Category Archives: United States

In 2016, An “Historic” RNC Convention

Right, Left or Center, at least one aspect of this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio can certainly be agreed upon… it was a fascinating series of events.

At its most basic level, we can all be thankful that the convention was successful– there were no major acts of violence or dangerous disruption, and hopefully everyone that participated will have a safe a journey home.  Whether one agrees with the politics or not, all Americans can be proud that this year’s RNC was kept safe.

But of course, being safe and feeling safe are often two very different emotions.  As Elle Magazine’s Melissa Harris-Perry shares, the RNC didn’t

Every night this week in Cleveland, the energy has waned as the hour progressed. By the time media left the Arena at 11 p.m., the building was only half full. Tonight was different. Mr Trump’s speech brought delegates and their energy to a late night crescendo. Chants we heard all week increased in fervor, volume, intensity, and frequency—” Build that wall!” “Lock her Up!” “U-S-A!”

The police presence we experienced all week was more visible than ever.

It occurred to me 30 minutes into Mr. Trump’s speech that when he finished we would be facing the classic problem of large venue events, say, concerts for example: everyone was going to leave at the same time. This would be the first time all week when we would all be streaming out at ounce. Trump supporters, fearing immigrants and criminals and hoarse from chanting about walls and locks would be in tight quarters with the liberal media liars. Team Trump is stoked by the discourse of the speech.

Keep in mind, RNCers had just undergone a week of hotel induced sleeplessness, long meetings, late nights, and cocktail parties. Then, throw in the protestors we would all have to pass as we left the zone of the arena.

Suddenly I was viscerally afraid.

Compared to any other Republican National Convention in recent memory, and certainly in the 21st century, 2016 seemed one for the books in terms of blatant vitriol, at least the kind that was caught on camera.  It’s also true that Ms. Perry’s identity as an African-American woman proved to be much more the exception than the rule for this year’s RNC.  Per The Washington Post, of the 2,472 convention delegates in attendance, just 18 of those were African-American… an historic low not seen in nearly century.  And of course, this is against the backdrop of country which is more diverse than ever before.  All season long, the Trump organization and the GOP have boasted about the monumental “growth” of the party… more primary voters than ever before, and historic voter registration numbers.  That may be true, but it isn’t the same growth that is occurring in the rest of America.

Even the moments that could be considered true “brights spots” contained noticeable shade. Peter Thiel, Billionaire businessman and believed to be the first ever openly gay male to speak at a National GOP Convention gave a rousing speech showing himself proud to be gay and a Republican.  But in virtually the same breath, he also throws transgender Americans under the bus by undervaluing their most fundamental rights.  To his question, “who cares?” about bathrooms??  The same people which shared that room with him and worked tirelessly to repeal Pro-Equality legislation certainly do.  Indeed it must be nice to be a Billionaire who also happens to be gay.

But thanks to some careful, and historic planning by Fairness USA, some of Thiel’s hateful messaging was countered. The groundbreaking TV ad, which debuted on Fox News, allows the American public to finally see the Transgender equality issue from the other side.  In my opinion, this is the kind of history which is long overdue.

So as Texas Leftist predicted one year ago, RNC 2016 is now in the books, and Donald Trump has claimed his place as the Retrumplican…  err I mean Republican Party’s new leader.  Between you and me, the DNC 2016 can’t come fast enough.

RNC

Terrorist Trump??

Just when things start looking up for the GOP Presumptive Nominee, we all remember that even Hillary’s sloppy email practices cannot save Donald Trump from, well… Donald Trump.

Here’s the story from Nick Visser of the Huffington Post

Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee for the Republican presidential nomination, once again lauded deposed Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein during a campaign stop.

Speaking at a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Tuesday evening, Trump praised what he said was Hussein’s innate ability to kill terrorists “so good.” While it’s not the first time he’s mentioned the former leader, this time Trump elaborated that he appreciated Hussein’s authoritarian take on civil liberties.

“You know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good,” Trump said. “They didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were a terrorist, it was over.”

Some may view this clip as a simple statement of fact.  Trump is correct that under an authoritarian regime, few people have to sit around wondering about the Civil Liberties implications of murder.  So yes, Saddam Hussein did indeed kill terrorists in a highly efficient manner.

But here’s the problem… Hussein killed lots of other people with efficiency as well, including millions of innocent Iraqi citizens. They did not ‘read them rights’ because under a dictatorship, they didn’t have rights.  For Trump to laud Hussein’s method of handling terrorism, we must also realize that it is an endorsement of “shoot first, ask later”.  If you’re going to endorse such things on the campaign trail, does that mean that all of our rights get thrown out the window the day ‘Terrorist Trump’ is sworn in?

Most Americans probably don’t want to find out.

Trump Hussein

 

Sent: Hillary Clinton Will NOT Face Charges Over Emails

After years of swirling controversy and thousands of hours worth of Press coverage, it appears that one of 2016’s most prominent political ‘scandals’ has finally met its end.

You know… the one about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

If you haven’t been paying attention, here’s the general run-down. Throughout her time in the Senate, Clinton used a personal email, and ran the servers from her home.  As odd as this may sound to those of us in the Tech generation, it is a surprisingly common practice for high-level members of Congress to use personal email.

When she became Secretary of State in 2009, she continued to use her personal email and maintain the servers from her home, and no one in the upper echelons of government corrected her at the time.  We must emphasize the term continued here, because for 8 years as a United States Senator, she used her private email account to no objection. This wasn’t some malicious move made the second she ascended to the office at State. Framed in context, it is possible to see the reasoning here.

But that doesn’t mean the reasoning was correct. As Secretary of State, part of the job is to have involved interactions with foreign governments, including many folks that the United States would deem as “untrustworthy actors”.  If one assumes that a personal server is less secure than those run by the federal government, any electronic communications with said actors carry a great deal of risk.  This is what FBI Director James Comey made crystal clear as he announced the results of the agency’s exhaustive investigation into the email saga.  From the full transcript of his statement via The Washington Post…

Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).

None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government — or even with a commercial service like Gmail.

[…]

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.

With all the evidence present, it’s clear that the standards for what most people consider ‘best practices’ of electronic communication were not met.  But were these failings attributed exclusively to Clinton, or were they at issue in previous administrations?  According to a House Oversight Committee Report confirming widespread use of personal emails among Clinton’s predecessors, Condoleezza Rice claims that she used a .gov account, but the State Department was unable to produce conclusive records from her time in the office. Colin Powell, like Clinton, admits to having used a personal email account.  Only since Secretary John Kerry has there even been an expectation that Secretaries of State use a government email account.  In the wake of these results, it’s important to weigh Clinton’s actions within this context.  If she followed the lead set by previous office holders, why are her actions being singled out as exceptional?  Is the FBI willing to bring charges up against Secretaries Powell and Rice??  Onky if they run for President, I guess.

Surprisingly enough, there is a bright side to this controversy.  Unlike several other GOP-led attempts to destroy Democratic rivals, at least the time and money spent on this one yielded some concrete results.  Hillary Clinton’s email practices were a problem, and now she, and the whole federal government will be much less careless with their electronic records.

In any event, the message has been sent.

HRC1

‘Civil Death’: SCOTUS Eviscerates Fourth Amendment, Validates Police Profiling

The Supreme Court may not be complete, but that doesn’t mean they are any less capable of causing a firestorm.  In what seems to be an incredibly short-sighted decision, a major pillar of the United States Constitution has been all but gutted.  Here’s the information from the New York Times editorial board…

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government — or that’s how it works in theory, anyway.

In practice, though, court decisions over several decades have created so many exceptions to this constitutional principle as to render it effectively meaningless in many real-world situations.

On Monday, the Supreme Court further weakened the Fourth Amendment by making it even easier for law enforcement to evade its requirement that stops be based on reasonable suspicion. The justices ruled 5 to 3 that a police officer’s illegal stop of a man on the street did not prevent evidence obtained from a search connected to that stop to be used against him.

The case, Utah v. Strieff, started when the police in Salt Lake City got an anonymous tip of drug activity at a house. An officer monitoring the house became suspicious at the number of people he saw entering and leaving. When one of those people, Edward Strieff, left to walk to a nearby convenience store, the officer stopped him and asked for his identification. A routine check revealed that Mr. Strieff had an outstanding “small traffic warrant.” The officer arrested him based on that earlier warrant, searched him and found drugs in his pockets.

The State of Utah agreed that the initial stop was illegal, because it was not based on reasonable, individual suspicion that Mr. Strieff was doing anything wrong. Instead, the state argued that the discovery of the valid warrant — after the illegal stop — got around the Fourth amendment violation.

The Utah Supreme Court rightly rejected this argument, but that decision was overturned in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas. The officer’s lack of any specific suspicion of Mr. Strieff, Justice Thomas wrote, was a result of “good-faith mistakes.” The illegal stop was, at worst, “an isolated instance of negligence.”

So basically, police can suspect anything they want about an individual, and use that information as an excuse to detain them, check for warrants, and then quite possibly disrupt the entirety of their life.  And I suppose if one has never been profiled by the police, and never had any reason to think that they would be, this judgement seems rather sensible.  It’s not like police officers ever make mistakes, or use their judgement in an unfair way, right?

It’s important to note here that this was a 5 to 3 decision by the court, with Justices Clarence Thomas (who wrote the majority opinion), Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito in the majority.  The three dissenters?  Justices Elena Kagen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

So at least on the face of it, gender appears to be a factor.  But let’s spend a brief moment to also discuss the court’s only true racial minority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  Remember during her confirmation, the whole firestorm around being “Wise Latina“?  In her dissenting opinion to this case, that wisdom shines through like never before.  Directly from Justice Sotomayor’s dissent

The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.

[…]

The officer’s control over you does not end with the stop. If the officer chooses, he may handcuff you and take you to jail for doing nothing more than speeding, jaywalking, or “driving [your] pickup truck . . . with [your] 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter . . . without [your] seatbelt fastened.” Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U. S. 318, 323–324 (2001). At the jail, he can fingerprint you, swab DNA from the inside of your mouth, and force you to “shower with a delousing agent” while you “lift [your] tongue, hold out [your] arms, turn around, and lift [your] genitals.” Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, 566 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2012) (slip op., at 2–3); Maryland v. King, 569 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 28). Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the “civil death” of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check.

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged. We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283 (2002). They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.

What Justice Sotomayor says here can hardly be improved upon.  It’s a shame that our nation’s Supreme Court has cleared the way for the “Civil Death” of millions of Americans, and the 4th Amendment of our Constitution.  Sadly, the only ones who can affect this ruling are Congress, and it is far from a major election issue.  Let’s hope others learn the truth of this ruling, and soon.  But in the midst of such an atrocious oversight, at least those Americans most prone to police profiling had a few voices on the court to speak the truth.

Sotomayor

Pride Houston To Hold Vigil for Orlando Shooting Victims

As Americans are still learning about the tragedy that befell an Orlando, Florida nightclub, LGBT communities across the nation are organizing to mourn the victims, and call for action.

From the Inbox, here’s a notification from Pride Houston…

Tonight we stand in solidarity against hate in any form. Tonight we stand together in strength to show that fear will not win. Tonight we stand in silence as we mourn the lives lost in the senseless act of terrorism in Orlando.

We stand with our allies, friends, families and loved ones.

Join us for a candlelight vigil to grieve those LGBT people and allies lost in the attack.

We Stand In Love

Tonight, June 13, 2016 – 6:00pm
The Montrose Center
401 Branard St, Houston, Texas 77006

Organized by:

Pride Houston
The Montrose Center
Legacy Community Health

 

So if you’re in Houston, here’s an opportunity to stand with the community in Orlando. But even beyond the shows of support, it’s high time that we call for actions that can prevent and abate the ‘easy access’ to such weapons of slaughter. Why do people that have been placed on the FBI terror watch list even have such access to purchase guns? It’s a question worth asking, and an action worth taking so these types of tragedies don’t continue.

image

Austin’s South By Southwest Gets Presidential

Long known for it’s natural beauty and idyllic setting in the Texas Hill Country, the state capital of Austin has been a favorite gathering place for many prominent music and arts festivals. The largest of them all is South By Southwest (SXSW)… over three decades strong.

In 2016 SXSW will enter a new level of prominence as it goes Presidential for the first time ever.

Here’s info via the SXSW official announcement, written by Hugh Forrest…

SXSW is honored to announce President Barack Obama will appear as part of a Keynote Conversation at SXSW Interactive on Friday, March 11 and First Lady Michelle Obama will be the opening Keynote at SXSW Music on Wednesday, March 16. This marks the first time in the 30-year history of SXSW that a sitting President and the First Lady have participated in the event.

On Friday, March 11, President Obama will sit down with Evan Smith, CEO / Editor in Chief of The Texas Tribune, for a conversation about civic engagement in the 21st Century before an audience of creators, early adopters and entrepreneurs who are defining the future of our connected lives. The President will call on the audience to apply their ideas and talents to make technology work for us – especially when it comes to tackling big challenges like increasing participation in the political process and fighting climate change.

[…]

On Wednesday, March 16, First Lady Michelle Obama comes to SXSW Music to discuss the Let Girls Learn initiative, which aims to break barriers for the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school today, more than half of whom are adolescent. The SXSW Music Conference brings the global music industry together and offers the perfect platform to celebrate Women’s History Month, as the First Lady provides her call to action to support girls’ education.

Texas may be a decidedly Red State, but the “blue dot” that is Austin is buzzing about the President and First Lady’s upcoming visit.  And from the tone of President Obama’s weekly address, the White House seems to be excited as well…

For more on the historic appearance at “South By”, check out coverage from The Texas Tribune.

Obama Tech

 

 

Music Musings: Sony Music Forges New Ground in Africa

On this February 29th and last day of Black History Month for the United States, it’s always important to take some time and celebrate the many contributions African-Americans have made in the country.  Certainly that rich legacy must include the many accomplishments of President Barack Obama, as his historic time in office nears its end.

But even as Americans look back at the Obama legacy, it’s also important to leap forward and see the ways this President has forged a path to the future.  The President and First Lady have worked very hard to strengthen ties with nations in Africa, and today’s news shows that the U.S. music industry may be following this lead. Here’s the news from Gil Kaufman of Billboard Biz

Sony Music announced last week that it is opening an office in Lagos, Nigeria, the first step towards establishing a footprint in a West African market that Adam Granite, Sony’s president of Northern/Eastern Europe & Africa, claims has huge growth potential.

“West Africa has a population of 340 million, and Nigeria alone has 150 million of that. It’s a very big country that has historically had a very large music market,” Granite said. In the ’70s, the nation had one of the largest music markets in the world, but piracy (analog then, digital now) has ravaged the music business, a situation Granite says is beginning to turn around, thanks to the expansion of the mobile market in region.

Sony and other majors haven’t traditionally had much, if any, market share in Africa. Until recently, the only way for most consumers to hear their product was either on the radio or through piracy. That’s one reason why Sony is in “very active discussions” with the Johannesburg-based mobile giant MTN Group’s Music+ streaming and download service, which will offer content to the service’s 2.5 million subscribers.

Rotimi Fawole, the head of business development for the four-year-old Africa-centric streaming and downloading service Spinlet, tells Billboard he is excited to have a major company in the country. “We expect that their efforts and promotions will lead to higher standards locally, not just with music production but also things like reporting, metadata, artist management, et cetera,” Fawole says. “Hopefully, they will set examples for local music companies to follow and the local industry should be the better for it in the long run.”

President Obama’s work to promote U.S. trade and investment in Africa is being done partly in an effort to catch up to China, which has worked to aggressively forge ties across the continent for over a decade now.  But one area which still remains relatively quiet?  The music industry.

As countries across the African continent experience a relative “gold rush” of technological and economic investment, it seems a very smart move by Sony to get in the game.  In an era of uncertainty for the established Western markets, the opportunities present as hundreds of millions of consumers lead themselves into the digital music age are exciting to say the least.  By following the President’s lead, it appears that Sony Music is doing something right.