Saturday, March 29, 2014

Christie has NOT been exonerated

A lawyer from the firm that Gov. Chris Christie chose to investigate him and his staff  -- paid for by New Jersey taxpayers -- sums up the report of their investigation by saying that there is "no hard evidence" that the governor had any involvement with the bridge closing.

Let's not be fooled, however.   This report is anything but objective and complete.   It does not "exonerate" Christie, as he is now boldly claiming.

First, the five principle people who know what went on -- Bridgett Kelly, Steve Stepien, David Wildstein, Bill Baroni, and David Sampson -- either declined to provide testimony or were unable to because of ongoing federal investigations.  So we do not know what they know, nor what their documents might show.

That's like investigating a murder, and you can't talk to the five eye-witnesses;  but, because 10 other people, who weren't there, said they didn't see anything -- the suspect says he was exonerated.

Second, the report is shocking in its tone toward Bridgett Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff.   It's crystal clear she is the one chosen to be thrown under the bus and have the whole mess blamed on her.

It goes beyond trying to put the blame on her.   What is shocking is the personal, sexist attack on her (a scorned woman whose emotions clouded her judgment;  "she cries a lot").   When asked about this portrayal in his news conference, Christie played the high hand:   no, this wasn't a personal attack;  it was just that this is what people they interviewed told the investigators. 

Third, it's obvious that this is a pre-emptive, defensive strike to discredit any future testimony Bridget Kelly might give to implicate Christie.   This was a mistake -- and one I'm glad they made.    Kelly has come back swinging, as if any shred of loyalty to Christie has now been destroyed.   Her lawyer's letter in response was scathing -- and told the federal prosecutor that she is ready to tell everything if given immunity.

Fourth, Kelly's lawyer's letter gave a strong hint at what she will say.   Carefully worded, to be sure, but the letter closed by saying that Ms. Kelly had always worked hard "to carry out the policies of the Christi office" [italics added].

This is a strong signal that her testimony would be that it was clear to her that this is what Christie wanted.  She was not a rogue, vindictive individual but rather a team player following the plan set by the top dog himself.

So -- just forget this million-dollar boondoggle of an "investigation" (unless you pay taxes in NJ).  It means nothing in the legal investigation.   Leave that to the federal prosecutor, whose official investigation is going far beyond bridge closings to include misallocations of federal money, including political favoritism and paybacks.


The first Republican "primary"

As an illustration of just how much money has come to dominate our political landscape, what is being referred to as "the first Republican primary" of the 2016 presidential campaign is taking place in Las Vegas this weekend.

Multi-billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is hosting a hand-picked quartet of contenders:   Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich.    These choices suggest that Adelson wants someone to put his money on who is more pragmatist than ideologue and someone who can win the general election.

Adelson reportedly put $98 million into the 2012 campaign, first backing Newt Gingrich, then Mitt Romney. To most of us, that's a staggering amoung of money -- except that, as a percent of his wealth, it's equivalent to about $95 for the average family, according to MSNBC's Ari Melber.  That's how rich Adelson is:   $98 million is pocket change for him, given his assets of $38 billion.

Having one person wield this much power to choose our president is alarming.   On the other hand, in 2012 Adelson's didn't pick a winnerGingrich didn't win the primary and Romney didn't win the presidency.

Actually, big money probably makes more difference in congressional and local races than it does in the presidential race, where candidates get so much more media coverage and voters depend less on the political ads on tv.


UN Human Rights Committee

From Firedoglake blog, Mar 27, 2014:

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has released it's latest assessment of the human rights record of nations.    We don't come out looking so well;   in fact, the blogger I'm relying on calls it a "withering" report that is "downright embarrassing" for us.

Our listed failings include:   the lack of holding any high officials accountable for the myriad offenses leading up to our invasion of Iraq;  lack of prosecutions for torture and targeted killings, the continued detentions at Quantanamo, a domestic justice system that disproportionately targets minorities, snd the continued use of the death penalty.

Conservatives and official government policy generally consider this group to be anti-U.S. and anti-Israel.  I'm not sure whether we even send delegates;  I know one year we did not.

This is also a group without enforcement power.  Nevertheless, it gives pause to those of us who want a higher moral compass to govern our policies and our stance in the world.

It's not enough for us to declare that our motives are good.   We have to be judged also by our actions.   Judged by this UN Committee, we rank down there with Iran and China when it comes to human rights.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Change at the Vatican

Pope Francis continues to bring fresh breezes of change to the Vatican.   

His designated #3 official, Cardinal George Pell, recently testified before an Australian federal inquiry into child sex abuse in that country.    Cardinal Pell said that the Australian church had been far ahead of the Vatican in dealing with the child abuse scandal back in 1995.   They were generally skeptical of victims' claims, he said.    "The attitude of some people in the Vatican was that if accusations were being made against priests, they were made exclusively or at least predominantly by enemies of the church to make trouble."

And who was directly in charge of investigating child abuse claims against priests in 1995?   None other than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict from 2005 until his resignation last year.

Next week, Cardinal Pell joins the Vatican inner circle as the Secretariat of the Economy.  Investigating child abuse will not be his responsibility;  he will be the Minister of Finance.  Nevertheless, his appointment exemplifies the way Francis is opening up the unworldly place the Vatican had become and bringing in cardinals who are not afraid to criticize it's past failings.


Republicans apoplectic over success of Obamacare

Republicans are running for Congress on a promise to get rid of Obamacare -- or to replace it with an as yet unrevealed Republican alternative.

So, understandably, they are apoplectic that the health care enrollment is fast becoming a resounding success, with more than 6 million already enrolled and more than 500,000 calls a day coming in. 

To double their apoplexy, a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation reveals that
     59% want to keep Obamacare as it is (10%) or keep it and improve it (49%).
     29% want to get rid of it (18%) or replace it with a Republican alternative (11%).

Bad news for Republicans;   very welcome good news for Democrats.  And it will only get better as the success of enrollment begins to sink in and challenge all the nay-sayers.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

NOM co-chair concedes on marriage equality

In an interview with Lila Shapiro of the Huffington Post, the co-founder and co-chair of the National Organization for Marriage, Maggie Gallagher, has in effect conceded they have lost the battle to prevent marriage equality.

Asked by Shapiro:  "At this point, what do you think is the most effective way to push the message of 'traditional marriage' forward?"  Gallagher replied:
As I said last summer, it was clear to me from reading Windsor [the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor], gay marriage advocates now have five votes for inserting a right to gay marriage in our Constitution. We are now in the 'gay marriage in all 50 states' phase whether we like it or not. What's next? In my view people who believe in the traditional understanding of marriage, and believe that it matters, have to become a creative minority, finding way to both express these sexual views, culturally, artistically and intellectually and to engage with the newly dominant cultural view of marriage respectfully but not submissively
That one paragraph is the most honest and the only responsible thing I have ever heard from Maggie Gallagher since I first started following her anti-gay rants back when she was a syndicated columnist carried in the AJC.   Mostly, back then, she just seemed a silly, ill-informed, prejudiced woman.

Then she became a national spokesperson for the anti-gay viewpoint, and she not only seemed silly and irrelevant but outright ugly and bigoted.   So, in her defeat, I will give Maggie a passing grade for accepting the inevitable with some grace and respect.

When compared with the odious Fred Phelps, she doesn't look so bad after all.


PS:  Please note:   I have corrected the earlier mistake in my headline.   It's NOM (National Organization for Marriage, not NOW (National Organization of Women) as I mistakenly wrote it originally.   My apologies to any NOW members who might have read this.

Georgia's "guns everywhere" law

The Georgia legislature has adopted new gun regulations so expansive that it's been dubbed "the guns everywhere law."    It's been called the most extreme gun bill in America, and it awaits Gov. Nathan Deal's (expected) signature.

Thanks to the AJC's Jay Bookman for breaking it down.   Here's what it does:

1.  Been convicted of intentionally pointing a gun at another person?   No problem.   You can still get a permit to carry a weapon.

2.  Want to carry your gun -- just for the hell of it, or even with intent to kill -- into a bar, a restaurant, a church?   Feel free.

3.  How about if you've been called in for an audit by the IRS, and you'd feel better if you was armed?   Go right ahead, brother, as long as it's not in one of them government buildings with those fancy metal detecting machines.  Most government buildings don't, except for the Capitol, where the NRA writes the gun laws, or one of the court buildings, where a judge once got shot.

4.  Going to see your "little missus" off on a plane to visit her mama?   You just go right ahead and walk into that airport with your big six-shooter.  As long as you don't try to go through the security gates, it's no problem.    And if you're even flying yourself and you "forget" to take that Glock out of your briefcase, well, there won't be any big deal.   You can't take it on the plane, of course, but they won't handcuff you and take you off to jail, like they do now.   This law would abolish any criminal charges, fines, or anything bad for trying to board a plane with a gun.

Of course, all of these extensions just apply to people who have carry permits.  Can't just anybody pack heat, can they?

Well, yes and no.  According to HB 60, which the governor is expected to sign, this being an election year and all,  actually forbids law enforcement to keep a list of who has carry permits.  So all you got to do is say, "Yeah, man, I got a permit.   I just forgot and left it at home."   There ain't nothing they can do.  They have to take you at your word.

Now, if you wust to commit a crime, and they found out later you didn't have no permit, it might go bad for you.   But just ordinary folks, wantin' to carry -- just go right ahead and exercise your God-given Second Amendment Rights, Brother.   Right on !!!!

God help us.  Can we learn nothing from repeated tragedies involving guns?

I have to add that I am very disappointed in Sen. Jason Carter for voting for this bill.  It's probably a reality that he couldn't defeat Nathan Deal in the race for governor this year if he hadn't.   But I would rather see him go down, honorably taking a stand against such idiocyWe'll never get any different results as long as politicians keel over for the NRA


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Comments invited

ShrinkRap is an open blog.  I invite readers to submit comments.

Apparently some have tried and had difficulty getting them to post.   Here's how:  At the bottom of each post, click on "comments."   A window will open with space for you to write a comment.  Then from the drop-down window by "comment as," you can select how to identify yourself.  Then click on "publish."

If you have any trouble with this, you can write to me at:   Send me your comment, and I can post it, while we try to figure out what the problem is.


The Christie farce just became more of a farce

Someone in the Chris Christie camp has managed to get someone at the New York Times to accept and publish a leak saying that the internal investigation report "found no evidence of Gov. Christie's involvement" in the bridge closing.

Let me paraphrase that:   Christie has just exonerated himself.   Nothing more than that.

Here's the situation.   There is a special federal prosecutor systematically investigating the whole collection of scandals with Christie at their center.   In addition is the special joint legislative committee investigationBoth are ongoing.

But, in the meantime, Christie hired a law firm -- where one of his good political friends is a partner -- to do an internal investigation.   The report hasn't been released yet, but Christie's office is leaking what it wants people to hear.  It's obviously a PR attempt to plant the idea of "complete exoneration" prior to the full report and all its details of the sordid mess that Christie has created.

Not that there is going to be anything substantive involving Christie himself.   None of the four key players who presumably hold all the smoking gungs -- Bridget Kelly, David Wildstein, Bill Boroni, and Bill Stepien -- were interviewed by this team.

What farce.  And did I mention that New Jersey taxpayers are paying more than $1 million for this "investigation"?

My conclusion:   Chris Christie must really be guilty of something.  If he's not, why not just sit back and wait for the prosecutor to fail to find any evidence?  The only thing that makes sense of Christie's behavior is that he knows it's going to come out, and he's sewing a public relations crazy quilt while he can, hoping to obfuscate the truth.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Suprising stats on U. S. citizens emigrating

We are so inundated by talk of immigration reform that we tend to think that the influx of Latin Americans coming north is the only story about moving.

The Huffington Post just did a story, based on data from the Migration Policy Institute, about where people move from and to.  There are some surprises.

For example, the #1 place that U.S. citizens move to is Mexico:   849,000 of us now live in Mexico.   According to the New York Times, the migration direction between U. S. and Mexico is north to south:  i.e. more people have moved from the U.S. to Mexico than the other way around.

Rounding out the rest of the top 10 emigration spots for U.S. citizens are:  Canada, United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, Germany, Australia, Israel, South Korea, Japan and Italy.

But what about Costa Rico and the Cayman Islands?   Isn't that where they all go?   Perhaps I'm thinking of retirees looking for cheap cost of living.   These stats may be more about younger people living abroad for business or career purposes.


Move over, Uganda and Russia

It has really been stunning the way repressive anti-gay laws have been put into effect in the recent past, most notably, in Uganda and Russia.    Uganda imposes long jail sentences just for being gay, but reconsidered and limited the death penalty to more "aggravated" homosexual acts.  Russia's provocative 2013 law has no such harsh penalties, but does proscribe any efforts at "promoting" homosexuality, which includes public identification or attending protest rallies.    Inevitably, with such encouragement to the forces of hate, anti-gay violence has already increased in both countries.

Closer home, and therefore even more shocking, is the "morality clause" in the new contract for teachers employed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati.    According to a Human Rights Campaign, the clause calls "not only for the firing of gay and lesbian school employees, but also cites support of the 'homosexual lifestyle' as grounds for dismissal."  Teachers in 94 parochial schools in the archdiocese will be affected by this contract.

If they choose to enforce it this way, even making a contribution to a gay civil rights organization or attending a Pride event with your gay daughter could be considered grounds for firing.

Surely this is not consistent with Pope Francis' new spirit of acceptance, nor with the majority of RC laity;  but, as HRC points out, the Council of Catholic Bishops seem to be digging in their heels.


Why is this illegal?

At first it was an amusing, slighly tittilating story.   At the Uffizi art museum in Florence, Italy, a young man stood looking at the Botticelli painting, "Birth of Venus."   Then calmly and without fanfare he stripped off his clothes and assumed the same pose as the naked goddess in the painting.

naked man 
Other museums goers took pictures with their smart phones, which quickly circulated on social media.   Finally the guards stepped in, and he was charged with "indecent exposure."

But, as I thought about it, this bit of whimsy, or performance art if you prefer, became a serious question about social mores -- and laws.

Why is it "indecent" for a live person to stand naked in front of a painting of a naked person that the world has revered, and flocked to see, for over 500 years


Monday, March 24, 2014

Profile in courage -- Jack Conway, Kentucky AG

In the last post on this topic (03-20-14), I said that some state attorneys general are declining to defend these laws banning gay marriage that are being overturned by federal judges.  These include California, Illinois, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.    A federal judge has struck down that part of Kentucky's ban that prohibits the state from recognizing or providing benefits to those legally married in other states;  but the ban on gay marriage itself stands.

In announcing that he would not defend the law that was over-turned, Kentucky's Attorney General Jack Conway said: 
"I came to the inescapable conclusion that to [defend the law] would be defending discriminationThat I will not do."
Conway later told Time magazine that:
I am sworn to uphold the Kentucky Constitution and I am sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution."   This wasn’t the first time, Conway said, that he was asked to defend a policy that he personally opposed. But he said being asked to use his office to deny Kentucky’s gay citizens equal protection under the law was something he simply couldn’t do.  Once I reached the conclusion that the law was discriminatory, I could no longer defend it."
Conway's decision could have political implications for him in conservative Kentucky, where he reportedly plans to run for governor in 2015.  “I would be disingenuous with you if I didn’t say that I at least was thinking about it. . . . but it wasn’t the overriding consideration.”

To do this in as conservative state as Kentucky and put your political future in jeopardy, is indeed an act of courage and principle.  But I think there's more to it, in Conway's case.  In a video clip of his announcement, Conway had to struggle to hold back tears and regain control of his emotions.   It seemed obviously more personal than political.   Perhaps someone close to him is gay, which is so often the case.   Or maybe we're now getting to the place where it's just easier to do what is right.

There's also the issue of a lawyer's obligation to defend his client, the client here being the people of Kentucky who passed the law.   Conway said this:
"But there is also a separate ethical canon for prosecutors and elected officersYes, you must provide zealous representation for your client.   But you have a higher duty to see that justice is done. . .  From a legal standpoint I draw the line at discrimination."


Bravo, Jack Conway, whatever your personal reasons for doing the right thing.   At 44, already in his second term as AG, Conway has a bright political futureHe is smart, articulate, very attractive, and a highly qualified Duke Law School graduate.   He was the Democratic nominee who ran for the Senate against Rand Paul in 2010.  What a different political landscape we would have now if he had won instead of Paul.    If he had already been in the governor's job for a while, I'd be putting him on a list of possible VP running mates for Hillary.

Even so, I'm hopeful that we're about to see a swing back to the Democrats in the South -- with Jack Conway and Alison Lundergren Grimes in Kentucky and Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn in Georgie leading the way.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The unasked question about Malaysian Flight 370

It's been over two weeks now since Malaysian Flight 370 disappeared from all contact with the known world.   Untold millions of dollars have been spent by several countries ($2.5 million by the U.S. as of a week ago) looking for clues and explanations.    Hours of TV news time stretch into 24/7.

Of course we want to know the answers, as with any unsolved, intriguing puzzle.   Of course the families of those on board need closure.  Of course, it may be vital for insurance companies to know the cause.  Of course, governments need to know of any terrorist involvement.

But when do you stop applying all of the modern world's technology and work-time resources to what seems a losing quest for answers?   The speculation du jour has morphed through:  sabotage, unplanned catastrophic event, deliberate act of takeover, pilot suicide, and now we're back to thinking maybe it was "just an accident."

We may never know.   With all the other unsolved troubles in the world needing resources, when do you accept that and say enough is enough?


Gov. Deal has a bad deal for Georgia

Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA) is a consummate master of working the system of our government to his advantage.  This has been true when he got sweetheart deals that benefited him financially, that finessed the ethics charges against him, and when he got out of financial hot water through . . . who knows what special deals with banks that wanted his favor.   His son-in-law, who declared bankruptcy to get out of a bad business had failed to declare that he had had a previous bankruptcy, while invalidated the deal.    Yet he wound up getting a lucrative job with the nursing home association that does billions of dollars of business with the state.   No connection with the governor;  oh, of course not !!!

It's that sort of thing.    Today's story about Deal however has more to do with putting one over on the people of Georgia -- yes, the people who elected him to work for them.   Here's Deal's bad deal, so aptly described by my favorite AJC editorial writer, Jay Bookman.

Cause and effect. It’s all about cause and effect, or more accurately, ignoring cause and effect.
Facing re-election this fall, Gov. Nathan Deal wants Georgia voters to give him credit for the fact that, according to the Tax Foundation, the state ranks dead last — 50th out of 50 — in state taxes collected per capita.  Presumably, this fact demonstrates excellent stewardship on the governor’s part . . .

However, Deal doesn’t want voters to blame him for the fact that Georgia schools can’t afford to keep their doors open for a full academic calendar, that Georgia’s highways and bridges are crumbling, that tuition in public colleges is soaring, that its court system is struggling, that rural hospitals are being forced to shut down, that children under the state’s protection are dying, that we have the nation’s second-highest dropout rate and that trips to get a driver’s license have once again become a nightmare. These things, we are asked to believe, are outside our governor's realm of responsibility and tell us nothing about his stewardship of the state.

In other words, we are supposed to believe that having the lowest tax collections in the country — some 33 percent below the national average — has nothing to do with the state’s inability to perform some of its most basic functions. . .

Likewise, the governor would like the voters of Georgia to be angry and outraged that the Obama administration has not yet agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to deepen the port of Savannah. That's terrible, but not half as terrible as the fact that the federal government DID offer to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to provide health insurance to some half a million Georgians [which the governor refused] . . .

And any notion that the federal government’s reluctance to help Georgia in its port expansion might be affected by state officials who treat Washington as a foreign invader in every other context — wipe that thought from your mind, because cause and effect have no place here. . . .
There's more, but you get the picture.   Just more of the governor trying to work the system.  But who is getting hurt?   And will they realize it and rise up to vote Mr. Deal out of the deal?

Jimmy Carter's grandson, State Senator Jason Carter, is hoping to defeat Nathan Deal at the polls in November.   I hope he does too.   We need to put the Democrats back in charge of the state.   There might just be a chance to make a start on that with the respected new generation of Carters and Nunns running -- Jason Carter for governor and Michelle Nunn the U. S. senate.