Love This Op-Ed On What Really Makes The U.S. Great!

Here’s an op-ed I noticed in the New York Post by John Podhoretz with a very important message to Americans – a message too many people fail to understand – but the perfect message during this week we celebrate our independence. This column gives me hope at a time we are forced to watch a negative and embarrassing presidential campaign that troubles millions of Americans – from Democrats to Republicans – as we ask, “Aren’t we better than this?”

Jim Maisano
Jim@FreeVoter.com

(Jim serves as a Westchester County Legislator in New York)

It’s not our leaders who make America great

New York Post – July 3, 2016

President Gerald Ford sat aboard the USS Forrestal as the watercraft paraded before him along with more than half a million people.

And everywhere you looked, there was an American flag.

This was no small thing. It is almost unimaginable today, but in 1976 in many quarters, the flag had gone out of fashion except as an ironic fashion statement — something you sewed onto the rear pocket of your jeans, so that it was sat upon.

At my tony Manhattan private school, the bicentennial was celebrated with a day-long symposium titled “The American Dream: Has It Turned Into a Nightmare?”

The country was in a bad mood for good reason. Fifty-eight thousand Americans died in a war that ended with our countrymen scurrying onto helicopters from the roof of the Saigon embassy as the city fell to the Communists.

A president re-elected with 61 percent of the vote was compelled to resign because he and his people tried to bug the rival party’s headquarters.

Crime and inflation were on the rise everywhere. Arab potentates forced us into endless gas lines through an illegal embargo — an act of economic warfare — and we did nothing about it.

New York City, the world’s financial capital, went broke.

America felt like it was in decline because it was in decline. America felt bad about itself because the leading figures of its culture and its politics had lost confidence in the American experiment of its culture and its politics, and there was no one speaking up for it.

But our collective self-abasement in the 1970s did not reflect the deeper truth about the United States, even with the United States at a low ebb. On that day of the tall ships, we saw our country again as it was and is — the shining city on a hill, the last best hope of Earth.

On the cusp of Independence Day 2016, America remains what it has always been — the greatest and most far-reaching political experiment in human history. But as it enters its 241st year, there are few of us who really feel it.

The spirit of the left was captured over the past year by Bernie Sanders, who has almost nothing good to say about the current condition of the United States and claims the country is being destroyed by inequality.

The spirit of the anti-left has been captured by Donald Trump, who claims the country is no longer great and needs him to make it great again. The Republican Party has spent the years of Barack Obama’s presidency characterizing them as a cataclysm from which we may never recover.

In so doing, they followed the Democrats, who spent the Bush years characterizing them as a cataclysm from which we would never recover.

Obama came into office belittling the idea of American “exceptionalism,” but now would wish people thought the country great because he’s led it for the past 7½ years.

Hillary Clinton wants people to think America was great when her husband was president, stopped being great when he stopped being president, got pretty great when her party took over again, but still needs her either to restore Clintonian greatness or reach new greatness or whatever you want just so long as she can be in the White House again.

The point here is that America has been getting it from all sides for the past 15 years. At different times and for different reasons, everyone has had an interest in painting things black.

And it’s an enormous wrong that’s being done here, an offense against the truth.

America is not great because of its leaders, who change, or because of the ideology they espouse, because that changes too as the views of the electorate change. America’s greatness has to do with the way it is organized. The central figure in the United States is the person. The central figure in the United States is you.

In the United States, according to the astounding document that was signed in Philadelphia 240 years ago tomorrow, it is “self evident” that “all men are created equal,” and that they have “unalienable rights” to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The adjective “unalienable” has tripped up schoolchildren forever, but it is the core word of the United States of America. It means that these are rights that cannot be taken away. They are part of what it means to be human. Efforts to take them away or abuse them are acts of tyranny.

It is impossible to grasp just how radical an idea this was in 1776 — and how radical an idea it is now, in 2016. Indeed, it was so radical in 1776 that it could not be fully implemented, with African-Americans remaining enslaved for another 87 years and women remaining without the franchise until 1920.

And it remains so radical now that we continue to fight political battles daily over efforts by government to abridge our unalienable rights at home, while abroad billions still live without rudimentary versions of the freedoms we enjoy.

Perhaps the most important freedom we enjoy is to practice our faiths. Outside the US, Christians are facing near-systematic elimination in Muslim lands while in China, the world’s largest country, believers of all kinds (Tibetan Buddhists especially) “continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences and, in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship,” according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Because the United States is made up of human beings, and human beings are flawed, it is a flawed country and always has been. But due to another flaw in human nature — our strange desire to concentrate on the negative and avoid counting our blessings — American politics, culture and our education system have come to dwell on the dark side as much today as they did in 1976.

The history we teach our kids is a history of injustices and infamies — without the corresponding understanding that to a degree unknown anywhere in the world, America is self-correcting.

Indeed, self-correction is woven into its DNA. That is why the Constitution itself allows the amending of the constitution — to fix the document’s flaws and extend the nation’s blessings (and obligations) to those denied them at the time of the founding.

The preamble to the US Constitution explains its purpose is to “secure these blessings for ourselves and our posterity.” Since the Constitution is not fixed in amber and can be amended, the act of securing these blessings for ourselves and those who follow us has remained an obligation for every American from that day forward to this.

It’s not just the Constitution. We self-correct every year, through elections at the local, state and national levels that give us the power to change the country’s direction when that direction leads us so terribly astray. In 1976, four months after the tall ships, the country sought to purify its corrupted politics by electing Jimmy Carter, a former Georgia governor untainted by Washington scandals who promised, “I will never lie to you” as president.

When Carter proved to be alternately hapless and feckless in addressing the country’s financial and international ailments, we changed direction again four years later by electing Ronald Reagan, who vowed to attempt radically different cures for our ailments. Within a decade, the US economy had exploded and the Berlin Wall had fallen.

Our freedoms reside within us. That is the message of America. They are a part of us. Indeed, according to the philosophy that created this country, they reside within every living person on Earth.

But exercising our freedoms — now, that’s a different story. We have the precious gift in this country of exercising them pretty much at will. And that means too many of us have come to take them for granted.

We do so in part because we are human, and we are flawed. But we are also seduced into thinking our birthright as Americans is not what it truly is — the most precious gift any group of people has ever enjoyed. We are told that unless we get this, or get that, or get the other thing, the country is failing us.

We are seduced in this way by political and cultural leaders who seek either to harness our anger or generate it to use as a weapon against their rivals.

The luckiest people on Earth are the people who are born Americans, or who become Americans.

That’s what we all instinctively understood, 40 years ago, when we saw the masts of those tall ships sail into the harbor as they passed by Lady Liberty — her lamp lifted, as it has been since she was placed there in 1886, beside the golden door.

 

Fighting Human Trafficking in New York State

End Human Trafficking NowBy Amy Paulin

Born and raised in New York City, Brianna was nine when she was kidnapped and raped by her school janitor and sold to a pimp. Bounced from trafficker to trafficker, she was sold for sex to men who knew her age. When she was not servicing men, she was locked in a closet in a house without electricity or running water. Brianna is a victim of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a horrible $32 billion industry. In 2013, approximately 27 million people were trafficked, 80% of whom were women and girls. The average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is thirteen, with more than 100,000 youth sexually exploited each year. New York is a leading entry, transit and destination point for trafficking victims, with young people sexually exploited right here in Westchester County. Nearly 60 minors have been identified in the past 18 months by Westchester DSS as sex trafficking victims. The majority are from lower Westchester.

New York has led the nation in efforts to end human trafficking, treating the sexually exploited as victims, not criminals, and providing them with critical services to rebuild their lives. But there is more work to be done. We must hold accountable those that perpetuate this evil – the traffickers and buyers who fuel the growth of this massive underground industry. That is why I continue to push to enact the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA,A.506/S.7), a comprehensive bill I authored that will improve upon current law, strengthening our States response to human trafficking, by including the stiffening of penalties for traffickers and enabling law enforcement to conduct better surveillance of traffickers.

The TVPJA has bipartisan support in both houses and is backed by major womens groups, including NOW New York, Womens City Club of NY, Sanctuary for Families, and the 110+ organizations comprising the NYS Anti-Trafficking Coalition, including Westchester groups such as My SistersPlace, Pace Womens Justice Center, and YWCA of White Plains & Central Westchester.

Yet this common sense, bipartisan-backed legislation has been stuck in neutral for two years due to Albany politics. 

In 2013, TVPJA became a part of the Governors 10-point agenda, the Womens Equality Act (WEA). The State Assembly passed all 10 points as a package in both the 2013 and 2014 sessions, but the State Senate did not. Instead, the Senate passed 9 points as individual bills leaving out the component that would codify Roe v. Wade. The State Senate refused to pass all 10 components of WEA as a package and the State Assembly refused to pass the bills individually. Sadly, my bill has been stuck in stalemate. Yet, the State Assembly did vote on one part of the WEA as a separate bill that strengthened orders of protection laws for domestic violence victims, and that bill did eventually become law.

So at the beginning of 2015, we are starting where we left off last year. The State Senate has already passed 8 components of the WEA as individual bills, including TVPJA, and again leaving out the codification of Roe v. Wade. Now the State Assembly must decide whether it will allow the WEA to be voted on as individual bills. Meanwhile, with TVPJA still just a bill, we have not provided law enforcement with all the tools needed to fight human trafficking.

I have spent my entire political (and nonpolitical) career fighting for women’s rights and continue to be a staunch supporter of the WEA. At the same time, I recognize that we have the opportunity to strengthen womens rights in so many important areas such as sexual harassment in the workplace, pay equity, family status discrimination, and pregnancy discrimination, as well as to end the victimization of women and children from human trafficking, by passing each of the bills.

I remain hopeful that politics can be put aside, so that we will soon enact into law the WEA measures, including my human trafficking bill, that will improve the lives of women in this State.

Amy Paulin serves in the New York State Assembly.

The Passing of Two Respected Public Servants

cuomo2 Brooke

This past week, we lost two former elected officials – Gov. Mario Cuomo from
New York and U.S. Senator Edward Brooke from Massachusetts – who led fairly principled careers.  They often stood for what they believed regardless of how popular or unpopular it might be.  Mario Cuomo opposed the death penalty even though it was not a popular stand and likely cost him many votes.  He often used his keen mind and oratory skills during his 12 years as Governor to try to convince others of his beliefs rather than seeking the expedient way.  Edward Brooke, the first African-Amercian popularly elected to the U.S. Senate, likewise stood for and fought for his beliefs.  He ran and was elected as a Republican in the mostly Democratic state of Massachusetts and spent his 12 years in the U.S. Senate often seeking to work in a bipartisan manner for what he believed was for the good of our country, including civil rights.  Regardless of whether your beliefs coincided with theirs, you cannot help but respect them for their abilities and approach.  Our governments can use more people like them.

BG@FreeVoter.com

Politics as Usual

TalkingPast

The report issued by the Senate Select Committe on Intelligence has not done anything towards  creating a better policy on permissible interrogation methods to be used with people apprehended during the fight against terrorist organizations.  The report was prepared only by the Democratic members of the committee without interviewing any of the people who were involved with the decisions on the methods of interrogation to use.  The report, if prepared by a bipartisan group which looked at all of the relevant facts (such as the report prepared by the 9/11 commission), could have helped in creating a better policy which protects the values of our democracy while allowing us to effectively obtain intelligence information that would be useful in the ongoing fight against these terrortist organizations.  Instead, it was done in a partisan one sided manner not for purposes of creating a policy going forward, but for being able to place blame.  It did not put forth any recommendations and does nothing for those on the front lines who are responsible for gathering information and intelligence but create greater uncertainty going forward.  An opportunity for constructive dialogue and progress has been missed and we are left with people talking past each other yet again.

BG@FreeVoter.com

Disheartening

Disheartening is about the only word I can think of to describe my feelings from the events of the past two weeks. One of my first posts on this site was about whether we were in a post racial society. It’s clear we are not judging by the reaction to the decisions.

In two weeks we’ve seen two police officers who have caused the death of two African-American males not be indicted for murder or a lessor charge. Each is problematic in its own right.

So much has been discussed about both these cases that there is nothing new I can add. However, freevoter.com is about sharing independent thoughts and ideas and I think this is a perfect forum to talk about what we can learn from both of these cases.

Ferguson

What’s disheartening about this case is not the lack of indictment but the response from the community. Rioting and looting serves no purpose and only feeds into the stereotypes some have of the African-American community. Social media was no help in the matter. I have friends, like most I hope, that span a wide political spectrum. Most were thoughtful, engaging, and truly inquisitive. Some unfortunately used it as an opportunity to spew the vile that only surfaces at times like these. To be clear, I’m talking about those on both sides.

In every race & ethnicity there are those that feel that they have to defend every member no matter what they do. While I empathize with the plight of the citizens of Ferguson, destroying the neighborhood only deepens the gulf between them and those who do not care about their future. If we truly care, actions and discussions would focus more on the future than wrongs of today or the past.

On the flip side, those that ignore that a community that has been neglected, at best, would react in such a dramatic and self destructive manner has never understood what true despair is. Chants of ‘thugs’ and ‘get a job’ show no regard for the situation in which folks in places like Ferguson find themselves.

Staten Island

What’s disheartening about this case IS the lack of indictment. First there is video record that clearly shows that Mr. Garner had his hands up. Second, unlike Ferguson, there were five cops there to subdue the suspect. Third, the hold placed on Mr. Garner was classified as illegal by the officer’s own police force. Lastly, the medical examiner classified Mr. Garner’s death as a homicide.

The response in New York in contrast to Ferguson was civilized. This is due in large part to the economic opportunities afforded to all in NYC and to the work by NYPD in building relationships with those they police (and the police being more representative of the city demographics).

Grand Jury

It’s clear that we have a broken judicial system. The purpose of the grand jury is to be a check on the prosecutor in bringing charges at will on alleged perpetrators. In brining matters to a grand jury, the prosecutor relies on evidence gathered by the police. So when it’s time to convene a grand jury for a police shooting, police cooperation is not a factor. But pursuing an indictment against a police officer won’t help the prosecutor in future cases where their help will be needed.

In addition, a grand jury’s sole job is to determine whether there is a enough evidence to justify a trial, not to determine guilt or innocence. As an outsider who hasn’t seen what was presented to the grand juries in either case, it seems that the jury was focused on whether a conviction was possible. And it appears both prosecutors metaphorically had their thumbs on the scale. In Ferguson, there was enough inconsistencies in witness statements to justify a no indictment decision. However, I would suggest that shooting 18 rounds, 12 of which connect, would appear excessive. That would be enough for me to allow the case to proceed to trial.  Lack of indictment in Staten Island is absurd and doesn’t merit further conversation.

We need an independent prosecutor to specifically bring cases involving the police. As long as we continue with the system in place, we will never be able to hold the police (most of whom do the right thing), accountable.

And by the way, those body cameras, meaningless. Refer to the Staten Island case.

Too Many People Only Checking News Sources They Agree With

Sources News Pew

We started the Free Voter Blog because we are troubled by too many people getting their news only from sources promoting their political views – liberals only checking liberal websites and conservatives only checking conservative websites. Too many Americans are not speaking to each other about the issues of the day and are not even open to debate. We believe this is bad for our democracy. It’s absurd to think that either the left wing or right wing is correct on every issue. That’s why the goal of the Free Voter Blog is to help stimulate a free and independent electorate. When people tell us they only vote straight Democrat or Republican, we believe this is an admission that they didn’t put much effort into following the issues and evaluating the candidates on the ballot. We can teach a four-year-old to just fill in the circles across only one party’s line on Election Day.

That’s why we found the above chart in the USA Today so interesting. It demonstrates how people are only following the news they politically agree with. The data comes from a thoughtful study conducted by the Pew Research Center, which found that, “When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds.” Here’s the link to this excellent Pew Research Center study:  www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits

Therefore, the Free Voter Blog, which discusses issues in an open-minded and nonpartisan way, certainly fills an important need in our nation’s political discourse. Please join us for a more independent debate of the issues we face – everyone is invited!

Jim Maisano
Jim@FreeVoter.com

Net Neutrality – Simply

netneutrality-contentblockedToday, President Obama is going to lay out his approach to immigration reform. I’ll wait to see what he has to say before commenting. This post is about his weighing in on the proposed net neutrality ruling under the Federal Communications Committee (FCC).

Before getting in to the proposals the FCC is weighing, a little background on what net neutrality is and how we got here.

BACKGROUND

Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not discriminate based on content, user, application, site, platform, or any other distinguishing characteristic. It’s a term coined by a Columbia University Media Law professor Tim Wu. Others call it the open Internet as a means of being more accurate in addition to rebranding.

In 2010, the FCC passed the Open Internet Order which barred the practice of ISPs of charging fees for speedier access to content providers such as Netflix. In January of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. struck down key provisions of the FCC’s ruling thereby weakening the agency’s attempt to keep the Internet open. This opened the door for Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast to charge Netflix, Hulu, Google, and others for faster access to their networks and customers. Subsequently, the commission decided to write new rules to preserve its desire for an open Internet. If ISPs are allowed to differentiate access by content provider, consumers will lose out if they cannot afford to pay for greater access or a content provider cannot or will not pay for high-speed service on the ISP’s network.

Next, let’s discuss the pros and cons of net neutrality.

PROS

  • The founding proposition for the Internet was for free and unfettered access to information from anywhere. That’s why the “father” of the Internet and the creator of the web, Vincent Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee have spoken in favor of net neutrality.
  • Innovation and experimentation will be stifled should a tiered model for content providers as that would effectively create a barrier to entry.
  • Prevents ISPs that are also content providers (think Comcast and Time Warner) from potentially creating a system that favors their content to that over a competitor. (If you don’t think this is possible, read this article).

CONS

  • By disallowing ISPs to charge content providers for higher speed access, they will limit or discontinue investment in underserved areas in the U.S. (See this)
  • Ability to recoup their cost of investment in providing the broadband service  would diminish or possibly eliminate the Internet Service Provider’s ability to recoup its investment.
  • Less rather than more regulation is necessary.

The FCC is considering two approaches to the issues raised by the court ruling in January, regulating ISPs under section 706 or Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Currently, FCC classifies ISP as information service providers which are governed under Title I of the act.

Section 706

Since the section is short, basically two paragraphs with the second defining how inquiries into the enforcement of paragraph one, the entire paragraph is below.

The Commission and each State commission with regulatory jurisdiction over telecommunications services shall encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans (including, in particular, elementary and secondary schools and classrooms) by utilizing, in a manner consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.

Title II

Gives the FCC the authority to treat ISPs as a public utility. There are over 100 pages of regulations with this title many of which would not apply. The relevant portion is Section 202 which delineates that broadcast providers cannot discriminate against non-affiliated broadcasters. In other words, cannot charge more to a content provider that is not a part of the ISP’s content production.

A third alternative would be to create new rules and regulations that would specifically apply to the Internet, but we know that is not going to happen so we have these two inelegant approaches.

President Obama weighed in by urging the FCC to adopt the Title II approach over Section 706.

Neither one of these solutions works for me. Providing access to the Internet is an animal of a different color. However, I’m loathe to suggest new rules and regulations, we have enough of them. Instead, I’d like to see Title II streamlined and be less technology & platform specific. Barring that, I’d have to lean toward Title II as the proper approach. The elegance of Section 706 is appealing but I fear the language can be used to force ISPs to provide equal access to rural environments without the ability to recoup its investment. (Which in some circles is what net neutrality is all about.) Title II while over 90% is not applicable to Internet service, Title II is a better fit because its focus on leveling the playing field for content providers by protecting them from the service providers.

For fans of David Pogue and John Oliver, here is a link to their description of net neutrality and its impact (I highly recommend the John Oliver video):

David Pogue

John Oliver

jeffrey hastie
jahastie@gmail.com
@jhastie963