Thursday, October 16, 2014

FRIDAY NIGHT WITHOUT THE LIGHTS


Just think: Sayreville, NJ is a borough that dates back to the beginnings of this country, but until last week you may never have heard of it. Even though it was home to luminaries like rocker Jon Bon Jovi and actors Dule Hill (The West Wing) and Greg Evigan (My Two Dads), nothing exceptional calls attention to this town of under 50,000 residents. We know it is a majority Democratic town that strongly supported Barack Obama, but voted mostly for Chris Christie for Governor.  We now know that football is something of an obsession in Sayreville, even though the Friday night lights are now dimmed indefinitely.

That’s because we also now know that several high school football players allegedly sexually assaulted other students on school property.  How to put this delicately: Let’s just say the alleged perpetrators digitally penetrated the alleged victims. High school students. In the locker room.

Seven of the accused have now been charged in the attacks.  Three of them face aggravated sexual assault, criminal restraint and hazing charges. The other four are charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact. All have been suspended from school, and the Sayreville Superintendent, Richard Labbe, has publicly stated that he is not sure if the football program will be reinstated. The local prosecutor is reportedly weighing options as to whether he will attempt to try the seven boys as adults.

Here is what I know for sure, and I do not have to be familiar with Sayreville to state this: These boys knew exactly what they were doing. Their age has nothing to do with it. When a group of people band together to restrain another person so that they can use their fingers to penetrate the victim’s body, everyone involved knows that what they are doing is wrong.
Sayreville's longtime coach, George Najjar    
Here is what else I know: When that same group of people commits the act repeatedly, there is clear intent to harm the victims. Intent to harm and commission of sex crimes are very adult behaviors.  Reportedly, there were four separate incidents in the Sayreville locker room, and authorities now want to know who else on the team witnessed the attacks on the younger players. The perpetrators should be imprisoned. According to New Jersey law, some of the seven alleged rapists could face up to 20 years in prison.

If this were an isolated incident, it would certainly be horrific enough, but the fact is that similar crimes have happened in many places in this country, perpetrated by many teenage boys. Last May, for example, three high school soccer players were convicted of crimes much like the Sayreville incident. The harshest sentence imposed was three months in a juvenile detention camp. The other two boys got probation.  In Greenfield, Iowa last April, members of the high school wrestling team allegedly punished a younger wrestler for missing practice by restraining him and penetrating him with a jump rope handle.  CBS New York reported in March that three high school track team members were accused of violently attacking another student athlete by hitting his genitals with a bottle and then penetrating him through his clothing with an object. In August, 2013, five high school student athletes in a suburb of Chicago were charged with restraining and digitally penetrating a fellow high school team member.  Other similar incidents have been reported at U.S. high schools, but the pattern is clear.

Also clear is the reluctance on the part of prosecutors to charge the teens as adults. My guess is that had said prosecutors been restrained and anally penetrated in a locker room, had they experienced the terror of a sex crime, the humiliation of being so victimized, perhaps they would not be so quick to afford these boys the light, sometimes non-existent sentences they receive. These sex crimes are not rough housing on the school playground, or bullying in the high school cafeteria. They are sex crimes. In our society, sex crimes are severely punishable. They are grownup transgressions that merit jury trials and imprisonment.

Sayreville vigil for alleged rape victims
Unlike high schoolers of the past, today’s teens have full access to the same reading materials, video presentations and other informational sources as adults have. Today’s 16 and 17-year-olds are a lot savvier about the dark sides of society than teens in the past. Everybody is wired or wireless and everybody has free entre into the realm of adult-oriented information.  Increased awareness at a younger age may not be society’s first choice, but it is the reality of our tech-flooded world. 

Maybe overexposure, or too much information too soon in life has contributed to juveniles committing very adult crimes. Who knows. But let’s not blame parents, schools, television, movies, music and the Internet. It almost isn’t necessary to figure out who to blame for 16-year-olds perpetrating heinous sex crimes against their peers. What is necessary is to make it stop. In my mind, that happens when juveniles start seeing other juveniles locked up for a long time.

And might it also be time to take football down from the pedestal we have put it on? Word is that many, many residents of Sayreville are livid that the superintendent of schools cancelled the football season. It appears the some townspeople, while not unsympathetic to the juvenile victims of the sex crimes, are far more passionate when they talk about their outrage at the
season being prematurely terminated. What is going on that the game of football has become of greater import than the well being of their own children? It is largely varsity athletes that commit these crimes in high schools. What is the message being sent to their peers when these varsity rapists get away with it?

Bottom line: In 2010, almost 10,000 minors were arrested for sex offenses, including rape, according to a report from the FBI. Their punishments and jail sentences varied from state to state, but it is unlikely that many or any of them are still in jail today. The numbers are telling us the story. All we have to do is listen, and act. Keywords: ZERO TOLERANCE.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

WHO'S RUNNING AND WHO'S NOT RUNNING IN 2016? Part Two



In Part One, we took a look at potential candidates Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. Herein we look at three conservatives and one wild card liberal who swears she is not running. Uh-huh:

TED CRUZ
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is perhaps the most extreme character in this saga. He enters with one glaring disadvantage; he looks a lot like the infamous late Joseph McCarthy. But that may be the least of his problems. Cruz, who was educated at Princeton and Harvard, is considered even by some of his naysayers as brilliant. But his brilliance does not seem to enlighten him as to the rights of all Americans: He opposes all things gay; he was staunchly against renewing the Violence Against Women Act; has not shown much regard for the environment; sees very little reason to impose gun control on Americans, in any way; supports employers’ right to deny insuring birth control.  Cruz is an extremist, to be sure. Remember when he threatened to shut down the U.S. government unless Congress defunded Obamacare? Oh, and then there was that time that Cruz proclaimed that Saturday Night Live executive producer "Lorne Michaels could be putin jail under this amendment for making fun of any politician."
Ted Cruz
That’s when he twisted a proposed Democratic-backed campaign finance amendment so that it would infringe on artists’ First Amendment rights.  Good times, huh? Is Ted Cruz dangerous? You be the judge.
PROS: First Cuban or Latino to win the Senate position he holds; One of only three Latinos in the Senate, likely to garner a huge chunk of the Hispanic vote; Knows the political game and knows Washington, having served in the Bush administration; has some appeal to extreme right wing Republicans.
CONS: Born in Canada, is he actually eligible to run for President of the U.S.? ; not in good favor with traditional Republicans; comes off as more of a dictator than an elected legislator; has been compared to infamous dictators like Hitler; Americans are not known to elected bad boys or extremist rebels to be leader of the free world.

 
MARCO RUBIO
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), as far back as May, said publicly that he does feel he is ready to be President. Here’s my take on that: Anybody who’s relatively young and relatively new to the political game, who has to actually state that he is ready to be President, is going to have a tough time convincing the electorate.
Marco Rubio
Rubio, 43, may run, but if he does, it will probably be just for the national exposure and to set the stage for a future run. He probably needs to convince Republican stalwarts that he is the future hope of the party, and that will take some doing when many he must convince are, shall we say, in the Autumn of their days. He is pro-life, supports state’s rights to decide on marriage equality; voted no on re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act; reportedly has a concealed weapon permit, but does not carry a gun; believes that children of illegal immigrants should be afforded state tuition rates; supported a $2.3 billion cut to Florida public education. Oops.
PROS: Youth, vitality, personal appeal; ethnicity; willing to take legislative risks even if it means alienating some more extreme members of his own party.
CONS: Youth; ethnicity; inexperience. Probably lacks the necessary gravitas to be President.

RAND PAUL
So far, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is the only potential 2016 presidential candidate to visit Ferguson, MO in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown. While that speaks well for him, it may just be that he is already courting the black vote.  Good luck with that, Rand. He uses every opportunity to bash Hillary Clinton, so evidently he feels this is going to be a Paul/Clinton race. Is he a Tea Party guy or a libertarian? That depends on when you listen to his rhetoric. Paul is adamantly pro-life; says states should decide on marriage equality, but believes redefining marriage is a threat to society; opposes anything that gets in the way of the right to bear arms; believes raising the retirement age would alleviate the social security shortage issue; voted no on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. Shortly after he became
Rand Paul
a senator, he proposed eliminating foreign aid to all countries. Seriously. After he was roundly bashed about that, he revised the proposal, which went nowhere. Rand Paul is an enigma of sorts, in that he doesn’t tow the line for any particular party, and he does very little to ingratiate himself to his colleagues. Still, there are those that said he could be a formidable opponent.
PROS:  Appeals to those who support individual liberties; Works hard to spread his ideology coast to coast; has risen quickly in the GOP ranks;
CONS: Too many grey areas in his stands on critical issues; probably too laissez-fare for many voters regarding government controls; not exactly a media darling already; has made a number of anti-war statements that make him come off as an isolationist; stated the the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unreasonably infringed on private businesses’ rights; as with Cruz, Ameicans are not prone to electing extremists.

ELIZABETH WARREN
Despite one denial after another after another, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is the subject of one of the most aggressive presidential drafts in recent memory.  Ready For Warren is a political action committee that is feverishly raising funds to pay for Warren’s presidential bid. What they will do with all of that cash once Warren truly doesn’t run is anybody’s guess. The Boston Globe even reported that Warren had her lawyer send a letter to the Federal Election Committee disavowing any relationship between her and Ready For Warren. Despite
Elizabeth Warren
her protests to the contrary. Warren could still change her mind. And what if she did? She’s an extreme liberal who adamantly supports abortion rights, thinks churches should provide birth control, wants the minimum wage raised to $10.10 by 2016, wants to end tax breaks for rich people, pushes for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and need I go on? She’s a left-wing American’s dreamboat. Except for weed, that is. She strongly opposes marijuana legalization.
PROS:  Provides Hillary-haters a viable alternative; relative newcomer to Washington, not tainted or jaded by political quagmire; forthright, determined demeanor.
CONS: Inexperience with the Washington insiders; Conservatives despise her and many are likely to launch hostile campaigns to discredit her.

Yes, yes I know I left out people like Joe Biden and maybe a few others. All in good time. Just be thankful Rick Santorum is not on the list. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

WHO'S RUNNING AND WHO'S NOT RUNNING IN 2016? Part One

After witnessing the prolonged political and public flogging of George W. Bush and Barack Obama for the past decade, one wonders why any sane American would want to be President. But a select few actually do aspire to the office, and right now the foundations of several campaigns are being built, as each and every potential candidate denies he or she is running. Adamant denials, evasive answers to reporters’ questions, comical teases on late night talk shows – these are the signature moves of candidates who would rather lie to the electorate as long as possible, just so they don’t have to carry the weighty responsibility of labeling themselves candidates. So, who are this year’s liars? Who will don the mandatory navy suits or fashionless corporate ensembles on the debate stage lineup in 2016?  Who’s running for President in 2016? Let’s review:


MITT ROMNEY: Roundly defeated last time, and perhaps not the most gracious loser, Romney said as recently as last week that he is not running. He lost the nomination in 2008 to John McCain, and he lost the general election in 2012 to Obama. How much rejection can one guy take, huh? If you’re a guy with an ego that has been fed for decades by titles such as President and CEO of the 2002 Olympic Organizing Committee, and Governor of Massachusetts (2003-2007), rejection may be interpreted as a mere blip on the radar screen. Romney, however, is reported by Bloomberg to have attended a power-gathering of Republican party donors at the $75 million Manhattan duplex of fat cat Republican and NY Jets owner Woody Johnson. What was Romney doing there? And Bloomberg reveals he had a hush-hush tete-a-tete with billionaire Rupert Murdoch.  Hmmmm….whatever could they have been discussing?
PROS:  Political animal, knows how to walk the walk with the big boys and girls; has been through the campaign rigors more than once and proved he has the stamina; many Republicans with big money feel comfortable supporting his aspirations; looks like a matinee idol – come on, you know it’s true.
CONS: Political animal, knows how to walk the walk with the big boys and girls; has been through the campaign rigors more than once and proved he has the stamina; sore loser, who has made a number of snarky comments about Obama since his 2012 defeat; may never, ever, ever live down his infamous 47%comment.   


HILLARY CLINTON:  Speaking of billionaires, Business Insider reports that none other than Warren Buffett said recently, “Hillary is going to run. Hillary is going to win. I will bet money on it, I don't do that easily." One thing you can say for Hillary: she’s got chutzpah and she has staying power. Most interesting about her play for the 2012 nomination was that people were not really yammering about the fact that she is a woman. Up until then the big deal was whether we should or should not elect a female, but when she ran that was not the main topic anymore. Clinton is predictably coy about her intentions for 2016, but hey, it’s more than two years away. Still, in September Hillary and Bill Clinton journeyed to Iowa – yes, Iowa.  When asked if she is running, she said, “Well it is true, I am thinking about it.” Translation: “Yes, I’m running.”
PROS:  The Clinton rock star aura is alive and well; she has a global perspective now that many of her would-be opponents do not have, simply because they have not had the opportunity to interact with world leaders across the globe; already knows her way around the presidency; if you’re a Bill Clinton fan, you’d like it that he would be her co-president (come on, let’s be real here).
CONS: Hillary Clinton is without question, a polarizing figure in America. People love her or they hate her; In 2016 she will be 68 years old. Is it a good job to take on when you’re going to be in your 70s any minute?;  She made some questionable moves as Secretary of State. Benghazi looms large over her.


CHRIS CHRISTIE: It may just be that Chris Christie has good timing. Despite his multiple missteps as Governor of New Jersey, he comes across as an everyman, which has wide appeal to voters. He’s had much-publicized struggles with his weight; he’s married to a regular woman, not a glamour queen or fashion plate. During Hurricane Sandy he showed a willingness to reach across the aisle to collaborate on restoring his state; in fact he boldly and effusively praised Obama’s efforts at that time, which was a risky public move when you’re trying to gain Republican support for a presidential run. Christie publicly stated that he is considering a run, and that he would announce his intentions by the end of this year.
PROS:  Billionaire founder of Home Depot Kenneth Langone has publicly stated he thinks Christie is the man to beat in 2016,. And Langone is more than happy to help bankroll part of the effort; Since 2013 he has been chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
CONS:  Bridgegate. Enough said; by October, Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey was at its lowest level in three years, 49 percent; in September, Standard and Poor downgraded New Jersey’s credit rating, the eighth downgrade since Christie took office. That does not bode well for the potential leader of the free world at a moment when China just overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest economy.


JEB BUSH: #Dynasty; #3sacharm?; #whatwouldGeorgesay? Are we ready for another Bush White House? The buzz was always that matriarch Barbara Bush, 89, opposed the idea of Jeb being president. But reportedly she has softened to the idea. So, that, coupled with the ever-present macho Bushboy bloodline would seem to portend another Bush candidacy.  But even though he is highly regarded in Florida, the rest of us do not exactly know where he stands on a number of other hot issues.  The thing is that we voters only know three things about him: 1) Florida seems to really like him – a lot. 2) He has some pretty moderate views on immigration; and 3) He’s big on education and has reportedly made remarkable progress in upgrading public schools in Florida.
Pros: Name recognition – internationally; national reputation as a success in his home state of Florida; he his married to a Mexican-American woman and has done very well with Hispanic voters. Reminder: Hispanics are the largest minority group in the U.S.
Cons: Jeb Bush’s wife, Columba, is known to be intensely private and one who avoids the spotlight—not a characteristic that fits well with the expectations of a contemporary first lady; the Bush name could actually work against him since it brings back murky memories of  George W.'s last term.
In Part 2, we’ll take a look at three potential candidates who could be described as…ahem…a bit more extreme in their views on certain issues, and that’s putting it mildly. Next time we’ll look at Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Hey, if nothing else, it’s going to be a colorful couple of years in the wannabe presidential arena. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 6, 2014

HIGHER TIMES IN THE USA

Picture this:  You’re 19 years old, living in Texas, and you decide on a lark to make some pot brownies. Then you decide to spice up the recipe a bit with some hash oil. You sell the brownies to other teens for $25. Stupid? Yes. Danger to society? Probably not. But in Texas, where some of the anti-drug laws are stiffer than almost anywhere else in the nation, Jacob Lavoro’s misguided baking and sales expedition could have landed him in jail – for the rest of his natural life. Fortunately, prosecutors saw their way to reason and reduced the charges at the last minute, but Lavoro may still do some jail time. The trial date is set for December, at which time he still faces the possibility of two to 20 years in prison.

Lavoro’s case has further ignited the debate about marijuana laws in this country, but anybody who thinks this national conversation is something new need only harken back to 1948, when matinee idol Robert Mitchum was busted for smoking at a party in Laurel Canyon, CA. Mitchum served two months at a prison farm (whatever that is) before resuming his career. At the time of his arrest, because the anti-drug movement was so big in Los Angeles, Mitchum’s plight was highly publicized, to the point that he thought his career would hit the skids. He was quoted as saying, “Well, this is the
bitter end of everything—my career, my marriage, everything." It was not, but in those days, his assumption made sense.

Robert Mitchum
What many people do not know is that as far back as the late 19th century, marijuana became a popular ingredient in many medicinal products and was sold openly in public pharmacies. If you want to know the evolution of anti-marijuana laws, click here.

By the 1960s marijuana was a full-fledged counter-culture staple. The “Hippie” movement of the late sixties, coupled with the “free love” trend among young people, spurred sales of marijuana to astronomical numbers theretofore unseen. One might posit that the introduction of the birth control pill begat the sexual revolution, and the addition of marijuana to the sexual experience significantly enhanced everything. That “underground” image that marijuana had for much of the 20th century has not abated much. But here we are in 2014, and 23 states have legalized marijuana use for medical purposes, and two states, Colorado and Washington have fully legalized its use for anybody.

Last year, in a piece I wrote for Discovery News I pointed out that in many parts of the world, marijuana is not a big deal. In Western Europe, South America and India, they’re looking at the U.S. and shaking their collective heads at what a brouhaha we’re making about smoking pot.  But last year, when then-Attorney General Eric Holder and CNN medical expert Dr. Sanjay Gupta both publicly came out in support of marijuana use, the tide of public opinion slightly changed. Results of a Gallup poll released late last year indicated that 58 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana.  Among respondents aged 18 – 29, that figure rose to 67 percent. The most interesting finding of that poll was that support for legalization had jumped a full 10 percent from just one year earlier.

I am from a generation that counted getting high among its routine activities. I went to college with kids who were high in class. I lived with a roommate who smoked first thing in the morning. I smoked and smoked and I’m still standing and functioning rather well. The vast majority of us did not move on to cocaine or heroin or any of the other life-threating drugs
that are often the subject of anti-marijuana activists worries. Is marijuana a gateway drug to something really, really bad? I think not.

In preparation for the Discovery News piece, I spoke with Nora Valkow, M.D., the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health. Valkow is against legalization.

“Studies show that 9 percent of those exposed to marijuana will become addicted,” Valkow said. “If you are less than 17 or 18 years old, that goes up to 16 percent.”

Even for the majority of teens who do not become addicted, Valkow said there are additional known health risks.

“My main concern with marijuana is the potential detrimental effects it can have on the developing human brain,” she said. “Exposure in adolescence can ultimately affect cognitive performance, mood and motivation and drive. Marijuana can also have adverse effects on adults. If you are taking it with a high content of THC it can make you psychotic.”

I tend to agree with Valkow about adolescents smoking pot. I think there should be an age restriction placed on the purchase and use of marijuana. I certainly do not want to see a group of middle school kids gathering in the schoolyard  having a group bong experience. There needs to be reasonable caution built into marijuana laws. We are a paternalistic society, so that reasonable caution would
certainly extend itself to young people who Valkow rightfully said are not developed enough yet to risk compromise to their cognitive abilities.

To those who are so vocal about their moral misgivings about marijuana, I’d like to know why they feel comfortable with the overabundance of sugar that enters the majority of Americans’ bodies. I’d like to know why they feel accepting of the abundance of cholesterol in our diet. And why, oh why, do they so welcome the inordinate amounts of sodium we consume? I could point out the obvious, that cigarettes are still legal in the U.S., when we have had full information about the fatal outcomes of lifelong smoking, for decades.

I would further point out that the big pharmacy industry in America has somehow slid statin drugs into legality, even though they have been proven to have serious side effects that even the FDA warns against: liver damage, memory loss and confusion, type 2 diabetes, and muscle weakness. Why?

The FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report for 2012 revealed that upwards of 750,000 Americans were arrested that year for marijuana law violations. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that of total arrests for marijuana law violations, more than 87 percent were for simple possession, not sale or manufacture. There are more arrests for marijuana possession every year than for all violent crimes combined. According to an ACLU report from last year, black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people despite comparable usage rates. Furthermore, in counties with the worst disparities, blacks were as much as 30 times more likely to be arrested.

Just like the good folks at ACLU, I support states to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana as a consumer product. I support the right of American citizens to found and operate businesses built around marijuana sales and use. I support the right of our citizens to peacefully and without government intervention, smoke marijuana in their own homes at any time. I also support the formation of trade organizations like the National Cannabis Industry Association to nurture marijuana-related businesses that will significantly enhance our national coffers and advance the interests of freedom of choice in America. In the end, I believe legalization is not so much about money or morals or a great high or anything other than that freedom of choice.

Tonight when you get home from work, when you take a couple of hits from your marijuana pipe, consider this: If you live in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Florida or Arizona, your state has the harshest marijuana laws in the country. If you want to know the penalties for marijuana possession and use in your state, click here.

As usual, I am encouraging you to speak up if you want to see changes in the law. Here’s how: Email your senators. Find their email addresses here.
Email your representatives in Congress. Find their email addresses here.
Email your governor. Find the email address here.

Just as you should speak up for your freedom of choice regarding marijuana, you already have the freedom to be heard.  I say lift every voice.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

READING, WRITING & RAPE: A Cautionary Tale


The first time many of us became aware of college-age males abusing college age females was back in 1986, when Robert Emmet Chambers, Jr. strangled Jennifer Levin in Central Park, just behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Chambers, who would later be dubbed by the press “The Preppy Murderer” eventually admitted that Levin died while the two were engaging in rough sex in the park. Accident, said he. Not so, said the prosecution. Chambers, after pleading the charges down to manslaughter, served 15 years in prison. Some (many) say he got away with murder by not being sentenced to life in prison. (Full disclosure: He’s back in prison right now, serving a sentence for illegal drug possession and use).

Fast forward to 2010. University of Virginia student Yeardley Love was found dead in her apartment. Long story short: Her on again/off again boyfriend George Huguely was found guilty of murdering her by bashing her head against the wall of her apartment repeatedly. Both in their early 20s, and both accomplished lacrosse players, their short relationship had reportedly been volatile and possibly violent before the night Love died. Huguely, for his part, had a trouble past, some skirmishes with the law and a history of alcohol abuse. Huguely is serving a 23-year sentence.

NFL Vet John Elway and his son, John, Jr.
Now, pull yourself all the way up to 2014, when former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway’s son pulled his girlfriend from a car by her hair after an argument. He then shoved her to the ground when she tried to get back inside, causing scrapes to her knees. After that he ran from the scene and went straight to his father’s house. Elway, Jr. was charged with assault, a charge that was inexplicably later reduced to disturbing the peace. His ultimate sentence? Probation, with a year of mandatory domestic violence counseling. No jail time. No compensation for his victim. No record if he successfully completes his counseling. No accountability. I guess because the girl didn’t die like Jennifer Levin and Yeardley Love? Or maybe because his dad is universally worshipped at the altar of NFL greats. Either way, John, Jr. beat the rap, bigtime.

How much of this brand of domestic abuse is happening on and off of college campuses coast to coast is unknown. That is largely because of two things: First, many young girls do not report rape or beatings simply because they are afraid or ashamed; and, unfortunately, many academic institutions sweep these cases under the campus rug simply to safeguard their reputation and attract future students. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reveals that 60 percent of rape victims do not report their attacks to police, and 40 percent of victims are under the age of 18.

Most disturbing is the reluctance on the part of the schools, coast to coast, to turn over their findings about these attacks to police. Even when a school’s internal investigation determines that a victim’s story is credible, the schools often bury the information or do not turn it over the police until years later. Consider the case of Sasha Menu, who was a student at the University of Missouri. In 2011, Menu checked herself into the university’s hospital. On her admittance forms, under a category that asked about sexual assault, Menu reportedly wrote “Rape/Football player.”
Sasha Menu
She also revealed she had discussed her attack with her academic advisor. The advisor denies this. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and her parents moved her to a hospital closer to home. It was not until April of this year that the University revealed results of an independent investigation into Menu’s claims of assault, and vowed to change its policies regarding such attacks. Unfortunately, it was too little too late for Menu, who had committed suicide three years ago.

Why did it take four years for the University of Missouri to own up to its negligence?  Why is it only now that the Columbia, MO police department is investigating the attack on Menu? Could it be for the same reason that students at Columbia University filed a federal complaint earlier this year that claimed rape perpetrators and their victims are treated unequally by the school? The claim is that victims are discouraged from reporting their attacks to police, and that perpetrators are allowed to remain on campus and in school.


Demonstration at DePaul University, Chicago
Also this year, in Chicago, DePaul University students publicly accused administrators of covering up sexual assaults on campus.  Similar complaints have been lodged by students at Vanderbilt, University of North Carolina, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan University, Dartmouth, University of California at Berkeley, John Hopkins University, University of Oregon, Yale, Columbia University, Amherst University, Florida State University, – need I go on? Campus domestic violence and rape knows no geographic or economic boundaries.

Way back in 1972, Title IX, a part of Education Amendments, made it clear that any school that is awarded federal money is to be held legally liable if administrators are aware of and ignore campus sexual harassment or assault. Several current complaints lodged by student groups refer to Title IX in their statements. Further, the Clery Act of 1990 has specific requirements for universities and colleges regarding sexually violent incidents. The Clery Act also requires schools to disclose annual crime statistics.

In April of this year, the White House released new guidelines for institutions of higher education to fight the national rash of campus sexual assaults. The guidelines came from a presidential-appointed task force that revealed a startling statistic: One in five college age women are attacked on campus. One in five. If you are reading this and you have a daughter away at school, wake up please. If you have a son that you’re sending away to school, wouldn’t it make sense to pounds some good sense into him about respect for other human beings, before he has an opportunity to succumb to peer pressure? Further, the panel found that only 12 percent of these incidents are reported. If you are a victim of such an attack, speak up.

From the outside looking in, aren’t there some obvious fixes to this epidemic of campus violence? First, in many of campus rape cases, there are observers or multiple participants. Let’s train students to intervene when necessary and protect victims or potential victims. Second, the government needs
to get serious about cutting funding to Title IX entitled schools every single time a case of campus rape is proven and not acted upon by the administration. Third, campuses need to crack down on frequent incidences of binge drinking, an activity that often precedes sexual or other domestic violence. And finally, campus administrations need to quit resisting student protest groups and setting them up as adversaries. Instead, they need to listen and act upon the students’ complaints.

And once we get things straight on college campuses, some of the same steps need to be taken in the U.S. military, the American corporate system, hospitals and anywhere else gender inequality rears its head in a way that potentially foretells incidents of violence, domestic or otherwise.

Monday, September 29, 2014

THE NEW NORMAL: THE POLICE AS PUBLIC ENEMY


Levar Jones, 35, an assistant manager at a Subway store, was stopped in his hometown of Columbia, SC on September 4 for a seatbelt violation. After Officer Sean Groubert, 31, a State Trooper instructed Jones to produce his license, Jones, who was standing outside the vehicle, reached in the front seat to comply with the order. When he turned around, Groubert fired four shots in rapid succession, one hitting Jones in the hip. Nobody knows why Groubert fired, but other citizens will not have to worry about him, because once the powers that be saw the videotape from Groubert’s dashcam, Groubert was fired and charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature for the shooting. He faces 20 years in prison if convicted. He will likely also face civil charges for assault or even federal civil rights charges over this incident. It bears mentioning that Groubert is white, and Jones is black. Here is the video from Groubert’s dashcam.



What you just witnessed could happen in your town or my town; in Peoria just as easily as in Poughkeepsie. Detroit, Provo, Anchorage, St. Louis, Galveston, Jersey City, you name it. Nationwide, urban, suburban and state police forces are hiring young people (mostly male), who complete what many might consider minimal training before being let loose on the streets, with firearms and a type of authority with which most people their age are unfamiliar.  State Trooper training in South Carolina lasts 17 weeks. That’s it. Poof.  Four months and you’re a cop. No college required, just a high school diploma or a GED. Oh, and you can do all of this at the tender age of just 21. Some of these rookie cops are so young they still live with mom and dad.

For the moment, let’s travel north to Brooklyn, NY, where that same 21-year-old can become an officer with the NYPD with six months of “intensive” training. Presumably, the unnamed Brooklyn officer who tackled a very pregnant Sandra Amezquita to the ground on a city street had undergone that training. Amezquita was trying to intervene as officers arrested her 17-year-old son. Before she was violently forced to the ground, she was struck in the abdominal area with a police baton. Another woman, who tried to help Amezquita was forcefully pushed to the street by another officer.  Again, there is a video. Watch:



Of course both of these incidents come just weeks after Officer Darren Wilson, 28, shot and killed Michael Brown, 18 in Ferguson, MO, after Wilson considered Brown a suspect in the theft of some cigars. Wilson is a four-year “veteran” of the Ferguson police department, having served two years before that on the Jennings, MO police force. Wilson started his career at 22 years old.

While I cannot authoritatively comment on the personal lives and backgrounds of Groubert, the unnamed Brooklyn cop or Wilson, let’s just say there is an obvious pattern of brutality and abuse in these cases, and they are not isolated incidents. Jones was complying with Groubert’s order; Amezquita was visibly pregnant, and Brown, unarmed, allegedly had his hands up in the air when he was shot. 

As usual, the numbers tell the story: 
  • The FBI reports that a white police officer shot a black citizen on an average of twice a week in the seven years from 2005 to 2012 in the U.S.
  • ·Between 2003 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that 4,813 people died while in the process of arrest or in the custody of law enforcement.
  •  The FBI stats indicate about 400 U.S. citizens each year are killed by police officers in acts of “justifiable homicide.” Compare that statistic to six in Australia, six in Germany and two in Australia.
  • As opposed to those citizens killed each year, in 2012 (the most recent year stats are available), 48 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty.
  •  The Lavar Jones incident is the 32nd officer-involved shooting in South Carolina in 2014, according to the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division.
  •  Black Americans are killed by law enforcement officers in an inordinately higher percentage than white Americans. Case in point: Chicago. In 2012, there were 57 police shootings in Chicago. Fifty of those shot were black, according to the city's own published statistics.
Former S.C. State Trooper Sean Groubert
Having chewed on these and many other statistics for the past several days, there are a number of elements of this street war culture that occur to me.  First, every local and state police organization requires officer applicants to go through a psychological evaluation, but none of them make the details of the evaluations or the individual results available to the public. Just how deeply are we delving in to the psyches of these 20-something, over-testosteroned males who are patrolling our cities? Are they being adequately tested for behavior traits such as impulse control? Are they being deeply questioned and investigated as to their beliefs about racial issues? What do the hiring agents at these agencies know about the applicants’ family and peer influences as it regards race? Why are there so many instances of police brutality and over-use of excessive force that go unpunished?

As mentioned earlier, Grouber has been heavily charged in the South Carolina case, and the buzz now is that his attorney will use Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a defense. We have no way of knowing if he suffers from PTSD, but the big question will be whether the South Carolina State Police even monitor their officers for PTSD. Is it even a topic of consideration? And if there is a rash of PTSD permeating our local and state police forces, how many other disordered, heavily armed cops are freely roaming our streets in or out of uniform?

To add to all of this, there appears to be a type of arms race between citizens on the street and law enforcement officers. There is an increased availability of firearms to almost everyone in this country, at the same time there appears to be a diminished respect for human life on both sides. That disturbing trend certainly showed itself in Ferguson, MO, when law enforcement produced military style weaponry and defense vehicles in preparation for violent rioting which never came.

I see our current cultural shift this way: Once everyday Americans become fearful of the police, rather than trusting, fewer and fewer will depend on law enforcement when the need arises. Already   
Former NOPD Officer Joshua Colclough and Wendell Allen
some citizens in heavily populated urban areas express their fear of calling the police. At the same time, once police begin to view citizens as alternately enemy combatants and expendable, no one is safe even in their own homes. Best evidence? In 2012, in my town, New Orleans, police executed a drug raid on a local home. One of the officers, Joshua Colclough, was walking up the stairs in the house when resident Wendell Allen appeared at the top of the stairs. Allen was unarmed and shirtless, and his hands were visible. Officer Colclough instantly shot Allen dead. After two years of legal wranglings, Colclough backed out of a plea deal to plead guilty to negligent homicide and was ultimately found guilty of manslaughter. His sentence? Four years in prison. Said Allen’s mother of her dead son: “He was my everything. He was my superstar.”

For the record, the white Colclough was 27 at the time of the murder (my word), and the black Allen was 20 years old.

Colclough’s case is not unique to New Orleans. Until law enforcement agencies make applicant requirements more stringent, require more education for recruits and take psychological testing and monitoring more seriously, how many more Wendell Allens and Michael Browns will there be? And why are people like Darren Wilson and Joshua Colclough immune from murder charges in cases like theirs? Sure looks like cold blooded murder to me.

Fortunately, the citizenry is beginning to demand to be heard. On Friday, September 27, a citizen rally was held in Brooklyn (right)  to protest police violence.
This came just after the pregnant Sandra Amezquita incident. In Ferguson, MO, marchers recently held rallies demanding the resignation of Police Chief Thomas Jackson. In New Orleans, still a hotbed or violent crime, Police Chief Ronald Serpas recently resigned his post. Earlier this year, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne resigned amid a number of controversies, some involving officers’ unwarranted use of excessive force. One notable case involved an officer who shot and killed a 25-year-old mother in her kitchen because he believed she was about to attack him with a meat cleaver that turned out to be a vegetable peeler with a six-inch blade. 

Marchers at the New York rally demanded the resignation of NYPD Chief Bill Bratton, carrying signs that said such things as “100 Chokeholds, 0 Cops fired; Who Runs this Town?”  Who, indeed.

Friday, September 26, 2014


You may not know it, but you could easily be on a government watch list for individuals who pose a terrorist threat.  I know; I know. It’s laughable to you that you and your infant child and overworked spouse or partner  may be a threat to humanity as you board a plane to go see your in-laws that you probably don’t want to see anyway. But your name may be front and center on a watch list. In fact, hundreds of thousands of ordinary American citizens have made the “blacklists.”

But have you heard of whitelists? These are the lists of certain Americans, such as legislators, Senators, judges, Defense Department employees, Homeland Security advisors, national intelligence workers and others who are eligible for expedited screening at airports, simply by virtue of the nature of their employment.  The assumption seems to be that no one who occupies any of these positions could ever snap and put a bomb in his shoe.

The reality of our government watching every move we make, monitoring our behavior and deciding if we’re good guys or bad guys has gone awry.  Get this: The FBI uses the term “reasonable suspicion” to call attention to any American deemed even slightly risky. The problem is that such everyday things as a Twitter or Facebook post can pile the “reasonable suspicion” label on your shoulders for the rest of your life. I, for example, write this blog about sometimes rather controversial topics, and sometimes I take somewhat unpopular stands on issues that I feel are unjust. Over the past five years I have written pieces  about such topics as police overstepping their authority; the citizen movement for secession from the U.S.; judges who make rulings based on their personal biases; citizens who have been physical attacked by law enforcement  for videotaping arrests, and many others.  Does that make me “reasonably suspicious?”  I think not. It makes me one who honors the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Therein is the rub: You can exercise your rights in this country and easily be the subject of government scrutiny.  In July, the Associated Press reported that over the past five years, more than 1.5 million people have been added to the U.S. government’s terrorist watch lists. 
Really?  Well, you have to understand how easy it is go make the list. And once you’re on a list, other problems may confront you. If you are stopped for speeding, for example, the officer has the ability to tap into a database that indicates if you are on watch list. If you are on a list, the officer will many times dig a little deeper into your life, and that traffic stop that might have lasted 10 minutes turns into 30 minutes. I don’t know about you, but my boss isn’t real impressed when I show up 30 minute late for work.

What you also might not know is that if you’re on a watch list, screeners at the airport have the right to peruse your belongings in a much more invasive way. For example, they are allowed to look at the titles of any books you may be carrying.  So, if I’m carrying “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx, and/or the Q’uran, and if I happen to have made the cut for a watch list because of my controversial views expressed in this blog, I can be detained. The guidelines for screeners also indicate that when looking at these books, they should examine the condition – “e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened." If you feel inclined to wade through the full guidelines, clickhere.

Meanwhile, just as our government continually upgrades its capacity and authority to peek into our private lives, so do other entities, such as credit card companies and insurance companies. Exhibit A: Have you seen those little credit card reading devices that mobile vendors use to accept your payment for services?  Some drivers of cars for hire use them, as well as landscapers, home improvement workers, etc. They swipe your card in the hand held device and have you sign with your finger and the transaction is complete. What you may not know is that not too long ago, the makers of Square Reader, a highly popular device quietly and unceremoniously sent a change of terms to vendors using their device.  The terms now read, in part:
“…you will not accept payments in connection with the following businesses or business activities; sales of firearms, firearm parts or hardware, and ammunition; or weapons and other devices designed to cause physical injury.”

So don’t look for a Square Reader at your local gun show. Did someone fail to mention to Square Reader that we have a little something called the Second Amendment, which clearly protects your rights to keep and bear arms? Is it just me, or are we teetering on a slippery slope here? What’s next? Should Square Reader stop accepting payments for soft drinks with lots of sugar, or cigarettes, or vodka, or marijuana in states where it is legal, or sex toys that offend some people?  Since when do makers of these modern day cash registers decide what everyday Americans can and cannot purchase?

Under my same “what the hell is going on” category, I’d mention subprime loans for cars. If you’re a responsible, well-healed citizen you may not be familiar with subprime loans. These are loans that are made to people who may be high risk for repaying, such as unemployed people or people with very low credit ratings, or people with a lot of debt or a history of sluggishly paying their debts. And yes, the interest rates are crazy high.

But now comes new technology that allows lenders to essentially control the vehicles for which they have loaned you money. It is an ignition device that the lender can activate if you’re late with one of your loan payments. They can disable your ignition from afar until you pay what you owe.  Not only that, a few days before your payment is due, the device begins to beep, and the beeps get louder and more frequent the closer you get to your payment due date. And there’s more: the devices have tracking devices, so that if you don’t pay your bill on time, the lender can easily and instantly find you. Perhaps they will find you in the middle of an Interstate highway, or on your way to a hospital to deliver a baby, or at a stoplight at a busy intersection, with cars behind you blasting their horns because you are unable to move your car. Watch:


Said one friend of mine in her ultimate wisdom, “Everybody and their brother is in our shit now.”

That brother she mentioned is “Big Brother.” As far back as 1977, a commission charged with examining privacy among U.S. citizens stated, “The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable.” Remember, this was pre-personal computing, pre- digital communication and pre-electronic tracking devices. How prescient.

In the meantime, citizens need to speak up about the loss of their rights, because history teaches us that once a right is lost in this country, it never comes back. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to  get “everybody and their bother” out of our shit, as my friend would say? I think we do. Our long-departed buddy, Benjamin Franklin said it this way:

“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”

Just be prepared that when you indeed do question authority, you may quickly be added to some watch list, somewhere, and you may never, ever know it.