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Items filtered by date: March 2016

The U.S. legal system continues to show two sides of its monstrously large head. One is the “Justice” received by most Americas if they are unfortunate enough to be caught up in the web of laws holding so many of your civil liberties hostage and the other is “Just Us”, generally reserved for those with pockets deep enough to put money into the system by way of its most invidious operators – the lawyers. For several decades now the system has been hell bent on losing whatever vestiges of respect they have from the people and “civil forfeitures: which are anything but “civil” are perhaps one of the most egregious examples of how “Justice” is more concerned with money than with fundamentally fairness, It is now the law that in most states in America, the police can seize your stuff, including money, without convicting you of a crime.

According to Tampa Attorney Jason Sammis, who specializes in fighting Florida seizures, “forfeiture actions are common throughout the state, including Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Sarasota County, Sumter Counter, Polk County, and Pasco County.”

Seizures in Florida are governed by Section 932.701-706 and is known as the, "Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. "

Under this statute, contraband like controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, and money that has some connection to a criminal drug crime can be seized The contraband can also include anything used in the commission of a felony. On the surface this seems reasonable, but in practice it has become frequently abused and people are, in effect, becoming victims of the very law enforcement that is supposed to be protecting them.

Clearly illustrating this problem is the way law enforcement attempts to circumvent a person’s right to an adversarial preliminary hearing

In several documented Florida cases, police have pressured “suspects” into signing a “Settlement Agreement and Release" often while the person is in handcuffs and surrounded by armed law enforcement officers. This settlement “agreement” purports to assign all rights and interest in the suspects’ property to the investigating city or county agency in the Sunshine State.

In effect it’s a waiver of rights under duress that says on its face, "I hereby waive my rights to have the settlement reviewed by a judge, mediator, or arbitrator per Florida Statute 932.704(7). It’s easy to understand why most people sign – they just want those cuffs off.

The problem is not limited to Florida, it is nationwide threat to the integrity of our justice system. And despite the occasional attempt at reform like SB 1534 proposed by Sen. Jeff Brandes in 2014, seizures continue to grow in scope and power with every passing year.

Florida law enforcement agencies received $16,143,203 in federal payments in fiscal year 2014 alone. And under the rules of the federal program, this money must be spent by the agencies themselves, regardless of state laws to the contrary.

Florida is one of the few states where a total was available and many other states do not track or record seizures in any central database,[8] which makes it difficult to make assessments. Nevertheless, according to the Washington Post, nationwide federal asset forfeiture in 2014 “accounted for over $5 billion going into Justice and Treasury Department coffers.” That amount was contrasted with official statistics that showed the amount stolen from citizens by burglars during that same year was a mere $3.5 billion.

This policing for profit Graph shows the percentage law enforcement keeps across the U.S. 3

In the states that fully allow these “civil forfeitures”, officers can seize someone's property without proving the person was guilty of any crime; they just need to “establish” sufficient probable cause to believe the assets are being used as part of criminal activity, typically drug trafficking. The problem is that the evidentiary threshold for establishing this probable cause is far less than what is required to prove a crime and also because law enforcement can retain the value of this property — be it cash, cars, guns, or something else — as profit. They do this either through state programs or under a federal program known as Equitable Sharing, which lets local and state police keep up to 80 percent of the value of what they seize as money for their departments.

So police in most jurisdictions can not only can seize people's personal property without proving an underlying crime, but also have a financial incentive to find and seize the belongings of citizens. Police power is necessary to maintain public order and no one questions seizing property as evidence but making any use of legal force a business undermines public trust in law enforcement. .

To be fair, there are some states where legislatures have passed measures to limit civil forfeitures, such as California and New Mexico where police can't keep that property without a criminal conviction usually under state law.

But like our laws on marijuana, the limits on civil forfeiture vary greatly from state to state — but there is a loophole under federal law.

This minority of states limit most or all forfeiture cases in different ways.

In New Mexico and North Carolina courts must first convict a defendant of a crime before the same judge or jury can consider whether seized property can be retained by the state. In Minnesota and Montana, however, a suspect must first be convicted of a crime in court before the seized property can be absorbed by the state and then only through separate litigation in a civil court. California requires a conviction for forfeiture — but only for financial seizures valued up to $25,000 including vehicles or real estate.

These limitations don't affect police from seizing property with probable cause, cops can still seize property to hold as evidence in a trial or hearing.

But by not allowing unlimited seizures without proof of a crime, it does take the government out of the “business” of law and keeps them focused where they should be – on preventing and solving crime. And by requiring a showing that a suspect was actually involved in a crime, limiting civil forfeitures deter future unfounded seizures for profit since police know they'll need to ultimately prove a crime was committed.

Unfortunately, even when state lawmakers limit seizures, police in these states can still use federal law for civil forfeitures.

Floridas bal harbour police department epitomizes the perverse nature of civil asset forfeiture laws. 2

Lee McGrath, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit that opposes civil forfeiture, has said that police in most states with restrictions on civil forfeiture “can still work with federal law enforcement officials to take people's property without charging them with a crime.” Only New Mexico and Nebraska have laws in place that directly limit local and state police departments' ability to collaborate with the federal government in forfeiture cases.

One way that a few states have addressed the issue is to keep police agencies from absorbing proceeds from forfeitures into their own budgets and instead funnel the money into the general budget. This does help remove a direct personal financial incentive for police to take and keep someone's property but since legislatures often redirect money back to the agencies from the general fund, many critics of this approach say as a practical matter it just doesn’t work well.

And then there’s a big “loophole” in federal law; the program known as Equitable Sharing: If local and state cops can find a way to work through the federal forfeiture program, they can still conduct forfeitures, and their departments can retain as much as 80 percent of the proceeds — regardless of what state law says.

Despite this loophole the Institute for Justice and other watchdog groups have praised states for taking steps to limit civil forfeiture. Nevertheless horror stories from every day people about abuses in forfeitures continue to pile up. The outcry became so great that the Washington Post did an award winning expose of civil forfeiture abuse. By amassing a huge amount of empirical evidence the Post was able to show the extent of police abuse using these laws so poignantly that the Obama administration ordered federal authorities to “back down” on the use of civil forfeiture seizures and for a time it worked, but recently, Obama himself backed down and seizures are once again mounting.

The civil forfeiture reforms came in response to criticisms — and stories of police abuse. There have been numerous reports by the media about systemic abuse of civil forfeiture.” USA Today described it as "an increasingly common—and utterly outrageous—practice that can amount to legalized theft by police.”

Supporters of the civil forfeiture laws say people can get their property back through court challenges, but these cases are very expensive and take months or years. And while being in court may be business as usual for a prosecutor, defendants deprived of their property are out of their element and have to take time off work, sometimes travel long distances to courts, spend considerable money on – you guessed it – lawyers in the system and in the end still lose all or a portion of what was seized. It is a rigged game.

The Washington Post's Michael Sallah, Robert O'Harrow, and Steven Rich uncovered numerous stories about people pulled over while driving with cash and had their money taken despite any proof that they had committed a crime. The suspects in these cases were only able to get their property back after long, costly court battles and only then when they proved they weren't guilty of anything. Certainly this does not comport with constitutional standards that a person is innocent until proven guilty. It shifts the burden of proof in favor of a government that already has the upper hand in terms of resources and time.

One of the most egregious law enforcement tools is the “Black Ashphalt.” Electronic Networking & Notification System. According to the Post – and their report was incredibly well documented – “This private intelligence network enables police nationwide to share detailed reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop.”

The Post did years of research on these highway law enforcement authorities and came to the conclusion that, “A thriving subculture of road officers on the network now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms and sharing “trophy shots” of money and drugs. “

The practice had its roots in the height of the drug war more than three decades ago, but now its abuses have become the subject of journalistic exposés like the Posts’ and in congressional hearings. But seizures have grown far beyond a tool utilized for drug and terrorism enforcement, morphing into an industry for many police departments. Indeed, some police departments have joined forces politically with local courts to advocate highway interdiction and seizures as a legitimate way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.

“Those laws were meant to take a guy out for selling $1 million in cocaine or who was trying to launder large amounts of money,” said Mark Overton, the police chief in Bal Harbour, Fla., who once oversaw a federal drug task force in South Florida. “It was never meant for a street cop to take a few thousand dollars from a driver by the side of the road.”

There are far too many cases to list them all but here are just a few researched and reported by the Post:

A 55-year-old Chinese American restaurateur from Georgia was pulled over for minor speeding on Interstate 10 in Alabama and detained for nearly two hours. He was carrying $75,000 raised from relatives to buy a Chinese restaurant in Lake Charles, La. He got back his money 10 months later but only after spending thousands of dollars on a lawyer and losing out on the restaurant deal.

A 40-year-old Hispanic carpenter from New Jersey was stopped on Interstate 95 in Virginia for having tinted windows. Police said he appeared nervous and consented to a search. They took $18,000 that he said was meant to buy a used car. He had to hire a lawyer to get back his money.

Mandrel Stuart, a 35-year-old African American owner of a small barbecue restaurant in Staunton, Va., was stunned when police took $17,550 from him during a stop in 2012 for a minor traffic infraction on Interstate 66 in Fairfax. He rejected a settlement with the government for half of his money and demanded a jury trial. He eventually got his money back but lost his business because he didn’t have the cash to pay his overhead.

“I paid taxes on that money. I worked for that money,” Stuart said. “Why should I give them my money?”

Wikipedia also lists a number of cases including one in Florida, “In May 2010 a couple was driving from New York to Florida and they were stopped by police because of a cracked windshield. During questioning, the officer decided that $32,000 cash in the van was "probably involved in criminal or drug-related activity", seized it, shared it with federal authorities under equitable sharing The victim hired a lawyer to get back the seized money who urged settling for half of the seized amount, and after the lawyer's fees, the victim got back only $7,000.”

Another well publicized case was that of college student Charles Clarke. In 2014 police took his life savings of $11,000 claiming they “smelled” marijuana on Clarke's bags — but they never proved the money was linked to any crime nor did they find any drugs. Making the matter worse, Clarke was able to latter provide documents that showed some of the money came from past jobs and government benefits. The Institute for Justice, which is keeping close tabs on Clarke's case, recently estimated that 13 different police agencies are now seeking a cut of Clarke's money.

"It's ridiculous. I think it needs to change," Clarke told reporters last year. "I don't think the cops should be allowed to take somebody's money if they haven't committed any crime. We're treating innocent people like criminals," he added.

Published in Politics
Friday, 29 April 2016 09:42

Nelson on Short List?

According to some insider sources, Florida’s senior Senator, Bill Nelson (D) may be on the short list for Hillary Clinton’s choice of a running mate for Vice President. It is not the first time Nelson has been the recipient of similar musings by political insiders. He was also rumored to have been considered by Barack Obama during his last campaign for the Oval Office.

Nelson is well-respected throughout Florida and after successfully battling prostate cancer by undergoing surgery back in 2015, he has said he would seek reelection in the upcoming 2018 Senate campaign Nelson is 73 but is considered to be in great current health.

Nelson has strong ties with Lee County and has twice visited Island communities served by The Sun Bay Paper. The first time was to discuss bio-diesel development originating with the fishing fleet on San Carlos Island and the second time was at the invitation of Publisher Carl Conley who, at that time was Chairman of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce. At that luncheon, Nelson spoke to a capacity crowd at Diamondhead and stressed his commitment to preserving wetlands and water quality both inshore through Everglades’ restoration and offshore by defeating those who have advocated drilling for oil off the Florida coastline.

One reason Clinton might find Nelson a good choice is because she has often said an “experienced leader” who is also “not interested in the presidency,” would be important criteria for her when choosing who would be on her ticket when voters go to the polls in November.

There is an offsetting factor to consider. With control of the Senate up for grabs in November, Democrats may not be willing to gamble on what the Party views as an important seat in their bid to regain control of both houses.

Nelson, when asked to verify his interest in the VP position said, “It’s premature for me to comment.”

Published in Politics
Thursday, 28 April 2016 12:59

Children's Services Council

Sean Boyle, the Executive Director of the Children's Services Council in St. Lucie County, was the featured speaker at Pennies for Community Progress (P4CP) an event held at the News-Press offices yesterday. from 3-5 p.m. on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Boulevard in Fort Myers. .The program was free to the public and well attended by community leaders and government officials.

"I want to speak to you today about the structure of a Children’s Services Council we've been using in my community. It is a great example of a program that works and you can see that by looking at what we've been able to accomplish to help our children," the affable Boyle told the Sun Bay.

There are currently eight Children's Services Councils in Florida. They were created by state statute to "focus on developing and improving existing children's programs." In addition, the Councils also implement programs for families. They are usually funded through a special taxing district, much like the libraries and fire control districts created in Lee County through voter referendums after approval from the county commission. Alternatively they can be funded by a county's general fund budget. In Lee County, P4CP - which is a movement to end poverty and violence in the community - is pursuing the independent taxing district model. To accomplish this they would use a county wide tax - up to a state-mandated cap of 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value - to fund its' childhood development, learning and family services programs throughout the county.

"The uniqueness of the CSC model is that it’s local dollars to meet local needs. So while our needs in St Lucie are different from those here in Lee Co. the CSC is a model for a county to develop a local revenue source that is highly accountable to the community to meet Lee Counties unique local needs," said Boyle

Boyle is no stranger to success. One of his programs, the Easter Seals' Early Steps program became a critical resource for many parents in St. Lucie County.

The Early Steps program was developed to provide guidance, support and education to children with special developmental needs and their families. After a doctor determines a child is developmentally behind when they turn one year old, the child can be referred to Early Steps where they can receive access to physical, speech and occupational therapies funded by state and local matching funds from the Children's Services Council.

There are also federal funds that can be drawn upon to help work with families of children with developmental delays up to age 3. The program in Florida benefits more than 40,000 families annually..

The feedback from those helped by Boyle's work is uplifting and underscores just how important having a Children's Service Council can be to a community. The following was taken from the St. Lucie Council's website and is listed as one of their "success stories."

"I can write passionately about the Early Steps program because the child in this story is my son, Zane. Today, Zane has a diagnosis of muscular myopathy — a disease in which the muscle fibers do not function, resulting in muscle weakness. Because of the Early Steps program, their supportive staff, and ultimately the therapies provided, my son was able to largely catch up with his peers — and not slide further behind," said one parent on the site

"St. Lucie County is unique in the support it provides its newest residents. I can attest — my wife and I are forever grateful for the support provided to not only our son, but to our family," he added.

Early Steps is just one example of a program made possible by partnerships between federal and state organizations that can be facilitated by a viable, funded Children’s Services Council in Lee County.

"A community committing to its' children and families by developing a CSC has effects that not only benefit and help the children that will be served but also everyone in the community, " said Boyle

Published in Politics

The efforts to legalize marijuana in Florida got a boost last week at a meeting of the Dolphin Democrats when Tim Canova, who is challenging U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the Democratic primary, spoke about the platforms of his campaign.

Canova, 55, who works as a law professor, started his presentation to the group by condemning the influence of big money in political campaigns. He also made it clear that he is adamantly against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

canova and wasserman shultz clown 1 1

Then, in an outtake interview at the conclusion of his speech, Canova agreed to an interview where he answered questions and discussed his position on medical marijuana. He also addressed LGBT rights and difficulties he felt he would face challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“I’m fully supportive of medical marijuana,” Canova said. “I was two years ago in 2014 as well.”

In 2014, Florida held a referendum in an attempt to join other states making marijuana legal in the Sunshine State. That effort, called Amendment 2 on the ballot saw 57% of Floridians Vote yes but failed to pass by a narrow margin. since it required 60% of the vote to be approved..

When the measure failed, Florida Marijuana Info. org (FMI), a website devoted to legalize pot, predicted that because of the high percentage of votes in favor of Amendment 2, it was " likely the state legislature will again take up the issue of medical cannabis during the next session, and activists could choose to create another medical cannabis ballot initiative. The site also said that it was "likely the legislature would introduce a broader medical cannabis bill with language more restrictive and limited than the language of Amendment 2.

Florida Governor Rick Scott must have seen the handwriting on the wall because he recently signed an expansion of the state’s medical pot bill (HB 307), allowing access to marijuana for patients determined to have terminal conditions and likely to die within a year. Canova, however, disagreed with Scott’s regulations.

“I don’t think it should be that difficult,” Canova said. “I have seen the way medical marijuana has played out in other states. They don’t confine it to just terminal patients. It relieves a lot of pain and a lot of different ailments. The medical science on this is very clear. It is not a harmful drug compared to a lot of prescription drugs that have very serious side effects.”

FMI, discussing the future of cannabis in the state has made it clear that it is only a matter of time until Florida follows in the footsteps of

"The legalization of medical cannabis within the State of Florida is inevitable, as the November election showed that most voters support an Amendment 2-style legalized medical cannabis system,. It just barely missed the 60% required to amend the state Constitution. At least until the next elections, it seems it will again be up to the state legislature to enact the will of the people. Given the problems plaguing the low-THC medical cannabis program, the legislature may very well need to go back and readdress the issue of medical cannabis. The results of recreational legalization initiatives in Oregon, Alaska, and 3 cities in Maine are not yet available at press time, but with Colorado and Washington passing the first legalization initiatives, and polls showing most Americans favor legalization, many see it as only a matter of time until full legalization is achieved. With Floridians willing to spend millions, and millions voting in favor of medical cannabis, it is clear the battle to legalize medical cannabis in the Sunshine State is far from over."

Canova is the first-ever primary challenger in U.S. House District 23 for Wasserman Schultz, a six-term Congresswoman.

Over the past few months of the 2016 presidential cycle, DNC Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz has been under heavy fire from her own party for favoring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over other candidates in the Democrat primary.

She came under fire again at the end of 2015, when she was specifically accused of lying and not being capable of handling the job as chairwoman.

According to the New York Times:

In a telephone interview, R.T. Rybak, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Wasserman Schultz, made “flat-out not true” statements about other top party officers and questioned her political skills saying he had “serious questions” about her suitability for the job.

“I am seriously questioning whether she has the capacity to do what has to be done,” said Rybak, adding, "that’s why I’m doing what I wanted not to do for a long time, which is go public with my serious questions of whether she can lead this party.”

In November 2016, medical marijuana will appear on Florida voters’ ballots once again., Despite bipartisan support across the state, Florida may not join the 23 other states and Washington, D.C. that have already legalized medical marijuana, due in large part to the efforts of Wasserman Schultz.

“Almost 58 percent of Florida voters supported medical marijuana and I’d be surprised if that many support her,” Bill Piper, national affairs director with the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance, told Politico in 2015.

“That should be a lesson for Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Florida voters like this policy more than her. And we’ll make sure people know her position.”

Most telling of the 'odiferous nature' of politics is why Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s is so heavily against legalizing marijuana in Florida even when it is conclusive that cannabis alleviates pain and suffering for medical patients. Wasserman-Shultz has been conclusively linked to significant campaign contributions from the alcohol industry. In the past year she has received $15,000 from Southern Wine & Spirits and $10,000 from the National Beer Wholesalers Association. According to news reports, she has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from these organizations over her political career, including the Wine & Spirits wholesalers of America.

“I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said in a recent interview with New York Times Magazine.

She used the well-worn talking point used by marijuana opponents that cannabis is a "gateway drug."

“We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic," she said.”

According to Observer: News and Politics, "The gateway drug myth has long since been debunked. In 1999 a report commissioned by Congress found “there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are casually linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” The gateway drug argument is also inapplicable to medical marijuana, as it simply assumes it will lead to recreational legalization."

The Observer further noted that in the same New York Times interview, when pressed on the issue as to why prescribing opiates weren't illegal in Florida since they are often attributed to heroin addiction. Ms. Wasserman Schultz dismissed the question, and said “there is a difference between opiates and marijuana.”

So based on her history with the popular marijuana initiative, her general unpopularity with her own party and her reliance on special interest money, it is likely that Professor Canova will be a formidable opponent for Wasserman Shultz in the upcoming November elections.

His candidacy also appears to take Florida one step closer to joining other states that have recognized voters support the use of cannabis as a viable medical treatment.

Published in Politics
Thursday, 28 April 2016 12:14

Presidential Primaries

Tuesday, Donald Trump trounced his rivals up and down the Eastern Seaboard Tuesday. Winning five of five Republican presidential primaries. The wins provided a "Yuge" shot of adrenaline in the home stretch of the 2016 campaign that the charismatic candidate has dominated from the onset.

It is now mathematically impossible for any of his rivals to secure the nomination without obvious procedural chicanery and then only to the detriment of voter trust.

The frontrunner now has 954 delegates confirmed but a substantial number remain "unbound" mostly due to arcane Republican Party rules. Trump is the sole remaining candidate that can win without resort to a brokered convention. His grassroots support has been underreported as has his support from crossover Democrats and Independents many of whom have been unable to vote for Trump due to state primary rules limiting voters to voting only for their registered party.

There are 616 Republican delegates still available and Trump needs 283 to clinch the contest. Polls have him substantially ahead in California and leading marginally in Indiana where winner take all primaries would give him another 229 delegates. He would then need only another 54 out of the remaining 387 delegates.

Published in Politics

Last week the Sun Bay Paper reported that a federal judge has ordered Georgia and Florida to resume mediation talks and try to privately solve the two states differences over Georgia’s use of water Florida claims should flow into Apalachicola Bay. Now, we’ve learned that Former Republican presidential candidate and State Senator, Marco Rubio is taking an active role in the ongoing “water woes” faced by the Sunshine State.

lake lanier 1

 

 

 

The Florida senator took to the Senate floor Thursday evening to decry the way water is managed in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) river basins. Both Florida and Alabama claim that Georgia removes too much water for metro Atlanta at the expense of public water health for the two neighboring states. Florida has been particularly adamant about destruction of oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay in Florida; ongoing damage that has drastically reduced the oyster harvest impoverished many fishermen in the industry.

“The bottom line is that the status quo is only working for one state,” Rubio said in the Chamber.

Rubio, who is a republican senator, crossed party lines to team up with his colleague, Florida’s long-serving Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and two GOP senators from Alabama to push for a vote on an amendment to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spending bill that’s currently being considered on the Senate floor. The bill would require the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama to agree on water allocations in the two basins before the Army Corps can formally do so. The provision would cut off funds for the Army Corps to carry out the reallocation until the states come up with a deal.

“Absent such an agreement between governors, water continues to be withheld and the situation has now become dire in my home state of Florida,” Rubio said.

 

This isn’t the first time Rubio has become involved in the water wars and it’s been an involvement with political consequences for the recent Presidential candidate. During his campaign, Rubio was unable to get the support and endorsement of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal who repeatedly spoke out against the first tem senator’s position on the water issues.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) this week, Deal’s office would not comment on the latest round of fights on Capitol Hill. Deal did, however, in an effort to comply with the mediation required by the court, did meet with Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott and Alabama’s Gov. Robert Benchley to try and resolve the water battle in person. Meanwhile, the battle continues to be fought in the courts.

“Rubio’s speech came the same day another water wars-related provision appeared in the text of a document accompanying a second government spending bill written by Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby,” reported the AJC.

The provision “simply ensures transparency and disclosure of federal water storage contract violations in multi-state river basins,” said Torrie Matous, a Shelby spokeswoman.

“Any water authority in compliance with the terms of its storage contract should not be concerned about the disclosure of this information. For those that are violating their contracts, Senator Shelby believes that the American people have a right and need to know,” Matous said,

Georgia’s senators said they would relentlessly fight Shelby’s attempt at “introducing unneeded and confusing language” into the bill.

The drama may come to a head as early as next week but it is ultimately up to the discretion of Senate leaders to schedule a vote on the water wars amendment or not.

Meanwhile, Florida oystermen in Florida’s southern Apalachicola Bay continue to be forced out of a business that has occupied their families for generation. And all so metro Atlanta can spread its already suffocating shadow across the north of Georgia. Once again, Americans see the interconnected nature of our public resources and are left to wonder if the “water wars” will ever be resolved.

Published in Environment

This Presidential election campaign has proven to be one of the most revealing about the true nature of American politics; a time when voters are seeing more clearly than ever how party elites – both Democratic and Republican – view the rank and file. It has also been a window to the political process in the U.S. as a whole. It is likely that the nature of our primaries will be changed forever by the experience. One astute pundit has said that “by 2020, the system will likely reflect either the will of party leaders or the will of party members, with little pretense of trying to serve both.”

Both parties have created a system that provides an illusion of inclusion that masks the true, underlying purpose - maintaining the power of the party elite. To accomplish this, the Democratic National Committee requires that individual states allocate their respective delegates proportionally among the candidates who receive at least 15 percent of the votes. The Party rules also set aside approximately 15 percent of total delegates as "superdelegates," - party loyalists who are able to tip the scales in favor of establishment candidates.

This system mirrors how the Democrats view governance. The Democratic Party is best seen as a coalition of the nation's super-elite, wealthy, professional classes and the nation's most impoverished, uneducated class. The belief of Democratic elites is that the nation is best governed by a system that politically empowers the elitist views for the good of the poor. It is generally understood though, by those astute enough to study the matter that the side effect of Democratic rule is to perpetuate and exacerbate poverty. To keep elite power constant and unassailable by public opinion most Democratic leaders have kept this “side effect” quiet. Cass Sunstein, the former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs – Cass Sunstein – who worked for the Obama administration, once wrote a book that advocated adopting regulations to "nudge" people to change their behavior "for their own good."

Unfortunately for the DNC, it is no longer possible to keep their approach under wraps; the cat has been let out of the proverbial bag. The rank and file are now hyper aware that superdelegates are likely to give Hillary Clinton the nomination and at the very least have given her the appearance of being a clear front-runner despite not having arrived there by “earned delegates. This is a classic example of how the will of the party elites prevail over the people and it is not sitting well with disenfranchised progressives in the party who prefer Bernie Saunders. In essence, the use of superdelegates in this election cycle have revealed truths about the manipulation of the process – a manipulation that the DNC has kept quiet for a long timed.

The Republican system is no better. The Republican National Committee's so-called “decentralized process” allows each state party to write their own distinctive delegate allocation rules. The RNC does not reserve superdelegates, but it also keeps the Party bosses in power by using intricate and complex convention rules. This is what has been in the news so much lately about the potential for a “contested convention.” If a candidate fails to secure a majority on the first ballot — an outcome that appears increasingly likely — only those capable of navigating the complexity can achieve success. And when a candidate is not in lock-step with the party bosses’ agenda, the weight of the Party is used to prevent that candidate – in this case Donald Trump – from achieving the necessary number of delegates to get the nomination. It is a built in counterweight to the “will of the people. There is a big disconnect between what the Republican Party projects and the reality of its system. It is, at best, a phony projection of self-image and may be, at worse, a calculated, unfair codification of political rule purposely designed to maintain hegemony.

One fact that highlights the disconnect between what the Party says and what it does can be seen by examining the Republican claim that it is “conservative principle” to promote a decentralized authority. Republicans can say they prefer a simplified home rule but the Code of Federal Regulations grew by nearly 20,000 pages while Bush was in office. Bruce Abramson, a political commentator for CNBC recently summed it up rather well. “Republicans primaries suffer from the same incoherence and inconsistency as our overly complicated regulatory codes: Their goals are vague and their methods embody no theory capable of reasonable resolution.”

While they may like to appear naïve, those who designed the primary system of both sides of the two party sword, know that it cuts off voters from what they perceive as their role in the U.S. – voting in the people’s choice and replaces it with a system where the sole purpose is to select a slate of delegates who in turn control the nominating committee. Some say the American system is more like Parliamentary elections than the winner-take-all-method that Americans have been deluded into believing exists. The political elite have created an illusion of democracy that promotes an undemocratic process that selects convention delegates and party nominees and not the winner selected by majority rule.

The nuts and bolts – the math that illustrates the problem - is as Abramson notes, easily seen because, “the Democrats erred by holding elections in which establishment and upstart candidates compete on unequal terms — a likely sore point among Democratic voters still seething over losing an election despite winning the popular vote sixteen years ago. The Republicans failed to note that when electing a slate rather than an individual, winner-takes-all makes little sense. A state allocating 100 delegates after a 60-40 race should split its convention slate 60-40, not 100-0. There is an entire economic field devoted to the study of voting systems. The current Republican primary system violates all of its key findings.”

“Primaries ‘open’ to independents and members of the opposing party make no sense. The national Democratic and Republican parties are coalitions of factions and interest groups oriented around competing views of the world, society, and governance. Those leading the coalitions are right to seek candidates who reflect those views. A nomination process that party stalwarts dominate, a series of state conventions, or a closed proportional primary in which only pre-registered party members vote, would all serve that goal. Primaries open to non-members, winner-take-all votes, or systems designed to look open while actually remaining closed are prescriptions for disaster,” he added.

It is interesting to see this spin being put on what is happening since the cat has been let out of the bag. Pundits and professional writers, employed by the Parties either directly or indirectly are working overtime to convince voters that there is “nothing wrong with the system,” that it is what we’ve always had – that it’s the “American way” or more disingenuously – “our way.” But for perhaps the first time in our young Nation’s history, everyday people are waking up to the fact that they are being manipulated. There is a revolt underway and while it is starting out relatively quiet it may end with a bang that has the end result of forcing change on the system.

American voters, by and large, see the entire 2016 Primary as a disaster. For the Democrats the continued “positioning” of Hillary Clinton – a widely disliked candidate - as the de facto frontrunner is a slap in the face. On the Republican side, the focus on delegate manipulation y Ted Cruz – who is equally disliked and distrusted despite his “Trust Ted” slogan – has exacerbated the issue, making voters feel the system is rigged. And they’re right for only a biased and unfair system would have seen these two candidates at the forefront of Presidential contenders. Like many issues in this campaign, voters can thank Donald Trump for bringing the issue to the forefront, particularly on the Republican side. He is so hated by the Party elites who view his blunt honesty as destructive to the myth they have so long perpetrated – the myth that voters actually choose their leaders by their vote.

As the entire process is being stripped bare; as Americans are increasingly having their eyes open to how they are duped, it is hard to imagine that the elections of 2020 election will come and go without an overhaul to the primary process by both parties. Without adopting a more transparent system, voter confidence will continue to erode and neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will provide America with the effective and accepted Commander in Chief it so desperately needs.

There has to be a convergence; a time when the public and our leaders both believe in the same path forward for our country and that will only transpire when the system that elects those leaders is perceived as fair and responsive. This is what voters deserve. That is what will make America great again.

Published in Op Ed

Stacey Konwiser, a zookeeper known in professional circles as the “Tiger Whisperer was mauled to death last Friday by a tiger. Konwiser had been in charge of the Palm Beach Zoo’s four Malayan tigers over the past three years. But according to some, her death could have been avoided by better safety standards for big cats.
"As long as employees are allowed to work in dangerously close proximity to tigers, elephants, and other dangerous animals, a significant risk of serious injury or death persists," said the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). In a prepared statement they also said that “deaths and serious injury are preventable, and safety regulations are an important piece of keeping zookeepers and employees who have close contact with dangerous animals safe."
The ALDF requested that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conduct an investigation into conditions at the Zoo and "impose the maximum penalty" if any irregularities are found. The ALDF said its’ actions are necessary to “prevent and head off future fatalities.”
Konwiser was preparing the four tigers for her daily educational presentation -"Tiger Talk," when the attack occurred. They were together inside a dedicated enclosure not visible to patrons. She was rushed to a local hospital immediately where she later died from her injuries.
“She was mauled very badly; big cats like tigers are incredibly strong and dangerous and can kill a human in seconds,” said a spokesperson at the hospital and added, “we did everything we could to save her life but the injuries were quite severe.
The zoo understands the tiger was acting on its natural instincts, but as of this report it is unclear whether the tiger will be euthanized. The ALDF claims there have been 24 human fatalities caused by big-cats and 265 injuries recorded since 1990. Consequently, 128 of these captive cats have been put down as a result. Her co-workers were adamant telling reporters that “Stacey loved those tigers and there’s just no way she would have wanted them killed for what happened to her, she knew the risks and accepted them every day.”
"This is an endangered species and Stacey understood the dangers that come with this job," said zoo spokesperson Naki Carter, “She understood that every single day she was putting her life at risk to save the lives of others, specifically Malayan tigers. She dedicated her life and she understood what came with that."

Published in Outdoor

In last Thursday's Democratic debate in Brooklyn, Bernie Sanders said that what he called Hillary Clinton's incremental approach to fighting climate change is insufficient in the face of the global crisis. "We have an enemy out there, and that enemy is going to cause drought, and floods, and extreme weather disturbances," he said.

Sanders accused Clinton of supporting fracking technology and promoting the controversial oil recovery method. Clinton noted that Sanders opposes the Paris climate agreement and said his bigger proposals will never get past Congress. "If we approach this like we were at war, Sanders said, “the U.S. would be up to the challenge, as it was during World War II." The Democratic contender said there would be “economic dislocation" phasing out coal and oil and nuclear power,” but noted that a “giant, comprehensive national push” would eventually wean America off fossils fuels.”

Published in Politics

Immigration officials in Costa Rican officials recently reported over 1,200 migrants have crossed into the country illegally from Panama after attacking a government office on the border.

Security minister Gustavo Mata said last week that migrants from Cuba and several unidentified African nations forced their way into Costa Rica at Paso Canoas on the Latin America nation's southern frontier. He says they damaged a vehicle and clashed with police, before order was restored resulting in many of those involved being detained and sent back to Panama. A few managed to escape but are still being sought.

Costa Rica shut its border in December while 7,802 Cubans became stranded on their journey north to the U.S. after Nicaragua on the north closed its border. Last month, the last of the Cubans were flown to Mexico and El Salvador to continue their trip to the U.S., where they will be admitted under current U.S. policy that favors Cuban migrants over those from most other nations. .

Panama says 2,329 more Cubans are still in shelters near its border with Costa Rica.

Americans have been seeing an increase in illegal border crossing involving migrants from countries other than Mexico and Central America, the traditional source of illegal immigrants who primarily enter the U.S. to seek better economic conditions.

Cubans and Africans living in Costa Rican are being supported by U.S. taxpayers. 11

More than 500 Cuban and African immigrants hoping to reach the United States live at this school while waiting for admission to the U.S.

Border Patrol agents have been seeing more Middle Easterners including several groups of Syrians who were traveling on fake passports. It is feared that some may now be sneaking in with the Cubans to take advantage of favorable status from those fleeing Castro's communist regime.

Recent Presidential candidate and Florida senator Marco Rubio wants to end special refugee status for Cuban immigrants. The Republican senator asked the Senate to pass a bill that would end the benefits Cuban refugees automatically get when they reach the United States. He claims too many Cubans have abused the program.

He also told a recent gathering of Newspaper Editors, including the Sun Bay that that he "believes the 47-year-old law that fast tracks Cubans for permanent U.S. residence should be "re-examined."

One official in the U.S. intelligence community said the recent surge in immigrants from "far away nations" including some with ties to Muslim terrorism in the Middle East and Africa underscores the need to seal the borders better until a better method of screening is implemented. He said the measures should also, "include Cubans."

Published in Politics
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