My top stories from 2014: Mork, Gutless NFL, Soft on Commies, Homeland and ISIS, Blues blow it, and more …

My yoga teacher at The Little Yoga Studio told a story about why we should avoid New Years resolutions about making us perfect, since we are imperfect beings.

My yoga teacher at The Little Yoga Studio told a story about why we should avoid New Years resolutions about making us perfect, since we are imperfect beings.

When I was working in the newspaper business, at the end of the year, the staff sat around and came up with the top news stories. I was the sports editor and came up with the top sports stories. The yoga teacher the other day was talking about how none of us are perfect. Rather than striving for perfection with New Years resolutions, we should figure out ways to work within our imperfections to make life better for ourselves and for others.

Now that I’m an arm chair journalist, here are my top 10 picks mostly about the foibles of people and how they may have an impact on our daily lives, in no particular order:

The GOP took control of the Senate with Harry Reid leaving as President Pro - tem and Mitch McConnell on tap to take the job.

The GOP took control of the Senate with Harry Reid leaving as President Pro -tem and Mitch McConnell on tap to take the job. (Photo Fair Use)

Democrats blow midterms, lose US Senate – The biggest domestic story that happened was on election day when the GOP took control fo the US Senate. Harry Reid is out and Mitch McConnell is in as President Pro-tem. Politicians like these two guys are an odd lot. Neither wants to budge from their  extreme positions. I wonder if McConnell will soften up now that he’s in charge. It was a weird election – stock market strong, gas prices low, unemployment rate low. As near as I can figure, the Democrats blew it by not getting out the vote. This midterm election was decided by 36 percent of the electorate. It will be interesting to see how things change starting in January.

Ray Rice, Janay Rice

Washed up Baltimore Ravens running back had a roller coaster ride after slugging his wife and getting away with it for a while until a movie surfaced of the bludgeoning.(Photo Fair Use)

NFL cuts DV perps slack – Having worked in the domestic violence prevention field for a number of years, I was intrigued by how incompetent the National Football League was in dealing with the Ray Rice issue. His domestic violence proclivity brought the issue to light in big time sports. Whether or not there will be any long lasting changes, we’ll have to wait and see. I have a MPA degree from CU – Denver in domestic violence prevention. One of my thesis advisors, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Rita Smith is a member of the NFL advisory group. So far, the issue has become irrelevant with the playoffs on the horizon. Ray Rice still doesn’t have a job and unlikely to get one.

mr november

I was in Yankee Stadium when Derek Jeter was dubbed Mr. November during the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Photo Fair Use)

Jeter calls it a career –  He hung up his spikes after 19 years in pinstripes. This is the best “feel good” story of the 10 I picked. I think Jeter is truly a good guy. Playing shortstop for the Yankees was always my dream job, but it was always taken. I had a chance to watch him play a few times when the Yankees played the Colorado Rockies and in the 2001 World Series. It was scheduled later in October than usual because of the 9/11 attacks in New York. I was at the game when he was dubbed “Mr. November” after he hit a game winning home run to knot the series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at two games apiece. Derek says he wants to settle down and have a family. I imagine he’ll be giving a lot back to the community, whether it’s in New York or his home town of Kalamazoo Michigan.

NBC reporter Nancy Snyderman was one of the biggest stories when she broke quarantine and went to a coffee shop in her neighborhood and got caught.

NBC reporter Nancy Snyderman was one of the biggest stories when she broke quarantine and went to a coffee shop in her neighborhood and got caught. (Photo Fair Use)

Ebola non-story keeps voters at home – A couple of the cable TV stations had a heyday with a few people getting sick from ebola. You would have thought that ebola was spreading like weeds. When the election was over, suddenly, the US ebola epidemic was over – four cases, one death. Contrast that with the 30 pediatric flu deaths as of September 2014 and 36 states reporting widespread flu occurrences as December 20th.  Cable TV was also airing that Dustin Hoffman – Renee Russo movie “Outbreak” during this time period, just to get us all in the worst possible scenario mood. I hope people look at stories holistically, rather than in a reactionary fashion.

There was a big to do about "The Interview" which was reportedly the reason Sony's internet security was breached.

There was a big to do about “The Interview” which was reportedly the reason Sony’s internet security was breached. (Photo Fair Use)

Sony hacked, sets up “The Interview” publicity stunt – Everyone pretty much knows about the Sony hack job that’s been reported in the popular media. The FBI is still blaming North Korea because of the James Franco – Seth Rogen movie, “The Interview” about the assassination plot of the Kim Jung Un. Turns out, it may have been an opportune publicity stunt riding the wave of an inside Sony hack job by a band of disgruntled employees. Nonetheless, reading the private emails between angst – filled studio execs was quite revealing and entertaining. I’m planning a watch “The Interview” party on January 6th. Moral of this story is, don’t write down stuff you don’t others to see in emails.

A man backs away as law enforcement officials close in on him and eventually detain him during protests over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer, in Ferguson, Mo.

Ominous US Army surplus riot gear supposedly added to the schism between citizens and cops in Ferguson, MO (Photo Fair Use)

“Stand Up Don’t Shoot” “I Can’t Breathe” movement needs closers – This is another story that everyone must have heard a little something about. There is definitely more awareness about the “us versus them” mentality that is evident in at least some police departments. The unarmed black kid shot by a white cop in a suburb of St. Louis and riots and protests ensued around the country. I’m not sure where it all will be headed, but protesting and tossing cars will soon become old hat. The “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” movement needs some closers. Also on the shirt tail of this shooting is that of the band of cops who strangled a guy selling loosey cigarettes on a New York City sidewalk. That added fuel to the fire. I hope this movement doesn’t end up like Occupy.

The Showtime cable series "Homeland" has brought ISIS into the living room. Carrie picks off snipers.

The Showtime cable series “Homeland” has brought ISIS into the living room. Carrie picks off snipers.

“Homeland” CIA crew fights ISIS in our living rooms – I’m a big “Homeland” fan. That’s the cable TV series on Showtime that just wrapped it’s fourth season. Homeland’s Carrie – who has been dealing with bipolar illness – somehow keeps afloat in a very high stress job. She and former CIA director Saul have normalized the US fight against ISIS and brought it into our living rooms. The last three episodes were about ineptitude in the US Embassy. In real life, the Islamic State, as near as I can figure is quite enterprising. They raise millions in cash from family oil fortunes; revenues from their own oil fields; contraband in the forms of drugs and stolen ancient artifacts. The US pulled out of Afghanistan, just in time to keep soldiers employed as the US re-escalates in Iraq and Syria. I can’t wait for the next season of “Homeland” to air next summer! I’m not quite sure what to think about the war with ISIS. It’s seems like another non-starter and a no-win situation. The US has less at stake since domestic fuel production is at an all time high.

The Mork and Mindy house in Boulder was turned into a shrine for the late Robin Williams.

The Mork and Mindy house in Boulder was turned into a shrine for the late Robin Williams. (Photo Fair Use)

Mork from Ork leaves this world – Around Boulder, this was a pretty big story since his 1970s classic sitcom “Mork and Mindy” was set in Boulder during the 1970s. He committed suicide, which is always too bad but he must have been fighting off demons. I don’t think he spent much time in Boulder during the series. Based on the tributes placed at the Boulder TV house, you’d think he flew in from Ork and lived in Boulder his entire alien life. I must admit that I made a pilgrimage to the Mork and Mindy house this summer – Nanu Nanu …! He could have been so much more prolific. If you feel like you need help for a mental illness, get to the doctor.

Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines were at the center of three air disasters this year. (Photo Fair Use)

Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines were at the center of three air disasters this year. (Photo Fair Use)

Asia-based airlines go down in flames with three disasters  – It wasn’t a great year for Asia – based airlines. This week, Air Asia flight 8501 was lost and the remains found in the Java Sea with no survivors of the 162 passengers on board . Malaysian Airlines 370 dropped off the radar screen and vanished with 239 passengers. The Malaysian transportation minister tried to stonewall the story but finally came around and said that no wreckage had been found. On top of that, Malaysian Airlines 17 carrying 298 passengers was shot down over the Ukraine by separatist renegades. These crashes certainly are not everyday occurrences, but give me a train ride any day!

President Obama and Pope Frances were involved in negotiations with Raul Castro to normal relations with Cuba. (Photo Fair Use)

President Obama and Pope Frances were involved in negotiations with Raul Castro to normal relations with Cuba. (Photo Fair Use)

Obama and Pope soft on the Cuban commies – This story just came out of nowhere, even though it was in the making for several months and included intervention by Pope Francis. President Obama announced that the full diplomatic relations would be renewed with the Raul Castro regime and that an American Embassy would be opened in Havana.

The Cuban baseball player market will be open with normalized relations between Cuba and the US. Sal Maglie played for a Cuban baseball team

The Cuban baseball player market will be open with normalized relations between Cuba and the US. Sal Maglie played for a Cuban baseball team.

The Cuban baseball player market will be open with normalized relations between Cuba and the US. There are a bunch of people who think this is a bad idea since they have been working on getting the government to change its tactics. The recent announcement, put the kibosh on their efforts.

The biggest benefit I see is baseball players won’t have to defect or risk drowning at sea in make-shift rafts. I went to visit family in Peru and flew on AeroPeru. The plane made a late night stop in Havana, not enough time to get off the plane, but I count that as being in Cuba.

The Little Yoga Studio is, in fact little, buck has a great welcoming environment for beginners to expert yoga practitioners.

The Little Yoga Studio is, in fact little, buck has a great welcoming environment for beginners to expert yoga practitioners. I like this place because of  the stories.

There are many more stories, but these are 10 I picked out as significant in 2014.

I picked stories mostly about people with flaws and I hope that we can learn from their stories.

My life in 2014 really wasn’t that memorable, but if you had some great experiences, good or bad I hope they will help inform your decisions and choices in 2015.

 

 

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The #HandsUpDontShoot and #ICantBreathe protestors in Ferguson and NYC need closers

Protesters block highway 36 in Boulder, Colorado (Photo by the Daily Camera)

Protesters block highway 36 in Boulder, Colorado (Photo by the Daily Camera)

Even in white bread Boulder, Colorado protesters and marchers have taken it to the streets in the wake of the cop killings of  Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

The problem?

There’s no end game.

The movement needs closers.

Lot’s of glittering generalities scrawled on the placards – “justice for Mike”, “hands up don’t shoot”, “no killler cops” … reactionary causes like this are heavy on feel good symbolism and light on outcomes. I had high hopes for the Occupy movement, too, but that fizzled.

Already the Brown – Garner furor has waned and CNN is on to the next news cycle about CIA torture and vicious Sony emails.

That’s too bad.

About the only outlet that oppressed people have to get their larger communities to take notice is through civil and criminal disobedience and the willingness to accept the consequences of jail time and injury. The topic moved race relations to the forefront, though, even forcing Walmart to pull a TV ad.

Race riots around the country in 1964 got the nation's attention.

Race riots around the country in 1964 got the nation’s attention.

Back in the 1960s, segregation was a state’s right and legal in the south. The bus boycotts and restaurant sit-ins initially were not that successful but the 1964 riots in Chicago, Harlem and Philadelphia got people’s attention. This was also the first time there was TV news coverage.

What was the end game?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This is the 50th anniversary of that legislation which passed by landslides in both houses of the US Congress and Lyndon Johnson’s trademark legislation carrying the torch for John Kennedy.

Half a century later, the country has come along way in civil rights, but what’s next?

No laws will change societal attitudes. That’s work that each person has to do on their own by looking in the mirror and deciding what kind of person they want to be; ask what values do they want to instill in their children and the children of others; decide if its work losing friends over their new outlooks.

It’s hard work.

You ask anyone and nobody will say they are “racist”.

Their rationales?

“I don’t burn churches and wear white hoods.” I hear people say they are “color blind.”

If a person is truly “color blind” they should be willing to give up personal power to people of color and oppressed people.

The work goes way beyond exchanging pleasantries at church coffees – although that’s a good start for some people.

the notion of cultural competency rears its head from time to time. It wouldn’t surprise me if there aren’t funds for this in the big federal program Obama unveiled the other day that would give money to local police departments to buy body cameras.  The problem is, cultural competency work is generally an “add-on” and not really integrated into the day to day workings. It gets discussed on a reactionary basis.

Quality of law enforcement can be plotted on a bell curve. On one end are bad cops that lie, cheat, steal and kill and on the other end are great cops that save kitties from trees, help a stranded motorist. We just need a whole bunch of okay cops, good cops. In fact, the vast majority are okay and good trying to make a living for themselves and their families. Here’s an example of a cop who caught a woman shoplifting eggs.

What were his choices?

He could embarrass her by a shake down in the store. He could call in back-up; He could see if the store wanted to press charges; or he could pay for the eggs, which he did. I doubt he got any special training to do this, but rather he’s just a nice guy.

I also think that people and police generally want to change their attitudes towards inclusion, but there aren’t any readily accessible day to day tools, other than, maybe through a church or nonprofit, or workplace.

Law enforcement officers catch the brunt of frustration and I think that’s just part of the job. If the protest groups get their acts together, what might be some outcomes for them for them to pursue? This is largely a local issue and here are a few ideas:

  • Work with civil service commissions police unions and citizen police boards to change their police testing and recruitment procedures to include stronger cultural competency indicators. Police departments do pretty good jobs weeding out the real bad apples and tests tend to be standardized and don’t control for race relations.
  • Work with police academies and college law enforcement departments to add additional training and classroom instruction about how to verbally deescalate situations. These two citizen killings escalated from stealing cigars and selling cigarettes to death. That’s a problem. There are companies that provide training about this. Deescalation classes should be a part of criminal justice college / university curricula and not just on the job workshops.
  • Develop new leadership by recruiting members for the city parks board, planning commission, housing committees. Once emerging leaders gain experience they can make runs for the city council or other elected offices.

About all the nationwide peaceful and violent demonstrations have accomplished is ruining the lives of two cops – Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson – who will soon fade into oblivion and sold some newspapers. That’s not a very good return on investment, if you ask me.

The activists from the 1960s and 70s  are tired and there wasn’t much, if any, thought about passing on organizing skills to others. It’s a young people’s world now and there must be at least a few closers out in the fray …

On grand juries, police image problems and revolution

There’s been quiwizard id peasantste a bit of buzz in the popular media about the recent work of grand juries that found little probable cause to indict police officers who killed citizens in the line of duty.

I have a unique perspective on this having served on a grand jury in a past life.

Grand juries haven’t changed much over the centuries. The idea is to provide yet another control on the government for community members to keep over zealous government lawyers in check. That didn’t happen in Ferguson and Staten Island. The grand jury system was used for political cover.

In the US, the justice system is set up to favor citizens, you know – “innocent until proven guilty.” The burden of proof is on the government to provide probable cause that a crime exists. Grand juries make “probable cause” determinations via indictment. The jury that I sat, heard its fair share of bad cases, in fact, we kept asking for more information if it was lacking. We would advise the cops and county attorney what they needed to bring to strengthen their case. In Ferguson and Staten Island, those juries were actually tasked – by design or by accident, I don’t know – to find the defendants innocent.

How the DA handled these grand jury cases has been fodder for talking heads on both ends of the political spectrum. But the bottom line is, based on the information provided to them, grand jurors had no choice but to find no probable cause. In Staten Island and Ferguson, the jurors were given the prosecution’s evidence and the defense evidence. All that evidence is compounded by the great leeway cops have to show force.

Cops maim and kill people every day but these two cases in particular have raised public awareness about how the citizenry has allowed law enforcement to run amok. I get the public safety thing, but for instance, the other day I was in Loveland at the museum taking a peak at the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit there. Sitting on a bench was a guy – probably a homeless guy – being questioned by one cop, then another pulled up and joined in on the fun. He was standing back watching.

What went through my mind was, why were they hassling this guy?  The police show of force in this case was placing their hands on their hips in front of their weapons. The next show of force move would have been unsnapping their holsters.

Cops have an image problem.

It’s been happening for generations. It’s pretty much a thankless job – the cop’s job description is looking for trouble and they have guns. I’d be scared, too, if I had to walk into a domestic violence situation not knowing how wigged out a guy might be. (70 to 80 percent of DV perps are men).

Being scared and that coupled with preconceived fears about people based on stereotypes add to the over reaction.  I’m pretty sure the vast majority of cops don’t find themselves in life and death situations or try to avoid them.

Public agencies do the best they can to screen out the real bad apples through psychological screening, but those tests need to to be tweaked to better control for attitudes about race, gender identity.

Sure, Brown was stealing cigars and Garner selling loose cigarettes and not collecting taxes, but the problem is with cops escalating minor criminal situations that end up with people shot.

I hope there continue to be public outcries about this from kids marching out of school, and communities taking it to the streets. It’s the only way for victims to get the political system to react.

It’s going to take awhile for things to change. Keep in mind it’s only been 150 years since Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation and 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.

There’s no turning back.