Saturday, July 20, 2013

Spoken by a Republican president

Dwight David Eisenhauer was not my choice for president in 1952.  I was an ardent Adlai Stephenson supporter.   But Eisenhauer was not a bad president, and he said some wise things.
We've long known about his warning of the dangers of giving too much power to what he called "the military industrial complex," that combination of weapons manufacturers and the military that always wanted more weapons.

Another Ike quote has re-surfaced, and it is equally wise -- and equally ignored by his latter-day Republican colleagues.
 "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and elimate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history.   There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. . . . Their number is negligible and they are stupid."
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, Paul Ryan and Rand Paul, and the whole lot of you obstructionists and betrayers of the American people.

Eisenhauer and Reagen would both be ashamed of you.   Even Richard Nixon would think you're cruel -- and that's a pretty low level to sink to.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Yes, you did say it, Congressman

Like everyone else, congressmen often say what they really mean -- and then deny they meant it when called to task for the insult.

An example from 1995 still rankles:    House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) referred to openly gay Rep. Barney Frank as "Barney Fag."    Then tried to dismiss it as merely a mispronunciation and blamed the media for reporting it.    Yeah, right.

Well, now we have a similar situation with racial overtones -- or, rather, with blazing colors.   As ShrinkRap readers well know, I consider Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) one of the most despicable members of the Republican House -- and that has to be pretty far down the despicable scale.   As chair of the House Committee on Government Oversight, he is in a position to make life miserable for the White House by his incessant hearings on supposed wrong-doing.    The most notoriously wrong one recently being the IRS non-scandal.

The feud between Issa and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) is mostly about politcal and policy differences;  but today racism came front and center.    Cummings is African-American.

The contention was (still !!) about the IRS non-scandal, which Issa keeps trying to breathe life into.   Cummings challenged Issa's past assertions that the White House was behind the IRS targeting of Tea Party Groups.    Issa interrupted him to deny that he had ever blamed the White House, claiming he had only said "Washington."   Here's the shocking comment:
"I'm always shocked when the ranking member seems to want to say, like a little boy whose hand has been caught in a cookie jar, 'What hand? What cookie?' I've never said it leads to the White House."
First, Issa is on record as having called the President's Press Secretary "a paid liar" for denying any White House involvement.   So Issa himself is lying here.

But that pales in comparison to calling the 62 year old, African-American congressman a "boy."   Nobody with any sensitivity or understanding in today's world could fail to know that this is inflammatory and will rightfully be felt as a racist put-down.

Of course, Issa did try to weasle out, saying it was just a saying from his own boyhood, and he meant nothing by it.   I've heard it all my life too -- but only the part about "getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar."   I've never heard it as "a little boy whose hand has been caught in a cookie jar."

Actually, it's Issa who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar -- trying to make a case against Obama that simply doesn't exist.  He was caught in his lie, and resorted to a metaphor which fits him exactly, not his more honorable Democratic colleague.

Cummings, acting the gentleman of traditional Senate decorum, accepted Issa's explanation.    That's real class;  and it fools no one.   Issa was the loser in this exchange.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Good for Sen. Lindsay Graham

I've often been critical of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) on here.   So today I will praise him for admitting that he and his party were wrong to filibuster the appointment of President Obama's choice to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.

Now let it be clear that the Republicans filibustered the appointment for 700 days -- that's almost two years -- during which time the newly created regulatory agency was without a permanent director.

Today, now that the showdown over using the filibuster to block the president's appointments to executive branch positions has been settled, and Cordray has been confirmed, Sen. Graham has admitted they were wrong.
Cordray was being filibustered because we don’t like the law.  That's not a reason to deny someone their appointment.  We were wrong."
Thanks for that, senator.   But couldn't you have spoken up a little sooner?


Legal guilt vs moral culpability

 Ruth Marcus, writing about the Zimmerman aquital in a Washington Post Opinion (7-14-13), drew a distinction between "the criminal justice system and justice itself."
"Whatever preceded the fight between the two men, the central question, as a matter of criminal law, was precisely what occurred in the immediate moments before Zimmerman fired the fatal shot. Zimmerman instigated the tragic chain of events, but legally that was not relevant.  . . .  Even for the lesser charge of manslaughter, they had to rebut his claim of self-defense, showing that he could not “reasonably believe” shooting Martin was 'necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.'

Justice takes the longer time frame. Zimmerman may not be legally responsible for Martin’s death but he remains morally culpable."
 It's a fine line, and I think she's right about the law and the charge to the jury.  In order to convict him, even of homocide, they had to decide that he shot him out of malice rather than -- in the moment -- self-defense.  They just didn't have the evidence to support that beyond a reasonable doubt.   One of the jurors has been quoted as saying they "had no choice but to find him not guilty."

But being right in the judicial system and the jury charge does not make it right in the larger, moral picture.   Zimmerman set up the whole thing that led to this result, even if Trayvon threw the first punch in the final fight and was beating Zimmerman to death.

Here's how Congressional Black Caucus chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH) put it:
"Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he was not found innocent. All of the facts . . . that I'm aware of, is that there was a young man walking in his neighborhood, walking to his house unarmed, and someone decided that he looked suspicious. . .  They put a young black boy on trial for being in his own neighborhood walking home from the store."
She has a point.  The defense attorneys were much better strategically and tactically, and they did shift the trial to those last few minutes and what happened in the fight between an unarmed boy, fighting for his life and a self-appointed vigilante with a gun, who (perhaps) found himself outmatched.   So he reached for his gun . . .  and now an innocent boy is dead.

They turned the trial into Zimmerman's story of self-defense.   Well, what about Trayvon Martin's self-defense?   Why didn't the prosecution construct a plausible story of him being stalked by a man with a gun, fearing for his life -- and he had the right to defend himself, just as much as Zimmerman did to defend himself when his head was being pounded into the concrete?

It seems pretty clear to me that what is needed is a change in the laws governing self-defense and stand your ground, as well as gun laws.   For one thing, these self-appointed, neighborhood watch individuals, without any required training, should not carry guns.  As someone said, "They should be armed only with a cell phone."  The laws make it too easy for just this type of legally-correct, but morally indefensible, defense that lets vigilante-type zealots get away with murder.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

And England makes 15

With a final vote by the House of Commons and signed by the Queen, England has become the fourth nation to approve marriage equality within last six months.   It brings the total to 15 nations with legal marriage equality:  Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Uruguay, New Zealand, France, England.

Along with the cities of Washington, D.C. and Mexico City, there are 13 U. S. states where it is also legal:  MA, CT, IA, VT, NH, NY, WA, MD, ME, CA, RI, DE, MN.


Liz wants to start at the top

 Liz Cheney, daughter of the odious Dick Cheney and his irritating wife Lynn, has decided that she will enter politics . . . at the top.  She's going to run for the Senate and will seek the GOP nomination from Wyoming.

She is challenging the incumbent, Sen. Mike Enzi, who is (or was) a good friend of her father.    Less than a year ago, Liz was saying that she wouldn't run if Enzi was going to seek another term, and she described him as "a terrific senator and a good friend." 

Mike Enzi immediately received support from colleagues in the senate and a promise that the National Republican Senatorial Committee will back him.

Liz Cheney has a law degree from the University of Chicago, and she has worked as a lawyer for both the State Department and the Agency for International Development.   Since her father's 2008 VP campaign, she has been a frequent commentor on tv news programs, where she has taken an often-outrageously conservative position.

She is already being criticized as a "carpetbagger," having never received a pay check in the state of Wyoming and lived all her adult life in Virginia.   Now she's banking on her family's deep roots in Wyoming to run against a favorite son in a state where incumbents are usually not challenged.

Liz's tendency to speak nonsence is already evident in her statement, trying to position herself as more willing to go against President Obama's policies:
"I think it's time for us to say to ourselves, can we continue to go along to get along in Washington?"
Can anybody, even the most radical right-wing conservative actually believe that the Republicans' problem in the senate is "going along to get along?"   That is simply idiot-speak.  The people of Wyoming are not that dumb.   Obviously that is a jab at Enzi, who is known as one who will compromise to work out problems.   That's what we need more of, not some opportunist riding on Daddy's coattails who has one song to sing.   Mitch McConnell's downfall seems to prove that song is plunging in the charts.

I don't believe the people of Wyoming are going to take to Liz, no matter how much money her connections will pull in for her.


Loser . . . humiliated by his own party.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is having a tough time.   He carried his mean-spirited obstructionist campaign to thwart anything President Obama tried to do too far -- including refusing to allow consideration of nominees to run the agencies of government.

Steven Cordray is the best example.   He had been waiting 700 days since he was nominated to be Director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, a watchdog to see that banks, credit card companies, etc. do not take undue advantage of consumers.   It wasn't that McConnell and his cronies objected to Cordray -- they would object to any nominee because they don't want the agency to function.

They also have refused to even consider Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.  He finally made two recess appointments, but they have refused to take up the other three that must be nominated in order for the agency to function.   They don't like the NLRB, so the just refuse to staff it.

McConnell has an approval rating even in his own state of Kentucky that's under water, and  a Democratic challenger for 2014 who is slightly outpolling him at this early date -- both very bad signs for an incumbant.    And now even his Senate Republicans have slapped him down.

Led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), they went around their leader and negotiated a deal with the Democrats to avoid a fight over the filibuster on nominations.   This is a major blow to the leadership of Mitch McConnell.

At the last minute, McConnell went to Majority Leader Harry Reid with an offer, trying to save face.   But Reid just said no -- because even then McConnell wanted in exchange a promise that Reid would never again try to play the nuclear card of eliminating the filibuster.   So Reid, knowing he had the upper hand, just kept saying no.

McConnell should resign his leadership position.   He has led the party into a swamp that is both a legislative disaster and a public relations debacle.   Even worse, he has obstructed the people's business of governing -- for pure political power.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finally, the Senate Repubs blinked

The dysfunctional United States Senate has been held hostage by Republicans willing to misuse the filibuster to maintain minority control.   Harry Reid finally said Enough and promised to change the filibuster rules if the Senate did not confirm President Obama's seven nominees to fill positions in his administrative team.

One of those nominees, Richard Cordray, has been waiting 700 days for confirmation as Director of the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- or rather it was new three years ago and has gone without yet having a properly confirmed director, because Republicans don't like the agency.

Reid allowed Repubs a face-saving compromise that avoided the "Nuclear Option" of changing the rules.   The Democrats agreed that the two nominees for the Labor Relations Board will be replaced when their term expires.  President Obama had installed them as recess appointments when Repubicans refused to even vote on their confirmation.

The perverse pattern here is that the Repubs are holding up confirmations, not out of objection to the individuals, but because they don't like the agencies or because they just want to thwart Obama.

Elizabeth Warren, more than anyone,  planned, designed, got this agency ready to operate.  But she was not even nominated because of Republican opposition even to giving her a hearing.   The irony is that, in these three years, she has successfully run and been elected to the senate.   She was given the privilege today by her colleagues of presiding over the session and announcing Cordray's successful confirmation.


Help agribusiness but take away the food stamps

Republicans sank to a new low this past week when they cut the food stamp program out of the farm bill and added even more pork for the corporate agribusiness industry.   Here's how Paul Krugman put it in his New York Times column:
"Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.

"The occasion for these observations is, as you may have guessed, the monstrous farm bill the House passed last week.

"For decades, farm bills have had two major pieces. One piece offers subsidies to farmers; the other offers nutritional aid to Americans in distress, mainly in the form of food stamps . . . Long ago, when subsidies helped many poor farmers, you could defend the whole package as a form of support for those in need. Over the years, however, the two pieces diverged. Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net

"So House Republicans voted to maintain farm subsidiesat a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposedwhile completely eliminating food stamps from the bill. . . .  

"So what’s going on here? Is it just racism? No doubt the old racist canards — like Ronald Reagan’s image of the "strapping young buck" using food stamps to buy a T-bone steak — still have some traction. But these days almost half of food stamp recipients are non-Hispanic whites;  in Tennessee . . .  the number is 63 percent. So it’s not all about race.

"What is it about, then? Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness, a contempt for what CNBC’s Rick Santelli . . .  called losers.” If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick. I don’t fully understand it, but it’s a terrible thing to behold."
The job of Democrats and compassionate Independents, is to make sure all of this gets prominent play in the 2014 campaigns.   And what about the religious groups?   This should be a rallying cry to pull a few of the right-wing evangelicals away from the Republican candidates.    You know, as in:   "feed the poor."

Vote these people out of office !!!


Monday, July 15, 2013

It just doesn't seem right

George Zimmerman used a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol to kill Trayvon Martin.

The jury found Zimmerman not guilty of Second Degree murder, and I might have to agree with them that the evidence did not meet the stated legal criteria.  But he is morally culpable for his actions.   The court found him not guilty;  but he is not innocent.                           

George Zimmerman is free to walk the streets.  Trayvon Martin is dead.   Zimmerman is free to patrol the streets again.  They gave him his gun back.   So he can resume his volunteer neighboorhood watch carrying his gun, stalking other black young men.    He might get into another fight and have to shoot again in self-defense.   What then?   How many times can you kill and call it self defense?

Somehow I do not feel safer, knowing Watch Capain Zimmerman is on duty with his gun.


Racial prejudice persists

Saturday night, blogger Cord Jefferson wrote this:
Tonight a Florida man’s acquittal for hunting and killing a black teenager who was armed with only a bag of candy serves as a Rorschach test for the American public. For conservatives, it’s a triumph of permissive gun laws and a victory over the liberal media, which had been unfairly rooting for the dead kid all along. For liberals, it's a tragic and glaring example of the gaps that plague our criminal justice system. For people of color, it’s a vivid reminder that we must always be deferential to white people, or face the very real chance of getting killed.
That sums it up, except for one thing, which is after all part of the mix that makes up the racial situation in America.

The six women jurors in this case are from -- and will go back to living in -- Sanford, Florida.  Living among neighbors, many of whom see the problem as coming from blacks, especially young black men.   And living in a community with a police force that has not shown itself to be the most sensitive to racial matters.

I am neither accusing nor excusing these women jurors, as to whether/how much race entered into their decision.   From every indication, they were hard-working and conscientious; and they may just not have believed that the evidence as presented allowed them to find guilt for manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt.   But their experiences and their attitudes have got to be part of the mix -- just as it was in the terrible event itself, and as it was in the police response, and as it was in the national outrage that Zimmerman was not arrested to start with.

Racial prejudice and racial conflict are pervasive and not just in the obvious ways.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Unequal justice in Florida

The morning after the verdict, I'm still sorting through my thoughts and feelings about it.

Here's another way of looking at the crux of the way the case was handled:   The defense made the case about the last few minutes -- Who started the fighting?  Who was on top when the gun was fired?  Who was defending himself?

The prosecution was less successful in its aim to keeping the focus on the whole picture:   An innocent teenager walking along home from a store who winds up dead from a self-appointed cop-wannabe:  What was in his mind?  Racial prejudice?   Gun-toting machismo?  Cocky from the protection of Florida's Stand Your Ground laws?

That phase is over.   But behind this all there is racial inequality and injustice.  And unjust Florida laws.

Contrast these cases:  (1)  George Zimmerman kills unnecessarily and walks free.  (2) Marissa Alexander, mother of three small children, had obtained a restraining order against her abusive husband whom she has left.   Thinking him not home at their previous residence, she went to get the rest of her clothes.  He appeared, she felt threatened, and went to her car to get a gun she had a legal permit for, went back in and fired a warning shot at a wall.   No one was actually shot at;  no one was hurt.

But because of Florida's mandatory sentencing laws, when a gun is used in another crime, Alexander was found guilty of aggravated assault with the use of a gun and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Marissa Alexander used a gun just as a warning and for self-protection;  no one was shot.   But Marissa is African-American and she is in jail for 20 years.

George Zimmerman carried a gun to protect his property.  He shot and killed a black teenager who was unarmed.   But George Zimmerman is not black, and he went free.