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Illumination

By: Wednesday December 24, 2014 3:00 pm

My thoughts turn today to the meaning of Jesus and I want to share my view. I hope you will share yours in the comments below. I hope to begin a thoughtful ecumenical Christmas Eve discussion in which we all share our ideas, regardless of religious belief, doubt or non belief.

All are welcome in the house tonight.

Faith matters not to me. I do not know or care whether he existed in physical form or is just a story someone dreamed up. I don’t believe in magical virgin births or raising the dead and I could care less if he walked on water. I also reject the idea that someone 2,000 years ago died for my sins. I regard the story of the resurrection to be symbolic rather than literal.

I aspire to think and act as he would think and act. In the words of Rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

The positive form of the idea is expressed in Matthew 7:12 NCV, “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”

It’s all about the works, not the faith.

I chose long ago to represent the poor, the marginalized and the mentally ill. To give voice to those who had no voice. To save the lives of those whom the government would kill. And I found that every person, no matter what horrors they had visited upon others, possessed a core of decency and grace.

I didn’t do it to earn salvation and eternal life in some heaven somewhere and I didn’t do it to avoid eternal fire.

I chose to live this way, regardless of the consequences, because it is the right way to live. If we all lived this way, we would realize the fabled Garden of Eden. It’s there in your heart.

Although I stumble a lot, I pick myself up, return my eye to that distant star and take another step.

No matter what happens, there is no other path for me to follow.

Love is the most powerful transforming force in the universe. It is here in this house. Feel it. Believe it and live it.

Namaste and Happy Holidays

 

In Aftermath of Executions of NYPD Officers, Police Crack Down on Extreme Anti-Cop Speech on Social Media

By: Wednesday December 24, 2014 12:00 pm

Police departments throughout the United States have escalated the vigilance in which they monitor speech on social media. Multiple people have been arrested and accused of threatening officers, as part of a law enforcement response to the execution of two New York Police Department officers.

Ismaiiyl Brinsley shot NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on December 20. Just prior to the murders, he <a href=”<a href=”http://money.cnn.com/2014/12/22/technology/instagram-nypd-brinsley/”>posted</a> on Instagram, “I’m putting wings on pigs today…they take one of ours, let’s take two of theirs.”

CNN Money <a href=”http://money.cnn.com/2014/12/22/technology/instagram-nypd-brinsley/”>reported</a>, “Law enforcement is currently combing through Brinsley’s social media posts, and actively investigating some who posted responses to his posts, according to sources from the New York Police Department.”

Other police departments are “combing through” social media as well and criminalizing speech that, at most, is extremely inflammatory.

On December 23, a twenty-nine year-old man in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, was <a href=” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/12/23/social-media-police-threat-nj/20833799/”>arrested</a> by police for posting, “Don’t wanna get clipped while sitting in your squad car?? Don’t be a (expletives deleted) pig who’s looking to get killed…Everyone who goes out of their way to (expletive deleted) with other people should get executed in cold blood.”

The <a href=”http://www.news9.com/story/27699465/oklahoma-city-police-arrest-man-for-making-online-threats”>same day</a> Oklahoma City police arrested a black 19-year-old named Tavon Railback for posting a photo of himself holding a semi-automatic pistol. The photo reportedly included a caption with a “series of graphics, symbols, or ‘emojis’ that police say translate into, ‘Bust some shots at a cop, and watch his body fall, Bang Bang.’”

Railback knew he was being monitored prior to his arrest and posted to his Facebook page that the “laws reading messages.”

David W. Ragnone, a white 28-year-old, in Portage, Indiana, <a href=”www.nwitimes.com/news/local/porter/man-sought-by-police-after-posts-to-social-media-turns/article_7fd7b7c3-4c26-55d4-8a9c-98165ab096c4.html”>turned himself</a> in on Tuesday night. He was wanted on “felony burglary and midemeanor invasion of privacy charges.”

According to a press release from Portage Police Chief Troy Williams, “Mr. Ragnone made a post on his Facebook page Sunday night Dec. 21 that referenced ‘every cop getting killed puts a smile on his face’ and ‘when will some of the Portage Police meet the same fate as these other officers, they are by far the most corrupt police station ever.”

“At least a dozen residents reported the post to police.” The police chief acknowledged these threats were not directed at any “particular officer” yet maintained they were “very disturbing given the recent unprovoked attacks on law enforcement.”

Port Authority Police <a href=”http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/vt-man-believed-planning-suicide-busted-article-1.2054338″>arrested</a> twenty-nine year-old Padraic Scanlon of Vermont at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York on Tuesday. He allegedly made threats on social media that suggested he was going to engage in “suicide by cop.” The police received a tip from police in Springfield, Vermont, and tracked Scanlon to the Midtown terminal by monitoring the location of his cell phone.

Scanlon had no weapons on him when he was arrested when he arrived to the terminal and got off a Greyhound Bus. He had drugs on him and was charged with “two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of marijuana.”

A twenty-seven year-old Chicopee man in Massachusetts <a href=”http://www.cbs3springfield.com/story/27688353/chicopee-man-to-be-charged-for-threatening-police”>faced charges</a> after he posted “Put Wings on Pigs” on his Facebook page on Monday. Local residents alerted the Chicopee police to this “very disturbing post” by Charles DiRosa. He was not immediately arrested but a criminal complaint was drawn up against him. He will be summoned to court for “threatening to commit a crime.”

Also, on Monday, the NYPD <a href=”http://www.buzzfeed.com/tomnamako/mayor-bill-de-blasio-has-lost-trust-of-some-nypd-officers-co?utm_term=.qb4XG63ol0&sub=3554482_4544737#.kjggB13rA”>arrested</a> 18-year-old Devon Coley of Brooklyn. They claimed he was a “known member of a local gang called Addicted to Cash” and charged him with “making terroristic threats” after he posted an anti-police cartoon titled “73Next.”

The 73rd Precinct, which includes Brownsville, interpreted this posting as a threat. The cartoon was of a man, a police officer and a gun that was pointed at the officer. (BuzzFeed News could not view the post because of Coley’s privacy settings, which raises questions about the dragnet surveillance of social media the NYPD has been engaged in and to what extent it violates citizens’ privacy.)<!–more–>

Houston police officers also mentioned that they were monitoring postings on Facebook like, “2 down. 49,000 to go. Not an execution, just a minor insurrection and a bit of humble revenge.” They are monitoring speech because “the thug who killed the 2 New York Police Officers posted something on a social media website,” according to Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officer’s Union.

But none of these postings appear to be what one would call “<a href=”https://www.aclu.org/content/aclu-confronts-tough-first-amendment-issues-oregon-abortion-threats-case”>true threats</a>,” which means that the threat explicitly targets a person who would be afraid of the threat and the person engaged in the speech intended to make that individual afraid.

The individuals are expressing their extreme and inflammatory belief that police officers should be shot in revenge for other police, who have killed unarmed black men. This expression of anger, while it may be crude, probably should not be criminalized because it infringes upon the First Amendment.

For example, countless zealots freely share their view that doctors who perform abortions should be murdered yet they are not arrested unless there are specific details in their inflammatory statements that would lead one to be concerned about the wellbeing of specific people.

Additionally, what makes the increase in police attention to social media more problematic is the fact that the NYPD is using dragnet surveillance of social media <a href=”http://www.theverge.com/2014/12/10/7341077/nypd-harlem-crews-social-media-rikers-prison”>to map what they believe</a> are gang territories and rivalries. They then are launching raids to arrest a large group of individuals suspected of gang affiliations. Facebook evidence is forming the basis for bringing conspiracy charges, which the police contend will deter violence. The NYPD appears to be engaged in the same practice since Brinsley killed the two cops.

It is unclear to what extent New York residents’ privacy and freedom of speech are being violated. Numerous activists engaged in anti-cop rhetoric are likely being considered suspects. Depending on how militant they are, regardless of whether they have actually issued a threat, they are likely on some list of suspects being monitored.

Extreme speech against police, however, is not being posted to social media in a vacuum.

According to <a href=”http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2014/12/23/chicopee-police-respond-alleged-anti-police-social-media-threat/q8noxaEgfyFAXitKthhZKL/story.html”>Boston.com</a>, “Police Commissioner William Evans recently announced that Boston police are on alert in response to ‘anger and rhetoric being thrown around’ against police officers. That anger has stemmed from the recent lack of indictments for police-involved deaths on Staten Island, New York, and in Ferguson, Missouri. Those events have also fueled nation-wide protests over the past few weeks.”

That is just what many of these messages are: the product of anger at a system that allows police to shoot and kill suspects without facing any punishment whatsoever.

A white police officer in a St. Louis suburb <a href=”http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/berkeley-officer-kills-suspect-who-pulled-gun-police-say-victim/article_d45db16a-7422-5307-b81d-b45dbdc896ba.html”>killed</a> another black teenager last night. The teenager, Antonio Martin, may or may not have been armed. Protests erupted in reaction and police used force to disperse the crowd.

In Houston, another grand jury <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/24/us/texas-officer-cleared-in-fatal-shooting.html?ref=us&_r=0″>cleared</a> a police officer and refused to indict Juventino Castro for shooting and killing twenty-six year-old Jordan Baker.

Baker had been unarmed and was killed on January 16 by Castro while he was working his security job at a strip mall.

In the past months, three other grand juries empaneled have refused to indict police officers for killings (Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Dontre Hamilton).

It is in this national context that people are choosing to express their extreme opinions about what should be done to police without consideration for how provocative and offensive their words might be. The words are at least as provocative and offensive as people who talk about shooting and killing “rioters” and protesters.

Not only does criminalizing expressions of anger that lack specific threats undermine the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, but it also risks intensifying conflict in communities when people, who are just venting and have no intention of committing a crime, are arrested and jailed.

*Creative Commons Licensed Photo by Ed Yourdon

**Credit to journalist Raven Rakia for highlighting the multiple arrests for social media postings that took place in the past two days. Follow her work here.

Your Most Gigantic Waste of Taxpayer Money Today List, Afghan Edition

By: Wednesday December 24, 2014 9:00 am

Our good friends at the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a high-risk list for the Afghanistan reconstruction effort that calls attention to areas that are especially vulnerable to significant waste, fraud, and abuse.

Quick recap for those who haven’t binge-read the SIGAR reports for the past 13 or so years: the U.S. has spent $104 billion on the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan since 2001. The goal of all this was to defeat the Taliban with “soft power,” winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by building them stuff like the roads and bridges and schools America needs here at home, and by creating jobs and providing Afghans the job training needed here at home. This massive waste of money follows the failure of a similar multi-year effort in reconstructing Iraq. Success in both instances can be judged by the rising success of the Taliban/ISIS.

But anyway, enough about history. Here’s where your tax dollars are being specifically wasted in Afghanistan, as quoted from the SIGAR report!

1) Corruption/Rule of Law
–The initial U.S. strategy in Afghanistan fostered a political climate conducive to corruption.
–U.S. assistance has been provided for reconstruction without the benefit of a comprehensive anticorruption strategy.

2) Sustainability
–Much of the more than $104 billion the United States has committed to reconstruction projects and programs risks being wasted because the Afghans cannot sustain the investment without massive continued donor support.
–Under current and future plans, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are not fiscally sustainable.

3) Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) Capacity and Capabilities
–In an audit report on ANSF facilities, SIGAR found that the Afghan government would likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014/2015 and the expected decrease in U.S. and Coalition support.
–An audit report raised concerned that, despite a $200 million literacy-training contract, no one appeared to know the overall literacy rate of the ANSF.

4) On-Budget Support
–SIGAR has long been concerned about the risk to U.S. funds provided to Afghanistan in the form of on-budget assistance, since 2002 U.S. has committed more than $7.7 billion.
–An audit of the $236 million Partnership Contracts for Health program found USAID continues to provide millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in direct assistance with little assurance that the Afghan Ministry of Public Health is using these funds as intended.

5) Counternarcotics
–Although the U.S. has invested about $7.8 billion in counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, Afghan farmers are growing more opium than ever before.
–The latest U.S. strategy documents indicate that combating narcotics in Afghanistan is no longer a top priority.

6) Contract Management and Oversight Access
–No one knows the precise value of contracting in the Afghanistan reconstruction effort that began in 2002: the federal government has no central database on the subject.

7) Strategy and Planning
–Lack of “implementation/operational planning” — making sure that U.S. activities in Afghanistan actually contribute to overall national goals there — threatens to cause agencies and projects to work at counter purposes, spend money on frivolous endeavors, or fail to coordinate efforts to maximize impact.

What a great war we’re having!

————————–

Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from Amazon

The Roundup

By: Wednesday December 24, 2014 7:00 am

So close to Christmas Day! International Politics Overall – At the Bagram prison in Afghanistan, prisoners were raped by dogs if they did not provide any information, according to a former German lawmaker; And you wonder why American society is so sick. It’s because those at the top are the most sick so it trickles down. – [...]

Over Easy: Police Kill 18-year-old black teen Antonio Martin near Ferguson, Missouri

By: Wednesday December 24, 2014 5:00 am

Last night in Berkeley, Missouri, police fatally shot Antonio Martin, an 18-year-old black male, at a Mobil gas station. The St. Louis Dispatch reports that officers were performing a routine business check after hours at the gas station when they spotted two men. Police claim that Martin pulled a handgun, prompting the shooting. Details of last night’s incident are still emerging

Blame it on Benghazi!?

By: Wednesday December 24, 2014 1:30 am

Darrell Issa’s record of sound and fury signifying nothing” continues. Probe fails to link IRS scandal to White House

7 O’clock News Silent Night

By: Tuesday December 23, 2014 7:00 pm

Good evening; this is Howard HandUpMe with today’s news.

This week the President said that the FBI announced and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in the attack on Sony. He stressed that the US cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.

Mining the Earth & A Fracking World Whirl: 23 Dec 2014

By: Tuesday December 23, 2014 4:00 pm

*Everywhere. At this time of year predictions are in the air, and here are a few in terms of freeing ourselves from fossil fuels: 2017-18: electric vehicles take off; 2030: solar and wind providing 100% in “competitive markets, with no need for government subsidies”; renewables rule the day. Others, of course, don’t agree with such rosy forecasts.

Public Strongly Supports Opening Relations with Cuba

By: Tuesday December 23, 2014 1:00 pm

President Obama’s recent decision to change course on Cuba has garnered overwhelming support from the general public. By roughly a two-to-one margin, the country supports establishing diplomatic relations, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. It found that 64 percent of Americans back opening diplomatic relations with the nation. In addition 68 percent would [...]

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