Well, certainly picked a strange holiday marketing strategy.


Please note below (sentence enlarged) that they are only stocking and selling 1-pound propane canisters! All normal grills use at least 15-pound canisters. This is a purposeful attack on the Water Protectors who are trying to survive in sub-freezing weather in North Dakota. Everyone should demand they keep their stores in the area stocked up fully! Human lives depend on it! This is outrageous! --Bonnie Weinstein, bauaw.org

Oak Brook, Ill.,




Ace Hardware statement on North Dakota protest and product sales

Update: As of Thursday, Dec. 1 at 10 a.m. local time, Ace Hardware stores in Bismarck, N. D., are in-stock and selling 1 lb. propane canisters. 

At Ace, our local store owners take great pride in serving their neighbors and it is our policy to serve all customers without discrimination and to follow all laws in each respective community.

We understand the concerns that have been shared with us regarding product sales related to the recent protests in North Dakota and have been working very hard to gather all of the facts from our locally-owned Ace stores that operate in the area and local authorities. To be candid, we've been working feverishly to unearth all of the facts, which have been cloudy at times.

In an effort to clear any misunderstanding and/or misinformation, Ace Hardware can now confirm that there is no ban on the sale of products at our locally-owned Ace stores; customers should feel free to check with their local store for inventory availability. 




North Dakota: Stop Using Cold Water to Blast Unarmed Protestors in Sub-Freezing Temperatures


14,000 GOAL

As we gear up to celebrate Thanksgiving, Native Americans are fighting for their right to their own land, clean water and now, their lives. On Sunday night, Dakota Access Pipeline unarmed protesters were blasted with tear gas, mace, rubber bullets and water cannons for hours in 23-degree weather, all while simply trying to clear the road for emergency services.

While all of this violence is unacceptable, the freezing cold water cannons are especially cruel given the temperature; protesters could easily get hypothermia and even die! Please join the Standing Rock medics in begging Morton County law enforcement to stop the use of water cannons on peaceful protesters immediately.

Protesters were simply trying to clear the road to allow emergency services to get to their camp when the militarized police force assaulted them for hours on end. The medics at the scene said 300 people were injured, 23 of whom ended up in the hospital. The majority of the injured got hypothermia from the freezing water cannons.

Frontline journalists were also targeted and shot with rubber bullets, press drones were shot down and some protectors were shot in the head with rubber bullets and fell unconscious.

This dangerous, potentially lethal treatment of peaceful protesters cannot stand. These people are using legal and unarmed tactics to simply protect their water supply and Morton County may end up killing them. Add your name to ask them to cut the worst of their tactics out: using a freezing water cannon in sub-freezing temperatures.

Sign Petition Here:






Black Children Punished for Anthem Protests

After young 11 and 12-year-boys of the Beaumont Bulls football knelt during the anthem to protest police violence against Black youth, their local executive board canceled their entire football season, suspended the coaching staff, and threatened to arrest their parents if they attended any future games, practices or events.

For these young Black kids, the plight of injustice in America is their own. Instead of supporting the boys and their protests, their executive board and league officials abandoned them. The board has decided to strip these kids of the team that they love to punish them for asking for basic rights and dignities. This is about the board reinforcing that police violence in our communities doesn't matter, that our issues aren't important and that speaking onthem makes you subject to punishment.

These kids are brave for refusing to give in to the executive board and for standing against injustice. We need to support the fight of these children and show them that their protest is heard.

To the Beaumont Bulls Executive Board,

Immediately reinstate the Beaumont Bulls coaching staff, apologize to the boys and their parents, and allow them to finish their season.


We need to support the fight of these children and show them that their protest is heard. 




U.S. Attorney brings new indictment against Rasmea

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Committee to Stop FBI Repression (stopfbi.net)

Rasmea Defense Committee Wednesday, December 14

U.S. Attorney extends political attack on Rasmea, brings new indictment against the Palestinian American

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade announced that a grand jury she had empaneled returned a new, superseding indictment against Rasmea Odeh for unlawful procurement of naturalization. This new indictment, just four weeks before her retrial, is a vicious attack by prosecutors desperate after a series of setbacks in their case against the Chicago-based Palestinian American community leader. From the outset, the government has attempted to exclude and discredit evidence of Rasmea's torture at the hands of Israeli authorities, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the prosecution, which led to the retrial; and the government's own expert affirmed that Rasmea lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

As the January 10 retrial approaches, and knowing that it faces the real prospect of losing before a jury, the U.S. Attorney's office has reframed its case against Rasmea, putting allegations of terrorism front and center. In the first trial in 2014, prosecutors were barred from using the word "terrorism," because Judge Gershwin Drain agreed the word would bias the jury. The new indictment adds two allegations that preclude this protection: first, that the crimes she was forced by torture to confess to are "terrorist activity"; and second, that she failed to report an alleged association with a "Designated Terrorist Organization." Despite the government's claim that this is a simple case of immigration fraud, this new indictment is written to ensure that Rasmea stands before a jury as an accused terrorist.

"They are switching course because they know that a jury will believe Rasmea," says Nesreen Hasan of the Rasmea Defense Committee and its lead organization, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network. "We have always said, from day one, that this is a political case, and that the government is prosecuting Rasmea as part of a broader attack, the criminalization of the Palestine liberation movement. This new indictment is literally the same charge, with the same evidence - immigration forms. Only now, they want to paint Rasmea, and all Palestinians, as terrorists. The real criminals in this case are the Israelis who brutally tortured Rasmea 45 years ago, as well as those in the U.S. government who are trying to put her on trial for surviving the brutality committed against her."

Prosecutors will be disappointed to find that these new allegations fail to erode Rasmea's support. People have mobilized by the hundreds for countless hearings, every day of her 2014 trial, and her appeal earlier this year. "We have people ready to come from across the Midwest to stand with Rasmea in Detroit on January 10, but we are also prepared to adjust those plans to be there whenever we are needed," says Jess Sundin of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, who lives in Minneapolis and has mobilized dozens of Minnesotans and others in support of the defense. "We will redouble our organizing and fundraising work, and make certain Rasmea has the best defense possible."

Given the desperate move by prosecutors, it is clear that things may change quickly. Rasmea's legal team has filed a motion to postpone the January 10 trial date, so they can prepare a defense against the new allegations. According to lead defense attorney Michael Deutch, "We also intend to challenge this indictment as vindictive and politically-motivated."

The Rasmea Defense Committee is urging supporters to continue to call U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade at 313-226-9100, or tweet @USAO_MIE, and demand that she stop wasting taxpayer money, that she stop persecuting a woman who has given so much to U.S. society, and that she #DropTheChargesNow against Rasmea.

In addition, the committee is calling on supporters to help win #Justice4Rasmea by donating to the defense and organizing educational events about the case.

Visit www.justice4rasmea.org for more information.

### End ###

Copyright © 2016 Committee to Stop FBI Repression, All rights reserved.

Thanks for your ongoing interest in the fight against FBI repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists!

Our mailing address is:

Committee to Stop FBI Repression

PO Box 14183

MinneapolisMN  55414

Add us to your address book




Bay Area United Against War Newsletter

Table of Contents:












Eyewitness Aleppo Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett reports Also Gerry Condon US Peace Council delete to Syria, VP Vets for Peace


Dear Friends,

Important Bay Area antiwar tour. Don't miss independent Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett's eyewitness account of Aleppo and Syria today –  a stunning refutation of the U.S. government and corporate media's warmongering propaganda…  In solidarity,  Jeff Mackler

Inline image

Independent Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett, newly arrived from Syria, will report on her experiences in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, as will Gerry Condon, US Veterans for Peace VP and member of the US Peace Council Delegation to Syria. You will definitely hear much that you have not heard elsewhere, and perhaps question what you think you know about Syria.  Eva lived in Gaza for three years and was one of the few western reporters present during the Israeli attacks that killed thousands of Palestinians.

Thursday, Dec. 15, 7 PM

Humanist Hall, 390 27th St., Oakland, CA  (between Broadway and Telegraph, 19th St. BART), with brief intro from Jeff Mackler of UNAC

Friday, Dec. 16, 7 PM

Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA (16th & Mission BART), with brief intro from Jeff Mackler of UNAC

Admission: $10-20 sliding scale.  No one turned away for lack of funds.

Organizers, sponsors and co-sponsors: International Action Center (IAC), United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), US Peace Council, Syria Solidarity Movement, Socialist Action, Workers World Party, Resource Center for Non Violence Palestine/Israel Action Committee, ANSWER – SF Bay Area, Cindy Sheehan Soapbox, Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center, Peace and Freedom Party (Marin), Peace and Freedom Party (San Francisco), Project Censored, Media Freedom Foundation

To add your group, or for more info: solidarity@ syriasolidaritymovement.org or (925) 324-3358.



Trump and the National Park Service are trying to shut down Inauguration protests – don't let them win! 

I am writing you to sound the alarm about an effort underway to create a free speech buffer zone that would allow Donald Trump, in the weeks following his inauguration, to ban the American people from conducting mass assembly protests against his extremist political agenda in historic spaces of Washington, D.C., including Lafayette Park and the Ellipse (both the front and back of the White House), the White House sidewalk, Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall.


On Dec. 7, the ANSWER Coalition held a joint press conference in Washington, D.C., with attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund to expose the unprecedented and unconstitutional efforts by the National Park Service (NPS) to act as a surrogate for the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) to extinguish mass assembly protest and dissent in the weeks following Trump's inauguration on January 20, 2017, by issuing to itself, on behalf of the Trump PIC, an omnibus blocking permit in almost all the historic spaces of Washington.

We are fighting back. No matter what we are going to be in the streets in Washington, D.C., to Say NO to the Trump Agenda because the only thing standing in the way of Trump's extremist plan to carry out mass deportations, assault the Muslim community and eviscerate women's rights is the mobilization of huge parts of the population.

Trump wants to start shutting down free speech on Day 1 – but we are marching

The refusal to grant permits to the many groups organizing activities is creating disarray in people's plans to march on January 21. We have heard from so many people across the country who are planning to come but need to know where they can assemble and march. 

Here's our response to the thousands of ANSWER constituents who are coming: We are marching!

In addition to our Inauguration Day protest on Friday, January 20 at Freedom Plaza we are marching the next day in the streets on Saturday, January 21 starting at 10:00 a.m. in front of the Trump International Hotel at 12th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW. We will then march on Pennsylvania Avenue toward Trump's White House. As other groups' plans are finalized we will coordinate joining in collective assembly.


We are not required to get a permit for a street protest on Pennsylvania Avenue because the street is under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Department and not the National Park Service. As a result of litigation by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund over the years, the law allows us to march on Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Background: How the NPS Created "fake news" to cover up their de facto ban on mass assembly protest against Trump

Through the efforts of our attorneys at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund it has been revealed that the federal government is illegally giving the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is a private profit making entity that is soliciting tens of millions of dollars in "donations" from Corporate America, the right of first refusal to the use of all the historic public spaces not just on Inauguration Day but for weeks afterward.

Even if the Trump PIC doesn't use these spaces they can just hold on to the permit and refuse to allow demonstrators access for mass assembly protest. And that is precisely what is happening now.

The National Park Service last week even created a "fake news" story blaming different protest groups for their refusal to issue permits to other organizations planning protests during the inaugural time period. The fake news was designed to conceal the fact that the National Park Service has issued to itself an omnibus permit on behalf of the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee as a way of blocking mass assembly protests in the traditional areas for such activity before, during and after the Presidential Inauguration on January 20.

It would be a terrible precedent for Donald Trump to get away with quashing the free speech rights of those who wish to protest his far-right government of Generals and oligarchs. We will not let that happen. Join us in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 20 and Saturday, January 21 to show that people of conscience will not be intimidated.


January 20, 2017, 7:00 A.M.

Freedom Plaza

1355 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.

(14th Street and Pennsylvania Ave.)

Washington, D.C.

Here in San Francisco:

Fri. Jan. 20, 5pm
SF Protest: Say NO to Trump and the Trump Program on Inauguration Day
Fight Racism, Sexism and Bigotry—Defend Immigrants!
UN Plaza, near Civic Center BART, San Francisco

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Sign up to volunteer! Become an organizer in the fightback movement against Trump!

n8 sf

Progressive people from all over the country will be descending on Washington, D.C. on January 20, 2017, to stage a massive demonstration along Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day along with corresponding actions in San Francisco and other West Coast cities.

Trump's appointees are a motley and dangerous crew of billionaires, white supremacists and other extreme rightwingers. They have nothing good in mind for anyone but the banks, oil companies and the military-industrial complex.

It is more important than ever that we keep building the grassroots movement against war, militarism, racism, anti-immigrant scapegoating and neoliberal capitalism's assault against workers' living standards and the environment.

Real social change comes from the bottom, the mobilized grassroots, and not from the centers of institutional power, the professional politicians or the capitalist elites.

This country needs a real political revolution. Millions of people feel entirely disenfranchised by a political system that delivered the least favorable and trusted candidates in U.S. history. Many hoped that the Bernie Sanders campaign would represent a new direction and opportunity to take on entrenched power and extreme inequality, for a higher minimum wage, to defend Social Security, rebuild the labor movement, provide universal health care and free tuition.

Donald Trump is a racist, sexist bigot. On Inauguration Day, thousands will be in the streets to give voice to the millions of people in this country who are demanding systemic change and who reject Trump's anti-people program.

Join us on January 20, 2017, for a massive mobilization of the people!

More info: www.ANSWERsf.org or 415-821-6545. 



Read more about this action at:




ACLU, LGBT groups ask Obama to approve Chelsea's clemency request


Support Chelsea's White House
petition today!

Sign the whitehouse.gov petition in
support of Chelsea's request today!

Chelsea Manning Support Network
coming to an end

Read more









Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin "Rashid" Johnson featuring exchanges with an Outlaw Kindle Edition

by Kevin Rashid Johnson (Author), Tom Big Warrior (Introduction), Russell Maroon Shoatz(Introduction)




Join the Fight to Free Rev. Pinkney!

Click HERE to view in browser



Today is the 406th day that Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan

languishes in prison doing felony time for a misdemeanor crime he did not

commit. Today is also the day that Robert McKay, a spokesperson for the

Free Rev. Pinkney campaign, gave testimony before United Nations

representatives about the plight of Rev. Pinkney at a hearing held in

Chicago. The hearing was called in order to shed light upon the

mistreatment of African-Americans in the United States and put it on an

international stage. And yet as the UN representatives and audience heard

of the injustices in the Pinkney case many gasped in disbelief and asked

with frowns on their faces, "how is this possible?" But disbelief quickly

disappeared when everyone realized these were the same feelings they had

when they first heard of Flint and we all know what happened in Flint. FREE


Please send letters to:

Marquette Branch Prison

Rev. Edward Pinkney N-E-93 #294671

1960 US Hwy 41 South

Marquette, MI 49855

Please donate at http://bhbanco.org (Donate button) or send checks to BANCO:

c/o Dorothy Pinkney

1940 Union St.

Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Contributions for Rev. Pinkney's defense can be sent to BANCO at Mrs Dorothy Pinkney, 1940 Union St., Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Or you can donate on-line at bhbanco.org.



State Seeks to Remove Innocent PA Lifer's Attorney! Free Corey Walker!

The PA Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed legal action to remove Corey Walker's attorney, Rachel Wolkenstein, in November 2014. On Tuesday, February 9, 2016 the evidentiary hearing to terminate Wolkenstein as Corey Walker's pro hac vice lawyer continues before Judge Lawrence Clark of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas in Harrisburg, PA.

Walker, assisted by Wolkenstein, filed three sets of legal papers over five months in 2014 with new evidence of Walker's innocence and that the prosecution and police deliberately used false evidence to convict him of murder. Two weeks after Wolkenstein was granted pro hac vice status, the OAG moved against her and Walker.

The OAG claims that Wolkenstein's political views and prior legal representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal and courtroom arrest by the notorious Judge Albert Sabo makes it "intolerable" for her to represent Corey Walker in the courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Over the past fifteen months the OAG has effectively stopped any judicial action on the legal challenges of Corey Walker and his former co-defendant, Lorenzo Johnson against their convictions and sentences to life imprisonment without parole while it proceeds in its attempts to remove Wolkenstein.

This is retaliation against Corey Walker who is innocent and framed. Walker and his attorney won't stop until they thoroughly expose the police corruption and deliberate presentation of false evidence to convict Corey Walker and win his freedom.

This outrageous attack on Corey Walker's fundamental right to his lawyer of choice and challenge his conviction must cease. The evidence of his innocence and deliberate prosecutorial frame up was suppressed for almost twenty years. Corey Walker must be freed!

Read: Jim Crow Justice – The Frame-up Of Corey Walker by Charles Brover

Go to FreeCoreyWalker.org to provide help and get more information.



TAKE ACTION: Mumia is sick

Judge Robert Mariani of the U.S. District Court has issued an order in Mumia's case, granting Mumia's lawyers Bret Grote and Robert Boyle's motion to supplement the record. 

New medical records documenting Mumia's deteriorated condition from February and March, will be presented June 6th. Judge Mariani has also instructed the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to provide any updates and changes in DOC hep C treatment and policies which affect the plaintiff's treatment.

Calling into Prison Radio, Mumia noted: 

"My friends, my brothers, it ain't over 'til it's over, but there is some motion. It means that we're moving closer to hopefully some real treatment not of my symptoms, but of my disease. I thank you all for being there. And freedom is a constant struggle. I love you all. From what used to be death row, this is Mumia, your brother."

Mumia remains quite ill. While stable, his curable hepatitis C is still active and progressive. The only treatment Mumia has received over the last 14 months to this day is skin ointment and photo therapy. He has not received the medically indicated treatment for hep C, the very condition that put him in the Intensive Care Unit in March 2015. 

Hepatitis C is a progressive disease that attacks Mumia's organs, skin and liver. Unless the court orders the new hepatitis C treatment - one pill a day for 12 weeks, with a 95% cure rate - Mumia's health will remain at serious risk.

Before the court is the preliminary injunction motion, which demands immediate medical care.

The exhaustion of administrative remedy and the procedural hurdles make it extremely difficult for people in prison to actually get their grievances heard through the review process. The Prison Litigation Reform Act was passed specifically to create these very almost insurmountable barriers to access to the courts.

Please read the New Yorker article, Why it is Nearly Impossible for Prisoners to Sue Prisons.

In Abu-Jamal vs. Kerestes, one very telling point was when the DOC's Director of Medical Care, Dr. Paul Noel, took the stand. He said that he had never testified before in court! He has worked for the DOC for over a decade.   

That meant that no prisoner had access to adversarial cross examination. Before Mumia's day in court in late December 2015, no prisoner ever had the opportunity to expose the PA DOC's blatant lies. Lies so bold that Dr. Noel disavowed his own signed affidavit, and in court he stated that he "did not sign it and it was false and misleading". The knowingly false and fabricated document was put in the record by Laura Neal, Senior DOC attorney.

Take Action for Mumia

Call prison officials to demand immediate treatment!

Dr. Paul Noel-Director of Medical Care, DOC
717-728-5309 x 5312

John Wetzel- Secretary of DOC
717+728-2573 x 4109

Dr. Carl Keldie-Chief Medical Officer, Correct Care Solutions
800-592-2974 x 5783

Theresa DelBalso-Superintendent, SCI Mahanoy
570-773-2158 x 8101

    Tom Wolf, PA Governor 

    Phone  717-787-2500

    Fax 717-772-8284

    Email governor@pa.gov

    Sign the Petition now to demand Mumia's right to life-saving hepatitis C care.

    Help Mumia's lawyers prepare to demand access to Mumia's medical records from court!

    Thank you for keeping Mumia in your heart and mind,

    Noelle Hanrahan

    Director, Prison Radio


    The Oasis Clinic in Oakland, CA, which treats patients with Hepatitis-C (HCV), demands an end to the outrageous price-gouging of Big Pharma corporations, like Gilead Sciences, which hike-up the cost for essential, life-saving medications such as the cure for the deadly Hepatitis-C virus, in order to reap huge profits. The Oasis Clinic's demand is:







    This message from:

    Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

    PO Box 16222 • Oakland CA 94610 • www.laboractionmumia.org

    06 January 2016

    Mumia Is Innocent!  Free Mumia!




    Imam Jamil (H.Rap Brown) moved

    Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (H. Rap Brown) was moved by bus from USP Canaan in Waymart, PA. to USP Tucson, Arizona.  His mailing address is:  USP Tucson United States Penitentiary P.O. Box Tucson, AZ. 85734  (BOP number 99974555)

    Sign the Petition:

    DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, THE Bureau of Prisons, The Governor of Georgia

    We are aware of a review being launched of criminal cases to determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted and or deserve a new trail because of flawed forensic evidence and or wrongly reported evidence. It was stated in the Washington Post in April of 2012 that Justice Department Officials had known for years that flawed forensic work led to convictions of innocent people. We seek to have included in the review of such cases that of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. We understand that all cases reviewed will include the Innocence Project. We look forward to your immediate attention to these overdue wrongs.

    ASAP: The Forgotten Imam Project

    P.O. Box 373

    Four Oaks, NC 27524


    Luqman Abdullah-ibn Al-Sidiq




    Major Battles On

    For over 31 years, Major Tillery has been a prisoner of the State.

    Despite that extraordinary fact, he continues his battles, both in the prison for his health, and in the courts for his freedom.

    Several weeks ago, Tillery filed a direct challenge to his criminal conviction, by arguing that a so-called "secret witness" was, in fact, a paid police informant who was given a get-out-of-jail-free card if he testified against Tillery.

    Remember I mentioned, "paid?"

    Well, yes--the witness was 'paid'--but not in dollars. He was paid in sex!

    In the spring of 1984, Robert Mickens was facing decades in prison on rape and robbery charges. After he testified against Tillery, however, his 25-year sentence became 5 years: probation!

    And before he testified he was given an hour and a ½ private visit with his girlfriend--at the Homicide Squad room at the Police Roundhouse. (Another such witness was given another sweetheart deal--lie on Major, and get off!)

    To a prisoner, some things are more important than money. Like sex!

    In a verified document written in April, 2016, Mickens declares that he lied at trial, after being coached by the DAs and detectives on the case.

    He lied to get out of jail--and because he could get with his girl.

    Other men have done more for less.

    Major's 58-page Petition is a time machine back into a practice that was once common in Philadelphia.

    In the 1980s and '90s, the Police Roundhouse had become a whorehouse.

    Major, now facing serious health challenges from his hepatitis C infection, stubborn skin rashes, and dangerous intestinal disorders, is still battling.

    And the fight ain't over.

    [©'16 MAJ  6/29/16]

    Major Tillery Needs Your Help and Support

    Major Tillery is an innocent man. There was no evidence against Major Tillery for the 1976 poolroom shootings that left one man dead and another wounded. The surviving victim gave a statement to homicide detectives naming others—not Tillery or his co-defendant—as the shooters. Major wasn't charged until 1980, he was tried in 1985.

    The only evidence at trial came from these jailhouse informants who were given sexual favors and plea deals for dozens of pending felonies for lying against Major Tillery. Both witnesses now declare their testimony was manufactured by the police and prosecution. Neither witness had personal knowledge of the shooting.

    This is a case of prosecutorial misconduct and police corruption that goes to the deepest levels of rot in the Philadelphia criminal injustice system. Major Tillery deserves not just a new trial, but dismissal of the charges against him and his freedom from prison.

    It cost a lot of money for Major Tillery to be able to file his new pro se PCRA petition and continue investigation to get more evidence of the state misconduct. He needs help to get lawyers to make sure this case is not ignored. Please contribute, now.


      Financial Support: Tillery's investigation is ongoing, to get this case filed has been costly and he needs funds for a legal team to fight this to his freedom!

      Go to JPay.com;

      code: Major Tillery AM9786 PADOC

      Tell Philadelphia District Attorney

      Seth Williams:

      Free Major Tillery! He is an innocent man, framed by police and and prosecution.

      Call: 215-686-8711 or

      Write to:

      Major Tillery AM9786

      SCI Frackville

      1111 Altamont Blvd.

      Frackville, PA 17931

        For More Information, Go To: Justice4MajorTillery/blogspot


        Rachel Wolkenstein, Esq. (917) 689-4009RachelWolkenstein@gmail.com



        Commute Kevin Cooper's Death Sentence

        Sign the Petition:


        Urge Gov. Jerry Brown to commute Kevin Cooper's death sentence. Cooper has always maintained his innocence of the 1983 quadruple murder of which he was convicted. In 2009, five federal judges signed a dissenting opinion warning that the State of California "may be about to execute an innocent man." Having exhausted his appeals in the US courts, Kevin Cooper's lawyers have turned to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to seek remedy for what they maintain is his wrongful conviction, and the inadequate trial representation, prosecutorial misconduct and racial discrimination which have marked the case. Amnesty International opposes all executions, unconditionally.

        "The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man." - Judge William A. Fletcher, 2009 dissenting opinion on Kevin Cooper's case

        Kevin Cooper has been on death row in California for more than thirty years.

        In 1985, Cooper was convicted of the murder of a family and their house guest in Chino Hills. Sentenced to death, Cooper's trial took place in an atmosphere of racial hatred — for example, an effigy of a monkey in a noose with a sign reading "Hang the N*****!" was hung outside the venue of his preliminary hearing.

        Take action to see that Kevin Cooper's death sentence is commuted immediately.

        Cooper has consistently maintained his innocence.

        Following his trial, five federal judges said: "There is no way to say this politely. The district court failed to provide Cooper a fair hearing."

        Since 2004, a dozen federal appellate judges have indicated their doubts about his guilt.

        Tell California authorities: The death penalty carries the risk of irrevocable error. Kevin Cooper's sentence must be commuted.

        In 2009, Cooper came just eight hours shy of being executed for a crime that he may not have committed. Stand with me today in reminding the state of California that the death penalty is irreversible — Kevin Cooper's sentence must be commuted immediately.

        In solidarity,

        James Clark
        Senior Death Penalty Campaigner
        Amnesty International USA

          Kevin Cooper: An Innocent Victim of Racist Frame-Up - from the Fact Sheet at: www.freekevincooper.org

          Kevin Cooper is an African-American man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in 1985 for the gruesome murders of a white family in Chino Hills, California: Doug and Peggy Ryen and their daughter Jessica and their house- guest Christopher Hughes. The Ryens' 8 year old son Josh, also attacked, was left for dead but survived.

          Convicted in an atmosphere of racial hatred in San Bernardino County CA, Kevin Cooper remains under a threat of imminent execution in San Quentin.  He has never received a fair hearing on his claim of innocence.  In a dissenting opinion in 2009, five federal judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals signed a 82 page dissenting opinion that begins: "The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man." 565 F.3d 581.

          There is significant evidence that exonerates Mr. Cooper and points toward other suspects:

            The coroner who investigated the Ryen murders concluded that the murders took four minutes at most and that the murder weapons were a hatchet, a long knife, an ice pick and perhaps a second knife. How could a single person, in four or fewer minutes, wield three or four weapons, and inflict over 140 wounds on five people, two of whom were adults (including a 200 pound ex-marine) who had loaded weapons near their bedsides?

            The sole surviving victim of the murders, Josh Ryen, told police and hospital staff within hours of the murders that the culprits were "three white men." Josh Ryen repeated this statement in the days following the crimes. When he twice saw Mr. Cooper's picture on TV as the suspected attacker, Josh Ryen said "that's not the man who did it."

            Josh Ryen's description of the killers was corroborated by two witnesses who were driving near the Ryens' home the night of the murders. They reported seeing three white men in a station wagon matching the description of the Ryens' car speeding away from the direction of the Ryens' home.

            These descriptions were corroborated by testimony of several employees and patrons of a bar close to the Ryens' home, who saw three white men enter the bar around midnight the night of the murders, two of whom were covered in blood, and one of whom was wearing coveralls.

            The identity of the real killers was further corroborated by a woman who, shortly after the murders were discovered, alerted the sheriff's department that her boyfriend, a convicted murderer, left blood-spattered coveralls at her home the night of the murders. She also reported that her boyfriend had been wearing a tan t-shirt matching a tan t-shirt with Doug Ryen's blood on it recovered near the bar. She also reported that her boyfriend owned a hatchet matching the one recovered near the scene of the crime, which she noted was missing in the days following the murders; it never reappeared; further, her sister saw that boyfriend and two other white men in a vehicle that could have been the Ryens' car on the night of the murders.

          Lacking a motive to ascribe to Mr. Cooper for the crimes, the prosecution claimed that Mr. Cooper, who had earlier walked away from custody at a minimum security prison, stole the Ryens' car to escape to Mexico. But the Ryens had left the keys in both their cars (which were parked in the driveway), so there was no need to kill them to steal their car. The prosecution also claimed that Mr. Cooper needed money, but money and credit cards were found untouched and in plain sight at the murder scene.

          The jury in 1985 deliberated for seven days before finding Mr. Cooper guilty. One juror later said that if there had been one less piece of evidence, the jury would not have voted to convict.

          The evidence the prosecution presented at trial tying Mr. Cooper to the crime scene has all been discredited…         (Continue reading this document at: http://www.savekevincooper.org/_new_freekevincooperdotorg/TEST/Scripts/DataLibraries/upload/KC_FactSheet_2014.pdf)

               This message from the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. July 2015




          Sign the Petition:


          Dear President Obama, Senators, and Members of Congress:

          Americans now owe $1.3 trillion in student debt. Eighty-six percent of that money is owed to the United States government. This is a crushing burden for more than 40 million Americans and their families.

          I urge you to take immediate action to forgive all student debt, public and private.

          American Federation of Teachers

          Campaign for America's Future

          Courage Campaign

          Daily Kos

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          Project Springboard

          RH Reality Check


          Student Debt Crisis

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          Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson

          Updates from Team Lorenzo Johnson

          Dear Supporters and Friends,

          Show your support for Lorenzo by wearing one of our beautiful new campaign t-shirts! If you donate $20 (or more!) to the Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson, we will send you a t-shirt, while supplies last. Make sure to note your size and shipping address in the comment section on PayPal, or to include this information with a check.

          Here is a message from Lorenzo's wife, Tazza Salvatto:

          My husband is innocent, FREE HIM NOW!

          Lorenzo Johnson is a son, husband, father and brother. His injustice has been a continued nightmare for our family. Words cant explain our constant pain, I wish it on no one. Not even the people responsible for his injustice. 

          This is about an innocent man who has spent 20 years and counting in prison. The sad thing is Lorenzo's prosecution knew he was innocent from day one. These are the same people society relies on to protect us.

          Not only have these prosecutors withheld evidence of my husbands innocence by NEVER turning over crucial evidence to his defense prior to trial. Now that Lorenzo's innocence has been revealed, the prosecution refuses to do the right thing. Instead they are "slow walking" his appeal and continuing their malicious prosecution.

          When my husband or our family speak out about his injustice, he's labeled by his prosecutor as defaming a career cop and prosecutor. If they are responsible for Lorenzo's wrongful conviction, why keep it a secret??? This type of corruption and bullying of families of innocent prisoners to remain silent will not be tolerated.

          Our family is not looking for any form of leniency. Lorenzo is innocent, we want what is owed to him. JUSTICE AND HIS IMMEDIATE FREEDOM!!! 

                                    Lorenzo's wife,

                                     Tazza Salvatto

          Lorenzo is continuing to fight for his freedom with the support of his lead counsel, Michael Wiseman, The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, and the Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson.

          Thank you all for reading this message and please take the time to visit our website and contribute to Lorenzo's campaign for freedom!

          Write: Lorenzo Johnson

                      DF 1036

                      SCI Mahanoy

                      301 Morea Rd.

                      Frackville, PA 17932

           Email: Through JPay using the code:

                        Lorenzo Johnson DF 1036 PA DOC


                        Directly at LorenzoJohnson17932@gmail.com


                        Directly on ConnectNetwork -- instructions here

          Have a wonderful day!

          - The Team to Free Lorenzo Johnson

          Write: Lorenzo Johnson

                      DF 1036

                      SCI Mahanoy

                      301 Morea Rd.

                      Frackville, PA 17932

           Email: Through JPay using the code:

                        Lorenzo Johnson DF 1036 PA DOC


                        Directly at LorenzoJohnson17932@gmail.com













          1)  The American Dream, Quantified at Last

          (Here is my comment and link to this article:

          Bonnie Weinstein

            San Francisco 1 minute ago

          Income inequality is a systemic problem of capitalism. Yes, "The middle class, not the affluent, deserves a tax cut." But that is not how the mechanism of capitalism works. It operates to increase the rate of profits for the wealthy by any means necessary including, as the article, "A Dilemma for Humanity: Stark Inequality or Total War" by Eduardo Porter describes, by waging total world war or spreading plagues and famine (what the white man did to the native inhabitants of this land)—anything to drastically cut the Earth's population. This is the only solution capitalism has to offer us—death and destruction. Capitalism is production for profit of the wealthy at the expense of everyone and everything else. But there is an alternative that can create economic and social equality, i.e., real democracy, and that alternative is socialism—the only alternative if we are to save the human race and restore health to our planet and the co-inhabitants of our planet. Simply put, socialism is a democratic economic and social system of production for need and want for all, and not for the private profit of the few. It's the only way forward for the human race.

            DEC. 8, 201





          Chance of making more money than your parents if you were …

          Born in 1940

          Born in 1950

          Born in 1960

          Born in 1970

          Born in 1980






          The phrase "American dream" was invented during the Great Depression. It comes from a popular 1931 book by the historian James Truslow Adams, who defined it as "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone."

          In the decades that followed, the dream became a reality. Thanks to rapid, widely shared economic growth, nearly all children grew up to achieve the most basic definition of a better life — earning more money and enjoying higher living standards than their parents had.

          These days, people are arguably more worried about the American dream than at any point since the Depression. But there has been no real measure of it, despite all of the data available. No one has known how many Americans are more affluent than their parents were — and how the number has changed.

          It's a thorny research question, because it requires tracking individual families over time rather than (as most economic statistics do) taking one-time snapshots of the country.

          In 1940, a child born into the average American household had a 92 percent chance of making more money than his or her parents.

          The beginnings of a breakthrough came several years ago, when a team of economists led by Raj Chetty received access to millions of tax records that stretched over decades. The records were anonymous and came with strict privacy rules, but nonetheless allowed for the linking of generations.

          The resulting research is among the most eye-opening economics work in recent years. You've probably heard some of the findings even if you don't realize it. They have shown that the odds of escaping poverty vary widely by region, for instance, an insight that has influenced federal housing policy.

          After the research began appearing, I mentioned to Chetty, a Stanford professor, and his colleagues that I thought they had a chance to do something no one yet had: create an index of the American dream. It took them months of work, using old Census data to estimate long-ago decades, but they have done it. They've constructed a data set that shows the percentage of American children who earn more money — and less money — than their parents earned at the same age.

          The index is deeply alarming. It's a portrait of an economy that disappoints a huge number of people who have heard that they live in a country where life gets better, only to experience something quite different.

          Their frustration helps explain not only this year's disturbing presidential campaign but also Americans' growing distrust of nearly every major societal institution, including the federal government, corporate America, labor unions, the news media and organized religion.

          Yet the data also helps point the way to some promising solutions.

          It begins with children who were born in 1940, less than a decade after the publication of Adams's book, "The Epic of America." The researchers went into the project assuming that most of these children had earned more than their parents — but were surprised to learn that nearly all of them had, said David Grusky, one of the researchers, also of Stanford. About 92 percent of 1940 babies had higher pretax inflation-adjusted household earnings at age 30 than their parents had at the same age. (The results were similar at older ages and for post-tax earnings.)

          The few 1940 children who earned less than their parents were also, for the most part, doing just fine. They were generally earning less because they had grown up rich — children of top corporate executives, say, who became, or married, doctors, lawyers or professors.

          Achieving the American dream was a virtual guarantee for this generation, regardless of whether people went to college, got divorced or suffered a layoff. Why? Because they spent their prime working years in an economy with two wonderful features. It was growing rapidly, and the bounty from its growth flowed to the rich, the middle class and the poor alike.

          Not even the oldest baby boomers, born in the late 1940s and early 1950s, would be quite so lucky. Economic growth began to slow as they were entering the job market in the 1970s, thanks in part to the energy crises. Still, more than three-quarters of these early Baby Boomers would ultimately make more than their parents.

          For children born in 1950, the likelihood of achieving the American Dream had begun to fall but remained very high. 

          You can see the effects on the American dream in the charts here. Each line shows the percentage of children born in a given year who out-earned their parents, with children who grew up poor on the left and rich on the right. The line steadily falls over time, across every economic class.

          In the 1980s, economic inequality began to rise, a result of globalization, technological change, government policies favoring the well-off and a slowdown in educational attainment and the work force's skill level. Together, these forces pinched the incomes of the middle class and the poor. The tech boom of the 1990s helped — slowing the decline of the American dream — but only temporarily.

          For Americans born in 1980 – today's 36-year-olds – that figure dropped to 50 percent.

          For babies born in 1980 — today's 36-year-olds — the index of the American dream has fallen to 50 percent: Only half of them make as much money as their parents did. In the industrial Midwestern states that effectively elected Donald Trump, the share was once higher than the national average. Now, it is a few percentage points lower. There, going backward is the norm.

          Psychology research has shown that people's happiness is heavily influenced by their relative station in life. And it's hard to imagine a more salient comparison than to a person's own parents, particularly at this time of year, when families gather for rituals that have been repeated for decades. "You're going home for the holidays and you compare your standard of living to your parents," Grusky, a sociologist, says. "It's one of the few ties you have over the course of your entire life. Friends come and go. Parents are a constant."

          How, then, can the country revive Adams's dream of a "better and richer and fuller" life for everyone? The solution has to involve some combination of faster economic growth and more widely shared growth.

          The bad news is that lifting G.D.P. growth is terribly difficult. Trump has promised to do so, but offered few specifics. If anything, he favors some of the same policies (deregulation and tax cuts) that have failed in recent decades.

          The better news — potentially — is that lifting growth is the less important half of the equation, notes Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard, another of the researchers: The rise of inequality has damaged the American dream more than the growth slowdown.

          One way to think about inequality's role is to remember that the American economy is far larger and more productive than in 1980, even if it isn't growing as rapidly. Per-capita G.D.P. is almost twice as high now. By itself, that increase should allow most children to live better than their parents.

          They don't, however, because the fruits of growth have gone disproportionately to the affluent.

          The researchers ran a clever simulation recreating the last several decades with the same G.D.P. growth but without the post-1970 rise in inequality. When they did, the share of 1980 babies who grew up to out-earn their parents jumped to 80 percent, from 50 percent. The rise was considerably smaller (to 62 percent) in the simulation that kept inequality constant but imagined that growth returned to its old, faster path.

          The researchers tested two alternate scenarios: one with less inequality, one with faster G.D.P. growth. Inequality mattered more.

          "We need to have more equal growth if we want to revive the American dream," Chetty says.

          Given today's high-tech, globalized economy, the single best step would be to help more middle- and low-income children acquire the skills that lead to good-paying jobs. Notably, most college graduates still earn more than their parents did, other data show — yes, even after taking into account student debt.

          But education is not the only answer. Incomes have also stagnated because of the rise of corporate powerand the weakening of labor unions, leading profits to rise at the expense of wages. The decline of two-parent families plays a role, too. And tax policy has not done enough to push back against these forces: The middle class, not the affluent, deserves a tax cut.

          The painful irony of 2016 is that nostalgia and anger over the fading American dream helped elect a president who may put the dream even further out of reach for many people — taking away their health insurance, supporting ineffective school vouchers and showering government largess on the rich. Every one of those issues will be worth a fight.

          If the American dream could survive the Depression, and then thrive in a way few people imagined, it can survive our current troubles.

          Kevin Quealy contributed research.



          2)  How the Twinkie Made the Superrich Even Richer

          By Michael Corkery and Ben Protess

          December 10, 2016


          As fans gathered on Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, Al Roker pulled upin a big red delivery truck, ready to give America what it wanted: Twinkies.

          The snack cakes flew through the air into the crowd pressed against metal barriers. One man shoved cream-filled treats into his mouth. Another "Today" host tucked Twinkies into the neckline of her dress.

          Across the nation in the summer of 2013, there was a feeding frenzy for Twinkies. The iconic snack cake returned to shelves just months after Hostess had shuttered its bakeries and laid off thousands of workers. The return was billed on "Today" as "the sweetest comeback in the history of ever."

          Nowhere was it sweeter, perhaps, than at the investment firms Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Company, which spent $186 million in cash to buy some of Hostess's snack cake bakeries and brands in early 2013.

          Less than four years later, they sold the company in a deal that valued Hostess at $2.3 billion. Apollo and Metropoulos have now reaped a return totaling 13 times their original cash investment.

          Behind the financial maneuvering at Hostess, an investigation by The New York Times found a blueprint for how private equity executives like those at Apollo have amassed some of the greatest fortunes of the modern era.

          Deals like Hostess have helped make the men running the six largest publicly traded private equity firms collectively the highest-earning executives of any major American industry, according to a joint study that The Times conducted with Equilar, a board and executive data provider. The study covered thousands of publicly traded companies; privately held corporations do not report such data.

          Stephen A. Schwarzman, a co-founder of Blackstone, took home the largest haul last year: nearly $800 million. He and other private equity executives receive more annually than the leaders of Facebook and Apple, companies that revolutionized the way society communicates.

          The top executives at those six publicly traded private equity firms earned, on average, $211 million last year — which is about what Leon Black, a founder of Apollo, received. That amount was nearly 10 times what the average bank chief executive earned, though firms like Apollo face less public scrutiny on pay than banks do.

          Private equity firms note that much of their top executives' wealth stems from owning their own stock and that they have earned their fortunes bringing companies back to life by applying their operational and financial expertise. Hostess, a defunct snack brand that was quickly returned to profitability, is a textbook example of the success of this approach.

          Yet even as private equity's ability to generate huge profits is indisputable, the industry's value to the work force and the broader economy is still a matter of debate. Hostess, which has bounced between multiple private equity owners over the last decade, shows how murky the jobs issue can be.

          In 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy under the private equity firm Ripplewood Holdings. Months later, with Ripplewood having lost control and the company's creditors in charge, Hostess was shut down and its workers sent home for good.

          Without investment from Apollo and Metropoulos, Hostess brands and all those jobs might have vanished forever after the bankruptcy. The way these firms see it, they created a new company and new jobs with higher pay and generous bonuses.

          But the new Hostess employs only 1,200 people, a fraction of the roughly 8,000 workers who lost their jobs at Hostess's snack cake business during the 2012 bankruptcy.

          And some Hostess employees who got their jobs back lost them again. Under Apollo and Metropoulos, Hostess shut down one of the plants they reopened in Illinois, costing 415 jobs.

          The collapse and revival of Hostess illustrates how even in a business success, many workers don't share in the gains. The episode also provides a snapshot of the economic forces that helped propel Donald J. Trump to the White House.

          Since losing his job at Hostess in 2012, Mark Popovich has had three jobs, including one that paid about $10 an hour, half what he made at the Twinkie-maker. A lifelong Democrat and devoted "union man," Mr. Popovich said he supported Mr. Trump, the first time he ever voted Republican.

          "It's getting old, getting bounced around all the time," said Mr. Popovich, a 58-year-old Ohio resident.

          Such frustrations stem from broader shifts in the economy, as all types of companies turn to automation to cut costs and labor unions lose their influence. While these changes have helped keep companies profitable, private equity has used these shifts in the workplace to supercharge wealth far beyond that of the typical chief executive.

          And yet, Mr. Trump did not focus on private equity on the campaign trail, instead blaming the plight of the American working class on a shadowy cabal of elitist Democrats and Wall Street bankers who support trade deals that ship jobs overseas.

          "People understand jobs going to China," said Michael Hillard, an economics professor at the University of Southern Maine. "But no one has ever heard of these private equity firms that come in and do all this financial engineering. It is much more complicated and less visible."

          The industry's trade group, the American Investment Council, says it is sensitive to these issues as private equity's role in the economy expands. The industry now controls huge swaths of the American work force: 4.4 million employees at over 7,500 companies, according to PitchBook, a private financial data platform. By some measures, Blackstone is one of the nation's 10 largest employers and one of its biggest landlords. The firm's co-founder, Mr. Schwarzman, is advising Mr. Trump on job creation.

          "At a time when many Americans are concerned about the country's economic viability, private equity has proven itself in communities throughout the United States as an effective solution," said James Maloney, the American Investment Council's spokesman. "Sustainable growth strategies, adherence to responsible investments and a long-view approach are all a part of the present-day private equity model."

          The Times investigation of the Hostess deal shows that today's private equity also uses another set of tactics, like special dividends and tax arrangements, that maximize profits in creative, yet financially risky ways.

          A year after the layoffs at the Hostess plant in Illinois, Apollo and Metropoulos arranged for the company to borrow about $1.3 billion. Apollo and Metropoulos used most of that sum to pay themselves, and their investors, an early dividend on their investment.

          The firms also found a way to make money even after the company was sold. The firms, The Times investigation found, struck a deal to collect as much as $400 million over the next 15 years, based on what Hostess's future tax savings might be.

          These winnings do not come without risk to the private equity firms, which are often taking a gamble on troubled companies, and when they fail, the firms probably lose out.

          And this is not a simple story of powerful investors enriching themselves while some workers struggle. Teachers and firefighters also benefit from private equity.

          Pension funds that pay retirement benefits to public servants now depend on private equity to generate huge returns. Without it, taxpayers could bear more of the costs.

          "Hostess's comeback was a win-win-win-win," an Apollo spokesman said in a statement, adding that its investment benefited workers, communities, investors and consumers. "After teaming up to take on the daunting financial and operational challenge of creating a new company around the Hostess brand, Apollo and Metropoulos & Co. completed a highly successful private equity investment."

          On a more basic level, Americans enjoy what private equity has owned: GNC vitamins, affordable jewelry at Zales, and birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese's.

          Hostess's new owners rode a wave of nostalgia for the company's snack cakes, a euphoria that even spread to a sprawling Long Island estate. At a wedding there in 2013, packaged cupcakes were offered to guests.

          It may seem an unusual choice, but this party had a special affinity for the snack cake. The bride's father is an executive at Apollo.

          The 'Secret Sauce'

          Leon Black grew up in a family that had a home in Westport, Conn., and an apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan. He attended Dartmouth and Harvard Business School.

          But when Mr. Black traveled to Lubbock, Tex., to speak to a group of retired teachers, he emphasized a humbler side of his pedigree.

          "You should know," Mr. Black said, according to a video recording of the February 2012 meeting, "my mother was a teacher, my sister was a teacher, my brother-in-law is a teacher. We have a lot of teachers in our family."

          Mr. Black had good reason to flatter the retirees: Pension funds for teachers and other public workers are some of the biggest investors in Apollo's funds and have helped make Mr. Black a very rich man.

          Mr. Black, or an affiliated limited liability company, owns homes in Beverly Hills, Miami Beach and several locations in New York, an analysis of real estate records shows. This year, he bought the $38 million house in Beverly Hills that had belonged to the actor Tom Cruise.

          Private equity's relationship with pension funds is mutually beneficial. As countless baby boomers reach retirement at a time of historically low interest rates, public pension funds need to achieve returns that match their liabilities — and private equity has delivered.

          Nearly half of private equity's invested assets now come from public and private pensions around the world. Private equity uses this pension fund money to place bets on companies like Hostess, and Texas teachers have shared in the profits from the deal.

          The Teacher Retirement System of Texas has invested in the fund that bought Hostess. And that fund has reaped 27 percent net during the three years it owned Hostess, significantly more than the stock market returned in that period.

          "You need to get people in whom you trust and who will keep up our fund," said Fran Plemmons, a former president of the Texas Retired Teachers Association who was a teacher and principal for 25 years. "If they do that, you need to get out of the way."

          Ms. Plemmons said her $31,200 yearly pension allows her to live modestly but comfortably. High returns from private equity investments, she said, help keep pension payments flowing to retired school workers across Texas, which trickles down into the local economy.

          For the teachers in Lubbock, Mr. Black described the "secret sauce" behind its success: buying the debt of financially troubled companies or purchasing an entire company. The investments, he said, are "value-oriented, if not contrarian."

          Hostess fit that formula.

          Not only were Americans turning to healthier snacks and eating less junk food, but Hostess had its own challenges.

          In 2012, the baking company had gone through a bruising bankruptcy, its second in a decade. The company laid off most of its 18,500 unionized drivers, loaders and bakers, not long after the bakers' union voted for a companywide strike rather than accept another round of concessions.

          But what was disaster for previous owners looked like treasure to Apollo and Metropoulos.

          When Hostess lenders auctioned off the company in early 2013, Apollo and Metropoulos bought some of Hostess's snack cake brands, which included Twinkies and Ding Dongs.

          Snack cakes still produced some of the highest profit margins in the food industry and Hostess cakes were particularly well-known. The bankruptcy also provided Apollo and Metropoulos a clean slate, liberating them from union contracts, labor rules and debt and pension payments.

          One group of workers who had no place at the new Hostess: the unionized drivers, who transported snack cakes and bread to grocery stores nationwide.

          Now, Hostess would send its baked goods to warehouses, where retailers like Walmart would ship to individual stores.

          Ronald Litland, 44, delivered Hostess products in Illinois for 10 years. After he was laid off in 2012, he enrolled in a for-profit college in hopes of finding a new career in information technology. When his unemployment benefits ran out, he delivered pizzas. He never finished school, but is still paying back student loans and taking care of his son.

          "I have a hard time making ends meet," said Mr. Litland, who earns about $24,000 a year.

          Like the drivers, Hostess's baking operation was also cut back. Apollo and Metropoulos chose to buy only a handful of its roughly one dozen snack cake bakeries.

          Other parts of the former Hostess baking empire were scaled back as well. Food companies picked off some of Hostess's bread brands, but reopened only a small fraction of the bakeries.

          Before being laid off from Hostess, Mr. Popovich made about $20 an hour. Every year, he went on vacation in the Bahamas or St. Martin. His health insurance covered the $385,000 cost when his wife needed major surgery.

          "I lived a good life," said Mr. Popovich, whose most recent job driving a forklift at a solar panel plant paid about $16 an hour.

          Mr. Popovich is also entitled to a pension, which he was promised after working more than two decades at Hostess. But he recently received a letter at his home in Toledo, Ohio, warning that the pension fund was nearly insolvent.

          Apollo and Metropoulos are not obligated to contribute to the pension fund, which is managed by a labor union. Nor do they have to pay the severance that Hostess was obligated to pay Mr. Popovich when he was laid off. Those liabilities were wiped out in the bankruptcy.

          New Shoes and Dashed Hopes

          At a brick bakery in Schiller Park, Ill., Twinkies started rolling off the line nearly a century ago. And when Apollo and Metropoulos bought some of Hostess's cake plants and brands out of bankruptcy in 2013, Schiller Park's plant was one of the fortunate few to reopen.

          "Schiller Park, We ♥ You," read a billboard that Hostess sponsored in the town, the heart carved into the image of a half-eaten Twinkie.

          The celebration was short-lived. Just over a year after the plant's grand reopening, Hostess shut it down.

          The fallout was swift. All 415 employees were fired, some for the second time in two years. Schiller Park lost one of its largest employers, creating a ripple effect through this tiny working-class suburb of Chicago. The plant itself, an institution so old that it predated nearby O'Hare International Airport, was suddenly vacant.

          "We got our hopes up again," said the town's mayor, Barbara J. Piltaver. "And then all of a sudden, we had a big hit."

          The story behind the rise and fall — and fall again — of the Schiller Park plant encapsulates private equity's relationship with workers and labor unions.

          It's a complicated issue. A prominent study of investments across the country concluded that private equity has increased productivity while leading to a minor overall decline in jobs relative to the broader economy. Private equity's trade group says its own analysis of county demographics found that private equity investment increases jobs growth in local economies, though the data was limited.

          In Schiller Park, Janice Ryan worked at the Hostess plant for about 20 years before the 2012 bankruptcy. She walked to work from her nearby home. And she was relieved to return, after several months of unemployment, to be part of what many workers believed was the company's long-term comeback.

          Schiller Park was a starting point for getting Twinkies back on the shelves by summer 2013. As part of that push, many Schiller Park employees worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week, and could volunteer for a seventh day.

          "We were all proud of what we accomplished," said Michael Spina, who worked for Hostess for many years in St. Louis and then moved to Schiller Park to help manage production when the plant reopened.

          What the workers were never told, however, was that Apollo and Metropoulos had no plans to keep Schiller Park in operation over the long term.

          "Schiller, in essence, was a contingency plan, opened only to ensure that initial demand could be met," Hannah Arnold, a Hostess spokeswoman, said in a statement. She added that the setup of the bakery — its low ceilings and lack of a loading dock — was not conducive to the company's future plans. The company says it could not tell workers of its plans because of labor rules.

          The expendability of Schiller Park reflects Apollo and Metropoulos's plans to run a more efficient operation than their predecessors did. And that model requires far fewer workers than the one that existed for decades.

          In 2012, Hostess had about 8,000 employees and eight bakeries dedicated exclusively to snack cakes. Six other plants produced at least some desserts. Today, the new Hostess has only three plants and 1,200 workers.

          At Schiller Park, some workers earned a dollar less per hour than what workers were paid under the previous owners. Others earned more, the company said. Still, they qualified for bonuses, owed no union dues and received health insurance and dental care. Instead of pensions, they were enrolled in 401(k) plans.

          Former employees recalled grueling shifts when temperatures inside the plant neared 110 degrees. The workers were given Gatorade to rehydrate.

          "Bakeries are hot places," Mr. Spina said. "But Schiller Park could really be a hot son of a bitch."

          Veronica Pacheco, who lives in Schiller Park and joined the Hostess bakery when it reopened in 2013, described "freezing" wintertime conditions that were equally arduous. She said she wore scarves and heavy gloves under her work garments.

          Ms. Arnold, the Hostess spokeswoman, noted that prospective employees answered a questionnaire about whether they were willing to work in "extreme seasonal temperatures." The company said it spent about $100,000 upgrading the heating and air-conditioning system, but stopped short of a total overhaul.

          There were other hazards as well. In 2014, Todd Kemp was injured after heaps of Twinkie mix spilled on the factory floor, causing him to slip and injure his shoulder, back and knee. He has since had four operations.

          Ms. Arnold said Apollo and Metropoulos inherited old equipment, some of it in disrepair, adding that Schiller Park "was in the worst condition of the four bakeries by far."

          C. Dean Metropoulos, the billionaire Greek immigrant whose firm has invested in other well-known food brands like Vlasic pickles and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, personally oversaw the upgrading and cleaning of the facility, Ms. Arnold said.

          "He also focused on ensuring workers had new uniforms and better shoes, to make long days standing more comfortable," she said.

          Over the long term, Apollo and Metropoulos looked outside Schiller Park to generate profits.

          Hostess employed "extended shelf-life technology" to make the Twinkie, already jokingly thought to be capable of surviving nuclear war, even more everlasting.

          The company perfected its secret recipe until it contained the right amount of enzymes to better retain moisture. The enzymes extended shelf life of some products to 65 days from 26 days.

          The company also turned to automation. At a plant in Emporia, Kan., Hostess installed an automated baking system that churned out more cakes with fewer workers.

          William Toler, Hostess's chief executive, said the company spent more than $140 million "to get the business up and running, and certainly our results suggest we made very good choices."

          The Hostess plant in Columbus, Ga., had another advantage: government subsidies. The state's economic development agency provided Hostess with tax credits to push along the deal. The Town of Columbus chipped in a $1 million grant to award Hostess for creating jobs.

          "We're not doing it to be nice guys, we're doing it to create jobs," said Wylly Harrison, who worked on the deal for the Georgia Department of Economic Development and said that the state was thrilled Hostess came back.

          Hostess said it also received incentives from Emporia, the State of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis. Employment totals at those plants have since increased.

          Hostess did not receive any incentives in Illinois.

          Three workers interviewed by The Times said they believed that the final straw for Schiller Park was when they voted to rejoin a union.

          Hostess fought the effort. The company plastered the plant with posters urging workers to vote "no."

          The union prevailed, but not for long. Around the time union officials had planned to start contract negotiations in August 2014, Hostess announced it was shutting down the Schiller Park plant.

          Ms. Arnold, the Hostess spokeswoman, said the unionization vote did not factor into the decision to close Schiller Park. Employees, she said, were provided severance and an opportunity to apply for a Hostess job in another state.

          Union officials declined to comment.

          Since then, unions have made limited inroads at Hostess. Whereas 83 percent of the work force was unionized in 2012, Hostess recently said in a securities filing that about 30 percent of employees belonged to a union in Indianapolis and Columbus. Its flagship facility, Emporia, is not unionized.

          "Both Apollo and Metropoulos have owned and operated numerous companies that had union employees," Ms. Arnold said, adding that "Metropoulos has always enjoyed good, working relations with unions and their members."

          The Money-Making Machine

          For all the profits Apollo and Metropoulos squeezed out of the Hostess factories, a deal hatched in a hotel room on Fifth Avenue in New York shows how private equity can have its snack cake and eat it, too.

          There, in the Versailles Room at the St. Regis, Apollo and Metropoulos began the process of extracting returns from the company, less than a year after shutting the Schiller Park plant.

          Most investors seeking profit have to wait for the right moment to sell a company or take it public. But private equity uses a different playbook.

          First, Apollo and Metropoulos arranged for Hostess to borrow money from the banking giant Credit Suisse. The two firms then pocketed about $900 million of that money for themselves and their investors. Hostess, meanwhile, is stuck repaying the debt.

          This type of deal is known as a dividend recapitalization, and it is a staple of private equity's money-making strategy. These deals provide private equity firms an opportunity to profit before they even sell a company, an added bonus to the firms and their investors, including public pensioners.

          Since 2012, private equity firms have arranged hundreds of such deals, totaling over $148 billion in debt, according to Thomson Reuters. Hostess's dividend deal was the third largest of 2015.

          This financial engineering is crucial to private equity's success — and to building the personal fortunes of the industry's executives. With each dividend recapitalization, more money pours into Apollo, which then flows to the firm's executives.

          It comes with risks. Of all the companies that carried out dividend recapitalizations since 2012, about 10 percent have faced a credit rating downgrade within six months of the deal, according to LCD/S&P Global Market Intelligence and Standard & Poor's Ratings, which notes that many factors could lead to a downgrade, including excessive debt.

          Although Hostess has not been downgraded, it now describes itself in public filings as "highly leveraged."

          Mr. Toler, the Hostess chief, said that even after the dividend payout, the company "had plenty of capital to work with."

          At the same time it was paying dividends to investors, Hostess earmarked $8 million to pay bonuses to workers, including those in the bakeries.

          A few months after the dividend deal, Apollo and Metropoulos entered into negotiations to sell the company. Instead of being sold outright, Hostess would be acquired by a shell company, created by another private equity firm, the Gores Group.

          And still, they arranged more ways to profit. Apollo and Metropoulos retained a combined 42 percent stake in the company, which is now publicly traded.

          After investing only $186 million in cash when they bought the company in 2013 (they took out debt to help finance the rest of the $410 million deal), Apollo and Metropoulos's investment is now worth 13 times that initial cash investment.

          Tracing how these enormous returns wind their way into Mr. Black's pocket is a byzantine task.

          Mr. Black collected a $100,000 salary and no bonus in 2015.

          How did Mr. Black, on such a relatively modest salary, come to acquire an art collection that is said to include one of Edvard Munch's " Scream" series, which he bought in 2012 for about $120 million, then the highest price ever paid for a painting?

          The answer is that Mr. Black and other private equity executives make their money in ways that set them apart from most other industries.

          Mr. Black's share of the Hostess profits, from the partial sale and the $900 million in cash they pulled out of the company, will be reflected in a series of distributions he collects from Apollo's publicly traded stock. The size of the distribution depends on the size of the profits from deals like Hostess.

          Last year, Mr. Black's distributions totaled $181 million.

          Other shareholders in Apollo — which include money managers like Fidelity — also receive these distributions. But Mr. Black, as the largest shareholder of a company he co-founded in 1990, gets the largest payout.

          While Mr. Black receives the most money at Apollo, one of his partners and co-founders, Joshua Harris, took home $121 million last year. Mr. Harris is part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils.

          Mr. Black has noted that if Apollo's investments fail to make money, then its executives also miss out.

          Like most private equity firms, Apollo collects a management fee from investors and earns 20 percent of profits from the firm's investments, once its investors recoup their original money and reap profits of their own.

          Private equity's advantages don't end there. Apollo's share of the profits on Hostess or any deal ultimately flows to Mr. Black and his fellow shareholders in the company in ways that lower their tax burden.

          The industry's 20 percent cut of profits — also known as carried interest — is taxed at a long-term capital gains rate that is roughly half the 40 percent ordinary income rate for the nation's highest earners. And since private equity executives receive much of their money from carried interest — or in the case of Mr. Black, distributions largely made up of carried interest — they enjoy a tax advantage over workers.

          This is what's known as the "carried-interest loophole" — a tax treatment held up during the presidential campaign as evidence that the rich fail to pay their fair share.

          Private equity managers argue that this treatment is not a loophole or even unique to private equity. Its use originated from the cut of profits that ship captains reaped for "carrying" goods.

          In the Hostess deal, Apollo and Metropoulos found even more ways to use the tax code to their advantage.

          The firms are entitled to collect a large portion of tax benefits that Hostess could earn well into the future. The idea is that by selling a stake in Hostess before they could realize these benefits, Apollo and Metropoulos could leave money on the table.

          These arrangements, which are now commonplace in private deals, allow the firms to collect cash from a company they may no longer own.

          The Hostess "tax-receivable" benefits, according to previously unreported securities filings and estimates by the Apollo spokesman, could provide Apollo and Metropoulos up to $400 million for the next 15 years or more.

          Looking out over those next 15 years, nothing seems guaranteed to Mr. Popovich, the former Hostess worker from Toledo. Right before Thanksgiving, Mr. Popovich was laid off from his most recent job at the solar panel plant.

          The idea of searching for work at age 58 is daunting. He has been sending out his résumé, but has not received a call back.

          "It's been four jobs in four years," he said. "Here we go again."

          How the Twinkie Made the Superrich Even 



          3)  Wall Street Is Europe's Landlord. And Tenants Are Fighting Back

           DEC. 10, 2016


          DUBLIN — The Tobun family never missed a rental payment on their modest brick rowhouse in eight years. But in February, the couple, who have two young children, received a letter warning that they would be evicted when their lease expired. Forty of their neighbors got the same notice.

          When they went to investigate, the tenants, in the working-class suburb of Tyrrelstown, discovered a trail that led all the way to Wall Street.

          After Europe was ravaged by a financial and economic crisis, the giant investment bank Goldman Sachs snapped up huge swaths of distressed debt in Ireland, including the loans of Tyrrelstown's developer in 2014. The developer now wants out of the rental game and is selling the properties. As the owner of the loans, Goldman will reap a large portion of the proceeds.

          Goldman has nothing to do with the possible evictions here. But because American banks have played such a large role in Europe's housing recovery — and have made huge profits in the process — they have become the main target of a growing backlash among homeowners and renters.

          "Somehow, these funds have gotten involved in our community," Funke Tobun said. "They're profiting, but it's the people who are being made to suffer."

          Wall Street has become the biggest new landlord in Europe, as American financial firms have swept into cities, suburbs and towns to take to advantage of the fallout from the worst economic downturnsince World War II. In the last four years, Goldman Sachs, Cerberus Capital Management, Lone Star Funds, Blackstone Group and others from America have bought more than 223 billion euros' worth of troubled real estate loans around Europe, nearly 80 percent of the total sold.

          The firms have made the usual calculation: buy distressed investments on the cheap during tough times, betting that the outlook will eventually turn and riches will follow. And the firms are paying little or no tax, by employing complex strategies that often involve subsidiaries with no operations or staff.

          The huge profits and dubious tax strategies have made Wall Street a major object of frustration and anger, as people grapple with evictions and higher mortgage payments. In some cases, the Wall Street firms are passive players, the money men behind the landlords, developers or banks that are exerting force. In other cases, they are direct participants taking action.

          Despite the controversy, the firms — and their purchases — have played a vital role in the cleanup of Europe's mess.

          In places like Ireland and Spain, governments and banks for years fostered reckless, debt-fueled property booms. When the bubbles burst, the countries were saddled with bad loans and their economies faltered.

          Wall Street stepped in, buying mortgages on commercial properties, rental developments and even individual homes. The much-needed cash helped mend national finances, halt plunging property values and clean up banks' books.

          "Investment by foreign capital has helped restart the system and accelerate the adjustment and recovery," a spokesman for Goldman, Sebastian Howell, said.

          But the recovery has been uneven, leaving homeowners and renters with few options after they run into trouble.

          Homeowners who have fallen behind are being pressured to accept harsher terms that could tilt them toward foreclosure. Residents are being plied with fees that make it harder to stay in their properties. And even tenants who have not missed rental payments are being forced out at a time when rising property values make it difficult to find affordable housing.

          Whether or not Wall Street is directly involved, activists are invoking the firms to fire up the masses. "It's important to remember that these funds are not mainstream banks or charities," said David Hall, director of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organization, a nonprofit that helps troubled homeowners. "They sell to make profit and they exit."

          Protesters have occupied empty apartments in Barcelona whose mortgages had been bought by Blackstone, and rallied around tenants in Madrid who were served eviction recently by a Goldman-run subsidiary. In Ireland, homeowners seeking protection have demonstrated outside Parliament.

          The deals are now getting a second look. The Spanish authorities are putting in place protections for tenants and homeowners. The Irish finance minister introduced legislation in October to tighten oversight of Wall Street's tax arrangements.

          In Tyrrelstown, tenants have asked the government to intervene, so they can remain in their homes. After receiving their eviction letters, several families moved into a hostel.

          "They couldn't stand the pressure," Mrs. Tobun said. "They were scared of ending up homeless."

          Fallout From the Bust

          For decades, Tyrrelstown was a blank slate on the northwestern edge of Dublin, acres of rolling fields with just a few homes dotting the landscape.

          When Ireland joined the euro currency union in 1999, it all changed. Foreign capital flooded the country, and the economy soared. With seemingly endless growth in this so-called Celtic Tiger, banks made freewheeling loans to property developers like Rick and Michael Larkin, the brothers behind Twinlite, the developer that built Mrs. Tobun's home.

          The brothers undertook one of Ireland's most ambitious developments. More than 2,000 cookie-cutter-style homes were erected over vacant land that had at one point been targeted for a landfill. With three floors, modest kitchens and tidy backyards, the properties attracted teachers, police officers and other working-class tenants to an increasingly multicultural enclave.

          By 2006, the Larkins had added a sprawling retail center to Tyrrelstown along with a $40 million luxury four-star hotel, with 155 rooms, a fusion restaurant and an oak-paneled boardroom. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bertie Ahern, then Ireland's prime minister, promoted the construction as "a vote of confidence by its developers in the future of our economy."

          Similar developments sprouted up across the country. By 2006, bank lending for development had grown in Ireland to more than €95 billion, from €5.5 billion in 1999. Construction comprised a quarter of the country's economic activity.

          Then the global financial crisis struck in 2008, and the Irish economy began to crumble. Despite warning signs, the Larkins kept building, unveiling plans for a €100 million, 11-story indoor ski slope and ice-climbing center. As the crisis deepened, city planners rejected the project.

          Many developers and homeowners could not pay their loans, leaving banks saddled with huge portfolios of troubled debt. Banks began frantically looking for ways to reduce their loads, even trying to get rid of the loans of borrowers like Twinlite that had not fallen behind. The government helped accelerate the process, setting up the National Asset Management Agency to package and sell off bad loans, a role that was expanded after Ireland's bailout in 2010.

          Wall Street firms saw opportunity, with loans selling at up to 70 percent off their face value. The firms bought nearly €100 billion worth of Irish distressed debt.

          Twinlite's loans in Tyrrelstown were among those picked up in the frenzy by Beltany Property Finance, a Goldman affiliate. Twinlite said it opposed the sale and sued the issuing bank, unsuccessfully, to have it halted.

          After that, Tyrrelstown residents faced two options: buy their properties or face eviction when the leases expired.

          The developer, also acting as a lender, offered Mrs. Tobun a €200,000 loan to buy her place. But Mrs. Tobun, who nets €1,000 a month caring for older people, could not afford the €16,000 down payment. Her husband, who drives a taxi, could expect to earn €40 on a 12-hour shift, compared with almost €150 before the crisis.

          Her worst fear, Mrs. Tobun said, was that her family might wind up among the growing ranks of the homeless.

          Ireland is now enjoying a robust recovery. But growth has been fueled partly by financial maneuvering, and the real underlying gains are far from even. More than 5,000 people have been left homeless by the crisis, with the government subsidizing many in shelters.

          Mrs. Tobun does not have many options. She does not want to move farther out, since it would mean changing schools for her son who has special needs. A nearby rental is too expensive. Rents in Ireland have risen around 20 percent since the crisis as home construction dried up after the bust.

          Still, the eviction effort showed that her home and the others in Tyrrelstown were worth much more as empty sales properties than as long-term rentals. In a statement, the Larkin family denied that Goldman's subsidiary exerted pressure to end the leases or sell. The statement said a Larkin-owned company wanted to exit the residential rental business, given regulatory changes and improving market conditions.

          For Tyrrelstown residents, the eviction battles have been an all-consuming ordeal. After receiving a notice in May, Gillian Murphy and her partner, Damien Moore, refused to move from the home they had rented for six years. One of their three children has autism, and switching schools would put him at the bottom of the list for programs elsewhere.

          Soon after the family received their eviction notice, two men working for the Larkin-owned entity arrived at their home and began taking pictures. "Everyone is petrified of these people because we don't know who they are or what the purpose is," Ms. Murphy said.

          A Winning Hand

          Before last year, few people in Ireland had heard of Cerberus Capital. Like other Wall Street players, Cerberus came into the country quietly, creating a local subsidiary under a different name and setting up a complex and extensive web of interconnected businesses.

          There are the 13 subsidiaries in Dublin, all with Promontoria in their names. They have no employees and no offices. They are all registered to the same address on Grant's Row, a letterbox near Parliament. Those subsidiaries, in turn, are subsidiaries of holding companies in the Netherlands, more than 110 of which had the Promontoria name.

          The structure has helped Cerberus profit in Ireland. Through the subsidiaries, Cerberus bought around €17 billion worth of loans on properties in Ireland and Britain in two years, for just under €6 billion euros. In Ireland alone, Cerberus has been earning hundreds of millions of euros in interest and other income.

          The setup, promoted by the Irish government along with other tax strategies, allows for a bit of tax magic that can make those profits seem to disappear.

          To buy the debt, Cerberus's Dutch Promontoria companies lent Cerberus's Irish Promontoria firms money at a high interest rate. The Irish businesses ended up paying roughly the same amount in interest that was earned on the real estate investments. Since the interest was deductible, Cerberus cut its tax bill drastically.

          One Irish subsidiary, Promontoria Eagle, which bought distressed loans in Northern Ireland and Britain, earned interest income in 2014 of 111 million British pounds on the deal, or around $140 million. After deducting interest charges and management and audit fees, taxable profit was only £7,788. The resulting tax charge in Ireland: just £1,947.

          Corporate filings for five other Irish subsidiaries of Cerberus, provided by DueDil, a corporate intelligence firm, show the same pattern: taxable profit and tax charges reduced to nearly identical numbers. Portfolios with up to £1 billion worth of loans wound up with tax charges of less than £2,000.

          Other Wall Street firms employed a similar method. Beltany, the Goldman subsidiary, earned interest income of €44 million on debt portfolios in Ireland at the end of 2014. After lowering taxable profit to €1,000, it netted a tax charge of €250, filings show.

          Lone Star collected interest income of more than $970 million at the end of 2014. Its taxable profit was just over $11 million, resulting in a tax charge of less than $1 million.

          "Wall Street firms have made a lot of profit from other people's misfortunes, and on top of that they've systematically structured things so they pay almost no tax," said James Stewart, a finance professor at Trinity College, Dublin. "So what's their contribution to society?"

          Cerberus and Lone Star declined to comment. Goldman said that Beltany followed Irish law and that the interest it collected was subject to United States tax.

          Fighting Back

          On a warm summer day, 20 people crowded into a basement in central Dublin. The dimly lit room had recently been converted into makeshift headquarters for the Hub, a grass-roots operation that enlisted volunteer accountants and lawyers to help people who were facing eviction.

          David Walsh, a former firefighter living in Ballybunion, on the west coast of Ireland, drove six hours to attend the meeting. Two years ago, Lone Star's Irish affiliate had scooped up the mortgage on his family's award-winning bed-and-breakfast, the Ballybunion B&B, for a fraction of the original cost. He was angered that he had not been allowed to buy back his loan at the cheap price the fund received.

          Soon after, he said, the affiliate mounted an effort to increase his mortgage payments. In the crisis, his bookings had slumped badly, and his original bank had agreed to lower his monthly payments to €800 from €2,000.

          "They phoned me every day of the week and at night saying we have to increase the payments," Mr. Walsh said of the Lone Star affiliate.

          When the Hub's lawyers questioned the legality of Lone Star's ownership of his mortgage, Mr. Walsh diverted his loan payments into an escrow fund as a form of protest until the issue could be resolved. "The amount of harm being done to vulnerable people is immense," he said.

          Mr. Walsh was threatened with foreclosure, which he continues to fight.

          A broader rebellion has barreled ahead in Spain, where Blackstone, Goldman and other American firms bought residential properties, including subsidized rentals.

          While low-income rentals represent a small piece of their portfolios, the companies ignited a firestorm when they began evicting squatters, in an effort to improve property values. The activist group P.A.H. organized protests around Spain and outside Blackstone's New York headquarters.

          Blackstone and Goldman said they had evicted just a small number of squatters and aimed to keep renters in the properties long-term. Goldman said its policy was to help certain distressed tenants avoid eviction.

          The perceived invasion has prompted a political reassessment. Some Spanish regional authorities have passed laws intended to clamp down on Wall Street's involvement. Catalonia now requires firms to offer cheap alternative housing to tenants. The local authorities can also buy back homes or expropriate them if they are left empty for three years.

          So popular was the anti-eviction movement that Ada Colau, its main leader, was elected mayor of Barcelona last year. "The opacity and distance of a fund that is based much farther away makes it a lot harder to hold it responsible," she said.

          In Ireland, the Tyrrelstown episode has become a rallying cry.

          Housing advocates and lawmakers across the political spectrum are urging stricter oversight. Along with new legislation intended to close tax loopholes and restrict mass evictions, lawmakers are considering requiring banks and financial firms to follow a code of conduct and provide alternatives for troubled homeowners.

          But for Mrs. Tobun and other Tyrrelstown residents, such changes may offer little relief.

          Recently, she and her neighbors received word that their rents would rise sharply in the new year, after their current contracts expire. She said she and most of the 40 tenants affected would be unable to pay.

          The new rents will be closer to current market prices, but many residents suspect that the increase is a tactic being used to flush them out so the properties can be sold. In response, the Tyrrelstown community is planning another series of demonstrations.

          "This is a fight between David and Goliath," Mrs. Tobun said. "They want us out by force. All we can do is protest."

          "We believe in miracles," she added, "but I don't know how we're going to win."



          4)  Inauguration Protests Denied

          By Sophia Tesfaye

          Salon, December 9, 2016


          Protesters who plan to descend on Washington in the days surrounding President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration next month will find themselves barred from the nation's most famous public protest site.

          The National Park Service, on behalf of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, filed a "massive omnibus blocking permit" securing much of the National Mall, Pennsylvania Avenue, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial for Trump's inauguration festivities, The Guardian reported on Thursday.

          "None of these spots will be open for protesters," the newspaper reported.

          The temporary ban mostly affects a planned march from the Lincoln Memorial to the White House on January 21, 2017, the morning after Trump's inauguration. The morning after the election, organizers began the Women's March on Washington, which leaders say is an intentional nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 civil rights march at the Lincoln Memorial.

          According to the march's official Facebook event page, 136,000 demonstrators plan to attend and an additional 226,000 are interested in participating. Groups from nearly 50 states have started their own, local Facebook pages for the event, with each state organizing transportation to get to the event.

          "The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us," the group's Facebook page reads. "The Women's March on Washington will send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us."

          But organizers ran into permitting issues early in the planning process. The Park Service issues permits for protests on a first-come, first-serve basis and other protests had already received permits before the women's march organizers applied. Now, the massive omnibus blocking permit has blocked at least a dozen other groups from protesting in the days after Trump's inauguration.

          National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst told The Guardian that agency rules in place since 2008 give an inaugural committee preferential access to some public areas along Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Mall and surrounding land. Litterst said it will likely take crews until March 1 to dismantle the barricades and seating assembled for Trump's inauguration.

          "They're construction zones, effectively," Litterst explained.

          But, as a post on Twitter noted, the annual Right to Life anti-abortion protest on the National Mall is still set to continue in late January.

          Most public sidewalks along the inauguration parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue—the boulevard running from the Capitol to the White House—are still open to protesters.

          But those constrained accommodations are still not enough, one Washington, D.C. civil rights group said.

          The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund argues that the National Park Service and Trump's inaugural committee have "done a massive land grab inhibiting all those who want to exercise their right to free speech."

          Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, said at a press conference that this instance is "extremely unique" in that it banned access to public land for protesters for days after the inauguration, according to the fund's website.

          "It hasn't come up in any way previously, where you've had a groundswell of people trying to have access on the Saturday, January 21, and thousands of people want to come, and the government is saying we won't give you a permit," she said. "What they've done is take all of these spaces out of action."

          The fund is prepared to sue so protesters may gather near the White House and the National Mall, she added. "For all of those who are concerned, who are thinking about changing their plans—because that is the unconstitutional effect of what the Park Service and Trump's inaugural committee are doing—we're here to say that it is lawful and safe to peacefully march in Washington, D.C., and we welcome everyone to the District of Columbia to engage in their free speech rights," Verheyden-Hilliard said.



          5)  I Am Ashamed to Be Australian

           DEC. 12, 2016






          MANUS, Papua New Guinea — I was 17 when I first came face to face with refugees. It was 1995 in Melbourne, Australia, and it was a Saturday. As usual I was out taking pictures of my friends skateboarding. We rolled up to a spot near the state Parliament. Across the street a protest was taking place — Cypriot women calling for the government to help them find their sons who had disappeared during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. I left my friends and took a photograph of the protesters.

          A few days later, in the darkroom, I pulled the film out of the wash and saw the image. The Australia I grew up in was a racist country: Slurs were common in conversation; news outlets were openly prejudiced against entire groups; and politicians rarely took a moral high road. But to me, this photograph went beyond all that. The women's pain was universal: They were mothers grieving for their lost children.

          I decided to become a photojournalist to help refugees tell their stories, and to show their plight. I was stunned by the lack of compassion and the outright racism I saw in my countrymen. I was angry as only a teenager can be with the politicians who fanned the flames of xenophobia.

          After 20 years of photographing asylum seekers around the world, I am still angry.

          I've seen people displaced by sub-Saharan African wars that dragged on for so long that their children and grandchildren were born in enormous, forgotten refugee camps. I've photographed the Kurds, who have known only persecution — an entire ethnic group that remains stateless. I've followed Syrian refugee families into the tumultuous Aegean Sea. I've witnessed people trapped at borders and beaten by the police; children separated from their parents, wandering on busy, unfamiliar roads; families literally running for their lives. Sometimes, when they were not fast enough, I've seen people murdered.

          And yet, in all that time, I have not seen the level of cruelty toward these vulnerable people that the Australian government is perpetrating against the refugees on Manus Island.

          For a week along with the columnist Roger Cohen I interviewed men on Manus, a remote island in Papua New Guinea, while trying to fly under the radar of police and immigration officials who didn't want me there. I left the island devastated and ashamed to be Australian.

          The men, over 900 of them, from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and elsewhere, have been detained since 2013. I've never come across refugees this broken. The vast majority didn't want to share their stories with me. "What's the point?" they would say. They have been beaten into despair, tortured by disempowerment.

          Many of the asylum seekers identified themselves as atheists, having given up their faith in God. Others have taken up drinking, or trading cigarettes — they receive up to three packets per week — for local marijuana. Many take sleeping pills handed out by nurses. Anything to pass the time and escape from their anguish.

          Asylum seekers are usually traumatized by long, dangerous journeys. What makes the situation on Manus exceptional is that the Australian government is inflicting even more trauma. My fellow Australians have allowed this to happen; we elect our leaders and we must take responsibility for their actions. But we don't. Instead we've allowed them to use the plight of the Manus refugees, as well as refugee families on the island nation of Nauru, as props in a political power struggle. We've allowed ourselves to see the refugees as queue jumpers, as undesirable, as criminals. We appear to have lost touch with our humanity.

          "You will never, ever settle in Australia" is the slogan from our leaders. On Manus, the catchphrase is "I am hopeless." These people we have detained for the past three and a half years once looked forward to a future. They had dreams, and they risked their lives to find safety.

          Occasionally, a man expressed sadness, maybe even anger, about what had happened to him. But most stories of life and death were told deadpan.

          I thought that Karam Zahirian, an Iranian refugee, was going to break down during our portrait sitting. I had explained that the people who put him through these years of hell would see these images, and that he had a chance to show them what detention had done to him. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and then his arms and shoulders started shaking. I gently touched his arm and told it was O.K. to cry. "No," Mr. Zahirian said. "I've got nothing left."

          There are 65 million displaced people on our planet, more than ever before in human history. Short of an ideal world in which wealth is equally distributed and repression is brought to an end, we will always have refugees.

          Instead, we must find a humane way to manage the issue. We must accept some responsibility for our planet's conflicts, and realize that compassionately dealing with the fallout of an unbalanced world is the only way forward.

          When I emigrated from Australia to the United States in 2003, it was out of disgust with our refugee policies. I didn't think it could get worse than it was then. I was wrong.



          6)  Indian Police Arrest 12 Moviegoers Accused of Sitting During Anthem

           DEC. 12, 2016


          NEW DELHI — The police in southern India have arrested 12 moviegoers accused of failing to stand during the playing of the national anthem, something required in all of the country's theaters after a November ruling by India's Supreme Court.

          Police officers in the city of Chennai on Sunday arrested a man, S. Viji, on suspicion of assault and violating the Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act of 1971.

          If Viji, who was released on bail, is found to have violated the act, he could face a fine and imprisonment of up to three years.

          Eleven more people were arrested Monday in Thiruvananthapuram, another southern city, after being accused of sitting when the national anthem was played during screenings at a film festival. All were arrested on suspicion of disobeying a court order and released on bail, said Sarjan Kumar, the police commissioner in Thiruvananthapuram.

          "We have to see whether they did it intentionally or not," he said.

          The arrests were the first known efforts by the police to enforce compliance with the Supreme Court ruling, which requires movie theaters to play the national anthem before each screening. Patrons, according to the ruling, are required to stand respectfully for the duration of the song unless they are physically unable.

          The court said it was necessary that "the citizens of the country realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to the national anthem." The Constitution, it continued, "does not allow any different notion, or the perception of individual rights."

          The ruling on standing for the national anthem, coming in a season of swelling nationalist pride in India, was greeted with enthusiasm by some Indians and derision by others.

          The arrest in Chennai followed the decision by a group of people at a theater there to resist the order, said M. Sreela, a law student who was part of the group.

          "That was our first movie after the Supreme Court order," said Sreela, who, like many in India's south, does not use a surname. "So some of us made a choice not to stand for the national anthem when it was played. So we did not stand up. At the time, nobody objected, not even a glance from anybody."

          During the intermission, she said, another patron grabbed a man in their group by the collar and confronted him about why he had not stood for the anthem. An exchange of insults inside the theater erupted later into a parking-lot brawl.

          "They were not paying respect to the national anthem, disturbing others and taking selfies," said Vijay Kumar, who filed a police complaint against the group that refused to stand. Mr. Kumar said that in the ensuing scuffle, his nose was injured.

          "If you don't respect the national anthem, that's your business, but at least don't obstruct others in doing so," he said.

          The police in Chennai said they arrested one man and were seeking two more. Parties on both sides of the brawl filed police complaints against the other, alleging harassment, threats and physical abuse.

          Sreela said the group had set out to defy the Supreme Court's demand, which she described as "a force-fed and micromanaged exhibition of nationalism."

          The dictate to stand for the playing of the anthem, she said in a statement, serves to "enable self-appointed 'guardians' of the law and vigilantes all over the country to more aggressively pursue moral policing on their own equal fellow citizens."

          The statement compared the requirement to President-elect Donald J. Trump's condemnation of flag-burning, and it noted that patrons at the film festival in Thiruvananthapuram "will have to stand up to the anthem even if it is 40 or more times."



          7)  It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve Education

          By    DEC. 12, 2016





          If you spend more on education, will students do better?

          Educators, politicians and unions have battled in court over that crucial question for decades, most recently in a sweeping decision this fall in Connecticut, where a judge ordered the state to revamp nearly every facet of its education policies, from graduation requirements to special education, along with its school funding.

          For many years, research on the relationship between spending and student learning has been surprisingly inconclusive. Many other factors, including student poverty, parental education and the way schools are organized, contribute to educational results.

          Teasing out the specific effect of money spent is methodologically difficult. Opponents of increased school funding have seized on that ambiguity to argue that, for schools, money doesn't matter — and, therefore, more money isn't needed.

          But new, first-of-its-kind research suggests that conclusion is mistaken. Money really does matter in education, which could provide fresh momentum for more lawsuits and judgments like the Connecticut decision.

          The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in July, was conducted by the economists Julien Lafortune and Jesse Rothstein of the University of California at Berkeley and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern. They examined student test scores in 26 states that have changed the way they fund schools since 1990, usually in response to a lawsuit like Connecticut's, and compared them with those in 23 states that haven't. While no two states did exactly the same thing, they all had the effect of increasing funding for the poorest districts.

          The post-1990 time frame is important: That's when courts changed how they think about states' obligations to public schoolchildren. Previously, nearly all school funding lawsuits focused on the question of "equity" — did disadvantaged students receive funding equal to that of their well-off peers?

          The problem with that perspective was the answer could be "yes," even if funding was too low across the board. Starting with a 1990 court case in Kentucky, courts started asking about "adequacy" instead. Were school districts getting enough money, which might require giving extra money to districts that enroll many low-income, expensive-to-serve students?

          "There's been this wave of school finance reform across the country over the last few decades," Mr. Rothstein said. "I think it's fair to say it's the largest reform aimed at equity since school desegregation, and we really didn't know what the impacts were. There's now growing evidence, from my work and from others, that those reforms did lead to improved achievement and improved outcomes for children in low-income school districts."

          Mr. Lafortune, Mr. Rothstein and Ms. Schanzenbach also solved a difficult methodological problem that had plagued school finance researchers for decades. More money isn't an end unto itself — the goal is to produce better results. But before the recent widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards, every state had its own standards and related tests. That made it hard to compare academic results from one state to another.

          The researchers took advantage of the one test that is taken by a representative sample of schoolchildren nationwide: the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is administered by the Department of Education.

          Although NAEP results are usually published only for whole states and a small number of large urban school districts, the researchers got the education department to let them analyze individual student scores. Those results include information on the test-taker's race and income, as well as school district attended. The researchers could compare performance in poor and wealthy districts before and after changes in spending.

          They found a consistent pattern: In the long run, over comparable time frames, states that send additional money to their lowest-income school districts see more academic improvement in those districts than states that don't. The size of the effect was significant. The changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as a well-known experimentthat decreased class sizes in the early grades.

          Another paper, published this year in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, looked at the same question through a different lens. That study examined longer-term outcomes, like how long students stayed in school and how much they earned as adults, for students in districts with and without court-ordered funding changes. Here, too, researchers saw gains with more money spent.

          That study was conducted by C. Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern, Rucker C. Johnson from the University of California at Berkeley and Claudia Persico, then a graduate student at Northwestern and now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin. They examined outcomes for about 15,000 people, born between 1955 and 1985, and found that for poor children, a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year of elementary and secondary school was associated with wages that were nearly 10 percent higher, a drop in the incidence of adult poverty and roughly six additional months of schooling.

          "The notion that spending doesn't matter is just not true," Mr. Jackson said. "We found that exposure to higher levels of public K-12 spending when you're in school has a pretty large beneficial effect on the adult outcomes of kids, and that those effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families."

          Donald J. Trump's recent nomination of Betsy DeVos, a wealthy Republican fund-raiser and longtime supporter of private school vouchers, to be secretary of education probably won't help the cause of those who want to use this research to spend more in high-poverty public school districts.

          But because 92 percent of all K-12 funding comes from state and local sources, the decision won't be up to her. It will lie with state lawmakers who now have a better reason to invest more in school districts educating children who have the least money.

          What the studies do not offer, notes Jennifer Alexander, chief executive of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, a group that backs charter schools and other overhauls, is robust information on the best use of the money. "How money is spent is equally important," she said, "and I don't think we have enough information about that from these studies."

          Mr. Rothstein cautioned that the idea that states could erase the achievement gap between poor and middle class students by simply cutting a few checks was unrealistic. "There has been a tendency to expect magic from these reforms," he said.

          But a change does not have to solve a problem completely, he said, to be valuable.

          "We should consider them successful if they contribute in a meaningful way to closing the gap," Mr. Rothstein said. "We have to make some assessment as to whether it's enough to matter, but enough to matter can be quite a bit less than totally eliminating it."



          8) Ghost Ship is Our Triangle Fire

          By Alexander Billet and Adam Turl

          Red Wedge Magazine, December 12, 2016


          America hates its artists. America hates its young working-class people.

          Thirty-six people are dead. They are victims of an art and music economy that doesn't work for the majority of artists and musicians. They are dead because art has become financialized. They are dead because gentrification is taking away our right to the city—and pushing artists and young workers to the margins—especially (but not only) artists of color. And because of gentrification the urban life-rafts for gender non-conforming and queer young people are shrinking. You can't stay in the small towns, but you can't afford San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle and Portland.

          Real estate developers want to take advantage of this tragedy for their own ends. Instead of making these "underground" spaces safe for the people who live there—they will take them away and make expensive condos and lofts. And local government, while pretending to care about artists and young people, will actively help displace them.

          On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, mostly women, mostly Jewish and Italian, mostly immigrants, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City. The clothing factory—full of cloth particles in the air and scraps on the floor—caught fire quickly. The exits were locked to prevent the workers from taking unauthorized breaks—to squeeze every last cent from their labor.  In the aftermath workers organized the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. They fought back.

          The Ghost Ship is our Triangle Fire. At least it should be.

          Art in a schizoid society

          "We live in a schizoid society," Danielle Thys writes in an article titled "America Has Abandoned Its Artists," "that denigrates process and deifies product… We bleed money for the goods creative individuals produce once they're established. But we do next to nothing—and I mean seriously…nothing—to support those individuals in the interim. No education, no training, no grants, no subsidies, no rental assistance, no significant tax breaks, no safe space to work or live or perform. Yes, there are struggling, anemic programs here or there. But there is ostensibly no safety net and the cuts keep coming to the thin thread that masquerades as one."

          Even USA Today acknowledged the problem:

          "[T]he second tech boom in the past six years prompted warehouse spaces and lofts in San Francisco's formerly industrial areas—once home to artists—to rapidly give way to high-end condos and live-work spaces that only start-ups with venture capital funding can afford."

          This pattern is repeated in city after city. As the urban core is gentrified, working-class people, people of color and artists (groups that overlap significantly), are being displaced.

          While most economically developed countries provide more substantial support to the arts (although gentrification and abuse of artists occurs everywhere) there is almost no public support for the arts in the United States.

          As Thys observes, Germany spends $20 per taxpayer in annual art funding compared to forty-three cents in the U.S. The British government spends $728 million annually on museums, "nearly five times the entire $146 million budget of the U.S. National Endowment of the Arts." Thys continues:

          "The budget of the French Ministry of Culture is more than $10 Billion—yes—with a 'B'. Northern Ireland, with its population of less than two million people, awards over $21 million annually for arts, literature and theatre projects. In South Korea, the Culture Ministry committed over $50 Billion (!) toward the development (and often training and housing) of Korean musicians, performers and artists with a goal of proudly promoting Korean arts and culture abroad. That amount represents a lowball of the initial investment South Korea made in the Korean Wave. But their budget for 2017 is around $7 Billion, just behind France.

          "Mexican artists can pay their taxes with artwork in an 'art for amnesty' type of exchange. The Mexican government then displays the work in museums and government offices. Among other sizable benefits for artists, Finland allocates $45 million toward the arts for its 5.3 million citizens. We are bested by Uzbekistan and the Balkans."

          There is no (human) reason for artists to be pushed to the edge. In 2014 the art market was worth about $66 billion globally. But in the U.S. only about 5,000 artists were able to make a living through their art. The global art market shrank by about seven percent in 2016—but the blue chip artworks at auction continued to make record sales—meaning the decline was in large part in compensation to living working artists.

          In the music industry, the past year has seen revenue bounce back to record levels after years of slump. The reason? Primarily the dominance of streaming services, whose profits have overtaken physical record sales for the first time. Not by coincidence, most of these services pay musicians mere pennies each time their song is played. A similar dynamic plays out in the other American culture industries. From film to theater to publishing. Billions made, scraps doled out.

          Young workers—and young artists are mostly also young workers—face little social support and dimming economic prospects. There is precariousness across the post-industrial world—shorter job tenure, lower wages, fewer unions, higher unemployment, and worsening racism—but the lack of free education and a genuine welfare system in the U.S. makes things particularly bleak. While college education is nearly free or subsidized in much of Europe, it shackles U.S. students in decades-long indentured servitude.

          An unmeasured number of artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers and performers—particularly those with an experimental framework or "minority" identity—find themselves either shut out of the mainstream of their industries or have, understandably, turned their back on its cutthroat competition and aesthetic formulae. Without social support for artists or education—with skyrocketing rents and stagnant incomes, burgeoning bigotry against people of color, trans, queer and gender-non-conforming people, and rising xenophobia against immigrants—underground spaces like the Ghost Ship are a life-raft, however insufficient and potentially dangerous, for an apparently despised generation.

          In between the big galleries and the artists, the big music labels and musicians, are a host of middlemen and gallerists. Many are well-intentioned art lovers who want to see artists and musicians succeed. But many are also hustlers and parasites. According to Autostraddle the "master tenant" of the Ghost Ship was one of these latter. It is possible, of course, that the mainstream media is exaggerating some of these details in order to create a villain seemingly removed from the overall structural problems responsible for this tragedy. Some have rallied around the master tenant/commune leader of the Ghost Ship.

          Stealing the cities from us

          The overarching problem, however, is the corporate theft of the Bay Area—the gentrification of San Francisco and now Oakland. They are taking away our right to the city.

          As Rolling Stone explains in "Victims of Gentrification:" "Residents of these 'live-work' artistic communes often live in fear of losing these spaces, further keeping them from reporting unsafe living conditions to the city which could potentially shut down the space if not up to code."

          Our editors have a long history with DIY art and music spaces. We can attest to the veracity of Rolling Stone's assertion.

          Commentators and officials rushed to blame "ravers' and 'event-goers'" supposed reckless behavior. They have traded in stereotypes about irresponsible and immature outsiders too hopped up on drugs to apply for a permit. Oakland artists, DJ's and activists have been quick to step up in the alternative and mainstream media, explaining in detail why the Bay Area's housing crisis is to blame. Performance venues and galleries that have in the past been able to stay up to code, to provide a physically safe space, are being priced out, pushing creatives to marginal fringe spaces. In recent days, a coalition of Bay Area artists have come together to insist that governments find a sustainable solution for the arts community—one that doesn't include callous eviction notices.

          Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff was booed and jeered at a vigil for the Ghost Ship. Rightfully so. People resent the Mayor for two major reasons—her relationship to gentrification and the assumption that this fire would be used as a pretext to evict more artists and young people. Her antagonized relationship to social struggles like Black Lives Matter contributed to this (correct) distrust.

          "When people hear 'safety' coming out of her mouth, they interpret it as cracking down on these warehouse spaces, which is really what people want to avoid," [Marke] Bieschke told BuzzFeed News. "I think 'safety' is going to quickly become a buzzword for evicting and cracking down on these marginalized communities."

          Cynthia, who asked to only be identified by her first name, added that community members were frustrated by Schaaf's focus on the fact that Ghost Ship was zoned as a warehouse, not as a live/work space, rather than on finding ways to "use Oakland's resources to help creative spaces get up to code and help protect people's lives."

          Since the vigil Shaff has promised to marshal $1.7 million to "grant affordable spaces for the city's arts organizations." There are few reasons to believe this promise is sincere. First, the funds are all private. No city funds are being allocated. Second, the sum is, in actuality, very small. And much of it could be eaten up in administrative costs for established art organizations with few direct ties to the underground milieu. 

          This small allocation will not stem the tide of Bay Area gentrification. The fire is already being used a pretext for evictions—and not just in Oakland. Already, police in Denver have used the Ghost Ship fire as a pretext to shut down indie venue Rhinoceropolis and its sister space the Glob. Both spaces were previously up to code, but were nonetheless deemed unsafe by city fire officials after a surprise inspection.

          Neoliberal city-planners and real estate developers are trying to implement a European urban model—concentrating wealth in the city center and pushing working-class and poor people to the periphery. Nowhere has this model gone further than in Paris. In the run-down, poverty-stricken but centrally located Marais, entire streets were evicted in the 1960s and 1970s. "The last thing that would have occurred to those with the power to do something about it," Luc Sante wrote, "would have been to repair the houses for the benefit of those who lived in them."

          The art of working class and poor people is used to add aesthetic value to a neighborhood, to burnish it as "up and coming." "unique" or "trendy," then leverage out these very artists. What is left is an echo of the working-class, ethnic and artistic value that made a neighborhood beautiful and interesting. But it is gutted and emptied of its soul. Not unlike what became of Marais: "retaining the facades of the buildings along a street while gutting their interiors, presumably salvaging any Louis XVI mantelpieces that might come along."

          They steal everything from us. Winning it back will require real, substantive struggle and victories for artists, working-class people, poor people, queer and trans folk, people of color. It will require a fighting Left that, despite some signs of life, is sorely lacking right now. If this is our Triangle Fire, then artists stand everything to gain from rallying round such a project. The same way their shirtwaist counterparts did in 1911.

          DIY Spaces and Artists, Queers, Weirdos + Punks

          Any among us who have tried their hand at music, art, or literature can likely see a bit of ourselves in some of those who died on the night of the fire. Many of them created stunning work that resonated far beyond the Bay Area.

          Electro-punk artist Joey Casio, Cash Askew from the dream-pop group Them Are Us Too, trans poet and social justice activist Em B, filmmaker Alex Ghassan, DJ and recording artist Cherushii, visual artist Jonathan Bernbaum, UC Berkeley graduate David Cline, sound engineer Barrett Clark, musician and producer Billy Dixon, artist and illustrator David McCarty, art school student Draven McGill, doctoral candidate Jennifer Mendiola, industrial techno artist Nex Iugulo, MIT graduate Nicholas Walrath, Harvard graduate Peter Wadsworth, underground rap scene booker Alex Vega, nail artist Jennifer Kiyomi Tanouye, Benjamin Runnels and Denalda Nicole Renae of Introflirt, jewelry designer and stylist Hanna Ruax, musicians Wolfgang Renner and his partner Michele Sylvan, UC Berkeley student Vanessa Plotkin, queer artist and musician Feral Pines, UC Berkeley student Jennifer Morris, university arts organization member Griffin Madden, former indie label intern Edmond Lapine, arts community member Donna Kellogg, professional photographer Amanda Kershaw, zine artist Ara Jo, Ghost of Lightning musician Travis Hough, teacher Sara Hoda, San Francisco State University student Michela Gregory, musician Nick Gomez-Hall, DJ Johnny Igaz (who was performing when the fire started), show organizer Micah Danemayer.

          These are all people who found identity and community in their art, which is to say nothing of what they contributed as teachers, students, mothers, fathers, friends.

          The archetype of the artist as "outcast" is very easy to romanticize, but it doesn't come out of the ether. Any world of profound inequality is bound to produce any number of expressions seeking to mediate it, to find like-thinkers and kindred in society's liminal spaces. Art in the midst of exploitation is bound to traverse this alienation, and cross over with the fault-lines of oppression.

          As Autostraddle noted, many of the victims of the Ghost Ship fire were queer, trans, people of color. They quote Gabe Meline ("It Could Have Been Any One Of Us," kqed.org)

          "…for many of us, these spaces are what have kept us alive. In a world that demands its inhabitants to be a certain way, think a certain way, or live a certain way, we gravitate to the spaces that say: Welcome. Be yourself. For the tormented queer, the bullied punk, the beaten trans, the spat-upon white trash, the disenfranchised immigrants and young people of color, these spaces are a haven of understanding in a world that doesn't understand—or can't, or doesn't seem to want to try…"

          If the Ghost Ship fire is an example of neoliberalism's not-so-benign neglect exploding in profound violence, then the lack of an alternative to it has also produced a far more deliberate, sinister manifestation. Donald Trump aims to shred what little social welfare remains—while whipping up racism and bigotry against dozens of groups. Even worse, he has emboldened the neo-fascist "alt-right" minority who were his most loyal supporters.

          Even in the case of this tragedy some of these "people" have taken aim at us. Nazis on 4chan have posited the notion of gathering names and information on DIY spaces in Oakland and shutting them down:

          "These places are open hotbeds of liberal radicalism and degeneracy and now YOU can stop them by reporting all such places you may be or may become aware of to the authorities, specifically the local fire marshel [sic].

          "Watch them and follow them to their hives. Infiltrate social circles, go to parties/events, record evidence, and report it. We've got them on the run but now we must crush their nests before they can regroup! 

          "MAGA [Make America Great Again] my brothers and happy hunting!"

          It's an undeniably terrible note to end on. But it highlights the jagged edges of American life that are colliding right now—with very little safety net to catch those who fall—and the position of artists in the midst of it all. There is no negotiating with those who have drawn targets on our backs. Likewise, there is no negotiating with a system that wants to bury our intellectual and creative selves under high rents, low wages, and vigilante terror.

          Alexander Billet is a writer, poet and cultural critic. His articles have appeared in Jacobin, The Nation, Z Magazine, In These Times, PopMatters.com, New Politics, International Socialist Review, Electronic Intifada and Marx & Philosophy Review of Books. He is an alumnus of Syracuse University's School of Visual and Performing Arts and has been involved in several anti-racist, anti-war and labor solidarity campaigns. Areas of interest include music, literature, theater, the influence of Surrealism and related movements, and dys/utopia. He is a founding editor at Red Wedge and blogs on matters of music, poetry and performance at "Atonal Notes." He lives in Chicago with his wife and two selfish, ungrateful cats.

          Adam Turl is an artist and writer based in St. Louis, Missouri (USA). He is currently in residency at the Cité internationale des arts in Paris, France. His most recent solo exhibition was 13 Baristas at the Brett Wesley Gallery in Las Vegas, Nevada (September-October, 2015). Turl co-operates a DIY art space, The Dollar Art House, in south St. Louis with Red Wedge editor and artist Craig E. Ross. Turl is also an art critic for the West End Word and an editor at Red Wedge Magazine. 



          9)  E. R. Braithwaite, Author of 'To Sir, With Love,' Dies at 104

           DEC. 13, 2016


          E. R. Braithwaite, a Guyanese author, diplomat and former Royal Air Force pilot whose book "To Sir, With Love," a memoir of teaching in London's deprived East End, was adapted into a hit 1967 film starring Sidney Poitier, died on Monday in Rockville, Md. He was 104.

          Mr. Braithwaite's companion, Genevieve Ast, confirmed his death to The Associated Press. He had taught English at Howard University, in Washington, and lived in the area for many years.

          Mr. Braithwaite, who became a diplomat and represented Guyana at the United Nations and in Venezuela, wrote several books, many about racism in countries like South Africa and the United States, where he lived much of his life. But he is best known for "To Sir, With Love" (1959).

          The book chronicled his efforts — as a courtly, Cambridge-educated military veteran who had been denied employment as an engineer because he was black — to motivate a group of unruly adolescents raised in a slum in early-1950s Britain, which was still slowly recovering from the austerity of the war years.

          Continue reading the main story

          The students' antisocial behavior, casual racism, penchant for violence and, worst of all, self-hatred horrify the new teacher, whose colleagues expect little of the pupils.

          He takes them to museums and tells them about his childhood. Slowly, he gains their trust by showing respect and affection, which, for most of the students, have been in short supply. (The title of the book comes from an inscription his appreciative students wrote on a pack of cigarettes they gave him.) He also develops romantic feelings for another teacher, who, like the students, is white.

          The memoir was praised for offering a sympathetic account of race and class without naïveté or excessive sentimentality.

          Early in the book, Mr. Braithwaite recounts his disillusionment and struggles with joblessness after being passed over for work because of racial discrimination, contrasting his experiences in Britain with the years he had spent in the United States.

          He wrote of America: "There, when prejudice is felt, it is open, obvious, blatant; the white man makes his position very clear, and the black man fights those prejudices with equal openness and fervor, using every constitutional device available to him."

          He added: "The rest of the world in general and Britain in particular are prone to point an angrily critical finger at American intolerance, forgetting that in its short history as a nation it has granted to its Negro citizens more opportunities for advancement and betterment, per capita, than any other nation in the world with an indigent Negro population."

          The book was timely, arriving as a wave of migration from the West Indies and South Asia began to transform British society, and as Americans were grappling with persistent segregation. That Mr. Braithwaite, a well-educated middle-class man from the colonies, was trying in the capital of the British Empire to look past the squalor and despair of the school, was not lost on critics.

          "His job as an emissary of civilization was made almost impossibly hard by the fact that the English people he dealt with still believed in their own civilization and disbelieved in his," the British poet and novelist John Wain wrote in a review of the memoir in The New York Times. "In fact, the urban industrialized world they lived in had long since robbed them of a natural way of life, plunged them into violence and hatred and robbed them of anything fit to be called a civilization."

          The movie, directed by the novelist and filmmaker James Clavell, was a box-office success, largely because of its star, Mr. Poitier, whose character is named Thackeray in the movie. (The theme song, sung by Lulu, also helped; it became a No. 1 hit.) But, perhaps to appeal to an American audience, it focused less on race.

          "It is as discreetly played down as are many other probable tensions in this school," the critic Bosley Crowther wrote in his review for The Times.

          "When I saw the film, I was not impressed," Mr. Braithwaite said in a 2013 interview with Coffee-Table Notes, a blog. "Something had been lost in the transition from book to film."

          In an essay, the novelist and playwright Caryl Phillips, who was born on St. Kitts and teaches at Yalewrote that the memoir put the plight of Britain's postwar migrants in context, showing how "unquestioned hereditary prejudice was waiting to greet them in the streets, in the workplace and in institutions of learning."

          Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite was born on June 27, 1912, in Georgetown, the capital of what was then British Guiana.

          He studied at Queen's College, Guyana, a prestigious high school, and at the City College of New York. He moved to Britain after working at an oil refinery in Aruba, off the coast of Venezuela. In 1940 he volunteered for service in the Royal Air Force.

          He received a master's degree in physics from Cambridge University in 1949. After leaving his teaching job, he worked with Caribbean immigrant families in London, the basis for his second book, "Paid Servant: A Report About Welfare Work in London," published in Britain in 1962.

          Mr. Braithwaite's other books include "A Kind of Homecoming" (1962), about searching for his ancestral roots; "Choice of Straws" (1965), a mystery novel set in London; "Reluctant Neighbors" (1972), about a black man and a white man who share a short but fraught train ride; and "'Honorary White': A Visit to South Africa" (1975), based on a 1973 visit he made there to lecture.

          Not all of his books were acclaimed. The scholar and critic Es'kia Mphahlelereviewing the South Africa book for The Times in 1975, said that Mr. Braithwaite had been too generous to the whites who sat atop the apartheid system, too hard on the impoverished blacks he encountered and too focused on himself.

          "It is rather Braithwaite the man who holds our attention — Braithwaite man of the world and black man, who is outraged by the squalor and the injustice staring him in the face, driven to search for answers to his own dilemma as an Honorary White who must speak to impoverished blacks from a position of luxury and freedom," Mr. Mphahlele wrote.

          Along with his writing, Mr. Braithwaite had a record of public service. From 1960 to 1963, he was a human-rights officer at the World Veterans Federation, based in Paris; from 1963 to 1966, he was a lecturer and education consultant at Unesco, also in Paris.

          From 1967 to 1969, he served as the first permanent representative of Guyana to the United Nations. He was later the country's ambassador to Venezuela.

          In addition to Howard, he taught at New York University and Florida State University, among other institutions. There was no immediate information on his survivors.

          Mr. Braithwaite did not stay in touch with his London students, but was often asked about them.

          "I don't know if I changed any lives or not,'' he said in the 2013 interview. "But something did happen between them and me, which was quite gratifying."



          9)  Go to the Wrong Hospital and You're 3 Times More Likely to Die

          DEC. 14, 2016


          Not all hospitals are created equal, and the differences in quality can be a matter of life or death.

          In the first comprehensive study comparing how well individual hospitals treated a variety of medical conditions, researchers found that patients at the worst American hospitals were three times more likely to die and 13 times more likely to have medical complications than if they visited one of the best hospitals.

          The study, published Wednesday in the academic journal PLOS One, shows "there is considerable variation in outcomes that really matter to patients, from hospital to hospital, as well as region to region," said Dr. Thomas H. Lee, a longtime health care executive who was not involved in the research.

          The study's authors looked at 22 million hospital admissions, including information from both the federal Medicare program and private insurance companies, and analyzed them using two dozen measures of medical outcomes. Adjusting the results for how sick the patients were and other factors, like age and income, the researchers discovered widespread differences among hospitals. Even a hospital that had excellent outcomes for heart care might have poor outcomes in treating diabetes.

          The study did not disclose which hospitals had which results. Under the terms of the agreement to receive the data, the researchers agreed to keep the identities of the hospitals confidential.

          "Fundamentally, there is sort of an implicit assumption that every hospital is the same," said Dr. Barry Rosenberg, the study's lead author and a partner at the Boston Consulting Group in Chicago. But if someone has a heart attack, the closest hospital could have a death rate of 16 percent, compared with one a little farther away, where the rate was 4 percent, he said.

          Earlier research examined the geographic variation in health care spending and how often patients received a medical procedure in a given market or hospital and found that there was wide variation. This study looked specifically at medical outcomes.

          While factors like the health and income of a hospital's patients contribute to its performance, Dr. Rosenberg emphasized that a large part is played by factors like the skill of the physicians and nurses, the culture at the hospital and how they chose to treat a given illness. "There is this other half of the story," he said.

          Hospitals that treated a high volume of cases were generally more successful than those that treated a low volume, but there were exceptions, Dr. Rosenberg said.

          While the study underscored important differences among hospitals, the researchers also acknowledged that patients have little information about those differences. While consumers can use tools like Medicare's Hospital Compare, which offers general quality information about individual hospitals, the data are very limited, Dr. Rosenberg said.

          Many quality measures rely on reporting about whether the hospital gives patients an antibiotic, not whether they develop an infection, and they do not distinguish among different diseases. A hospital that is a top performer in heart surgery, for example, may be a poor place to choose to get a knee replacement.

          The authors say patients need such information. "This paper raises the question of why don't we have broader outcomes measurement and transparency around performance," said Dr. Justin B. Dimick, one of the authors and a surgeon and researcher at the University of Michigan.

          The researchers argue that this kind of information is necessary to judge the quality of the narrow network of hospitals increasingly offered by insurance companies. "The key thing about narrow networks is that they are created based on costs, negotiated prices and things like that," Dr. Dimick said. "You need to pay attention to both cost and quality."

          Hospitals that excel in heart surgery or knee replacements should be rewarded by having more patients come and potentially being paid more for their care, Dr. Rosenberg said. "It's an opportunity to improve health that has been underleveraged and underappreciated," he said.

          But researchers say obtaining information about outcomes is becoming increasingly difficult. Federal and state databases release less information than they used to.

          If the incoming Trump administration wants to make health care function more like a market where people are encouraged to shop for medical care on their own, the researchers say, people will need that information.

          "We're going to need more access for people to find out these results about their hospitals and their care," said Dr. Atul Gawande, one of the study's authors and the executive director at Ariadne Labs in Boston, who has written frequently about the wide variation in medical practice in The New Yorker.

          He points to two areas where information is publicly available: heart surgery by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and cystic fibrosis. In those two areas, patients have the ability to make better-informed decisions and hospitals can use the data to improve their care.

          "They are actually naming the outcomes by hospital," he said. "The world did not end."


























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