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markpkessinger

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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 04:48 PM
Number of posts: 5,828

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NYT: Justice Dept. Won’t Charge George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin Killing

Another "jewel in the crown" of the DOJ under the ever-fabulous Eric Holder!

From the New York Times:

Justice Dept. Won’t Charge George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin Killing


MIAMI — The Justice Department on Tuesday closed its investigation into the shooting death three years ago of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager in a hoodie who became a symbol of racial profiling and expansive self-defense laws, without filing hate-crime charges against the gunman George Zimmerman.

The department began a civil rights investigation shortly after a national furor erupted over Mr. Martin’s death, which set off protests, demands for justice and an emotional response from President Obama. The shooting was the first in a string of racially tinged cases involving the death of young black men that have prompted a rethinking of the nation’s criminal justice system and police procedure.

Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted in a state court of second-degree murder in 2013; some jurors said they believed that Mr. Zimmerman had shot Mr. Martin, 17, in self-defense.

The conclusion of the Justice Department investigation came as Attorney General H. Holder Jr. completed his term in office and was one of several racially fraught cases that he said the department would finish investigating before he stepped down. The Justice Department is also conducting two separate civil rights investigations into the shooting death of Michael Brown, another unarmed black teenager who was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last August. In that case, violent demonstrations sometimes erupted after the shooting. A grand jury declined to indict the officer.

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Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Feb 24, 2015, 05:05 PM (7 replies)

Hedges: The Terror We Give Is the Terror We Get

The Terror We Give Is the Terror We Get

By Chris Hedges

We fire missiles from the sky that incinerate families huddled in their houses. They incinerate a pilot cowering in a cage. We torture hostages in our black sites and choke them to death by stuffing rags down their throats. They torture hostages in squalid hovels and behead them. We organize Shiite death squads to kill Sunnis. They organize Sunni death squads to kill Shiites. We produce high-budget films such as “American Sniper” to glorify our war crimes. They produce inspirational videos to glorify their twisted version of jihad.

The barbarism we condemn is the barbarism we commit. The line that separates us from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is technological, not moral. We are those we fight.

“From violence, only violence is born,” Primo Levi wrote, “following a pendular action that, as time goes by, rather than dying down, becomes more frenzied.”

The burning of the pilot, Jordanian Lt. Muath Al-Kaseasbeh, by ISIS militants after his F-16 crashed near Raqqa, Syria, was as gruesome as anything devised for the Roman amphitheater. And it was meant to be. Death is the primary spectacle of war. If ISIS had fighter jets, missiles, drones and heavy artillery to bomb American cities there would be no need to light a captured pilot on fire; ISIS would be able to burn human beings, as we do, from several thousand feet up. But since ISIS is limited in its capacity for war it must broadcast to the world a miniature version of what we do to people in the Middle East. The ISIS process is cruder. The result is the same.

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Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Feb 20, 2015, 09:29 PM (0 replies)

Giuliani: "He wasn't brought up like I was . . ."

That much is true: President Obama wasn't raised by a violent, ne'er-do-well-thug-turned-mob-enforcer. Nor, thankfully, were most of us. From a July 4, 2000 article by Wayne Barrett in the Village Voice (back when the Voice still had some journalistic teeth):

Thug Life
The Shocking Secret History of Harold Giuliani, the Mayor’s Ex-Convict Dad
By Wayne Barrett, Jul 4, 2000

< . . . . >

On April 12, (1934) in the case of People v. Harold Giuliani indicted as Joseph Starrett, Giuliani was charged with four felonies: robbery in the first degree, assault in the first degree, grand larceny in the second degree, and criminally receiving stolen property.

The crime occurred on April 2, 1934, at 12:05 p.m. in the unlit first-floor corridor of a 10-family residential building at 130 East 96th Street in Manhattan. Shortly before noon, Harold Giuliani and an accomplice positioned themselves in shadowy recesses near the stairwell. Within 10 or 15 minutes Harold Hall, a milkman for Borden's Farms, entered the building to make routine payment collections. As he began to make his way up the stairs, Giuliani emerged from the shadows and, according to the indictment, pressed the muzzle of a pistol against Hall's stomach. "You know what it is," he reportedly said. He forced the man into a nook behind the stairwell, where his counterpart was waiting. The other man plunged his hand into Hall's pants pocket and fished out $128.82 in cash.

< . . . . >

Giuliani grabbed Hall's pants and yanked them down to his ankles. He told Hall to sit down. He grabbed the man's hands, pulled them behind his back and bound them with cord. Squatting, his back to the wall, Giuliani leaned over his victim and began tying his feet together. Before he was finished, a police officer, Edward Schmitt, burst in the front door of the building.

< . . . >


And then there's this:

One afternoon, a man reluctantly entered the bar to apologize to Harold, saying that he didn't have the money—could he have just one more week? Frowning, Harold reached under the bar, out of sight, and gripped his baseball bat. As the man before him continued pleading for an extension, Harold swung the bat, cracking him flat across the face, sending him back a few feet. "Don't be late again," Harold said, according to an eyewitness.

That was the gist of Harold's job: enforce Leo's law through threats or violence. He shoved people against walls, broke legs, smashed kneecaps, crunched noses. He gave nearby Kings County Hospital a lot of business.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Feb 20, 2015, 12:09 AM (3 replies)

Lest you forget, Ms. Merkel . . .

History Shows Why Germany Should Help Greece

< . . . . >

GERMAN BAILOUT
Germany was granted a waiver on its external debt, including the deferral of interest payments, from 1947 to 1952 as the Marshall Plan was implemented. In 1953, the U.S. also imposed the London Debt Agreement on its wartime allies, which wrote off Germany’s external debt.

Albrecht Ritschl, an economic historian at the London School of Economics, estimated earlier this year that the total debt forgiveness West Germany received from 1947 to 1953 was more than 280 percent of the country’s 1950 gross domestic product, compared with the roughly 200 percent of GDP that Greece has been pledged in aid since 2010.

Greece also contributed to the postwar German debt relief. Signatories to the London agreement, including Greece, agreed to defer settlement of war reparations and debts incurred after 1933 until a conference to be held after Germany’s reunification. Although Germany paid compensation to individuals in the 1960s, the conference never took place and many Greeks think that more was due.

The bailout of Germany was at least as controversial as the Greek one today. Just like Greece, Germany’s tax system in the 1950s was imperfect. Difficulties in changing it had led to revenue shortfalls in the interwar period.

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Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Feb 19, 2015, 07:28 PM (0 replies)

Is Facebook carrying water for the Bush Family?

I just heard from two friends on Facebook who have had posts concerning Prescott Bush's connections with the Nazis taken down by Facebook. In response, I posted a 2004 Guardian investigative piece on the subject, "How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power." So far, my post is still up.

Has anyone else here encountered this? If so, Facebook needs to be called out in a very public way for it. In the meantime, I would urge those who have Facebook accounts to post this or other articles on this topic. Facebook should not be permitted to scrub clean the Bush family's troublesome past!
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Feb 19, 2015, 03:35 PM (20 replies)

HuffPo: Democrat Says Obama Administration Dodging Request To Read Trade Deals Without Restrictions

Democrat Says Obama Administration Dodging Request To Read Trade Deals Without Restrictions



WASHINGTON -- A Democratic congressman has accused the Obama administration of dodging his request for "unimpeded" access to two controversial trade agreements -- reigniting a dispute over transparency as the president presses legislators for so-called "fast-track" authority, which would block members of Congress from offering amendments to either deal.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, wants to view an unredacted copy of the proposed text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). He wants to bring his chief of staff, who has a top security clearance, and he wants to be able to take notes privately. He also wants to review documents that show the position of each country participating in the agreements, as well how the U.S. position has changed over the course of the negotiations.

In a letter this week, Doggett accused Michael Froman, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), of avoiding his requests since January. "USTR has provided no legal justification for denying such Member and staff review," wrote Doggett.

The text of TPP is treated as a state secret -- to a degree. Access to TPP texts is limited to members of Congress and staffers on the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee who have an official security clearance. Hundreds of corporate lobbyists and executives are also given access, along with dozens of representatives of labor unions, nonprofits and other consumer groups.

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Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Feb 13, 2015, 07:05 PM (11 replies)

Some "hard truths" backatchya, Director Comey

FBI DIrector James Comey, in his widely acclaimed speech a couple of days ago that essentially boiled down to an apologia for police bias and abuse couched in nice-sounding language, said he wanted to talk about some "hard truths." Well, I had a few "hard truths" for Director Comey, which I posted as a comment to a New York Times article.


Mark Kessinger

Some more "hard truths" for Mr. Comey to consider::
  • one of the biggest contributors to the absence of role models for young men in poor minority neighborhoods is our decades-long, failed war on drugs;

  • the black teen walking down the street of Bed-Stuy has a huge chance of being stopped and frisked, and having police find that partial bag of weed in his jacket that he forgot about; whereas the white, well-dressed kid from Dalton Prep, who is just as likely to be carrying something similar, faces almost zero chance of being stopped by police (and his investment analyst father enjoys the convenience of having his coke and weed delivered to his doorman building on the Upper West Side);

  • in the unlikely event the Dalton Prep kid is caught, he will be provided with the best legal defense money can buy; the kid from Bed-Stuy will have to take his chances with an overworked, underfunded public defender (and he will languish in Rikers while he awaits trial);

  • Comey mentions the dangers faced by police on a typical night shift, yet he fails to mention that both Brown and Garner were killed in broad daylight;

  • any position that invests in its holder an unusual level of authority over others will attract more than its share of those who enjoy wielding that authority; if the danger is recognized, procedures can be put in place to try to weed these folks out; if it is denied, the danger will be realized, and it will metastasize..

Ill say this much for Comey though: he does earnest really well.
Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Feb 13, 2015, 04:33 PM (0 replies)

A response to a friend regarding my firm opposition to capital punishment

I posted this in a thread on Facebook about the moratorium declared on the death penalty by PA Gov. Wolf, and thought I would share it here as well.

Mark Kessinger - Steve, I realize not everyone agrees with this. I have been unequivocally opposed to capital punishment for the whole of my adult life. Like Gov. Wolf, my opposition is not grounded in some misplaced sympathy for murderers. To be perfectly honest, there have certainly been cases involving particularly brutal murderers in which I didn't lose a great deal of sleep over their particular executions. But I think we need to look at the entire picture, not just some individual cases considered in isolation from all the others. There are many reasons I am opposed to it. Among them (and in no particular order)::

(1) The most oft-cited rationale for the death penalty is that it is necessary as a deterrent to other would-be murderers. The problem is that there has never been any evidence to support that idea. And in fact, there has been some evidence that suggests that maybe the opposite is true. The website deathpenaltyinfo.org has analyzed crime and death penalty statistics provided by the FBI. They have found that in every year since 1991 when such statistics began to be collected, the average per capita murder rate for every single year has been higher across states that use the death penalty versus the states which do not (see http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/deterrence-states-without... ).

(2) Capital punishment is unfairly imposed along racial lines -- and not just in terms of the race of the murderer, but just as importantly, according to the race of the victim. Amnesty International has pointed out that while whites comprise 75% of the U.S. population, and blacks 7.5^, the number of murder victims i the U.S. is roughly the same for each. Yet 80% of the cases in which a murdere has been sentenced to die have been cases in which the victims were white. A 2007 Yale study found that in cases where the victims are white, African American defendants receive the death penalty at THREE TIMES the rate of white defendants,. The racial bias is indisputable.

(3) Our criminal justice system is far too prone to both error and corruption to be handing out irrevocable, unreversible sentences. District Attorneys are politicians who must run for office to get, and keep, their jobs. They build political campaigns based on their prosecution stats. Thus there is far too great an incentive for DA's to overcharge defendants, to prosecute defendants who may, in fact, not be guilty, and to push for the harshest possible sentences in every case. We know for a fact that innocent people are sometimes convicted of crimes. We also know for a fact that innocent people have been put to death for crimes they did not commit. Since our justice system does, in fact, make serious mistakes sometimes, and since no justice system is ever perfect, I believe no justice system has any business meting out ultimate sentences for which there is no possibility of correcting should the convictions later prove to have been wrong.

(4) Related to #3 above, there is a long-standing principle that has informed Anglo-American criminal jurisprudence, as well as Western, and specifically Judeo-Christian, notions of justice. It is sometimes referred to as Blackstone's Formulation. In 1769, William Blackstone wrote: "the law holds that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer." The 15th century English Chief Justice, Sir John Fortescue, wrote in 1470: "one would much rather that twenty guilty persons should escape the punishment of death, than that one innocent person should be condemned and suffer capitally." During the Salem witch trials, Increase Mather adapted Fortescue's statement when he wrote: "It were better that Ten Suspected Witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned." And the 12th century Sephardic Jewish philosopher and legal scholar Maimonides argued that executing an accused criminal on anything less than absolute certainty would progressively lead to convictions merely "according to the judge's caprice. Hence the Exalted One has shut this door" against the use of presumptive evidence, for "it is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death."

(5) When all of the arguments made by death penalty supporters have been refuted, supporters typically fall back onto some theory of "retributive justice." But I have yet to hear an argument that credibly explain how 'retributive justice" differs (except in being called by a fancier name) than plain old vengeance and bloodlust, neither of which, in my view, has any place in a civilized society.

Posted by markpkessinger | Fri Feb 13, 2015, 03:32 PM (4 replies)

A comment I just posted to the NY Times' article on James Comey's speech on law enforcement

The article is titled, "Surprising Speech by F.B.I. Chief Focuses on Police and Race." Comey said some good things in his speech, but I found myself more troubled by what he didn't say than what he did. Here was the comment I posted:

Mark Kessinger

It is worth noting that Mr. Comey heads an agency that found its agents 100% faultless and totally justified in 150 out of 150 shootings of suspects -- 70 of them fatally -- from 1993 to 2011. Likewise, under Mr. Comey, the FBI exonerated itself for the highly questionable killing of Ibragim Todashev --a friend and associate of the Tsarnaev brothers -- during questioning by FBI agents after the Boston Marathon bombings. Simply based on the law of averages, a finding that shootings were justified 100% of the time is highly suspect. Thus, while I respect the eloquence and erudition of Mr. Comey's speaking and writing, I remain very skeptical that he is in any position to present the "hard truths" he purports to present in an objective way.

Nowhere in Mr. Comey's speech -- and yes, I read the full text -- did he address himself to the problems in American police culture. The old "blue wall of silence" seems to have changed little since the days Frank Serpico walked a beat. Sure, there are many cops who do not themselves engage in wrongful conduct. But officers good and bad are nearly universal in honoring that code of silence with respect to the wrongdoing of their colleagues (the occasional Frank Serpico or Adrian Schoolcraft notwithstanding). This turning of a blind eye towards wrongdoing within their ranks stands in direct conflict with Comey's assertion that police officers are "overwhelmingly doing the right thing for the right reasons."


Below is a video clip of the speech, and here is a link to the full text of it.

Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Feb 12, 2015, 09:30 PM (3 replies)

The latest right-wing outrage, not just on Fox, et al., but here on DU, too

(NOTE: AFTER I POSTED THIS, IT WAS POINTED OUT THAT THE OP IN ANOTHER THREAD WHICH i REFER TO HERE WAS NOT, IN FACT AIMED AT PRESIDENT OBAMA, BUT AT A POST BY ANOTHER DU-ER (WHO HAD POSTED A COMMENT THAT WAS ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS WHAT THE PRESIDENT SAID, AND FOR WHICH THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN PILLORIED BY RIGHT-WING MEDIA. FOR THAT ERROR, I APOLOGIZE. HOWEVER, IF THE ACCUSATION THAT HE WAS "TRYING TO CONDONE THE BURNING TO DEATH OF A MAN IN A CAGE" WAS WRONG AS APPLIED TO WHAT THE PRESIDENT SAID (AS I BELIEVED WHEN I WROTE THIS PIECE), THEN IT IS WRONG WHEN APPLIED TO ANOTHER DU-ER WHO SAID SUBSTANTIVELY THE SAME THING. THUS, I STAND FIRMLY BEHIND THE RATIONALE LAID OUT BELOW AS TO WHY SUCH AN ACCUSATION IS SUCH A SCURRILOUS THING TO LEVEL AGAINST ANYONE (BASED ON WHAT THE PRESIDENT AND OUR FELLOW DU-ER SAID), IRRESPECTIVE OF WHO THE INTENDED TARGET OF THAT ACCUSATION ACTUALLY WAS.)

The outrage over the President's remarks earlier this week at a National Paryer Breakfast on Fox and other right-wing outlets was predictable enough. Surely, by now, we must all expect as much from that bunch, in reaction anything the President says about, well, anything at all. Perpetual outrage is the right's emotional currency, so irrespective of what it might be in response to, it is never a surprise, and much of the time doesn't even merit being accorded the dignity of a response.

But I am surprised -- no, shocked -- to see that same outrage mirrored here on DU, accusing the President of "rying to condone the burning to death of a man in a cage." I am even more shocked to see such a post receive (as of this writing) 84 "likes" with remarkably little by way of push back The most generous thing I can say about Trying to condone the burning to death of a man in a cage."Trying to condone the burning to death of a man in a cage."|that OP] is that it is a grossly dishonest characterization of what the President said and of what he intended to say in his remarks. Look, I am not exactly this President's biggest fan. I have never refrained, and never will, from expressing substantive criticism of this or any President when I have believed his policies or statements have been misguided. (I have never been big on the idea of politics-as-team-sport.) Indeed, I have been sharply critical of this President on many fronts: his drone campaign, his failure to go after Wall Street criminals, his coddling of the NSA's and CIA's illegal activities, his indefensible, aggressive prosecutions of whistleblowers, the expanded powers he has claimed under the NDAA, to name just a few. On my best days, I count myself among those who have been deeply disappointed by what I see as the lost promise of his Presidency; on my less sangjine days, I see his Presidency as one giant, corporatist Trojan horse. But I believe -- and strongly -- that if criticism is to be responsible, it must in the first place be honest and substantive, and proceed from premises that are also, at least arguably, honest and substantive. None of the criticism over this issue, either from those on the right or in the OP to which I refer, is either of those.

The President was no delivering a speech about ISIL/ISIL or about any of its specific horrors, much less condoning, downplaying or invoking false equivalencies concerning any of it. The real meat of the President's speech, following some introductory comments, begins as follows:

Now, over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of challenges -- certainly over the last six years. But part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we've seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.

As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another -- to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife. We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done. We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism -- terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?


That was the set-up for the remarks that followed. It was a speech by a man of faith, to an audience of persons of faith (primarily Christians), about how conscientious persons of faith come to grips with the fact that some -- in every age and in every religion -- pervert the tenets of the very faith they profess as a means of justifying unjustifiable acts of evil. And it was a discussion about the perils of religious intolerance. This is the context in which the President's remarks must be understood. Indeed, it is the very next paragraph that the President makes the statements that are being so loudly criticized. The President continues:

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.


There is absolutely nothing in the President's speech, either in the portions I have quoted above or in the remainder of the speech, that any honest person could, in good conscience, construe as condoning the horrific actions of ISIL/ISIS or of drawing any false equivalency thereto. The fact is that far too many Christians -- and American Christians in particular -- are prone fo falling into a belief in self-superiority, and of believing themselves to be somehow immune to the corruptions of heart and mind that have, at one point or another, afflicted every religion (as well as every political system) in human history. The President went on to speak at length about the need for a certain humility that is incumbent upon conscientious persons of faith with respect to any truth they may believe themselves to be in possession of, and in recognition that others, of other faiths and non-faiths, also have truths we need to hear. And I speak as a Christian when I say that Christians -- and again, American Christians in particular -- need to be reminded of this . . . often and repeatedly. History tells us that when Christians -- or indeed, persons of any faith or non-faith -- believe themselves to be the sole possessors of truth and the sole exemplars of goodness or righteousness or justice, bad things happen. Very bad things. And I find it unconscionable that any person of conscience, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any other faith, or atheist, much less those on a liberal or left-leaning site, could possibly find fault in the President or anybody else stating such a reminder.

For those who "liked" the other OP, I would urge you to either read the transcript of the speech, or watch the video below, for yourself, and then reconsider whether you still think the President was, any way, condoning the "burning to death of a man i a cage."

Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Feb 7, 2015, 08:14 PM (91 replies)
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