Friday, December 19, 2014

Just Another Example Of "Barak Obama's Failed Policies"

If you follow this space you know that I have often written about the Republican’s constant criticism of “Barak Obama’s failed policies.” Republicans are quick to blame any domestic or foreign policy setback on “Barak Obama’s failed policies. Voters bought into the Republican narrative, fired the Democrats, and placed control of the legislative branch into the Republican’s hands.

I prefer to deal in facts rather than political talking points.

Consider this…

Yesterday we witnessed yet another example of the effect that the president’s “failed policies” are having on our economy.

The DOW rose 421 points yesterday. That marked the largest single day growth in the last three years.

The DOW Jones Industrial Average has risen over 10,000 points since Barak Obama took office.

Allow me to repeat this FACT once more.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen over 10,000 points since Barak Obama took office.
Americans with enough money to invest seem to be doing quite well under “Barak Obama’s failed policies.”

And corporate America seems to be flourishing under “Barak Obama’s failed policies” as well. Last year corporate after tax profits rose to a record 10% of gross domestic product. Add to that 57 straight months of positive private sector job growth and even the middle class is starting to realize economic relief under “Barak Obama’s failed policies.”

Just think where we might be economically if Republicans had stopped the entire obstructionist “BS” and worked with the president to pass, oh I don’t know,a comprehensive jobs bill that included the repair and moderization of our crumbling infrastructure. Or increased the minimum wage incrementally over the next ten years to put more spending money in people's pockets.

It’s too bad the voters listened to the Republican talking points instead of looking at the facts.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Obama Working On His Bucket List

Yesterday President Obama informed the country that the United States will resume diplomatic relations with Cuba. The surprise announcement brings to a close 56 years of economic embargos and isolationist policies imposed on the Castro regime during the Cold War.

The Cuban government has a long history of oppression and civil rights violations. For the last fifty six years the Unites States has tried to use economic embargos and a host of isolationist policies to push the Cuban government toward democratic reform. In making his announcement the president stated that embargos have not worked and their continuation no longer serves the United States best interests. He believes that engaging the Cuban government on a host of policy issues we will over time bring about the desired reforms.

As one might expect the president’s announcement brought harsh criticism from the right. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, whose families experienced Castro’s oppression first hand, were quick to weigh in. Both promised to do everything in their power to reverse the president’s policy once the Republican controlled congress returns next year. An incensed Rubio said that he would go so far as to block the president’s eventual nominee for Cuban ambassador: “I reserve the right to do everything within the rules of the Senate to prevent that sort of individual from ever even coming up for a vote.” Other lawmakers threatened to block funding for the president’s plan; including money for a new embassy.

Most of the hair on fire criticism of the president’s action has been wrapped in indignation over his ‘giving in” to an oppressive regime that has a horrific record on basic human rights. This coming from the very same people who as recently as last week came out in full support of the CIA’s use of torture to extract information from detainees. If there is one thing that we are very adept at in this country it is setting a very high moral standard for others while re-setting the bar much lower for ourselves.

The president obviously understands that he is a lame duck president. He understands that the obstructionist tactics used against him in his first six years will take on a whole new dimension when the Republican led congress reconvenes in January. He understands that if he intends to get anything accomplished in his remaining time in office he will have to use whatever executive powers are at his disposal. By way of his executive action on immigration reform and now his announcement on Cuba the president has demonstrated that he intends to do just that. The president has a bucket list. Republicans can expect him to act on it.

The president believes that he can make more progress with Cuba through diplomacy and engagement than he can through isolation and embargo. Maybe he’s right…maybe not. It is a fair debate.

But any criticism coming from this country that calls into question another power’s record on civil rights is hypocrisy at the highest level.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Meet the new boss...same as the old boss"

While you were sleeping the 113th session of the Congress of the United States of America recessed for the final time. Lawmakers headed for home with the knowledge they had participated in the least productive session of congress in American history. During the past two years the 113th managed to pass just over 200 bills. You have to go back to 1947 to find a more unproductive bunch. Harry Truman labeled that session “the do nothing congress.” They passed over 900 bills.

“Thank God it’s over” exclaimed Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) as he headed for the exit.

Amen to that.

While the 113th may have ended there is unfortunately little reason to believe the 114th session will be any different.

Depending on whom you talk to, voters handed Republicans control of both chambers of congress ostensibly for one of two reasons: to halt the president’s agenda and/or to end the gridlock that has paralyzed congress for the past few years. The voters want to see progress. It appears at first blush that they may be disappointed.

Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader McConnell have promised to collaborate on legislation that will attempt to tear down President Obama’s accomplishments “piece by piece...bit by bit.” Should Republicans act on that promise President Obama will certainly be waiting with veto pen in hand. The president's decision to “go it alone” on immigration reform are a sure sign that he has no intention of bowing to the newly elected legislative branch. Those who protest that “elections matter” might consider the Republican response to the president’s two resounding victories in 2008 and 2012.

What does all of this mean? It means is that there is little chance that any substantive piece of legislation will be passed during the president’s final two years in office. It would appear that the 114th will look very much like the 113th.

The American people have spoken. They voted for “divided government.” To the victor go the spoils.

Welcome to the 114th session of the Congress of the United States Congress. Where the good of the country is an afterthought…and progress goes to die.

“Meet the new boss…same as the old boss.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Classic Cheney

The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture has unleashed a furious debate over the use and effectiveness of so called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT’s) in keeping our country safe. No conversation about the subject is complete without the irascible architect of the controversial program weighing. So it was no surprise to see former Vice President Dick Cheney show up for an interview with moderator Chuck Todd on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

Dick was at his combative best as he navigated the path between protector of our democracy and war criminal. He pushed back hard on any and all assertions that the program constituted torture. And he was adamant that the intelligence committee’s report was biased and its findings taken out of context.

Here are some of Dick’s most notable statements on the subject. We’ve taken the liberty of adding the “context “that Dick argued was missing from the intelligence report.

- Dick said that the EIT’s did not constitute torture because: “The program was thoroughly vetted by the Justice Department lawyers and they agreed that the program did not constitute torture. We were very careful not to cross that line.” Dick failed to mention that several of those same lawyers later recanted their findings saying that they were pressured by the White House to find a way around the law to make the program legal. Dick also failed to note that the while the US Justice Department has standing when it comes to interpreting US law it has no standing in interpreting international law. By signing the Geneva Convention/ Accords the US agreed to abide by international law. No one is disputing that the EIT’s are in violation of international law.

- On the question of why the detainees were held for years without due process during which time they were subject to EIT’s. Dick said that the detainees were not entitled to due process under US law because they were not US citizens but rather enemy combatants. This is true. And since Dick knew this to be true it calls into question his reliance on the Justice Department’s interpretation of US law. The detainees were not entitled to protection under US law and therefore the Justice Department’s findings on the legality of their treatment are irrelevant. The detainees were entitled to protection under international law; which the EIT program violated.

- On several occasions Dick asserted: “The program worked and it saved American lives.” Current CIA Director John Brennen gave a press briefing in response to the committee’s report. In written remarks he initially seemed to corroborate Cheney’s comments stating: “Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EIT’s were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.” However he later clarified by saying that it was impossible to know whether the detainees provided that information because of the EIT’s, calling the cause and effect relationship “unknown and unknowable.”

- Moderator Chuck Todd, citing several of the techniques used against detainees, asked the former Vice President if he believed they constituted torture. Cheney avoided the question by restating that the Justice Department had vetted the program and found it legal. Todd then recounted the gruesome incident where a detainee’s dinner was pureed and used as an enema solution; asking Cheney if he believed this act was torture. Dick’s response: “I’m not a doctor.”

- Dick pointed out that the EIT program has kept our country safe since the 9/11 attacks. “Have we been bombed since?” Cheney asked to make the point. Cheney failed to note that President Obama discontinued the program in January of 2009.

- Chuck Todd asked Dick about the moral concerns being expressed by some over the use of EIT’s. Cheney replied: “These terrorists murdered 3,000 innocent citizens on 9/11. Whatever we did pales in comparison.” This is an emphatic statement from the former Vice President that in his mind the end justifies the means.

The interview ended with the former Vice President stating emphatically that he had no regrets and that he would do it all over again.

Had I been interviewing Dick I would have asked a few additional questions.

I would have asked: “If this program was legal and so effective then why did you hide it from the American people? Why did you set up secret black sites to conduct these “legal” interrogations? Why did you hire off the book contractors or the security services of other nations to implement the EIT’s? Why did you lie to the American people and tell them we didn’t torture people when surely you knew that we were operating in violation of the Geneva Accords that we authored? Why didn’t you trust the American people with the truth? Aren’t they entitled to the truth?

Recent polls show that a majority of the public agrees with the former Vice President. 52% of those polled said they approved of the CIA’s use of torture to keep the country safe.

I guess I’m in the minority.

You see I believe that Dick Cheney and the Bush administration failed our country. They failed to keep us safe. Then in the aftermath of 9/11 they allowed their fear, anger, embarrassment and thirst for revenge to guide their actions. In so doing they conceded whatever moral high ground we may have held, took us to an unnecessary and unwinnable war, broke international laws and reduced us to the equivalent a third world dictatorship. They did all of this in our name. And then they covered it up by lying to us.

Dick says he’d do it all over again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cruz Throws GOP Under His Campaign Bus

Ted Cruz has his sights set on the White House. Anyone who gets in his way will find themselves thrown under the Cruz campaign bus. Anyone! That includes his party caucus.

The Ted Cruz Self Promotion Tour rolled into Washington D.C. last Friday. Party leaders had just agreed to postpone until Monday a vote on the government spending bill. (You see senators don’t work on weekends.) The senate chamber recessed for the weekend; the senators headed for home. Senator McConnell waved off reporters as he headed for the exit. “See you Monday!” he said.

But Ted Cruz had a final act to play. As the lights dimmed and the final curtain fell Ted Cruz called for an encore. Using the powers vested in him by the constitution, Cruz defied leadership and called for a procedural vote to debate the constitutional legality of the president’s executive orders on immigration.
Senators were forced to scurry back to the chamber. Many had already left for the airport. To say there were a few pissed off lawmakers would be an understatement.

Cruz made his impassioned case. It fell on deaf ears. One half of the Cruz’ GOP caucus joined Democrats in voting “No” to his grandstanding motion. Afterward several GOP lawmakers sought out reporters to excoriate the senator’s theatrics. Their anger was not simply a matter of inconvenience. Ted Cruz’ had dealt his party to a significant political setback; one that they would feel for years to come.

You see by entering his motion Cruz in effect re-opened the session. With Democrats still holding the majority, Majority Leader Harry Reid realized that Cruz had given Democrats an opportunity to use the rare weekend session to their advantage. Reid and his caucus used their majority to ram through 24 presidential nominations. Some of these appointments had been sitting in limbo for years. Well qualified candidates whose approval had been blocked by Republicans for purely partisan political reasons. Those approved included six critical federal judgeships. Cruz’ grandstanding had handed the Democrats and the president a huge victory.

Cruz didn’t care. Ever the narcissist, Cruz had gotten everything he wanted out of his little charade. If you want to win the White House you have to first win your party’s nomination. Cruz had successfully auditioned for that nomination by appealing to the GOP base. He had made the case that he was the only Republican willing to stand in the way of “this imperialist president.”

Ted Cruz has his sights set on the White House. Anyone who gets in his way will find themselves thrown under the Cruz Campaign bus. Anyone! That includes his party caucus.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Worm Has Turned!

There is no question that over the past six years the Republican Party has been successful in thwarting President Obama’s agenda. By all accounts they have turned “obstruction” into an art form.

When the Republicans secured control of both houses of congress in the mid-terms my concern was that Democrats might learn a lesson from their Republican counterparts. The lesson being that obstruction works. What is good for the goose… Yesterday my concerns were legitimized.

Yesterday, in one of the most bizarre scenes that I have ever witnessed in politics, the House passed a $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill to fund the government. The reason that this was so strange was the manner in which the battle lines were drawn. Instead of the usual partisan bickering along party lines you had President Obama joining Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid in lobbying for passage of the bill while Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren joined a host of Tea Party types in calling for its defeat. Strange bedfellows indeed!

It seems that the White House along with House and Senate leadership had cobbled together the bill without consulting their respective caucuses. At the last minute Republicans added a few little pieces to the bill that had nothing to do with funding the government. One line increased the level of contributions that an individual could make to a political campaign from $32,420 to $324,200. The other stripped out a provision in the Dodd-Frank banking bill that removed FDIC protection from the banking industries risky derivative trading operations.

Trading derivatives is risky business. Many call it “gambling” not “investing.” Prior to the recession banks engaged in these activities secure in the knowledge that they were federally insured. But when these trades became toxic in 2006-2007 they took the banking industry, the economy and the government down with them. Dodd-Frank said never again. The legislation allowed for derivative trading but banks would no longer be backed by the FDIC. Pressured by banking industry lobbyists to reinsert the protection, Republicans put the language back in and said that if the Democrats wanted a spending bill it would have to include the derivative provision.

The president was willing to swallow this bitter pill because the bill included the funding he needed to put his immigration reform measures into affect. Boehner knew he didn’t have enough votes among his caucus because the right wing wanted nothing to do with the “imperialist president’s’ executive orders on immigration. So the Speaker, fearing his party would be blamed for another costly government shutdown, pleaded with Pelosi to whip her caucus into helping pass the bill. Pelosi was having none of it. She was incensed that Republicans had inserted the derivative language into the bill and furious with the president for signing off on it. She took to the well of the House to publically chastise the president for going along with what she referred to as a “blackmail bill; making it clear that she would prefer a government shutdown to succumbing to the blackmail.

While all this was going on in the House, Senator Elizabeth Warren was doing her best impersonation of Ted Cruz in the Senate. Warren is to the far left what Ted Cruz is to the far right. A staunch supporter of banking reform Warren went to the well of the Senate twice to make impassioned pleas to House Democrats to withstand the pressure from Wall Street and vote against bill; even if it meant shutting down the government.

Eventually 57 Democrats joined 162 Republicans to pass the bill and avoid a shutdown. The Senate followed by approving a two day extension of current funding and will take up the full bill next week. With Warren leading the liberal opposition in the senate, passage is no sure thing.

We are accustomed to watching the conflict between moderate Republicans and the radical right wing of the party. Yesterday Republicans sat in the peanut gallery as a stunning role reversal took place...Democrats Warren and Pelosi ralling the far left in clear defiance of party moderates and the president.

Democrats have learned that voters reward obstructionist politicians who stick to their guns…no matter what. Republicans taught them well. Elections didn’t matter to Republicans in 2008 or 2012. Why should they matter now?

That strategy may prove beneficial to the Democrats.

But I’m not sure how it benefits the country.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"We did what we had to do."

Yesterday was a very bad day for this country.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released its much anticipated, highly controversial report on the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the CIA misinformed or failed to inform congress, the White House and the public of the use, effectiveness and brutality of the of the techniques employed by CIA operatives in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.

The report is graphic in nature as it details the disturbing manner in which detainees were treated as the country struggled to recover from the events of 9/11. Detainees were humiliated, physically beaten, psychologically tortured and maimed. Two detainees died in CIA custody as a result of their treatment.

In response the CIA offered no apologies. The agency remains firm that the enhanced interrogation techniques used were legal and instrumental in obtaining actionable intelligence that saved American lives. They assert that congress was fully briefed on their activities and that any assertions to the contrary are disingenuous.

The Justice Department stated yesterday that the gruesome events outlined in the report will not result in its reopening of a criminal investigation into the CIA’s treatment of detainees.

I don’t know where to begin.

Let me say in fairness that the report does seem prosecutorial in nature. The committees’ findings are the result of a five and a half year review of over 6 million pages of CIA memos, briefings and emails. The committee did not interview White House or CIA officials to get their side of the story.

It should also be noted that the report was written without benefit of providing the context during which the CIA was operating at the time. The World Trade Center towers had just been attacked. 3,000 were dead; thousands more injured. The country was paranoid that more attacks were coming. CIA officials were called in and told essentially: “You screwed up. Don’t let it happen again.” The pressure to find the perpetrators was enormous. The thirst for revenge was palpable.

That said I find the agency’s response to the report both curious and telling.

The initial CIA response was to object to the release of the report for fear its revelations would enrage our enemies and put American lives at risk. The content is factual…its release dangerous.

Then, no longer refuting the legitimacy of the content, the CIA moves on to its next defense; that the resulting intelligence made it all worthwhile; the end justifies the means. As one former Bush staffer put it: “We did what we had to do.”

Deflection is next; this in the form of deflecting blame back onto congress. What did congress know and when did they know it?

Last but not least is the defense that to me is a false equivalence. Defenders of the CIA say its critics are ok with US foot soldiers kicking down doors and shooting people…sometimes innocent civilians. They’re ok with dropping bombs from drones on “suspected terrorists” that kill innocent civilians as well. But they get all squeamish about the CIA water boarding a guy that we know wants to kill us. This deflection misses the salient point that the former are considered acceptable under international rules of engagement. The latter is a violation of international law under the Geneva Convention.

This circular firing squad will continue in the weeks and months to come. It misses a far greater point.

As a nation we claim to hold a high moral standard. We proclaim ourselves to be “a nation of laws.” Unfortunately that’s not true. We are actually a nation of convenience that follows the law when it suits our needs. In this country the application of the law depends on who you are. In this country depending on who you are you can get away with selling junk mortgages as AAA instruments, selling arms for hostages, shooting an unarmed youth, choking an unarmed citizen, outing a CIA covert operative, lying to the American people, violating the Geneva Convention or engage in war crimes. Morals and laws don’t matter. In this country, depending on who you are, the end justifies the means.

This we know. The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America violated international law by torturing detainees. The agency was operating under authorization granted by the highest office in our land. These activities constitute war crimes against humanity and should result in criminal prosecution under both United States and international law. In this country that will never happen.

As an American citizen these illegal activities were conducted on my behalf…in my name. I for one categorically reject any and all assertions that the tactics used are not war crimes in violation of international law. Those who wish to continue to assert that these government authorized tactics are acceptable are proving once again that the application of law in this country is a matter of convenience. I wonder if they would feel the same if CIA interrogators were pureeing their dinner and force feeding it to them via a tube inserted in their rectum.

There is a moral standard here as well as a legal one. Both lines were crossed.

You can debate the definition and value of torture for the rest of your days.

But please spare me the assertion that we are a nation of laws.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"The American People Are Smart!"...or are they...

“The American people are smart! They usually get it right.”

We hear this statement often in politics…usually uttered by politicians lobbying for an issue or trying to save their jobs. Most recently we heard it from Republicans after they were handed control of congress in the mid-terms. Republicans tell us that the mid-terms were a “repudiation of the failed policies of the Obama administration.”

“The American people are smart! They usually get it right.”

At the risk of getting myself into a great deal of they are least not in this particular case.

On Friday we received the latest jobs report. The numbers show that last month the economy produced 321,000 new private sector jobs. That makes 10 straight months of 200,000+ private sector job growth…57 straight months of positive job growth…. 10 million new private sector jobs since Obama took office. Economists worldwide trumpeted the results. “This is what a growing economy looks like” they said. Those same economists are projecting a 3% growth in the US economy in 2015.

Perhaps the most notable number in the report is that wages finally took an upturn; coming in at a 0.4% increase…double what economists had expected.

This is good…very, very good. Particularly when compared to the crumbling economy and 700,000/mo. in private sector job losses that the president inherited. Yet the American people voted to remove the Democratic Party that produced these results; handig the reins over to the Republican Party that did everything it could to stand in the way.

One of the leading pocket book issues that people fixate on is the price of gasoline. Remember when ISIS was barnstorming across Iraq gobbling up the country’s oil reserves. We saw gas prices spike in anticipation of a crude oil shortage. Republicans happily laid the blame on the “failed policies of the Obama administration.” The American people bought into the hype. Obama is to blame.

The President ordered military action against ISIS. The gas Iraqi oil reserves were secured. Now gas prices are plummeting; down 12 cents in the past two weeks alone. Some parts of the country are seeing prices at $1.99 per gallon. Does the president get any credit?

This is good…very, very good. Yet the American people voted to remove the party whose leader took the action that resulted on lower gas prices.

The Republican Party has been trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act since the day it was passed into law. The American people bought into the message that the ACA was just another failed example of government overreach. Yet the individual components of the policy remain widely popular. The goal of the ACA was to reduce the cost of health care and make affordable health insurance available to all Americans. During the first year of the ACA, health care costs decreased by 4%. That marks the first time in 30 years that we have seen health care costs go down. 7 million previously uninsured Americans now have affordable health insurance. There are 30% fewer uninsured Americans today because of this law.

This is good…very, very good. Yet the American people voted to remove the party responsible for these positive results; handing power over to the party that has promised to repeal the law the day they are sworn in.

Republicans have been in a huff over the president’s executive actions on immigration reform. Before the mid-terms they warned the country: “If this imperialist president has his way on immigration millions of illegal immigrants carrying the Ebola virus will swarm our borders. ISIS militants will pour over our borders by the thousands.” Tom Coburn evened warned that “we’ll see anarchy in the streets if the president acts alone.”

The president made good on his promise and issued his executive orders. Contrary to the hype the country did not go up in flames. In fact polls taken after the president made his announcement showed that 50% of those polled agreed with the president’s actions on immigration. 22% said he didn’t go far enough. That’s a 72% approval of the president’s executive action.

This is good…very, very good. Yet in spite of their approval of the president’s actions the American people voted to terminate the party that finally did SOMETHING on immigration reform and turned the reins over to the party that has turned its back on the largest growing demographic in our country.

In my opinion these are all positive actions taken by Democrats and the Obama administration that have improved the lives of millions of Americans. Not to mention the whole saving the auto industry, saving the banking industry, saving the economy, pulling the country out of a deep recession, getting bin laden, etc. etc. Yet the American people voted to remove Democrats from power and hand the reins to the party that has turned obstruction into an art form.

Democrats and the Obama administration had a strong record to run on in the mid-terms. They weren’t smart enough to get out that positive message.

The American people weren’t smart enough to figure it out for themselves.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Progress In Congress!

Just when you thought that any hope of substantive legislation emerging from this lame duck congress was lost…

Thanks to the Associated Press we have learned that the federal government in its infinite wisdom has been paying millions of dollars in Social Security benefits to suspected Nazi war criminals.


The AP reports that the Justice Department has been using a loophole within the law to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the US in exchange for keeping their Social Security benefits. If the suspects left the country voluntarily, or simple fled the country before being deported, they could keep their benefits.
These individuals, who have lost their American citizenship, are suspected of committing crimes against humanity. The AP cites the case of Jakob Denzinger, a former guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp, who fled the US in 1989. Denzinger now lives in Croatia and collects $1,500 per month in Social Security benefits.

The AP reports that the Social Security Administration refused its request to provide the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts.

Yesterday our fearless elected leaders in the US Senate passed a bi-partisan House bill that would shut the loophole and terminate any future payments. The bill is headed to the president’s desk for signing.

Normally I would ask why we are paying/bribing suspected war criminals to leave the country rather than turning them over to the appropriate authorities, but I’m afraid the answer would make my head hurt.

On a positive note...the most ineffective congress in American history passed a piece of legislation!!!

Well done!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The System Is Broken!

A Grand jury is a panel of citizens that is convened by a court to decide whether it is appropriate for the government to proceed with a prosecution against someone suspected of a crime. A Grand Jury is charged with looking at the information presented by the prosecutor and determining whether or not there is “probable cause” to take a case to trial. “Probable cause” by definition is “a reasonable amount suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong to justify a prudent and cautious person’s belief that certain facts are probably true.”

Grand juries are not charged with determining guilt or innocence. Their findings do not require a determination “beyond all reasonable doubt.” Their decision does not require a unanimous vote. Suffice it to say the bar a prosecutor most cross to obtain a Grand Jury indictment is set pretty low.

That is unless you are trying to prosecute a white cop for using excessive force against a black male.

On July 17 five Staten Island police officers approached Eric Garner with the intent of arresting him for the illegal sale of loose cigarettes. The subsequent exchange between police officers and Eric Garner was caught on tape.

The police had previously questioned Garner several times about the illegal sales; all of which Garner denied. Garner was obviously frustrated and agitated by the officers’ presence. The officers told Garner to put his arms behind him so that they could cuff him and take him in for booking. Garner, a large man well over 300 pounds resisted by swatting away officers’ attempts to secure his arms. The officers swarmed Mr. Garner and attempted to wrestle him to the ground. In the scuffle that ensued one of the officers, Daniel Pantaleo, locked Garner in a chokehold and pulled him the ground. The New York Police department banned the use of the chokehold tactic because if used improperly it can result in serious injury or death. Officer Pantaleo secured Garner in the chokehold as the other officers struggled to place him in cuffs. Garner is heard on the tape pleading with officers that he could not breathe. “I can’t breathe.” Garner repeated eleven times.

Garner was pronounced dead later that same day. The New York City Medical Examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide.

Yesterday the grand jury announced that it would not indict Officer Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner.

Our justice system is broken…particularly when it comes to the degree of force used in meting out justice young black males.

Five well trained police officers…five…arrive on the scene to arrest Garner for illegally…selling cigarettes.

One of the trained officers employs a chokehold tactic with full knowledge of the fact that the tactic had been banned by his department specifically because it can cause serious injury and death.

Garner can be heard pleading several that he cannot breathe.

Garner is dead.

The medical examiner rules that his death was a homicide.

The entire event is caught on tape.

And yet our justice system says…nothing to see here.

Perhaps Garner’s death was not caused solely by the chokehold administered by officer Pantaleo. In ruling Garner’s death a homicide the medical examiner said that the pressure on the neck, compression of the chest and the position in which Garner was held on the ground were contributing factors. That finding might indicate that Officer Pantaleo may not have been solely responsible for Garner’s death. But surely there is probable cause to indict him for his participation!

A man is dead. The medical professionals have ruled his death a homicide. Whether he was a saint or guilty of selling illegal cigarettes…whether he was combative or compliant…whether he was black or white...he is dead at the hands of the police. If we are the nation of laws that we claim to be then justice must be served. The problem we have is that in this country “justice” has a far different meaning if you are a black male.

The only good thing that might come of Eric Garner’s death is that this particular case of excessive force against black males happened in New York. Nothing garners more attention than those events which offend the sensibilities of New Yorkers. Ferguson, Missouri will eventually fade into yesterday’s news. But let the same thing occur in New York and it is memorialized forever. Perhaps the glare of the big city’s lights illuminate a path toward equality and compromise between law enforcement and the minority communities they are paid to serve.

Let’s hope so. Because our justice system is broken

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Republicans At War With Republicans

President Obama and newly elected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will sit down this afternoon for a one on one conversation. It will mark the first time that the two party leaders meet face to face since Republicans swept control of congress in the November mid-terms. Rumors that Kentucky bourbon will be served have yet to be confirmed. Oh to be a fly on the wall. Can you say “awkward?”

Republicans are livid over the president’s decision to go it alone on immigration reform. McConnell is certain to make that point. I expect the conversation might go something like this:

MCCONNELL: Mr. President, as you might imagine my members are pretty upset over your executive actions on immigration reform. Perhaps your staff failed to inform you that elections were held a few weeks ago. My party…the Republican Party…won control over both houses of congress! Maybe you didn’t get the memo. Elections DO matter, Mr. President. I think we can agree on that.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (CHUCKLING) It’s funny to hear you say that. “Elections DO matter!” That’s a good one! Yes Mitch…can I call you Mitch? Yes Mitch, I DID get that memo. I decided that I would follow your experienced leadership and respond to those November election results in the same manner that you responded after I thumped McCain and Romney in 2008 & 2012. I ignored them. Look Mitch…if your members don’t like the way I handled immigration reform then all they have to do is pass an immigration bill that I can sign. Send it to me and we’ll have a real nice signing ceremony here at the White House. I’ll even supply the Kentucky bourbon.

Pleasantries aside the two leaders will hopefully move on to a serious discussion about the country’s business.

First up…passing a continuing resolution that will fund the government and avoid a government shutdown. The current funding bill expires on December 11.

McConnell has promised publically that there won’t be any government shutdowns. Say what you will about McConnell’s politics; he is a savvy political leader who has a tight rein on his members. If McConnell says he has the votes…he has the votes.

The Republican controlled House is another story. Speaker Boehner has yet to demonstrate that he has any control over his caucus. The right wing is incensed over the president’s executive orders on immigration reform. They see his announcement mere days after their mid-term victory as an intentional slap in the face. They have not been shy about the remedies they seek. Talk of censure, impeachment and shutdown are rampant.

You may recall that less than a year ago the right wing’s refusal d to pass a funding bill led to a 16 day shutdown of the federal government. The shutdown resulted in the furlough of 8 million government workers and a $24 billion dollar hit to an already shaky economy. The Republican brand took a huge PR hit and congressional approval ratings dropped into the single digits. No matter! The lunatic fringe has vowed to shut the place down again if Republican leadership does not take sufficient steps to reprimand the “imperialist” president for violating the constitution.

Because Speaker Boehner is bad at his job he continues to placate the radical right. This time he is offering a two part plan.

Part 1 would be to take a largely ceremonial vote on a bill that would dismantle the president’s executive orders on immigration. This is “ceremonial” because even if the bill passes the House it will never pass the Senate. Part 2 would be a vote on a bill that would fund government operations through September except those Homeland Security operations necessary to carry out the president’s executive orders.

Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson has testified that such a measure would not stop the president’s immigration efforts. It would merely slow down the construction of additional detention centers and reduce the number of additional law enforcement personnel the president wants assigned to protect our borders. Republicans have long criticized the president for not doing enough to strengthen our borders. Passing this bill would only prevent the president from giving them what they want.

While moderates seem to favor this convoluted approach the right wing crazies want nothing to do with it. They want the president punished for his executive actions. Nothing less will do. Why? Because this is the Tea Party factions last hurrah. The newly elected Republican caucus will have a far more moderate temperament than the existing bunch. So the far right wants to get their pound of flesh now…while they still have the chance. Boehner is reduced to playing referee.

The fight over how fund the government is not between Democrats and Republicans. The fight is between Republicans and Republicans. How this will end is anybody’s guess. Republicans have 8 days remaining to figure it out.

Meanwhile 8 million government workers search for holiday bargains; wondering if they’ll have pay checks to cover the bills.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Republican Party!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What Have We Learned From Ferguson?

The election of Barak Obama as the nation’s first black president was seen by many as a transformative event; an affirmation that the racial discord that has plagued our country since its birth was finally drawing to an end. Six years later many would argue that Barak Obama’s election has only served to exacerbate racial tensions. Recent events in Fergusson, Missouri suggest that they may have a point.

Over the past few months Ferguson, Missouri has served as a microcosm of the racial divide that still tears at the very fabric of our country.

A young black male decides to rob a convenient store…a handful of cigars the reward for his effort. Minutes later a confrontation with the responding white police officer leaves him dead in the street. Violence erupts as whites and blacks alike take to the streets in protest. Vandalism and looting are widespread. Fires rage. Small business owners can only watch as their livelihood goes up in flames. Police respond with military grade weaponry donated by the federal government. High powered assault weapons and tactical vehicles are used against the protestors. It is a scene one might expect out of a third world country.

For ninety days the predominantly black community awaits a grand jury decision on whether to indict the responding white officer. Tensions are at razor’s edge. Law enforcement officials promise local business owners that this time their businesses will be protected. The National Guard is brought in. A “no indictment” announcement is expected. When the anticipated verdict is announced the city erupts once again. This time there are as many protestors from outside the community as from within. Their goal is to create chaos and use violence to unleash their pent up frustrations. The community is set afire once more. Law enforcement fails to protect the business community. Instead they move to protect public facilities while confining protests to a few city blocks. They stand back and watch the city burn. Twelve businesses are burned to the ground. Several more are vandalized and looted.

So what do we have to show for all this violence and misery? In the end, another young black male is dead, a white police officer is acquitted and a predominantly black community will take years if not decades to recover. Inequality and a a lack of trust in law enforcement still reign supreme.

Yesterday the president took steps to “reduce the simmering distrust between police and minority communities” and thereby lessen the likelihood of incidents like those in Ferguson from happening again. He proposed a three year, $263 million dollar plan to assist community policing and training. Included in the plan are tighter controls on the use of military grade equipment and the federal funds local communities use to buy them. Also included is $75 million for 50,000 new body cameras to be used by police officers.

This is a good step and the president should be applauded for taking it. Anything one can do to easy tension between police and minority communities is a step in the right direction. And if you are going to make military grade equipment available to local law enforcement agencies it is probably a good idea to make certain that the officers are properly trained in the use and deployment of same.

But this is a very small step to repair the racial divide that is still a monumental national problem. The “simmering distrust” between minority communities and local police will not be resolved by training videos and body cameras. For law enforcement to be effective there has to be a partnership between the law enforcement community and the civilian population. That will only occur if law enforcement officials recruit local residents to work within the law enforcement apparatus. Law enforcement has to work from within the community…not outside it.

And community relations are only a part of the problem. The seeds for anger and violence are sewn by despair. What we have witnessed in Ferguson these past few months is what despair looks like. It is what happens when people feel that there is now way out of a desperate situation. We hear more and more about middle class families struggling to survive financially; fearful of what the future may hold for their children. Imagine what it must feel like to the poor and disenfranchised. Nothing good can come from hopelessness.

The president is doing what he can do to close the racial divide. As with immigration reform, he is trying to move the country forward. But he can only do so much.

Economic inequality, racism and the systemic distrust of all things government have coalesced into a national quagmire that is far from resolved. We can work toward closing the racial divide that exists by preaching about how we are all God’s children and lecturing police on being more sensitive to minority concerns. But until we find a solution to the unfairness of economic inequality that plagues this country; particularly that which exists along racial lines; we will never live up to that pronouncement that we claim to hold so dear...that all men are created equal.