the Partnership for Patients, that includes 91 hospitals in Michigan to promote best quality practices. 

We’re not done.  Other legislation and executive actions are continuing to advance the cause of effective, accountable and affordable health care.

This includes:

· Incentive payments for doctors, hospitals, and other providers to adopt and use certified electronic health records (EHR).  In Michigan more than 67.5 percent of hospitals and 47.6 percent of providers have electronic health records systems.

 · A new funding pool for Community Health Centers to build, expand and operate health-care facilities in underserved communities.  Health Center grantees in Michigan now serve 558,059 patients and received $208,926,298 under the health care law to offer a broader array of primary care services, extend their hours of operations, hire more providers, and renovate or build new clinical spaces.

· Health provider training opportunities, with an emphasis on primary care, including a significant expansion of the National Health Service Corps.  As of September 30, 2014, there were 337 Corps clinicians providing primary care services in Michigan, compared to 162 clinicians in 2008.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

 

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