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Last updated Sunday, January 25, 2015

Totally incomprehensible: The North Miami, Fla., police department had been using photographs of actual people for target practice. The photos, according to an article in the Miami Herald, were old mug shots. It’s not clear from what I’ve read how long the practice had been going on. Police Chief J. Scott Dennis said the mug shots were being used in facial recognition exercises for sharpshooter training. The practice came to light when an Army National Guard sergeant went to a firing range for weapons training last month. She found a discarded target with several bullet holes which had been left behind by a police group which used the range immediately before the Guard unit. The target contained photos of six black men and she recognized that one of them was of her brother. He had been arrested 15 years ago and served four years in prison, but said he’s now working, a husband and a father. The sergeant told her and his story to a local television station. At a public meeting last week Dennis and other city officials apologized to the largely black community and announced that the practice has been stopped and the department will now purchase generic photos from a commercial vendor. Another police official said that mug shots that have been used were not just of black men. The sharpshooter unit is racially integrated. The furor went nationwide when it reached a closed Facebook group for Evangelical Lutheran clergy. The pastors decided they had to respond to something that was emblematic of a deeper systematic problem by sending photos of themselves to North Miami. They spread the word to clergy of other faiths and this weekend a stack of 66 ‘use me instead’ photos of mostly white pastors was sent off. While acknowledging that things like this are sporadic, I would urge that organizations, public and private, scour their houses and eliminate any offensive practices and policies that are found.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Airgate: Several years ago there was a popular song entitled ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ Why it was popular I can’t say, but its lilting lyrics come to mind on the eve of the Super Bowl. Maybe it’ll be revived under a new title, ‘Who Let the Air Out?’, and, who knows, it could again be a hit. We’ll probably never know for sure whether the New England Patriots earned the opportunity to compete this year or whether they got to face the Seattle Seahawks in Phoenix by way of some creative cheating. It seems that National Football League rules say that air pressure inside game balls must be at least 12.5 pounds per square inch. I never knew that, but then I’m not what you’d call a football aficionado. There are folk who say a pound or two less makes a football easier to catch. I didn’t know that either, but, then, as far as I can recall, that never made any significant difference in how I led my life. While I’ll admit there are some people who do care, I’m happy to see that we have a completely meaningless controversy to occupy our minds while we’re engaged in watching Super Bowl – XLIX, isn’t it. I’m not sure I know how to pronounce that but then I never managed to get past high school Latin back in the days when getting a passing mark in high school Latin for some reason mattered.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Primary candidate: Claymont appears to be near the head of the line for a significant ‘brownfields’ project as the county Department of Land Use and Economic Development Office begin a cooperative effort to attract jobs-generating industry. Development Director Marcus Henry, however, indicated that Delaware’s landmark Coastal Zone Act could stand in the way. “There is a lot of discussion about [that law] going on right now,” he told a meeting of County Council’s economic development committee this week. There recently have been rumblings in the business community to the effect that the law’s tight restrictions against locating new industry in a corridor the length of the state bordering Delaware River and Delaware Bay is having a detrimental effect on state economic development efforts. The issue is thought likely to emerge after the General Assembly returns in March from its budget-hearings recess. The law has been in effect, without any changes, since the early 1970s. Beyond noting that the law prohibits a new use for an existing industrial site and that it’s unlikely another steel company could be attracted to replace Evraz Steel, which shut down its Claymont plant in December, Henry didn’t elaborate. Councilman John Cartier, who represents the area, said it is hoped that a deal to buy the site can be reached soon. St. Louis, Mo.-based Commercial Development Co., which buys, cleans up and resells property, has announced plans to acquire the large Evraz site. “They’re still negotiating,” Cartier said. On the other hand, he added, he is encouraged about Claymont’s future. Sunoco, he said, has begun reverse operation of a long-existing pipeline which used to carry petroleum from the company’s Marcus Hook refinery to western Pennsylvania and will be used to feed natural gas to a transshipment port on the Pennsylvania side of the refinery, which straddles the states’ border. The port, which would not be subject to the Coastal Zone Act, will provide for a major influx of jobs for residents of both states, Cartier said. A proposal a few years ago by B.P. Oil to establish a port in New Jersey opposite Claymont to inport natural gas from North Africa was blocked because unloading ships would necessarily require facilities extending into the river and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Delaware jurisdiction extends to the low water mark on the Jersey side. Ellen Fogarty, general manager of the land use department, said contact has been made with out-of-state owners of Tri-State Mall, another Claymont site, and they seem open to redeveloping the nearly-derelict shopping center. She also indicated at the committee meeting that her department intends to soon bring an ordinance to Council to replace the county’s dormant ‘brownfields’ law. A ‘brownfield’ is an older site with infrastructure in place that is abandoned or under-used because of environmental problems.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fail-Safe it’s not: There’s an alarming article in the current issue of This Week magazine.  It reports that “[t]he Pentagon recently admitted there are ‘systemic problems across the nuclear enterprises.’” That bureaucratese translates to mean the defense-retaliation system created back in Cold War days has deteriorated to the point where 450 nuclear-tipped missiles are stored in silos averaging 60 years old that have not been properly maintained since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 – a full generation ago. Rather than being simply relics of a long bygone time, they have, according to the article, “enough destructive force to lay waste to every country on Earth.” Who’s watching over them? Air Force officers are standing 24-hour shifts in claustrophobic underground chambers “waiting for a launch order that will probably never come.” Anyone who’s been in the military knows the caliber of men – and, presumably, women by now – who draw such duty. It came to light last year that they were cheating in order to pass monthly qualification tests. It’s doubtful they’re familiar beyond in a vague way about procedures to follow and it’s probable they don’t know the launch codes were a need for them ever to arise. Reading the article brought to mind the 1962 novel and 1964 movie Fail Safe. What was comedy then could well have become terrifying reality today.

All for naught: President Obama last night delivered a forceful State of the Union address before Congress. His well articulated view of what the future ought to hold for America was, in a word, inspiring. It was, however, placed before an audience the majority of which wasn’t listening, having already decided on a far less worthy agenda for the next two years. I stayed around to listen to freshman Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa give the cliché-ridden Republican response. Obviously recorded before the President spoke, it unfortunately was likely an accurate portrayal of what we can expect from her side of congressional aisles. CLICK HERE to read the transcript of the President's remarks.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Unwelcome mat is out: Muslims are a fast-growing minority in Europe. They make up 7.5% of the population in France, 5.8% in Germany, 4.8% in Britain, and 3.7% in Italy. They are only about 1% here in the United States. Non-Muslim Europeans consider them a threat – even more so in the wake of what seems to be a wave of terrorism on the continent. Muslims, on the other hand, say they’re discriminated against despite assurances by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande that those countries are not at war with Islam. Since there is little likelihood that the immigration wave will abate any time soon – the experts who study such trends forecast it to continue to grow between now and at least as far out as 2030 – it is certain discrimination which already exists will escalate and become violent. The distinction between the law-abiding and respectable neighbor and the Islamic extremist is hard to discern. The fact that many of the extremists are recruited in the West, trained in their former homelands and returned to do as much harm as possible, even to the point of sacrificing their life to accomplish the mission makes doing so even more difficult. Much of the Muslim world has been violent, not only for years but for centuries. The prospect of an improved quality of life is what compels those who can to emigrate. How to channel that into beneficial directions is a challenge that will last for a long time to come.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A hopeless cause: In his State of the Union address tomorrow evening President Obama will propose higher taxes on the fat cats on the top rungs of the economic ladder. Fat chance he’ll get them. So why ask? Quite simply he’ll be doing what the Constitution says he should. It requires the President not only to report on the condition of the country but also to “recommend to their (Congress’s)consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Closing the growing gap – a chasm – between the wealth of a tiny minority of Americans and most of us should become a national priority. Consequences of letting it continue unchecked will, sooner rather than later, be nothing short of grave. Specifically, Obama will seek higher capital-gains and dividends tax rates. Ninety-nine percent of that, it’s said, would adversely affect just 1% of the population. That should tell you what will happen when the proposal reaches Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. It’ll be pronounced dead on arrival. More than a generation ago President Reagan championed what came to be called trickle-down economics – make it attractive for the wealthy to invest and they’ll finance an expanded economy which will benefit everyone. He was dead wrong. The wealthy displayed their human nature and pocketed most of the additional money. For reasons many of us find inexplicable, Republican legislators – many of whom are, at most, upper-middle-class people – still cater to the well-heeled. Logic ought to tell thinking people that assisting with such things as child-care, medical care, tuition and basic needs of the poor should take precedence. I believe Obama thinks that could actually begin to happen before it becomes time to elect his successor in 2016.

 

All content, unless otherwise noted, by Jim Parks

 

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