Saturday, July 26, 2014

AP journalists saw missile launcher hours before the Malaysian plane was shot down

Two Associated Press journalists, Yura Karmanau and Peter Leonard, have now written their experience of seeing a BUK M-1 rocket launcher, with four SA-11 surface-to-air missiles on board passing through the eastern Ukraine city of Snizhne just a few hours prior to the time a Malaysian airplane was shot down by just such missiles.    Snizhne is about six miles from where the plane debris was found.

Residents of the town had told them that a lot of military equipment had been passing through the town.   But this particular bulky machine was hard to miss.    It moved on tracks that leave tread marks in the asphalt pavement.   Such tracks were still visible

The journalists' write that the vehicles stopped in front of them, a man with a Russian accept checked to make sure they were not filming the convoy;  and they they moved on.  They write:
"Three hours later, people six miles (10 kilometers) west of Snizhne heard loud noises.  And then they saw pieces of twisted metal -- and bodies -- fall from the sky."

Various officials repeatedly denied that the rebel forces had not had such equipment capable of hitting a plane flying at 30,000 feet.   But these denials were repeatedly challenged by what the residents of the area said.

Finally, this week, a "highly placed rebel" spoke to the AP and admitted that they were responsible, that the unit that fired the missiles was made up of both Russians and Ukrainians.    He also said that they believed that they were shooting at a Ukrainian military plane.

Ukrainian intelligence obtained from intercepted phone conversations appears to back up this claim.   Ukrainian officials have placed the blame fully on Russia.   They have evidence that the missile launcher came across the border from Russia on a flatbed truck around 1 am, headed for Donetsk, where it was offloaded.   The launcher then continued on its own, parked in Snizhne around lunch time, then moved off in the direction that the plane debris fell.

Even before the plane was downed, the AP journalists had filed this dispatch:
"An Associated Press reporter on Thursday saw seven rebel-owned tanks parked at a gas station outside the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne. In the town, he also observed a Buk missile system, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet)."

"AP journalists saw the Buk moving through town at 1:05 p.m. The vehicle, which carried four 18-foot (5.5-meter) missiles, was in a convoy with two civilian cars.

"The convoy stopped. A man in sand-colored camouflage without identifying insignia — different from the green camouflage the rebels normally wear — approached the journalists. The man wanted to make sure they had not recorded any images of the missile launcher. Satisfied that they hadn't, the convoy moved on.

"About three hours later, at 4:18 p.m., according to a recording from an intercepted phone call that has been released by Ukraine's government, the Buk's crew snapped to attention when a spotter called in a report of an incoming airplane.

"'A bird is flying to you,' the spotter tells the rebel, identified by the Ukrainians as Igor Bezler, an insurgent commander who the Ukrainian government asserts is also a Russian intelligence officer.

"The man identified as Bezler responds: 'Reconnaissance plane or a big one?'

"'I can't see behind the clouds. Too high,' the spotter replies."
The same source says that the BUK rocket launcher moved out of the area soon after the crash and that it crossed back into Russia during the night.    Other sources confirm this, one including photos of a BUK rocket launcher with two of the rockets missing.

The authenticity of all of this cannot be independently confirmed.   However, there is no reason to doubt the first hand observations of professional Associated Press journalists in the area to report on what they see.   There is obvious propaganda coming from the rebel forces as well as from Putin's government in Russia.

However, I would put my trust in the AP journalists, the people of the town, and the fact that both accounts fit perfectly with what we know happened and where.


Justice Kennedy: "the Constitution is a flawed document"

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is widely and correctly considered the swing vote on the Supreme Court, in that in most 5-4 decisions he is on the winning side when it is a conservative decision but also on the winning side when it is a liberal decision.,

There is some predictability, as court watchers begin to clarify which issues he is likely to be more conservative or more liberal on.   For example, he has been not only in the majority but has written the majority opinion in several of the important gay rights decisions (Romer v Evans in 1996, Lawrence v Texas in 2003, U.S. v Windsor in 2013).   

Kennedy has also voted with liberals in an important habeas corpus case, in imposing some limits to capital punishment, and in upholding Roe v Wade, although he has voted with conservatives on some limits to abortion.   He joined conservatives in 2008 to overturn the D.C. ban on hand guns but then voted in 2014 to uphold the ban on the purchase of guns for others.

In a speech to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in California (reported by the San Francisco Chronicle), Kennedy said:
"The Constitution of the United States is a flawed document. . . .  [It] is not meant to be interpreted in its original, literal state. . . .  [The Constitution's authors]  intentionally used general language so that guiding principles could steer lawmakers tackling present-day issues."
He has also said that he is "not so sure" that the second amendment actually protects an individual's right to bear arms, as opposed to authorizing the necessary militias of the late 18th century.   This puts him squarely in the pivotal seat on the central controversy in most gun control laws.

He also holds that pivotal vote in the marriage equality cases that will undoubtedly be coming to the court in the coming year.


Friday, July 25, 2014

another thought on "Deal's deal"

There is so much obscurity in the Deal's deal coverup and in their lame defenses, that I don't always see the implications until I get away from it a little bit.

Here are some glaring facts that I didn't focus on at first:

1.  Deal's defense of the calls from his staff focus on whether or not they were threatening Holly LaBerge and the commission.    That tends to obscure the fact that the calls themselves confirm that she was expected to be their "fixer."    And that tends to confirm Stacey Kalberman's charge that she was forced out so they could replace her with someone the Deal team could control.

2.  In fact, LaBerge did in the end fix the case against the governor.   She did just what they wanted:   no public hearing, a negotiated settlement with a slap on the wrist for "technical errors" in filing campaign finance reports, with a mere $3,000+ fine for technical mistakes.

3.  The question now is:    Is Holly LaBerge still on the Deal team?   What if she was a bit naive at first and just jumped at a good job;   now her eyes have been opened and she doesn't want to be part of it.   If that is so, then she could be really hurtful to the Deal deal in testifying before an investigation -- if there ever is one.

   One thing that leans me in that direction:   There was a video clip of a portion of Stacey Kalberman's trial about her firing.    In the clip, a woman who I believe was LaBerge is shown testifying in the witness box.   Then the video skips to the celebration after the Kalberman win -- and it shows this same woman and Kalberman hugging gleefully.    So is LaBerge now siding with the whistleblowers?    I could be wrong about the identities of the witness, but I think I'm not.


Deal's deal . . . a continuing story

We're going to be hearing a lot more about the saga of the little deal that just won't go away.   And about the big Deal who's desperate to cover it up.    And maybe . . . let's hope . . . the Atlanta Journal Constitution will continue its excellent investigative reporting.  

I think this is only the tip of the iceberg, with much more to be uncovered about this governor's basic dishonesty and using state government to his personal advantage.

Anyone who has not been following this story of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and his ethics case, his threats to the executive director to minimize the damage, and then to cover up his mendacity can catch up by reading ShrinkRap posts on July 18 and July 19.

In his Monday AJC column, Jay Bookman added some important points about the bombshell memo Holly LaBerge wrote, describing efforts by Gov. Deal's staff to intimidate and pressure her to settle the case against Deal without a hearing.   She wrote the memo on the same day two years ago that the supposed phone calls occurred.    She also says that on that day she told the commission chair, Kent Abernathy, about the phone calls.  

Bookman says that "Abernathy confirms that story, and confirms that LaBerge wrote the memo at his request."

Gov. Deal is not denying that phone call from his office took place;  but he says that rather than making a threat, his attorney was merely making an observation about the effect a hearing into the governor's ethics charges would have on the future of the commission.   That's pretty lame;  in fact it does not dispute that he may have referred to expected consequences, just that he was not making a threat directly to LaBerge.

To add to the 'unbelievable' aspects of all this:   Attorney General Sam Olens has said that, even if LaBerge's memo is the truth, the calls would not have broken any law and his office would not have had any reason to pursue her claims.   Bookman concludes:
"In short, Olens believes that it is legal in Georgia for the subject of an ethics investigation to use the power of high office to intimidate those investigating him.   Wow."
Double Wow.    Look what their pathetic defense against LaBerge's charge is actually admitting:    (1)  Yes, the governor's top lawyer did call her and said there could be serious consequences for the commission if she did not stop the case from going to a hearing, but he just didn't threaten her personally;  and (2) even if he did what she said he did, it wouldn't be illegal.   And remember that LaBerge was their personal choice to take over the ethics commission and fix this case against the governor.

When will politicians learn that it's always the cover-up that does them in?   So often, the crime in the cover-up is so much worse than the original allegations.  With a close election in less than four months, this cover-up could sink Deal's ship.


PS:   Another defense was offered on Tuesday:   some email exchanges between Gov. Deal's lawyer and LaBerge in the days surrounding the supposed "threat" and the memo, which are characterized as being friendly and the usual kind of informal exchange between friendly co-workers.    So they say this shows there was nothing inappropriate going on.   I say:   politicians and people who have to deal with them do this all the time as part of a cover-up.   Or simply to maintain a surface illusion.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Health care reform in jeopardy ? ?

The intent of the Affordable Care Act is perfectly clear that congress intended to make health insurance possible for all American citizens.    Wealthy people could pay for their own;   middle class working people would mostly get it through their jobs or on the exchanges;  seniors would get it through Medicare;  people below a certain poverty level would get it through Medicaid, and the eligibility for Medicaid was expanded to include millions more people.

Then, for another group of people whose income is too much to be eligible even for the expanded Medicaid limits, but not enough to afford insurance through the marketplace exchanges, the ACA provided for subsidies through income tax credits.    The intent is clear.

But in one place, the law as written refers to subsidies for those through state exchanges without mentioning the federal exchanges.     The unanticipated problem is that recalcitrant, politically motivated governors and state legislators have refused to set up state exchanges.   There are only 16 operating.    In the other 34 states, people use the federal exchanges in lieu of their state having provided an exchange.

But when the law was written and passed by congress, it was anticipated that most, if not all, of the states would set up exchanges.   The anticipated use of federal exchanges was expected to be small -- really just a sort of back up plan.   But of course that changed after the ACA had become law.

The Congressional Budget Office as well as the HHS administrators have all interpreted that sentence generously, based on the obvious intent.   But some people have sued, hoping to block any part of Obamacare that they can;   and now we're getting the results of those suits.

A 3 judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2 to 1 against that interpretation, saying that subsidies cannot, under this wording, be paid for insurance obtained through the federal exchange.    Pulling this lynch pin out could destroy the whole program, which is made up of so many interlocking parts.

But just four hours later, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the exact opposite by a 3 to 0 vote.   The administration plans to ask for a full panel vote in the 10th Circuit decision.   With a 7 Democrat/4 Republican makeup, the panel's decision will likely be overturned.  Of course the plaintiffs in the 4th Circuit could also ask for a full court decision;  but again justices appointed by Democratic presidents are in a majority on that court.

So the jeopardy may be avoided, but that shows how determined some people are for us not to have the health care reform, which is actually working -- both for the 10 million people covered and also in the evidence that the ACA can actually help control increases in health care costs.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bachmann: "Why haven't you asked if I'm going to run in 2016?"

Michele Bachmann is not running for re-election to Congress in 2014.   But she chastised the media for speculating only about male presidential candidates.  Then she says, for example, she might make another run for president in 2016.    Why hasn't the media been speculating about that?

Ah, Michele . . .  if only you would be the GOP nominee in a race with Hillary Clinton.

But seriously.   Do you really want an answer to the question of why no one is speculating about your running?   Just think a minute of what the debates would be like . . .  Hillary and you.     Wow.


A creatuve response to bigotry

Thanks to Huffington Post for this story:

Salem, Massachusetts Mayor Kim Driscoll found a creative solution to anti-gay phone calls her office has been receiving.   Here's the background:   Gordon College, which calls itself a Christian college, has a student behavior code that prohibits "homosexual practice" among its students.    

Recent White House initiatives will ban any federal contractor from LBGT discrimination;  presumably that would include some schools that receive federal contracts, research grants, etc.   I'm not sure whether grants or student loans would count.   Anyway, this prompted a letter signed by the college president asking for an exemption from this requirement -- that is, that Gordon College be allowed to reject LBGT applicants to the school.

[As an aside, I have to interject here and address Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion in the Hobby Lobby case.   Justice Alito, do you not at least now see how naive you were in writing that this decision was narrowly limited to the case before you?   Your hollow reassurance that this was not going to have any sweeping effects was so patently false to those of us who live in the real world.    Either (1) you didn't really believe what you wrote when you wrote it;  or (2) you are way too naive and isolated from real life to have the power given to you as a Supreme Court Justice.]

Now, back to the story:  In response to this anti-LGBT discrimination, Salem's Mayor Driscoll informed the college that it would no longer be allowed to use the Salem Town Hall for events.   That's when the angry, anti-gay phone calls began coming in to the mayor's office, many of them from out of state.

The mayor's creative solution:    She has announced that, for each such call her office receives, she will donate $5 to the local North Shore Alliance of GLBT Youth.  Brava, Mayor Driscoll.  What a clever way to turn an ugly impulse into something good.   

It reminds me of a similar creative solution concerning the Missouri Adopt-a-Highway roadway cleanup program, in which local groups agree to keep a highway section cleaned of litter in exchange for a roadway sign acknowledging their participation..   Several years ago,  the Ku Klux Klan wanted to participate.   Missouri officials refused.   The Klan sued, and a federal court said that was an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

Missouri's DOT had to assign the Klan a highway section.   So they did -- a section that they had quickly renamed The Rosa Parks Freeway.

The Klan apparently wasn't too happy about this.   They never did any clean up and were eventually dropped from the program for lack of participation.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Renewable energy now becoming profitable, rather than just a sacrifice for the future

This information and quotations are from an article by the former Executive Director of the Sierra Club, published in Huffington Post 7-8-14. 
"For the first time, a large fraction of the world's fossil fuels could be replaced at a lower cost by clean energy, with today's renewable technologies and prices.  . . .  Early awareness of that reality is driving major energy growth markets to look past the fossil fuel monopoly of the 20th century. . . ."

The newly elected Indian government has promised to provide roof-top solar energy units to 400 million citizens.   The Chinese government has signaled its intent to cap CO2 emissions in the coming five years.
On the other hand,
". . .  Barclay's Bank recently downgraded the entire U.S. utility sector in fear that it would not respond to the disruptive challenge of distributed solar."
But the opportunity is there, if only we will take it.  According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance projections, use of coal in developed countries will decline by almost one-third by 2030.  With the rise of electric motors and natural gas for transportation, we are approaching the possibility of moving beyond oil as our chief source to move us and our things around.  Goldman Sachs projects that "with intelligent policy support -- not subsidies -- 40 percent of the US light duty fleet would [run on electricity] by 2050."

As encouraging as all this sounds, it is not enough to deal with the climate problems we face.   We have so far to go, and it will require governmental incentives, supportive policies, and intelligent thinking,   We have no room for political rivalry or destructive profit competition. 

It can be managed and even profitable, but it will require intelligence and cooperation.    Investors must be convinced to put their money into development of renewable energy production -- not expanding coal  power plants and drilling for more fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, none of that seems to have much clout in Washington these days.   But it is the first glimmer of good news in a long time of what sounds like an angle that might appeal to Republicans -- i.e. being able to replace fossil fuel energy at a lower cost.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Even evangelical Christians changing views on marriage equality

PoliticoMagazine is reporting on a survey by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute.   It was a wide-ranging survey of attitudes toward same-sex and transgender issues.   What is newsworthy is their finding a shift in attitudes among evangelical Christians toward same-sex marriage.

Now about a quarter support same-sex unions, with an equal number supporting what is being called "the messy middle," meaning that they still oppose it on moral or religious grounds but they no longer support efforts to actively overturn it.

As is true of all demographic groups, younger evangelicals support marriage equality in larger numbers than their elders -- almost 50%.  

As with the general population, my assumption is that greater awareness of the lives of GLBT people -- either known personally or empathically experienced in television and movies  -- is the greatest factor leading to change.    My more cynical side suspects that a factor of equal importance with these groups, especially their outspoken leaders, is that bashing gay marriage no longer has the political clout it did just a few years ago.

With states' bans on gay marriage now falling too quickly to keep count, it's just no longer a winning strategy.  Even stalwart opponents like Focus on the Family and the National Association of Evangelicals have virtually stopped using it as a campaign and fund-raising issue, shifting instead to the battle over "religious rights" of business owners not to provide services to gay weddings or health insurance coverage of contraceptives that they consider abortion-inducing.

This is the way progress occurs -- small steps that gradually build in momentum until there is a tipping point.   That seems to be where we are now on gay rights issues -- at least among the citizens;   politicians are the die-hards.   It seems inevitable that within the next year, or possibly two, the Supreme Court will issue a sweeping ruling that settles the whole thing for the country.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

"This is how things end . . ."

The missile that destroyed the Malaysian passenger plane was obviously fired from within the area controlled by the Russian backed separatists of Eastern Ukraine.   Nothing short of advanced missile launch systems could have hit a plane flying at 30,000;  and no one in the region could have supplied the missile systems but Russia.

The Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said it best: 
"This is how things end when you
supply bandits with advanced weapons."
Our congressional leaders need to think long and hard about that before they recklessly push us and our allies into supplying advanced weapons into these war-trigger areas.


Things just aren't going Darrell Issa's way

Darrell Issa, Republican Chair of the House Government Oversight Committee, is not having a good day.   Things aren't going his way.

First, they took Benghazi away from him;  and he was pinning his hopes on finding the scandal in the haystack on that one to bring down the Obama administration and scuttle Hillary Clinton's chances for being president.   Instead, the House voted to have a select committee take over and had to admonish Issa not to interfere.   Boy, was he mad about that.

But then he still had the IRS flap that seemed to hold some promise for scandal.   Well, it did to Issa;  not to most folks.  IRS official Lois Lerner took the 5th and refused to testify for Issa's sadistic pleasusre.  So Issa got congress to charge her with contempt.   The Justice Dept. balked at actually bringing a case against her in court . . .  because, well, there was no case really.

Issa insisted the law was clear, that DoJ was obligated to bring a case against Lerner, if congress charged her with contempt.   A Justice official disagreed in open hearing, saying that DoJ does have discretion as to whether to bring a case, even when the Congress had voted on a contempt citation.

Issa began arguing about the meaning of "shall," insisting that the DoJ had to bring a case.   But then the ranking Democratic member of the committee, Elijah Cummings, calmly read to him the opinion from the Department of Justice Office of Legal Council that there was room for discretion in deciding whether to prosecute.    Issa still sputtered.

Darrell Issa

Then Cummings calmly informed him that the Office of Legal Council was considered the final word in interpreting how the DoJ operated -- and that this opinion was rendered by Ted Olsen when he held that position during the Reagen administration.

So it seems that an official ruling from the DoJ Office of Legal Council in the Reagen administration will protect Lois Lerner from being prosecuted for contempt of congress.

That must have been sweet justice for Elijah Cummings who has been treated so shabbily by Issa.    No question about it:    Issa is a bully and repeatedly abuses his power as chairman.   Good for old reliable Elijah who wielded the knife so deftly while maintaining his calm dignity.