Originally Published: 12/20/2014
Cuba: Obama announced that the U.S. will begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. The deal has been in the works for about 18 months as the U.S. negotiated for the release of Alan P. Gross, an American contractor who’s been held there for 5 years, and a U.S. intelligence agent who’s been held for almost 20 years. (See the Washington Post for a story on this guy, Rolando Sarraf Trujillo.) We sent them 3 spies we’ve held since 2001. Pope Frank encouraged the deal, even hosting “a final meeting at the Vatican.” Of course, this is all being done through executive orders and Congress will need to act to remove the embargo. Fat chance. (NY Times)
What will this mean? Well, we’re going to open an embassy in Havana for the first time in over 50 years, but it doesn’t mean that you can plan your next vacation there. The NY Times has a list of the travel rules that will change and those that will remain in effect as well as the other changes. Secretary of State John Kerry will be reviewing our designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. And the Cuban government will allow its people to get Internet access (only 5% have it now) and U.S. companies will be allowed to export things like computers, smartphones, and software. They’ll also be allowed to sell basic goods, like construction material and agricultural equipment. (Washington Post) It will also open up some banking opportunities. U.S. companies and financial institutions have been clamoring for this for a long time. What will happen when we infiltrate Cuba with all our corporate and financial money? We’ll ruin it like we did before - which led up to the 1950s revolution in the first place.
There’s much speculation that Cuba’s relationship with Venezuela and oil is behind it (Barrons) and then there’s the possibility of large oil reserves off Cuba’s coast. (Fox) So there may be geopolitical and energy concerns that have led to Obama’s move. Of course, we’re hearing from conservative politicos that this is a bad idea because we can’t have trade with a “communist” country, but we owe our soul in trade to China - a communist country. There goes that argument.
Torture: Remember the 26 who, based on CIA documents, were “wrongfully detained?” Even though the CIA disputes its own documents and says that the number of wrongful detentions was “far fewer” than 26, it did not offer any number. “Human rights advocates who have tracked the CIA program believe that considerably more than 26 were wrongfully detained.” For instance: “Mohammed al-Asad was left out of the Senate’s count, even though he languished for months in CIA prisons without being questioned, was sent home to Yemen, and was never charged with a terrorism-related crime.” (NY Times) And political operative Karl Rove, in a Fox interview, not only defended rectal feeding, he said Dubya knew all about it. (Ring of Fire Radio)
Death Penalty: The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an international moratorium on the death penalty. It passed with a record 117 votes with the United States and 37 other nations opposing it. There were 34 abstentions. The resolution is non-binding but when it was first proposed in 2007 there were only 104 votes, so support is growing. (Al Jazeera)
Arizona: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Arizona from enforcing its policy of denying driver’s licenses to young immigrants granted legal status by Obama in 2012. (TWW, Arizona, 12/8/12) The ruling upholds a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision (TWW, Arizona, 7/12/14) “which said the policy had no legal basis.” (Reuters)
California: Attorney General Kamala Harris is attempting to enforce the state’s law requiring nonprofit groups to disclose their donors. The state is also required to keep that information secret. But that isn’t good enough for billionaires David and Charles Koch. Their foundation, Americans for Prosperity, received a letter from Harris in 2013 stating that its “registration was incomplete because its Schedule B tax form didn’t include the names and addresses of its contributors.” The Koch brothers are suing Harris, saying she is violating their free speech rights to protect their donors from “grotesque” backlash. (Bloomberg)
Florida: The U.S. Supreme Court “declined to extend a stay sought by Florida officials defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, allowing gay marriages to proceed in Florida next month.” (Reuters)
New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will ban fracking in the entire state because of concerns over health risks. “State officials concluded that fracking, as the method is known, could contaminate the air and water and pose inestimable dangers to public health.” (NY Times)
Ohio: It has a new mentoring program, championed by Governor John Kasich (R), that provides $10 million to Ohio schools to work with at-risk students. However, there are requirements the schools must meet in order to get the funding. They must partner with “both a church and a business - or a faith-based organization and a non-profit set up by a business to do community service.” The requirement “goes beyond what is spelled out in the legislation authorizing it.” (Cleveland.com)
Pennsylvania: The state supreme court upheld a lower court ruling that Walmart stores must pay $188 million to workers “for failing to compensate them for rest breaks and all hours worked.” (Reuters)
Tennessee: Governor Bill Haslam (R) announced that he’ll opt into the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) opportunity to expand Medicaid. (Washington Post)
Vermont: Governor Peter Shumlin (D) is abandoning plans to create a universal, publicly-funded health care system. He said that it will require a tax increase “too big for the state to absorb.” (AP)
The Budget: The Senate passed the budget Saturday evening in all its ugliness. The vote was 56 to 40. Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) “scuppered the original plan agreed with his party’s leadership” and insisted there be “an opportunity to vote on whether the president’s executive action on immigration was unconstitutional.” This failed, voted down by 22 votes to 74, but the resulting delay allowed outgoing Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D, NV) to use the unexpected Saturday session to hold a 10-hour voting marathon and confirm nominations for vacant judicial posts and government jobs. Reid also filed procedural motions on a number of even more controversial Obama nominations, including Dr. Vivek Murthy.” (Guardian) So Democrats got through about 6 dozen confirmations of Obama’s nominees for federal judges, agency heads, and on myriad boards, “a last-minute coup for the White House since most of the picks faced tougher odds next year once Republicans take full control of Capitol Hill.” (Washington Post) They also extended dozens of tax breaks that were about to expire - worth $45 billion on their 2014 tax returns. But the perks expire again at the end of 2015, meaning they’ll fight it all over again next year. But they couldn’t convince Senator Tom Coburn (R, OK) to lift his block on the terrorism insurance program. (TWW, Terrorism Insurance, 12/13/14) Does this mean the Super Bowl will be cancelled? Guess not. “NFL officials denied rumors this week that it would be forced to cancel the Super Bowl.” The Washington Post listed the trauma the poor people went through. “The move forced members of both parties to abruptly cancel holiday and retirement festivities back home. Some senators slogged through the Capitol hallways with their young children in tow. Several skipped the Army-Navy football game in Baltimore. Staffers forced to work entertained out-of-town guests by giving them rare weekend access to the Capitol.” Such pain and misery for all of those days they work - 132 days this year as of December 11. (Congress.gov) Listen to what Jon Stewart had to say about the budget. (You Tube)
Costs of War: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a Working Paper to update the death and injury rates of U.S. military personnel during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. “In Operation Iraqi Freedom, which ended on August 31, 2010, some 3,482 hostile deaths occurred among U.S. military personnel and 31,947 people were wounded in action (WIA). More than 1,800 hostile deaths occurred during operation Enduring Freedom (in Afghanistan and surrounding countries) through November 2014; about 20,000 more people were wounded in action.” So we sacrificed 5,282 military personnel and injured, many seriously, 51,947 in retaliation for the deaths of about 3,000 people in the 9/11 attacks.
Medical Marijuana: The federal government will no longer be at loggerheads with state governments over medical marijuana. The spending bill (TWW, Budget Deal, 12/13/14) included language which “forbids the federal government from using any of its resources to impede state medical marijuana laws.” (LA Times) This is good news. Scientists at California Pacific Medical Center have been researching marijuana’s compounds for 20 years and have found that “cannabidiol, or CBD, has the ability to ‘turn off’ the DNA that causes ‘breast and other types of cancers’ to metastasize. CBD is the second-most abundant cannabinoid within marijuana, but does not cause the psychotropic high of THC.” (PR Newswire) For more information on CBD, see Leaf Science. Also, researchers have found that people who smoke marijuana “may have lower levels of inflammation compared with people who have never smoked it.” Inflammation is linked to heart disease. (Live Science) And check out this research from the National Institute of Health.
Recreational Marijuana: Nebraska and Oklahoma filed an action with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws, saying that Colorado’s pot was “seeping across their borders.” (Reuters) If you read the Motion for Leave to File Complaint, you’ll see that they claim that “the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system enacted by the United States Congress. Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States’ own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice system.” Maybe they should just quit prosecuting people for minor pot offenses. That would solve the problem.
Police Brutality: Congress reauthorized legislation that expired in 2006 requiring states to report the number of people killed during an arrest or while in police custody. “The first time the bill was passed [in 2000], it took years for data to start coming in, and it expired shortly thereafter.” (Washington Post) But police brutality continues. A plainclothes NYPD cop attacked and punched several times a 12-year-old while 3 uniformed cops were already holding him. Watch the video. Unbelievable. (NY Daily News)
NYPD: New York City police make an average of 648 misdemeanor (Note: not felonies) arrests per day and it costs the city more than $1 million a day. Almost 90% of those arrested are people of color. The report was done by the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) using arrest data from January to September 2014. (Newsweek)
Ignorance of the Law: It’s an excuse, if you’re a cop. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that “a police officer’s mistaken idea of the law doesn’t make an arrest and a search invalid, as long as the officer’s understanding of the law was reasonable.” The lone dissenter was Justice Sonia Sotomayor who said that “an officer’s mistake about the law, no matter how reasonable, ‘cannot support the individualized suspicion necessary’ to justify an arrest.” (NBC News)
Drug Offenders: President Obama commuted the prison sentences of 8 people convicted of drug offenses as part of the new initiative “to reduce harsh sentences under outdated guidelines.” (TWW, Reducing Prison Population, 8/17/13) He also is pardoning 12 others for “a variety of offenses.” (Guardian) However, the Washington Post pointed out that there are about 100,000 prisoners incarcerated for low-level drug offenses. 8 just isn’t enough.
Gun Control: A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit found a federal law barring people who were once committed to a mental hospital from owning a gun was unconstitutional. The law states that anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution” cannot purchase firearms. (Wall Street Journal)
CEO Salaries: They’re rising at double the rate of workers. (Guardian) This is news? We know that. But here’s where the ramifications are hitting the middle class. College presidents are making at least $1 million a year, while college tuition keeps increasing. (CNN Money)
NLRB: The National Labor Relations Board has adopted new rules for union representation cases, “significantly reducing the period between the filing of a petition and a union election.” The procedural changes include allowing petitions to be filed and transmitted electronically and changing dates for hearings and reviews. Clearly businesses are not happy about this as they expect it may increase unionization. (Forbes)
China Trade: According to the Economic Policy Institute, the growing trade deficit with China cost us 3.2 million jobs from 2001 to 2013. “Since China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the massive growth of trade between China and the United States has had a dramatic and negative effect on U.S. workers and the domestic economy. Check out the chart showing the job displacement.
Dodd-Frank: Upset about the rollback of Dodd-Frank in this year’s spending bill? Well, get used to it. “Banks and financial institutions are planning an aggressive push to dismantle parts of the Wall Street reform law when Republicans take control of Congress in January.” (The Hill)