Mind and Destiny

“I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard ... I will hold up America to the lightning scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.”- Frederick Douglass

Location: Delhi, N.Y., United States

The author and his webmaster, summer of 1965.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wishful Thinking

Yesterday, “The Oneonta Daily Star” published the following amusing letter that was submitted by Henry Groth of Hamden.

“Once upon a time in a small town in the Catskill region of New York, there lived an ultra-liberal man that hated Republicans and conservatives.  He really despised people connected to the Tea Party.  He wrote letters to the daily newspapers filled with accusations and falsities about these organizations.  One of these newspapers even gave him a platform to continue his baloney in their paper, every week.  This man’s name was Tim O’Bleary (any facsimile to anyone is purely coincidental).

“Tim never had a bad word to say about Democrats or his favorite leader, NoMama, in his writings.  Even when NoMama said he had no idea what was happening in his organization (though he was the leader), Tim stuck by his side and dreamed up excuses for him, too. 

“Well, after time. people got fed up with Tim’s baloney and stopped reading his articles. Then one day one of NoMama’s people was in the area and told the “great one” about Tim’s writings and he was hired as NoMama’s press secretary.  Tim went off to Washington and NoMama headed for the golf course and everybody lived happily ever after. 

“The End (hopefully).”

Mr. Groth has deliberately misspelled my name.  Actually, Jim O’Leary has lived in Delhi for over 44 years, and has no desire to move to Washington D.C.  I don’t hate or despise people because of their political affiliation, but I do strongly disapprove of the Tea Party’s political agenda. 

Predictably, Groth avoids specifying any of those false accusations that I allegedly make in letters to newspapers.  He’s correct, however that I don’t have a bad word to say about Democratic politicians or President Obama.  Why waste a 300 word monthly letter to the Star, criticizing politicians that I for the most part agree with?  I’ll continue to encourage Henry Groth and his political allies to formulate reality based, factual, persuasive, and civil letters rebutting the specifics of the so called “baloney,” that I’m accused of submitting.

People, who refuse to read articles they disagree with clearly wish to remain misinformed.  I’m please to see, that Mr. Groth apparently hasn’t stopped reading my articles, that area newspapers have been publishing for over a decade.   

Wishful thinking isn’t going to stop me from utilization my first amendment right of freedom of speech.  And, those newspapers, who value freedom of the press such as the Delaware County Times and Star should be congratulated for providing all reader with that opportunity. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Significant Progress

Despite unprecedented obstruction by congressional Republicans, the Obama administration made significant progress in 2014, and in the nearly six years since he took office.  Last year, Americans witnessed the strongest job growth since the 1990s.  Nearly 11 million private sector jobs have been added during the past 57 consecutive months.  Our country is leading the rest of the world, in controlling the spread of Ebola, degrading and destroying ISIS, and addressing the threat posed by climate change.  Recently, President Obama announced the most significant changes to our policy towards Cuba in over 50 years.
America’s resurgence is real.  Although, 2014 is ending, we can still remain confidence that our nation will continue to make significant progress.  It took nearly six years to build a new foundation to make our economy stronger, and signs are hopeful for middle-class families, because wages are on the rise again.
Investments in manufacturing has promoted the most job growth since the ‘90s.  America is the number one producer of oil and gas, and has already saved drivers about 70 cents a gallon in the last year.  Our auto industry has had its strongest year since 2005.  Last year, the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, enabled another 10 million Americans to obtained health insurance.  Since, Obama took office our deficits have been cut by about two-thirds.
After more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will soon come to a responsible end.  More of our troops were home for the holidays than at any time in over a decade.
Our country has every right to be proud of what has been accomplished, since the financial crisis six years ago.  More Americans have jobs, and health insurance.  Our economy is growing, deficits are shrinking, energy production booming, and manufacturing thriving.
Obama believes, that we now have the chance to reverse the decades long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, if we invest in the things that will secure faster growth in higher paying jobs for more Americans.  Our economy, justice system, and our government must start working for everyone.
Obama recognizes that our Republican controlled Congress will disagree with him on some things, and accepts the fact, that he’ll have to compromise.  Nevertheless, he has promised to act on his own when necessary, because for the next two years he’ll never stop trying to make life better for the less fortunate. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Bernie Sanders’ Agenda

Independent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will "make a decision within the first few months of 2015," on whether run for the presidency.  He argues that our government should be doing the following.
1. Investing in our crumbling infrastructure with a major program to create jobs by rebuilding roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools.
2. Transforming energy systems away from fossil fuels to create jobs while beginning to reverse global warming and make the planet habitable for future generations.
3. Developing new economic models to support workers in the United States instead of giving tax breaks to corporations which ship jobs to low-wage countries overseas.
4. Making it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for higher wages and benefits.
5. Raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour so no one who works forty hours a week will live in poverty.
6. Providing equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.
8. Reforming trade policies that have shuttered more than 60,000 factories and cost more than 4.9 million decent paying manufacturing jobs.
9. Making college affordable and provide affordable childcare to restore America's competitive edge compared to other nations.
10. Breaking up big banks. The six largest banks now have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product, over $9.8 trillion. They underwrite more than half the mortgages in the country and issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards.
11. Joining the rest of the industrialized world with a Medicare for all healthcare system that provides better care at less cost.
12. Expanding Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs.
13. Reforming the tax code based on wage earners' ability to pay and eliminate loopholes that let profitable corporations stash profits overseas and pay no US federal income taxes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Normalizing Relations

President Obama said: “Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
Obama intends to end our outdated approach on Cuba, by promoting changes that supports the Cuban people and our national security interests.  We should stop doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result.  Policies of the past haven’t serve our interests, or those of the Cuban people.
The Obama administration plans to support the ability of the Cuban people to gain greater control over their own lives and determine their country’s future.  His approach will re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba that were severed in 1961.  He has reopened discussions with Cuba, and expects to re-establish an embassy in Havana.  Obama’s diplomatic team will work with Cuba on matters of mutual concern that advance our national interests.
Expanding travel to Cuba will enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people.  For example, having our free market experts provide business training for private Cuban businesses and small farmers.
Our executive branch of government will expand sales and exports of certain goods and services from our country to Cuba.  Expanding sales and exports will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence.
Authorize American citizens will be able to import additional goods from Cuba, and licensed American travelers to Cuba will be authorized to import $400 worth of goods, of which no more than $100 can consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined.
Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Conflict of Interest

I spent many evenings as a child listening to my favorite radio show that started with the words: "Mister District Attorney!  Champion of the people!  Defender of truth!  Guardian of our fundamental rights to life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!"

A Cleveland police sergeant shot a man twice, who was actually a victim running from a hostage situation.  The police sergeant shot even though the man was naked except for his boxer shorts.

Apparently, that incident motivated the "Cleveland Plain Dealer" newspaper to published an expose about a group of six police officers that had been accused of brutalizing 39 different people over a period of two years. 

The city of Cleveland finally realized that it had a serious problem, and the mayor asked the Department of Justice to investigate the Cleveland police department.  That federal investigation began last year, and concluded with the city and Attorney General Eric Holder signing an agreement that will put a special monitor in place to try to improve an obviously very troubled police force.

In the wake of the shocking decision by a Staten Island grand jury to not indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for using a chokehold that resulted in the death of Eric Garner, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Norman Siegel said: “I wasn’t shocked.  If you know the history of this, the process is secret.  It’s not adversarial.  We should abolish the grand juries when you have these kinds of cases.  And you should go to an open, adversarial preliminary hearing.”

Historically, the grand jury has been bulwark of liberty against an oppressive government, and usually resulted in a probable cause indictment, because that’s what most prosecutor wants.  However, when the subject of an investigation is police misconduct, it usually results in a conflict of interest, because prosecutors need the police in 98 percent of their criminal prosecutions.  If a prosecutor goes against the police force, he might not get their full cooperation in future cases.  Consequently, behind closed doors some prosecutors have apparently manipulated the grand jury to not get an indictment.

We need to create a system that is transparent and that “the people” can trust.  Every state should have a special prosecutor for police misconduct, who would conduct adversarial preliminary hearings. 

We also need to integrate police departments so that they reflect the racial makeup of the communities that they’re policing.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Ellen St. John

The Oneonta Daily Star recently published the following letter to the editor, that had been submitted by Ellen St. John of Cooperstown.

“I was touched by the picture of a little African-American boy who offered hugs at a march protesting police brutality and a police officer wrapping his arms around him — a picture of tender acceptance, the way our relationships should be.

“Although the marches for greater justice are predominately peaceful, there is some violence.  Martin Luther King Jr., winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was against violence but said we can only oppose violence if we did not make life so unbearable and hopeless for people that they finally resort to violence.

“When our black brothers and sisters are arrested more often for drug offenses than white people even though their offenses are the same, when they are given harsher sentences then white people, are stopped and frisked unnecessarily, are treated with suspicion and brutality, are more often sentenced to death than white prisoners, when their schools do not have resources equal to schools with predominantly white students, then we should expect anger and resistance to such injustice.

“I pray, at this time of year when we sing of goodwill to men, there will be an upsurge of voices and actions which stand by those oppressed and that we will press our government to make laws that are just and that we teach our children to be respectful to everyone regardless of skin color.

“Dear friends, let us love one another: for only love is the path to peace on earth.”

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Irreparably Tainted

Jessica Schulberg posted the following observations on line: “Speaking from the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Director John Brennan gave a 45-minute televised press conference on Thursday afternoon.  Reporters in attendance repeatedly asked Brennan to confirm his stance on the effectiveness of torture in producing useful intelligence information.
“He responded: ‘Detainees who were subjected to EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] at some point during their confinement subsequently provided information that our experts found to be useful and valuable in our counterterrorism efforts, and the cause and effect relationship between the application of those EITs and the ultimate provision of information is unknown and unknowable.’
“Senator Dianne Feinstein and her supporters were pushing Brennan to take a firm stance that torture never works.  And there is extensive evidence that torture is a terrible way to produce reliable information because people will say anything to make the pain stop.  But Brennan is correct in saying that in the specific case of these prisoners, there is no absolute way to differentiate between information provided voluntarily versus coercively.
“Once torture has been used against an individual, it is impossible to know if information they subsequently provide is a product of that torture, or would have been offered anyway.  Even months later, in a seemingly voluntarily situation, he could still be speaking out of fear of that prior experience.  (This is not to say there is no way of knowing if other interrogation methods work.  Ali Soufan proved years ago that non-violent questioning is effective.)
“Brennan’s point unintentionally undermines the legitimacy of the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, whose defenders proudly tout that the 2009 Military Commissions Act does not allow evidence obtained by torture to be used.  No doubt, this clause is a big improvement from President George W. Bush’s 2001 executive order, which said: ‘Given the danger to the safety of the United States and the nature of international terrorism … it is not practicable to apply in military commissions under this order the principles of law and the rules of evidence generally recognized in the trial of criminal cases in the United States district courts.’
“But the prohibition against torture-tainted evidence is simply not realistic, for the same reasons that Brennan cannot conclusively say that torture did not produce valuable intelligence.  Once torture has occurred, it is impossible to separate pieces of information into categories of ‘arising from torture’ and ‘not arising from torture.’  All evidence extracted from Guantánamo detainees who were exposed to the CIA’s torture program is irreparably tainted.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

Humiliating Torture

Al Qaeda didn’t have a shortage of recruits after the humiliating torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison.

After, Major General Tabuga had conducted an investigation of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Most of the Senators expressed outrage, regarding what had happened.   However, Oklahoma Republican Senator Inhofe angrily remarked: "I’m outraged by the outrage of humanitarian do gooders."  Senator Inhofe represents a growing element in the Republican party, that views concern for mankind as a personality defect.

In September 2004, Major General Peter Chicarelli said: "When we mistreat one person, I’ve got a net increase of nine enemies."  Our outrage should be that the invasion of Iraq and the humiliating abuse of Iraqi prisoners provided our original enemy al Qaeda an opportunity to regroup, fostered more hatred; thereby encouraging more terrorists to kill Americans.

Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief, Rod Nordland spent two years observing our occupation of Iraq.  He admits to being "an unabashed believer in toppling Saddam Hussein," but eventually succumbed to despair, and entitled an article: “Good Intentions Gone Bad,”and asked: "How bad a mess can we afford to leave behind?"

Nordland pointed out that things went terribly wrong and that the turning point was the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, because the abuse of prisoners alienated much of the Iraqi public.  His evidence reveals that the mistreatment and humiliation didn't save a single American life or lead to the capture of any major terrorist, despite claims by the military that the prison produced "actionable intelligence."

In fact, "Good Intentions" were never the reason the Bush administration invaded Iraq.  Their goal was to gain control of the Iraqi oil reserves and 9/11 provided a convenient excuse to gain support from frightened Americans.  Many Americans became cowards after 9/11 and many still cling to Bush as their authoritarian strong man.  Bush refer to the Iraqi war as the "War on Terror," but it was a war that produce death, destruction, hatred and more terrorist. Bush's propaganda machine had intimidated mainstream media into silence.

In 2004, Michael Scheuer a former senior member of the U.S. intelligence community wrote "Imperial Hubris."  He noted:"We must recognize that our invasion of Iraq was not preemptive; it was an avarice, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Repeal of Glass-Steagall

In 1998, Citibank was allowed to merge with the insurance giant, Travelers, even though it was against the law.    

In 1999, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan warned: “There are some notions that represent transcendental truths, that are true overtime.  And one of those in my judgment I fervently believe, is that we are with this piece of legislation moving towards greater risk.  We are almost certainly moving toward substantial new concentrations and mergers in the financial services industry that is almost certainly not in the interest of consumers, and we are deliberately and certainly with this legislation, moving towards inheriting much greater risk in our financial services industries.”

In late 1999, Republican Senator Phil Gramm, who was the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee got legislation through Congress that set derivatives free from virtually any regulation.  He slipped the “Commodity Futures Modernization Act,” into an omnibus spending bill just as Congress headed for vacation.

Warren Buffett was the first to noticed, that the “Gramm amendment” enabled the creation of a shadow banking system, which allowed the creation of financial “weapons of mass destruction.”  In fact, the Gramm amendment directly contributed to the 2008 mortgage foreclosure crisis, that resulted in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The Glass-Steagall Act had erected a wall between regulated Main Street banks and unregulated investment banks.  Without that wall, the stage was set for firms to merge until they were “too big to fail.”  Regulators allowed firms to hide risky investments off their books which meant they didn’t have to keep enough money on hand to cover possible losses.  Those practices were permitted by the Financial Accounting Standards Board in rules pushed for by bank executives.

In 2004, Bush’s Securities and Exchange Commission scrapped a 20 year old rule that made banks keep a certain amount of cash on hand to cover investment losses. 

That new rule was pushed by Henry Paulson, who eventually, became Bush’s treasury secretary.  In 2008, the $700 billion, Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) was passed, and Paulson decided how the first half of that money would be spent.

Recently, 18 Senate Republicans joined 21 Senate Democrats and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders in voting against the 1.1 trillion budget bill, because they opposed a provision written by Citigroup design to weaken Dodd-Frank, and thereby again making taxpayers responsible for bailing out banks for risky derivative trades.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Budget Bill Provisions

Under the 2010 Dodd-Frank overhaul, banks are prohibited from using taxpayer-insured depositor funds for particularly risky derivative transactions.
Before the 2008 financial crisis, Wall Street firms used very complicated derivative formulas to place risky bets on the mortgage market.  In 2008, risky bets brought Lehman Brothers down, and American International Group (AIG) nearly fell into bankruptcy, because of its use of derivatives known as credit-default swaps.
In addition to the controversy eliminating that provision, the current budget funding legislation containes a provision that dramatically increases the caps on campaign contributions to party committees.  Now, a wealthy couple will be allowed to give as much as $3.1 million to political parties, which is three times the current limits.
Another controversial provision would fund the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces the nation’s immigration laws, only through Feb. 27, when congressional Republicans plan to revisit the agency’s budget in hope of curtailing Obama’s immigration action.
Sixty percent of the $1.1 trillion in the spending bill is going for military spending.  Our infrastructure is collapsing, while construction workers need jobs.  Instead of cramming more cash down the gaping whole of the military-industrial complex, we should change spending priorities in order to achieve full employment.
Last April, Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget passed the House.  That budget claimed more than $5 trillion in savings would be realized over the coming decade, but it would add nearly $1 trillion in new military spending over the next decade.  Ryan’s budget would have relied on drastic cuts to domestic programs.
The current budget legislation repeals a 40 year old federal law protecting workers pensions.  Millions of workers who have worked for 30 years may find that their pensions have been cut by as much as 30 to 50 percent.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Potential Government Shutdown

Tucked into the 1,600 page appropriations bill is a provision that rolls back an element of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation.   It will undo language that prohibits federal protection for certain types of derivatives trades.
Massachusetts Senator Warren strongly objected to the provision, because it rolled back a key portion of the Wall Street reform law.  Her opposition prompted dozens of Democrats to defect, thereby triggering a last-minute scramble for support for the spending bill.  President Obama had to make calls to win lawmakers back and stave off a potential government shutdown.

Senator Warren asked: “Who does Congress work for?  If big companies deploy armies of lobbyists and lawyers to get the Congress deals to benefit themselves, then we’ve simply confirmed the view of the American people that the system is rigged.

“I urge my colleagues in the House, particularly my Democratic colleagues whose votes are essential to moving this package forward, to withhold support for it until this risky giveaway is removed from the legislation.

“There was no debate, no discussions.  This is a democracy and the American people didn’t elect us to stand up for CitiGroup.  They elected us to stand up for all the people.”
Warren argued the bill was: “negotiated behind closed doors,”and would “let derivatives traders on Wall Street gamble with taxpayer money, and once again get bailed out by the government when their risky bets threaten to destroy our financial system.
Sen. Warren was one of the masterminds behind the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established under Dodd-Frank.  That involvement earned her criticism from Republicans, so much so that she would not have been able to be confirmed by the Senate to lead the bureau she helped construct.  However, it did help her win a seat a Senate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Energy Shares

Today, the average national price of a gallon of gasoline is $2.55 a gallon.

On 12/8/14, CNBC Market Wrap reported that stocks declined as falling oil prices hit energy shares, and the Dow sheds 106 points.  Crude oil prices sunk more than 4 percent to about $63 a barrel.

Although, too much oil is being pumped into the market, the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries, OPEC hasn’t agreed to limit production.  Prices peaked at over $100 a barrel last June, but have fallen by nearly 40 percent, and analysts are predicting that oil could drop to $40 a barrel.

The glut of oil is coming from the Bakken region of North Dakota.  America is producing 8.9 million barrels a day.  The world’s largest producer Saudi Arabia pumps out 9.6 million, and cut prices for some customers four months in a row.

Russia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Venezuela haven’t reduce their oil production.  Consequently, the value of the Russian Ruble has hit a new low as a result of lower prices.  

In Saudi Arabia it cost about $5 to get a barrel of oil out of the ground and to a port.  Fortunately, holding down production makes it less likely that we’ll see an expansion of the tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada or more fracking in upstate New York, because the cost of production for those operations can require $50 to $80 a barrel.

Energy conservation, improved gas mileage, and alternative sources of clean energy have also contributed to lower petroleum prices.  Lower prices serve as a tax cut for consumers, but the energy companies producing alternative energy from wind and solar will be hurt.  They will try to get their tax credits renewed, but congressional Republicans will certainly not be helping out alternative energy companies with oil prices as low as they are presently.

Analysts predict that lower gasoline prices should save the average American family about $600 over the next year.  Overall lower oil prices should help our economy to add jobs, and hopefully get our economy back to where it should be.  Although, we’ve made tremendous progress in growing out of the 2008 recession, it’s really not where it could have been if Republicans had been willing to invest in the future.

The largest oil companies in the world should be fine, because they showed profits of $93 billion last year.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Our Brother’s Keeper

President Obama noted: “Beyond the specific issue that has to be addressed, making sure that people have confidence, that police and law enforcement, prosecutors are serving everybody equally, there’s the larger question of restoring a sense of common purpose.  And at the heart of the American ideal is this sense that we’re in it together, that nobody’s guaranteed success but everybody’s got access to the possibilities of success.

“And that we are willing to work not just to make sure our own children have pathway to success but that everybody does.  That at some level everybody is our kid, everybody is our responsibility.  We are going to give back to everybody.  And we do that because it’s the right thing to do.  And we do it because selfishly that’s how this country is going to advance and everybody is going to be better of.”

Many conservatives have demonstrated their opposition to the idea of being our brother’s keeper.  Compassionate conservatism has become an oxymoron.  Apparently, congressional Republicans genuinely believe the poor deserve to be in poverty, but are smart enough not to actually say it. 

Minority communities need opportunity and job training.  They need a secure social safety net like every other community.  Compassion is about providing opportunity and not closing doors.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that disadvantaged youths were 43 percent less likely to commit a violent crime if they had a summer job.

Our economy added 321,000 private sector jobs in November, but unfortunately in  minority communities many of those jobs are at the federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour.   

Minority communities need the same opportunities as other communities.  If, Eric Garner had a decent paying job, he wouldn’t have been out selling untaxed cigarettes, and becoming a target of law enforcement.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Job Growth

In 2009, President Obama was handed an economy, that was the worse financial catastrophe since the great depression.  Last week, the Dow Jones average brushed against 18,000.  By comparison on the day Obama was sworn into office, the Dow closed at 7,949.

November saw 321,000 jobs being added.  The Labor Department said the gains were widespread, thereby confirming recent signs of economic strength.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released statistics showing that we’ve had the best jobs numbers in 15 years.  For the first time since 1995, we’ve seen ten months in a row of at least 200,000 private sector job added to our economy.

President Obama noted: “The United States continues to out-pace most of the world.  Over last four years, we put more people back to work than Europe, Japan and all other industrialized, advanced countries combined.  And we’re going to keep at it.”

Corporate profits and executive compensation have gone through the roof, but not wages for average Americans.  Our economy has improved, but it’s still nowhere near where it ought to be given the rest of the economy.

Fortunately, we’ve seen gas prices in Delhi, N.Y drop below $3 a gallon.  Gas price analysts say prices are going to continue to drop and oil prices should continue to stay low.  Lower gas prices could help save the average American family about $600 over the next year on gasoline alone.

Health care isn’t usually considered an economic issue.  However, since the election we’ve learned that health care spending in 2013 grew slower than at any time in the last 50 years.  The uninsured rate between this year and this time last year fell by over 30 percent.  That data has huge economic implication for the economy as a whole and for individual American families.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Moral Authority Eroded

President Bush signed a secret executive order authorizing a policy of "extraordinary rendition," in which the C.I.A. was allowed to kidnap terrorist suspects and transfer them to prisons in countries like Egypt, Poland or Uzbekistan, where torture was practiced, with CIA operatives themselves doing the torturing.

The Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Rieckhoff wrote: “When an enemy fighter knows he’ll be treated well by United States forces if he is captured, he is more likely to give up.”

Rieckhoff said that many insurgents surrender to his platoon in Baghdad, when faced with the prospect of a hot meal and a pack of cigarettes.  America’s moral integrity was the single most important weapon his platoon had on the streets of Iraq.  It saved many lives and deterred Iraqis from joining the growing insurgency.

America’s moral standing was eroded by the Bush regime’s flawed justification for the invasion of Iraq, and the military torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison.  We should never again leave Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions open to reinterpretation because it will undermine our moral integrity even further.

Undermining the authority of the Geneva Conventions endangered American troops, and serve to create powerful recruiting tool for al Qaeda.  Unfortunately, the Bush regime and it’s sympathizer still haven’t recognize the value of moral authority.

In 2006, Republican combat veterans, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Senators Lindsay Graham, John McCain and John Warner publicly recognized that President Bush’s stance on Article 3 was a threat to our troops and to our national interests.

Prior to President Obama taking office, a dozen former generals met with Obama's top legal advisors to request that the practice of extraordinary rendition, whereby suspects are secretly transfered to countries that have a history of torture be stopped.  Those generals also want, the authority for the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques withdrawn, because it’s a code word for torture.

"How to Break a Terrorist" was written under a pseudonym of Matthew Alexander, a senior interrogator, who personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and supervised more than 1,000.  In 2006, he led an interrogations team assigned to Special Operations task force in Iraq.

He believes the primary reason foreign fighters went to Iraq was to avenge the torture at Abu Ghraib, and insisted that torture is extremely ineffective and counter productive to what we were trying to accomplish.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Protect and Serve

Cleveland police released a videotape following the shooting of 12 year old Tamir Rice, while playing with a realistic looking BB gun in the park across the street from his home.  A police car pull up, and in less than three seconds Tamir fell dead.

The driver of the car was the subject of a 2010 police brutality complaint, that resulted in the city of Cleveland paying out a $100,000 settlement.

In 2010, Tamela Eaton called police to have them send a tow truck, because a car was blocking her driveway.  Unbeknownst to her, the police had already been sent to her neighborhood to find a suspect in an unrelated incident.  The responding officers to that incident noticed a couple walking, and decided to arrest the man despite his companion’s loud protests.

Eaton heard the commotion, and came outside to object to the arrest, because she assumed the police were arresting the person, who had blocked her driveway.

According to her lawsuit, a police officers rushed her, placed her in a chokehold, threw her to the ground, twisted her wrists, and began hitting her.  The officer’s partner rushed over and proceed to punch her in the face multiple times.

The city of Cleveland paid $100,000 to make that lawsuit go away, but on 11/22/14, the same officer, who punched Tamela Eaton was driving the patrol car when his new partner, jumped out and immediately shot 12 year old Tamir Rice.  That officer had previously worked as a police officer in the suburban town of Independence.

The city of Independence released the personnel file, of the officer that shot Tamir Rice.  That file revealed: "Due to his dangerous loss of composure during live range training and his inability to manage his personal stress, I do not believe the patrolman shows the maturity needed to work in our employment.  The pattern developing within our short time frame with the patrolman is that he often feels when he is told to do something, those instructions are optional.  In law enforcement, there are times when instructions need to be followed to the letter and I’m under the impression the patrolman under certain circumstances will not react in the way instructed.  I am recommending he be released from the employment of the city of Independence.  I do not believe time nor training will be able to change or correct these deficiencies."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cleveland Police Chase

Over two years ago in November of 2012, a police chase in Cleveland, Ohio ended with the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects.  Cleveland citizens and law enforcement officials, who have watched the video tapes of that police chase have been astonished by the number of police cars in pursuit of the couple, who were definitely speeding, and driving in a reckless manner.  Passenger Melissa Williams and driver Timothy Russell led the chase, that lasted 25 minuets, with speeds over 100 miles per hour through the streets of downtown Cleveland.  

Initially, the city of Cleveland wouldn’t release the actual numbers of officers and police cars involved in the chase, but eventually they admitted 63 police cars were involved in the pursuit.  Police protocol is two cars, unless circumstances warrant more.  The car was being chased for speeding, and neither of the people in that car were armed.  Nor were they suspected of anything other than speeding. 

When the chase stopped, 13 police officers had fired their guns at the car.  Both of the passenger Melissa Williams and driver Timothy Russell had been shot more than 20 times each in the head and chest by police officers, who had fired 137 bullets into the car when it was moving or stopped.  

Although, the medical examiner ruled both deaths in the car chase were homicides, none of the police officers were brought up on murder charges.  Eventually, after citizens claimed the shootings were racially motivated, five police officers were brought up on misdemeanor charges, but only one officer was brought up on a charge of voluntary manslaughter.  He had jumped up onto the hood of the stopped car, and fired down through the windshield into the two unarmed people in the vehicle.  He’s pled not guilty, and those charges are still pending.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Homicide

The New York City medical examiner released the results of the autopsy performed on Eric Garner’s body, that said the death was a homicide, and the result of compression applied to his neck and chest by police officers.  A video shows exactly what occurred when Eric Garner died.  Therefore, it’s hard to square what occurred on the video with the grand jury’s decision that, it was nobody’s fault.

Section 203-11 of the New York Police Department’s patrol guide very clearly states that police officers are not allowed to choke people. "Members of the New York City Police Department will not use chokeholds.  A chokehold shall include but is not limited to any pressure to the throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air."

Over the past four years. the civilian complaint review board for the New York Police Department have received more than a thousand citizen complaints of police officers using chokeholds.   But, of over 1,000 complaints regarding police officers using chokeholds, only nine officers have been disciplined for using chokeholds.  None of those officers were given a harsher sanction than the loss of some vacation days.

The last time a New York City police officer was charged with killing someone one for using a chokehold was in 1994.  The young victim was Anthony Baez, who was chocked to death by a Bronx police officer after a football that Anthony Baez was playing with bounced off the officer’s patrol car.

A grand jury also didn’t indict the officer for killing Anthony Baez by choking him to death.  However, that police officer was brought up on charges in a federal court, where he was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.

I’m surprised, Daniel Pantaleo, who put Eric Garner in a chokehold is still on the police force, because two Civilian Complaint Review Board filings in April 2012 charged officer Pantaleo with strip-searching two suspects in public, and “slapping” their testicles.  The African American complainants Darren Collins and Tommy Rice split a $30,000 settlement earlier this year in their lawsuit.

It’s unclear whether the NYPD will keep officer Pantaleo on the force, or will discipline him in any way, now that local charges will not be brought against him.

It’s also unclear whether or not federal charges will be brought, like they were in the Anthony Baez case 20 years ago.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Eric Garner

President Obama insists, that he and Attorney General Eric Holder are not going to let up in their effort to solve the problem of racial tensions that exists between law enforcement officers and minorities in communities nationwide.  His remarks came soon after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the chock hold death of Eric Garner.

At the sixth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, Obama pointed out: "It is incumbent upon all of us as Americans regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a native American problem.  This is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law that's a problem and it's my job as president to help solve it."

Obama noted, that he had just spoken to Attorney General Eric Holder and "we are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of accountability that exists between our communities and law enforcement."

For several month’s the Justice Department has been investigating the circumstances surrounding Garner's death and whether civil rights were violated.

Days earlier, Holder announced the investigation: "This afternoon, I spoke with the widow of Eric Garner to inform her and her family of our decision to investigate potential federal civil rights violations.  I've also been in touch with President Obama, as well as Mayor de Blasio regarding our decision. Prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation.  In addition to performing our own investigative work, the department will conduct a complete review of the material gathered during the local investigation."

Obama said: "We are going to take specific steps to improve the training and the work with state and local government when it comes to policing in communities of color.  We are going to be scrupulous in investigating cases where we are concerned about the partiality and accountability that's taking place."

Across America, people have been as shocked by the decision not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Garner in a chokehold.  The cell phone video has gone viral.  Furthermore, the video evidence of the confrontation with Eric Garner has been shown on T.V. news on numerous occasions.  Nevertheless, Republican Congressman Peter King thanked the Staten Island grand jury for “doing justice.” 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Supreme Court Ruling

The grand jury’s incendiary decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in death of 18 year old Michael Brown is not going to go away with the resignation of officer Wilson from the Ferguson Police Department.  The judicial system of Ferguson will need a lot more resignations inorder to not be considered racially bias.

An analysis of the grand jury transcripts, by “The New York Times,” reported: "The prosecutors rarely asked skeptical questions of Officer Wilson and frequently let testimony supporting him pass unchallenged, while boring in on the statements of witnesses whose accounts conflicted with the officer’s."

Kathy Alizadeh, the assistant district attorney who led the grand jury’s investigation, clearly sided with police officer Wilson.  She was either completely incompetent, or actively biased in Darren Wilson’s favor, and performed in an unprofessional and unethical manner.

Alizadeh handed the members of grand jury a copy of an old, unconstitutional law, which she said was the law governing police use of deadly force.  The copy of that law said it was legal to shoot a fleeing suspect.  But it hadn’t actually been the law since 1985, when the United States Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

She allowed the grand jury sit through the witness testimony, believing the old law was still in force.  Only at the end, and just before the grand jury was ready to deliberate, did Kathy Alizadeh hand them a document, specifying the correct law regarding police use of deadly force. 

She said: "That does correctly state what the law is when an officer can use force and when he can use deadly force in effecting an arrest,  OK.  I don’t want you to get confused and don’t rely on that copy or that printout of the statute that I’ve given you a long time ago.  It’s not entirely correct or inaccurate.  But there is something in it that’s not correct.  Ignore it totally."

A member of the grand jury asked: "The Supreme Court, federal court, overrides Missouri statues?"  The answer to that question is a simple, Yes.  But, Alizadeh didn’t provide a one word answer.  Instead, she told the grand jury: "Just don’t worry about that."

Kathy Alizadeh never explained to the grand jury what was incorrect about that unconstitutional law that she had given them, and she never explained the specifics of the new law that she handed to them on a piece of paper.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Consistently Bias

Scholars and physiologist insist, that whites and racial minorities speak a different language when they talk about racism.  Some whites confine racism to intentional displays of racial hostility, such as Ku Klux Klan type of racial slurs in public.

For many racial minorities, that type of racism doesn't matter as much anymore, because minorities are more concerned about those, who don't wear a hood, but causes unsuspecting people to see the world through a racially biased lens.

Howard Ross insists that research has consistently shown: "Human beings are consistently, routinely and profoundly biased, and people tend to refuse to admit their biases.  His research found, that when misinformed voters were presented with factual information that contradicted their political biases, they refused to admit their biases.

For example, people, who were disappointed with President Obama's economic record and believed he hadn't added any jobs during his presidency were shown a graph of non-farm employment over the prior year that included a rising line indicating about a million jobs had been added.

While looking at the graph, these individuals were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down, or stayed about the same, many of them said down.  Ross, also concluded, that it's even more difficult to get smart people to admit their biases, because the smarter they are, the less likely they are to question their own thinking. 

Some of our nation’s smartest legal minds aren’t believers in racial bias either.  The conservative majority on the Supreme Court could get rid of an important tool against racial bias.  But, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has been suspicious of efforts to achieve diversity in workforces, believing that it would amount to reverse racism or racial preferences. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Immigration Executive Action

In 1956, President Eisenhower took executive action to allow hundreds of foreign- born orphans to come to America with their adoptive parents.  In the same year, he instituted an emergency refugee assistance program to enable 32,000 Hungarian refugees, who had fled their home country during a conflict with the Soviet Army.  In 1960, Eisenhower implemented a similar program for Cuban refugees seeking asylum after fleeing that Communist nation.

In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, and President Reagan signed it into law.  That legislation allowed immigrants who had been living continuously in America, since at least Jan. 1, 1982, to apply for temporary, and later permanent, residency.  The law provided legal permanent residency to 2.7 million immigrants who were living here illegally.  Subsequently, 1.1million of those immigrants went on to become American citizens.

Concerns were soon raised about the possibility of families being broken up.  Congress intentionally sidestepped the issue with ambiguous language in the law regarding the status of mixed eligibility families.  Initially, immigration officials took a hard-line position, stating that any ineligible family members would be subject to deportation.  But, later in 1987, the Immigration and Naturalization Service issued a policy statement entitled “family fairness” guidelines which liberalized its approach to family unity for family members of amnesty applicants.

Eventually, Reagan’s executive action extended protection from deportation to minor children who were living with parents who had applied for legalization.  However, a Reagan appointee said the policy only applied to children if both of their parents qualified for residency.

The George H.W. Bush administration used its executive powers to further address the potential separation of families.  The INS guidelines issued under Reagan granted relief only to children of the so-called mixed eligibility families who didn’t qualify under the new law but their parents did.

On Feb. 2, 1990, the Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner announced that it would scrap the three-year-old Reagan-era guidelines and issue new guidelines that expanded deportation deferrals to include not just children but also spouses of newly legalized residents (provided the spouses and children were living in the United States prior to Nov. 6, 1986, which is when the 1986 law took effect, and provided that the children were unmarried and under 18 years old).  It also gave these children and spouses the authorization to work, which was something that the Reagan-era guidelines did not do.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

No Indictment

Last night, President Obama delivered the following message at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference.
"Some of you may have heard there was a decision that came out today by a grand jury not to indict police officers who had interacted with Eric Garner in New York City, all of which was caught on videotape and speaks to the larger issues that we’ve been talking about now for the last week, the last month, the last year, and, sadly, for decades, and that is the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way.
"And there’s going to be, I’m sure, additional statements by law enforcement.  My tradition is not to remark on cases where there may still be an investigation.  But I want everybody to understand that this week, in the wake of Ferguson, we initiated a task force whose job it is to come back to me with specific recommendations about how we strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color and minority communities that feel that bias is taking place; that we are going to take specific steps to improve the training and the work with state and local governments when it comes to policing in communities of color; that we are going to be scrupulous in investigating cases where we are concerned about the impartiality and accountability that’s taking place.
"And as I said when I met with folks both from Ferguson and law enforcement and clergy and civil rights activists, I said this is an issue that we’ve been dealing with for too long and it’s time for us to make more progress than we’ve made.  And I’m not interested in talk; I’m interested in action.  And I am absolutely committed as President of the United States to making sure that we have a country in which everybody believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law.
"So I just got off the phone with my Attorney General, Eric Holder.  He will have more specific comments about the case in New York.  But I want everybody to know here, as well as everybody who may be viewing my remarks here today, we are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement.
"And I say that as somebody who believes that law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job; that every man or woman in uniform are putting their lives at risk to protect us; that they have the right to come home, just like we do from our jobs; that there’s real crime out there that they’ve got to tackle day in and day out -- but that they’re only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system.
"And right now, unfortunately, we are seeing too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly.  And in some cases, those may be misperceptions; but in some cases, that’s a reality.  And it is incumbent upon all of us, as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem, and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem.
"This is an American problem.  When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that’s a problem.  And it’s my job as President to help solve it."

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Racial Biases

Oneonta Daily Star conservative columnist Chuck Pinkey is sick and tired of hearing that we have a race problem in America.  In my opinion, anyone who claims that we don’t have a race problem has been deluding themselves.  

Scientific research over the past 50 years clearly shows that we have a problem.  For example a study published in the American Journal of Sociology showed that newly released white felons experience better job hunting success than young black men with no criminal record.

Two-thirds of population of Ferguson Missouri is black, yet the mayor, police chief and five of six city council members are white.  Fifty of the 53 people in Ferguson’s Police Department are white.  The city is like countless multiracial communities, calm on the surface but seething with racial disparities beneath. 

The median income among black Americans is roughly half that of white Americans.  Although, 56% of blacks believe black Americans face significant discrimination, only 16% of whites agree.  Our country has a greater wealth gap between whites and blacks than South Africa had during apartheid.

Duke University sociologist Bonilla-Silva insists, that overt racism is so widely rejected in our country, that it’s no longer culturally acceptable to be openly racist. 

In “Racism Without Racists,” Bonilla-Silva writes: "The new racism, like God, works in mysterious ways and is quite effective in maintaining white privilege.  For example, instead of saying as they used to say during the Jim Crow era that they do not want us as neighbors, they say things nowadays such as 'I am concerned about crime, property values and schools.' "

UCLA researcher Daniel Ames suggests: "Racial biases can in some ways be more destructive than overt racism because they're harder to spot, and therefore harder to combat." 

“Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgements in Our Daily Lives by Howard J. Ross can be obtained on from Amazon.  In the book, the author includes includes the story of a knife fight experiment.

Psychologists staged an experiment with two photographs that showed a photograph of two white men fighting, one unarmed and another holding a knife.  Then they showed another photograph, this one of a white man with a knife fighting an unarmed African-American man.

When they asked people to identify the man who was armed in the first picture, most people picked the right one.  Yet when they were asked the same question about the second photo, most people -- black and white -- incorrectly said the black man had the knife.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Benghazi Investigations

The Benghazi attack on our diplomatic compound, that left Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods dead occurred on September 11, 2012.

It sparked political controversy, when House Republicans accused the Obama administration of mishandling the attack and manipulating the talking points used to discuss it for political reasons.

There have been six government investigations into what happened, and they all concluded that the Benghazi attack was a tragedy, but it wasn’t a conspiracy.

After the mid-term election and as a Friday night news dump, the House Intelligence Committee released a declassified investigative report.  Their final report, released by Republican Chairman Mike Rogers concluded there was no intelligence failure prior to the attack, no stand-down order to CIA operatives trying to go assist at the besieged consular building, no evidence of CIA employees being intimidated from testifying, and  asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

The intelligence panel, along with five other House committees, spent two years interviewing witnesses and examining evidence about the Obama administration's response to the attacks and the related controversy that has been a flashpoint between Republicans and President Obama over his conduct of foreign policy.

Nevertheless, another Republican controlled House committee, designated as the Select Committee on Benghazi, is still conducting its own investigation.

Committee spokesman Jamal D. Ware pointed out: "The Select Committee on Benghazi received (in August) the Intelligence committee's report on the Benghazi terrorist attack, and has reviewed it along with other committee reports and materials as the investigation proceeds.  It will aid the Select Committee's comprehensive investigation to determine the full facts of what happened in Benghazi, Libya before, during and after the attack and contribute toward our final, definitive accounting of the attack on behalf of Congress."

These investigations have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Under the Rug

Versions of golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” is shared by 21 world religions.  This rule is also referred to as the ethic of reciprocity and is arguably the most essential basis for the modern concept of human rights.

Votes are expected to draw the line on extremist, by voting for representatives in Congress, who aren’t pushing a religious agenda.  We should be voting for wisdom and virtue, as opposed to intolerance and bigotry.  Religious extremist insist same sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to enjoyed the benefits of marriage.  They have nothing to fear, because the First Amendment to our Constitution guarantees their right to practice their religious belief of marriage being solely between a male and a female. 

Truth revealed through scripture is subjective truth predicated by one’s faith.  Faith is the antithesis of skepticism and objective truth.  Most religions blind their followers to the role faith plays in perpetuating human conflict, especially for homosexuals.  Logic suggests that we should acquire vast amounts of objective information and make maximum use of our ability to reason.

Some religious extremist claim that our country is divided because many have forsaken God and evil forces have taken the commandments out of public places.  I disagree and suggest that the root cause of our divided country goes back to the words "under God" being added to the Pledge of Allegiance.  Henceforth, the original Pledge of Allegiance became both a patriotic oath and a public prayer.  

Religious extremist don’t respect the rights of others.  Instead, they insist that their religious views are superior, righteous and infallible, and must become the law of the land.  Extremist have created a division, which they hope will result in a theocracy, that share similarities with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and ISIS terrorists in Iraq.

The motto on the great seal of the United States is: "E Pluribus Unum", translates from Latin as: "diversity with unity"; or "out of many, one." Our nation has always been one of religious diversity.  Animosity and division will continue until religious extremist accept that strict separation of church and state is essential to healing any divided country.

By insisting that abortion is murder and homosexuality is evil, extremist are responsible for today’s divisive intolerance.  They’ve divided our country, but more importantly created a convenient diversion for self-serving politicians to shove fundamental problems under the rug.