SeaWorld to End Killer Whale Shows in San Diego – WSJ

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. plans to phase out killer-whale shows at its San Diego park next year and launch a program in 2017 that would focus on conservation and keeping the animals in a more natural setting, company officials said Monday.

Source: SeaWorld to End Killer Whale Shows in San Diego – WSJ

Black Missouri Tigers players to strike over racial harassment on campus – Guardian Sport Sunday 8 November 2015 00.14 EST

  • Athletes call for the resignation of university president
  • Legion of Black Collegians put out message of discontent
University of Missouri

Black players from the Missouri Tigers football team say they will not participate in team activities until the university president, Tim Wolfe, resigns.

There have been several incidents of racial harassment in recent weeks on the college campus and Wolfe has come under criticism for his handling of the situation. In one recent incident, excrement in the shape of a swastika was smeared on a dormitory wall while other students have complained that racist slurs are common at the university. Jonathan Butler, a black graduate student at the college, is currently on hunger strike over the issue.

On Saturday night, the Legion of Black Collegians posted a message on Twitter calling for Wolfe to resign.

“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere,’” the tweet said. “We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!”

Athletes from the team, including star running back Russell Hanbrough, featured in a photo accompanying the tweet.

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7 times John Oliver perfectly captured what’s wrong with America — and triggered real reform – ADAM JOHNSON, ALTERNET SATURDAY, NOV 7, 2015 04:00 AM PST

The HBO host has accomplished what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert never could. Here are a few of his best segments

7 times John Oliver perfectly captured what's wrong with America -- and triggered real reform
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetJohn Oliver’s “This Week Tonight” is far and away the most refreshing thing on late-night TV. While other shows center around round-table chats and celebrity interviews, Oliver uses his massive platform to highlight overlooked but important political issues. Recently, he told CBS that his focus was “absurd public policies.”

By highlighting the absurdities of American institutions, he milks the injustice for a laugh while drawing the attention of millions of viewers to the issue. It’s a brilliant combination that, when it fires on all cylinders, makes for great comedy and sometimes even triggers reforms.

Here are his seven best segments.

1. Net Neutrality 

Arguably Oliver’s breakout hit, this segment masterfully dissected the knotty issue of net neutrality and its effect on free speech. Oliver explained why creating a two-tiered Internet was unfair, and even recruited the Internet’s “vile commenters” to spam the FCC’s website, which was taking public comment at the time. As a result, the website crashed and FCC Chair Tom Wheeler had to hilariously insist to the public that he “wasn’t a dingo.”

2. Abusive Animal Agriculture Practices

Possibly the least sexy topic his show has ever covered, Oliver took on huge poultry processing corporations that exploit small farmers and work to gut legislation that regulates the industry and protects animal welfare. In one of the more clear-cut political wins, the segment actually resulted in a pro-industry rider being left out of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill this summer for the first time in years. Several members of Congress cited Oliver’s segment for providing the political will to remedy the problem.

3. Bail System Exploits the Poor

America’s bail system is a two-tiered system where those who can afford to pay their bail go free and those who can’t are often forced to plead guilty or waste away in lockup before trial. Like many of the topics Oliver covers, it’s an injustice that exists largely due to inertia, despite being widely condemned as being unfair. One month after Oliver’s segment aired, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announcedthe city was reforming its bail system to lessen the burden on low-level offenders, allowing a judge to release up to 3,000 defendants awaiting trial. While there were certainly other factors at play, many pundits insisted Oliver’s segment helped bring the topic to the forefront of public debate.

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Pressure Mounts For Obama To Ban The Box – BY ALAN PYKE JUL 31, 2015 10:10AM


CREDIT: ALAN PYKE/THINKPROGRESS Marchers seeking reform of hiring protections for former convicts near the White House on Thursday

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Glenn Martin answered 50 different job postings in his first 30 days out from a six-year stint in prison. “Almost every single one turned me down right away, and the one or two that did offer me a job within hours rescinded that job offer,” he told a crowd gathered outside the White House Thursday morning.

But within seven years, Martin had risen to a Senior Vice-President job at the high-powered Fortune Society. He launched his own organization late last year and is on track to provide leadership training and individually tailored organizing training to 220 former corrections inmates by the end of this calendar year.

Despite his success, Martin still faces challenges since leaving prison. “When I got turned down 50 times for jobs, first of all your self-esteem goes down the drain,” he said. “This is a country where so much of your life is tied to your employment, your health care, your identity.”

Martin, now the founder and president of Just Leadership USA, was at the White House Thursday with a very simple message: “Ban the Box.”

If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ve probably seen the box. Hiring forms commonly require applicants to indicate if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. That little check-box produces some grand societal failures: An estimated 60 to 75 percent of Americans released from prison cannot find work throughout their first year back home.

The idea behind the slogan isn’t to forbid hiring managers from ever asking about an applicant’s past. It’s to ditch the up-front ask on an initial application form, the little box that makes it so easy to chuck people into the trash without actually weighing their qualifications and suitability for the job.

That box effectively bars the roughly 70 million Americans with an incarceration record from finding employment after serving their time, undermining rehabilitation and driving up recidivism. Given the racist disparities of the American criminal justice and prison systems, the economic effects of the box fall heaviest on black people – and not just the ones who did time.

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Why the deaths of Latinos at the hands of police haven’t drawn as much attention – LA Times July 18 2015

Kris Ramiriez stands on the railroad tracks in Paramount near where his brother, Oscar Ramirez, was killed by deputies in October.  (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Kris Ramiriez stands on the railroad tracks in Paramount near where his brother, Oscar Ramirez, was killed by deputies in October. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Kris Ramirez never saw police as a threat. Growing up, his body didn’t tense with us-versus-them dread when police cruisers drove through his Southeast Los Angeles neighborhood.

“If someone is wearing a uniform,” Ramirez said, “you show respect.”

Then last year, four days before Halloween, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed his brother, Oscar Jr., along railroad tracks near Paramount High School. Deputies said the 28-year-old didn’t comply with orders and moved his arm in “a threatening manner.” Ramirez was unarmed.

The Ramirez family marched in front of the Paramount sheriff’s station and held vigils, but they struggled to find wider support for their cause. As the family grieved, the national Black Lives Matter movement picked up energy, bolstered locally by the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, a mentally disabled black man, by LAPD officers.

Watching the protests over Ford’s killing, Kris Ramirez felt frustrated: “Why can’t we get that same type of coverage or help?”

The muted reaction to the deaths of Latinos in confrontations with police tells a larger story: Black Lives Matter is starkly different from Brown Lives Matter. In contrast to the fatal shootings of African Americans such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Walter Scott in South Carolina, deaths of Latinos at the hands of law enforcement haven’t drawn nearly as much attention.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a video showing Gardena police officers shooting two men, killing Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, an unarmed Latino. The video has been viewed millions of times on YouTube. It generated national media coverage, but very little protest.

Over the last five years in L.A. County, coroner’s data show that Latinos, who make up about half of the county’s population, also represent about half the people killed by police. Of the 23 people fatally shot by law enforcement in the county this year, 14 were Latino.

The disparity is rooted, at least in part, in historical context. No group in America has had an experience with police more fraught with institutionalized brutality than the black community. Police shootings of African Americans, men in particular, outweigh those of any other group in L.A. County. Although they make up only 9% of the population, since 2000, on average, blacks have represented 26% of those killed by police.

Despite overlap on some social justice issues, many differences shape the Latino and black experiences with law enforcement in the U.S.

In Southern California, Latinos are a large and visible part of law enforcement. Within the LAPD, the state’s largest city police department, 45% of officers are Latino. (Blacks make up about 11% of LAPD’s officers.) In the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, Latinos represent 43% of the ranks.

In the overwhelmingly Latino neighborhoods of L.A.’s Eastside patrolled by the LAPD’s Hollenbeck division, many of the cops are “homegrown officers” raised in the surrounding neighborhoods, said Capt. Martin Baeza. The station is routinely among the most coveted spots in the department. Baeza said that the last time he checked, there were about 70 officers waiting to be transferred to the division.

While the greater Eastside has a history of protests and activism, including criticism of law enforcement, support for police is strong — one of the major draws for officers, Baeza said.

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The House may be ready for major, bipartisan criminal justice reforms – Updated by Dara Lind on June 25, 2015, 3:30 p.m. ET

The bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform has been growing and gaining momentum for nearly a decade, with dozens of states cutting prison sentences and adopting “data-driven” rehabilitation policies. Now a group of members of the House of Representatives is trying to get Congress to follow the states’ lead, with a bill called the Safe Justice Act — which bundles together a lot of relatively small reforms into a package that could reduce the federal prison population significantly.

Over the past couple of years, momentum on criminal justice reform has been in the Senate, which has considered bills such as the Smarter Sentencing Act (to cut congressionally mandated minimum sentences) and the Corrections Act (to allow some inmates to earn time off their sentences while in prison). The Safe Justice Act is bigger than either of those bills — it includes variations on both of them, as well as a lot of other things — but it’s also a little more politically cautious. And criminal justice reformers on both the left and the right are extremely excited about it.

While Senate efforts at criminal justice reform have exposed a generational split in the Republican Party, in which young reformers like Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul face off against old-school, tough-on-crime conservatives like Senators Chuck Grassley and Jeff Sessions, the House’s bill was written by one of those old-school Republicans — Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin — as well as Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA).

Sensenbrenner and Scott think of the Safe Justice Act as a federal version of the criminal justice reform bills that have been taken up in state after state over the past several years, many of them under the mottos of “justice reinvestment” and “smart on crime.” In their minds, they’re building on what’s worked in the states and are in line with reformers’ emphasis on “data-driven” and “evidence-based” criminal justice policymaking.

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The only good news about the McKinney pool party is the white kids’ response to racism – Updated by Jenée Desmond-Harris on June 9, 2015, 10:40 a.m. ET

In the story of the Texas pool party, where a police officer was caught on tape manhandling and pointing a gun at young black teenagers, there’s a lot to be concerned and outraged about. But there’s also one tiny thing to celebrate: the actions of two white kids.

Just 14 and 15 years old, they wasted no time speaking on the record about the racist comments made by adults that they said set off the incident, and recording the discriminatory treatment they said they witnessed.

Sadly, when it comes to public opinion about the event, it’s likely that these accounts have more weight coming from the white kids than from the black kids who have offered similar stories, but whom many media consumers might see as potential criminals and untrustworthy reporters of what happened.

Their stories shaped the early media narrative of the event, and their sense of responsibility to memorialize what happened should be seen as an example. Many American adults could learn something from their brave decisions to acknowledge rather than avoid or explain away the injustice they saw, but also to make sure the rest of us understood.

The white teens are the reason we’re even hearing about this

Brandon Brooks speaks to a local news station about the video he captured

Brandon Brooks speaks to a local news station about the video he captured

According to BuzzFeed News’s David Mack’s report on the incident, Grace Stone, a white 14-year-old, said when she and her friends responded to white adults’ comments that the black pool party guests should return to “Section 8 [public housing],” the older women became violent.

The police were called, and Brandon Brooks, a white 15-year-old, took out his cellphone to record what happened next — creating a record of the event that he later posted to YouTube, along with this commentary: “So the cops just started putting everyone on the ground and in handcuffs for no reason. This kind of force is uncalled for especially on children and innocent bystanders.”

“I think a bunch of white parents were angry that a bunch of black kids who don’t live in the neighborhood were in the pool,” he told BuzzFeed. He made it clear that he felt he was spared because of his race, saying, “Everyone who was getting put on the ground was black, Mexican, Arabic. [The cop] didn’t even look at me. It was kind of like I was invisible.”

“You can see in part of the video where he tells us to sit down, and he kinda like skips over me and tells all my African-American friends to go sit down,” he said in a Monday interview with CW33.

They weren’t alone. Images from protests in McKinney show demonstrators  including a white teen holding a sign that read “White silence = white consent.”

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What would Jesus do about tax policy? – by David Cay Johnston April 24, 2015 2:00AM ET

The Presbyterian Church USA calls for reform of US tax code to address inequality

 Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at Apr 24, 2015 4.54

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans is now officially classified as poor. This fact naturally raises a question: Where are the religious leaders whose scriptures tell them that caring for their 60 million impoverished neighbors is their central moral duty?

I posed this question at a tax conference in New York City this week to one of the leaders in the small Christian movement focused on the role taxes play in creating inequality. She shrugged.

“The church always leads from behind,” she said.

But this may be beginning to change. The awful realities of worsening poverty in America amid overwhelming abundance at the top are becoming harder to ignore, especially those tasked with following Jesus’ teachings.

For Catholics, poverty, inequality and government policies that take from the many to benefit the rich are under discussion because of Pope Francis, who last July said, “Poverty is at the center of the gospel.”

Asked by a British journalist whether he was preaching communism, the pope said that centuries before Marx, communal sharing was the Christian standard and that today, “the communists have stolen the flag. The flag of the poor is Christian.”

Now, after years of study and debate, the ninth-largest Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, has come out with a detailed report that ties the religious duty of believers and government tax policy. (The report is free to download. Disclosure: I was among a dozen people who spoke about poverty and taxes before a 2013 ecumenical panel sponsored by the Presbyterian Church USA.)

Calling taxation “a fundamental part of a moral society’s answer to poverty and its close relatives — inequality, economic insecurity and social immobility,” the report says the church’s 2.7 million members should work to devise a just tax system.

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The Ferguson Effect – By Mark Joseph Stern APRIL 21 2015 5:16 PM

Chief Justice Roberts rules against police abuse at the Supreme Court. Maybe he finally gets it.

A man is handcuffed in south Los Angeles on April 25, 2012. (This photograph is not intended to depict police abuse.) Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

A man is handcuffed in south Los Angeles on April 25, 2012. (This photograph is not intended to depict police abuse.)
Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Dennys Rodriguez knew his rights—and he planned to use them. Just after midnight in March of 2012, a police officer pulled Rodriguez over for briefly veering onto the shoulder of the highway, and wrote Rodriguez a warning. The stop should have ended there. Instead, the officer asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around Rodriguez’s Mercury Mountaineer. Rodriguez declined. The officer called for backup and, eight minutes later, did it anyway. On its second pass, the dog alerted the officer to the presence of drugs. He searched the car and found a bag of methamphetamine.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruledthat the drugs are inadmissible in court, because the officer had violated Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment rights by prolonging the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion. (In Fourth Amendment terms, the eight-minute period during which the officer detained Rodriguez—after writing his warning—was an “unreasonable seizure.”) From a purely constitutional perspective, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion is so obviously correct that it’s a little disturbing to see only six justices endorse it. But it’s still encouraging to watch this court grapple with the realities of police overreach and, occasionally, put the kibosh on law enforcement’s worst excesses.

Rodriguez v. United States is this term’s second big criminal-law decision, after the deeply misguided Heien v. North Carolina. In Heien, the court considered a traffic stop conducted by a cop who misunderstood state law. Although the driver he stopped actually did nothing wrong, eight justices decided the stop was still “reasonable” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In other words, ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law—unless you’re a police officer. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a perceptive, finger-wagging dissent, wondering how law-abiding citizens could now avoid “these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters.” (Unspoken by any justice was the fact that officers can easily feign misunderstanding of the law as a pretext for a stop.)