Saturday, September 6, 2014

Iran has made an astonishing, necessary decision: to cooperate with U.S. in fight against ISIS

This is too complex a situation for John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other warhawks to understand, so they would not have been able -- or had the political courage -- to make it happen.

President Obama has probably pulled off a diplomatic coup and a strategic wise move.

You see, the effort to deal with ISIS cannot be just us going in there as an outsider.   That would only make more enemies who would blame the U.S. for all the problems.   It has to be a cooperative effort involving all sides against ISIS.    And Iran has good reason to want to help defeat this radical group of Muslim extremists, who do not represent the Islamic faith. *

The BBC is reporting that Iran's Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, "has authorized his top commander to co-ordinate military operations with the U.S., Iraqi and Kurdish forces."

Finding a solution to this is beyond the war-jockeys who can't think beyond "bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran."    That is why we are so fortunate to have a man like Barack Obama as president of the United States at this time.

He knows how to play three-dimensional chess and has the guts to hold out for it, when others berate him for not being a rapid-fire checker player.


*  Here is how Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf put it:

"While these terrorists insist they are governing under Islamic law and are carrying out their atrocities in the name of Allah, they are nothing but thugs and assassins who are desecrating a religion and blaspheming the name of Allah."

Know-it-all Scalia wrong about death row case

Information for this comes from Huffington Post and New York Times articles.

Two African-American half-brothers have been exonerated by DNA testing, which determined that they did not commit the heinous rape and murder of an 11 year old girl in 1994.   They have spent three decades in prison, one on death row, the other serving a life sentence, for a crime they did not commit.

But it should not have taken DNA testing 30 years later to prove their innocence.   Any fair-minded jury, if given the details of the case as we now know them, would have likely acquitted them.

   1.  At the time of the crime, one brother was 15, and one was 19 with the mental ability of a 9 year old.

   2.  There was no physical evidence nor any witnesses linking the two brothers to the crime. 

   3.   Despite being teenagers, they were interrogated without legal or parental counsel.   Both confessed to the crime after being intimidated, threatened, and tricked by the police into believing that the other one had confessed.   They had so little understanding of what was happening that one of them, after signing the confession written by the police, asked if they could go home now.

   4.  They later recanted those confessions.

   5. There was another suspect at the time who was never interrogated and who he has since then committed other rapes/murders.   DNA testing now shows him to have been the killer. But in 1994 he was not even brought in for questioning, despite being listed as a suspect at one point.  

   6.  The prosecutor in the case was known as "the deadliest D.A." in the country for the frequency that he sought death penalties;   yet an inordinately high number of his convictions have subsequently been overturned.

But this is not just another story of DNA exonerations of black men who have spent years or decades imprisoned -- or executed -- for crimes they were later proven not to have committed.

Despite these six factors above, in 1994 the U. S. Supreme Court denied a request to review the case.    Justice Antonin Scalia was scathing (how often that adjective is used to describe Scalia's opinions) in his vote to refuse a review.   He wrote that the crime was so heinous that it would be difficult to argue against the death penalty.

But the SCOTUS review request was not about how heinous the crime was;   no one argued that it wasn't.   It was horrible.    The point of the review was police misconduct and questionable evidence.

That is why I have such contempt for Scalia's know-it-all arrogance and pig-headed obstinence.    His bias is so often so obvious to everyone but himself.  He has such fixed opinions and never seems to even consider that he might ever be wrong.  He repeatedly refuses to recuse himself when there is obvious conflict of interest.

In my opinion, he does not have the judicial temperament or procedural judgment required of a judge at any level, much less the highest court in our system.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Holly LaBerge's options: 1. Appeal 2. Expose the Deal coverup 3. Both

The previous post ("Ethics noose tightening") brought us up to date on the happenings in the Deal-Kahlman-LaBerge saga involving investigation of Gov. Deal's ethical violations and his attempt to strong-arm the ethics commission through pressure on two successive executive directors.

Here, I'm going to speculate about what Holly LaBerge might do.    She was the hand-picked replacement who, it seems pretty obvious, the Deal team thought would make the charges go away.     And the charges did more or less go away -- reduced to a small fine for technical reporting irregularities.

Now LaBerge has been slapped with a personal $10,000 fine for failing to disclose her memo about Deal's aides trying to pressure her.    Her attorney says he will appeal.

But I've been wondering for some time if she might do more than that.   Monetarily, it is the taxpayers who must pay the more than $2 million judgment in the several whistle-blower cases.   Taxpayers will also pick up the $10,000 fine imposed on the Attorney General's office, also for withholding the memo.

In having to pay her $10,000 fine personally, LaBerge is the one left holding the bag for the whole Deal coverup of abuse of power.    Why should she?

I would think that she may have more than this memo that she could reveal, which would at least hurt Governor Deal politically, if not result in actual criminal charges -- like those levied against Gov. Rick Perry in Texas.

Sing, Holly, sing !!!


The ethics noose keeps tightening around Gov. Deal's neck. Is anybody listening?

Gov. Nathan Deal's ethics problems . . . just keep on giving fodder for Jason Carter's campaign to unseat the governor.  For the background, see ShrinkRap posts on July 18, 19, and 25.

The latest installment concerns the now infamous "memo," written by Holly LaBerge, the Deal team's hand-picked replacement to head the ethics commission and make the case against the governor go away.    The memo was written by LaBerge on the day she herself felt pressured and threatened by the governor's aides to settle the case against the governor without a public hearing.    Then she put it away in a drawer as insurance to cover herself in the future, apparently.

Later, she turned it over to the Attorney General, but secretly kept a copy herself.   Neither LaBerge nor the AG included the memo in documents requested in the whistleblower trial of LaBerge's predecessor, Casey Kahlman, who won her case anyway and was awarded $1 million.

When the existence of the memo came to light a couple of months ago, Kahlman asked the court to sanction LaBerge and the AG's office for their failure to turn over the memo to her attorneys in their discovery process to prepare her case.    Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville heard the case last week, and this week announced his verdict.

LaBerge and the AG's office were each fined $10,000.    Judge Glanville said that Kahlman was entitled to have had the memo, as evidence that showed Deal's top aides repeatedly contacted her in the days prior to the commission's ruling on the Deal ethics case.

He also had harsh words for LaBerge herself, saying that she "has repeatedly proven herself to be dishonest and nontransparent."

Two questions:

1.   How can LaBerge remain in the job as executive director of the ethics commission after such an indictment of her integrity by a Superior Court judge?   Of course it will be up to the commission board itself to make that decision.

2.  How can all of this cumulative evidence of such abuse of power by Gov. Deal's staff not taint him?    It just doesn't seem to be gaining any traction with the public, even though the AJC is actively reporting it and Carter's campaign is using it.   Why isn't it killing Deal politically?   His staff's only power is his power.   So how is he not then responsible?   


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wisconsin and Indiana join marriage-equality states

The U. S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court decision that declared the bans of same-sex marriage in Wisconsin and Indiana to be unconstitutional.     The decision was unanimous.

Wisconsin and Indiana bring the total number of marriage equality states to 21.    Others have been added by lower court rulings and are awaiting appeal decisions.

This comes a day after a federal judge in Lousiana upheld that state's ban.   But  reading of the judges decision shows it to be so full of wrong thinking, based on incorrect data, that it is unlikely to survive an appeals court decision.

The dominoes continue to fall.


War hawks want Obama to bomb first, think later

New York Times' Thomas Friedman wrote a thoughtful column yesterday about President Obama's cautious, deliberative approach to the latest outrage coming from ISIS.   Here's are some excerpts: 

". . . In criticizing Obama for taking too much time, Representative Mike Rogers . . . told “Fox News Sunday” that “this 'don't-do-stupid-stuff' policy isn’t working.” That sounded odd to my ear — like we should just bomb somebody, even if it is stupid. If Obama did that, what would he be ignoring?

"First, experience. After 9/11 that sort offire, ready, aimapproach led George W. Bush to order a ground war in Iraq without sufficient troops to control the country, without a true grasp of Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni sectarian dynamics, and without any realization that, in destroying the Sunni Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Sunni Baathist regime in Iraq, we were destroying both of Iran’s mortal enemies and thereby opening the way for a vast expansion of Iran’s regional influence. We were in a hurry, myself included, to change things after 9/11, and when you’re in a hurry you ignore complexities that come back to haunt you later. . . . 

"Second, the context. To defeat ISIS you have to address the context out of which it emerged. And that is the three civil wars raging in the Arab world today . . .When you have a region beset by that many civil wars at once, it means there is no center, only sides. And when you intervene in the middle of a region with no center, you very quickly become a side.

"ISIS emerged as an extreme expression of resentment by one side: Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis who felt cut out of power and resources by the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Baghdad and the pro-Iranian Alawite/Shiite regime in Damascus. That is why Obama keeps insisting that America’s military intervention must be accompanied, for starters, by Iraqis producing a national unity government — of mainstream Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — so our use of force supports pluralism and power-sharing, not just Shiite power. . . .

 ". . . ISIS is actually being led by a combination of jihadists and disgruntled Sunni Iraqi Baathist Army officers, who were shoved aside either by us or Iraq’s Shiite-dominated governments. . . . 

Third, our allies are not fully allies: While the Saudi, Qatari and Kuwaiti governments are pro-American, wealthy Sunni individuals, mosques and charities in these countries are huge sources of funds, and fighters, for ISIS.

"As for Iran, if we defeat ISIS, it would be the third time since 2001 that we’ve defeated a key Sunni counterbalance to Iran — first the Taliban, then Saddam, now ISIS. That is not a reason not to do it, but it is reason to do it in a way that does not distract us from the fact that Iran’s nuclear program also needs to be defused, otherwise it could undermine the whole global nonproliferation regime. Tricky.

"I’m all-in on destroying ISIS. It is a sick, destabilizing movement. I support using U.S. air power and special forces to root it out, but only as part of a coalition, where everybody who has a stake in stability there pays their share and where mainstream Sunnis and Shiites take the lead by demonstrating that they hate ISIS more than they hate each other. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the middle of a God-awful mess of duplicitous allies and sectarian passions, and nothing good we do will last."

It is frightening to think how easily the American people can be seduced by simplistic arguments and chest-beating faux-patriotism and "manning-up" talk.  I would much rather have a cautious, thinking president than one who has to prove his manhood by rushing to show how tough he is.

Thinking is not dithering.   Let's give the president and his experts time to think this through.   There's no immediate threat to the United States.   Let's don't shoot first and think later.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"Ferguson isn't about black rage against cops. It's white rage against progress."

Some excerpts from an essay by Carol Anderson, Emory University Associate Professor of African-American Studies and History.   It's important.   The complet essay was published as an August 29, 2014 op-ed in the Washington Post.

"When we look back on what happened in Ferguson, Mo., during the summer of 2014, it will be easy to think of it as yet one more episode of black rage ignited by yet another police killing of an unarmed African American male. But that has it precisely backward. What we’ve actually seen is the latest outbreak of white rage. Sure, it is cloaked in the niceties of law and order, but it is rage nonetheless.

"Protest and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations. . . . 

"Nearly 80 years [after the Civil War], Brown v. Board of Education seemed like another moment of triumph — with the ruling on the unconstitutionality of separate public schools for black and white students affirming African Americans’ rights as citizens. But black children, hungry for quality education, ran headlong into more white rage. Bricks and mobs at school doors were only the most obvious signs. In March 1956, 101 members of Congress issued the Southern Manifesto, declaring war on the Brown decision. . . .

"A little more than half a century after Brown, the election of Obama gave hope to the country and the world that a new racial climate had emerged in America, or that it would. But such audacious hopes would be short-lived. A rash of voter-suppression legislation, a series of unfathomable Supreme Court decisions, the rise of stand-your-ground laws and continuing police brutality make clear that Obama’s election and reelection have unleashed yet another wave of fear and anger.

"It’s more subtle — less overtly racist — than in 1865 or even 1954. . . . Now, under the guise of protecting the sanctity of the ballot box, conservatives have devised measures — such as photo ID requirements — to block African Americans’ access to the polls. . . .  The Supreme Court sanctioned this discrimination in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act and opened the door to 21st-century versions of 19th-century literacy tests and poll taxes.

"The economic devastation of the Great Recession also shows African Americans under siege. The foreclosure crisis hit black Americans harder than any other group in the United States. . . .  Add to this the tea party movement’s assault on so-called Big Government, which despite the sanitized language of fiscal responsibility constitutes an attack on African American jobs. Public-sector employment, where there is less discrimination in hiring and pay, has traditionally been an important venue for creating a black middle class.

"So when you think of Ferguson, don’t just think of black resentment at a criminal justice system that allows a white police officer to put six bullets into an unarmed black teen. Consider the economic dislocation of black America. Remember a Florida judge instructing a jury to focus only on the moment when George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin interacted, thus transforming a 17-year-old, unarmed kid into a big, scary black guy, while the grown man who stalked him through the neighborhood with a loaded gun becomes a victim

"Remember the assault on the Voting Rights Act. Look at Connick v. Thompson, a partisan 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2011 that ruled it was legal for a city prosecutor’s staff to hide evidence that exonerated a black man who was rotting on death row for 14 years. And think of a recent study by Stanford University psychology researchers concluding that, when white people were told that black Americans are incarcerated in numbers far beyond their proportion of the population, “they reported being more afraid of crime and more likely to support the kinds of punitive policies that exacerbate the racial disparities,” such as three-strikes or stop-and-frisk laws. 

"Only then does Ferguson make sense. It’s about white rage."

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Economic advantage to expanding Medicaid is sinking in . . . except in the South

Two articles by David Kurtz on TPM Editor's Blog hail the good news that some Republican led states are coming around to seeing the economic advantages to expanding Medicaid in their states, despite opposition to anything connected with President Obama.

Wyoming, where anti-Obama feelings are intense, is coming around because of the financial advantages to the state.  Kurtz writes:
That makes this an almost unthinkable reversal -- but one that typifies the shifting sands of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion specifically. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican powered to office in 2010 by the tea party wave, struck a deal with HHS last week to expand Medicaid. Indiana, led by Republican 2016 dark horse Gov. Mike Pence, is already negotiating with the administration on its own plan. Tennessee, a state like Wyoming where there's no real Democratic threat to Republican dominance that would drive expansion talk, plans to submit a proposal for Medicaid expansion to HHS this fall.

Wyoming is perhaps the prototype for how Medicaid expansion might happen . . .   It is a combination of selling conservative lawmakers on the financial benefits of expansion and crafting an alternative plan that is more palatable to conservative ideals in the 23 remaining states that have not yet accepted the expansion.
But Kurtz also writes about the fact that the hold-out states are all in the South where poor African-Americans would be the ones to benefit most.
. . . .  A map of Medicaid expansion leaves out the five states that. . . . comprise the Deep South. You can tack on two huge adjoining states -- Florida and Texas. . . .  Arkansas and Kentucky are the most Southern states so far to expand, and both are led by Democrats. . . . 

In a June op-ed for Reuters, [Nelson] Lichtenstein [wrote]  . . .  'A ruling white caste (is) now putting in place policies likely to create a vast economic and social gap between most Southern states and those in the North, upper Midwest and Pacific region. . . .  Of course, such regressive social policies... are supported by a fierce white partisanship.'
And, of course, we should not be surprised by this.  Remember Romney's 47% comment, when he thought only his rich, white donors were listening?   It may appeal to them in states where they are in the majority -- "small government" gets trumped by money every time.   But in states where it's going to benefit those 47 percent-ers, no way.

There's your campaign issue, folks.   Listen up, Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day greetings

Labor Day used to be a purpose-inspired passion for celebrating the honored place for working men and women in our country.    Historically, labor unions played an important role in elevating workers into the middle class and changing the income inequality of the Golden Age.

Now that we are back into the worst economic inequality since that Golden Age, and labor unions have lost the political clout they once had, Labor Day seems just another excuse for partying on a long weekend.

Let's keep this in mind today what the labor movement has meant to this country and ask why they no longer have much power.   Is it because, having achieved big goals, they are no longer needed?    Or have corporate interests and power taken away their clout, as in any other fight for control -- and the corporate interests have won?   They had some help from the Supreme Court in recent years, a court known as one of the most business-friendly ever.

I tend to think it's the latter.    Or, if it was the former, it's no longer true.   We need a renewed strength in a group that stands up for workers, for Main Street against Wall Street.

Think about that, and have a good holiday.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Excessive force by Ferguson police estimated to be 26 times national average.

The Washington Post is reporting on a further look into the past civil rights lawsuits involving Ferguson police officers.

Four federal lawsuits, and more than a dozen investigations, over the past decade have included charges of:  "killing a mentally ill man with a Taser, pistol-whipping a child, choking and hog-tying a child, and beating a man who was later charged with destroying city property because his blood spilled on officers' clothes."

Outside police officials say the nature of such cases suggests there is a systemic problem.   In addition about 13% of Ferguson's police officers have had excessive-force investigations.   There are no comparable national data;   but a study, the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project, funded by the Cato Institute, estimated on the basis of 2010 data that about 0.5% of police officers in the United States will be cited for misconduct that involves excessive force.

The Ferguson rate is 26 times that national estimate.

This is not news to the African-American community of Ferguson.   Matthew Brown just happens to be the latest victim.