Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Republicans get Three Times More ‘False’ Ratings from PolitiFact than Democrats

An analysis of PolitiFact ratings suggests Republicans are significantly less credible than Democrats.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University found Republican’s had made three times as many false statements as Democrats this year.

PolitiFact examines a variety of political statements and assigns a “Truth-O-Meter” rating to each one. For their analysis, the researchers examined 100 “Truth-O-Meter” ratings of Republican and Democratic statements between January 20 through May 22.

PolitiFact rated 32 percent of Republican statements as “false” or “pants on fire,” compared to 11 percent of Democratic claims, according to a news release.

“While Republicans see a credibility gap in the Obama administration, PolitiFact rates Republicans as the less credible party,” CMPA President Dr Robert Lichter said.

A similar analysis published by the Center for Media and Public Affairs last year looked at election-related statements and found similar results. PolitiFact rated Republican statements as false roughly twice as often as Democratic statements between June 1, 2012 to September 11, 2012.

Yet another analysis of PolitiFact’s ratings by the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog in 2011 also found Republicans were more likely to have false statements. Examining ratings between January 2010 to January 2011, the Smart Politics blog found Republicans were rated as false about three times more often than Democrats.

Bible Belt Unbuckled: Deep South Towns Top List of Porn Site Visitors

Well, now we know why it seems like average Alabama citizens pay little attention to Legislative antics: they're too busy paging through the Bible with one hand while the other, ahem, pages through Internet porn sites. Who has time to pay attention to the "Marsh Does Montgomery Show" or similar antics on Goat Hill?
According to Buzzfeed, the website "PornHub" (which we will not link to) matched Gallup's annual survey of the "most religious cities" with its own list of regular porn consumers. The result? Alabama and Utah cities led the pack.
America’s most religious cities ranked by per capita visits to Pornhub between December 1, 2012 and April 30, 2013 (in order from least to most porn-loving):
12.  Odgen, UT
11.  Hickory, NC
10.  Provo, UT
 9.  Greenville, SC
 8.  Holland, MI
 7.  Birmingham, AL - Birmingham had 12.1 Pornhub pageviews per capita, and 56% of its residents say they’re very religious.
 6.  Jackson, MS
 5.  Augusta, GA
 4.  Baton Rouge, LA
 3.  Little Rock, AR
 2.  Montgomery, AL  - Alabama’s capital had 21.9 Pornhub views per capita. It’s also highly religious, with 64% saying they take religion very seriously.
 1.  Huntsville, AL - Alabama’s “Rocket City” takes first place, with 23.8 Pornhub views per capita. 55% of its residents are very religious. Oh, and remember that we have the nation's first drive-through sex shop. Coincidence? I think not!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Bob Dole: GOP Should be ‘Closed for Repairs’

The Republican Party has changed so drastically in recent years, the current GOP wouldn’t welcome the likes of Ronald Reagan, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said Sunday.

The current GOP ought to be “closed for repairs” because it lacks a vision and is unable to strike deals with Democrats, Dole said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday”.

The Kansas Republican said he was disturbed by his party’s obstructionist behavior on Capitol Hill.  “It seems almost unreal that we can’t get together on a budget or legislation,” he said.

President Obama also deserves blame for failing to reach out to Republicans in his first term and cultivate better relationships across party lines, Dole said.

Asked whether he would be welcomed by the Republican Party today, Dole said, “I doubt it. Reagan wouldn’t have made it, certainly Nixon wouldn’t have made it, because he had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it.”

Dole said his party needs stronger leadership. “Somebody has to stand up and say, ‘We’re not going to do this,’” he said.

The comments from the one-time presidential candidate reflect broad dissatisfaction with the state of the Republican Party, even among rank and file supporters. Nearly half of self-identified Republicans in an April Washington Post-ABC News poll said their party is “out of touch” with the concerns of most Americans, while barely one in five Democrats said their own party was out of sync. And in a January Post-ABC poll, 67 percent of all Americans said Republicans in Congress were not doing enough to compromise with Obama on important issues, compared with 48 percent who saw Obama as too stubborn.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Latest Cannabis Discoveries That the Federal Government Doesn’t Want You to Know About

Despite issuing a highly publicized memorandum in 2009 stating, "Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration," it remains clear that federal lawmakers and the White House continue to willfully ignore science in regards to the cannabis plant and the federal policies which condemn it to the same prohibitive legal status as heroin. In fact, in 2011 the Obama administration went so far as to reject an administrative petition that called for hearings to reevaluate pot’s safety and efficacy, pronouncing in the Federal Register, “Marijuana does not have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions. At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.” (The Administration’s flat-Earth position was upheld in January by a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.)
Nevertheless, scientific evaluations of cannabis and the health of its consumers have never been more prevalent. Studies are now published almost daily rebuking the federal government’s allegations that the marijuana plant is a highly dangerous substance lacking any therapeutic utility. Yet, virtually all of these studies – and, more importantly, their implications for public policy – continue to be ignored by lawmakers. Here are just a few examples of the latest cannabis science that your federal government doesn’t want you to know about.

Frequent cannabis smokers possess no greater lung cancer risk than do either occasional pot smokers or non-smokers

Subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke do not possess an increased risk of lung cancer compared to those who either consume it occasionally or not at all, according to data presented in April at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research.
Investigators from the University of California, Los Angeles analyzed data from six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) from around the world.
They reported, “Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers.”
Previous case-control studies have also failed to find an association between cannabis smoking and head and neck cancers or cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract.

Nevertheless, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration continues to maintain, “Marijuana smokers increase their risk of cancer of the head, neck, lungs and respiratory track.”
Consistent use of cannabis associated is associated with reduced risk factors for Type 2 diabetes

Will the pot plant one day play a role in staving the ongoing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes? Emerging science indicates that it just might.
According to trial data published this month in the American Journal of Medicine, subjects who regularly consume cannabis possess favorable indices related to diabetic control compared to occasional consumers or non-consumers. 
Investigators at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, assessed self-report data from some 5,000 adult onset diabetics patients regarding whether they smoked or had ever smoked marijuana. Researchers reported that those who were current, regular marijuana smokers possessed 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels and reduced insulin resistance compared to those who had never used pot. By contrast, non-users possessed larger waistlines and lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or ‘good’) cholesterol – both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Similar benefits were reported in occasional cannabis consumers, though these changes were less pronounced, “suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists during periods of recent use,” researchers reported.
The recent findings are supportive of the findings of 2012 study by a team of UCLA researchers, published in the British Medical Journal, which reported that adults with a history of marijuana use had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possess a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption, even after researchers adjusted for social variables (ethnicity, level of physical activity, etc.) Concluded the study, “[This] analysis of adults aged 20-59 years … showed that participants who used marijuana had a lower prevalence of DM (Diabetes Mellitus) and lower odds of DM relative to non-marijuana users.”
Diabetes is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer. 

Inhaling cannabis dramatically mitigates symptoms of Crohn’sdisease

Smoking cannabis twice daily significantly reduces symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disorder that is estimated to impact about half a million Americans. So say the results of the first-ever placebo-controlled trial assessing the use of cannabis for Crohn’s – published online this month in the scientific journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Researchers at the Meir Medical Center, Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Israel assessed the safety and efficacy of inhaled cannabis versus placebo in 21 subjects with Crohn’s disease who were nonresponsive to conventional treatment regimens. Eleven participants smoked standardized cannabis cigarettes containing 23 percent THC and 0.5 percent cannabidiol – a nonpsychotropic cannabinoid known to possess anti-inflammatory properties -- twice daily over a period of eight weeks. The other ten subjects smoked placebo cigarettes containing no active cannabinoids.
Investigators reported, “Our data show that 8-weeks treatment with THC-rich cannabis, but not placebo, was associated with a significant decrease of 100 points in CDAI (Crohn’s Disease and activity index) scores.”  Five of the eleven patients in the study group reported achieving disease remission (defined as a reduction in patient’s CDAI score by more than 150 points). Participants who smoked marijuana reported decreased pain, improved appetite, and better sleep compared to control subjects. Researchers reported that “no significant side effects” were associated with cannabis inhalation. 
The clinical results substantiate decades of anecdotal reports from Crohn’s patients, some one-half of which acknowledge having used cannabis to mitigate symptoms of the disease.

Marijuana-like substances halt HIV infection in white blood cells

The administration of THC has been associated with decreased mortality and ameliorated disease progression in monkeys with simian immunodeficiency virus, a primate model of HIV disease. So could cannabinoids produce similar outcomes in humans? The findings of a newly published preclinical trial indicate that the answer may be ‘yes’ and they reveal the substance’s likely mechanism of action in combating the disease.
Writing in the May edition of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, investigators at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia reported that the administration of cannabinoid agonists limits HIV infection in macrophages (white blood cells that aid in the body's immune response). Researchers assessed the impact of three commercially available synthetic cannabis agonists (non-organic compounds that act on the same endogenous receptor sites as do plant cannabinoids) on HIV-infected macrophage cells. Following administration, researchers sampled the cells periodically to measure the activity of an enzyme called reverse transcriptase, which is essential for HIV replication. By day 7, investigators reported that the administration of all three compounds was associated with a significant decrease in HIV replication.
“The results suggest that selective CB2 (cannabinoid 2 receptor) agonists could potentially be used in tandem with existing antiretroviral drugs, opening the door to the generation of new drug therapies for HIV/AIDS,” researchers summarized in a Temple University news release. “The data also support the idea that the human immune system could be leveraged to fight HIV infection."
Cannabinoids offer a likely treatment therapy for PTSD

Post-traumatic stress syndrome is estimated to impact some eight millions American annually and effective treatments for the condition are few and far between. Yet just published research in the May issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry indicates that cannabinoids hold the potential to successfully treat the condition.
Researchers at the New York School of Medicine reported that subjects diagnosed with PTSD possess elevated quantities of endogenous cannabinoid receptors in regions of the brain associated with fear and anxiety. In addition, authors also reported that these subjects suffer from the decreased production of anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid neurotransmitter, resulting in an imbalanced endocannibinoid system. (The endogenous cannabinoid receptor system is a regulatory system that is present in living organisms for the purpose of promoting homeostasis).
Authors speculated that increasing the body’s production of cannabinoids would likely restore the body’s natural brain chemistry and psychological balance. They affirmed, “[Our] findings substantiate, at least in part, emerging evidence that … plant-derived cannabinoids such as marijuana may possess some benefits in individuals with PTSD by helping relieve haunting nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD.”
The researchers concluded: “The data reported herein are the first of which we are aware of to demonstrate the critical role of CB1 (cannabinoid) receptors and endocannabinoids in the etiology of PTSD in humans. As such, they provide a foundation upon which to develop and validate informative biomarkers of PTSD vulnerability, as well as to guide the rational development of the next generation of evidence-based treatments for PTSD.”
But don’t expect federal officials to help move this process forward. In 2011 federal administrators blocked investigators at the University of Arizona at Phoenix from conducting an FDA-approved, placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the use of cannabis in 50 patients with PTSD. 
Scientific integrity? Not when it comes to marijuana. Not by a long shot.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Long, Sordid History of the American Right and Racism

Other factors have come and gone for the Right, but racism has always been there.

Racism has been a consistent thread weaving through the American Right from the early days when Anti-Federalists battled against the U.S. Constitution to the present when hysterical Tea Partiers denounce the first African-American president. Other factors have come and gone for the Right, but racism has always been there.

Though definitions of Right and Left are never precise, the Left has generally been defined, in the American context, by government actions – mostly the federal government responding to popular movements and representing the collective will of the American people – seeking to improve the lot of common citizens and to reduce social injustice.

The Right has been defined by opposition to such government activism. Since the Founding, the Right has decried government interference with the “free market” and intrusion upon “traditions,” like slavery and segregation, as “tyranny” or “socialism.”

This argument goes back to 1787 and opposition to the Constitution’s centralizing of government power in the hands of federal authorities. In Virginia, for instance, the Anti-Federalists feared that a strong federal government eventually would outlaw slavery in the Southern states.

Ironically, this argument was raised by two of the most famous voices for “liberty,” Patrick Henry and George Mason. Those two Virginians spearheaded the Anti-Federalist cause at the state’s ratifying convention in June 1788, urging rejection of the Constitution because, they argued, it would lead to slavery’s demise.

The irony of Henry and Mason scaring fellow Virginians about the Constitution’s threat to slavery is that the two men have gone down in popular U.S. history as great espousers of freedom. Before the Revolution, Henry was quoted as declaring, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Mason is hailed as a leading force behind the Bill of Rights. However, their notion of “liberty” and “rights” was always selective. Henry and Mason worried about protecting the “freedom” of plantation owners to possess other human beings as property.

At Virginia’s Ratification Convention, Henry and Mason raised other arguments against the proposed Constitution, such as concerns that Virginia’s preeminence might not be as great as under the weak Articles of Confederation and that population gains in the North might erode Virginia’s economic welfare.

But the pair’s most potent argument was the danger they foresaw regarding the abolition of slavery. As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, the hot button for Henry and Mason was that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected.”

The Slavery Card

At the center of this fear was the state’s loss of ultimate control over its militia which could be “federalized” by the President as the nation’s commander in chief under the new Constitution.

“Mason repeated what he had said during the Constitutional Convention: that the new government failed to provide for ‘domestic safety’ if there was no explicit protection for Virginians’ slave property,” Burstein and Isenberg wrote. “Henry called up the by-now-ingrained fear of slave insurrections – the direct result, he believed, of Virginia’s loss of authority over its own militia.”

Henry floated conspiracy theories about possible subterfuges that the federal government might employ to deny Virginians and other Southerners the “liberty” to own African-Americans. Describing this fear-mongering, Burstein and Isenberg wrote:

“Congress, if it wished, could draft every slave into the military and liberate them at the end of their service. If troop quotas were determined by population, and Virginia had over 200,000 slaves, Congress might say: ‘Every black man must fight.’ For that matter, a northern-controlled Congress might tax slavery out of existence.

“Mason and Henry both ignored the fact that the Constitution protected slavery on the strength of the three-fifths clause, the fugitive slave clause, and the slave trade clause. Their rationale was that none of this mattered if the North should have its way.”

At Philadelphia in 1787, the drafters of the Constitution had already capitulated to the South’s insistence on its brutal institution of human enslavement. That surrender became the line of defense that James Madison, a principal architect of the new governing structure, cited in his response to Mason and Henry.

Burstein and Isenberg wrote, “Madison rose to reject their conspiratorial view. He argued that the central government had no power to order emancipation, and that Congress would never ‘alienate the affections five-thirteenths of the Union’ by stripping southerners of their property. ‘Such an idea never entered into any American breast,’ he said indignantly, ‘nor do I believe it ever will.’

“Madison was doing his best to make Henry and Mason sound like fear-mongers. Yet Mason struck a chord in his insistence that northerners could never understand slavery; and Henry roused the crowd with his refusal to trust ‘any man on earth’ with his rights. Virginians were hearing that their sovereignty was in jeopardy.”

Despite the success of Mason and Henry to play on the fears of plantation owners, the broader arguments stressing the advantages of Union carried the day, albeit narrowly. Virginia ultimately approved ratification by 89 to 79. However, the South’s obsession over perceived threats to its institution of slavery remained a central factor in the early decades of the Republic.

Arming Whites

Though today’s Right pretends that the Second Amendment was devised to give individual Americans the right to own and carry any weapon of their choice – so they can shoot policemen, soldiers and other government representatives in the cause of anti-government “liberty” – it was primarily a concession to the states and especially to the South’s fears that were expressed at the Virginia convention.

Approved by the First Congress as part of the “Bill of Rights,” the Second Amendment explained its purpose as the need to maintain “the security of a free State,” an echo of Mason’s concerns about “domestic safety,” i.e. a Southern state’s ability to maintain slavery by force and defend against slave uprisings.

As the amendment emerged from various committee rewrites, it stated: “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” But that right, of course, did not extend to all people, not to people of color.

The Second Congress put substance to the structure of state militias by passing the Militia Acts, which specifically mandated that “white men” of military age obtain muskets and other supplies for participation in state militias. At the time, the concerns were not entirely over rebellious slaves, but also over rebellious poor whites.

Part of the backdrop of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 had been Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786-1787, an uprising of white farmers led by a former Continental Army officer, Daniel Shays. After ratification of the Constitution, the first significant use of federalized militias was in 1794 to crush an anti-tax revolt in western Pennsylvania led by poor whites known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

That uprising was treated as an act of treason as defined by the U.S. Constitution, although President Washington used his pardon power to spare rebel leaders from execution by hanging. Similar mercy was not shown when Southern states confronted actual or suspected slave revolts. In 1800, Virginia Gov. James Monroe called out the militia to stop an incipient slave uprising known as Gabriel’s Rebellion. Twenty-six alleged conspirators were hanged.

Jeffersonian Influences

Of course, slavery and racism were not the only defining characteristics of the Right during the country’s early years, as economic interests diverged and political rivalries surfaced. James Madison, for instance, had been a key protégé of George Washington and an ally of Alexander Hamilton during the fight for the Constitution.

Madison had even advocated for a greater concentration of power in the federal government, including giving Congress the explicit power to veto state laws. However, after the Constitution was in place, Madison began siding with his Virginian neighbor (and fellow slave-owner) Thomas Jefferson in political opposition to the Federalists.

In the first years of the constitutional Republic, the Federalists, led by President Washington and Treasury Secretary Hamilton, pushed the limits of federal power, particularly with Hamilton’s idea of a national bank which was seen as favoring the financial interests of the North to the detriment of the more agrarian South.

The Jeffersonians, coalescing around Jefferson and Madison, fiercely opposed Hamilton’s national economic planning though the differences often seemed to be driven by personal animosities and regional rivalries as much as by any grand ideological vision regarding government authority. The Jeffersonians, for instance, were sympathetic to the bloody French Revolution, which made a mockery of the rule of law and the restraint of government power.

Nevertheless, history has generally been kind to Jefferson’s enthusiasm for a more agrarian America and his supposed commitment to the common man. But what is left out of this praise for “Jeffersonian democracy” is that Jefferson’s use of the word “farmers” was often a euphemism for his actual political base, the slave-owning plantation aristocrats of the South.

At his core, despite his intellectual brilliance, Jefferson was just another Southern hypocrite. He wrote that “all men are created equal” (in the Declaration of Independence) but he engaged in pseudo-science to portray African-Americans as inferior to whites (as he did in his Notes on the State of Virginia).

His racism rationalized his own economic and personal reliance on slavery. While desperately afraid of slave rebellions, he is alleged to have taken a young slave girl, Sally Hemings, as a mistress.

Jefferson’s hypocrisy also surfaced in his attitudes toward a slave revolt in the French colony of St. Domingue, where African slaves took seriously the Jacobins’ cry of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” After their demands for freedom were rebuffed and the brutal French plantation system continued, violent slave uprisings followed. Hundreds of white plantation owners were slain as the rebels overran the colony. A self-educated slave named Toussaint L’Ouverture emerged as the revolution’s leader, demonstrating skills on the battlefield and in the complexities of politics.

The ‘Black Jacobins’

Despite the atrocities committed by both sides of the conflict, the rebels – known as the “Black Jacobins” – gained the sympathy of the American Federalists. L’Ouverture negotiated friendly relations with the Federalist administration under President John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, a native of the Caribbean himself, helped L’Ouverture draft a constitution.

But events in Paris and Washington soon conspired to undo the promise of Haiti’s emancipation from slavery. Despite the Federalist sympathies, many American slave-owners, including Jefferson, looked nervously at the slave rebellion in St. Domingue. Jefferson feared that slave uprisings might spread northward. “If something is not done, and soon done,” Jefferson wrote in 1797, “we shall be the murderers of our own children.”

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the chaos and excesses of the French Revolution led to the ascendance of Napoleon Bonaparte, a brilliant and vain military commander possessed of legendary ambition. As he expanded his power across Europe, Napoleon also dreamed of rebuilding a French empire in the Americas.

In 1801, Jefferson became the third President of the United States – and his interests at least temporarily aligned with Napoleon’s. The French dictator wanted to restore French control of St. Domingue and Jefferson wanted to see the slave rebellion crushed. President Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison collaborated with Napoleon through secret diplomatic channels. Napoleon asked Jefferson if the United States would help a French army traveling by sea to St. Domingue. Jefferson replied that “nothing will be easier than to furnish your army and fleet with everything and reduce Toussaint [L’Ouverture] to starvation.”

But Napoleon had a secret second phase of his plan that he didn’t share with Jefferson. Once the French army had subdued L’Ouverture and his rebel force, Napoleon intended to advance to the North American mainland, basing a new French empire in New Orleans and settling the vast territory west of the Mississippi River.

Stopping Napoleon

In 1802, the French expeditionary force achieved initial success against the slave army, driving L’Ouverture’s forces back into the mountains. But, as they retreated, the ex-slaves torched the cities and the plantations, destroying the colony’s once-thriving economic infrastructure. L’Ouverture, hoping to bring the war to an end, accepted Napoleon’s promise of a negotiated settlement that would ban future slavery in the country. As part of the agreement, L’Ouverture turned himself in.

But Napoleon broke his word. Jealous and contemptuous of L’Ouverture, who was regarded by some admirers as a general with skills rivaling Napoleon’s, the French dictator had L’Ouverture shipped in chains back to Europe where he was mistreated and died in prison.

Infuriated by the betrayal, L’Ouverture’s young generals resumed the war with a vengeance. In the months that followed, the French army – already decimated by disease – was overwhelmed by a fierce enemy fighting in familiar terrain and determined not to be put back into slavery. Napoleon sent a second French army, but it too was destroyed. Though the famed general had conquered much of Europe, he lost 24,000 men, including some of his best troops, in St. Domingue before abandoning his campaign. The death toll among the ex-slaves was much higher, but they had prevailed, albeit over a devastated land.

By 1803, a frustrated Napoleon – denied his foothold in the New World – agreed to sell New Orleans and the Louisiana territories to Jefferson, a negotiation handled by Madison that ironically required just the sort of expansive interpretation of federal powers that the Jeffersonians ordinarily disdained. However, a greater irony was that the Louisiana Purchase, which opened the heart of the present United States to American settlement and is regarded as possibly Jefferson’s greatest achievement as president, had been made possible despite Jefferson’s misguided – and racist – collaboration with Napoleon.

“By their long and bitter struggle for independence, St. Domingue’s blacks were instrumental in allowing the United States to more than double the size of its territory,” wrote Stanford University professor John Chester Miller in his book, The Wolf by the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery. But, Miller observed, “the decisive contribution made by the black freedom fighters … went almost unnoticed by the Jeffersonian administration.”

Consequences of Racism

Without L’Ouverture’s leadership, the island nation fell into a downward spiral. In 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the radical slave leader who had replaced L’Ouverture, formally declared the nation’s independence and returned it to its original Indian name, Haiti. A year later, apparently fearing a return of the French, Dessalines ordered the massacre of the remaining French whites on the island. Jefferson reacted to the bloodshed by imposing a stiff economic embargo on Haiti. In 1806, Dessalines himself was brutally assassinated, touching off a cycle of political violence that would haunt Haiti for the next two centuries.

Even in his final years, Jefferson remained obsessed with Haiti and its link to the issue of American slavery. In the 1820s, the former president proposed a scheme for taking away the children born to black slaves in the United States and shipping them to Haiti. In that way, Jefferson posited that both slavery and America’s black population could be phased out. Eventually, in Jefferson’s view, Haiti would be all black and the United States white.

While the racism of Jefferson and many of his followers may be undeniable, it is not so easy to distinguish between Right and Left in those early years of the American Republic. Though Hamilton was more open-minded toward freedom for black slaves, there were elements of his government intervention on behalf of the fledgling financial sector that might today be regarded as “pro-business” or elitist as there were parts of Jefferson’s attitude toward greater populism that might be seen as more “democratic.”

Stumbling toward War

Yet, as the first generation of American leaders passed away and the nation expanded westward, the issue of slavery remained a threat to America’s unity. The South’s aggressive defense of its lucrative institution of slavery opened violent rifts between pro-slave and pro-free settlers in territories to the west.

The modern distinctions between America’s Right and Left also became more pronounced, defined increasingly by race. The North, building a manufacturing economy and influenced by the emancipationist movement, turned increasingly against slavery, while the South, with a more agrarian economy and much of its capital invested in slaves, could see no future without the continuation of slavery.

Politically, those distinctions played out not unlike what Anti-Federalists George Mason and Patrick Henry had predicted at Virginia’s ratification convention in 1788. The North gradually gained dominance in wealth and population and the South’s barbaric practice of slavery emerged as a hindrance to America’s growing reputation in the world.

So, a key divide of U.S. politics between Right and Left became the differences over issues of slavery and race. The racist aspects of the Anti-Federalists and the “Jeffersonian democrats” became a defining feature of the American Right as captured in the argument for “states’ rights,” i.e., the rights of the Southern states either to nullify federal laws or to secede from the Union.

Though the concentration of power in Washington D.C. gave rise to legitimate questions about authoritarianism, the federal government also became the guiding hand for the nation’s economic development and for elimination of gross regional injustices such as slavery. Federal action in defense of national principles regarding justice eventually helped define the American Left.

But the slave-owning South would not go down without a fight. After the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860, 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and established the Confederate States of America with the goal of perpetuating slavery forever. It took four years of war to force the Southern states back into the Union and finally bring slavery to an end.

However, the Southern aristocracy soon reclaimed control of the region’s political structure and instituted nearly a century more of racial oppression against blacks. During this Jim Crow era, racism – and the cruel enforcement of racial segregation – remained central elements of the American Right.

An Anti-Government Coalition

In the latter half of the Nineteenth Century and the early Twentieth Century, other political and economic factors bolstered the Right, particularly a class of Northern industrialists and financiers known as the Robber Barons. Their insistence on laissez-faire economics in the North – and their opposition to reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt – dovetailed with anti-federal attitudes among the South’s white aristocracy.

That coalition, however, was shattered by a string of Wall Street panics and other economic catastrophes culminating in the Great Depression. With millions of Americans out of work and many facing starvation, Franklin Roosevelt’s administration initiated the New Deal which put people back to work building national infrastructure and imposing government regulations on the freewheeling ways of Wall Street.

Under Roosevelt, laws were changed to respect the rights of labor unions and social movements arose demanding greater civil rights for blacks and women. The Left gained unprecedented ascendance. However, the old alliance of rich Northern industriasts and Southern segregationists saw dangers in this new assertion of federal power. The business barons saw signs of “socialism” and the white supremacists feared “race-mixing.”

After World War II – with the United States now a world superpower – the continued existence of institutionalized racism became an embarrassment undermining America’s claim to be a beacon of human freedom. Finally, spurred on by Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists, the federal government finally moved against the South’s practice of segregation. That reignited the long-simmering conflict between federal power and states’ rights.

Though the federal government prevailed in outlawing racial segregation, the Right’s anger over this intrusion upon Southern traditions fueled a powerful new movement of right-wing politicians. Since the Democratic Party led the fight against segregation in the 1960s, Southern whites rallied to the Republican Party as their vehicle of political resistance.

Opportunistic politicians, such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, deftly exploited the white backlash and turned much of the Dixie-crat South into solid Republican Red. This resurgence of white racial resentments also merged with a reassertion of “libertarian” economics as memories of the Great Depression faded. In essence, the late Nineteenth Century alliance between segregationist whites in the South and laissez-faire businessmen in the North was being reestablished.

This right-wing collaboration reached a new level of intensity in 2008 after the election of the first African-American president whose victory reflected the emergence of a multi-racial electorate threatening to end the historic white political domination of the United States. With the election also coming amid a Wall Street financial collapse – after years of reduced government regulation — Barack Obama’s arrival also portended a renewal of federal government activism. Thus, the age-old battle was rejoined.

Yet, given the cultural tenor of the time, the Right found it difficult to engage in overt racial slurs against Obama, nor could it openly seek to deny voting rights to black and brown people. New code words were needed. So Obama’s legitimacy as an American was questioned with spurious claims that he had been born in Kenya, and Republicans demanded tighter ballot security to prevent “voter fraud.”

Today’s Right also recognized that it could not simply emphasize its Confederate heritage. A more politically correct re-branding was needed. So, the Right shifted its imagery from the “Stars and Bars” battle flag of the Confederacy to the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag of the American Revolution. That way, Americans who don’t overtly see themselves as racist could be drawn into the movement. [See’s “The Right’s Re-Branding: 1860 to 1776.”]

However, the historical narrative that the Right constructed around the nation’s Founding was not the one that actually happened. In seeking to present themselves as the true defenders of the Constitution, the Right had to air-brush out the failed experiment with the Articles of Confederation, which had made the states “sovereign” and “independent” with the central government just a “league of friendship.”

The Constitution represented the nation’s greatest transfer of power into federal hands in U.S. history, as engineered by Washington, Madison and Hamilton. Indeed, Madison favored even greater dominance by the central government over the states than he ultimately got in the Constitution.

However, in the Right’s revisionist version, the Articles of Confederation are forgotten and the Framers were simply out to create a governing system with strong states’ rights and a weak federal government. That fabrication played well with an uneducated right-wing base that could then envision itself using its Second Amendment rights to fight for the Framers’ vision of “liberty.”

As this right-wing narrative now plays out, Barack Obama is not only a black Muslim “socialist” oppressing liberty-loving white Christian Americans but he is a “tyrant” despoiling the beautiful, nearly divine, God-inspired Constitution that the Framers bestowed upon the nation — including, apparently, those wonderful provisions protecting slavery.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Birmingham High School Prom, 50 Years Later

The class of 1963 crowded in a rectangle on the dance floor, the memories of high school fresh on their minds as the band played in a sea of pink and blue hues.

Aretha Franklin. Etta James. The Temptations. Just what you would expect to be playing at a 1960s prom. Yet the song that drew the most bodies to the dance floor was "The Wobble."

Until this hip-hop song emptied the chairs, it felt as if the auditorium had been transported back 50 years.

But it's 2013, and despite the full-court nostalgia for the 1960s, that decade was one of the most difficult times in Birmingham's history.

Societal tensions over race were so high in 1963 that the city canceled senior prom for five of the city's segregated high schools for blacks.

Today, a half century has passed since the seminal civil rights protests that changed Birmingham and plotted a path for the nation away from segregation and toward equal rights.

Just like that path, the healing process has been a long one.

The Historic 1963 Prom, held Friday and hosted by the city of Birmingham, closed one chapter for these Alabamans.

'A tension-filled city'

Growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s, Earnestine Thomas knew the rules of this segregated city. At a restaurant, she could pay in the front, but had to walk around the back to get her food from a cook. She could shop only in certain places; there were neighborhoods that she knew not to visit.

"As a child, I recognized that it was unfair, but didn't understand that there were laws propping (segregation) up," she said as she waited for a hair appointment before Friday's prom.

She treated herself to a hair styling before donning a lavender dress with a sequined jacket and matching shoes. Lavender was a fitting color, she said, not just because it is her favorite, but because it was the school color at Parker High School.

It was a day of celebration that she and her classmates were denied in 1963.

Segregation in Birmingham permeated everything, down to the Bibles that judges used to swear witnesses in -- there was one holy book for white witnesses and another for black witnesses.

Yet members of the class of 1963 recall having the same struggles as any other teenagers, then and today -- parents' rules, scrounging enough money for dates, finding reliable transportation.

As often is the case when people witness a historic period, many black high school students in Birmingham in 1963 did not recognize the moment that was upon them.

Years of advocacy by civil rights leaders had successfully chipped away at segregation, and students pushed the boundaries -- as much out of teenage rebellion as a sense of justice.

Cynthia May and her friends were the first ones to board the bus the day that the signs relegating blacks to the back of the bus were removed, around the summer of 1962.

The teens tested the new limits immediately by sitting in the front. But when whites began boarding the bus, they stood, rather than sit behind the black teens. The teens also noticed that white riders refused to sit next to black riders, so instead of sitting two to a seat, they spread out individually to occupy the seats, leaving other passengers no choice but to sit next to them. Again, the white riders chose to stand.

"It was a tension-filled city," May said.

It was against this backdrop that the seniors at the black high schools began preparing for graduation.

Each May, in Thomas' neighborhood, the graduating seniors would parade down the street. And in 1963, it would be her turn.

There was also prom, an American rite of passage.

Thomas can still picture her long dress, a blue and green neon attention-grabber that showed different colors in the light as she moved.

A neighbor had bought it for her in December.

"Even though it was a winter dress, I was going to wear it to the prom," Thomas said. "But in one fell swoop, that was wiped away."

Civil rights come to Birmingham

There is disagreement over why prom was canceled for those five black high schools in 1963.

The civil rights movement was in full swing that year, but the high school students, to an extent, were kept at a distance from it.

This would change on May 2, 1963, when hundreds of children, some as young as 6, left school to march in Birmingham in opposition to segregation.

Thousands of arrests were made at the so-called Children's March, and when the marches persisted for several days, authorities responded with fire hoses and dogs.

"This was a very controversial thing," said Glenn T. Eskew, a history professor at Georgia State University who has written a book about Birmingham during this period. "There were those who did not believe that schoolchildren should be engaging in civil rights protests. Not only was it dangerous, but they were youth and it was a very confrontational thing."

The images of children being hosed and intimidated by police dogs renewed a level of outrage at the national level that had been flagging.

"It changed the dynamic of the protest dramatically," Eskew said. "It encouraged other youth to participate on one hand, and on the other it ratcheted up the pressure on the forces of white supremacy."

Only a fraction of students from the black high schools participated. Many were told by their parents not to participate, for fear of losing a job or other retribution.

Thomas didn't march because her grandfather expressed concerns that he might be fired if someone saw her protesting.

But everyone would be affected by the protests, whether they marched or not.

Days after the marches, the school board announced that all end-of-the-year activities were canceled for the class of 1963. No prom, no graduation, no yearbook.

The stated reason for the cancellations was security concerns; that in such a tense racial atmosphere, a gathering such as a graduation ceremony or prom could become the target of an attack.

Yet many believe that the events were taken away as a punishment for their participation in the marches.

If the authorities were truly concerned about the safety of the black students, they would not have met them with fire hoses and snarling dogs, said Bishop Calvin Woods, director of the Birmingham chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

It was Woods, who was a father with children at the schools, who sued to have graduation reinstated.

A court eventually ordered graduation must go on, and it did, though delayed. But prom never happened.

Shirley Holmes Sims had her copper-colored dress ready to go when she left school to participate in the Children's March. And copper-colored shoes to match.

They would go unworn, and be lost decades later in a tornado.

"We marched down that street and we were singing 'We Shall Overcome,'" Sims said. "You think back to it today, and it was truly worth it."

Righting a wrong

Ethel Arms has a line she uses when the topic of high school rites of passage and prom comes up: "We didn't have a prom because of the civil rights movement."

It puts the memory of 1963 in perspective and justifies the sacrifice.

Yet it doesn't change the fact that inside, she has always lamented that she never had that night.

Sure, there were more important things going on in Birmingham at the time, but she was just a teenager and wanted those experiences.

This time, Arms was on the "prom committee" that organized Friday's event. The small group gathered in a hotel room before the dance, laughing and reminiscing about the prom they never had. There would be no prom king and queen elected this time, but the theme of the dance summed up what the night was all about: "Finally, the Prom We Never Had."

Sims ironed her purple and gold dress as the women placed corsages on their wrists and waited for the limousines that would take them to the prom.

Amid the celebratory atmosphere, there were moments of reflection, and thoughts of those classmates who had passed away.

In a way, this party was a celebration of what they had endured and survived over the last 50 years, Thomas said.

"As we get older, everything behind us looks greater," she said.

The prom committee held hands and said a prayer before walking out of the room. This would be their night.

It makes you appreciate everything when we were children, the sacrifices people made.
Eugene Arms

The prom was especially meaningful for Ethel Arms, as she and her high school sweetheart, Eugene, had been negotiating with their parents for permission to attend the prom when it was canceled in 1963. They had been trying to figure out where to find transportation to the dance, and how to earn the money to rent formal wear or buy a dress.

They later married, and when it came time for their children to attend proms, the couple put extra effort into making them special nights.

It wasn't until Friday night, though, in Birmingham's Boutwell Auditorium, that Eugene Arms was finally able to take his own sweetheart to the prom.

"It's really a much more pleasant event because we can afford the attire, we have no problem getting back and forth," Eugene Arms said.

"It makes you appreciate everything when we were children," he continued. "The sacrifices people made."

Eugene Arms had attended rallies during the civil rights movement, but out of deference to his parents, he did not participate in the Children's March.

The students that did participate in the march faced dogs and water and arrests, he said.

"All we did was give up prom," he said.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ancient Lost World Found in Honduran Jungle

Archaeologists have discovered a lost civilisation deep in the jungles of Central America.

The lost world resembles a "vast tended garden" and lies inland from the Mosquito Coast, an area known for swamps, poisonous plants and vipers that leap at their prey.

The area was last explored over 70 years ago by Theodore Morde. The American adventurer and spy emerged from the jungle in 1940, claiming to have found a "lost city of the monkey god" with giant primate sculptures.

Morde also offered wild theories that sacrifices were made by local Indians to a gigantic idol of an ape. However, he was killed in a car crash in London before he could reveal the location of the lost kingdom.

Charles Lindburgh, the first pilot to fly the Atlantic solo, had suggested that Morde explore the area, saying he had seen ruins of "an amazing ancient metropolis" when flying across Central America.

According to Christopher Fisher, an archaeologist at Colorado State University, the palaces may have been built by a civilisation other than the Mayans and Aztecs, who were known for their human sacrifices.

Fisher and his colleagues are analysing aerial 3D images taken by using a surveying camera that bombarded the canopy with 100,000 laser pulses a second, according to the Sunday Times.

The equipment used is called "the LiDAR machine which basically can pierce through the jungle's foliage and map whatsoever on the ground underneath," Douglas Peston, a writer for National Geographic told the New Yorker.

The expedition was organised by Steve Elkins, a Los Angeles filmmaker, who is hoping to make a documentary about the ruins.

Elkins is keen to keep expectations in check, saying: There may be many statues of monkeys, and half-human monkey gods, but if I see one the size of King Kong I shall be, well, very surprised."

CBS Evening News Highlights Collapse of Right Wing Scandal Mongering Over Benghazi Talking Points

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why Unions Should Stop the Koch Brothers From Buying the Tribune Papers

A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone did a story about hedge fund king Dan Loeb's plans to address a conference of institutional investors and perhaps solicit new clients among the public retirement funds in attendance, despite his involvement with a political lobbying group that campaigns against those very types of defined benefit plans. When stories by Rolling Stone, Washington Monthly and the New York Post came out about Loeb's affiliations, Loeb canceled his scheduled speech at the Conference of Institutional Investors and fled the event, reinforcing the simple idea that powerful interests can be forced to choose between taking the public's money and involving themselves in regressive politics.

We have another one of those situations brewing now, only it's a much bigger deal this time – the much-talked-about, much-dreaded potential sale of the Tribune newspaper group to the odious Koch brothers. As first reported in the Times a few weeks ago, the Kochs, after years of working through the media with relentless lobbying and messaging, are exploring the idea of skipping the middleman and becoming media themselves, with the acquisition of one of the biggest media groups in the country.

The Tribune papers encompass eight major publications across the country, including the Los Angeles Times, the Allentown Daily Call, the Chicago Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel, the Baltimore Sun, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Hartford Courant, the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Hoy, America's second-largest Spanish-language paper.

It should go without saying that the sale of this still-potent media empire to the cash-addled Koch brothers duo – lifetime denizens of a sub-moronic rightist echo chamber where everything from Social Security to Medicare to unemployment benefits to the EPA are urgent threats to national security, and even child labor laws are evidence of an overly intrusive government – would be a disaster of epic proportions. One could argue that it would be on par with the Citizens United decision in its potential for causing popular opinion to be perverted and bent by concentrated financial interests.

Of course, conservatives will argue that people like myself are only talking that way because the potential buyers of these people are conservatives. If George Soros or some other wealthy, Democrat-leaning meddler in national affairs was leading the pack to become the next Hearst, I wouldn't bat an eyelash – right?

Well, that's true. But the issue here isn't so much what I think about the Koch brothers. It's what the private equity firms and banks that are the major shareholders in the Tribune Company think of the Koch brothers. Because it turns out that some of these firms are heavily dependent upon investment from public unions, which would make their participation in the sale of a media empire to the public-union-bashing Kochs severely problematic.

The Koch brothers have always taken powerful and unequivocal stances against public sector unions and their retirement plans. They were primary financial backers of Scott Walker's anti-union movement in Wisconsin, where the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity group engaged in massive ad buys and signature-collecting campaigns to back Walker's play to crush collective bargaining rights for public workers. Through direct donations and support of groups like the conservative state policy group ALEC, the Kochs have taken aim at public unions, public union lobbying and public pensions in multiple states across the country, among other things spending $4 million in California to support Prop 32, a state ballot measure restricting union political activity.

The potential conflict comes from the fact that two of the major stakeholders at Tribune Co. are investment management firms that manage billions of dollars of public pension funds. One is called Oaktree Capital, a Los Angeles-based group that owns 23.5 percent of Tribune Co. Another is called Angelo Gordon & Co., which is based here in New York and owns 9.4 percent of Tribune. J.P. Morgan Chase, another major Tribune stakeholder, also manages public-sector funds.

This sale really can't happen, obviously, without the assent of these companies. Yet these companies are financially dependent upon public pension funds.

Oaktree's client list includes the two monster California funds, CalPERS (the California Public Employees' Retirement System) and CalSTRS (California State Teachers' Retirement System), as well as the City of Philadelphia Board of Pensions, the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, the Illinois State Retirement Systems, the Los Angeles City Employees' Retirement System, the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association and the Los Angeles Fire & Police Pensions, plus public funds in Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Angelo Gordon's clients, meanwhile, include those same CalSTRS and Los Angeles Fire & Police funds, the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the New York State Teachers' Retirement System, Ohio State University, the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio and the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois, among others.

What this means, essentially, is that public-sector workers in the very cities and states where the Kochs plan to take over these iconic newspapers will in a sense be subsidizing or enabling the sale by keeping their monies under management with companies like Oaktree and Angelo Gordon.

Many of these groups have already contacted Oaktree and Angelo Gordon to express their concern. As was the case with Dan Loeb and his courtship of public-sector union money, the unions want to make sure firms like Oaktree understand that their decision on the Tribune sale may influence their own investment decisions.

"None of this is in a vacuum," explains Liz Greenwood, a trustee for the LA County Pension Fund (LACERS).

Oaktree declined to comment for this piece. Angelo Gordon has not responded to inquiries.

If and when the sale goes down – and sources indicate it's not an imminent decision – companies like Oaktree will be in a tough spot. If, as expected, the Kochs' bid turns out to be the highest by a significant margin (they are reportedly preparing a bid that would exceed a billion dollars for properties some estimate to be currently valued at a collective $600-$700 million), then the "fiduciary responsibility" argument would likely be part of the rationale should the Trib papers cave in and accept the Koch bid. Oaktree and A&G would likely say that they would have have a difficult time explaining to their other investors why they wouldn't take the highest bid.

The situation is far less ambiguous for the unions. In the long run, it would almost certainly be both financially and politically detrimental to all of these public sector employees who trusted their money with these management firms to see the massive propaganda power of the Trib papers unleashed upon them.

Conservative pundits have made no bones about their excitement at the prospect of doing an ethnic cleansing of the rolls of all these newspapers. One of the future affected, the Chicago Tribune's Cal Thomas – simultaneously one of the stupidest and most charmless columnists ever to keep a death-grip on a job at a major American daily for decades on end – gushed about how happy he will be when his office is finally rid of all the Bolshevik intellectuals he's been forced to share space with, and full up instead with unbiased folks like himself:

When news of the Koch brothers' interest in their paper reached the Los Angeles Times, columnist Steve Lopez asked for a show of hands from people who would quit if the Kochs bought the paper. According to a report in The Huffington Post, "About half the staff raised their hands."

That should make things easier for the Kochs. They can start by replacing liberal quitters and others whose ideology has turned off conservative readers. They could hire reporters and editors who will try to win back readers and advertisers by providing the type of ideologically balanced coverage they seek.

There are many good unemployed and underpaid journalists who could report the news fairly and without bias . . .

Classic Cal Thomas, calling for a purge of all employees who turn off "conservative readers" and in the same sentence cheering that process as a return to "ideological balance." In any case, this is the vibe of jovial, free-spirited debate we can expect from the print dailies in many of our biggest cities if this awful deal goes through.

Regardless of where you stand on union issues, this is a situation where the public-sector unions themselves need to know what kinds of activities their money-managers are involved with. These workers possess an enormous about of political power via their retirement plans, which lumped together with the plans of their co-workers often represent the largest institutional investors in the country.

Funds like CalSTRS and CalPERS can almost single-handedly move markets with their investment decisions, and as clients they have tremendous leverage – leverage they almost never use – over the banks and hedge funds that fight with each other for the chance to service the retirement holdings of public workers.

Greenwood tells the story of a Midwestern firefighters' union that campaigned against a certain private equity fund that invested in private ambulance companies, which compete with firefighters for jobs. When Greenwood looked into the fund, she found out that a teachers' union in another state was one of its big investors.

"We're investing in companies that lead to the layoff of our beneficiaries," she says. "We have to be aware."

The potential Tribune sale would be a high-profile litmus test of the unions' financial self-awareness. Public-sector workers from Massachusetts to California can force their investment managers to make a choice: sell to the Kochs, or keep managing their retirement billions. If the Kochs want to buy newspapers, this is a free country, and nobody can stop them. But the people whose benefits they want to slash don't have to help them get there.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ariel Castro's Former Bandmates Talk about the Cleveland Kidnapping Suspect

They never confronted him for being late all the time.

That's because Ariel Castro's band mates never found anything striking about him. They had no idea of the dark secrets locked away in his house.

Castro, 52, was arrested by Cleveland police in connection with the abduction of longtime missing women Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.

The news shocked musicians that knew the part-time bass player in the Cleveland music scene.

"The only thing I remember about him was that he was always late to practice," said Miguel Quinones, manager of Grupo Fuego, which has played in Northeast Ohio since 1999. Castro played with the Latin band in 2008.

The band never practiced at Castro's Seymour Avenue home, which Cleveland police say doubled as a prison for a decade or more for Berry, DeJesus and Knight.

Contact was limited to business. None of Castro's band mates came to his home, according to Quionones.

"The band rehearsed at the musical director's spot," he said. "We stopped working with Castro because he was always late."

He only played two gigs with Grupo Fuego, one in Youngstown and another in Cleveland, before being fired.

Castro also played bass on and off for 15 years in Grupo Kanon, which is widely known in Cleveland's Hispanic community for its performances at clubs, churches and cultural celebrations.

Band leader Ivan Ruiz knew Castro for about 20 years and never saw him with another person, woman or man -- even as he appeared in various groups, playing his bass.

"He could do the job, but he became increasingly defensive and unreliable in recent years," said Ruiz. "It was like he couldn't leave the house."

Castro did invite Ruiz' 17-year-old son over once, to have him rehearse the drums. Automatically, Ruiz answered, "No, don't go."

"I didn't trust having him with my child," Ruiz recalled.

"He was a senile kind of person. A crazy kind of person. He was weird," said Ruiz, a restaurateur and longtime Clevelander who is known on the music scene as Popo.

"He was always late for gigs and rehearsals," added Ruiz. "He always had to leave at the moment. I fired him last year."

Castro always had a set of excuses for being late.

"Traffic or running late," said Quinones. "Excuses a musician might make up."

In a Facebook post, Grupo Fuego tried to clarify its relationship with Castro, who was arrested along with his brothers, Pedro and Onil, ages 54 and 50.

The post reads:

"We are really happy, relieved, and shocked at the same time for all that has transpired in Cleveland in the past day. May God bless Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and relatives involved in this crazy nightmare. We hope they can continue with their lives and put all this behind.

At the same time, the main suspect in custody has been a local musician for many years and has performed with several bands as a bass guitar player. For some reason we don't understand, he decided to list our band as an employer on his Facebook page. To set the record straight, he is not a member of Grupo Fuego, and in our 14 year span as a band, he performed as a sub twice in the year 2008, once in August, and once in November of that year."

Castro also played with Los Boy'z Del Merengue, which has had gigs at places such as Belinda's Night Club, on Cleveland's West Side.

He performed with Roberto Ocasio in 2003. Ocasio, a renowned area bandleader, died in 2004.
"I knew Castro as a good bass player and never had any contact with him other than that," said Ocasio's former manager, Bev Montie.

Montie currently heads the Roberto Ocasio Foundation, which conducts music camps for kids.
"We're all horrified to think of all this, especially with our situation with children," she added. "But Castro was never part of any children's program we conducted."

He was just the bass player in the band.

"This is crazy -- I never imagined anything, let alone something like this," said Quinones. "I knew this gentleman, Mr. Castro, as a musician -- and that he was always late."

Friday, May 3, 2013