Sunday, August 16, 2015

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and 2016

For those who've spent the last few months stranded at sea, or for other calamitous reasons been unable to keep up with news, you may be surprised by what you're about to read.

The longest-serving independent, a 73-year-old white senator from Vermont, has men, women and children of all ages going crazy. After seeing the support for President Barack Obama in 2008, people have wondered what it would take for Americans to rally with comparable enthusiasm for change.

After the first African-American President whose promise was just that, people around the United States seem to want it more than ever. While former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is charismatic, she's not the "change" so many Americans are feverish about. Her blunders as Secretary of State are likely to be her major obstacle when it comes to the debates, even though the polls, as of now, are in her favor.

Many Republicans will be glad to remind voters of the tragedy that took place in Benghazi. Of only seven US ambassadors in the diplomatic history of America to have been killed in the line of duty, one was Christopher Stevens who died under the incumbency of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 

When considering that Ambassador Stevens was also the first Ambassador to have been killed in over 40 years, since Adolph Dubs died during a failed rescue operation in February of 1979, the Ambassador's death is all the more shocking and hugely undermines Hillary Clinton's leadership. While I find it almost impossible to agree with anything Donald Trump says, his recurrent remarks that Hillary Clinton was the worst Secretary of State may be closer to the truth than anything else he's said.

Ambassador Stevens was killed during a visit to the US Mission in Benghazi, some 400 miles from the Embassy in Tripoli. His death came after numerous requests were made to the State Department for increased security measures, following previous attacks on the presence of the United States in Libya. 

The ambassador's aim in traveling to Benghazi was to promote a message of peace during the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. While all embassies were on high alert because of the timing, the Ambassador was promoting the interests of his country, which is what any Ambassador is sent abroad to do.

The fact Stevens had been killed carrying out his responsibilities as Ambassador, and after having his repeated calls for increased security ignored by Clinton and her staff reveals that Hillary Clinton is imprudent. What's more, when it came to owning up to her enormous mistake as Secretary of State, Clinton said she'd never seen the emails appealing for more protection of the US missions. As such, it's discernible that besides being irresponsible as a leader, she's also unaccountable as one.

Hillary Clinton was also embroiled in yet another major blunder involving emails. During her tenure, she failed to follow standard protocol and used her private email as a means of communication on unsecured servers. 
The sensitive information a Secretary of State receives through emails has made this a matter of national security. Thousands of her emails were released, yet many were redacted. While Clinton argues that her actions did not go against protocol, the redactions certainly suggest that the information she was receiving was strictly confidential.

And what serves against Clinton, foremost, is her conceited, self-important and arrogant way of handling her own mistakes. Her forced 'coolness' and swagger in situations where it's completely inappropriate. She handles herself as though she's a mix of Einstein, Eisenhower and Eminem; a sort of genius leader superstar. Many undoubtedly admire that about her, but the majority really dislike her for it.

All things aside, Clinton is a revered politician, a First Lady that kept the title becoming the first female Senator of New York State, but her achievements for women and her renown may not be enough to win this election. Although having a first female President after the first African-American one would undeniably show progress, Hillary is facing yet another major obstacle. This time it's Bernie Sander's fresh honesty and immensely growing popularity.

Bernie Sanders has had a more direct approach to the most important topics in America today. Take, for instance, what has become one of the more contentious issues: police brutality. Hillary Clinton Spoke recently at Columbia's SIPA. She addressed the problems of the justice system, the issues with correction - but she nevertheless palpably missed what American voters are most concerned about. When Bernie Sanders was asked about police brutality by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, he said "for too many years, too many mostly black suspects have been treated terribly, and in some cases murdered. That is unacceptable, and police officers have got to be held accountable for their actions".

Yet, Sanders was kept from speaking at an event in Seattle when self-described Black Lives Matter activists interrupted his speech, chanting "black lives matter". One of those activists was Marissa Janae Johnson. The interruption was rude, as most are, but it was also pointless. 

Marissa and Mara Jacqeline Willaford targeted the most progressive candidate running. Such a protest would have been more fitting at one of Donald Trump's speeches. It should be noted that Bernie Sanders was also an activist in his youth, during the Civil Rights Movement. He marched with Dr. King. He offered Symone Sanders (no relation) a job on his team as his Press Secretary after meeting her, weeks before the disruption at the rally. Symone herself is a BlackLivesMatter activist and agrees with the idea that to tackle discrimination, economic equality has to be established for all members of the American populace.

The women who interrupted the rally were misguided and misinformed, perhaps angry that Sander's approach to ending discrimination has as much to do with approaching police brutality head-on as it has to do with ending the class war. Bernie Sander's tactic could not be more correct. To end discrimination, all Americans should enjoy equal access to jobs, to education, to healthcare, to opportunity. 

Marissa Janae Johnson later remarked, in her own words, that she doesn't "give a f*ck" if her stunt drives away support from the BlackLivesMatter Movement. Well, she should. Because if it does drive away support then what was the point of interrupting the speech? To end discrimination by limiting the support of the movement? 

The stunt also proved dull-witted because it achieved the exact opposite of what they had set out to achieve, with people defending and talking about Bernie Sanders and 12 thousand people going to see him speak at the University of Washington later that day.

It would later become a known fact that Marissa Janae Johnson is a former supporter of the tea party and Sarah Palin.

Bernie Sanders approached the topic of police brutality with far more confidence than Hillary Clinton. It's true that the justice system has to be reformed, but what Americans are seeing day in and day out is the heinous conduct of police around the nation. 

The killings in recent times have become far more publicized, consequently this is a far more important topic in 2016 than it was in either 2012 or 2008. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Sanders spoke frankly of the need to hold police officers accountable. 

American voters can more honestly agree with a man speaking his mind in simple terms than a someone seeking to remind you that she attended Yale Law School, which is exactly what Clinton did when she spoke at Columbia University. Again, her unwavering arrogance should be noted as a particular weakness in engaging a wider public.

That's the main issue with Hillary Clinton. Her identity is hinged on making you feel like you're being lectured, almost as though you couldn't arrive at the same conclusions without her intellectual handout. Bernie Sanders is more relatable. He's not rich, he's in fact one of the most modest U.S. politicians, whereas Clinton is a millionaire many times over and would serve the interests of the companies financing her candidacy.

Sander's platform on achieving economic equality is one that is wide enough to attract a huge segment of voters. With income inequality having only broadened for decades now, people are formally seeking to end the corporate ownership of politics in America. Bernie Sanders has vowed to get rid of money-politics, which in many cases keeps progress from being achieved on Capitol Hill, through the virtually uncontrolled practice of lobbying. That's why Sanders doesn't have a Super Pac and Hillary Clinton does. 

His stance is that someone in politics shouldn't be accepting money from any business or anyone conducting it. Hillary Clinton is quite happy to do otherwise. In fact, one of her Super Pacs received a 7-figure donation of essentially untraceable "dark money" from Fair Share Action. The Clinton Foundation also failed to pay taxes on tens of millions of dollars in foreign donations.

The internet has also been awash with several images that show the top financial sponsors of Sanders and Clinton. The former is supported by unions with generous contributions to his campaign, the latter is supported by conglomerates like Goldman Sachs with absurd contributions. 

Companies want Hillary Clinton as President because her promise to them is to uphold the status quo of having to pay virtually nothing in taxes. This is another area that will earn Sanders support during the election, while Hillary's vast wealth and closeness to large corporations will serve as yet another drawback.

Bernie Sanders has been vocal against the TPP, which, according to the Senator, will protect the interests of these organizations. The fact that the TPP has been marred by secrecy and its implications are virtually unknown to people is worrying, to say the least. 

The only thing people know relates to the Intellectual Property Provision, which was leaked. This is an extreme regulation that also makes it possible for people to "retain" critical components of inventions, softwares, or other IP (intellectual property) making technological monopolizations possible. The TPP has been vocally opposed by Bernie Sanders who's likely been the most vociferous opponent of its creation.

Hillary Clinton's stance on the TPP is the polar opposite. Firstly, she tried to ride the sentiment against the Pact as a means of boosting her popularity during the campaign, declaring that Obama should essentially slow down the show (with regards to fast track authority). 

But, a top aide in the administration went on-record to disclose that the creation of the TPP was actually Clinton's biggest achievement. That's right; she paved the way during her time as Secretary of State by way of her negotiations. Accordingly, this is clear evidence of misinforming political discourse. Despite the practice of flip-flopping not being new in any political context, it's something that Hillary, at this point, is widely recognized for.

Another aspect of Bernie Sander's agenda that makes him appeal to an extremely wide segment of voters are his intended policies on education, foremost college education. Sanders aims to make higher education at public universities free for students and reduce outstanding loans that college graduates are struggling to pay back. 

While he's certainly not the first politician to promote the idea amid the continuously rising college costs across America, he's the first to proffer a pragmatic idea about how to cover the cost. The Senator proposes taxing Wall Street transactions to cover around 70 billion dollars, which would make this coveted American fantasy possible. Who better to pay to the greedy institutions of American education than the greedy corporations of America. 

His move comes as the student debt crisis is becoming more and more serious, with the Federal Reserve having indicated that the number of people behind on payments is up from last year, despite the economic improvement. This shows that the situation won't improve with the economy and has to be addressed separately. The price tag of American Higher education remains the highest in the entire world and has been made a consumer good instead of a right like it in most developed European countries.

Bernie Sander's platform not only addresses the most critical issues in America to date, such as the lax taxing system on the largest corporations, the widening social gap, evident discrimination, access to affordable education and the TPP. It does so with an unfamiliar tone of authenticity, something many are hesitant to believe because it's such a strange occurrence in American politics.

While everyone is pointing to polls to show the security that Hillary Clinton is enjoying, polls aren't a determining factor in who will be the next American President. Faculty of Politics Professor at NYU, Patrick Egan recently wrote an article for the New York Times in which he argued not only that current polls "fail to predict" who will win but that they are actually unreliable to the point that a negative correlation exists.

Nevertheless, if we were to staunchly believe that polls this early in the Presidential race matter, the most recent polls show that Bernie Sanders has not only been gaining on Hillary but has overtaken her, as was the case in New Hampshire where he is leading by almost ten percent. Nevertheless, also according to polls, Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner, which should serve to show just how misleading they can be.

It's unlikely anyone from a party that by and large declares global warming a myth will win this election, especially amid the current extreme weather patterns (2015 may be the strongest El NiƱo year on record); it's even less likely that it'll be someone who openly discriminates against huge segments of American voters as his only means of gaining attention, and/or outcry. 

If we're talking about the chances of a Republican winning this election, we'll have to be thinking of Jeb Bush as the only candidate with any realistic chance. Don't be fooled by statements that Donald Trump is the Republican frontrunner.

Bernie Sander's traction with people is only growing and at an unprecedented pace. It's more reliable to look at the crowds that a candidates is drawing to his or her speeches as a means of understanding their popularity. 

If you do that, you'll come to see that Bernie Sanders is by far the most popular candidate. With a  turnout in Portland, Oregon of 28,000 - so far the most for any 2016 candidate and roughly five times larger than any of Hillary Clinton's audiences, as according to the Washington Post, Bernie Sanders is clearly ahead.

From early on, people declared Bernie Sanders a fad and a political escapism that would come and pass. He was never close to the limelight, and Hillary Clinton's all-encompassing political gravity was seen by realistic Americans as something that would shatter his chances, especially as so few Democrats are running. 

But, with his current successes and even rumors that Joe Biden, only a year younger than him, is weighing a possible run, more and more people are beginning to shed their cynicism and are starting to believe in the possibility of political change on a magnitude they'd previously not imagined. Even if that change comes boxed as a 73-year-old man from Vermont with a Brooklyn accent.

It's looking more and more like Bernie Sanders is the man of the year, the year 2016.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Policing gone viral

There has to be a point where people say "enough is enough". We've passed that point decades ago. The way in which police around the United States conduct themselves is truly appalling. Look up the ten most brutal police forces according to "Top Criminal Justice Schools" in the world, and you'll find that of the United States on a list with the likes of China, Russia and Iran.

The past few years have seen various law enforcement departments in the United States marred by their flabbergasting incompetence. While the debate over guns in America continues, so does the appalling violence against civilians, most often minorities.

Ever since the shooting and murder of Trayvon Martin, people around the US have been far more cognizant of what's going on. They are taking note. They are using their phones to record and easy  access to internet to share their experiences. And these experiences have shown us over time that the practice of policing has been abolished and replaced by a frightening Spartan-like rule. Police are given guns, many of whom think this is plain permission to go rogue and ditch their moral compass.   

Just in July of this year, 124 people were killed by US law enforcement. Unfortunately, not enough of these cases become as high-profile as the murder of Samuel Dubose on July 19th. He was just one of those 124 killed, according to

Samuel Dubose was pulled over by a University of Cincinnati Police. In a matter of moments, he was killed. Ray Tensing, the officer who shot and killed Dubose alleged that he was being dragged by Dubose's car as he sped away. This claim was confirmed by two other officers at the scene with Dubose. However, all three were wearing bodycams and it wasn't long before their claims were dismissed. Now we understand why many departments in America still don't use these cameras. There is no way to cover up abuse of authority, plainly lying about events and outright murdering civilians.

When in the end one considers that this wasn't even a Police Department per se, but a University Police Department, one you would expect exists to provide support and underpin the functioning of a large campus or college town, this case becomes truly mind boggling. Why did these officers, who pulled over Dubose for a missing license plate, resort to killing the man?

What we've seen for so many years now is the unwarranted escalation of peaceful situations by police officers. Make no mistake, officers in the vast majority of cases are fully in control of the situations they are attending to. They are well prepared. They are, or are said to be, trained. However, we see not police but vigilantes patrolling America.

The very fact that a University's police department was involved in one of the most controversial police murders this year proves many things. Yet the most discernible is that the over-militarization of police forces around America is like a spreading illness that has infested far too many departments that are otherwise responsible for upholding the law, not breaking it.

The two officers on the scene at the time who corroborated Ray Tensing's wrongful accusation were not penalized in any real way. This is the very real issue. Police brutality is something that develops over time with the emergence of a certain mindset. The "we protect our own" mindset, when police should be protecting their own society.

Even officers who have tazers to deploy often simply reach for their guns and decide "today I'm going to shoot, and possibly kill a person". How someone can sleep, or indeed live, after committing such a heinous act is something I cannot and will never truly understand. When police are members of society we look to for help and protection, they have shown, in America, that they are very often not the ones you should be looking to.

Sandra Bland was a woman of color who died amid mysterious circumstances while in police custody. Why she was taken into custody? Not exactly clear. She had been stopped after failing to use her indicator when switching lanes. When State Trooper Brian Encinia pulled her over she told him the reason she switched lanes was because he had started to use his sirens and wanted to get out of his way.

Harris County Medical Examiner ruled her death a suicide. Many people, mostly American NRA supporters, are content with that answer. Others aren't. After all, police released footage of the event that had been tampered with. They also may have posed Sandra Bland after she was already dead for her mugshot. More evidence of this being true is that she was already in jail-issued prison uniform. Her posture, meanwhile, seems to suggest she had been laying on the floor while it was taken.

It's not certain police are responsible for her death, yet it's abundantly clear that she was unlawfully arrested. The State Trooper's removal of Bland from her car was unreasonable. He told Bland to put out her cigarette, which she refused, then ordered her out of the car, which she also refused. It's obvious that Bland had the right to smoke in her own car, it was only a cigarette after all. In an interview with the New York Times, Robert Weisberg of Stanford University argued that in order to legitimately order Bland out of her car after she refused the Trooper's demand to put out her cigarette, he would've had to have had reason to believe she was violent. That's a difficult assertion to make considering it was her that died in police custody, who have the  responsibility to ensure these "mysterious" deaths don't ever happen when someone is taken into custody.

This event shows exactly what I alluded to previously, the escalation of otherwise peaceful situations by none other than police officers. Bland in the full video can be seen vexed by the encounter, and that is only understandable. She was being stopped for a violation she had only committed because she thought she would be helping police conduct actual police work and crack down on actual crime.

Needless to say, the arrest itself was excessively forceful. There is also other evidence that supports the hypothesis that there is a larger coverup, including the idiosyncrasy of police documents that simply don't make sense. On one page, she is alleged to have put she has attempted suicide in the past, while on another she had put "no" to the question.

In response to the murder, the hacker group Anonymous posted a video calling for a day of "rage" for Bland's murder. After all the recent killings police are responsible for, it certainly doesn't make sense that this woman actually committed suicide in her cell, rather it's more likely a case of manslaughter. During what was obviously very rough handling, she may have been seriously injured. Freddy Gray, who also died in police custody this year, died amid similarly perplexing circumstances. All officers involved in his arrest were themselves found responsible for his death to varying extents along the lines of manslaughter.

Arlington Police Department were responding to a call that a man had driven through the window of a dealership. Upon responding, the 19-year-old college athlete apparently did not comply with the order to surrender. Now, considering these two facts that he was a college student and also drove into a dealership, would it be fairly straightforward to assume this teenager was simply drunk? Yes, it would.

Yet, Christian Taylor, who attended Angelo State University and was unarmed, was shot several times by an officer nearing the end of his training. According to reports, he shot the teenager after a confrontation ensued. Brad Miller, a veteran of the police force, was with the officer-in-training. Miller used his taser, while his inexperienced counterpart shot Taylor four times. This comes not that long after an incident in New York, similarly involving an officer-in-training who shot and killed a man.

This event is particularly eye-opening. It highlights that training in place for officers is simply lacking. It shows that with so much dependence on real-life, on-the-job training, police can become swayed by personal experiences. In this case, the lack of training doesn't help them overcome potential biases that may thus occur. The event manifests that police departments need to rethink how they train officers. Not just with regards to what they learn, but how they are equipped. Had the officer-in-training only been carrying a taser, this unfortunate case would not have taken place. It is all the more unfortunate timing wise, with this case almost coinciding with the date of Mike Brown's death one-year ago.

Moving onto murder on a very different scale, but still clearly evincing of the current mentality plaguing US law enforcement. When responding to reports of a burglary, a Topeka officer ended up killing the dog of the supposed Judge being burgled. For many pet owners, having their dog killed is far worse than having their TV stolen. While video does show a dog charging, the officer made the conscious decision to neither run, nor to use non-leathal force. The officer has no justification considering he could have used the butt of his pistol, his pepper spray, his taser, or a baton (if he had one). But even though all officers are given guns, not all are given batons. Funny how that works.

The dog can be seen on the graphic video captured on the officer's bodycam already barking as he makes his way towards the house. The officer then shoots it, and then shoots it again. But this wasn't a huge Rottweiler. It was a 26-pound dog, the size of a beagle. That's not all. This particular police department was already responsible for killing another pet just the prior month. The department argued that the officer's actions did not clash with their policies. So, if you're a pet owner and are being robbed you may want to hold off calling the police because an officer being charged by a chihuahua will likely call for backup.

Another incident this week involving pets occurred in West Virginia. Officers were responding to a neighborhood argument and the situation, as customary when involving law enforcement, escalated. That was because one of the officers, walking up the lawn, was barked at by a dog that was on a chain and wagging his tail. The man immediately took aim and signaled his readiness to indiscriminately kill the animal, but the owner wasn't so ready. She jumped in front of him, and was then knocked to the ground, arrested and charged with misdemeanor obstruction.

Other dogs aren't as lucky. Dog killings occur at an alarming rate. Unsurprisingly often by officers who enter a private premisses illegally, without a warrant, and don't know that a dog is present. When they make this discovery, they often decide the best course of action is to simply murder the animal.

Sad how things are. Much sadder that the rate at which people are being killed is so rapid we can't even remember their names for long. That is the message Dave Chappelle delivered some months ago when he remarked, "a kid gets killed by the poilice and I buy a T-shirt and before I can wear that one, there's another kid (killed) and I'm running out of closet space." Chappelle is right, their is always another unarmed youth, of color, killed.

Walter Scott was the unarmed man shot eight times while running from a South Carolina officer.
Fortunately for human rights, the gruesome murder was caught on video. As someone who's spent time in both the United States and United Kingdom, I can assure people that American law enforcement suffers from a lack of control and direction. Officers are given guns after a few months of training along with the right to choose life or death for people. This is just one of a staggering amount of reasons American law enforcement is inept, amateurish and disliked.

The reason I bring up the example of Britain is very simple. It faces the very same threats that the United States faces. The most pertinent of these is terrorism. The reason police in America have become so over-militarized is owing to the Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of 9/11. When considering that Britain has gone through terrorism too, just remind yourselves of the 7/7 bombings, it's easy to see which nation reacted appropriately and which didn't. Consider this one number, US police have killed more civilians in March alone than British police have in the entire 20th Century. Now that's a truly appalling reflection on the United States' version of preservation, because that is the very essence of law enforcement.

Many people in America (or, the NRA gang) argue that guns are simply a part of their culture, and that the American society is one with an understanding of how to deal with guns better than any other in the world. Well, those people should have the guts to call the 13 families who were left with heartache after the Columbine High School Massacre, or the families of the 33 who died in the Virginia Tech shooting, or the families of the 26 who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Policing in America went wrong from the very start. Still, it's not solely the police departments to blame, it's the culture of gun violence that many Americans seeks to suggest is normal. So, when dozens of kids are killed, Americans act like it's a tragedy. Then they suggest new methods of gun control. When an unarmed African-American is killed, the very same thing happens and people look for something to change. If Americans just take a second to realize, all the instances mentioned hitherto involve guns,  the one ingredient without which America would be a truly more liberal place. After all, you wouldn't fear being gunned down in broad daylight.

But, obviously that won't happen. The NRA has far too much sway in politics, and America is a nation whose political system has been eroded by the practice of lobbying and money in politics. SO even if people wanted guns to be gone, the system would ensure that this doesn't happen. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean America can't take the example of European countries who also allow citizens to bear arms. Switzerland is probably the best example of a nation with a high number of guns per its population and a relatively low number of incidents. It's time to start thinking why this may be. Are people better trained and more aware of the implications of firing a gun?

Whether an officer of the law or a citizen, the same education needs to be applied to understanding guns. And concurrently, the very prevalent issue of police discrimination needs to be addressed with such reinforced training. Police should realize that 1) not every black man carries a gun, 2) that shooting someone should be the very last resort instead of the very first. Lastly, the system of protecting officers who commit murder must be dealt with on a judicial level. This will take reexamining mechanics of the US legal system and why this is happening in the first place.