Amy Kroin

News Report

Aware that President Obama was hitting congressional fundraisers that day in Silicon Valley and L.A., Free Press and MoveOn.org Political Action decided to organize rallies in both places. The mission: to push the president to live up to his 2007 campaign promise of taking a “back seat to no one” in his commitment to Net Neutrality.

Since then, Obama’s appointed not one but two FCC chairmen who have failed to protect the open Internet. In fact, as bad as Julius Genachowski was on this matter — releasing watered-down rules that catered to industry interests — Tom Wheeler’s even worse, proposing a plan that would outright kill the Internet as we know it.

At Free Press we’re big believers in mobilizing the public to create change. So we partnered with MoveOn and coordinated with many other allies — California Common Cause, ColorOfChange, Code Pink L.A., CREDO Mobile, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, the Greenlining Institute, the Media Alliance, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Popular Resistance, Presente.org, Progressives United, Southern California ACLU and SumOfUs — to put together two protests the president wouldn’t be able to ignore.

On Wednesday morning, more than 100 activists rallied in Los Altos — the heart of the Silicon Valley. As MoveOn’s Victoria Kaplan notes, the Internet helped vault Obama to the presidency — yet he’s said nothing as Wheeler’s pressed forward with his plan to allow discrimination online.

“He has a choice,” Kaplan writes. “Allow the FCC to do the bidding of Verizon and Comcast and oversee the death of the open Internet, or use his political megaphone” to protect Net Neutrality.

Among those assembled was ColorOfChange founder James Rucker, who noted that his organization — founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — would not even exist without a free and open Internet.

In the afternoon another crowd gathered in Los Angeles, where Free Press’ Mary Alice Crim led a rally of close to 150 activists in Hancock Park — directly across the street from where 10 helicopters bearing the presidential entourage landed in the parking lot of L.A. High School. The dirt the chopper blades kicked up covered activists in dirt from head to toe — but the rally went on without a hitch.

Crim, independent filmmaker Justine Bateman, the Morningside Park Chronicle’s Teka-Lark Fleming, California Common Cause’s Leila Pedersen and activist Lauren Steiner were among the speakers who urged Obama to stand up for the open Internet. Crim also read ...

Thank You for Your Service: How One Company Sues Soldiers Worldwide
Paul Kiel
News Report

This article was co-published with The Washington Post.

Army Spc. Angel Aguirre needed a washer and dryer.

Money was tight, and neither Aguirre, 21, nor his wife had much credit history as they settled into life at Fort Carson in Colorado in 2010.

That's when he saw an ad for USA Discounters, guaranteeing loan approval for service members. In military newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and on TV, the Virginia-based company's ads shout, "NO CREDIT? NEED CREDIT? NO PROBLEM!" The store was only a few miles from Fort Carson.

"We ended up getting a computer, a TV, a ring, and a washer and dryer," Aguirre said. "The only thing I really wanted was a washer and dryer."

Aguirre later learned that USA Discounters' easy lending has a flip side. Should customers fall behind, the company transforms into an efficient collection operation. And this part of its business takes place not where customers bought their appliances, but in two local courthouses just a short drive from the company's Virginia Beach headquarters.


"They're basically ruthless," said Army Staff Sgt. David Ray, who was sued in Virginia while based in Germany over purchases he made at a store in Georgia.From there, USA Discounters files lawsuits against service members based anywhere in the world, no matter how much inconvenience or expense they would incur to attend a Virginia court date. Since 2006, the company has filed more than 13,470 suits and almost always wins, records show.

Timothy Dorsey, vice president of USA Discounters, said the company provides credit to service members who would not otherwise qualify and sues only after other attempts to resolve debts have failed.

As for the company's choice of court, he said it was "for the customer's benefit." In Virginia, the company isn't required to use a lawyer to file suit. USA Discounters' savings on legal fees are passed on to the customer, he said.

"This company is committed to ensuring that the men and women who serve and sacrifice for our country are always treated with the honor and respect they deserve," Dorsey said.

The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, was designed to give active-duty members of the armed forces every opportunity to defend themselves against lawsuits. But the law has a loophole; it doesn't address where plaintiffs can sue. That's allowed USA Discounters to sue out-of-state borrowers in Virginia, where companies can file suit as long as some aspect of the business was transacted in the state.

The company routinely argues that it meets that requirement through contract clauses that state any lawsuit will take place in Virginia. Judges have agreed.

"This looks like somebody who has really, really researched the best way to get around the entire intent of the SCRA," said John Odom, a retired Air Force judge advocate and expert on the SCRA.


Consumer advocates say the strategy cheats service members who may have valid defenses. It's "designed to obtain default judgments against ...

Froma Harrop
Op-Ed

The online rental booking service Airbnb is a fast-growing empire that pairs travelers with people wanting to profit off a room in their house — or the whole house. Like VRBO, HomeAway and similar platforms, Airbnb occupies the lodging sector of the "sharing economy."

I come not to address the legal concerns such services raise. They do compete with motels and hotels, which are subject to a variety of regulations, while often depriving cities of the taxes the hostelries must charge. They frequently break local laws governing short-term rentals. And contrary to the image these corporations cultivate, many of the "hosts" are running not homespun little sidelines to wring some cash from a spare bedroom but large operations controlling many rooms in numerous buildings. To call them "illegal hotels" would not be inaccurate.

But I'm here to discuss this trend from the consumer's viewpoint. That part is also problematic.

I've used these online rentals a number of times and never had a hideous experience. But I've never had a first-rate one, either.

The official line suggests a certain vagabond freedom. Isn't it cool to live like a native — and outside motel chain conformity? Well, that depends on the native you're boarding with.

You may want to get up close and personal with the stranger on whose sofa you're spending the night. I don't. To be totally upfront, I'm not even wild about staying with relatives. When doing these temporary rentals, I've made a point of accepting only highly private setups. Still...

Here's a recent example:

For a week's visit to Los Angeles, I rented a homey-sounding cottage in Venice via HomeAway. The reviews were typically glowing and, also routinely, glossed over the hassle factor.

I had to arrive with a certified check covering the entire stay.

No chance would be taken on a bounced check. Of course, the convenience of using a credit card was not an option.

This was not a mi-casa-es-su-casa relationship. The owner was affable enough, but this was just one of several properties he rents to tourists as a business.

There was the inevitable initial period of suspicion, during which the host tried to size up the alien with a suitcase. And who could blame him? Temporary rentals have been hired for unruly orgies.

The accommodations were a mixed bag. Lovely garden, but the electric wiring would have kept a fire inspector up nights. The cutlery was below cafeteria-grade, the plates scarred by chips. And it would have been nice had someone pushed a vacuum under the couch once in a while.

Obviously, only token expense and sweat had been applied to what was really a cash business renting to a revolving parade of temporary tenants. They call this an example of the sharing economy, but I wasn't sharing this guy's home at all. Now that would have been a whole difference experience.

The place was not cheap. I could have stayed at a modest motel for less.

In sum, I find more freedom staying in a chain hotel. ...

Monsanto Ordered to Pay $93 Million to Small Town for Poisoning Citizens
Christina Sarich
News Report

Big wins can happen in small places. The West Virginia State Supreme Court finalized a big blow to the biotech giant Monsanto this month, finishing a settlement causing Monsanto to pay $93 million to the tiny town of Nitro, West Virginia for poisoning citizens with Agent Orange chemicals.

The settlement was approved last year, but details were worked out only weeks ago as to how the funds were to be spent.

The settlement will require Monsanto to do the following:

·$21 million will be spent to test to see if people have been poisoned with dioxin.$9 million will be spent to clean dioxin contaminated dust from 4500 homes.

·Citizens will be monitored for such poisoning for 30 years, not just a few months.

·An additional $63 million is to be allotted if additional tests for dioxin contamination testing is necessary.

·Anyone who lived in the Nitro area between Jan. 1, 1948, and Sept. 3, 2010 will be tested for dioxin. Although they must show proof they lived in the area, they will be eligible for testing even if they no longer live in Nitro.

·Former or present employees of Monsanto are not eligible for any of these benefits.

·An office will be set up to organize testing for Nitro citizens. The registration of participants is to be overlooked by Charleston attorney Thomas Flaherty, who was appointed by the court.

·Residents have a right to file individual suits against Monsanto if medical tests show they suffered physical harm due to dioxin exposure.

Monsanto Produced Toxic Chemicals in Nitro

Just how were Nitro citizens exposed to dioxin? Monsanto was producing the toxic herbicide Agent Orange in Nitro, and dioxin is a chemical byproduct of the substance. It is known to cause serious health conditions. The factory which produced Agent Orange was opened in Nitro in 1948 and remained in operation until 2004, even though usage of this herbicide in the past (in Vietnam and other Asian countries) was fatal to millions of citizens and the war veterans who were exposed to it.

“There is no doubt that during and after the war, many Vietnamese absorbed this very toxic material [dioxin]. It is our belief from toxicological research and epidemiologicalstudies from many countries that this dioxin probably resulted in significant health effects in Vietnam.” – Arnold Schecter and John Constable

“It’s ...

Juan Cole
Op-Ed

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday that Israel’s military actions are responsible for the death of a child every hour in recent days and observed, “Respect for the right to life of civilians, including children, should be a foremost consideration. Not abiding by these principles may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” (see below).  That is, in international law, Israel’s pretext for indiscriminate bombing– that Hamas hides out among non-combatants– is unacceptable.  Israel is the occupying power in Gaza and has a duty to minimize non-combatant death, which it clearly is not doing (some 75% of Palestinians killed in this round of fighting have been children, women and non-combatant men.  About 147 children have been killed by Israel; only a couple dozen Hamas fighters have been.  Thousands of non-combatants have been wounded by indiscriminate shelling and air strikes, as well.)

Pillay noted that since July 7, Israel has launched 2,100 air strikes on the densely-populated slum that the occupation has turned Gaza into.  Hundreds of civilian homes have been destroyed and 140,000 people have been displaced and made homeless.

She also complained about Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket fire on civilian population centers, which is a war crime.

But her list of Israeli violations of Human Rights law and obligations is much longer.  She complained that Israel is not giving people — especially the elderly and the challenged — time to properly evacuate their homes once Israel had made clear it will bomb them.

 

She instances Israeli shelling of an old person’s home, of a hospital, and of a facility for the handicapped as some of the cases that point to the commission of war crimes and even crimes against humanity.

CNN reports:

CNN: “U.N.: One child killed every hour in Gaza”

 

Here is the full statement of Navi Pillay, High Commissioner of Human Rights at the U.N.,   at the Human Rights Council on Wednesday, addressing the council president, Baudelaire Ndong Ella of Gabon:

“Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Excellencies,

The situation in the occupied Gaza Strip is critical for the civilians living there and requires your urgent attention. Since Israel announced its military operation “Protective Edge” on 7 July, Gaza has been subjected to daily intensive bombardment from the air, land and sea, employing well over 2,100 air strikes alone. The hostilities have resulted in the deaths of more than 600 Palestinians, including at least 147 children and 74 women.

This is the third serious escalation of hostilities in my six years as High Commissioner. As we saw during the two previous crises in 2009 and 2012, it is innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip, including children, women, the elderly and persons with disabilities, who are suffering the most.

According to preliminary U.N. figures, around 74 percent of those killed so far were civilians, and thousands more have been injured. Those numbers have climbed dramatically since Israel’s ground operations began on 17 July.

Hundreds of homes and other civilian buildings, such as schools, have been destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza, and more than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced as a result.

Two Israeli civilians have also lost their lives and between 17 and 32 others have been reported injured as a result of rockets and other projectiles fired from Gaza, and 27 Israeli soldiers have been killed during military operations in Gaza.

As we speak, the indiscriminate firing by Hamas and other armed ...

VOICES FOR CHANGE

Do-Nothing Congress Does Something to Hide Its Debt to Lobbyists
Jim Hightower
"

When I heard our Congress critters are taking an extended vacation for all of August and part of September, I had two incongruous reactions: gratitude and anger.

" ::
To Share is Not Always to Share Alike
Froma Harrop
"

The online rental booking service Airbnb is a fast-growing empire that pairs travelers with people wanting to profit off a room in their house — or the whole house. Like VRBO, HomeAway and similar platforms, Airbnb occupies the lodging sector of the "sharing economy."I come not to address the legal concerns such services raise. They do compete with motels and hotels, which are subject to a variety of regulations, while often depriving cities of ...

" ::
UN: Israel’s Military Action in Gaza May Amount to War Crimes
Juan Cole
"

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday that Israel’s military actions are responsible for the death of a child every hour in recent days and observed, “Respect for the right to life of civilians, including children, should be a foremost consideration. Not abiding by these principles may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” (see below).  That is, in international law, Israel’s pretext for indiscriminate ...

" ::
Monsanto Ordered to Pay $93 Million to Small Town for Poisoning Citizens
Christina Sarich
"

Big wins can happen in small places. The West Virginia State Supreme Court finalized a big blow to the biotech giant Monsanto this month, finishing a settlement causing Monsanto to pay $93 million to the tiny town of Nitro, West Virginia for poisoning citizens with Agent Orange chemicals.The settlement was approved last year, but details were worked out only weeks ago as to how the funds were to be spent.The 

" ::
Stadium Subsidies Financed by Pension Cuts
David Sirota
"

As states and cities grapple with budget shortfalls, many are betting big on an unproven formula: Slash public employee pension benefits and public services while diverting the savings into lucrative subsidies for professional sports teams.

" ::
The Palestinians’ Right to Self-Defense
Chris Hedges
"

If Israel insists, as the Bosnian Serbs did in Sarajevo, on using the weapons of industrial warfare against a helpless civilian population then that population has an inherent right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The international community will have to either act to immediately halt Israeli attacks and lift the blockade of Gaza or ...

" ::
Overcoming the Media Blockade in Gaza
Amy Goodman
"

According to the United Nations, one child has been killed in Gaza every hour for the past two days. Overall, the Israeli military has killed close to 700 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, since the assault on Gaza began more than two weeks ago. Details of the slaughter make their way into the world’s media, with horrific accounts of children killed on the beach, of hospital intensive-care units bombed, of first responders, searching for wounded amid the rubble, ...

" ::
Cheap Talk at the Fed
Dean Baker
"

Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen made waves in her Congressional testimony last week when she argued that social media and biotech stocks were over-valued. She also said that the price of junk bonds was out of line with historic experience. By making these assertions in a highly visible public forum, Yellen was using the power of the Fed’s megaphone to stem the growth of incipient bubbles. This is an approach that some of us have advocated for close to twenty years.

" ::
Gaza War Devastates Israeli Tourism Revenue, Points to Fragile Apartheid Future
Juan Cole
"

A Hamas rocket hit and destroyed a house in Yahoud, a town only a mile from Ben Gurion Airport in Israel on Tuesday, raising severe alarm in among the international airlines and leading most of them to cancel flights to Tel Aviv.  The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration called for a 24 hour moratorium on U.S. flights to Israel, and United Airlines, U.S. Airways and Delta ...

" ::
Citigroup’s $7 Billion Wrist Slap
Jim Hightower
"

When Citigroup accepted what the media hailed as a whopping $7 billion penalty for defrauding its own investors and wrecking our economy, the bank just shrugged. “We believe that this settlement is in the best interest of our shareholders and allows us to move forward and to focus on the future,” Citi CEO Michael Corbat said. Note the lack of any regret, apology, or shame. And the total absence of any pledge that ...

" ::

FROM AROUND THE WEB

Immigration

When the far right scapegoats immigrants, it makes inequality worse—by empowering the real villains.

Economy

His ideas about tailoring safety net services to individuals sound great—but the costs would be staggering.

Gaza Strip

Gaza death toll from 19 days of Israeli offensive tops 1,000, according to Gaza health ministry.

Political Scandal

Democrat Jason Carter is challenging first-term Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in the upcoming fall elections.

Tar Sands

Members of the community wore blue shirts at a city council meeting and rallied together to get the Clear Skies Ordinance approved.

Agriculture

Overall, the U.S. food inflation will remain near a historic norm in 2014.

Water

State officials say the water is safe to drink now but environmentalists are skeptical - Would you drink it?

Tax Evasion

Inversion...it could cost the US an estimated $17 billion in revenue over the next decade if we don't change this.

Shelling

This is not the first attack on a UN school...Will it be the last?

Food Health

Republican legislators have railed against around the new federal school lunch standards, but a study suggests 70 percent of students now like the new lunches.

Immigration

It's still mostly teens that travel solo to the United States, but an alarming 7,500 kids under are 13.

Climate Change

A group of top scientists recently called for an essential change to how the United States deals with risks to its Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Wall Street

GOP sabotage and bureaucratic foot-dragging have combined to prevent full implementation of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law.

Obamacare

A federal judge has thrown out a U.S. Senator’s legal challenge to a part of President Barack Obama's healthcare law.

Corporate Tax

Corporations get enormous benefits, like limited liability, that regular “persons” do not.

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