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Richard Burr 2It’s nothing new for Senator Richard Burr to express embarrassing views or to engage in inexplicable political behavior, but the senator’s comments yesterday on the horrific findings in the new report on the CIA’s un-American torture program hit a new low.

As you can read for yourself here and here, the torture report details a long, disturbing (and ineffective!) list of disgraceful actions taken in the name of the American people. Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully described the actions of the CIA and its contractors in this morning’s lead editorial as “brutal and illegal.”

Sadly, however, Burr, the soon-to-be chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, opted to turn the findings into partisan political fodder by describing them as “a blatant smear on the Bush administration,” and unnecessary because  the information was “already known by the vast majority of Americans.”

You got that? People acting in our name did this:

“CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”

and this:

“(1) the attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap, (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) waterboard, (10) use of diapers, (11) use of insects, and (12) mock burial.”

but according to Richard Burr, it’s no biggie and shining the light of day on such horrific information is “political.”

One shudders to imagine what kind of behavior Burr would be outraged by. It’s a sad state of affairs that a man with such an off-kilter moral compass now stands near the top of the American foreign policy establishment.

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As today’s Fitzsimon File explains in detail, not a whole lot of good things have happened on either the gun violence or mental health fronts in North Carolina during the two years since the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut:

“The National Alliance on Mental Illness released a report this week that finds reforms have stalled since Newtown with Congress again failing to pass comprehensive mental health legislation.

Efforts in the states are sputtering as well. The report examines the push to increase funding for mental health programs after the deep cuts made during the Great Recession.  It finds that many states increased mental health funding in 2013 and some managed to invest more in 2014 too, though not nearly as many.

Only six states in the country slashed mental health funding in both 2013 and 2014. North Carolina was one of them.”

Fortunately, there is something you can do about this absurd situation — right away, in fact. This Thursday evening, December 11 at 7:00 p.m., North Carolinians Against Gun Violence will hold a vigil to mark the second anniversary of Newtown and to organize against future tragedies of this kind. Here are the details:

According to recent statistics, there have been at least 91 school shootings, including fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides, and unintentional shootings, since the tragic assault in Newtown, CT. Since Newtown, there has been nearly one school shooting per week.

On December 11th at 7pm we will be having a candlelit vigil to remember these victims as well as the 60,000 American victims of gun violence since December 2012.

WHEN : December 11, 2014 at 7pm – 8pm

WHERE: Judea Reform Congregation, 1933 W Cornwallis Rd in Durham  – Google map and directions

QUESTIONS? Contact Becky Ceartas  at ncgv@ncgv.org or 919-403-7665

Hope to see you there.

Commentary

The good people at Too Much Online - a newsletter put out by the group Inequality.org have an interesting and provocative idea that would seem guaranteed to improve the image of  America’s nonprofit community (which has been suffering from depressed contributions of late) and help combat the nation’s runaway inequality: cap nonprofit CEO salaries.

“Jack Gerard, the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, pulled down $13.3 million in compensation last year. Yet his Institute operates as a ‘nonprofit’ — and reaps a variety of tax benefits from that status. In effect, average Americans are subsidizing this lobbying giant for the fossil fuels industry. Back in 1998, a member of Congress from New Jersey, Robert Menendez, introduced legislation to cap the salary that nonprofit executives could grab at no more than the salaries of U.S. cabinet secretaries, currently just under $200,000. That legislation never moved. But economist Dean Baker recently resurrected the notion of limiting the executive pay nonprofits could dish out and still qualify for nonprofit status. That limit could be tied to the ratio between a nonprofit’s CEO and typical worker pay. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act requires for-profit corporations to disclose this ratio. Menendez introduced this disclosure mandate provision.”

Sounds like a good idea to us. As economist Dean Baker notes in the column cited above (which discusses the idea of capping the pay of university presidents):

“The universities will also complain that they cannot get qualified people for $400,000 a year. This one should invite a healthy dose of ridicule. If we can get qualified people to run the Defense Department and Department of Health and Human Services for half this amount, perhaps their school is not the sort of institution that deserves taxpayer support if it can’t find anyone willing to make the sacrifice of running the place for twice the pay of a cabinet secretary.

Free market economics is so much fun!”

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Eric Garner

Photo: www.commondreams.org

The issue of young men of color dying in police custody has been dominating the national news of late and rightfully so. Millions of Americans in many cities — mostly people of color — live in fear and/or distrust of the police in their communities and this is not a recipe for a healthy society. Concerted action — protests, demands, and action by community leaders and elected officials — are all necessary if we are are going to tackle this unacceptable situation.

Dana Millbank of the Washington Post was right recently when he wrote that President Obama would do well to seize the moment surrounding the outrage that’s occurred across the political spectrum in the Eric Garner case out of New York (tragically pictured above) in which a young man was killed by a police choke hold. As Millbank noted, the Garner tragedy offers some glimmers of hope in that the killing is actually drawing harsh assessments from white commentators on the right who rushed to the defense of the police officer in the Ferguson, Missouri case.

What to really DO about the situation, however, is less clear. Millbank says President Obama should  look at creating alternatives the grand juries for investigating police deaths. Others are pushing the idea of police body cameras. Those are both promising ideas as far as they go.

The real solution that no one really seems to want to talk about, however, is this: Read More

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Reporter Dylan Scott at Talking Point Memo has the details of another wonky but important way that the Affordable Care Act is succeeding in holding down health care costs:

The medical-loss-ratio requirement mandates that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual health benefits. It is one of the various provisions intended to help shape the behavior of insurance companies, making the market more efficient and cost-effective for consumers. Administrative costs are kept down, meaning that more of people’s money is going to real care.

“The medical loss ratio requirement and rate review mandated by the ACA put downward pressure on premium growth,” officials from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote in their report. Overall private insurance spending, of which premiums are a part, grew at a 2.8-percent rate — the lowest since at least 2007.

As Larry Levitt, vice president at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, put it to TPM in an email: “That is how it’s intended to work.”

In other words: Still more evidence that the ACA is insuring more people (and thereby saving tens of thousands of lives) and holding down overall health care costs.

Click here to read the entire story.