Mr. Trump Wants to Keep Our “Beautiful Confederate Statues and Monuments” ‘We Must Tear Them Down’

John Hanno,   August 17, 2017

Mr. Trump Wants to Keep Our “Beautiful Confederate Statues and Monuments”

    ‘We Must Tear Them Down’

All across America, cities and towns, big and small, are debating whether the toxic reminders of our Civil War and a fatally divided country should  finally be torn down. 

I think a better idea, in this age of worsening climate change, would be to melt down and recycle these toxic metal sculptures and then turn them into a grand Washington monument, to those who fought and died to heal the country during reconstruction, to those who’ve spent their lives bringing America’s races together instead of dividing us and to our black brothers and sisters who paid some of the highest costs for that war and its ongoing consequences.

Its a sad thing indeed, as we’ve witnessed since our incursion into Iraq, when radical Islamic terrorists tear down or destroy the centuries old artifacts or monuments to any semblance of a religion or culture that doesn’t conform to their narrow extreme ideology.

This is not the same. Most of these Civil War monuments were constructed many decades after the civil war ended, most during the height of Jim Crow. In many cases, they were used to glorify and rewrite the most painful and divisive episodes in our history.

My idea, not new of course, would be to turn our “Swords into Plowshares.” Something resourceful folks have been doing for centuries.

We could model it after the “Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower” project; only on a much grander scale.

“The Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower, initiated by the Eisenhower Chapter of Veterans For Peace, is a traveling monument dedicated to stopping the cycle of war and violence, healing the wounds of war that is caused on both sides of conflict, and providing a forum for all victims to start the healing process caused by wars.

Wherever the tower appears, veterans and victims of war of different national origins will ring the bell and share stories of how their families have been effected by war. It is hoped that an honest dialogue about the costs of war may help victims heal and veterans recover from the “moral injury” that has been linked to an epidemic of veteran suicides.

Roger Ehrlich and Joe McTaggert built the bell tower from reclaimed steel, aluminum cans and a bell donated from the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill who unburied it during renovations. The tower is made of 4 stackable pieces, each 6 feet high, so when assembled the tower stands 24 feet high. The aluminum bricks are each attached independently to allow movement from the wind, and reflect the sun and lights from the surface. The bell is suspended within the tower and can be rung by pulling on an attached rope.”

The plaque on the tower reads:

I think we should have a contest to create a plaque for a new Washington monument, dedicated to those who work tirelessly to bring all races and religions together.

My own version would be:

     ‘Turn Relics of a Sad War Into a Symbol of Hope and Change’

To Mark the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation;

Rational Folks of All Races and Religions Dedicate this Monument;

Made from Remnants Donated from Repentant Confederate States;

To Victims, Soldiers and Families who Suffered this Unresolved Conflict;

Without Regard to Race, Religion, Family History or Political Persuasion;

To Those Who Find no Comfort in Perpetrating Our National Disgrace;

To Those Who Struggle to Heal or Bridge Our Racial or Political Divides;

We Erect a Monument to America’s Ability to Forgive and Forget;

To Call For an End to All Racial Animosity and Persecution;

In Order to Spare All Future Generations the Same Fate!


Donald Trump said: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,”

But if he’s so concerned about our historical legacy fading away, then for every civil war relic, who folks like Mr. Trump insist on preserving, there should be a companion monument displaying the other side of the issue of slavery. Maybe a statue next to Robert E. Lee, (who did more than almost anyone to preserve slavery, even after the war) depicting one of our black brothers hanging from a tree limb at the end of a rope. And along side other Confederate monuments, maybe a group of peaceful protesters being attacked by police armed with clubs, attack dogs and fire hoses. Or maybe a depiction of Emmett Till lying in his coffin with thousands of mourners filing by his mutilated body.

Of course we probably wouldn’t do that. There’s no glory in such a display. No regal soldier dressed in his uniform and perched on a beautiful horse. Just pain and suffering.

Maybe if we tear down all these painful reminders, we can finally turn the corner on the tenuous race relations that keep bubbling up to the surface.  John Hanno

Trump: Keep our ‘beautiful’ Confederate monuments

Yahoo News

Trump: Keep our ‘beautiful’ Confederate monuments

Julia Munslow      August 17, 2017 Trump, Confederate monuments. (Yahoo News photo-illustration; photos: AP, Denise Sanders/The Baltimore Sun via AP, Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

President Trump on Thursday bemoaned the removal of “beautiful” Confederate monuments across the U.S. after last weekend’s violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists rallied against the removal of Robert E. Lee statue.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”

Trump continued: “Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

Last weekend’s violent Charlottesville protests rekindled the debate over Confederate monuments, which critics say symbolize the slavery issue that prompted the Southern secession. Baltimore, Lexington, Ky., and other municipalities have already started removing memorials.

Trump has repeatedly equated Lee, a Confederate general, with the Founding Fathers.

“So this week it’s Robert E. Lee,” the president said Tuesday in Trump Tower. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

But when asked if he thought Confederate statues should be removed, Trump said, “That’s up to a local town, community or the federal government, depending on where it is located.”

Trump, reeling from widespread criticism over such comments, has apparently decided such monuments should stay.

Group wants to end war, not glorify it, with traveling memorial in Raleigh

The News & Observer-Wake County

Group wants to end war, not glorify it, with traveling memorial in Raleigh Ryder, left, Roger Ehrlick, right, and Jim Senter, on ground, put together the final pieces of a hand-made memorial bell tower Friday on the south side of the State Capitol in Raleigh.

By Martha Quillin – November 7, 2014

A stiff wind from Friday’s cold front blew across the State Capitol grounds and struck the tower that Roger Ehrlich and his partners were trying to raise, making its hundreds of aluminum plates rattle like sabers.

But instead of weapons of war, the plates are meant to be symbols against it, forming a sort of anti-war memorial Ehrlich hopes will encourage people this Veterans Day to consider the cost of world conflict rather than to glorify it.

“A lot of war monuments are built with the idea that war is fought to guarantee freedom,” said Ehrlich, a sociologist-turned-artist who lives in Cary. “That’s a big lie, and we wanted to do something different.”

Ehrlich conceived the tower for the local chapter of Veterans For Peace, a global nonprofit based in St. Louis that says its main mission is to end war, in part by educating the public on what the group says are war’s true causes and effects. It also hopes to help veterans heal from their combat experiences, Ehrlich says, by supporting conciliatory efforts such as the clearing of mines from former battlefields, so the land can be used for farming.

The group first erected the 24-foot structure on Memorial Day and has displayed it several times since.

It was built in three pieces that can travel on the back of a trailer – the smaller pieces nestled inside the larger – and be put back together on site. Between its metal frame are stretched metal stakes once used to support young apple trees in Ehrlich’s family’s orchards near Asheville. Each metal rod becomes a rack on which hang the metal plates, hammered from empty aluminum drink cans.

The group calls the triangular tower “Swords to Plowshares,” a biblical reference to Isaiah’s prophesy that one day, nations will not lift swords against one another.

The tower has evolved since it was introduced. Veterans – and those who remember them – inscribe names and messages on the plates, the way thousands of people have left notes at the base of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

John Hueur, president of the local chapter, helped raise the tower Friday afternoon so it would be in place on the south side of the State Capitol building in time for today’s Veterans Day Parade, which will pass close by.

Members of Veterans For Peace will participate in the parade, which will wind along several blocks of downtown Raleigh, a moving salute to those who have served.

Ehrlich and Hueur, who were not members of the armed forces but who had relatives who fought in both world wars, say their intent with the memorials is not to diminish veterans’ sacrifices but to see a world in which such sacrifice is no longer needed.

Doug Ryder, left, John Heuer, center, and Roger Ehrlich hold a rope to keep control of a hand-made memorial bell tower while it was lifted using a hand winch Friday on the south side of the State Capitol in Raleigh.

Read more here:

5 major differences between federal and private student loans

Yahoo Finance

5 major differences between federal and private student loans

Alyssa Pry     August 16, 2017    

If you’ve been to college or have recently graduated, chances are you have a student loan. About 43.3 million people have student loans, and 90% of borrowers take out a Federal student loan, according to the US Department of Education. But federal loans don’t always cover all of your college costs, and more borrowers are turning to private loans; according to a new study by LendEDU, 1.4 million people currently have a private loan to pay for college costs.

Experts recommend using Federal loans, financial aid, and scholarships before taking out a private student loan. Understanding the main differences between your loan options will help you determine the best way to fund your education.

Difference 1: How they’re funded

Federal loans are funded by the US Department of Education or private institutions that the government guarantee to pay back in case of default. Federal loans come with more protections, such as flexible payment schedules, lower interest rates and income-based pay-back programs.

Private loans are funded by banks and other lenders, such as credit unions, which means the lenders set the terms and interest rates. Interest rates are typically higher, and there is less flexibility for the borrower.

Difference #2: Interest Rates

The interest rate for federal loans is set by the Federal Reserve. They have fixed interest rates, which means the rate won’t change for the entirety of your loan. In 2017, the Federal Reserve raised the interest rate on undergraduate loans to 4.45%, and 6-7% for graduate student loans.

Private loans can have fixed or variable rates. Variable interest rates can fluctuate depending on the economy, potentially adding large amounts of interest to your loan. According to LendEDU, the average fixed-rate student loan is 9.66%, while the average variable rate is 7.81%, but rates can vary depending on your lender and loan terms.

Difference #3: Getting the loan

You will need to fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to apply for a federal student loan, and you’ll also find out if you qualify for federal grants or other student aid. Your credit will not affect your ability to get a government loan.

There are three different types of federal student loans. A Direct Subsidized loan is given to students with financial need, and the loan interest will be paid by the federal government if you go to school part time, during the six months after you graduate or if you defer your loan payments. You can also receive a Direct Unsubsidized loan, which you are eligible for regardless of financial need, and you are responsible for all interest payments. Finally, you can receive a Direct PLUS loan, for graduate or professional school students.

Your ability to receive a private loan depends on your credit history, which will affect your loan terms and interest rates. You may also need a cosigner, such as a parent, who guarantees he or she will be responsible for your loan if you can’t pay it back. You don’t need to fill out the FAFSA in order to apply for a private loan.

Difference #4: Repaying the loan

You have a grace period of six months after you graduate before you have to start repaying your federal student loan. Most federal loan borrowers are put on a 10-year repayment plan, but you have up to 25 years to repay your federal loans in full.

Private loans may need to be repaid immediately—while you’re still enrolled in college—but you may have the option to defer payment until you graduate. There is less flexibility when it comes to your repayment schedule than with a federal loan, and the length you have to repay it varies depending on your lender.

Difference #5: Lowering your payments

If you’re having difficulty repaying your loan, Federal loans offer more options than private loans to lower your payments. You can defer your loan payments for up to three years, and your loans may be forgiven if you work in public service.

Private loans typically don’t offer loan forgiveness. However, if you’re having difficulty making your payments, you may be able to refinance the private loan. Refinancing means you consolidate your loan(s) into a new loan and repay the new loan at a lower interest rate. But, keep in mind, not all borrowers are eligible for refinancing.

It’s important to be a responsible borrower and know how much you’ll owe. And remember, the longer you take to repay your loans, the more interest will accrue.


5 ways to tackle your student loan debt

4 steps to a debt-free college degree 

Money Minute: How to get your student loans completely forgiven 

Plague: Fleas in Arizona Test Positive for Easily Spread and Fatal Disease

Newsweek-Tech & Science

Plague: Fleas in Arizona Test Positive for Easily Spread and Fatal Disease

By Jessica Firger     August 14, 2017

Fleas in two Arizona counties are carrying bubonic plague, an infectious disease that took the lives of millions of people in the Middle Ages, according to news reports. So far there have been no reported illness and deaths.

Health officials in Navajo and Coconino counties in Arizona recently issued a warning to the general public after fleas in the northern part of the state tested positive for Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes the bubonic plague. Humans can contract the plague in a number of ways. In addition to flea bites, people can pick up the bacteria by handling the fluids or tissue of a rodent or another animal that has the illness. The plague can also be transmitted through bodily fluids such as respiratory droplets.

“Navajo County Health Department is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals,” the public health warning states, ABC news reported. “The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal.”

The plague is primarily found on the West Coast of the U.S., especially the southwestern U.S. when cool summers follow wet winters. At the end of June, three people in New Mexico tested positive for the plague as well, according to NPR.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and senior associate at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security says the area of the country is vulnerable to the transmission of the plague bacterium.

“Western parts of the United States have had ongoing plague transmission in rodents for over a century,” he says.

Although incidents of plague are minimal these days the risk still exists so people should be vigilant “when dealing with rodents and clear areas of their property that may be attractive to rodents,” says Adalja. He adds that it’s also important for health care providers to be aware of cases and learn to spot symptoms of illness, and to be aware of diagnostic testing and treatment protocols for the illness.

The infectious bacteria that causes plague is rare in the U.S. today. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, an average of seven human cases are diagnosed each year. In 2015, four people in the U.S died from the illness. Worldwide there are roughly 300 cases of the plague each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Symptoms of the plague include sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes (called buboes). This form is usually the result of an infected flea bite. The bacteria multiply in the lymph node closest to where the bacteria entered the human body. The disease can be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics, but left untreated the plague can spread to other parts of the body. Without appropriate medical care the illness can be deadly; up to 60 percent of people infected with the pathogen die from it.


Return of Black Death: Risk of epidemic as three stricken with bubonic plague from fleas

PLAGUE fighters are killing off fleas carrying the Black Death after three people were stricken with world’s most feared disease.

By Stuart Winter    August 15, 2017

Health officials are targeting rodent burrows to thwart the risk of an epidemic just weeks after an outbreak put the three victims in hospital.

Urgent action to wipe out flea infestations in prairie dog burrows in two parts of Arizona has been ordered after scientists confirmed the insects were carrying the same plague that wiped out a quarter of humanity in the 1300s.

Besides tackling the infestations, public health officials in Arizona are putting out warnings to reduce the risk of people contracting plague by preventing pets from running loose as well as avoiding rodent burrows.    Scientists confirmed that fleas are carrying the plague

Whooping cough, scarlet fever & scurvy: The returning Victorian diseases

Confirmation that fleas were carrying the bacteria that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, came this week after positive tests at two sites near Flagstaff.

Symptoms of plague in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure

Coconino County Public Health Services District

In June, three people needed hospital treatment after contracting plague 400 miles east in Santa Fee County, New Mexico.

Health officials carried out extensive checks around the homes of the victims, who included a 52-year-old and a 62-year-old woman, to “ensure the safety of the immediately family and neighbors”.

New Mexico witnessed four plague cases in 2016 in Bernalillo, Mora and Rio Arriba counties but with no fatalities. In 2015, one person died when four plague cases were reported in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.    Health officials are targeting rodent burrows to thwart the risk of an epidemic Stock Images   The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea

For a pandemic that killed as many as 200 million people across Europe and Asia in the 14th Century, bubonic plague still resists total eradication globally, throwing up thousands of cases every year.

The western states of the USA witness annual reports, largely because its native rodent species, such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs, act as vectors in the same way as the black rats that spread the medieval plague across most of the known world.

Arizona’s Coconino County Public Health Services District, confirming the latest positive results, said the disease is “endemic” in the area and urged the public to “take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals”.

Its public warning added: “The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal.

“Symptoms of plague in humans generally appear within two to six days following exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain, and swollen lymph glands – called ‘buboes’ – in the groin, armpits or limbs.     Scientists confirmed that fleas had the disease after positive tests at two sites near Flagstaff

“The disease can become septicemic – spreading throughout the bloodstream – as well as pneumonic – affecting the lungs – but is curable with proper antibiotic therapy if diagnosed and treated early.”

During the recent New Mexico outbreak, doctors warned how pets could play a worrying role in spreading the disease.

“Pets that are allowed to roam and hunt can bring infected fleas from dead rodents back into the home, putting you and your children at risk,” said Dr Paul Ettestad, a public health veterinarian for the Department of Health.

“Keeping your pets at home or on a leash and using an appropriate flea control product is important to protect you and your family.”

Sorry, Folks: We Can’t Say ‘Climate Change’ Anymore


Sorry, Folks: We Can’t Say ‘Climate Change’ Anymore

Emily Monaco      August 15, 2017

When we swapped out the term “global warming” for “climate change,” it was in an effort to be more precise with what exactly was happening with the planet. The same can’t be said for the USDA’s new directive to scrap mention of climate change in favor of “weather extremes.”

This new tendency, uncovered by The Guardian via a series of staff emails at the National Resources Conservation Service, is a clear departure from (correctly) placing blame on humans and the agriculture industry for changes in the world’s climate.

It all began in January, when Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs at the NRCS, wrote in an email to senior employees, “It has become clear one of the previous administration’s priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift in perspective within the executive branch.”

Just a few weeks after, in mid-February, Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, listed several terms to be avoided in an email: not only was “climate change” to be replaced by “weather extremes,” but “climate change adaption” was to be swapped out for “resilience to weather extremes” and “reduce greenhouse gases” changed to “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency.”

Not everyone was happy about the change. One NRCS employee wrote in a July 5 email that they would “prefer to keep the language as is” to maintain the “scientific integrity of the work,” and the NRDC, reporting on these changes, noted that the new euphemisms forced scientists to “lose any reference to a changing climate, greenhouse gases, and carbon pollution (and heat, it appears) and substitute them with fuzzy language that doesn’t convey the urgency of a global environmental, health, and social threat, nor agriculture’s role in it.”

Senators were also reasonably upset about the change, including Michigan Senator Debbie Stabelow, ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“Censoring the agency’s scientists and natural resource professionals as they try to communicate these risks and help producers adapt to a changing climate does a great disservice to the men and women who grow the food, fuel, and fiber that drive our economy, not to mention the agency’s civil servants themselves,” Stabenow wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “This censorship makes the United States less competitive, less food secure, and puts our rural families and their communities at risk.”

Reports of these changes with regard to language concerning climate change drew immediate repudiation from the USDA. Spokesman Tim Murtaugh denied the existence of such a directive, and for now, the NRCS website confirms this, retaining several mentions of climate change.

But this is only the latest way in which governmental talk of climate change has been dumbed down. Mentions of the dangers of climate change have been removed from government websites including those of the White House, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA. The government also announced in June that it would be withdrawing from the Paris agreement, due to the fact that the climate accord, which has been ratified by 159 parties around the world, is a “bad deal” for the United States.

Whatever we call it, climate change is a reality, as a recently leaked federal report drafted by scientists from 13 federal agencies confirms. The report, run by the New York Times earlier this month, places human activity at the center of these environmental issues, noting that the average temperatures in the United States have risen rapidly and drastically over the past 40 years to such an extent that even if changes are made now, the damage is irreversible.

“It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited,” reports the Times.

“It’s a fraught situation,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University who was not involved in the study. “This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration, and scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.”

Of course, to handle it, we need to be able to talk about it. This is the impetus behind the suit of several government agencies, including the EPA, by the Center for Biological Diversity, in order to force them to release information on the “censoring” of climate change verbiage. According to Center open government attorney Meg Townsend, these modifications are tantamount to “active censorship of science” and “appalling and dangerous for America and the greater global community.”

Case for climate change grows ever stronger

USA Today

Case for climate change grows ever stronger

The Editorial Board, USA TODAY        Published August 14, 2017

But will Trump administration change the draft National Climate Assessment?: Our view

(Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)

Could proof grow any more powerful that humanity is responsible for a dangerously warming planet? Scientists studying Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are finding ever more troubling evidence.

Last year was the hottest on record, according to a report late last week from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The report, by more than 450 scientists from 60 nations, also found that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and global sea levels are at their highest levels on record.

Just as troubling were draft findings destined for the quadrennial National Climate Assessment. Scientists from 13 federal agencies found that a rapid rise in temperatures since the 1980s in the United States represents the warmest period in 1,500 years.

The impacts from human-caused warming are no distant threat, the scientists concluded, but are punishing populations right now with weather made worse by climate change: more heat and drought in the American Southwest, larger and fiercer storms along the Pacific, and greater rainfall elsewhere.

“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emission of greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible,” the draft says. “There are no alternative explanations.”

The stark threat from climate change is why nearly 200 nations joined together under the Paris Agreement, signed last year, to collectively curb emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. It’s also why 40 countries, and a group of Republican elder statesmen in the United States, support worthy plans for a refundable carbon tax that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels.

The question now is how the Trump administration, which is stocked with climate skeptics and is pulling the United States out of the Paris accord, will react to the latest scientific findings. The White House could decide as early as Friday whether to order changes in the draft National Climate Assessment report.

Environmentalists such as Al Gore and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg say Trump’s rejection of the science only compels state and local governments to act more aggressively to head off catastrophic climate change.

There is that hope. As the world has begun turning to cleaner burning fuels and renewable energy, it appears that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are stabilizing, even as global temperatures continue to rise.

But much damage can still be done. A recent study has shown that just four years of Trump’s recalcitrant environmental policies would add an additional 12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

It’s bad enough when President Trump defies the truth when he talks about millions of undocumented immigrants voting against him in the election, or the crowd size at his inauguration. At least those falsehoods provide grist for late-night comics.

The same cannot be said for defying the overwhelming scientific consensus about human-caused climate change and actively working against global efforts to stave off calamity. That’s placing the future of the planet, and the lives of its inhabitants, in jeopardy.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.



Unequal justice under the law

CBS Sunday Morning

Unequal justice under the law

CBS News        August 13, 2017

Does our criminal justice system truly guarantee JUSTICE FOR ALL? Not if you don’t have the money to hire your own top-notch attorney, it doesn’t. Our Cover Story is reported by Lee Cowan:

You’re about to hear some pretty strong words from this law professor … so strong they’re almost hard to believe:

“When we pledge allegiance to the flag and we say ‘liberty and justice for all,’ that’s just not true. I’m sorry,” said Stephen Bright.

“So is the notion of equal justice under the law really just a myth?” asked Cowan.

“Oh, I think it is, yes. Unless something changes, we’re going to have to someday sandblast ‘equal justice under law’ off the Supreme Court building, because for the 80% of people who are poor, we don’t have anything that comes anywhere close to being equal justice under law.”

Bright currently teaches law at Yale University, but spent much of his career at the Southern Center for Human Rights, fighting to help those charged with a crime but who can’t afford an attorney to defend them in court.

People like Shanna Shackelford, who says her life was ruined after her home outside Atlanta caught fire in 2009.

She wasn’t home at the time, but a small insurance policy she had taken out on the rental house made investigators suspicious.

“I thought it was just a misunderstanding, like, they’re going to figure this out, and it’s going to be okay,” she told Cowan.

After a fire in her home led to an arson charge, Shanna Shackelford had to rely on a public defender to represent her case. He recommended she accept 25 years behind bars.  CBS News

But it wasn’t. Shackelford found herself under arrest, charged with arson. “My grandma was like, ‘You might need to get an attorney and talk to somebody,'” Shackelford said.

But she didn’t have money for an attorney. So she applied for a public defender — a court-appointed lawyer tasked with making sure the 6th Amendment is upheld. (That’s the part of our Constitution that guarantees any of us the “assistance of counsel.”)

It’s a right that’s been tested in court, most notably in a case brought in the ’60s by a petty thief in Florida named Clarence Gideon. Unable to afford an attorney, Gideon was convicted and sentenced without one.

He appealed, arguing his right to an attorney had been violated, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. But while the Constitution may promise everyone legal counsel, it says nothing about the quality of that legal counsel, a deficit Shackelford felt right away.

She told Cowan it took about two for her to hear from her public defender: “His response was, ‘I have a bunch of cases like yours, so I’ll get to it when I get to it.'”

When he finally did “get to it,” instead of going over the details of her case, Schackelford says he simply told her to plead guilty, and take 25 years behind bars.

“He said, ‘If you didn’t do it, who did?’  And I said, ‘I don’t know, but I didn’t burn it down.’ He was like, ‘Well, I mean, looks like you did.’ He knew nothing about my case when he was talking to me. He was mixing me up with some other case — like, he had no idea what was going on.”

A public defender at court with her case files. CBS News

Shackelford’s case is not unusual. Nearly every case, roughly 90% in fact, often end in a guilty plea, largely because even if a poor defendant is innocent, most can’t afford bail or to wait in jail for trial, which means losing their jobs, their cars, maybe even their homes in the process.

“Being arrested and spending four or five days in jail can be enough to ruin a person’s life, even if they’re ultimately found not to be guilty of anything,” said Stephen Bright.

Take the city of Cordele, Georgia, for example, where at one hearing defendants all plead guilty as a group, with no evidence presented. Bright calls it the “Meet ’em and plead ’em” defense.

“You’ll see a crowded courtroom and there will be a lawyer there with his legal pad, and he’ll be, ‘Ms. Smith? Is Ms. Smith…? Raise your hand,'” said Bright. “They’re trying to identify their own clients! They’re getting ready to go before a judge in just a moment.”

Misdemeanor arraignments, conducted en masse, in Cordele, Ga. CBS News

Cowan saw the same thing happen in a Miami courtroom, where one Public Defender had to handle a crowd of clients all at once.

“I don’t care who the person is, I don’t care how dedicated they are; you cannot represent 500 criminal clients at the same time and give those clients the representation that they’re entitled to,” said Bright.

Nowhere is the problem of indigent defense more acute than in Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate not only in the country, but in the world.

Public defender Rhonda Covington handles 500 to 600 cases a year. CBS News

Rhonda Covington is the sole public defender responsible for representing anyone too poor to afford a lawyer in her judicial district. That district encompasses about a thousand square miles.

She says she has to defend five to six hundred people every year. The professional standard, according to the American Bar Association, is about 150 felony cases a year … and some think even that’s too much.

Covington has two paralegals and two contract attorneys who help with the load, but they’re only part time. It’s mostly just her and her two cats (named Liberty and Justice).

She even cleans the office herself.

“Some people say, ‘Well, any defense will do,'” Covington said. “And some people think, ‘Well, you know, they shouldn’t have representation because they’ve been arrested.’ My job is not to get people off when they’ve committed crimes. That’s not what I do. What I do is to ensure that their Constitutional rights are protected.”

The bulk of the state funding for Louisiana’s Public Defender offices comes from an unpredictable source: its traffic tickets, which out on these country roads isn’t exactly a windfall.

According to Covington, the District Attorney’s office budget is five to six times hers.

“And out of that budget comes assistants, and investigators, and access to pay for things like DNA testing?” asked Cowan.

“Exactly. I’ve gone to crime scenes before with my own camera taking photographs. Each year, it’s always something a little less, a little less, a little less.”

Doing more with less is why she thinks she lost the case for one of her clients, 56-year-old James Waltman. She told him, “I’ve decided to go ahead and file a second motion for a new trial, citing the reason being that we had insufficient funds in order to investigate your case.”

Waltman admitted he assaulted his wife during an argument, but the state also charged him with kidnapping and rape — sentence-heavy crimes he insists he never committed. Rhonda believes with some investigation she could have at least lessened the charges. But she didn’t have the time or the money. “I couldn’t shut down my whole office for that one case,” she explained.

“Being innocent I had all the confidence in the world, that I’d walk out,” Waltman said, getting emotional. “But it didn’t happen.”

All across Louisiana, public defenders in 33 of the state’s 44 judicial districts now admit they’re in the same boat Rhonda Covington is in; they’re simply too busy to ethically handle their caseloads.

“If you ain’t’ got a paid lawyer, you’re going to go through this,” said Joseph Allen. He was arrested last year in Baton Rouge for a firearms violation, as well as a marijuana charge. The court didn’t even know he was in jail, because his public defender didn’t know he was in jail.

Dowan asked, “Did you feel like anybody was on your side?”

“Not really. No,” he replied.

“Nobody there to sort of help you through the legal maze, nobody to explain the charges?”

“No, sir. I did all that up on my own, reading the law book.”

Now, Allen and 12 others are suing Louisiana’s Governor and the Public Defender Board in a class action lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We’re arguing that being appointed an attorney who doesn’t know who you are, doesn’t investigate your case, doesn’t come to see you, doesn’t take your calls, doesn’t ask for a bond reduction, doesn’t investigate the evidence, doesn’t talk to any witnesses, and doesn’t do anything else to move your case, file any motions that are particularized to you, you don’t have an attorney; you have an attorney in name only,” said Lisa Graybill, Southern Poverty Law Center’s deputy legal director.

“I don’t believe in filing lawsuits unless you really have to, right?” she said. “If there were a way to avoid filing it, we would have, but this injustice has gone on really for too long. It’s unacceptable.”

Back in Georgia, Shanna Shackelford spent years researching her case by herself. Her public defender was too busy with other cases, she says.

In the process, she lost two jobs and her home. After all, who wants to hire or rent to a suspected arsonist?

Had it not been for Stephen Bright — the only person who would seriously look into her case — Shackelford would probably be in jail. His investigation, which he did for free, proved that the fire was the result of faulty wiring, not arson.

It took him just two weeks to get her case dismissed.

“Two weeks,” Shackelford said. “That’s all it took. Someone to do a little research, and try.”

It still took Shackelford three more years to get the charge off her record.

But now with the nightmare finally behind her, she has started anew. She’s opening her own business, and focusing on being a mom to her two-year-old son, Ja’Ben.

“You did get justice, but not the way it should have come,” said Cowan. “Or at the price.”

“No,” she said. “It was almost like having to give up my life, for my freedom. And that’s what I had to choose in the end. I had to give up so many years in order to get the point of freedom.”

Alluring Lake Michigan dunes hide destructive potential

Detroit Free Press

Alluring Lake Michigan dunes hide destructive potential

Robert Allen, Detroit Free Press     Aug. 13, 2017

LAKE MICHIGAN — One gobbles entire cottages. Another swallowed a child for hours before rescuers could dig him out.

This may sound like the work of a nightmarish creature from the “Star Wars” or “Tremors” science-fiction films, but it’s mostly wind and sand along a Great Lake.

Near Silver Lake in Oceana County — about an hour’s drive north of Grand Rapids — people for many years have lost properties to wind-driven sand dunes. And about 175 miles to the south, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana, a horrifying event in 2013 was enough to shut down an entire area for four years.

Nathan Woessner, then 6, was walking on Mt. Baldy, a massive, 120-foot-tall dune on the east end of the park, when he fell in an invisible hole. For nearly four hours, he was trapped 11 feet below the surface — he nearly died, but rescuers saved him, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

On July 14, the National Park Service reopened the beach below Mt. Baldy. Access to the dune itself remains closed. Rope fences marked “Keep off dunes” guide the path through sand down to the beach.

Bruce Rowe, spokesman with the National Park Service, said trees rotting away under the sand’s surface create the holes. Eleven have been found in the dune, and it remains closed because of the danger.

On Aug. 1, a few people could be seen scattered along the beach. Kristy Stucky, 38, of Merrillville, Ill., and Rachel Henderson, 38, of Crown Pointe, Ill., each brought their young children down to play.

The mothers said they came to the Mt. Baldy beach because it’s not as crowded as the nearby state park, there’s no charge, and they can bring a dog. And also because it just re-opened.

A roped-fence path marks the way around Mount Baldy to the parking lot Aug. 1, 2017 after dune access was closed because of dangerous holes at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. (Photo: Robert Allen /Detroit Free Press)

“This is incredible,” Henderson said. “The shorelines are gorgeous, and the water’s gorgeous.”

She said she’s not worried about the sand.

“That never crossed our mind — to go where there’s a fenced area,” Henderson said.

At one point, the mothers called the kids back to the beach. Rip currents have claimed dozens of lives in the past year on Lake Michigan.

The Great Lakes sand dunes are relatively young, from a geologic perspective, as the lakes were covered with ice until about 16,000 years ago, according to a General Management Plan by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources dated March 2012.

It says the dunes’ sands come from glacial sediment eroded by streams and from waves along the shoreline’s bluffs. Currents moved the sediment along the shoreline, and strong winds carried the sand inland, creating the dunes, according to the management plan.

The coastal dunes, framed in thick forests, are a special place. Stucky said her husband proposed to her, years earlier, at the top of Mt. Baldy — from which miles of Lake Michigan’s blue-green waters are visible.

“We wanted to come back,” she said. “But it was closed.”  

Al Gore, on Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)


By AlterNet   August 9, 2017 Gore at the Paris COP21 UN conference on climate change in Le Bourget, France (December 7, 2015). Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock

Al Gore Predicts Trump’s Exit

By Chris Sosa  August 9, 2017

Al Gore reportedly drew laughs from a European audience at a premiere of his new documentary when he insinuated that President Donald Trump might be ejected from office.

Gore is currently touring the globe with his latest environmental movie, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.”

“We’re only six months into the experiment with Trump. Some experiments are ended early for ethical reasons,” Gore said to the filmgoing audience. While he acknowledged his comments were “provocative,” he refused to retract them.

Gore also expressed confidence in the environmental future of the U.S. despite Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement. He believes that American cities, states and corporate leaders will ignore their president and meet U.S. obligations anyway.

“We have a global agreement and the American people are part of this agreement in spite of Donald Trump,” Gore said.

He reassured the foreign audience that the U.S. will “soon once again” have a president who is committed to combatting the global climate crisis.

Watch Al Gore’s recent appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” below: