Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Ian Welsh looks at the hankering of 57 percent of "East" Germans for the days of the Communist dictatorship


OMG, Martin Ritt's film adaptation of John Le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold turns 50 this year. Can it really be that long since the days when British spy Alec Leamas (played in the film by Richard Burton) crossed into the German Democratic Republic to burrow his way into the dreaded Stasi? Now, we're told, ex-East Germans look back at the days of the GDR as the good old days.

"Triumphalism of the 'we've won, so we don't have to treat the population well' variety may well yet bite capitalists, and all of us, hard."
-- Ian Welsh

by Ken

The other day Ian Welsh offered a post called "Happiness and Freedom: East German Version," which I approached skeptically. After all, I'm quite aware that, since German reunification, while former West Germans have deeply (and often loudly) resented the large sums the federal government has spent to nudge the economically "backward" lands of former East Germany upward in the direction of their more prosperous Western kin, former East Germans often have the feeling, for good reason, of being stranded in economic no-man's land. So it's only natural, isn't it?, that they might hanker for the "good old days" of the German Democratic Republic -- good times that we know never were.

But Ian covers the "nostalgia" factor -- and proceeds to lay out a powerful case that those erstwhile Easterners aren't imagining things, if you take the time to look at their present world through their eyes. And what they're seeing, he suggests, is of more than passing interest to us here in the heartland of Western capitalism.

Ian's jumping-off point is a Spiegel Online International piece by Julia Bonstein, "Homesick for a Dictatorship: Majority of Eastern Germans Felt better under Communism," which reports on new poll results released Friday. Ian begins by quoting this brief excerpt:
Today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 57 percent, or an absolute majority, of eastern Germans defend the former East Germany. “The GDR had more good sides than bad sides. There were some problems, but life was good there,” say 49 percent of those polled.
"The state with the Berlin Wall," Ian writes, "which people died to get across, is remembered fondly?" And he points out:
Some of this, as the article points out, is nostalgia.  Some of it is from people who were children or not even alive when East Germany fell.
The Spiegel interviewees, Ian notes, "tend to acknowledge the East German Stasi police state as bad, then wave it aside." And he says he's not surprised by the poll findings -- first because "the happiness and life satisfaction data for East Germany showed a precipitous fall after unification, as it did in Russia after Communism fell there" (a drop "has been made up since" but was "huge"), and second because "there were things that East Germany, in particular, did well."
To start, it did community and civic association brilliantly: There were clubs for everything, people joined them, and they enjoyed them.

Happiness is strongly correlated to community: The sort of anomie which capitalist societies encourage, where you know hardly anyone well, destroys happiness.

Second, there wasn’t a great deal of inequality compared to modern capitalism. The research on happiness and equality is robust -- the more equal a society, the happier people are.

Third, everyone was more or less taken care of. They may not have been taken care of with the finest consumer goods, but they had enough food, shelter, and so on.

Fourth, they didn’t have to move much. Labor force mobility in Germany today isn’t terrible, but the sure knowledge that you can stay where you were born and grew up can be as much a comfort as anything else, and it means that you don’t leave behind your community -- your friends and family.

Capitalist transitions are brutal. The data from China is unambiguous: People moving from their ancestral villages to the city generally are never, personally, as happy as they were in the village.


Hmm, Ian has already sounded this theme, linking post-Communist East Germany and post-Communist Soviet Russia. And he begins to bring the theme home, asking, "How badly has your life been affected by the fact that your government spies on you 24/7?"
East Germany may have had huge numbers of informants, but London has cameras everywhere and “anti-social disorder orders,” which make virtually any behaviour cops want to call illegal, illegal. Nor was East Germany’s incarceration rate nearly as high as America’s is now, and so on.

Sure, “the police state” was bad, but that wasn’t, to people who lived there, necessarily the most important thing about being an East German. Westerners believe this because of relentless cold war propaganda. Then the USSR and the Warsaw Pact fell, and our lords and masters started building their own surveillance and police states.
And "it's a bad sign," he says, "when you aren’t even considered a better place to live than East Germany, with its Stasi."
The failures of the post-Soviet era are making that period look better and better. In Russia, there is a surge of nostalgia for the USSR, for reasons which are are remarkably similar. People are discovering that, as wonderful as Levis jeans are, there is a cost to the modern consumer society in terms of anomie, corruption, and economic precarity.
He recalls this "bitter joke" from '90s Russia:
Everything they [Communist authorities] told us about Communism was a lie. Unfortunately, everything they told us about Capitalism was the truth.
"And so the wheel turns," Ian concludes.
When capitalism, in a large region in one of the most successful countries in the West, has half the population thinking communism wasn’t so bad, something has gone off the rails. Triumphalism of the “we’ve won, so we don’t have to treat the population well” variety may well yet bite capitalists, and all of us, hard.
There is, by the way, lots of interesting material in the Spiegel piece, which is well worth a look.

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Author David Talbot Seeks Real Dem For Mayor of San Francisco


-by Denise Sullivan

Author David Talbot was making the rounds of San Francisco's booksellers over the weekend during California Independent Bookstore Day, though the author of Season of the Witch and Brothers wasn't promoting a new book; rather, he was using the community-oriented bookstore scene as a platform for his insider knowledge of City Hall to promote someone's-- anyone's-- significant bid for a mayoral run against Ed Lee in November. Talbot believes the need for new leadership in San Francisco is so dire, he joked he would run himself were it not for the personal and fiscal demands of entering a campaign. "I don't want my wife to divorce me, which she said she would do if I did," he laughed.

Other potential candidates like former Mayor Art Agnos, State Senator Mark Leno, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, and State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano have all opted out of the race after being rumored or considered as runners; former Supervisor Aaron Peskin is also nolo contendere since announcing his wish to fill an opening on the Board of Supervisors (as its few remaining progressives term out). Talbot says there may be one more viable candidate out there for mayor, but his sources have made him promise not to drop any hints. Meanwhile, Lee and his chief backer, venture capitalist Ron Conway, will stop at nothing to win the race, so we shall expect the usual vulgarities once/if reasonable opposition appears on the scene before the June 9th nomination filing date.

"So what we lack and need is leadership, a media outlet and a progressive think tank," Talbot concluded from his opening remarks on Saturday at Modern Times Bookstore. Then he opened the floor to the assembled crowd of activists, attorneys, homeowners, and young journalists for comment. One long-time community organizer was near tears as she contemplated the prospect of another four years for Lee. "You think it's bad now. We'll all be gone by then," she said, referring to the drift of long-time San Franciscans and natives away from the city they call home. "I share your pain, but don't leave!" the author responded. "We need you here as an advocate." 

Talbot believes an institution devoted to educating future political leaders, as well as voters, would be a longer-term solution, and again he asked the crowd to speculate how such a venture, as well as a much-needed media outlet, could be funded. That question remained largely unanswered, though the one name that consistently comes up in these conversations is Marc Benioff, a tech billionaire and serious philanthropist intent on doing good with his wealth while encouraging others in his business to do the same.

Talbot's overview of city governance and his depth of understanding of public versus privately funded projects here, as well as of the more general role media plays in democratic society, is owed to his background as a journalist: He's worked for Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, and the San Francisco Examiner, and he founded Salon, one of the Web's earliest full-service magazines/news destinations. He was raised in Los Angeles, and his father, Lyle Talbot, was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild. Talbot's self-proclaimed obsession with the Kennedys led him to write Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years; he followed with Season of the Witch, a cultural and political history of San Francisco and how it came to be the city it's known to be versus the city that it is (on Saturday he revealed that Season of the Witch will be this fall's One City One Book).

In recent years, Talbot has followed the story of changing San Francisco and has delivered a series of talks, including "Don't Be a Stanford Asshole," which implores new and future Stanford elite to be mindful of the dehumanizing nature of technology. A transcript made the rounds on the Internet earlier this year when it was picked up by 48 Hills, the one-man operation helmed by former SF Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond, who Talbot believes is creating the kind of deep investigative journal we need in light of the long-insufficient San Francisco Chronicle, and in the absence of SF Bay Guardian, which was abruptly closed last year.

"We are a city, a world, in a boom and bust cycle," asserts Talbot, and of that there is no doubt, though he notes the strange mood here as most of us await the next bust more fervently than more boom.

Last week even the historically nonpartisan 58th San Francisco International Film Festival got into the spirit of imminent change by hosting a program titled "Boomtown." Tim Redmond delivered a PowerPoint presentation providing an overview of the housing crisis in progress, though it was cultural expressions like Vero Majano's heart-stopping spoken word and found film from the Mission District, Melorra and Melodie Greene's interactive tribute to the LGBTQ/Black Lives Matter movement, and The Last Black Man In San Francisco, a film in the works by Talbot's son Joe, which if seen by wider audiences could potentially change hearts and minds. Joe Talbot's film is based on real events in the life of its co-writer and lead actor, Jimmy Fails (whom Talbot the elder considers an honorary son). 

Fails' African American family experience is the most extreme example of a community's disproportionate displacement here, and yet the feelings speak for many of us when the character says,  "My grandpa came West. Sometimes I feel there ain't nothing left of me here. But where am I supposed to go? Ain't shit west of here but water." It's an apt observation for a city lost at sea without a captain, but in these young filmmakers' art and music (which Joe Talbot also composed) there is also light and hope--things we natives and transplants can all use right now.

"The Last Black Man in San Francisco" from Joe Talbot on Vimeo.

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Taibbi: Sanders is "the rarest of Washington animals, a completely honest person"


Sometimes, a broken institution
Needs a public burned enough to fight.

by Gaius Publius
In an article in Rolling Stone entitled "Give 'Em Hell, Bernie," Matt Taibbi weighs in on the Sanders presidential run. About that run, the bottom line, as far as I'm concerned, includes these three items:

1. Bernie Sanders appears to be serious about challenging both Clinton and the system, which are, in my view, somewhat coextensive.

2. If elected, he'll certainly do what he says he'll do. He won't be one more Mr. "Yes we can, but sorry, No I won't."

3. He may be the "place to park an anti-Establishment vote" that I've been looking for — a Eugene McCarthy for this decade's version of the fed-up, Occupied generation.

Why does the last point matter? Because resentment among both Democratic voters and rank-and-file Tea Party voters is very high. Elizabeth Warren is said to be quite popular among the rank-and-file right. No one in the country wanted bankers bailed out — only the One Percenters, and the professional class that runs the world for them, were in favor of giving bankers money by the bucketful.

Of course, the One Percenters run the country, and that's what's coming to a head in this election. As it needs to — if the One Percenters control the country through 2016, there will be no broad plan to deal with climate change. In my view, if we get to the early 2020s without strong and effective climate action, it will indeed be over. We need that anti-Establishment, anti–Big Money candidate now.

If Sanders proves to be as serious as he seems, he could reveal just how much of the country is ready to say No to the money class that controls their lives. He has to give it a real shot though — run hard; get on the ballot in 50 states; do what Warren, for instance, would have done had she taken this on. But if people in the country take him seriously — and he's on that trajectory now — the country will have, for the first time in a generation, a real choice.

To which I say, good. It's time for a test for both groups, a test of the power of the One Percenters, and a test of us. This is a test for us. Did you want Warren for all the right reasons? Sanders is out front now, on all of her issues. If he proves serious, what will you do about it? (If you want to start doing something about it now, you can contribute here.)

Taibbi Thinks Bernie Sanders Is Serious

Taibbi thinks Sanders is "the real deal," a completely honest person; clearly a man to be trusted to mean what he says. Taibbi opens with a story about how, when Sanders was in the House, Taibbi wrangled an assignment to follow Sanders around for a day to profile a day in his life. He then concludes with this (my emphasis):
Give 'Em Hell, Bernie

Bernie Sanders is more serious than you think

... Sanders genuinely, sincerely, does not care about optics. He is the rarest of Washington animals, a completely honest person. If he's motivated by anything other than a desire to use his influence to protect people who can't protect themselves, I've never seen it. Bernie Sanders is the kind of person who goes to bed at night thinking about how to increase the heating-oil aid program for the poor.

This is why his entrance into the 2016 presidential race is a great thing and not a mere footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. If the press is smart enough to grasp it, his entrance into the race makes for a profound storyline that could force all of us to ask some very uncomfortable questions.

And what are those questions?

Here's the thing: Sanders is a politician whose power base is derived almost entirely from the people of the state of Vermont, where he is personally known to a surprisingly enormous percentage of voters.

His chief opponents in the race to the White House, meanwhile, derive their power primarily from corporate and financial interests. That doesn't make them bad people or even bad candidates necessarily, but it's a fact that the Beltway-media cognoscenti who decide these things make access to money the primary factor in determining whether or not a presidential aspirant is "viable" or "credible." Here's how the Wall Street Journal put it in their story about Sanders (emphasis mine):

It is unclear how much money Mr. Sanders expects to raise, or what he thinks he needs to run a credible race. Mr. Sanders raised about $7 million for his last re-election in Vermont, a small state. Sums needed to run nationally are far larger.

The Washington/national press has trained all of us to worry about these questions of financing on behalf of candidates even at such an early stage of a race as this.

In this manner we're conditioned to believe that the candidate who has the early assent of a handful of executives on Wall Street and in Hollywood and Silicon Valley is the "serious" politician, while the one who is merely the favorite of large numbers of human beings is an irritating novelty act whose only possible goal could be to cut into the numbers of the real players.

Sanders offers an implicit challenge to the current system of national electoral politics. With rare exceptions, campaign season is a time when the backroom favorites of financial interests are marketed to the population. Weighed down by highly regressive policy intentions, these candidates need huge laboratories of focus groups and image consultants to guide them as they grope around for a few lines they can use to sell themselves to regular working people.

Sanders on the other hand has no constituency among the monied crowd. "Billionaires do not flock to my campaign," he quipped. So what his race is about is the reverse of the usual process: he'll be marketing the interests of regular people to the gatekeeping Washington press, in the hope that they will give his ideas a fair shot. ...

Thus this whole question of "seriousness" – which will dominate coverage of the Sanders campaign – should really be read as a profound indictment of our political system, which is now so openly an oligarchy that any politician who doesn't have the blessing of the bosses is marginalized before he or she steps into the ring.
Taibbi goes on to say that the national press "could successfully sell Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or any other populist candidate as a serious contender for the White House if we wanted to." His reason? They successfully sold George W. Bush. It's just a matter, for him, of wanting to.

By Giving Us a Choice, He Gives Us a Chance

I meant what I said above about this being the last clear shot at addressing climate change in a way that addresses the problem instead of simply mitigating damage — or watching the ship sail away. Addressing the climate crisis means ripping the reins of power from the hands of Money. These are exactly the issues Bernie Sanders is addressing, and will address as president.

People don't have to respond to his message (though god help us if they don't). But they can't even choose to respond if the choice isn't on the menu. Sanders puts a choice on the 2016 menu. By giving us a choice, he give us all a chance.

If you want to give him a chance, click here to donate. Thanks!


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DSCC Flips Its Lid-- Starts Endorsing Republican-Oriented Candidates... Like Patrick Murphy


Alan Grayson, currently on a fact-finding mission to Israel, didn't seem all that fazed by the DSCC decision to interfere in the Florida Democratic primary by endorsing lifelong Republican Patrick Murphy for the open U.S. Senate seat. "Florida Democratic voters," he told us soon after DSCC chair Jon Tester's sad sack announcement, "choose our party nominee, not out-of-touch party bosses sipping cognac in a smoke-filled room in Washington, DC." And the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus was just as dismissive of Tester and Schumer. The Caucus' president, Susan Smith:
"Progressives are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party in Florida and across the nation. We  are the volunteers who stuff envelopes, knock on doors, and provide the grassroots energy that powers successful Democratic campaigns.The idea that a senator from Montana and Wall Street Democrats know better than rank-and-file Florida Democrats is both patronizing and unsurprising. Then again, no one knows better than Jon Tester that DSCC support doesn't mean a whole lot.

"Florida Democrats are looking  to support a progressive candidate who will lead on big, bold economic populist ideas, not another politician who will do Wall Street's bidding in Washington.

"I wish the DSCC would take a page from the Democratic National Committee's playbook. Last week when Bernie Sanders announced he was joining Hillary Clinton in running for president, the DNC wisely welcomed him to the race because they recognize that spirited primary debates are good for our party and our country."
Well... Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and John Tester aren't quite that wise. As we explained last month, Tester as the new DSCC chair has joined the cabal of sold-out corporate whores and Wall Street shills who have imbibed the Kool-Aid of failure. Yesterday, Tester announced that the DSCC had endorsed Patrick Murphy-- barely even a Democrat at all, and one of the half dozen House Dems most likely to vote with the GOP on any crucial roll call-- over progressive icon Alan Grayson. In 2006, when Tester was first running for the Montana Senate seat, Schumer was head of the DSCC and he detested Tester's populism and recruited and backed state Auditor John Morrison. Montana voters told Schumer and Morrison to go take a hike-- giving Tester a 61-35% primary victory and then a narrower win in the general election.

What did Schumer learn from his very public defeat? To fight even harder to undermine grassroots progressive and populist candidates. What did Tester learn? To switch sides and sell out to the Establishment and morph into an ugly combination of John Morrison and Chuck Schumer. And now we need Florida Democratic voters to tell Tester, Schumer and Reid that they are capable of nominating their own candidates without some slimy careerists from DC trying to decide who will be on the ticket in Florida.

In the video up top, the Schumer-Tester candidate talks about his willingness to balance the budget on the backs of seniors-- Florida seniors-- by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits. That's why Wall Street loves him so much. A member of the House Financial Services Committee, Murphy has a widespread reputation in Congress as a low-life who solicits bribes from banksters in return for shady votes on his committee. Last cycle, for example, the finance sector gave out bribes of over a million dollars to 17 individual Members of the House. Of the crooked 17, 13 are Republicans-- from John Boehner ($3,289,421) and Tom Cotton ($2,557,139) to Paul Ryan ($1,629,456) and Scott Garrett ($1,171,579). The 4 Democrats in the "most-bribed" category are all anti-worker New Dem sell-outs:
Gary Peters (New Dem-MI)- $1,412,687
Joe Crowley (New Dem-NY)- $1,184,858
Jim Himes (New Dem-CT)- $1,144,988
Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL)- $1,127,650
Tester, yesterday: “Patrick Murphy is one of our party’s most promising rising stars, and his track record of fighting for Florida’s working families, seniors, and the environment make him the strongest candidate to win the Florida Senate race and flip this seat. During his time in the House, Patrick has stepped up to protect the Florida Everglades, voted down extreme proposals that would harm Medicare, voted to protect Social Security and fought to ensure that working families are given a fair chance to get ahead. I am confident that Patrick will continue working hard for all Floridians following his successful election to the Senate and we are proud to support his campaign."

Tester is spinning and lying-- blatantly so. And in a way that will have to be recalled when he himself is next up for reelection in Montana. Murphy's track record of fighting for the environment? Really? Only 28 of the most corrupted conservative Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with the GOP to ram through the Keystone XL Pipeline. Was Murphy fighting for the environment as one of those 28? Among the Florida Democrats, it was only Murphy and Blue Dog Gwen Graham who went down that dark path.

What is wrong with Tester, Schumer and Reid? Why are they lying to Democratic voters? Why do they want a weak, pointless sleaze bucket like Murphy in the Senate? On Capitol Hill, the rumor is that Wall Street, which had been threatening to cut off funding to Democrats because of Elizabeth Warren's fight for the middle class, has demanded some mindless shills to help "balance" out populists like Warren, Bernie Sanders, Brian Schatz, Jeff Merkley and Sherrod Brown. Murphy is certainly on the other side on all important issues. Imagine Team Warren-Sanders-Schatz-Merkley-Brown augmented, instead, by Alan Grayson! In fact, do more than imagine it. Go here and be part of making it happen! (Bonus: And Donna Edwards!)

There can never be too much sleaze in the Senate for Chuck "Lizard Man" Schumer

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Monday, May 04, 2015

USA Preet Bharara takes aim at his second target among NYS's legendary "Three Men in a Room"


Might as well be mugshots: Reuters photog Eduardo Munoz snapped this shot of Dean and Mini-Dean, aka NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his boy Adam, approaching FBI HQ this morning, before they were indicted on assorted federal corruption charges.

"It's like [expletive] Preet Bharara is listening to every [expletive] phone call."
-- Adam Skelos, in a phone call with his father
(recorded by the feds, of course)

by Ken

Here I was, thinking of doing a follow-up to my Friday post "New Jersey USA kicks up the heat on Bridgegate Krispykronies, and we learn some nasty new stuff," based on Matthew Katz's report this morning for WNYC's "Christie Tracker" that "Yes, Chris Christie Is Still Planning To Run For President. Here's Why." (Some of the reasons: Bridgegate still hasn't been pinned on the governor, his billionaires still love him, and the Bridgegate story has been virtually shunned by certain key segments of the media, meaning Fox Noise.)

Meanwhile, however, over on this side of the Hudson one of our U.S. attorneys, Preet Bharara (USA for the Southern District of NY), took prosecutorial aim at bigger game than NJ's USA, Paul Fishman, bagged Friday, with the indictment of NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his boy Adam on federal corruption charges. This makes two of the famous "three men in a room," the men who run NYS government, USA Bharara has brought down -- first then-Assembly Speaker "Smelly Shelly" Silver and now th Senate's presiding officer. This leaves only Gov. Andrew Cuomo standing, and makes you wonder if he's looking over his shoulder.

(Let me stress that I haven't heard any reports to this effect. I'm just free-associating. Still, if no one has started the rumor yet, somebody has to. You remember how gung-ho for ethics Boy Andrew was back when it was state legislators' ethics that were at issue?)

After all, it was Boy Andrew who slammed shut the state ethics investigating commission which he himself had created as soon as it started doing, you know, actual investigating, meaning it started lapping up against friends of his. And who knows? Maybe eventually that lapping might have lapped up against his very best friend, his own self. And in a way, Boy Andrew also set the stage for the Silver and Skelos indictments, because it seems generally agreed that USA Bharara, who had been cooperating (and closely watching) the state ethics panel, felt obliged to take over at least some of its work when it was so unceremoniously shut down.

The Skelos indictments are an ugly blow for NYS Republicans, who haven't had an awful lot to cheer about in recent year and so were practically peeing in their pants with the excitement of the indictment of Smelly Shelly, who'd pretty much run the NYS Assembly for 21 years until he stepped down under pressure on February 2 following his indictment. Now, rather awkwardly, they're likely to be on the receiving end of advice from legislative Democrats similar to what they were offering back then -- like how dare Majority Leader Skelos not resign immediately? (It should be noted, for the record, that while Smelly Shelly resigned the speakership, he did not give up his Assembly seat. Even as we speak, he remains a member.)

Here's the report by the AP's Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays:
NEW YORK -- The leader of the New York Senate surrendered Monday to face charges including extortion and soliciting bribes after investigators looking into the awarding of a $12 million contract to a company that hired his son said they captured him on wiretaps boasting of his power.

Dean Skelos, 67, of Long Island and his 32-year-old son, Adam, surrendered at the FBI's offices in lower Manhattan as a criminal complaint was unsealed against them in federal court, where they were expected to appear later in the day.

At a news conference announcing the charges, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara alleged that Skelos's "support for certain infrastructure projects and legislation was often based, not on what was good for his constituents or good for New York, but rather on what was good for his son's bank account."

In a statement, Dean Skelos said he expected to be exonerated at trial.

"I am innocent of the charges leveled against me. I am not saying I am just not guilty, I am saying that I am innocent," he said. A lawyer for his son did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Authorities said Dean Skelos - New York state's most powerful Republican official -has used his position as a carrot since at least 2010, taking official actions in return for payments to his son.

According to court papers, some evidence was obtained through court-authorized wiretaps on cellphones used by the father and son.

The complaint said Dean Skelos bragged to his son recently in one conversation after he was re-elected majority leader in January, a post he shared with another senator from 2011 to 2013: "I'm going to be president of the Senate. I'm going to be majority leader. I'm going to control everything."

The charges were unveiled four months after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, was charged with accepting nearly $4 million in payoffs. Silver, maintaining his innocence, gave up his leadership post but is keeping his legislative seat as he fights the charges. Earlier this month, Silver's son-in-law was charged in a $7 million Ponzi scheme.

Bharara, who has called Albany a "cauldron of corruption," told a news conference that the case was further proof that "public corruption is a deep-seated problem in New York State. It is a problem in both chambers. It is a problem on both sides of the aisle."

But the prosecutor also appeared more cautious with his remarks in the wake of a ruling by a federal judge recently that criticized him for overdoing the publicity surrounding Silver's January arrest.

"Let me emphasize at the outset that these are only charges," he said. "The complaint contains allegations only, and both defendants are absolutely presumed innocent unless and until those allegations are proven beyond a reasonable doubt, which is what we intend to do."

The complaint said Dean Skelos used his position to extort money from others, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from a senior executive of a major real estate development firm who was cooperating with the government.

Dean Skelos promoted and voted for real estate legislation sought by the developer, including some pertaining to rent regulation and property tax abatements, the complaint said.

Skelos said last month he was cooperating fully and would not resign his leadership post. He's hired an attorney in response to the investigation, which focuses on whether Skelos influenced Nassau County's decision to award a 2013 contract to Arizona-based AbTech.

Adam Skelos worked for the company as a consultant. The complaint said AbTech, which was only identified as an "Environmental Technology Company," more than doubled its monthly payment to Adam Skelos after the $12 million contract was approved.

AbTech has said it is cooperating with authorities and is not considered a target in the probe.

"The process through which local authorities selected AbTech was comprehensive and diligent, involving several levels of Nassau County government," the company said. "AbTech is proud ... to have earned this contract after a thorough and fair review process conducted by Nassau County."

Dean Skelos has represented a portion of Nassau County on Long Island in the state Senate since he was elected in 1984. He was elected to the Assembly in 1980.

An attorney, Skelos is known as a shrewd negotiator and a frequent ally to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. He is the seventh top lawmaker to face criminal charges in the past six years. Since 2000, 29 New York lawmakers have left office because of criminal or ethical issues.

Another top Senate leader, Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge that he lied to the FBI about using his clout to arrange a job for his son, who was convicted earlier this year of filing false income tax returns.

UPDATE: Daily News Says Skelos Must Go
-by Howie

To prison, I hope... with Adam. "Federal criminal charges lodged against state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos," opined The News depict him as wringing hundreds of thousands of dollars out of Albany supplicants for his 32-year-old son (Adam). Skills believes, they reminded us, that "anything goes in Albany, no matter how much money changes hands or how vigorous the back-scratching."
[H]e must step down as majority leader and join the recently deposed Sheldon Silver in demonstrating that Bharara is imposing law and order on the Legislature’s standard operating procedures.

All too predictably, precious few members of Skelos’ Republican conference had the integrity to quickly call for his ouster-- with Long Island’s John Flanagan flatly declaring that Skelos “should stay on as leader, plain and simple.”

That’s how the Corruption Caucus in Silver’s Assembly behaved until the public revolted. Plainly, Skelos’ days are numbered. Flanagan’s should be, too.

Backed up by wiretaps, emails and cooperating witnesses, the facts show that Skelos put the arm on Glenwood Management, a major landlord, to hire his son during meetings in which the company lobbied him on rent regulation and tax breaks.

They show that Skelos guided $200,000 from Glenwood to Adam through a title insurance company and an engineering firm.

They show that Skelos reciprocated with legislation in Albany and by securing a $12 million contract from Nassau County. He even discussed the deal with Nassau Executive Ed Mangano at the wake for a slain NYPD officer.

As the Skeloses became worried about getting caught, Adam complained to his father: “You can’t talk normally because it’s like fucking Preet Bharara is listening to every fucking phone call.”

Revealed in a footnote was that the elder Skelos has garnered $2.6 million from a Long Island law firm without performing “any actual legal work”-- a whole scandal in itself.

Skelos is at least the 31st Albany pol accused of serious wrongdoing in the past 15 years-- including a governor, a controller, an Assembly speaker and five of the last six Senate leaders.

The place is corrupt to the core.

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Does Jay Z Have The Solution To The Decline Of The Music Business? Well, Maybe For Himself And A Few Pals


I'm not good with remembering dates things happened in my life-- beyond my birthday and the day I stopped wanting to use drugs forever. But I do remember that, although the music business was on an unhealthy trajectory when I retired a year or two after Bush stole the 2000 election, non-superstar artists could still scrape together a living and aspire to a career within the bounds of the music business. Since then, struggling artists have struggled a lot more-- and it's getting worse... much, much worse.

Recently, Jay Z, very much a non-struggling superstar, got some of his non-struggling superstar peers together in a new venture: Tidal, a music streaming service owned by "the artists." And the early claims were that the streaming service would pay artists much better and more equitably than the current system, which works well enough for superstars but screws over-- in an existential sense-- all non-superstars. Jay Z's new artist-owned scheme includes Kanye West (or at least did when it started), Madonna, Nicky Minaj, Beyoncé, Usher, Jack White, Daft Punk, Rihanna. Although Tidal was launched in October 2014, Jay Z bought it 3 months later for $56 million and relaunched it last March, promising better compensation for artists than the current models (Spotify, Pandora, etc.), which pay artists pennies per stream. While Entertainment Weekly was shy about coming "to the defense of a billionaire cabal (the members of which should dry their tears with their gold doubloons)," they point out that the attacks on Tidal are mildly unfair.
It was always going to be a niche product, as the biggest draw is the ability to stream hi-def tracks that are near-CD quality. That privilege will cost the consumer twice as much as a Spotify account (though you can still pay Tidal the industry-standard $9.99 a month for lesser-quality tracks), something that not a whole lot of people are willing to do. Despite the insistence by folks like Neil Young that we’ve been listening to music all wrong for most of the 21st century, only a very small segment of the population cares about sonic fidelity enough to fork over absurd gobs of money for what amounts to a slightly better digital experience. (As many have noted, those who truly care about high-quality sound just go ahead and opt for vinyl.)

So much of the conversation around streaming services is about payment to artists, and the Internet is choked with stories from musicians who have made next-to-nothing despite heavy streaming volume through various services. One of Tidal’s selling points was that it would be better for artists, and they would be sending a greater slice of the economic pie back to the creators.

But conversations about payment always miss the central point: In the overwhelming number of cases, artists are not hamstrung and penniless because of streaming services, but instead remain victims of label agreements and publishing deals. In most cases, payout rates are set by the labels based on contracts with individual artists, so any economic-based anger should be levied at the labels making the deals with Spotify or Tidal, not the services who are merely taking advantage of a broken system.

The busted nature of the music business is why the success or failure of Tidal is meaningless, because streaming is not the answer and will not fix anything. When it debuted, Spotify was treated as the ideal compromise between musicians who wanted to be compensated for their work and an audience who had mostly had access to a massive swath of pop music for well below retail rates. Here was a service that charged only a few bucks (or your attention for some ads), and in exchange you had consistent access to a huge catalog of songs (with some gigantic gaps, of course). Money would be doled out based on some sort of merit-based system, where streaming volume would equal big money for artists—or at least more than they would be making if their stuff was merely uploaded to YouTube or torrented illegally.

But streaming is simply another extension of a music industry that has been fundamentally resistant to change even as the walls continue to collapse around it. Even the benefit-sharing model Tidal presented is something of a misnomer. “For the vast majority of the artists who participate in all-in streaming in the interactive universe, any benefit would probably amount to a rounding error,” explains Casey Rae, the CEO of the Future of Music Coalition, an advocacy group for musicians that has been keeping close watch on streaming issues. “Unless you fundamentally change the division of revenue and how that’s allocated, then you’re not going to have a real perceptible change in the economics for the vast middle category of creators.”

Translation: Streaming will never be profitable for the vast majority of artists, no matter what Jay Z is selling. Unless the whole system is re-invented from the ground up, streaming is merely a minor salve, a distraction to keep us busy until the next great evolutionary leap is made in the music business. Until then, I’ll just keep buying cassettes.
Reminder: In 1919 United Artists was launched by 4 of Hollywood's biggest stars, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith. They wanted more artistic and economic control, control that Hollywood producers and studios were usurping. Decades later, Frank Sinatra launched Reprise Records-- of which I later became president-- as an artist-owned label that was meant to protect artists' interests. Again "artists" meant a few BIG artist-moguls. Neither U.A. nor Reprise turned out as idealistic as they were painted... exactly what seems to be happening at Tidal today.

Perhaps Jay Z and his posse should try another approach. Singer-songwriter Elliot Astur isn't thinking about more millions for himself-- but for a living wage, peace and decent healthcare for his countrymen:

Sometimes a little revolution
Is the only way to set things right
Sometimes a broken institution
Leaves a public burned enough to fight

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Obama Using Nike to Sell TPP; Does Nike Have Access to TPP Drafts?


In this video, "Gap" is a proxy for the whole industry, including Nike. To learn about the problem with subcontractors, start watching at 10:30.

by Gaius Publius

Nike is the ground zero for "made in Asia" shoe apparel. President Obama is ground zero for "let's send more jobs to Asia and claim the opposite." I'm not sure it benefits either to put the two together. Nevertheless, Obama will travel to Nike headquarters in Oregon to put the case to the nation that TPP is somehow good for American workers.

Obama to push case for trade deal at Nike headquarters in Oregon

President Barack Obama will travel to Nike Inc headquarters in Oregon next Friday [May 8] to argue that a 12-nation Pacific trade deal and the fast-track legislation needed to finalize the pact are good for workers.

Obama faces tough opposition from his fellow Democrats in Congress over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which they fear could hurt American jobs and the environment.

He will use the trip to the headquarters of Nike, a company once criticized for its use of "sweatshops," to "discuss how workers will benefit from progressive, high-standards trade agreements that would open up new markets and support high-quality jobs," the White House said in a statement.

Nike was targeted by labor activists in the early 1990s for contracting with factories in Asia where workers faced dangerous conditions and low pay. The criticism prompted the company to create a code of conduct for contractors and open factories for inspections.
Reuters is being polite. There's a lot wrong with Nike and TPP, but I want to focus on just one aspect — the use of contracted and subcontracted labor. From an article in Business Insider, we learn about Nike, its place in the world of off-shored manufacturing, and its history as a sweatshop owner:
One Stunning Stat That Shows How Nike Changed The Shoe Industry Forever 

When Nike was founded in 1964, just 4% of U.S. footwear was imported.

Five decades later, that figure has skyrocketed to 98%, and Nike has likely played a role in driving it up.

Now one of the world's biggest retailers of athletic shoes, Nike manufactures a vast majority of its footwear and apparel outside the U.S.

The company's founder, Phil Knight, came up with the idea of outsourcing manufacturing jobs to cut costs while attending Stanford Business School in the early 1960s, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The company now has 68 factories in the U.S., representing just 9% of its manufacturing facilities. Those U.S.-based factories employ just 1% of its total workforce, or 13,922 employees.

Becoming an early adopter of outsourcing has helped propel Nike into one of the biggest athletic footwear and apparel companies in the world.
Not only is Nike wildly successful; Phil Knight is wildly successful as well. Forbes has him as the richest person in Oregon, the 21st richest person in the U.S., and the 35th richest human on earth. His "real-time" net worth as of this writing, according to Forbes, is $23 billion. That's $23,000,000,000. Net worth.

Here's how he and Nike got that way. It's a simple method, one you'll understand immediately. Back to Business Insider:
Nike [became] a symbol of abusive labor practices, after reports of unsafe conditions at many of its foreign factories began emerging in the 1990s.

In a May 1998 speech, then-CEO Phil Knight was forced to admit that Nike had "become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse."
If you use global wage-power to pay people as little as 30 cents an hour to make something wildly popular you can sell for $100 each — and you have the kind of conscience that allows you to do that — it's not that hard to pocket that first billion. After that, the money just makes itself, especially if you can blackmail your home state as Knight has been doing to Oregon (read on for that).

Nike Will Say They've Changed, But Do They Police Their Contractors?

Nike has been saying they've seen the light, so to speak, and "established a new set of working standards, as well as a vigorous new auditing system to monitor labor practices in its factories and restore consumer faith in its brand" (Business Insider again).

I suspect the only light they saw is the need to "restore consumer faith" in their brand. Because companies like Nike are notorious for not policing their contractors, who often have contractors themselves, whom no one polices. Watch the John Oliver video above starting at 10:30 and you'll see what I mean. (That segment starts with the sentence, "Deniability seems to have been stitched into the supply chain" — which should tell you where that part of the discussion is headed.)

What Percentage of Nike's Workforce Is Contracted? Most of It

To what extent does Nike rely on contractors? Consider just these two data points. First, Nike's stated workforce, according to the Portland Business Journal:
The company employs 56,500 worldwide, including retail workers, a 17 percent increase in the past year, according to the company's most recent annual report.
Yet if you go to the Nike Manufacturing interactive website, and use the controls to select Vietnam, for example, as the country of manufacture, you find 67 factories, 333,000 workers.

And those are just the people it knows about, or claims to know about, in Vietnam. Does it know everyone to whom its work is subcontracted? Does it police its contractors' subcontractors?

And while we're at it, two more questions:

1. Is Nike getting any poorer? Not likely. If you click through to that Portland Business Journal article, you can read about how Nike used the threat of leaving Oregon entirely to strong-arm state government ito giving it "tax certainty."
In exchange for a commitment that it would create at least 500 jobs and spend at least $150 million on [Nike] campus expansion by the end of 2016, lawmakers agreed to give Nike "tax certainty," and continue taxing the company only on the sales of products in Oregon.
A global company, one of the richest in its industry, pays state income taxes only on sales in Oregon, not its total income. All in exchange for 500 local jobs and the promise to upgrade the Nike campus. Not state infrastructure, say. Just its own corporate headquarters. Nice deal you "negotiated," Mr. Knight.

2. Does Nike have a seat at the TPP bargaining table? According to Public Citizen (pdf): "In the United States, approximately 600 corporate lobbyists have been named as official advisors [to TPP negotiations], granting them steady access to the negotiating texts, as well as the negotiators."

Would Obama cut Mr. Knight, the king of moving manufacturing to Asia, out of TPP negotiations? I'd be shocked if he did.

Two Questions for Mr. Obama When He Speaks at Nike

So if anyone has a press seat at Obama's Nike speech, I suggest asking two simple questions:
  • Do Nike's lobbyists or other representatives have access to TPP draft text?
  • If so, why can't the American people see it before Fast Track is voted on?
I'd love to see the answers. So would Elizabeth Warren, I'm sure.


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Did An Anti-Union Billionaire Hijack The Inquirer's Endorsement Process On Behalf Of Anthony Williams?


Technically, the election for mayor of Philadelphia isn't until November 3. In a more practical sense, the city's Democratic voters will select the next mayor on May 19-- 2 weeks from tomorrow-- in the 6-way primary. You may be aware that Blue America has already endorsed the progressive in the race, Jim Kenney. Yesterday, the Philadelphia Inquirer inexplicably endorsed the Establishment hack that the machine and the anti-public education forces are backing, Anthony Williams. They acknowledge that the race is between Kenney and Williams and, in their headline, declared their backing for Williams is "narrow." The editors seemed to be holding their collective noses when they wrote "Because the unions backing Kenney already wield too much influence, The Inquirer's choice for the Democratic nomination is Anthony Williams." Does that even count as a "lukewarm" endorsement?
Kenney's 23 years on City Council and Williams' 26 in the state legislature make them the most experienced politicians in the field. Williams followed his well-known father and eponym, Hardy Williams, into the state House and Senate, where he is best known as an advocate of school choice [ie, anti-union charter schools], having bucked his party to facilitate charter schools and public assistance for private schools.

Before resigning from Council to run for mayor, as city law requires, Kenney showed independence, too. He successfully challenged the mayor and police commissioner to decriminalize marijuana possession, heading off thousands of needless arrests annually; almost lost his seat for opposing the abused and costly city retirement perk known as DROP; and parted with his relatively conservative South Philadelphia base and beginnings to support same-sex partner benefits.
A few hours later Dave Davies, one of the most senior and respected political journalists in Philly and a senior reporter at WHYY-FM since 2010, started blowing some whistles on how the actually endorsement came down. "After its candidate interviews, the editorial board reached a consensus to endorse Kenney," he wrote... but then the  publisher and editor overrode the Editorial Board decision and instead picked Williams, probably at the insistence of the paper's billionaire owner-- and Williams campaign donor-- Gerry Lenfest. Inquirer sources dispute that Lenfest forced the decision.
Nina Ahmad, the president of the of the Philadelphia chapter of the NOW said in a statement, "we were very disappointed to see that [the] Inquirer Editorial Board once again bent to the will of their billionaire owner and his support for Tony Williams."

Sources familiar with the process have confirmed to me that after its candidate interviews, the editorial board reached a consensus to endorse Kenney... [T]he editorial's criticisms of Kenney and his union ties can also be quoted in negative ads by Williams or his supporters.... [T]he only crew with the resources to wage a significant attack campaign against Kenney is American Cities, the super PAC heavily funded by three wealthy pro-school choice donors from the suburbs.
Hours later Philadelphia Magazine issued a real endorsement, this one for Kenney who, they wrote, "has shown enough in this campaign to make us believe that of the candidates before us, he’s the best choice... On a personal level, the most appealing thing about Jim Kenney has always been how human he is... And that may ultimately be what we’re putting our faith in. One of the great things about human beings is their ability to change, to grow, to rise to the occasion when that’s what’s truly required. Jim Kenney is proof-- we think-- that a man doesn’t have to be at 57 what he was at 35... All elections are about hope, and this one more than most. So as we endorse Jim Kenney in the Democratic primary."
For starters, there’s the basic matter of being able to run the city effectively on a day-to-day basis-- which is largely about attracting talented people to your administration. Even in his Original Recipe incarnation, Kenney was known for having a strong Council staff-- smart, competent grown-ups who were good at doing their jobs. That’s continued during this campaign, in which Kenney has surrounded himself with bright folks and run the sharpest operation by far. It gives us hope that a Mayor Kenney would bring into City Hall an energetic and talented mix of people-- ideally, a blend of policy wonks, business types and seasoned political pros-- who are open to new ideas and can make the city run smoothly and efficiently.

Kenney also shows the most promise when it comes to leadership-- the ability to get people excited and unite them behind a common cause. His current campaign is an intriguing coalition of rowhouse Philadelphians, young progressives and a cadre of African-Americans, and our fingers are crossed that Kenney can get Philadelphia as a whole to rally behind him. (In contrast, leadership is where Tony Williams has most disappointed us. For the last two years, he’s been the presumptive front runner, having amassed party support and the financial backing of three jillionaires from the suburbs. In short, he could have made himself inevitable; instead, his inability to excite people has kept him from closing the deal.)

One final factor that tips us toward Jim Kenney is timing. Successful political leadership is often about the right person showing up in the right place at the right moment. Ed Rendell finally got elected mayor just when Philadelphia needed an Ed Rendell-- someone equal parts fixer and cheerleader-- to be mayor. Similarly, Jim Kenney feels right for this moment-- a man who can continue Philadelphia’s transformation from old to new because he himself has transformed from old to new.

...All elections are about hope, and this one more than most. So as we endorse Jim Kenney in the Democratic primary, we simultaneously challenge him: Bury the old Jim Kenney once and for all, and give us the New Jim Kenney that a New Philadelphia so desperately needs.
Please consider chipping in to stop the charter school take over of Philadelphia schools which is, after all, what Anthony Williams' donors are writing their big checks to accomplish. This morning, Jim told us that "As mayor of Philadelphia I'll work hard fighting for Philadelphians and their families, to ensure pre-K for every child, end stop-and-frisk, and create community schools in every neighborhood, but to accomplish all this and more, I know I can't do it alone. That's why I'm so proud to have the support of a broad coalition of people, unions, and groups from every neighborhood across Philadelphia. To continue building a stronger city, we'll need to work together." Jim Kenney's Blue America contribution page can be found here.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Guest Post: Coach Randy Explains How The New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill Of Rights Failed His Son


Coach Randy is Randy Nathan, president of Project NextGen and author of Bullying In Sports: A Guide To Identifying The Injuries We Don't See. Randy agreed to write a guest post for us today that gets right down into the roots of what bullying is all about. And he doesn't stop there.

The “Garden” State of New Jersey is known for many wonderful things. Whether it’s the famous beach communities, an exceptional public educational system, or the home to famous athletes, entertainers, business leaders, and politicians, New Jersey has something for every walk of life. However, a little unknown fact is that New Jersey also boasts the most comprehensive anti-bullying legislation in the country-- the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Student Bill of Rights Act (NJSA 18A:37-13). It is also commonly referred to as HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) Both the NJ House and Senate passed the law (Assembly 71-1, with 5 abstentions and the Senate 30-0) in November 2010 and Governor Christie singed the bill on January 5, 2011. It was implemented on September 1, 2011. As an anti-bullying expert, I take tremendous pride in this piece of legislation. It was certainly needed and provided a necessary framework for the public educational systems to address important bullying situations, in and out of school.

As an anti-bullying expert in New Jersey, I have travelled throughout the state training and educating faculty, administrators, boards of education, parents and students on this law. I have presented in small school districts, large state conferences, school boards of education, and parent workshops. What most individuals do not know is that this Act was really an extension of legislation originally enacted in 2002 (NJSA 18A:37-13). In recent news, the State of Montana became the fiftieth and final state within the country with anti-bullying legislation. Most of the original laws throughout the country were implemented following the tragedy of Columbine High School in April 1999. In anti-bullying education, this shooting is often referred to as a pivotal moment of a tragic paradigm shift of how bullying was perceived within schools. Prior to Columbine, bullying was something that was simply commonplace and part of life. The target of bullying had limited protection. However, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both perceived targets of bullying behavior, changed that perception when they dressed in trench coats and began shooting fellow students and teachers, looking for the “jocks” within the school. It was the first time victims took matters into their own hands and devastated hundreds of lives, including their own, and forever changed the landscape of Littleton, Colorado. Although this fact has since been challenged, this incident created zero-tolerance policies throughout the country, eventually leading to state laws.

The 2011 NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights was also the result of another national tragedy. Although a task force was in place evaluating the current law, legislation heated up when Tyler Clementi, an eighteen year-old freshman student at Rutgers University jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, and fellow hall mate, Molly Wei used a webcam on Ravi’s computer in Wei’s dorm room to view Climenti being intimate with another man. Two days later, Ravi told his friends and Twitter followers to watch the intimacy once again. Even though the viewing never occurred, Climenti took his own life and in doing so brought national attention to the raising seriousness and quickest growing form of bullying-- cyberbullying and the increased targeting of LGBT youth.

When the law was signed, supporters cheered, advocates highlighted the courage taken by legislatures, and families with personal experiences celebrated a new sense of accountability. The timeline to get everything into place was a measly nine months that required school districts to implement new staff responsibilities (in some situations new staff), mandated procedures to be followed for the reporting, investigating and follow through of information. Schools were required to establish their own policies and practices that fulfilled the new mandate. Faculty required training, students had to be informed and strategies needed to be created. Schools scrambled to fulfill the necessary elements of the law. Oh, and by the way, this law was being introduced during the time following a billion dollar deduction of state funded dollars to the schools. In addition, no money was being funded to implement these expectations. Schools were required to make significant changes in the functions and responsibilities around this law, while letting teachers and other school professionals go, cutting services, and reducing already needed programs. This was a state mandated, unfunded program.

Over the next nine months, schools scrambled along with their attorneys to understand the new law and develop their own policies for their schools. Shrinking faculties were told they needed to take on additional responsibilities, while still maintaining their expected job load. Selected school administrators were forced to attend lengthy state sponsored trainings to become Anti-Bullying Coordinators, and then return to their schools to inform and train their staff on the new legislation. Other school professionals, primarily those in counseling, social work, and guidance attended shorter trainings to prepare them for their new roles as Anti-Bullying Specialists. Additionally, forms had to be created, a process for reporting alleged HIB incidents needed to be developed and implemented, and programs for students had to be created. All while these school professionals had to continue the current operation of a school day. Amazingly, these outstanding individuals fulfilled those expected roles. However, it was an unreasonable hope for them to be expected to become experts in HIB, while maintaining their job responsibilities. To this day, the professionals assigned in these roles do so through often in their personal time to ensure compliance with the law.

The legislation is sixteen pages in length and is extremely far-reaching. It covers findings relative to school bullying, requires training on suicide prevention for teaching staff, how schools will be graded, training program requirements, reporting of all elements of the law, creating of new job responsibilities, consequences for student behaviors, a new definition of HIB, policies to be implemented, making retaliation and retribution prohibited, establishment of bullying prevention programs, training courses for school professionals, inclusion of off-school grounds incidents, appointment of specific staff positions, development of school safety teams, teacher certification expectations, development of guidance document, establishment of formal protocol for investigating a complaint, needed in-service workshops and trainings, and compliance of non-public schools. As anyone can see this is a thorough, well thought out law that seems to cover every inch possible with harassment, intimidation and bullying. These legislatures did an exceptional job to ensure the safety of our students. However, as Assemblyman John McKeon shared with me last week, legislatures are only responsible for creating the law. It’s up to every school district within New Jersey to implement its mandate. There are over 2500 schools within 604 school districts in New Jersey (http://www.state.nj.us/education/data/fact.htm). Although the law dictates the necessary steps and measures needed to observe the law, it allows for individual interpretations of alleged HIB investigations. That means, a bullying situation in one school may be perceived as HIB, while an identical situation in another school may not. The law also does not dictate the necessary consequences when an investigation uncovers harassment, intimidation and/or bullying. Again, that means one school may treat the situation with more leniency than another. However, the law is very clear in terms of the expected steps schools need to take when an alleged HIB incident is reported.

One of the most innovative aspects of the law is the compliance needed of any school professional, board member, or vendor when HIB is either directly witnessed or reported. The law demands that the school principal be notified by the end of the school day in order to initiate a formal investigation. The uniqueness of this law requires any individual the obligation to report the alleged situation. The law is very simple, you hear/see something, you say something. There is no room for individual interpretation or ability to provide any type of advice or guidance. Once the principal is notified, a formal report is required to be submitted with notification going to the appropriate parties (generally parents) within 24-48 hours. Following the notification to the parent(s), the school has no more than ten days to complete an investigation. There law is very clear in this expectation and the legislatures were brilliant in their understanding of the importance of an investigation with HIB. Furthermore, the law also clearly states that the alleged HIB does not have to be several occurrences. It only requires a one-time action to initiate an HIB report and investigation. There are numerous ways an alleged HIB case can be reported-- either verbally to a school professional, download a form from the school website, or anonymously. Regardless how the incident is provided, the school must initiate an investigation.

I have always questioned whether school professionals were trained in appropriate investigative skills. Most school staff involved in these roles is social workers, school counselors, nurses, etc. Their skill set is significantly different than that required to do authentic investigations. These professionals are often involved engaged with students in a much different fashion. Their responsibilities require trust from students in order to fulfill their primary roles. For instance, social workers are in the empowerment and relationship building business. They often serve a therapeutic role for students with an element of confidentiality and trust. Their question skill set is significantly different than those needed for an investigation. They often ask open-ended questions that lead a student into a particular direction. When leading an investigation, the old adage is “just the facts, ‘mam.” Their primary function is often in direct competition with these added responsibilities. In addition, since this an unfunded mandate, schools often choose to cut corners because of budgets and only provide the least expensive training that covers the lowest expectation. This means that the investigation process is going to compromised when the person doing the investigation is not appropriately trained.

In July of last summer (2014) I was approached by a number of families regarding their concerns with the Varsity baseball coach from Columbia High School in the South Orange-Maplewood School District. As a national author and speaker on “Bullying in Sports” they came to me for my guidance and direction. My son was a player on the team and I was all too familiar with their concerns. They shared with me their plans to approach the school and get them to investigate the bullying by the coaches their sons (players) experienced. Some of the players graduated that previous year, while a couple players were presently on the team. They knew my son was still on the team, but asked me anyway to consider helping them out. In my book, I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of being a “Game Changer and Being and Upstander.” Following a conversation with my son, we agreed that my assistance was important, but I would not be at the forefront of this group. I would provide the necessary expertise regarding the law and offer them the support needed to get the school to take action.

I personally witnessed the coach screaming, yelling and demeaning players regularly. I saw a player stand up to the coach while going on a tirade against another player to simply provide some “positivity.” However, the coached benched the player for “talking out of line and challenging authority.” In another situation, a parent sent an anonymous letter requesting the coach to minimize the screaming and foul language constantly directed at the players. Instead of owning up to his remarks, his comment back to the team was “if you don’t like my screaming, then don’t play for me.” In other situations, the coach called players inappropriate words referring to the female sex organ. I heard about numerous times players were called out in front of their teammates being blamed for losing a game. In addition, the coach often complained over a lack of talent, screamed at umpires and openly challenged parents that the support for the baseball program. This behavior made a number of players to stop playing baseball leaving the team. The reason why there was limited talent was because he was harassing, intimidating and bullying them to leave the team. In one very serious situation, the coach spoke publically about a player’s alleged injury without permission hurting his college recruiting efforts.

On August 13, 2014 I met with Ms. Elizabeth Aaron (school principal), Mr. Phil Stern (school attorney and anti-bullying coordinator), and Ms. Cheryline Hewitt (assistant principal) to discuss the parents’ concerns about the harassment, intimidation and bullying behavior by the school’s varsity baseball coaches. I expressed my concern about possible retribution towards my son since he was currently on the team. They thanked me for coming in to meet with them and promised me that he will be fine. I urge them to take the parents’ request and complaints seriously and mentioned the HIB law, bullying in sports, and the importance of doing their due diligence in providing a proper investigation. At that moment, since I mentioned the words harassment, intimidation and bullying the principal was required to initiate the protocols required by the NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. According to the law, they had ten days to complete an investigation-- August 23. However, since it was the summer, the law didn’t require the report to be finished until the tenth day of school-- September 15. The principal even took a copy of my book and didn’t even offer to pay. Go figure.

A side note, on September 18 a teacher from Columbia High School was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting three students, with two more coming forward the following day. The story hit the press hard and became a huge distraction for the beginning of school. Given the seriousness of these allegations, it made sense to provide the school more time to fulfill the needed report from my meeting in August. Then on October 9 the ACLU filed a complaint against the South Orange Maplewood School District under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This case was also as serious and accused the school district of alleged racial disparities throughout the district. However, since my meeting was held during the summer I figured the end of October would be reasonable to receive the report. It wasn’t within the ten day time period, but certainly could be provided by then. By mid-November the school still had not provided any type of report. The only response we got was that they were taking the allegations seriously and were on top of it and that the report was forthcoming. Yet, the school year was moving along and things were being put into place for the following spring. During a mandatory meeting held by the coach, players were told about their participation in conditioning and winter workouts. At that time the coach acknowledge the rumors going on around his job, but that “whether you like it or not, I will be the coach for next season.” Three separate players validated the comments and I called Ms. Aaron the following day to notify her of his comments and intimidation towards the players. I reminded her about the length of the time its taken her to complete the report and that it was well beyond the state mandated ten days. She assured me once again she was working on it and to expect it before the end of the year. I also brought up my concern about my son and possible retaliation from the coach and was taken aback that I could actually believe something like that would happen with another adult. I told her that was nice, but if anything happened I would come directly to her.

On January 22 a letter finally arrived, but not one that would please anyone interested in a thorough investigation. The letter stated that through their thorough investigation they were pleased to share that there was no “corroborative” evidence supporting the HIB reported the previous summer. It took them five months to tell us they found nothing and then to say they were “pleased” was overly offending. We later found out that the neither the schools Anti-Bullying Specialist or Anti-Bullying Coordinator did the investigation, but rather the Athletic Director did. That’s right, the Athletic Director is the one that did the so-called investigation. This Athletic Director was the previous head baseball coach, hired the current coach three years ago, and guess what, was a close personal friend. How any administrator thought this was a good idea is beyond me. But wait, there’s more to the story.

On February 11, the group of parents meets with the school attorney/anti-bullying coordinator instead of their right to meet with the Board. He convinces the group that a meeting with him will be more effective and the group could still visit with the board if they’d like. I purposely do not go to the meeting since I continue my role as outside support. He tells the group the investigation is still open and that he was now personally leading it. Later in the month, on February 23, the Board of Education approves the coach to the position. Several parents of this group speak up during the public session, expressing their concerns and all asking for one thing-- to authorize and independent investigation. There were parents who spoke on behalf of the coach as well as alumni players. Those players graduated in 2010 and had the coach when they were freshman, since at that time that was his position in 2007 (eight years ago). However, what was really astonishing was the absence of any current player from the current season or recent past. Not one player currently playing varsity for this coach came to speak on his behalf…not one. Most were together at a house watching the meeting on TV since it was being broadcasted live. A Board member did make a comment about it would be nice to hear from a current player, then a player who was watching the meeting on TV rushed over to offer his thoughts. This young man demonstrated incredible courage and he was also a target of the unacceptable bullying behavior from this coach. He was a senior and was a constant target the season before and already made the decision to not play the coming season. Since his desire to speak was last minute, his comments were unprepared, but he reiterated everything the parents said, most importantly the need for an outside independent investigation. I was also not present at the meeting. I was in Arizona speaking to high school student athletes about bullying in sports and the importance of being a positive leader. When I returned from my trip my son and I spoke and he was relieved that I was not at the meeting. He felt my presence would have harmed his chances on the team. Later that evening the Board unanimously approved the coach.

On March 6, since there was so much snow outside, spring baseball began with tryouts inside the school’s gym. Apparently the timeframe for the tryouts went from March 7-10. On March 11 the roster for the Varsity and JV teams were posted outside the Athletic Director’s door. (Before the results are shared, it’s important to note that my son as a Freshman started on the Freshman team, as a Sophomore he started on the JV team, and as a junior was the starting centerfield for the Varsity team. Inasmuch the coach publically praised him at the end-of-season banquet for being the best outfielder on the team.) At 10am he went to the AD’s office to look for his name on the roster. However, it was not there. He looked over it again and thought it was an oversight. He texted the coach about his name not being on the list asking if he was cut. The coach responded, “yes” and that he could meet with him the following day at 3:15pm. Then my son texted back, “What I didn’t improve? I didn’t tryout well?” The coach simply responded, “if you want to talk about it meet us at 3:15pm tomorrow.” It was 10am on Wednesday morning and he was instructed to sit with this until 3:15pm the following day. He immediately left school, called me and went home. It was the beginning of the biggest disappointment in his life. All he cared about was playing ball with his closest friends in his senior year. I immediately called the school, demanded a meeting with the principal and attorney, and filed a verbal HIB incident report for retaliation and retribution against my son. I drove to the school expecting to speak with someone from the administration, but no one was willing to meet with me. I was agitated, extremely upset and an emotional wreck. I promised that I expected to be heard and someone would be held accountable. I also contacted an attorney who I knew did work on HIB and she took my call.

Anti-bullying educators know the most effective form of intervention and deterrence to bullying is adult involvement. Trust is huge in this area, even more difficult for high school students. We also know that you never but a bully and a target in the same room together, ever. The challenge here is that the bully is the adult coach and the target was my son. As Alex prepared those two days to meet with the coach, I was busy behind the scenes doing everything I could to stop that meeting to ensure it never took place. Furthermore, given the retaliation and retribution, my attorney got right on that and met with Mr. Stern directly. Not only was my son a target of retribution, another senior (also a player who played for the program all three years) was also cut from the team. However, the retaliation he received was directly at him as he spoke out in a confidential meeting with the principal. He shared a letter he wrote about his experiences with this bully coach.

By Friday, March 13 Ms. Aaron and Mr. Stern forced the coaches to put both players back on the team. The meeting lasted a couple of hours and apparently they fought this “kicking and screaming.” However, they principal and school attorney did not waver in their expectations. I received a call from the attorney in the afternoon about the news. The only reason I fought to get my son back on the team was because he wanted to be with his friends and finish his baseball career with his closest friends. He made a decision the year before that he was not going to pursue college baseball and was looking forward to playing ball for the last time.

On Monday, March 16 Ms. Aaron, in her office with Mr. Stern, the coaches, the Athletic Director, Alex and his parents, led a meeting. It lasted approximately 30 minutes. I was greeted nicely by Mr. Stern, but Ms. Aaron didn’t make eye contact with me and barely shook my hand hello. She started the meeting by saying she attended the parents meeting the previous evening. If there was one thing she heard loud and clearly was that parents were not allowed to talk about playing time. She kept focusing on that over and over. Then she started the meeting by asking if Alex had any questions. He had two-- the first was about where he needed to improve and whether or not they would be fair. The first question was dismissive as the answer had nothing to do with Alex’s skill set as a player. Two were hearsay from another person present conditioning and Sunday trainings, the other had to do with tryouts and Alex not being with his group. As Alex heard his comments, he became tense, agitated and frustrated-- rightfully so. The first comment about conditioning was answered by the fact that he had gained 10 pounds through conditioning. He attended conditioning four times a week and if missed one he worked out at the local gym. The other was about his comment from a coach about his hitting. He answered that comment by saying that he just wanted to start this year off on his own and allow himself to clear his head of everyone “giving their coaching” at first. The third was answered by saying the reason why he wasn’t with his group was because he was looking for a bat because he was on-deck. When the question about being fair was answered, the coaches promised they would be. Alex was dismissed, then Ms. Aaron focused the meeting on me. When I came to school looking for Ms. Aaron on that previous Wednesday I was overly emotional. I did my best to remain calm, but given the history of what had not happened with the original report, the so-called investigation of January, etc I was very upset. I honestly don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it involved inappropriate language and comments. (FYI-- I sent packages to two secretaries who witnessed and received my emotional comments apologizing to them. I also called them directly to offer my regrets. I also apologized to Ms. Aaron the moment I heard about my behavior following a phone call that she made to my ex-wife.) Then she went about talking about my comments and inappropriateness as a parent. I spoke up, accepted responsibility and mentioned that I made apologies to the people that deserved it. It seemed excessive and basically like a forum for her to demonstrate that she had her coaches back. I also made it clear that I expected these coaches to treat Alex fairly and that time would tell if they did that or not. In addition, it was made clear to everyone in that room that it was very unlikely that Alex would ever approach them for help. He’s not that type of kid and that they would have to be proactive with that. The promised they would.

By March 25th it was the beginning of the end for my son. He texted me that evening that he wanted to stop playing baseball because it was not longer fun anymore. He became quick to anger, emotional and was always agitated. I asked him to please reconsider because at that time I thought the best thing for him to do was to stay strong, not quit and finish the season. I didn’t want these coaches to get the best of him and take away something he had worked so hard to achieve. On the evening of March 31, Mr. Stern holds a meeting with ten parents. This is the follow-up meeting from February 11. I attend this meeting since the retaliation behavior from the coaches towards by son. At this meeting Mr. Stern apologizes for how the entire HIB investigation was handled from the beginning. He admits it was much bigger than he anticipated and should have taken it off of Ms. Aaron’s “plate” since she was doing so much. He also shared with us that through his own investigation he has discovered HIB on the baseball team and was going to share it with the Board at the April 27 meeting. He then started on about the points he wants to address at the meeting and get our feedback. However, the group of parents wanted accountability, to understand why the delay, and discuss why the current coaches are still coaching. He tells us his approach is to reform the coaches and train them to do better. We all adamantly disagree. He tells us he meets with these coaches regularly and they will change because of that. I do acknowledge from my professional hat his desire, but explain that bully coaches are not able to change through simple training he was going to provide. I plead with Mr. Stern to share his findings sooner since it was very unlikely that Alex would be able to hold on much longer. He offered to have Alex meet with him directly to encourage him not to quit and let him know that change was imminent. In addition, he promised the parents that we will receive an updated letter prior to spring break (April 17) informing us that the original letter we received on Januayr 22 was incorrect and that his investigation discovered elements of HIB. There are 17 games scheduled between this date and April 27.

The season begins on April 1 and Alex sits the bench. However, his demeanor and attitude are great. He even comes home after the game excited about the team’s chances and how they were going to win state. He also shared with me that he thought he was going to get in the following day, since one of the players seemed to struggle a lot during the game. Deep inside I know that’s not going to happen, but it was so nice to see him happy again about baseball I didn’t want to interfere with that moment. I arrive at this game, knowing Alex was going to sit the bench. Even though he shared his excitement the previous evening. CHS takes and early 4-0 lead. The opponents make three errors in the first inning. It is clearly a team CHS can beat. Alex sits the bench again. Two other seniors get into the game, the same right fielder is in right field. Towards the end of the game, Alex starts texting me that he wants to quit. It’s not fun anymore. The coaches are not going to give him a chance. I text everyone I know who loves Alex to encourage him to stay on the team. I call Phil Stern’s cell phone immediately and tell him what is going on. Mr. Stern tells me that he cannot believe it asks to meet Alex Monday morning, April 6. Alex and I visit him that morning where Alex tells him everything he was experiencing – being ignored, isolated without any communication from the coaches. There’s a saying in sports about coaches who yell. It’s actually a good thing when coaches yell because it’s a sign that they care. However, when they stop yelling it’s time for concern. Not only were the coaches not yelling at Alex, they weren’t even saying hello. Mr. Stern thanks Alex for coming in and meeting, extends his gratitude for his courage and promises that he will see an immediate change during the game later that afternoon.

I arrive at the game with it already in progress. Alex is again on the bench. Alex ends up being the only player to not play in the game. CHS wins 8-0. Alex looks at me during the game and is visibly upset and mouths to me that he wants to quit again. I shake my head and understand why. Following the game, everyone on the team knows Alex is upset. It was clearly obvious. However, the bus is late and they have to wait around on the field until the bus gets there. The team is together standing by the end of the dugout, yet Alex is all alone sitting on the bench. The players know they can’t go over to console Alex because if they do they will be yelled at, or worse benched. We find out later that evening, that the coach was speaking to a team captain (a close friend of Alex) that Alex is not playing because he is pouting and giving off negative vibes. And that he’s not going to play someone like that. He also told this captain to not let Alex interfere with what they have started. I take a picture showing the loneliness and isolation of Alex and text it to Mr. Stern. He can’t believe what is going on with this. As a matter of fact, that’s always his initial comment when anything was ever shared with him about this. There were three coaches at that game, not one took the time to sit with Alex. We later found out that Mr. Stern called the coach earlier that day and instructed him to put Alex in the game. The coach said he would, but didn’t. He ended up using that conversation as another form or retaliation for Alex meeting with Mr. Stern.

The morning of April 7 I download an HIB incident complaint form and fill out another one for retribution and retaliation. That day Alex was a mess. He wanted to quit and wanted nothing to do with the coaches. His mom and I convinced him to write a letter and that I would get Mr. Stern and Ms. Aaron to set up a meeting with everyone that was present at that meeting on March 16. Alex wrote a gut wrenching letter that was quoted in a subsequent news article in the NJ Star Ledger online newspaper NJ.com. The only request we have of him is that he must meet with Ms. Aaron to let her know what has gone on since she made it clear in the meeting that her “name is on top of the school letterhead.” He meets with her Wednesday morning with the intention to leave the team that afternoon. She asks him to return later in the day, which he does. I get a call from him following the afternoon meeting and Ms. Aaron wants to have Alex meet with the coach with her presence. She was aware of the trash talking by the coach to the players, aware of everything that had transpired, and my concern over Alex spending anytime alone with that coach. We agree that as long as he is with Ms. Aaron they can meet. A game is schedule for that afternoon and they would hold the meeting before it started. I wait to hear from him and eventually get a text that he suited up and playing in the game. There’s an unbelievable sense of relief thinking that she was able to actually do something for my son. I arrive at the game. His demeanor is positive and he’s smiling. But he sits the entire game once again. They lost 6-0 and the coach couldn’t even offer my son a little bit of faith that things would change.

The following morning, April 9 Alex texts me first thing in the morning that he wants to talk. I spoke with his mom the night before and she shared with me the conversation she had with him at that time. He came to terms that the coach was not going to change his bullying ways and simply did not love baseball anymore. They took that from him through their bullying tactics, isolation and trash talking. I meet with Alex for lunch to discuss his conversation about quitting. He told me he shared the news with Ms. Aaron before leaving for lunch. I apologize again numerous times, do my best to keep my emotions in tact during the meal as I explain everything that has transpired and my deep concern over the possible long term effect this will have on him, and our relationship. He leaves to go speak to the coaches. His conversation with them went something like this. It was a team practice and he pulled the coaches off to the side. He first thank Mr. F for the meeting the previous day. The basically told them he had given a lot of thought about playing baseball and that he didn’t want to play anymore. He reached out and shook both of their hands and wished them luck. All they said was thanks for coming to us. I was told that after Alex left the team, they didn’t even acknowledge what he did. They just continued on like nothing happened.

I wait for the updated latter to arrive by April 17, when Spring Break begins, but no letter arrives. I am also waiting for the HIB report from the incident of March 11. Again, the ten days were not honored. Mr. Stern invites me to meet with me during spring break on April 22. I visit with him for an hour where he again promises a letter would be forthcoming and that he would also share his comments he plans to provide to the board on April 27. I am privy to other bullying situations still taking place with the other player that was cut, but do not led on to him that I am aware of them. I ask him what he needs to take action-- harassment is harassment. But, alas nothing was going to change. He was committed to the retraining process even though the coaches continued to defy his calls about putting these two players into a game.

On April 27 I attend the BOE meeting that is scheduled to begin at 7:30pm with the expectation of hearing his comments about his update about the January 22 letter. I finally get a letter by 6pm that evening. But it basically placates the parents, but does acknowledge that our efforts have helped raise their awareness of behavior taking place on the baseball team. The public session begins around 11:00pm. Alex’s mom speaks and reads the letter he wrote to the coaches. I offer comments about how the original HIB letter was incorrect and they will be notified later in the evening about that. They hired the coaches without having the correct information. We stay to hear Mr. Sterns remarks. He starts around 1:00am. He promises to be brief and starts going through a power point. He shows a Venn diagram with the HIB and all other laws designed to protect students. Then shows a slide with a number of words on it, with the word COURAGE in big bold letter. Then he talks about how through the past couple of months he has learned that there are many people who have demonstrated courage. That courage needs to be noted and realized in these situations. That’s it, nothing of what he promised us in terms of notifying the board that he found elements of HIB on the baseball team.

A reporter from the Star Ledger is present and decides to write a story about our situation. I reach out to the state about a formal inquiry about the school’s unwillingness to follow the law all throughout this process dating back to the summer of 2014. They are now investigating the school district and will be meeting with them this coming week. However, the damage has been done. My son will never get his senior year back. Of course the team is have a successful season which makes this all that more difficult. It’s difficult because within the culture of sports, winning is everything and it makes coaching a heck of a lot easier. It’s difficult because my son is constantly online look at the game summaries knowing he should have been on that time. It’s difficult because I am an expert on this and I cannot even help protect him from any of this.

I do realize that Alex will move past this and move on with his life. He is attending the University of Arizona in the fall and this will be nothing but a bad memory for him. However, now that I have personally experienced what so many other parents and players have gone through with bully coaches, my convictions are even stronger than before. Sadly though, I have reached out to a number of the state legislatures that co-sponsored and wrote the law. But they either do not respond at all, or simply write a quick email to let me know they will be in touch if they deem necessary. The anti-bullying law that is supposed to be the most effective in the country is nothing when individuals required to follow the law chose not to. A professor of mine from undergrad once said that a law is only as powerful as the individuals responsible to implement it. In this case, this law and those individuals failed my son.

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