Saturday, September 21, 2013

Joshua Hersh and Christina Wilkie, writing for the Huffington Post in an article titled:  "Obama's Stretegy of Talking To Countries Instead of Going To War Might Just Be Crazy Enough To Work."

"WASHINGTON -- When a less-gray-haired Sen. Barack Obama declared, early in his first presidential campaign, that he would be willing to meet with the leaders of estranged nations like Iran and Syria without preconditions, he was roundly chastised by both Democrats and Republicans alike for naivete.

"But now, after six arduous, solitary years of standing by a policy of preferring accord with rogue nations over recourse to full-on war, his approach seems to be on the verge of bearing fruit.

"In Syria, President Bashar Assad has agreed to open his chemical weapons program to international oversight, and eventual destruction . . .  And in Iran, a new, moderate president has responded to a personal letter from Obama, engaging in direct communication for the first time in years . . . .

"None of the developments has occurred without context or notes of caution, but it's nevertheless a remarkable turn of events for a president whose foreign policy, even a month ago, appeared to be in hapless disarray. If the diplomatic tracks in Syria and Iran pan out, proponents say they could point the way to the resolution of two of the most significant international crises facing the nation, without any American-caused warfare.

"'The administration's willingness to show both strength and smarts is paying off . . . An ancillary benefit has been that it's demonstrated to the Iranians that the U.S. is thinking before it's shooting, and that's a pretty new trend for the U.S.'. . . "


Friday, September 20, 2013

? ? "Davastating effects of Obamacare ? ?

Today House Republicans passed a stop-gap funding bill that will keep the government operating -- but only if Democrats agree to defund Obamacare.   Even some of their own Republican colleagues in the Senate have called it "foolish" and "dumb."

The Senate will not pass their bill, and the president would veto it if they did.  So it's pure politics and playing to their base.

House majority leader Eric Cantor said"This resolution will also protect the working middle class from the devastating effects of Obamacare."   That's the lie they are cynically trying to sell the public.

In contrast, it will actually keep thousands of Americans from going into bankruptcy for lack of medical care.  It will improve the health of millions.   It will help hold down costs of medical care.   

Yes, some premiums will go up -- because they will be getting more coverage and because medical costs have continued to climb.   But Republicans' attempt to keep young, healthy people from participating will make the premiums for everyone else go up even more.


Consider this: Iranian's new president speaks

If this is all as it seems to be, the election of Iran's new president, Hassad Rouhani, could be the best thing to happen in the world since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States.

Rouhani is calling on world leaders to take advantage of the moment to re-establish ties with Iran.  If he doesn't go too far too fast, this could be a transformative moment.

Look at the signals sent in just the past week:
     1.  Sent Rosh Hoshana greetings to Israel.
     2.  Released political prisoners.
     3.  Exchanged letters with President Obama.
     4.  Praised "flexibility" in negotiations.
     5.  Perhaps most important . . .  transferred responsibility for nuclear negotiations from the military to the Foreign Ministry.

All this has been done, apparently, with the approval of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.   Obviously there has been a major shift inside their governing groups.   Now add to that the following:

Two of the strongest defenders (and suppliers) of Syria's Assad are Russia and Iran.   Both leaders have in the past week made peace overtures to the U.S.    And Obama is not shutting them out.   He's cautiously and correctly exploring their sincerity.

Putin is brokering a deal to get rid of Syria's chemical weaponsRouhani stated that Syria is ready for talks with the rebels.

If Obama, Putin, and Rouhani could work this out and bring a peaceful settlement to Syria -- then Obama would have earned his Nobel Peace Prize.

At least, he should seize this moment and cautiously explore it.   And that is exactly what he is doing.  President Obama should be praised, not criticized, for withstanding the goading pressure from war hawks that think we should bomb them anyway.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

More admiration for Pope Francis

Anyone who has followed ShrinkRap over time knows how critical I was of Pope Benedict, especially when it came to his putting dogma and tradition, as well as papal opulence and pomp, above the real world and its needy people.

Did the College of Cardinals knows what they were doing when they chose his successor?  It's almost too good to be true -- but Francis has not faltered yet.   From refusing to ride in the pope-mobile or live in the papal apartments in the Vatican, to starting a process of cleaning up the corruption and mismanagement of the Vatican itself, to his thoughtful messages and candid interviews, he is little short of amazing in his departure from all that seemed wrong with his predecessor.

In his latest interview (with a Rome-based Jesuit journal) here's some of what he said, as reported on Huffington Post:
Pope Francis faulted the Roman Catholic church for focusing too much on gays, abortion and contraception, saying 'The church has sometimes locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. . . .  We have to find a new balance, otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel . .

"'If one has the answers to all the questions, that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himselfThe great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble.' . . .

"In the interview, Francis does not come out in support of gay marriage, abortion rights or contraception, saying that church positions on those issues are 'clear,' but he added that 'the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. . . .
 Asked about what he thinks about the position of nuns in the church, he recalled the nuns who took care of him in the hospital when he lost most of one lung from infection in his early 20s:
"I am alive because of one of them. When I went through my lung disease at the hospital, the doctor gave me penicillin and streptomycin in certain doses. The sister who was on duty tripled my doses because she was daringly astute; she knew what to do because she was with ill people all day. The doctor, who really was a good one, lived in his laboratorythe sister lived on the frontier and was in dialogue with it every day."
This seems like a clear parable of how he would have handled the crisis when the American nuns were rebuked by the Vatican for spending too much time in soup kitchens and helping the sick -- and not enough time protesting abortion and gay marriage.   The Vatican officials, "locked away in their laboratory" do not understand the people like the nuns who live and work directly with the people.

Before Francis was elected pope, I was advocating the (impossible) notion of turning the Vatican over to the nuns.   Now, it seems possible they and Pope Francis could work very well alongside each other.

I don't expect to be converting to Catholocism any time soon;  but I like and respect this man.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Iran's new president offer hope

When Iranians somewhat surprisingly elected a relatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, there sprang up some hope that we might yet find a peaceful resolution of the question of their developing nuclear weapons.

But who knew whether he would really have much influence?   Events since he took office however suggest that something is happening there.   How much is the result of the sanctions is not clear.  But the importance of Rouhani's election became even more obvious today.

In an exclusive interview with NBC's Ann Curry on the eve of his trip to address the United Nations, Rouhani was asked if he could say categorically that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons.   To make sure she was understanding him, she asked again.   His answer:
"We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb, and we are not going to do soWe solely are looking for peaceful nuclear technology."
He also assured Curry that his government has complete authority to negotiate a nuclear deal with the United States.   It is also known that he and President Obama have exchanged letters, and some are speculating that there might be a meeting of the two presidents during his trip to the U.S.

Yes, of course, the Iranians have been saying all along that they were not making a bomb, just peaceful uses for enriched uranium.    But this feels different.  Other more moderate things are happening there as well.

The war hawks in Congress won't like this.   If President Obama gets rid of Syria's chemical weapons peacefully and works out a verifiable deal with Iran, it's going to be harder to smear Obama as weak and inept in foreign policy.   So what if he lets Vladimir Putin takes some of the credit?   It locks Russia into some responsibility for whether Syria complies.  On top of this, we're out of Iraq and on schedule to end our combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014.  What are Lindsey Graham and John McCain going to do with all their war mongering wishes?    Maybe go take over Egypt?


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Public enemy #1 according to Republicans

You know what is the #1 public enemy right now, according to Republicans?    It has replaced the "communist threat" of the Cold War era.   It occupies more anguished commentary than the Middle East wars and uprisings;  more ink spilled than over immigration reform, gun control, or the national debt.

It is:   Obamacare.

Mitch McConnell called it the "single worst piece of legislation passed in this country in the last 50 years."   A House Republican from Louisiana went further, calling it the "worst ever."   The ultra-conservative Repulican nominee for governor of Virginia had to go back to the Fugitive Slave Act to match it's effrontary of liberty.

What's so bad about providing health insurance for millions more Americans, instituting ways to hold down medical costs, and guaranteeing that no one need lose their life savings and spent their elder years bankrupt?

Well, maybe you say that it's because it wasn't their idea.  And they're opposed to anything Obama came up with.    But in fact, the Affordable Health Care Act is essentially the program proposed by Republicans years ago;  and it was based in large part on Governmor Romney's health care act in Massachusetts, which incidentally most people like.

It's good for the goose to enact it, but when it comes from the gander, it's the worse bill ever passed by Congress.

Go figure.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

YEAH !!!!!

Larry Summers has asked President Obama to withdraw his name from consideration for Chairman of the Federal Reserve, saying that a confirmation process would be too acrimonious and not serve the interests of the Fed, the Administration, or the ultimate national recovery.

This is very good news.  Larry Summers is a brilliant man with multiple disqulaifying detractions that for some reason don't seem to bother the president.  These include much too cozy ties to Wall Street, prior promotion of deregulation, and the personality of a misogynistic, arrogant bully that has repeatedly gotten him in trouble, most notably when he was president of Harvard and the faculty slapped him with a "no confidence" vote.

I was hoping that President Obama would nominate the highly qualified Janet Yellen -- who has no such baggage or interpersonal problems -- with Summers still in the running.   Now it will probably look like she was second choice.  I wanted him to decide on her as his first choice, but it's pretty clear that he really wanted Summers.

But better to have her as second choice than not at all.


1963 Church bombing in Alabama

Today's is the 50th anniversary of the bombing of a church in Alabama that killed four little girls dressed in their finest Sunday School dresses.   One of those children was a friend of Condoleeza Rice.

1963 was the same year that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.  Both were pivotal events in the civil rights truggle -- the first touched the hearts of white Southerners in a new way;  the second brought Lyndon Johnson to the presidency, and it was his legislative skills that brought Kennedy's vision to fruition in the major civil rights laws that were passed.

Atlanta was a little bit different -- not much, but slightly better than its neighbors in dismantling generations of acquiescence to discrimination, bigotry, and cruelty to fellow humans.   What made that difference was its leadership

Mayor William B. Hartsfield proclaimed Atlanta as "the city too busy to hate."  Yes, that was a blatantly materialistic view -- we'll do the right thing because we're just too busy becoming the premier city of the South;  it's good for business -- but it was leading in the right direction.

When the Nobel Prize Committee gave it's Nobel Peace Prize to native son Martin Luther King, Jr., civic leaders, spurred on by a group of white women and church leaders, declared that indeed the city would honor Dr. King with a gala dinner -- integrated, of course.

And two of the leaders in this sensible response to changing attitudes were the Atlanta Constitution's Ralph McGill and Eugene Patterson.   Their columns confronted both the reality and the moral rightness of accepting black people as equal citizens with equal rights and respect.

Here is a reprint of Eugene Patterson's column about the Birmingham bombing that killed the little Sunday School girls, in which he says that we must all share the blame for the actions of a "brutal fool who didn't know better," who thought he would be regarded as a hero.  Patterson made us realize that we all helped perpetuate that climate of hate.
 "A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her.

"Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.
"It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite. The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children.
Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.
We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play.
"Wewho go on electing politicians who heat the kettles of hate.
"Wewho raise no hand to silence the mean and little men who have their nigger jokes.
"Wewho stand aside in imagined rectitude and let the mad dogs that run in every society slide their leashes from our hand, and spring.
"We — the heirs of a proud South, who protest its worth and demand it recognition — we are the ones who have ducked the difficult, skirted the uncomfortable, caviled at the challenge, resented the necessary, rationalized the unacceptable, and created the day surely when these children would die.
"This is no time to load our anguish onto the murderous scapegoat who set the cap in dynamite of our own manufacture.
"He didn’t know any better.
"Somewhere in the dim and fevered recess of an evil mind he feels right now that he has been a hero. He is only guilty of murder. He thinks he has pleased us.

"We of the white South who know better are the ones who must take a harsher judgment.

"We, who know better, created a climate for child-killing by those who don’t.
"We hold that shoe in our hand, Southerner. Let us see it straight, and look at the blood on it. Let us compare it with the unworthy speeches of Southern public men who have traduced the Negro; match it with the spectacle of shrilling children whose parents and teachers turned them free to spit epithets at small huddles of Negro school children for a week before this Sunday in Birmingham; hold up the shoe and look beyond it to the state house in Montgomery where the official attitudes of Alabama have been spoken in heat and anger.
"Let us not lay the blame on some brutal fool who didn’t know any better.
"We know better. We created the day. We bear the judgment. May God have mercy on the poor South that has so been led. May what has happened hasten the day when the good South, which does live and has great being, will rise to this challenge of racial understanding and common humanity, and in the full power of its unasserted courage, assert itself.
"The Sunday school play at Birmingham is ended. With a weeping Negro mother, we stand in the bitter smoke and hold a shoe. If our South is ever to be what we wish it to be, we will plant a flower of nobler resolve for the South now upon these four small graves that we dug."
Amen.   It's inspired writing like this that touched many white hearts in a South that was mired in unthinking, unfeeling tradition that kept the myth that blacks also preferred all the separate but (un)equal facilities and demeaning treatment.   McGill and Patterson were a conscience of a city, and they had the eloquence to convey that conscience to all of who were ready to listen.