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Snakes in Suits

Walmart gets $7.8 billion a year in tax breaks and subsidies from the US tax system - Employees forced to depend on social programs to get by‏

© Reuters / Eric Thayer
Protesting Walmart's tax privileges as it pays its workers notoriously low wages, the store's employees and others have delivered a $7.8 billion "tax bill" to the Arizona home of the retail giant's chairman, Rob Walton.

A report released this week showed Walmart is the beneficiary of $7.8 billion a year in tax breaks and subsidies from the US tax system. Employees of the retail giant and others used the opportunity to remind Walmart heir Walton how many of the company's workers are forced to depend on social programs to get by, while Walmart reaps billions in profits.

The action is the latest in a string of demonstrations organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers and associated union-supported groups that aim to highlight Walmart employees' low wages and paltry benefits.
Book 2

Judge strikes down restrictive North Dakota abortion law as "unconstitutional"

© Eric Wagner/cc/flickr
A federal judge on Wednesday struck down North Dakota's "fetal heartbeat" law, seen as the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.

The law, House Bill 1456, essentially banned abortions at six weeks. Barring a medical emergency, the law said that an abortion could not be performed if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen as early as six weeks - a point at which a woman may not even know she is pregnant.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland writes that "there is no question that North Dakota House Bill 1456 is in direct contradiction of United States Supreme Court case law addressing restraints on abortion. H.B. 1456 is an invalid and unconstitutional law based on the United States Supreme Court precedent in Roe v. Wade from 1973, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey from 1992, and the litany of cases that have followed."
Network

Encrypted email service Lavabit loses appeal on technicality

© James Martin/CNET
Lavabit CEO Ladar Levison during a public sit-down at CNET headquarters last October.
The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld contempt of court citations on Wednesday against Ladar Levison for his refusal to hand over the master encryption keys to Lavabit's email service last summer.

The appellate court didn't comment on the substantive issue in the case, whether the government had the right to demand the encryption keys that would allow them to observe all traffic of a targeted email account. Instead, the appeals court ruled that the Internet privacy issues raised in Levison's appeal were not clearly articulated while he was defending himself in district court.

The appeals court said Levison should have brought forward his claim that the government was exceeding its authority under US "pen register" and "trap and trace" statutes before being charged with contempt of court by the district judge last summer.
Arrow Down

Louisville officers fired/demoted for exposing a wrongful conviction

Detective Baron Morgan
© WLKY
Detective Baron Morgan discovered an innocent woman behind bars.
Kentucky - When an esteemed police detective discovered that an innocent woman had spent years in prison for a murder she didn't commit, he notified his supervisors and tried to make the tragic error known. Instead of seeing that the new evidence came to light, police brass demoted the whistleblower and kicked out of his unit. Another veteran officer stood up for the whistleblower, earning him termination from the department after decades of service. The Louisville Metropolitan Police Department has taken nefarious steps to hide a dark secret.

Wrongfully Convicted

Detective Baron Morgan of the LMPD stumbled upon the wrongful conviction during a routine interview with a suspect in 2012. During that interview, the suspect confessed to a shooting a man and dumping his body into the Kentucky River in 1998. This posed a big problem, since the person sitting in prison for that murder was a woman named Susan Jean King.

Susan King had been arrested for the crime in 2007, after the murder case had gone unsolved for 8 years. The victim, Kyle Breedon, was King's ex-boyfriend. When prosecutors threatened her with life in prison due to circumstantial evidence, she entered an "Alford Plea" on a lesser charge. A defendant who gives this type of plea does not admit guilt of the crime, but accepts the consequences, since battling the prosecution would likely lead to worse results. As such, King accepted a 10-year sentence for manslaughter to avoid the prosecutors' threats of life in prison. But all along, they had been threatening the wrong person.

The King conviction had already been under scrutiny by the Innocence Project when they learned that King was only 97-lbs and had only one leg. It would have been physically impossible for her to have launched Kyle Breedon's body over the bridge into the river.
Mail

Can you be sent to Gitmo for paying your taxes?

handcuffs
© Jared Rodriguez / Truthout
Does paying taxes violate the law against providing aid and support to a terrorist organization?

I have just finished mailing my 1040. This year, I didn't owe taxes and, boy, am I relieved. Not because I can't afford to cut a check, it's just that I don't want to spend the next six years in a federal prison for violating the provisions of US Code Title 18 -- Crimes and Criminal Procedures.

That's exactly what happened to Ahmed Taalil Mohamud, a cab driver in Anaheim, California, who was sentenced to six years in prison for, as the Associated Press put it, "funneling thousands of dollars to a terrorist organization" in Somalia.
Network

Lavabit, the encrypted mail service that defied NSA surveillance, demands, loses court appeal

lavabit
© Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Corbis
Lavabit founder Ladar Levison refused to comply with the government's so-called 'pen/trap order'.
Company rejected demand that it unlock its encrypted system as government chased whistleblower Edward Snowden

The encrypted email service Lavabit, which founder Ladar Levison chose to close down rather than give government agencies access to its customers private data, lost a federal appeal on Wednesday when the Fourth District Court upheld a lower ruling that that the company should be held in contempt for its refusal.

The government was trying to gain access to an account they alleged was being used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, but Levison rejected the broad scope of the request.

On the particulars of the decision, CNET reports:
The appellate court didn't comment on the substantive issue in the case, whether the government had the right to demand the encryption keys that would allow them to observe all traffic of a targeted email account. Instead, the appeals court ruled that the Internet privacy issues raised in Levison's appeal were not clearly articulated while he was defending himself in district court.

The appeals court said Levison should have brought forward his claim that the government was exceeding its authority under US "pen register" and "trap and trace" statutes before being charged with contempt of court by the district judge last summer.
And the Guardian adds:
Levison has said he could have given investigators access to a single account like he had done in the past, but the nature of their request for "live" access to user information would have compromised Lavabit's entire system.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief in the appeal, said the court focused on the procedural aspects of the case unrelated to Lavabit's claims.

"On the merits, we believe it's clear that there are limits on the government's power to coerce innocent service providers into its surveillance activities," said ACLU attorney Brian Hauss in an emailed statement. "The government exceeded those limits when it asked Lavabit to blow up its business - and undermine the encryption technology that ensures our collective cybersecurity - to get information that Lavabit itself offered to provide."
Rose

First 'open source seeds' released - ethical plant breeders do end-run around Monsanto monopoly

open source seeds
© J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Backers of the new Open Source Seed Initiative will pass out 29 new varieties of 14 different crops, including broccoli, carrots and kale, on Thursday.

A group of scientists and food activists is launching a campaign Thursday to change the rules that govern seeds. They're releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new "open source pledge" that's intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely.

It's inspired by the example of open source software, which is freely available for anyone to use but cannot legally be converted into anyone's proprietary product.

At an event on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, backers of the new Open Source Seed Initiative will pass out 29 new varieties of 14 different crops, including carrots, kale, broccoli and quinoa. Anyone receiving the seeds must pledge not to restrict their use by means of patents, licenses or any other kind of intellectual property. In fact, any future plant that's derived from these open source seeds also has to remain freely available as well.

Irwin Goldman, a vegetable breeder at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, helped organize the campaign. It's an attempt to restore the practice of open sharing that was the rule among plant breeders when he entered the profession more than 20 years ago.

"If other breeders asked for our materials, we would send them a packet of seed, and they would do the same for us," he says. "That was a wonderful way to work, and that way of working is no longer with us."

These days, seeds are intellectual property. Some are patented as inventions. You need permission from the patent holder to use them, and you're not supposed to harvest seeds for replanting the next year.
Dollars

The problem of wealth inequality

wealth 1%
The Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is an institute funded by the right-wing conservative Bradley Foundation. In April of 2013, the Center announced the "Bradley Freedom Prize" essay contest, in which they asked for a response to the question: "Do the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes? What amount would be fair and why?"

The following Bradley Award-losing essay submission likely inflamed the judges of the prize; rather than focusing on taxes and wealth merely in relation to the economy - the obsession of nearly all news media reports and academic literature - it instead focuses on taxes and wealth in relation to ethics, equity, and ecology.

Why Only the Rich Should be Taxed

As our country and the world face the unprecedented scourge of global climate change, the constant toxification of our air and water, and ever-increasing social and economic inequities, the few means to combat these problems exist in the form of government regulations and interventions, funded by taxes. Though the richest among us may be touted as beneficent "job creators" by ideologues and the obsequious mass media who revere them, the rich, in fact, are actually the major source of the harms and evils facing our society. Their vast industrial and corporate enterprises directly and indirectly contribute to the majority of all fossil fuel emissions, toxic pollution, worker exploitation, and income inequality. Contrary to popular opinion, the rich do not gain their wealth because they work harder or possess more skills and intellect than the rest of us; they amass profligate fortunes because they are more selfish, narcissistic, and sociopathic than others. They are rich for a specific reason. Where you or I would freely give of ourselves to help others and eschew extravagant excess, the goal of the rich is money-making, so everything they do is toward that end. Psychological studies have demonstrated that wealthy people are less altruistic than poorer people, which is precisely why they are wealthy. In this era where the United States faces the greatest income disparity in the nation's history, on top of unprecedented environmental and ecological catastrophes, it is imperative that those responsible for causing these calamities pay for them rather than benefit from them.

The rich are indeed different than the rest. They are more liable to lie, cheat, steal, and act unethically.1 It is precisely this behavior that enables their accumulation of wealth. According to Professor Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, "the higher you go up the ladder... the great number of sociopaths you will find there." 2 Thus, it is not surprising that many of the richest, most powerful people in our society perpetrate tremendous damage and injustice. They more often lack empathy and pro-social behavior, while they take more and give less than their poorer counterparts.3 These negative attributes of the upper classes commonly manifest themselves in the form of lack of concern for the environment, for other species, and for other humans. Given that the ten richest Americans are all corporate/industrial magnates of one form or another, 4 it is inevitable that tremendous damage has resulted from their industrial pursuits, both due to the nature of the wealthy individuals themselves and due to the nature of corporations. In addition, since corporations are considered people as per a Supreme Court decision, it is imperative that not only rich individuals, but corporations as well bear the burden of reimbursing society for the destruction they spread.

Comment: The author puts the blame for climate change on industrialists, when in fact it is due to many other factors besides the use of fossil fuels. However, all of the other points of this essay are right on target. The unfettered greed of oligarchs are laying waste to the planet and the creatures (including humans) who inhabit it, all the while feeling it's their right, because it's THEM. In their blindness they can't see they are destroying the very foundation of their prosperity. To quote Lobeczewski's Political Ponerology:
Goaded by their character, such people thirst for just that even though it would conflict with their own life interest. They do not understand that a catastrophe would ensue. Germs are not aware that they will be burned alive or buried deep in the ground along with the human body whose death they are causing.


Pistol

State terrorism: Kansas City Jewish community center shooter was an FBI informant

Glenn Miller
© unknown
Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller, the former North Carolina Ku Klux Klan leader, arrested in the Kansas City Jewish Community Center shootings that killed three people on Sunday, has been identified previously as an FBI informant. The FBI is known to have infiltrated the Klan time and time again since the civil rights days, during a period when J. Edgar Hoover had set his sights on flushing out supposed commies and ending the career of Martin Luther King. Miller testified for the government in a major trial where the Feds sought to convict leaders of the Far Right. In his book, A White Man Speaks Out, he claims to have been an FBI informant.

Miller is a former Vietnam vet who was a member of the American Nazi Party before turning to the North Carolina Klan. He was in the Klan caravan involved in the Greensboro massacre in 1979, where the Klan opened fire on civil rights marchers. He then formed the White Patriot Party, claiming by 1985 to have a membership of 2500 and offices in six southern states. He ran for governor of North Carolina in 1984 and got 5,000 votes.
X

Psychopath? Police announce person of interest in 21 animal deaths

Thanks to more than a dozen tips, South Bend Police have developed a single person of interest in the investigation of 21 animals found dead in an alley near the 700-block of E. Indiana Ave.

Police did not name the person of interest, but say multiple tips named the same individual as a possible suspect.

Examinations are still being performed on the small animals at Purdue University, to determine exactly how the animals died. Physical evidence from the scene is also being processed.
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