Daily Archive: 12/29/2014

Dec 29 2014

The Christmas News Dump

The exceedingly long Christmas weekend had some notably sad and tragic news that dominated news cycle. Here are a couple of the important stories that were buried.

Cuomo, Christie Veto Bill To Reform Port Authority

By Dave Klepper and Michael Cantalini, Huffington Post

The governors of New York and New Jersey jointly vetoed legislation Saturday aimed at overhauling the Port Authority and proposed instead a series of reforms they said would go further in bringing accountability to the agency.

The bill was designed to clean up an agency long known for dysfunction and scandals, including most recently the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge that ensnarled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. It had the unanimous support of the New York and New Jersey legislatures.

The bill would have overhauled the troubled agency by requiring an independent annual audit, creating an inspector general’s office, restricting lobbying and creating a whistleblower protection program. It also would have required Port Authority board members to swear they’ll act in good faith. [..]

“It’s really just an awful thing for them to do. Neither of them can ever stand up and say they’re for effective reform,” said former New York Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Democrat, who had predicted the veto. “In a competition between effective reform and power, power won. Reform ends on Christmas, but scandals go on forever.”

New Jersey Sen. Loretta Weinberg said the decision was a “cop-out,” and Assemblyman John Wisniewski said he’s disappointed the bill didn’t become law.

“I find it very disappointing that both governors together decided to turn their backs on their respective legislators,” Weinberg said. [..]

In place of the legislation, Cuomo and Christie on Saturday recommended reforms and said they would ask authority board members for their resignations. They called for a single chief executive officer to oversee the authority in place of an executive director and deputy executive director under the current system.

Weinberg said those reforms would have been possible under the legislation, too.

“There is nothing in this legislation that prevents them from moving ahead with those reforms,” she said.

And for some unknown reason, neither state legislature will move to over ride the vetoes of Criminal One and Criminal Two. A bill, btw, that was passed nearly unanimously by both bodies. It’s too hard

Next up.

NSA Drops Christmas Eve Surprise

By Murtaza Hussain, The Intercept

The National Security Agency on Christmas Eve day released twelve years of internal oversight reports documenting abusive and improper practices by agency employees. The heavily redacted reports to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board found that NSA employees repeatedly engaged in unauthorized surveillance of communications by American citizens, failed to follow legal guidelines regarding the retention of private information, and shared data with unauthorized recipients. [..]

The reports, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union, offer few revelations, but contain accounts of internal behavior embarrassing to the agency. In one instance an NSA employee “searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting”, a practice which previous reports have indicated was common enough to warrant the name “LOVEINT”.

Don’t start banging you head on the desk just yet

After Scrutiny, C.I.A. Mandate Is Untouched

Mark Mazzetti, New York Times

Senator Angus King, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that Hollywood depictions of torture have distorted the public’s view of its efficacy.

“Every week, Jack Bauer saves civilization by torturing someone, and it works,” said Mr. King, the independent from Maine, referring to the lead character of the television show “24.”

Mr. King said that he was initially skeptical about the need to release the torture report, but when he spent five straight evenings reading it in a secure room on Capitol Hill he decided that the C.I.A. abuses needed a public airing.

“It went from interest, to a sick feeling, to disgust, and finally to anger,” he said.

But the Obama administration has made clear that it has no plans to make anyone legally accountable for the practices described by the C.I.A. as enhanced interrogation techniques and the Intelligence Committee as torture. The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week asking him to appoint a special prosecutor to examine the report’s allegations, but the request will almost certainly be rejected.

And while Senator King called the Intelligence Committee’s report “Church Committee II,” he, like many other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, remains a broad supporter of the C.I.A.’s paramilitary mission that Mr. Obama has embraced during his time in the White House. [..]

And as America’s spying apparatus has grown larger, richer and more powerful than during any other time in its history, it has become ever harder for those keeping watch over it.

“We are 15 people overseeing a $50 billion enterprise,” said Senator King, speaking of his fellow members on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“I can’t tell you I know with certainty every intelligence program this enterprise is engaged in.”

Almost done

Off duty, black cops in New York feel threat from fellow police

By Michelle Conlin, Reuters

From the dingy donut shops of Manhattan to the cloistered police watering holes in Brooklyn, a number of black NYPD officers say they have experienced the same racial profiling that cost Eric Garner his life. [..]

What’s emerging now is that, within the thin blue line of the NYPD, there is another divide – between black and white officers.

Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.

The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them. [..]

The black officers interviewed said they had been racially profiled by white officers exclusively, and about one third said they made some form of complaint to a supervisor.

All but one said their supervisors either dismissed the complaints or retaliated against them by denying them overtime, choice assignments, or promotions. The remaining officers who made no complaints said they refrained from doing so either because they feared retribution or because they saw racial profiling as part of the system.

Last, a little reminder of just how bad the nation’s largest police department really is.

Nine terrifying facts about America’s biggest police force

Tana Ganeva and Laura Gottesdiener, Alternet

The NYPD has expanded into a massive global anti-terror operation with military capabilities

The NYPD is the biggest police force in the country, with over 34,000 uniformed officers patrolling New York’s streets, and 51,000 employees overall – more than the FBI. It has a proposed budget of $4.6 billion for 2013, a figure that represents almost 15 percent of the entire city’s budget (pdf).

NYC’s population is a little over 8 million. That means that there are 4.18 police officers per 1,000 people. By comparison, Los Angeles, the second largest city in the U.S. with 3.8 million people, has only 9,895 officers-a ratio of 2.6 police per 1,000 people.

What has the NYPD been doing with all that cash and manpower? In addition to ticketing minorities for standing outside of their homes, spying on Muslims who live in New Jersey, abusing protesters, and gunning down black teens over weed, the NYPD has expanded into a massive global anti-terror operation with surveillance and military capabilities unparalleled in the history of US law enforcement.

In an email published by WikiLeaks, an FBI official joked about how shocked Americans would be if they knew how egregiously the NYPD is stomping all over their civil liberties. But what we already know is bad enough. Here’s a round-up of what the department has been up to lately.

This lawlessness by NYPD has cost the tax payers of NYC nearly $1 billion in settlement over and above the bloated budget. Needless to say, the NYPD has gotten on my last nerve.

OK, start banging but please put a pillow on the desk.

Dec 29 2014

The NYPD Gets on My Last Nerve

First let me say this: Supporting the police while calling for reform and justice are not mutually exclusive. Lives matter, all of them. This is not a zero sum game. That said, some of the members of the NYC Police Department and the bigots that support the institutionalized racism of the agency have gotten on my last nerve.

The vast majority of police officers are good people, just as the vast majority of people who are protesting in the streets across this country are good people. But some of the leadership, politicians and talking heads in the mainstream media need to shut up and listen. The people of this country deserve to be heard. The heads of the police unions in NYC seem to have forgotten that they are the employees of the people of NYC. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was elected by 74% of those who voted in November, is their boss. He was elected to reform an increasing out of control and militarized police department. He’s doing a good job. You can tell by the squealing of the racists who can’t see beyond their own hatred of people who just want to live in peace, make a decent living and raise their children in a safe city. People should not have to fear the police.

For the last 20 years under two Republican corporate administrations, the NYPD was expanded and given unprecedented powers. The commissioners that were appointed by Mayors Rudolph Guiliani and Michael Bloomberg, that includes the current commissioner William Bratton, ran the department like it was an army and felt that they were not accountable to its citizens. The policies of “Broken Glass” and its offshoot “Stop and Frisk” were inherently racist and have led to the feeling of distrust in the minority communities of the city. It has led to the abuse and deaths of mostly young men of color and, now, two good men, NYC police officers, have been assassinated by a deranged man seeking vengeance. The union heads, especially NYC Police Benevolence Association President Patrick Lynch, decided to make the death of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Lui a political football for their hurt feelings.

What is Lynch so fired up about? He is vilifying Mayor De Blasio because the mayor, as the parent of mixed race children, spoke the truth about what every parent of a child of color must tell them about the police:

“This is profoundly personal to me,” de Blasio said. “I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, ‘I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens.’ And I said to him, I did.”

De Blasio went on to note that he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who is black, “have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face.”

The mayor described his son as “a good young man, [a] law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong” — but he noted that “because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” [..]

he mayor described “that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome.”

“For so many of our young people, there’s a fear,” de Blasio said. “And for so many of our families, there’s a fear.”

It has been bad enough that since the mayor made that statement that Mr. Lynch went tirade in an attempt to make the police the victims and not the innocent people they have abused and killed. He and other members of the NYPD have only exposed their racism.

Besides the incredibly insulting act of turning their backs on Mayor de Blasio as he was leaving Woodhull Hospital after the deaths of the two officers, what got me really angry with these bigots were two incidents that showed just how completely ignorant some of the police really are. The first was this stupid and, very likely expensive stunt by an anonymous “group of current and retired NYC Police Officers, Detectives, and Supervisors”

Friday morning, a small plane flew over New York City with a banner attached that read: “De Blasio, Our Backs Have Turned to You.” The sign, a reference to some NYPD officers protesting against Mayor de Blasio following the shooting deaths of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos last weekend, was the work of a “large and unified group of current and retired NYC Police Officers, Detectives, & Supervisors,” according to blogger and former cop John Cardillo. [..]

Ashley Chalmers, the owner of the plane, told the New York Daily News that the people who rented it “wish to remain anonymous,” though Cardillo said he was contacted by the NYPD group on Friday and asked to release a statement.

Stay classy, guys, exposing, not only your bigotry, but the need to learn to write a sentence.

Then while attending the funeral of Police Officer Rafael Ramos, some of the police officers decided it was the place to throw a temper tantrum insulting the memory of a fallen officer and his grieving family:

Thousands of police officers from across the nation packed a church and spilled onto streets Saturday to honor Officer Rafael Ramos as a devoted family man, aspiring chaplain and hero, though an air of unrest surrounding his ambush shooting was not completely pushed aside.

While mourners inside the church applauded politely as Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke, hundreds of officers outside turned their backs on him to protest what they see as his support for demonstrators angry over killings by police.

The rush of officers far and wide to New York for Ramos’ funeral reminded some of the bond after the Sept. 11 attacks and Superstorm Sandy. Vice President Joe Biden promised that the “incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide.”

Still, tensions were evident when officers turned away from giant screens showing de Blasio, who has been harshly criticized by New York Police Department union officials as a contributor to a climate of mistrust that preceded the killings of Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu.

All this poutrage by Mr. Lynch, former Mayor Guiliani and company directed at Mayor de Blasio is because he spoke to the terrible fact that police departments throughout this country treat people of color differently and minority children, especially the boys, must be given “the talk.

“If you are stopped by a cop, do what he says, even if he’s harassing you, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Let him arrest you, memorize his badge number, and call me as soon as you get to the precinct. Keep your hands where he can see them. Do not reach for your wallet. Do not grab your phone. Do not raise your voice. Do not talk back. Do you understand me?”

The mayor gave the talk to his biracial teenage son so this wouldn’t happen to him.

And as John Cole at Balloon Juice noted

And let’s remember what is so particularly ugly about this- this is motivated as much by the desire to not reform and to maintain the current institutional racism as it is the current contract talks and union elections. Fuck Patrick Lynch and his goons.

If some members of the NYPD don’t like the reforms that Mayor de Blasio was elected to enact, they can go find other jobs. There are plenty of qualified people, who are working two and three underpaying jobs,  to replace them. Either that or learn to listen.

Dec 29 2014

Hippocrates’ Failure

Weaponizing Health Workers: How Medical Professionals Were a Top Instrument in U.S. Torture Program

Ex-Bush Official: U.S. Tortured Prisoners to Produce False Intel that Built Case for Iraq War

Bush & Cheney Should Be Charged with War Crimes Says Col. Wilkerson, Former Aide to Colin Powell

Dec 29 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Dean Baker: Looking back on the economic collapse

Seven years later, the damage continues to pile up – and it is impressive

The recession officially began seven years ago this month, which makes it a good time to look back and assess the damage. The carnage is impressive.

To start with the top-line numbers, we have already lost almost $10.5 trillion in output because of the downturn. This is the value of the goods and services that could have been produced over the last seven years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), but were not because of all the people thrown out of work by the recession. [..]

The harm from the downturn is compounded by the continuing failure of economic policy. Rather than taking the steps needed to restore full employment (e.g., stimulus spending, a lower-valued dollar and increased use of work sharing) many in policy circles continue to focus on cutting spending to reduce budget deficits, which will throw even more people out of work. There are even some Scrooges who continue to push for cutting Social Security and Medicare, ignoring the millions who are still out of work and the many older workers are already looking at a bleak retirement.  

Because of the structure of the country’s politics – in which politicians seek donations from rich people, who favor candidates who talk about cutting Social Security rather than creating jobs, because of the tax implications – we are likely to hear more of the same. But before taking any of the deficit whining from these people too seriously, remember to ask them when they stopped being wrong about the economy.

David Cay Johnston: Cheap oil is a costly holiday present

Falling prices at the pump belie a larger, later bill

This holiday season has brought what seems like a glorious present: cheap gasoline. Fuel at $2 a gallon or so frees up cash for families to spend on gifts or paying down debts.

But by the time this gift is fully unwrapped, it will likely leave people covered with greasy economic residue that will be hard to remove. With oil falling from more than $90 a barrel to under $60, the effects go far beyond how much a tank of gas costs. [..]

Most significant, cheap oil is disrupting the transition to renewable energy, which promises to slow global climate change and save many millions of lives.

Our accounting rules ignore much of the damage from relying on oil and natural gas. Corporate profit and loss statements do not record how the slowly heating atmosphere affects crops, sea levels and weather patterns or how diesel fuel particles spewing out of tailpipes affects people’s asthma.

But they should: Cheap oil comes at a price that shows up not on your credit card statement but on the universal ledger where all costs must be recorded and paid.

Dave Bry: Dear fellow white people: Keep protesting police violence. Just don’t throw bottles from the back

When a peaceful protest tips into violence, the state’s case for the legitimacy of its use of suppressive force is validated, instantly. This is counterproductive, obviously, when the reason for protesting in the first place is to end what we see as wrongful use of state force. This is also a large part of why I am a pacifist: for pragmatic reasons. I subscribe to the belief that non-violent means are more effective than violent ones. I cannot assure you that I would subscribe to this same belief if I was black. I do not know that I would.

I have taken part in – and plan to continue to take part in, and encourage others to take part in – the current protests against racist policing in America, but I know and encourage others to remember this: Black people are on the front lines. It is first and foremost a black movement. Black people are risking far more by being out there face-to-face with cops than white people. (Recent history proves this all too convincingly.) White people’s role in protest should be a secondary one – a strictly supportive role, not agitating or bottle-throwing so much as chanting along, marching in time, bearing witness, simply being there to be counted.

Robert Reich: The Republican’s Magical Mystery Tour (Coming Soon)

According to reports, one of the first acts of the Republican congress will be to fire Doug Elmendorf, current director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, because he won’t use “dynamic scoring” for his economic projections.

Dynamic scoring is the magical-mystery math Republicans have been pushing since they came up with supply-side “trickle-down” economics.

It’s based on the belief that cutting taxes unleashes economic growth and thereby produces additional government revenue. Supposedly the added revenue more than makes up for what’s lost when Congress hands out the tax cuts.

Dynamic scoring would make it easier to enact tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, because the tax cuts wouldn’t look as if they increased the budget deficit.

Incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls it “reality-based scoring,” but it’s actually magical scoring – which is why Elmendorf, as well as all previous CBO directors have rejected it.

Few economic theories have been as thoroughly tested in the real world as supply-side economics, and so notoriously failed.

Mike Gravel: The law will protect any member of Congress who releases the full torture report. Someone needs to step up

I took a risk so that Americans knew what our government did in Vietnam. Today’s elected representatives should do the same for Iraq and Afghanistan

It should be easy to get the entire report on the record: any information held by the Congress is technically already in the record, so no one need read it in its entirety on the floor of either congressional chamber or enter it in the committee or subcommittee record, the way I had to with the Pentagon Papers. A member of Congress may hand out the information to the press or the public, so long as the distribution occurs on property associated with the Senate or House of Representatives: the constitution does not qualify how “Speech and Debate ” is exercised, only that it occur “in either House”.

But why is it necessary? The torture report released to the public was incomplete – and only a full release of the Torture Report and the million or more documents in CIA possession but which the Intelligence Committee still has access can lay bare the full horrors of what the government perpetrated in our names.

Bruce Fischer: In Black Lives Matter Protest, Corporate Rights Trump Free Speech

Minnesotans protesting police violence and institutional racism could face “staggering” fees and criminal charges for a protest at Mall of America, with the City of Bloomington announcing plans to force organizers to pay for the mall’s lost revenue during the exercise of their free speech rights, highlighting important questions about free speech in an era of privatized public spaces. [..]

Can the Mall of America prohibit the exercise of free speech and assembly on its premises? And can it pick-and-choose who it allows to assemble? Last year, for example, the Mall allowed around 7,000 people to gather in the same rotunda to honor a young white man who died of cancer.

The First Amendment protects against government suppression of speech, but not private responses to the exercise of free speech and expression. And the Mall of America is considered private property, despite receiving hundreds of millions in public subsidies since it was built, including an additional $250 million approved last year.

For decades, courts have struggled with how to protect free speech in public forums that have grown increasingly privatized.

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Dec 29 2014

TBC: Morning Musing 12.29.14

I have 3 things for you this morning!

First, from Bill Moyers:

Most Underreported Stories of 2014

Which stories didn’t get the attention they deserved in 2014? Below editors, journalists and friends of BillMoyers.com provide answers.

Jump!

Dec 29 2014

On This Day In History December 29

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 29 is the 363rd day of the year (364th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are two days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1890, the Wounded Knee Massacre took place near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Cankpe Opi Wakpala) on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

In the years prior to the Massacre, the U.S. Government continued to coerce the Lakota into signing away more of their lands. The large bison herds, as well as other staple species of the Sioux diet, had been driven nearly to extinction. Congress failed to keep its treaty promises to feed, house, clothe and protect reservation lands from encroachment by settlers and gold miners; as well as failing to properly oversee the Indian Agents. As a result there was unrest on the reservations.

On December 28, the day before the massacre, , a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted Spotted Elk’s (Big Foot) band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them 5 miles westward (8 km) to Wounded Knee Creek where they made camp.

The rest of the 7th Cavalry Regiment arrived led by Colonel James Forsyth and surrounded the encampment supported by four Hotchkiss guns.

On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. One version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle claiming he had paid a lot for it. A scuffle over Black Coyote’s rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry opening firing indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow troopers. Those few Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking troopers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed.

By the time it was over, at least 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota Sioux had been killed and 51 wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five troopers also died, and thirty-nine were wounded (6 of the wounded would also die). It is believed that many were the victims of friendly fire, as the shooting took place at close range in chaotic conditions.

More than 80 years after the massacre, beginning on February 27, 1973, Wounded Knee was the site of the Wounded Knee incident, a 71-day standoff between federal authorities and militants of the American Indian Movement.

The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark.