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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 03:48 PM
Number of posts: 7,574

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NY Times Editorial calls out President Obama's stingy use of pardons/clemency -- and some stats

An editorial in today's New York Times applauds the eight people for whom it was announced last week that President Obama has decided to either pardon or to commute their sentences, even as it calls him out for being stingier than any other President in recent times in granting such pardons and/or commutations. The stats are really quite disturbing, particularly when so many are locked up for staggeringly long periods for non-violent offenses. Here is a list of Presidents from Eisenhower forward, showing the time in office and the number of pardons/commutations granted by each:

Eisenhower - 8 years - 1,157
Kennedy - just under 3 years - 575
Johnson - 4 years - 1,187
Nixon - 5.5 years - 926
Ford - 2.5 years - 405
Carter - 4 years - 566
Reagan - 8 years - 406
G.H.W. Bush - 4 years - 77
Clinton - 8 years - 459
G.W. Bush - 8 years - 200
Obama - 5 years - 61

This is really quite appalling, in my view, and all the more so this year because the President isn't standing for re-election. Where is your compassion, Mr. President?

Here is an excerpt of and link to the Times's editorial:

[font size=4]A Small Step Toward More Mercy[/font]

[font size=1 color="gray"]
Published: December 22, 2013[/font]

President Obama’s decision on Thursday to commute the outrageously long drug sentences of eight men and women showed a measure of compassion and common sense. But it also served to highlight the injustice being done to thousands of prisoners under federal sentencing laws.

In issuing the commutations, Mr. Obama blamed the “unfair system” that is keeping thousands behind bars solely because they were sentenced before August 2010, when Congress reduced the vast disparity between the way federal courts punish crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses. The three-year-old federal law, the Fair Sentencing Act, allows prisoners to petition a judge to shorten their sentence, but it does not apply to nearly 9,000 prisoners who were already serving time when it was passed. While Congress is considering legislation to make the law retroactive, any such fix is far from assured.

< . . . >

It is important to recognize that while Mr. Obama showed mercy to these eight people, his administration has been the least merciful in modern times. The power to mitigate an overly harsh sentence is squarely in his hands, and yet in nearly five years he has commuted just nine sentences and issued 52 pardons. (A commutation lessens the severity of a punishment, while a pardon forgives the offense itself and restores the rights people lose when they go to prison.)

There is no excuse for this lack of compassion. The risk to public safety is often used to justify denials of clemency, but a preliminary report issued in July by the United States Sentencing Commission found that the recidivism rates for the more than 7,300 prisoners who received sentence reductions under the Fair Sentencing Act were similar to those for inmates who served full sentences.

< . . . . >

Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Dec 23, 2013, 02:06 PM (4 replies)

WTF is Menendez (not to mention Schumer) doing?!

[font size=4]Iran Sanctions Bill From Sens. Bob Menendez And Mark Kirk Could Endanger U.S. Negotiations [/font]

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) are threatening to push the United States toward war with Iran, circulating and planning to introduce a sanctions bill despite warnings that it could derail nuclear negotiations at a delicate moment.

International observers and both parties to the negotiations have repeatedly pleaded with Congress to allow the talks to unfold -- warnings that Kirk and Menendez, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, appear intent on ignoring. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is also part of the effort, though much of the final decision rests with Menendez.

"The White House doesn't want a bill, that's true. Menendez and Kirk are working on it and trying to build the list of cosponsors. Likely to be introduced soon," said a Senate Democratic aide involved in the effort.

The lawmakers are circulating a draft sanctions bill that would target the Iranian petroleum and mining industries, and set up unilateral guidelines for what would constitute compliance.

< . . . >

Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Dec 19, 2013, 02:38 PM (5 replies)

Queen Elizabeth II gives royal stamp of approval to same-sex marriage

God save the Queen indeed!

[font size=4]Queen Elizabeth II gives royal stamp of approval to same-sex marriage[/font]

LONDON — Britain on Wednesday legalized gay marriage after Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal stamp of approval, clearing the way for the first same-sex weddings next summer.

Lawmakers cheered as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said royal assent had been given – one day after the bill to legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales cleared Parliament.

The law enables gay couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales, provided that the religious institution consents. The Church of England, the country’s official faith, is barred from performing such ceremonies.

It also will allow couples who had previously entered into civil partnerships – which were introduced in 2005 and carry similar rights and responsibilities to marriage – to convert their relationships to marriage.

< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Dec 19, 2013, 12:51 PM (3 replies)

A friend, a former Libertarian, realizes he's become a liberal

So there's this guy I know on Facebook -- we met through mutual Facebook acquaintances -- who I met a couple of years ago. Younger guy, early 30s, father of two young children, lives in the same Pennsylvania county in which I grew up. Like me, he posts a lot of political commentary. Unlike me, he was self-identified as a libertarian (albeit not a fan of the Ron and Rand Paul pseudo-Libertarian cult). But we have often found areas of substantial agreement, and often commented on one another's postings. On issues of civil liberties, LGBT issues and issues of racial injustice, we were typically in complete agreement. He is a pretty outspoken atheist, having grown up as the son of a fundamentalist pastor and having at one time embraced his father's ultraconservative religious worldview, but having come to view such views as emotionally and psychologically toxic based on his own life's journey. But when it came to issues of economics, he was still more inclined to a more conservative, libertarian point of view (but, refreshingly, never dogmatically so).

From when we first became acquainted, however, I noticed a difference between him and most others who don the "libertarian" mantle. The thing that struck me about him initially was his willingness to grapple with issues and engage in civil argument in a consistently honest way, at times calling out some of his much more extreme libertarian acquaintances on the absurdity of some of their arguments. He was certainly atypical in that his thinking was far more complex and nuanced than anybody I've ever met who called himself or herself a libertarian. Thus, even when we disagreed, I enjoyed my exchanges with him. During the earlier stages of the 2012 campaign, he urged me to look at Gary Bauer's website. I did. I reported back to him that while I appreciated some of Bauer's stances on social issues, when it came to economics, I saw little daylight between him and any of the Republican candidates. He conceded I had a point.

More recently, I've noticed an increasing tone of compassion -- and passion -- in his posts. Increasingly, I've notice a greater and greater concern for issues of social and economic justice, a greater level of criticism directed at the assumptions of capitalism that too often go unchallenged, and a growing, profound concern for the kind of planet his children will grow up in. And I noticed he was departing from the views of some of his libertarian acquaintances more and more sharply and with greater frequency. I had a pretty good idea that his politics were evolving. Then, the other night, I logged onto Facebook to find this status update from him (which I share with his permission):

Well, I went and did it. After all those warnings from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, I got in touch with my liberal bleeding heart. It was a little rough at first weeding out all those political cobwebs in my mind that I had let take up residence because of my background both culturally and demographically, but I managed.

What I have discovered in my transition from christian conservative to atheist devil worshiping liberal is that the difference between liberalism and conservatism on a psychological level is the level of empathy involved in decision making. Conservatives, like the religion of their heritage, prefer to govern by arbitrary rules set into motion by other men but codified as an objective standard for our society both politically and morally.

Liberals, on the other hand, realize that even those standards were subjective and the only true guide to policy is how it impacts our fellow human beings. The criticism of conservatives is often targeted at this quality which is humanity's only true moral compass: empathy.

Conservatives and many Americans who agree with them on economic issues, tell us we need to have an emotional dissonance with policy regarding the markets. They see this as an element that would interfere with the market and our economy...well, that's what they say, anyway. What is really happening is we are divorcing our moral compass from our economy, from our justice system, and from nearly every aspect of our government.

And we wonder why things are so corrupt? What do you expect when you detach the source of your morality as a species from the execution of its governmental actions toward one another? How could we ever expect anything less than the devaluation of our humanity for immoral gain and greed when we shut out the only barometer we have for judging right and wrong actions?

Could we really be this emotionally ignorant of not only ourselves, but the Hell we are creating for our fellow human beings? As someone who has wandered over from the other side, I have to say, yes, we most certainly are.

What a joy, and how utterly gratifying, to watch a friend so completely and thoroughly "get it," as this friend has! Privately, he told me that our conversations had been "a comforting respite from the debates with my now former libertarian colleagues." That made me feel really good. And the whole thing has served as a reminder to me of how important it can be to maintain civil dialogue, even with those whose politics seems to be very different from our own, whenever possible, because it might just be the case that the person is, much like my friend, in the process of evolving.
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Dec 19, 2013, 11:25 AM (7 replies)

My favorite Mahler song cycle!

I had the privilege of hearing mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, in one of the final concert performances of her career, perform this in New York with the N.Y. Philharmonic. And on this particular song, she absolutely tore the audience's heart out! She made you genuine believe she was a mother racked with guilt after losing them in a storm.

Thanks for sharing this! And for the benefit of anyone reading, here is a translation of the Rückert poem from which the text is taken:

"In this weather"

In this weather, in this windy storm,
I would never have sent the children out.
They have been carried off,
I wasn't able to warn them!

In this weather, in this gale,
I would never have let the children out.
I feared they sickened:
those thoughts are now in vain.

In this weather, in this storm,
I would never have let the children out,
I was anxious they might die the next day:
now anxiety is pointless.

In this weather, in this windy storm,
I would never have sent the children out.
They have been carried off,
I wasn't able to warn them!

In this weather, in this gale, in this windy storm,
they rest as if in their mother's house:
frightened by no storm,
sheltered by the Hand of God.

Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Dec 17, 2013, 04:54 AM (0 replies)

A comment I posted last night on 60 Minutes' website re: the NSA segment


I gather the producers of 60 Minutes felt the Benghazi report fiasco hadn't done enough damage to the program's journalistic credibility, so they decided to air this outrageously uncritical, blatantly pro-NSA propaganda puff piece. The NSA personnel who appeared in the report all have a vested interest in protecting what the NSA sees as (and many Americans disagree is) its rightful turf.

The bit about the alleged 'BIOS plot' was particularly telling. 60 Minutes allowed an NSA spokesperson to claim that this plot was hatched by a state actor, which she declined to identify, that had the intent to turn computers across the U.S. "into a brick" (to quote the very loaded term used by 60 Minutes) and thereby crash the U.S. economy. Then, in a slick, journalistic sleight-of-hand, the report provided hearsay statements by unidentified NSA analysts that the state actor in question was China, which the agency refuses to confirm or deny. I'm not buying it for a second. The government of China has absolutely nothing to gain, and a great deal to lose, by crashing the U.S. economy. This segment didn't pass the smell test of someone with a raging sinus infection!
Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Dec 16, 2013, 01:33 PM (18 replies)

So, if the 60 Minutes segment on the NSA were true . . .

So, if it is true, as claimed in Sunday night's 60 Minutes segment, that the many hundreds of dollars that have been spent on building the NSA's surveillance apparatus (and are now being spent on the massive data warehouse complex in Utah(), and the billions upon billions of emails, tweets, texts and other online and telephonic communications and other activity collected and stored by the NSA, are for the purpose of monitoring 50-60 people worldwide (as Gen. Keith Alexander claims in the interview), then shouldn't the folks who constantly rant and rave about government "waste, fraud and abuse" be storming the gates of Ft. Meade by now instead of picking on food stamp recipients? Just sayin'.

Posted by markpkessinger | Mon Dec 16, 2013, 01:02 AM (43 replies)

WaPo: White House to preserve controversial policy on NSA, Cyber Command leadership

In other words, the President ordering this review amounted to little more than a PR stunt, and the administration has no intention whatsoever of addressing the public's concerns in any substantive way.

[font size=4]White House to preserve controversial
policy on NSA, Cyber Command leadership[/font]

The Obama administration has decided to preserve a controversial arrangement under which a single military official is permitted to direct both the National Security Agency and the military’s cyberwarfare command despite an external review panel’s recommendation against doing so, according to U.S. officials.

The decision by President Obama comes amid signs that the White House is not inclined to place significant new restraints on the NSA’s activities and favors maintaining an agency program that collects data on virtually all phone calls of Americans, although it is likely to impose additional privacy-protection measures.

Some officials, including top U.S. intelligence officials, had argued that the NSA and Cyber Command should be placed under separate leadership to ensure greater accountability and avoid an undue concentration of power.

“Following a thorough interagency review, the administration has decided that keeping the positions of NSA Director and Cyber Command commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Dec 14, 2013, 05:26 AM (13 replies)

Mandela on Poverty

“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is people who have made poverty and tolerated poverty, and it is people who will overcome it. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

—Ambassador of Conscience Award Acceptance Speech, November 01, 2006
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Dec 5, 2013, 08:06 PM (1 replies)

Lawrence O'Donnell segment: The Torah and Marriage Equality

I loved this!

Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Dec 4, 2013, 02:59 PM (4 replies)
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