Saturday, August 2, 2014

Automatically suspect . . . the plight of second-class citizens in Gaza and the U.S.

In the middle of the travesty that is happening in Gaza, three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped and murdered, allegedly by Hamas sympathizers.   Apparently in retaliation by thugs sympathetic to Israel, a 16 year old Palestinian boy was then kidnapped and burned alive.   

Tariq Khderthe, his 15 year old Palestinian-American cousin from Tampa, who was visiting the family in Gaza along with his mother, was picked up by Israeli police for protesting his cousin's murder.   Though unarmed, Tarik was brutally beaten by the police -- a video went viral -- and then held in custody for four days before being released without any charges.    These pictures are of Tariq before and after the beating.

Last week he was back in the U.S., still showing facial bruises from the police beating.  Tariq and his mother were interviewed on MSNBC.    I was impressed by the mother's calm but forceful challenge to the media covering this situation in Gaza.   She emphasized that what happened to her son is not so unusual;  it happens all the time to Palestinian youth -- but it does not get reported in the Israeli and U.S. media in the same way that injuries to Israelis make the news.

This was part of a larger challenge, suggesting that not only does Israel have overwhelming advantages in resources, viable economy, military power, and control of borders of Gaza -- they also have a huge public relations advantage.

I would add that in the United States, Israel also has a huge political advantage.  In addition to the enduring sympathy based on Jewish history and the horrors of Holocaust,  there are the powerful lobbying and fund-raising activities of groups like the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

More about this in another post on AIPAC.

This tragic story of the teens in Gaza reminds me of the plight of black and brown teens in our own countryAutomatically suspect, like Treyvon Martin walking home from the convenience store to his father's condo, armed only with a bag of snacks and a soda, when he encountered the armed and trigger-happy George Zimmerman.   We all know which one ended up dead.   The minority-teen's disadvantage did not end there.   Neither in the initial police handling of the case, nor subsequently in the court trial, did the black teen get treated the same as a white teen would have.  

My point?   Ethnic equality is a distant mirage, both at home and around the world.   Historically, Jews have certainly had their share of the disadvantages of being an outsider group (one need not even say the whole word;   just start to say "Holo----.")    But isn't that all the more reason that we might expect Israel to be compassionate?   They've experienced the ostracism and cruelty?

Well, no.   Think about the psychology of abuse.   Those who are abused often grow up to be abusers.    Think about it.    That's what the white people of South Africa so feared when apartheid was over-turned.    Nelson Mandela was that unique individual who did not follow the pattern of abuse engendering an abuser, and he led his nation through a difficult period of accommodation.    

Alas, there seems to be no Nelson Mandela on the scene today.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Michelle Nunn for Senate from Georgia

Everything about Michelle Nunn's campaign to replace Sen. Saxby Chambliss as senator from Georgia -- and to take a seat once so well-occupied by her father, Sen. Sam Nunn -- has been open, intelligent, and honorable.

Now her response to the first instance of low politics has shown a touch of class and deft handlingSomeone leaked a campaign strategist's plan for her campaign.  It includes fundraising and public relations positions, as well as outlining the things her opponent might use to attack her, along with suggested defenses.

Nothing startling or damaging here;  it's ordinary campaign strategy.  Nothing new revealed.   Of course, that didn't stop the Republicans from immediately jumping on it and describing Michelle as a consultant-driven robot.

There's strength in Nunn's response:   Turn it into a joke, as she did in speaking with the AJC:
"I always thought I wanted to run an open and transparent campaign, but this has gone beyond what I anticipated and intended."
Terrific response.   But it was a letter writer to the AJC that had an even better response -- and it was better coming from someone other than the candidate herself.   Kelly Spetalnick of Atlanta wrote to point out the glaring omission from the leaked campaign strategy:
"What was refreshingly absent was any reference as to how to attack her opponentThat omission speaks louder than the printed words."
YES !!!!    Michelle has been saying from the beginning that she opposes the divisiveness in politics, that she wants to build bridges and work with those who disagree with her to get things done.   So whoever leaked the document did her a favor.   It only reinforces the high road she is taking.

It's such a contrast to all the campaign strategies that rely on opposition research to find dirt to smear their opponents with.  Michelle wants none of that.   And she has obviously chosen campaign strategists who get that.


PS:   This works so well in Michelle's favor that I even wondered if her campaign had organized it all, including the letter.   I don't think so, but if they did, it is brilliant.  It says nothing about her opponent, but it says everything about her and what she stands for.

Chaos and absurdity in the U. S. Congress

OK.  For a long time, we've been aghast at the dysfunction in the U. S. Congress, especially the Republican controlled House of Representatives.    But tonight, it reached a new level of both chaos and absurdity.

Today, they were all set to quickly pass a funding bill to support handling of the border crisis.  Granted, it was a fraction of what the president asked for, and even of what the Senate bill calls for.   But it was going to be something they could claim -- and then quickly adjourn for five weeks to go home and campaign.

But then Ted Cruz came to visit.   That's Senator Ted Cruz, and we're talking about the House of Representatives.   Cruz had a meeting with the Tea Party Caucus in the House and apparently convinced them not to support the watered-down funding bill, unless it includes a provision to repeal a law that mandates a hearing before these children from Central America can be deported.   In other words, Ted Cruz -- a senator -- is controlling the shots in the House.

But then the Republican whip found they didn't have enough votes to pass a bill with that provision -- because they would lose some votes who opposed that.

Essentially, this was a show-down fight between House Speaker Boehner and Senator Ted Cruz -- and Boehner lost in his own chamber.

To thumb his nose on the way out, Cruz reportedly shrugged off any suggestion that this would leave the humanitarian problem addressed and said:   The president can act on his own to provide fundshe doesn't have to depend on Congress.

Now here is the punch line:   This is exactly what Boehner and his crowd are suing President Obama for doing -- acting on his own, without going through Congress, to delay implementation of one part of the ACA.

Good Lord.  I think I'm going to have to go lie down.   It's making my head swim.


[ADDED LATER:   I attributed to Ted Cruz the comment that the president could act without congress to ease the border crisis.   It wasn't only him.  The House Republican leadership actually released just such a prepared statement:
"There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries."
Even Republicans themselves took note of the irony of this coming just days after approving a lawsuit against the president for just such independent action.   The House Republicans just increased their credibility problem exponentially.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Clarification regarding Hamas

Having just read an article in the New York Times about important Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan remaining mostly silent about what's going on in Gaza because of their strong dislike of Hamas, I wanted to clarify my position.

In what I have written over the past few weeks about the human tragedy taking place in Gaza, I have been clear that my sympathies are with the Palestinian people in Gaza.   This does not imply that I side with Hamas.   I also condemn their firing rockets into Israel.   But as in one of my first posts where I quoted Chris Hayes:   at some point it's not just what either side intends to do, but the actual results that also count.

And the suffering caused by Hamas on the Israeli people seems minor compared with the suffering that Israel's response is causing the Palestinian people.  In terms of civilian deaths, it is roughtly 1 to 300.    In both cases, it is the people -- not the governing and military forces, but the people -- that are my concern.


Wisconsin 'voter fraud'

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker skyrocketed to political fame over his efforts to get rid of unions for public services employees.   But, like so many Republican governors, he's been active on most conservative issues, including alleged voter fraud that supposedly justifies strict voter ID laws.

The Wisconsin voter ID law was challenged in the court system.   It has been upheld by 5-2 in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court and is currently on hold while that ruling is being appealed through the federal appeals courts.

However, in its ruling, the state Supreme Court cited only one example of actual voter fraud -- and it was committed by a fan of Gov. Walker.    This man apparently actually voted five times during the Walker recall election:   three times in person and twice by mail-in ballot.

His defense:   he says he has a form of amnesia and didn't remember that he had already voted.  That doesn't sound to me like any amnesia I know about.  The man actually voted using his own name;  so this was not a voter ID problem.  They just need a better computer system to show who has already voted.

The real irony here, though, is that -- despite this obvious lack of evidence of a problem -- the court decided to fix this non-existent problem.


House Republicans vote to sue the president

The Republican House majority has prevailed in a 225 to 201 vote* to authorize Speaker Boehner to sue the President of the United States for not enforcing part of the Affordable Care Act -- a law they vehemently  oppose.

First of all, there's a ludicrous irony here.    These same Republicans have held over 50 votes to repeal or diminish this very same law.   Now they're suing the president because he is delaying for a year the enforcement of the requirement that employers with over 50 employees must provide health insurance.

Does that make any sense?   Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said on the House floor today:  "Even to kids watching Sesame Street, this would make no sense."

It makes no sense . . . except, of course, as a political stunt, which it obviously is.  It will probably rile up their base . . . maybe just a little.   But not nearly as much as it's energizing the Democratic base.

This is an exploding cigar.   And Democrats are eager to strike the match for them to light up.   Impeachment would be an even better fund-raiser . . . for the Democrats.


*  The vote was strictly along party lines, except that five Republicans voted against it because it did not go far enough;   they wanted impeachment.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gaza #2

Another day brings more destruction of besieged Gaza and its people.   Yes, Hamas continues to fire rockets (most of them ineffective) into Israel, and I do not discount the trauma of that constant threat upon the Israeli people.

Their lives are disrupted by frequent trips to their bomb shelters.   But they have bomb shelters.    More and more of the Palestinians no longer have homes -- or even the schools where they sought shelter when those homes were destroyed.

Israeli forces have now knocked out Gaza's only power plant, leaving 89% of the people without electricity;  a hospital has been hit;  daily death tolls now reach over 100;   the Palestinian/Israeli ratio of civilian deaths is 300 to 1;   over 200,000 within Gaza now have no home.   The home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was destroyed.    His reaction was:
"My house is not dearer than any of the houses of our people. . . .  The destruction of stones will not break our will and we will continue our resistance until we gain freedom."
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says Israel must prepare for a lengthy siege.  

What is the end point?   What will be left?

The Palestinians see themselves as resisting the invasion of their homeland by the powerful Israeli forces backing up the settlers.   Rocks thrown and rockets lobbed across the border into Israel express their desperation but also their unwillingness to give in.

Israel rightly sees itself being attacked by Hamas, an organization that refuses to accept Israel's right to exist.  The fact is that Israel does exist, powerfully so -- and in the foreseeable future it dominates Gaza and is well on the way to its utter destruction.   There is more than one way to say: "You have no right to exist."

Who started it?    You can only answer that by clarifying who started it when?    Are we talking about 5,000 years ago?    Or when the Jews were dispersed all over Europe?   Or when they came back and formed the State of Israel after WWII?     Or was it the 1967 war?    Or when the people of Gaza voted Hamas in as their ruling party?   Or a few weeks ago when three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered?   Or when some thugs kidnapped and burned alive a Palestinian 14 year old boy?

When did it start?    Could we shift it to:   When will it end?


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bring it on . . . . GOP to sue Obama.

House Republicans' plan to sue President Obama was advanced out of committee today and is expected to come to a vote by the full House before they depart on their August vacation.   

Democrats see the backlash potential.   To sweeten the pot, they have linked the lawsuit to the calls from various Republican politicians for impeachment of the president.

In the crazy world of Washington politics and congressional absurdity, this is a marvelous gift to the Democrats.

Since the lawsuit was announced, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee alone has raised $7.6 million -- $1 million of that in one day.

Further, 74,000 first-time contributors sent in money.

Speaker Boehner is back-pedaling as fast as he can about the impeachment; afraid he's a little too late.   Thanks to Sarah Palin for being among the first to yell the "I" word.



I feel a great need to say something about what's happening in Gaza, in Israel, and in the West Bank.   What I feel is despair.

When will it stop?   How can it be stopped?   Do those with power to stop it really want it to stop?   Or is each so dug in that all their impulses are to fight, to try to destroy the other side?

There is such a disproportion in the loss of lives, in the destruction of homes and schools, in the resources and the power, in the control of land.  Israel may have had a high moral purpose when this started, but it now feels, as someone said, like David and Goliath -- with Israel thinking it's the victim . . . . but acting like Goliath.

How many eyes for an eye?   How many teeth for a tooth?   How many lives for a life?

There are now reports that the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenage boys was done by lone terrorists, not under the control of Hamas.   As I listened to Chris Hayes and his guests discussing the issues on MSNBC tonight, I thought the most cogent thing said was this:

How is it that the formidable Israeli intelligence operatives have not been able to apprehend the killers?   They have supposedly been identified.   Why, instead of concentrating on finding them and bringing them to justice, are they killing innocent civilians in Gaza?

Saying that they warn people to evacuate the area before they destroy it may give a superficial veneer of righteousness -- but it's just one step away from telling a man locked in a jail cell that he should leave because you're going to be blowing up his cell.   He can't leave.   You have him locked in.   And even if he were out, there is no place to go.   All exits from Gaza have been blocked.

I can't help believing that Israel is destroying the high moral ground it once held.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Virginia's tourism slogan -- "Virginia is for lovers" -- takes on new meaning.

The 4th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has just upheld a lower court decision that overturned Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage.    Now the popular advertising slogan for the state -- "Virginia Is For Lovers" -- is expanded to include gay and lesbian couples.

This decision from the 4th Circuit Court joins the two decisions from the 10th Circuit Court affecting Utah and Oklahoma.

This brings the count of marriage equality states to 20, plus D.C.  In addition, some 9 or so cases are pending appeals to other Federal Circuit Courts.   Coming up are hearings on Aug. 6th before the 6th Circuit Court, on Aug. 26th before the 7th Circuit Court, and on Sept. 8th before the 9th Circuit Court.

These hearings will involve cases from a total of eight different additional states.  Beyond that, every other state that still has a ban now also has a lawsuit pending to end those bans.

It's looking increasingly likely that SCOTUS will hear one or more of these cases in the coming session.   And then . . .  it could be all over.


This is how stupid Republicans think you are

Republicans think we're stupid, that we will believe their silly lies and distortions.   They actually think we will buy stuff so lacking in logic, so at odds with observable facts as:

1.  Ted Cruz says that the dysfunction in Congress is the fault of Democrats.

2.  Paul Ryan says that the Obama administration supports a system that perpetuates poverty.

They seem to think that if they repeat these sound bites enough, they will become fact in the minds of the American people.

What worries me is that . . . they might be right.

Get your wealthy conservative gazillionaires to pay for enough tv ads to blanket the airwaves . . . and, at least in the minds of enough people to swing the elections, you create new facts, devoid of anything but repetitive sound bite recognition.

It might be different if we had more real journalists writing the news and opinion.  Instead, we have  corporate ownership of newspapers and radio and television stations in place of the good, old-fashioned dedicated journalists and individual or family ownership.   Everything now goes to serve the interests of corporate America.

And let's hope Hillary Clinton can convince us that she's not just one of them.   Or else I'm ready to join the "Ready for Elizabeth Warren" movement.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Perfect response to climate change deniers

Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist gave the perfect response to his opponent's typical Republican dodge on climate change questions.   That dodge has been so over-used by people like Marco Rubio, John Boehner, et al -- that it is already a tired cliche.

And it fools no one.  When asked whether they think climate change is real, the Republican talking point goes something like, I'm not a scientist.   I'm not qualified to debate the science."

Enter Crist, who told a group at a climate change conference at Florida State University,  I’m not a scientist either, but I can use my brain, and I can talk to one."

President Obama made a similar good point, talking to a group in drought-ridden California, "I'm not a scientist either, but we've got some good ones at NASA."

Just one further point to Republicans:   Most of you are not economists either . . . nor obstetricians.   So why do you feel qualified to tinker with financial regulatory laws?   Why do you feel qualified to tell women how to manage their reproductive choices?