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Mendocino County Today: January 21, 2013

THE DEATH OF MARTIN LUTHER KING.

MartinLutherKingJrFriends, In memory of Martin Luther King, a clip from my documentary,

“1968: The Year that Shaped a Generation” (PBS, 1998) which we posted on The I Files YouTube Channel.

This excerpt recalls his support for the strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, his assassination, the riots that followed, and the devastating impact of his loss. Forty-five years ago — but days I'll never forget. — Steve Talbot

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohYgjwa71lg&list=PL418BC1BDA10B4706&index=1

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AT 11:40am the streets of San Francisco were emptying as everyone hurried home, or into the 540 Club, to watch the Niners squeak out a riveting, down-to-the-last-seconds victory over Atlanta. Niner fans are as diverse as The City. Sure, there are lots of premature diabetics wandering around in football jerseys, but on big game days it's like everyone has disappeared. Which they have. The whole town is inside watching the 49ers. Seal Team Six and the sight and sound of Joe Buck couldn't have kept me away from this one, even though outside it was sunny and a balmy 66 degrees.

Harbaugh comes unglued
Harbaugh comes unglued

The Niners got every break except on a disputed catch, and after the ruling on that one Coach Harbaugh, the only coach I've ever seen who has foamed at the mouth in frustration, threw an absolutely hilarious sidelines tantrum. Harbaugh might actually be certifiable, but the guy can coach. Kaep, even though Atlanta took away the run from him but not from Frank Gore and LaMichael James, was brilliant by air, and the Niners are on their way to the Super Bowl, the Giants are world champs and even the Warriors are looking pretty good. The funniest pre-game comment I saw was from a Niner fan who speculated that Atlanta had dispatched the woman who told the police Crabtree had assaulted her in a downtown hotel after last night's game, but apparently there's a witness — not Pablo Sandoval, who beat an assault charge last baseball season — who said the woman is lying.

ON TO THE HARBAUGH BOWL! (Jim H. coaches the Niners. His older brother John H. coaches Baltimore. Baltimore and the Niners are in the Super Bowl.

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(PLEASE NOTE that ol' Stan and the three or so active Republicans in Mendocino County advertise their meetings. The Democrats are a closed society.)

REPUBLICANS to Meet in Ukiah: The Mendocino County Republican Central Committee will meet Saturday, January 26, 2013, 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon at the Henny Penny Restaurant, 697 S. Orchard Ave (corner of Gobbi), Ukiah. For further information contact: Stan Anderson, 707-321-2592.

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OPEN LETTER TO MIKE DUKE, CEO of Walmart

Mike Duke, CEO
, Walmart Corporation
, Bentonville, Arkansas

Dear Mr. Duke,

Walmart, your gigantic company, is increasingly being challenged by your workers, government prosecutors, civil lawsuits, communities (that do not want a Walmart), taxpayers learning about your drain on government services and corporate welfare, and small businesses and groups working with unions such as SEIU and UFCW. Thus far, Walmart is successfully playing rope-a-dope, conceding little while expecting to wear down its opposition.

But you and your Board of Directors know what most shoppers and other people do not know – namely that these pressures are only going to increase. There is one policy announcement by your company that can “roll back” many of these pressures and relieve adverse public relations.

Walmart has about one million workers, give or take, in the U.S. who are making less per hour, adjusted for inflation, than workers made in 1968. This is remarkable for another reason – today’s Walmart worker, due to automation and other efficiencies, does the work of two Walmart workers from 40 years ago. A federal minimum wage, inflation-adjusted from 1968, would be $10.50 today. The present federal minimum wage is $7.25 – the lowest in major Western countries. In Western Europe and Ontario, where you have operations, you must currently adhere to minimum wages of $10.50 or more.

If you were to announce that Walmart is raising the wages of your one million laborers to $10.50, you would have a decisive impact on the momentum that is building this year for Congress to lift 30 million American workers to the level of workers in 1968, inflation adjusted. Imagine 30 million workers trying to pay their bills with wages below those of 1968, inflation adjusted, when, back then, overall worker productivity was half what it is today.

Raising your workers’ wages to a $10.50 minimum would cost your company less than $2 billion (deductible) on U.S. sales of more than $313 billion. Fewer Walmart workers would have to go on varieties of government relief. Some of that $2 billion would go to social security, and Medicare with more going back into purchases at Walmart. Employee turnover would diminish. If Walmart joins with many civic, charitable groups and unions to press Congress for legislation to catch up with 1968 for 30 million American workers, good things will happen. You and your fellow executives will feel better. Your public relations will improve. So will our economy.

Members of Congress, economists, workers and reporters know you can do this. After all, Walmart has to meet numerous safety nets in countries of Western Europe beyond a higher minimum wage, such as weeks of paid vacation and paid sick leave. Also, your top executives in Europe are paid far less than your $11,000 an hour plus benefits and perks.

Walmart watchers know that Walmart officials are worried about damaging disclosures, about Walmart problems such as foreign bribery in Mexico, which may become more numerous. Last year, during the Black Friday demonstrations, some of your workers and their supporters, raised the civil rights issue of Walmart’s retaliation for workers publically complaining about workplace harassment – pay, fair schedules and affordable health care. Such protests are only going to intensify in the future.

At a productive meeting with your government relations people in Washington, D.C. last year, I told them that Walmart was one billionaire away from a serious unionization drive, and I referred them to my political fiction book “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!” for a detailed step-by-step strategy that only awaits funding from one or two very rich, people.

You need to do something authentic that people can relate to – seventy percent of the people in polls support an inflation-adjusted minimum wage. So did Rick Santorum and even Mitt Romney, until he waffled during the primaries.

Your announcements this week about hiring 100,000 veterans in the next five years is less than what meets the eye. Twenty-thousand veterans hired each year is a tiny fraction of your workforce and if you are not doing that already, given your huge number of employees (1.4 million) and large annual turnovers, you should be ashamed.

Veterans would have to take a 50 percent or more pay cut from their military salaries – housing and food allowances, health care and other benefits – to work for Walmart. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the average active-duty service member receives Army benefits and compensation worth $99,000, which is much more than the prospect of a Walmart job paying less than $20,000 coupled with very limited health insurance.

Should you wish to discuss Walmart taking the lead in raising the minimum wage for its workers to catch up with 1968, please call me. It is better to anticipate than have to react to the looming dark clouds on Walmart’s horizon. Thank you for your considered response.

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader
P.O. Box 19312
Washington, DC 20036

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AARON SWARTZ, INTERNET PIONEER and information activist takes his own life — faced decades in prison for downloading academic articles. By Timothy Lee

Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz was easy to pick out of a crowd. I met him only once, at a 2010 gathering of legal academics organized by Larry Lessig at Harvard. In a room full of suits, Aaron wore a Google App Engine T-Shirt.

Unfortunately, Aaron's penchant for defying social convention may have been his undoing. He was arrested in 2011 for scraping articles from the academic archive JSTOR. Facing hacking charges that could put him in prison for decades, Aaron took his own life on Friday, January 11.

Aaron accomplished more in his 26 years than most of us will accomplish in our lifetimes. At the age of 14, he helped develop the RSS internet standard (now a widely used method for subscribing to web content.). He was an early member of the team that created reddit, which was sold to Condé Nast (Ars' parent company) before Aaron turned 20. Now independently wealthy, Aaron threw himself into political activism.

Aaron had long been acquainted with legal scholar and Creative Commons founder and Harvard Law Professor Larry Lessig. When Lessig shifted his focus from copyright reform to institutional corruption, Aaron became an enthusiastic supporter of Lessig's new cause. He joined the Safra Center for Ethics, which Lessig directed, as a fellow.

In late 2010, Aaron became incensed about a copyright proposal that would eventually become the Stop Online Piracy Act. He founded a group called Demand Progress, which became a key rallying point in the fight against SOPA. He and the team he assembled spent 2011 raising awareness about the problems with the legislation, building momentum for the January 18, 2012 protest that decisively killed it.

Aaron was passionate about public access to information and offended by public information being locked behind paywalls. One paywall that particularly irked Aaron was on PACER, the website the US judiciary uses to distribute public court records. The courts charged seven cents (eventually raised to 10 cents) per page to access legal briefs, judicial opinions, scheduling orders, and other documents essential to understanding the judicial process.

So when the courts started a pilot program to allow free access to PACER from 17 libraries around the country, Aaron sprung into action. He visited one of the libraries and reverse-engineered the authentication process the library's computers used to bypass the paywall. Then he spun up some cloud servers and, using credentials purloined from one of the libraries, began scraping documents from PACER. He got more than two million documents before the courts noticed what was happening and shut the pilot program down.

When I was in grad school at Princeton, some colleagues and I used the documents Aaron obtained as the foundation of RECAP, a Firefox extension to liberate court documents and store them in a public archive.

Aaron was also outraged about the high prices charged for access to scholarly publications. In a 2008 manifesto, he denounced the legacy system of academic publishing in which scholarly knowledge is locked up behind paywalls. “We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access,” he wrote.

In the fall of 2010, Swartz engaged in a bit of Guerilla Open Access himself, logging onto MIT's network to scrape millions of academic papers from the JSTOR database. When MIT administrators booted his laptop off the Wi-Fi network, he entered an MIT network closet and plugged his laptop directly into the campus network.

The stunt got the attention of federal prosecutors, who arrested him and charged him with multiple counts of computer hacking, wire fraud, and other crimes. The feds ratcheted up the charges further in September. If convicted on all charges, he could have spent more than 50 years in prison.

We don't know the details of Aaron's death or why he might have taken his own life. In a comment on hacker news, Aaron's mother wrote, “thank you all for your kind words and thoughts. Aaron has been depressed about his case/upcoming trial, but we had no idea what he was going through was this painful.”

It's hard to imagine his looming prosecution wasn't a factor.

In an anguished Saturday blog post, Lessig describes Aaron's predicament. He was facing a million-dollar trial in April, “his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a federal district court judge.”

Whether or not it contributed to his suicide, the federal government's prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice. Aaron shouldn't have plugged his laptop into MIT's network without permission, but that's not the sort of crime that deserves a multi-year, to say nothing of multi-decade, prison sentence. We should pay tribute to Aaron's memory by reforming the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to prevent such disproportionate prosecutions from happening in the future.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Carmen Ortiz, the federal prosecutor who hounded Aaron Swartz in the months before his Friday suicide, has released a statement arguing that “this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case.” She says that she recognized that Swartz’s crimes were not serious, and as a result she sought “an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct — a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting.”

That’s funny because the press release her office released in 2011 says that Swartz “faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million.” And she apparently didn’t think even that was enough, because last year her office piled on even more charges, for a theoretical maximum of more than 50 years in jail.

If Ortiz thought Swartz only deserved to spend six months in jail, why did she charge him with crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 50 years? It’s a common way of gaining leverage during plea bargaining. Had Swartz chosen to plead not guilty, the offer of six months in jail would have evaporated. Upon conviction, prosecutors likely would have sought the maximum penalty available under the law. And while the judge would have been unlikely to sentence him to the full 50 years, it’s not hard to imagine him being sentenced to 10 years.

In this hypothetical scenario, those 10 years in prison would, practically speaking, have consisted of six months for his original crime (the sentence Ortiz actually thought he deserved) plus a nine-and-a-half-year prison term for exercising his constitutional right to a trial.

Our Constitution guarantees criminal defendants a wide variety of rights, including the right to a jury of one’s peers, the right to counsel, the right to confront one’s accusers, a privilege against self-incrimination, and so forth. The Supreme Court would never allow a judge to impose a stiffer sentence on a defendant because he took the Fifth Amendment, asked to confront his accuser, or hired an attorney. But none of these rights matter if the defendant never gets to trial. And thanks to the legal fiction that plea bargaining is a voluntary negotiation between the prosecutor and defendant, our justice system effectively gives people dramatically longer sentences for exercising the right to have a trial at all.

Thanks in part to this kind of coercion, more than 90% of defendants waive their right to a jury trial. For the majority of defendants, then, the plea bargaining process is the justice system. As a result, prosecutors wield an immense amount of power with very little accountability.

It’s not surprising that Ortiz doesn’t see anything wrong with this system. Powerful people rarely see their own power as problematic. But the rest of us should be outraged — not just by Ortiz’s conduct, but by a system that treats thousands of defendants less famous than Swartz the same way. (Courtesy, arstechnica.com)

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