Saturday, July 19, 2014

Deal doubles down . . . but doesn't help his case

Gov. Nathan Deal is apparently worried about the effect of the bombshell memo that was released two days ago.   He chose a friendly newsman -- the ultra-right-wing Erick Erickson -- and gave a one hour radio interview, defending the appropriateness of his staff aides' contacts with Holly LaBerge about his ethics case.

Now remember that Holly LaBerge is the Deal administration's chosen replacement for Stacey Kalberman, who they got rid of because she was pursuing his ethics investigation too rigorously.   One can argue that all the evidence points to LaBerge being their hand-picked person to go in and "take care of" the ethics violation case for Deal.

Apparently she wasn't completely on board.   Her memo, which has languished in the Attorney General's office for two years, unshared with the attorneys in Kalberman's lawsuit, implicates Deal's aides in pressuring her and threatening her.   It's possible of course that she was lying back then in writing this memo, but everything we know about the case points to the truth of her note.    Including Deal's need to spend an hour with a friendly radio host spinning the story one day after the news came out.

What Deal told Erickson was that the contact by his aides was completely appropriate -- just like any defendent might want to contact the prosecutor to inquire about the scheduling of his case and how the prosecutor was going to present the case.    Deal pointed out that, in fact, it was the five Commission members themselves that were the "jury" in the case.  And his aides did not contact them.

What this whitewash fails to take account of is this:   Deal is not just any defendent.  He is the most powerful politician in the state with the most control over the government itself.   His people after all got rid of LaBerge's predecessor, and they could do the same to her.

The prosecutor analogy doesn't help.   If you have a powerful governor, who could get the prosecutor fired, who intimidates and pressures the prosecutor about watering down a case against him -- it's quite possible for that prosecutor to present the case in such as way as to fool a jury into thinking it was no big deal.

So for Deal's people -- his tax-payer paid top aides -- to call her and say the it would not be "in the best interests" of the committee, it's a pretty clear threat about her own job security.  So, let's have an independent prosecutor examine what she presented to the commission that led them to a wrist-slap verdict and a whitewash.    LaBerge may have "fixed" the case for Gov. Deal, but she planted her own revenge. . . . That memo . . .

In fact, you could say that this is the perfect time for that memo to surface -- just as Deal's reelection campaign shifts into high gear.    It could bring him down.

Nice try, governor.   But, as Groucho would say, "Close, but no cigar."    Actually, I don't believe he even came close.


Malaysian plane had 100 passengers headed to WHO conference on AIDS

The deliberate shooting down of the Malaysian plane may have been a case of mistaken identity of the plane -- thinking it was a Ukrainian military plane, one of which had been shot down three days earlier -- but there is no question it was a deliberate act of either terrorism or of war that involves Russia, at least to the extent of supplying the missiles, training the rebels to use them, and losing control of these separatist fighters in Ukraine.

Beyond that are the individual stories -- all the personal losses and tragedies.   And we haven't even begun to hear about those yet.

When individual stories become an aggregate story of some group all traveling together or for some purpose, it takes on added dimensions of tragedy.   Now we learn that around 100 of the passengers -- at least one-third of the total -- were researchers and activists headed to the World Health Organization's Conference on AIDS being held in Australia.   President Bill Clinton is to be one of the speakers at the conference.

What makes this extra tragic is that so many people will have known, and lost, many of the people who died.   And the devastating effect that such a cumulative loss can have on an organization.

In 1962, a group of 106 arts patrons from Atlanta had gone on a month long art tour of Europe.   As their return flight took off from Paris's Orly Airport, the Air France plane crashed.   The effect on Atlanta's arts community was devastating in terms of personal and leadership losses.

But Atlanta met the challenge.  The Memorial Arts Center was built in their memory.  It houses and supports the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Alliance Theater, the High Museum of Art and a school of art.

A suitable memorial to come out of this airplane tragedy could well be a major boost in funding for AIDS research and treatment in memory of those who died pursuing those goals.


Friday, July 18, 2014

More marriage bans overturned

The Circuit Court of Appeals is the last step before cases are taken to the Supreme Court.   The 10th Circuit Court, located in Denver, has just upheld the lower court's declaration that the Oklahoma ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.  This is the same appeals court that also upheld a similar decision about the Utah ban.   Both  decisions are on hold pending appeal to SCOTUS.  

This is the 24th favorable court decision since the June 2013 DOMA decision -- without a single unfavorable decision during that same time.

Two state cases have now made it through the appeals court level.   Next stop:   SCOTUS.  

Momentum continues to build -- and that will undoubtedly influence at least the crucial vote of Anthony Kennedy, the deciding swing vote that we have come to count on.


Jason Carter's response to the memo revelation

Here is the response from the Jason Carter campaign to the revelation of the Holly LaBerge memo -- which has got to be the smoking gun in this Nathan Deal cover-up.
"This is unbelievable. We knew there was a cover-up of the investigation into Gov. Deal. 

"We didn't know that his top two taxpayer-paid staffers were doing his dirty work.

"We still don't know why Gov. Deal and his aides went to such great lengths to kill the investigation. What were they so worried would come to light?"
Now that is a question to be pursued.   The actual known violations were not that terrible.  So what is the much worse thing they were afraid would come to light?   Do we care enough to insist on an independent investigator to find out?


Gov. Deal's cover up . . . and now the smoking gun. Anyone listening?

Nobody much seems to care -- although it should be the smoking gun, and Jason Carter is trying hard to make it a major campaign issue in his race to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal.   The AJC has been a bulldog on the case, and they are staying on it.   But where is the general outrage against Gov. Deal?

The story is about the investigation of campaign finance misuse of then newly inaugurated governor Nathan Deal, the pretty obvious interference in the ethics investigation of those charges, and then the cover-up . . .  it's always the cover-up.   And now the smoking gun has just turned up to blow the cover.

If anyone will listen.

Here is the chronology:
January 2010.   Nathan Deal sworn in as governor.  Shortly thereafter, a number of complaints about the Deal campaign's campaign finances were filed with State Ethics Commission.

Spring of 2011.    Ethics Commission Executive Secretary Stacey Kalberman and her assistant, Sherilyn Streicker, were preparing subpoenas for their investigation of the claims against the Deal campaign.    Word about this got out, and suddenly the commission was said to be under dire budgetary constraints.   Kalberman was told her salary would be cut by 30%, and her assistant's job was eliminated.    The commission lawyer was also fired, with claims that she had smelled of alcohol in the office.   

Kalberman resigned.  It turned out that her replacement had already been chosen, even before she was told about the salary decrease.   A key member of Deal's staff was involved in recruiting Holly LaBerge to replace her.

In the ensuing year, LaBerge brought the investigation to a quick resolution, slapping the Deal campaign with only a small fine and no public hearings, despite claims that seemed to warrant much more thorough investigation.

While working toward that settlement, an office worker was fired for refusing to follow LaBerge's order to remove and/or alter documents in the investigation file.   Another worker has said that he heard LaBerge say that Gov. Deal "owes me one" for taking care of the investigation.  And then the commission's only lawyer was fired on . . . maybe . . . trumped up charges. 

Deal's office has insisted that the commission is entirely independent, and that he had nothing to do with all this.

2013-2014.   Kalberman and Streicker sued over their job losses.  The Kalberman case was tried in court, and the jury needed only two and a half hours to render a verdict in Kalberman's favor.  One juror said the verdict was quick and unanimous -- no one doubted Kalberman's story -- but it took them a little time to decide on the $700,000 award to Kalberman.    Since then, settlements with the three others plus expenses bring the total -- to be paid by Georgia taxpayers -- to at least $3 million.


July 15, 2014.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution released a memo it has just received under an Open Records request showing that Gov. Deal's top aides in 2012 had pressured LaBerge to settle these cases against the governor's campaign.    Despite early requests for all documents related to the cases, this memo had not been released to the lawyers for Kalberman and others.  

Quotes are from the AJC July 15th article:  The memo was drafted by LaBerge in January 2012  "documenting calls and messages from Deal chief of staff Chris Riley and chief counsel Ryan Teague.  The pair had contacted her several times about the Deal complaints just days before the commission was to act on them.  LaBerge says in the memo that Teague threatened the agency if she didn't move to settle the cases without a public hearing." 

LaBerge also says she turned over this memo, along with other documents, to Attorney General, Sam Olens, who officially represented LaBerge in her official capacity.  However, Olens did not include the memo with other documents passed on to the plaintiff's' lawyers in the discovery process of the Kalberman and Streicker cases.   His lame excuse now is that their requests were not specificly tailored to include this (unknown at the time) memo, even though their request was for "the entire Deal investigation file."

Despite this now-obvious cover-up involving the Attorney General, as well as Deal's two top aides, Kalberman easily won her case.   And it was so compelling that prosecutors decided to settle with the others without a trial.  Of course the settlements without trial also keeps the story from being played out again at the height of the fall campaign.

And Deal's response?   "Why didn't [the memo] come out until now?   Why were we all kept in the dark?  I think it further proves they are an independent agency and my office had no personal knowledge."

Excuse me, governor.   We're talking about what YOUR TWO TOP AIDES and the state AG  allegedly did to interfere with this investigation against you.   How is it that someone else is responsible for keeping YOU in the dark?    And why have you not fired these two aides?

Unbelievable.   Unbelievable, brazen chicanery from the Deal camp.   Unbelievable apathy and pitiful lack of outrage if the voters give this man another four years to feed at the public trough.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stand Your Ground laws lead to increase in hiomicides, according to two studies

The source for this is Talking Points Memo news aggregator:

Researchers in two separate studies, one at Georgia State University and one at Texas A & M, have concluded that homicides increase under Stand Your Ground Laws and that the laws do not deter crime in any significant way.

The two studies used different methodologies and data sets -- and reached similar conclusions.   The Texas study found an 8% rise in homicides in more than 20 states.

Lowering the threshold of what is considered justifiable shooting leads to an increase in the use of guns.   On the other hand, it does not appear to decrease the number of criminal acts.

Sounds like a lose-lose situation.


SCOTUS with an agenda

This from on the recent decisions of the U. S. Supreme Court:

"The latest session of the US Supreme Court was especially contentious, with important decisions on the separation of church and state, organized labor, campaign finance reform, birth control and women's health, among others, splitting the court along its 5-4 conservative-liberal divide. . . .

"This week I speak with Linda Greenhouse, a New York Times columnist, and Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate, about the latest rulings from the Supreme Court, a beat they've both covered for years.

"'You can't look at the Roberts court and say that they've done anything other than systematically unravel voting rights, women's rights, workers' rights [and] environmental progress,'  Lithwick tells me.

"Greenhouse adds: 'I think it's hard for anybody looking at this court objectively to come away not thinking that it's a court in pursuit of an agenda.'"
And I would add that it's not just the decisions that are undermining the respect for the court.   The conservatives' majority opinions often seem to be ignorant of, or at least to ignore, the important context and the obvious, expectible consequences -- as seen already in (1) the campaign finance glut;  (2) the gutting of the Voting Rights Act leading to all these voter suppression laws; and (3) removing the buffer zones at entrances to women's health centers that perform abortions.    These make the conservative majority members seem either clueless or willfully disingenuous.

Now I would agree that there are certain decisions about basic human and civil rights where consequences should not be the prime consideration, especially when there is a way for congress to address negative consequences.    But when common sense tells the ordinary citizen what consequences will ensue, while the majority opinion declares otherwise, it erodes respect and trust.

In my opinion, when it's Sam Alito, it makes him look inept, superficial, and sometimes just silly.   When it's Scalia or Thomas, it looks craven and malicious.   And Thomas?   He is very definitely calculating . . . with an agenda that is something beyond principle.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Refugee children, angry patriots, amd shameless politicians

Rep. Louic Gohmert (R-TX) almost makes Ted Cruz (R-TX) look calm and rational.   He makes headlines with statements like:  "U. S. Will Become a Third World Nation If the Feds Don't Enforce Immigration Policy."     Groups of angry conservatives, revved up by right-wing media misinformation are ranting about kids being "exploited by the feds" and blaming President Obama's immigration policies for causing what Gohmert refers to as "an invasion."

What he and others don't seem to realize is that:

(1)  Most of these children are actually fleeing their Central American homelands which have become exceedingly dangerous for young people because of gang warfare, kidnapping, sex trade, and drugsThey are in fact refugees;  and, as such, they come under different laws that require their bid for asylum be evaluated.   They are not here illegally -- by definition of the 2002 Homeland Security Act as ammended in 2008 and signed into law by President George W. Bush.    They cannot simply be sent home without an evaluation to see if they can be returned to a safe environment or if they warrant asylum in our country. 

(2)  The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 was written specifically to protect unaccompanied children coming across our borders.   Those from Mexico or Canada, continguous countries, can simply be turned over to their own governments at the border and returned to their own county.   This VPR Act makes provisions that unaccompanied minors from non-continguous countries like Hondurus, El Salvador, and Guatamala cannot simply be turned back at the border but must be evaluated and have a deportation hearing.  Part of the investigation is an assessment of what danger they would be returned to.   One analysis said that over 90% of these children are from one of those three countries.

The agitating right-wingers are saying this is all Obama's fault, or the fault of this law, or simply that we should just turn them back anyway.   Bring out the National Guard, bring out the militas with their AK-47s to patrol our border to stop this "invasion."   What they are demanding is against our own laws.

That's the level of rhetoric that is spewing from these hate-filled border zealots -- or are they just scared?    Either way, this is a humanitarian crisis.  We should deal with it in a humane way, starting with the Republicans in Congress voting to give the funds President Obama is asking for to house, feed, evaluate, and find dispositions for all of these children.

Shame on us if we do not meet this challenge with compassion.   Look at the millions that our invasion of Iraq turned into refugees to neighboring, much-smaller countries -- and they took them in.   Look at the millions of refugees from Syria -- and Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and others take them in.  

If we can't find room for 50,000 children long enough to evaluate to see if they are indeed refugees from danger -- rather than freeloading, poachers, as Louie Gohmert and his ilk would have it -- then we have indeed sunk a long, long way from our position in the 19th and 20th centuries when the United States was the land that welcomed refugees and immigrants.

We shouldn't need Pope Francis to admonish us to step up and handle this humanitarian emergency.  But we did need it -- and he did it.    Will we listen?


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cheney ploughs on

Darth Vader just won't stop.   He gave an interview today on CNN with Jake Tapper, who confronted him with President Obama's overseeing the hunting and killing of Osama bin Laden as challenge to Cheney's claim that Obama is weak on terrorism.

Cheney rebutted, claiming it was "through our process of enhanced interrogation techniques that provided the intelligence we needed in order to get bin Laden."   Note:  "our" process and "we" got him.

FACT CHECK:    Bush-Cheney left office in January 2009.   The day after his unuguration, January 22, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order ending use of those techniques Cheney refers to.

Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 -- more than two years after Cheney becake an ex-VEEP and Obama had ended torture. 

If Cheney's effectiveness was so great and he deserves credit, why didn't he find bin Laden?

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee found no evidence that these techniques led to the capture of bin Laden.   Cheney claims that one detainee supplied the name of the courier used to trace bin Laden.  But others have said that information was obtained from other sources, using standard intelligence techniques.

Cheney has a pretty thin ledge to stand on in this claim.   But, as he says, "I've got to defend my point of view."

No, you don't, Ex-Veep.   You could just Shut Up -- be an old curmudgeon;  just don't do it on teevee.   Your self-destruction is no longer entertaining.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Done with being mad at Dick Cheney; now he's just pathetic

I reserve the right to change my mind, but I think I'm over being mad at Dick Cheney.   He's crossed the line, in my opinion, from being a crank and an unregenerate war criminal to being a pitiful old man, grasping at his lost days of glory that have left him on the dust heap of history.

The spectacle of him going on tv, or writing op-eds -- aided and abetted by daughter Liz, and joined also by wife Lynn in the latest appearance -- is beginning to just be pathetic.   it's like they're humoring an old coot who doesn't know when he's finished.

At an event today sponsored by Politico, with Lynn and Liz sitting nearby, Dick launched into his mantra:   The president is devastating the military by cutting defense spending, he insists.
"That [defense spending] ought to be our top priority for spending. Not food stamps, not highways or anything else. . . . Your No. 1 responsibility as president is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. [Obama] is the commander-in-chief and he's absolutely devastating the United States military today.”
Protesters from the anti-war group Code Pink disrupted the event briefly with shouts of "Dick Cheney . . . war criminal !"  "You destroyed Iraq, you'll destroy this country!" and "Dick Cheney should be arrested!"

Lynn started laughing loudly, looking (to me) like a deranged harridan and Liz began chanting "Four more years!," trying to drown out the protesters.   What did she mean?  "Four more years"?   He's been out of office already for five years.   I think it just shows how desperate she must have felt.

Of course I have no basis for this except intuition and imagination, but here's what I think happened at home beforehand:  my fantasy reconstruction:
Liz:   I'm not doing this anymore, Mom.   It's your turn now to baby sit Dad when he goes on these televised rants.   Besides, he's ruining any possibility that I could ever have a political career.   Look what happened in Colorado.

Lynn:   Oh, all right.   But just this once.  We'll both go, and then we'll try to talk him out of doing any more of these interviews.

[after the event]

Liz (to Lynn):    See what I mean.  That was humiliating.  I'm not doing it any more.   YOU tell him.    I know it will kill him -- but he's becoming a humiliating parody of himself.   We can't let him do this to himself any more.
Who knows?    Have we moved from crankiness to beginning dementia?


PS:   I don't know.   Maybe I'm attributing too much independent thinking to Liz.   At this event, she herself was also being interviewed, and she gave her own jaw-dropping answer.  When asked what the Republican party should do about climate change, her answer was simple:  "Nothing," she said.   Last year, she had declared that the climate science "is bogus."  So maybe she's just as deluded as her old man.

House GOP keeping America safe from progress

The Republican controlled House has already, long ago earned the reputation for the worst congress in history.   So back in Washington for a couple of weeks before they adjourn again for a long vacation -- and then political campaigns -- they spent some of that precious time voting to save American from progress.

They could have tackled immigration reform, even passing the president's request for emergency funds to handle the tens of thousands of children coming across the southern border.  Or any number of other useful things.   Heck, they could even have voted, once again, to repeal Obamacare if they really want to do something momentous.

Instead, they passed by a vote of 253 to 170 a spending bill that would, among other things:

1.  Slash funding for renewable energy programs by more than $100 million, while boosting funds for coal and other fossil fuels.

2.  Ban the enforcing of energy efficient standards for light bulbs.

3.  Prevent the Energy Department from using already appropriated funds for a program to develop and validate climate change models, as well as forbidding spending funds for climate change study.

4.  Slash funding for incentives for higher-efficiency toilets.

[Thanks for Kate Sheppard of the Huffington Post for this information.]

It's really reassuring to know that our representatives are working so hard to keep us from the perils of progressive ideas and programsThe 21st century is such a scary place, we should cling to the 20th and, preferably, hold on to much of the 19th century where we can.  Ah . . .  the good old days.

Well, actually, perhaps I'm being a little too hard on the Republicans.  It's not that they really oppose progress -- as long as doesn't involve science or reason and doesn't contradict the Bible.  It's that they want to save us from increasing the federal deficit -- which, incidentally, is declining at the most rapid rate in decades.  But, hey, those are just the facts, ma'am.

And we prefer not to soil our purity with vulgar things like facts.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Dick Cheney is yelling 'fire' and wonders why no one is listening"

Former VEEP Dick Cheney has been all over television and op-eds in the New York Times and the Weekly Standard, trying to rewrite history and to alert us to the incompetence of President Obama.  David Paul has an essay on Huffington Post that is worth quoting at some length about that:

" . . .  In his broadside against President Obama, Dick Cheney fails to grasp the central irony of his situation. Cheney wants us to respond to his cries of "fire," but does not understand that all we see when he speaks is the arsonist. Speaking to Charlie Rose, Cheney admonished those fixated on how we got into Iraq and, despite repeated prodding, he refuses to amend or apologize for a single word of an historical record on his watch that has been so deeply contradicted.  Even as he scorns the president in a manner never seen before by one administration toward a successor, Cheney is a man with no sense of accountability for his own actions and his impact on the world around him.

"The debate that led up to the Senate war resolution, like the campaign to build public support for war, was built on a deliberate campaign of misinformation. That debate laid the groundwork for a deepening mistrust across the political spectrum of the use of intelligence. . . .  The residue of the lies and dissembling in the run-up to the Iraq war is the hallmark legacy of Cheney's Vice Presidency. . . .  [and] has contributed to declining faith in the ability of our government to honestly deal with problems that we face at home and undermined the credibility of our efforts to promote democracy abroad.

"Cheney demands that we heed his warnings, but evinces no awareness of why his credibility is suspect, or why Americans might feel burned for having trusted his words and followed his lead before. He is the poster child for the lies and duplicity of an era, the effects of which continue to ripple forward. . . .  He has become a parody of himself, and if America is at risk, the last way to get Americans to hear that is for Dick Cheney to tell them. . . .  Dick Cheney may have nothing but contempt for Barack Obama, but the irony is that Cheney is one of the reasons Obama was elected. . . ."

I agree.  During George W. Bush's first term in office, Dick Cheney seemed to be manipulating the president's decisions (we learned later that he had every internal email routed through his office and kept Bush's National Security Adviser Condi Rice in the dark on some things).   Later in his second term, Bush seemed to be less influenced by Cheney and refused Cheney's plea to give Scooter Libby a pardon.   Relations between them became strained -- and remain so, according to reports.

Unlike Cheney, George Bush has been exemplary in not criticizing his successor in the White House.  At least that is to his credit.