The Death Penalty

… maybe, it is just in cases like these where we need to speak out against the death penalty, where it seems to be undeniably called for.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev seems like the perfect advertisement for proponents of the death penalty, an unrepentant mass murderer with the angle of terrorism thrown in. Yet for those against the death penalty, the whole point is that there should be no exceptions. If the state truly respects life, it cannot take it away regardless of the circumstances.

The deeds of the Tsarnaev brothers were gruesome, and the images even more so. It is indeed hard to make the argument that Dzhokhar should live. And even opponents of the death penalty have been reduced to saying that life in prison, in solitary confinement and without possibility of parole, represents a far worse punishment.

But life is a God-given gift, and taking it away, even by the state, should not be condoned. For all those blessed Christians who are pro-life, it is just as sacred outside the womb as it is inside it. And does the life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hold any value?

Let’s step aside from that question for the moment, and consider another inalienable right, the right of free speech. We have left Nazis march through Jewish communities to affirm that right. We have let people burn the American flag to affirm that right.

Yes, every bone in our bodies screams out to kill Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, especially after seeing the heartbreak of the innocent victims. But maybe, it is just in cases like these where we need to speak out against the death penalty, where it seems to be undeniably called for.

By George

He leveraged his political skills into a position as a respected journalist for ABC News, where he has led the organization to a first-place rank among the major networks.

George Stephanopoulos has, by any account, lived a charmed life. He catapulted to fame for the role he played in the Clinton “war room,” where he lifted his boss, Bill Clinton, to the Presidency. But unlike so many other operatives, he didn’t stop there. He leveraged his political skills into a position as a respected journalist for ABC News, where he has led the organization to a first-place rank among the major networks.

Now, however, the right-wing attack machine has clamped on to him for some substantial donations to the Clinton Global Initiative, donations that have always been part of the public record. And because of the natural role he has played as a journalist, asking tough questions, he has been accused of bias and favoritism.

It is ironic that some of the journalists that have criticized him the most, at Fox News, have supported Republican candidates unabashedly, while claiming that they are somehow unbiased themselves. And, yes, the Fox News commentators often go way out on a limb to do so instead of sticking to the facts like George does.

The best way to deal with the Republican attack dogs is just to ignore them, or give their claims the quick rebuttal they deserve. Meanwhile, real journalists, like George Stephanopoulos should continue to ply their fare.

Train Tracks

But one thing already is becoming clear: modernization of the system, especially with the feature known as Positive Train Control, could have prevented the crash.

The fallout continues from the Amtrak train wreck in Philadelphia, an event that looks even more horrific to visitors than it does over television. The engineer of the train, who was responsible for the speed of the vehicle, has lawyered up, predictably, and has yet to be interviewed by the NTSB. But one thing already is becoming clear: modernization of the system, especially with the feature known as Positive Train Control, could have prevented the crash.

Like a GPS with speed control, this feature would have slowed the train down so it was not going more than double the speed limit around that fateful curve. Not to Monday morning quarterback, but the United States is desperately in need of infrastructure development, and the failure to enact this by the Republican-controlled Congress, especially during the time when our economy needed stimulus, was indirectly responsible for this tragedy.

Traveling by train is a pleasurable experience, allowing for more luxury and enjoyment of the scenery than the drudgery of a long car trip. I remember using the Amtrak line between Boston and New York when attending Exeter in New Hampshire, and it was always a fun trip.

Other train technology has also been used in other countries, especially the magnetic leverage capability allowing for much higher speeds without any danger of derailment as occurred this week.

Is the President Friends with Congress?

… without the fig leaf of inter-party polarization, one must inevitably conclude the President has failed to create lasting relationships with Congressional leaders.

After blocking consideration of fast-track authority, the Democrats failed to give any deference to the President of their own Party. And without the fig leaf of inter-party polarization, one must inevitably conclude the President has failed to create lasting relationships with Congressional leaders.

Fast-track authority does not mean the Congress accepts the Pacific Trade agreement, only that it must receive an up-or-down vote without any amendments. The measure is opposed by key Democratic constituencies such as labor unions and other progressive groups. At times like these, the President should be able to call on key supporters and engage in a little friendly horse trading. Yet despite engaging in a full-court press with his cabinet and one-on-one meetings with reluctant lawmakers, the President still lost yesterday’s vote.

Part of the problem involved his insensitivity towards other members of Congress. Many Senators viewed the President’s attack on Elizabeth Warren as way too personal, and without any relationship to reach out to her, the President’s remarks were, at best, misinterpreted. Whenever a President uses the “bully pulpit,” the resulting power it affords can boomerang to his detriment as well.

Democrats are now talking about combining the trade pact with other legislation to attract the eight additional votes he needs. Yet such legislation could complicate the trade negotiations and result in their failure. In short, friendship with Congress isn’t important on these matters, until it is.

The Integrity of Tom Brady?

His bubble burst yesterday when the NFL suspended him from four regular season games and fined his team a cool million dollars.

No one likes to be punished. But Tom Brady, responsible for cheating by under-inflating footballs, somehow seemed to think he was immune from any consequences for his misdeeds. His bubble burst yesterday when the NFL suspended him for four regular-season games and fined his team a cool million dollars. Perhaps even more devastating will be the loss of key draft picks, thus extending the ramifications for the Patriots into the foreseeable future.

Brady effectively dismissed the investigation by refusing to provide any access to his electronic communications, even after extensive promises of protection for his privacy. And absent any contradictory input, the NFL acted by the standard of preponderance of the evidence, a well known legal yardstick used in a variety of forums.

Of course, the Patriots fans are vocal in their protestations, and Brady’s lawyer promises a repeal. But that repeal will probably only reduce the length of the punishment, not obviate it completely. And Brady’s career will be forever marred by a footnote about his transgression.

One cannot help but say kudos to the NFL for its stand on the integrity of the game. Some had been noting the more serious nature of domestic abuse in other controversies as a factor in determining the length of punishment. But those accusations were properly addressed in a court of law. Brady’s actions represented a direct assault on the game.

A Mess in the Middle East

At this point, Monday morning quarterbacking is a waste of time, and we must determine the best way forward in the Middle East.

With the Saudis agreeing to a temporary ceasefire in Yemen, it is time to take stock of the situation throughout the region. Iraq and Syria are in turmoil with their nations carved up among various religious and political lines. Lebanon’s never been a pillar of stability, and Israel, our ally, seems to have totally forsaken the peace process. The Palestinians are bringing charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court of the United Nations, and Egypt has reverted to a rigid authoritarian regime.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Arab Spring was bursting out all over the Middle East, and there was a feeling of optimism in the air. While President Obama can’t be honestly faulted for the way things turned out, he certainly hasn’t handled the developments in a seamless manner. At this point, Monday morning quarterbacking is a waste of time, and we must determine the best way forward.

The nuclear negotiations with Iran offer a glimmer of hope, but the Republican Congress is attempting to torpedo them. If war is on the horizon, it could boomerang to hurt us almost as much as our enemy. But the status quo is unacceptable and must be addressed sooner rather than later.

More than anything, we need some creativity from our President to find a way forward.

Super PAC for Clinton

… we will be stuck with an estimated $2.5 billion campaign, a slew of special interest ads, and the bombardment of the public bandwidth with distasteful messages.

Hillary Clinton finally bowed to reality by proactively supporting a Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, for her Presidential campaign. She expects to raise from $200 to $300 million from the organization.

In the past, Super PACs have primarily benefited Republican candidates, but Hillary is correct in refusing to “unilaterally disarm” in the face of this new reality.

Simultaneously, however, she has made campaign finance reform one of the major issues of her early candidacy. Only full public financing of political campaigns will remove the hint of corruption from the process.

You can’t expect people to accept multi-million dollar contributions from an organization and then totally ignore its needs. And even if that somehow could be achieved, there would always be an appearance of corruption.

Other nations have successfully removed the corruption of their political processes, and it is high time the United States follows suit. However, it is hard to see how that actually might occur unless the public becomes more engaged in this issue. Incumbents benefit most naturally from large contributions, and it would be against their self-interest to pass legislation on the topic.

So, at least for now, we will be stuck with an estimated $2.5 billion campaign, a slew of special interest ads, and the bombardment of the public bandwidth with distasteful messages. It would require an act of Congress and a reversal by the Supreme Court to achieve otherwise.

The Patriot Act for France

When you are scared, civil liberties are just an abstraction while survival assumes center stage.

The New York Times this morning described a new move by the French legislature to adopt massive electronic surveillance of its own citizens, with little judicial review. The new legislation comes after the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine for its caricatures of Mohammad.

Edward Snowden sacrificed himself primarily to expose excessive governmental surveillance, and it is surprising to see the French move in the opposite direction. However, Europe is more exposed to terrorist attacks than the United States, and people have always demanded security more than liberty. When you are scared, civil liberties are just an abstraction while survival assumes center stage.

Part of the French legislation involves the collection of meta data from the phone calls, emails and text messages of ordinary citizens. Internet and digital companies are strongly opposing this provision as well they should. If an organization cannot assure confidentiality to its users, they will find alternatives for their business.

One hopes the French citizenry would unite against this legislation, or at least demand some limitations to the assumption of broad government powers. But while we in the United States have an entrenched tradition favoring civil rights, other states are more comfortable with the assertion of broad powers for the central government.

France will find its own way; I have no doubt about that. But this legislation may represents a detour more than the path forward.

The Problem for Police Officers

Police officers are painted in a broad-brush manner by different groups in society, and all sides are conveying an element of truth in their descriptions.

The average police officer is caught between a rock and  a hard  place. Most of them entered their career with the most noble of intentions. Policing is fraught with danger, and you need a certain level of commitment before you are willing to risk your life.

Yet police are painted in a broad-brush manner by different groups in society, and all sides are conveying an element of truth in their descriptions. That’s why a true solution is so hard to find. It is very demeaning to ask all police officers to wear a body cam, and even that solution brings a whole slew of additional problems. When must the body camera be turned on? Do police officers have control over their own cameras? What about invasion of privacy? What about domestic abuse cases?

One major problem with body cameras involves the element of trust in police/community relationships. When trust is destroyed, neither side benefits, and a true solution is impossible.

But restoring trust is a long-term process, and that requires concerted efforts on all sides. There is no quick fix to this dilemma, and intensive study is needed rather than rushing in with solutions that can do more harm than good.

Well-meaning members of both sides need to meet together and talk before anything worthwhile can be accomplished.