Saturday, December 20, 2014

Add Florida to marriage equality states

The United States Supreme Court has refused to stop same-sex marriages in Florida, thus opening the door to licenses being issued on January 5th.

A U. S. District Court judge had ruled that the Forida ban on same-sex marriage violates the U. S. Constitution's equal protection clause, but had put a stay on implementation of his ruling pending appeal.

That stay has now been lifted.   The ruling on merits of the case could still be over-turned, but that is very unlikely.    With a growing number of states where SCOTUS has refused to step in, it seems inevitable that their ultimate decision on marriage equality will be to make it legal in all states.


Jeb Bush -- hypocrisy already showing

Jeb Bush has just stepped onto a fast-moving express train  -- probably at serious risk for whip-lash injury.

Tuesday:   Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announces that he is going to explore the possibility of running for president in 2016, making him a likely opponent of Hillary Clinton.     Bush has always made a point to court the support of the Cuban-American community in South Florida as a major political base.   He once gave a speech to one of their groups exclaiming that we shouldn't even consider lifting the embargo of Cuba, we should increase it.

Wednesday:   President Obama announced his plan to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and to work with congress to remove the embargo.   Within hours, Jeb Bush had condemned the decision, saying these "heinous Castro brothers" are being rewarded for being tyrannical dictators, and it is another example of Obama's wrong-headedness and excessive reach.

Thursday:   BuzzFeed investigative journalist revealed that for years, Jeb Bush has served as a highly paid adviser ($1 million per year) to Barclay's Bank of London which does business in Cuba -- illegally and in defiance of the embargo.    During the time of Bush's work for Barclay's, the bank has paid a $300 million fine for violating the embargo and sanctions against several countries, including Cuba.   Bush must have known about this.

Thursday evening:   Before the sun had even set on that news, Bush had announced that he would be leaving the Barclay bank in two weeks.   Even without Jeb Bush in the middle of a changing Cuban-American community that is surprisingly divided according to age brackets when it comes to Cuba, Obama's move was a political gift to Hillary Clinton.   It gives her a clear position in opposition to the policy Bush formed a decade ago when supporting Cuban-Americans was politically smart.   Now, 50 years later, with changing ages comes changed feelings about the homeland.   It's not even homeland for the younger generation.

This is what makes politics so interesting:   There's always something.   In a Clinton-Bush match-up, Bush would have seemed to have an advantage, having been  popular governor of Florida for eight years.    Now it looks as though Jeb Bush will represent the old guard among Cuban-Americans, and Hillary Clinton will have the opportunity to attract the younger, more progressive voters.


Friday, December 19, 2014

"Gone With the Wind" -- racism and changing times

There is no doubt:   "Gone With the Wind" was a novel and a film about racism, about the relationships between slaves and slave-owners, and about the civil war that resulted from a deeply divided nation's inability to agree that the profoundly moral wrongness of slavery must outweigh the economic claims for the entrenched system of cheap labor for Southern states. 

Such questions are beyond the scope of this brief blog today, which concerns the more mundane question of racism in the distribution and showing of the film.   In this 75th anniversary year of the film's premier, Emory University film studies professor Matthew Bernstein has extensively researched the files of the film's producer David O. Selznick.

Atlanta's mayor, William B. Hartsfield, was instrumental in getting the world premier to be held in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.   The opening followed three days of festivities, a grand parade of the stars down Peachtree Street, an antebellum costume ball, and a state holiday declared by the governor.

Bernstein also found letters and telegrams in Selznick's files that revealed the racial tensions between Selznick and the Atlanta officials, who had decreed that none of the black actors -- including Hattie McDaniel who later won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress -- would be invited to the premier.

Selznick, himself Jewish and mindful of the persecution of minorities, tried in vain to persuade Atlanta officials to include them -- but he finally dropped his protest after learning that Georgia's Jim Crow laws would prevent the black actors from being seated with the rest of the cast or included in any official social events.   Clark Gable was ready to boycott the premier, but Hattie McDaniel convinced him to attend.   She did later attend the West Coast premier in Los Angeles.

But here is the small detail that stands out today in all of its instructive irony about how the times have changed the racial climate.

The black actors could not be invited to attend as equals in Atlanta, but this did not stop local African-Americans from appearing at some of the events -- as entertainers.    According to Bernstein, "One of the most fascinating things about the festivities is that Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was 10 years old, actually appeared on stage at a charity ball dressed as a slave in front of a mock-up of Tara singing with the Ebenezer Baptist Church choir."   This has been confirmed by a spokesman for the King Center.

The irony:   24 years later (January 27, 1964) and Mayor Iran Allen had succeeded Hartsfield as mayor of Atlanta in 1962.   Allen was a champion for civil rights, having "white" and "colored" signs removed from City Hall on his first day in office and desegregating the building's cafeteria.    When Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the mayor helped organize a 1,500 person, bi-racial banquet to honor King and then persuaded business leaders to attend.   It was a turning point in race relations in Atlanta.

From playing a little black slave boy in a pageant glorifying The Old South at age 10 to being the honoree at a bi-racial banquet -- in the same city -- to honor him as a Nobel Peace Prize winner is quite a long journey in a short time.   A journey for the city of Atlanta, but also for the King family and the Ebeneezer Church that participated in an enactment of slavery in such an event in the first place.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Another bold Obama move: recognizing Cuba

Jubilant Republicans basking in their November win seem to have expected President Obama to bow to them as conquering heroes and do their bidding.    He's doing anything but that.   First, his bold executive action on deportations infuriated them -- but left them sputtering ineffectively with no real strategy to stop him that wouldn't backfire on them politically.

Now he has followed that with another bold move that begins a process of recognizing Cuba diplomatically for the first time in about 60 years -- or, as the president put it:   “Neither the American nor Cuban people are well-served by a rigid policy that took place before most of us were born."

The long process to normalizing relations began with an exchange of prisoners and will proceed with "steps to increase travel, commerce and the flow of information to and from Cuba."   In addition, following a 45 minute telephone conversation with Cuban President Raul Castro, Mr. Obama said that he is instructing Secretary of State John Kerry to begin discussions to re-establish diplomatic relations.

Lifting the embargo, however, will require an act of congress, which put it into law in 1996.   A Republican controlled congress is unlikely to do that -- even though it is now desired by a slight majority even of Cuban-Americans.    The older ones still oppose it, but younger ones overwhelmingly favor normalizing relations.

The Anti-Castro Cuban and Cuban-Americans have used their considerable political power to resist just such a move for decades.    Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the actions, calling the prisoner exchange "a very dangerous precedent" and the normalization of relations "absurd."  Rubio added that "This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba . . . .  but it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come."

I wonder how Rubio differentiates that from the fact that the Castro regime has been a permanent fixture in Cuba for several generations already.   Nothing we have done seems to have changed that, and I have heard no plan from Rubio that is likely to do so.  Rubio is big on bluster, calling the president's foreign policy "not just naive, but willfully ignorant of the way the world truly works."

The question for Rubio is:   Why would you expect the same policy that we have pursued -- without results -- for more than 50 years to suddenly bring results? 

Perhaps embarking on a new pathway of cooperation and friendship, as well as ending our economic, trade, and travel boycott, might help the Cuban people more than what the anti-Castro crowd has touted over the past 50 years.   If it hasn't worked in 50 years, why would another 5 or 10 be different?

By opening relations, we might even learn something about how they have developed an enviable medical care system that provides free medical care for all its citizens -- and trains so many doctors that they are now exporting doctors to other nations in Latin America and Africa.    Their medical care system outperforms our vaunted "best in the world" medical system on some important measures, including infant and maternal mortality and other preventive medicine practices.

This normalization would have happened long ago if it were not for the powerful anti-Castro lobby that has primarily supported Republicans and negatively impacted any efforts to re-establish relations.   But they have become less powerful with each generation removed from the 1950s when many Cubans fled their homeland for the U.S.

This new move by Obama was aided by the Canadian government and by Pope Francis, who wrote to both presidents Obama and Castro, encouraging them to deal with the American prisoner situation.

Sen. Rubio has it backwards.   It's time for him to recognize the reality on the ground in Cuba.    It can only benefit the Cuban people to open up to tourists and trade.    Take a lesson from China.

Bravo to President Obama for another bold action.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

More doubt cast on Ferguson grand jury decision

[Corrected post on Wednesday evening:   Although I stand by the headline that there is plenty of doubt about the Ferguson grand jury and the process through which they did not return an indictment of Darren Wilson, the substance of the post I wrote last night conflates two different witnesses.    I was relying on an internet source, plus my memory, and "witness #10" and "witness #40" got intermixed.

It was witness #40 who wrote the journal entry and whose entire testimony seems so unreliable.   Witness #10, a male, also seemed questionable in that he changed some of the details in his testimony from one time to another.

It was #10 to whom DA McCulloch referred in his press conference summary.   I apologize for the confusion.   It doesn't change my basic point about the flawed and arguably illegal way DA McCulloch misused the grand jury process, as well as the unreliability of both witnesses #10 and #40.

However, I do endeavor to be accurate in writing this blog, and it pains me to have had misinformation posted on here for nearly 24 hours before I discovered the error.

To be specific:   both witnesses #10 and #40 were ones who said that Michael Brown was charging at the officer when the fatal shots were fired into his head.   It was #40 who wrote the journal and who gave varying reasons for driving to Ferguson that day.   There are reasons to question the reliability of both witnesses;   but it was witness #10, not #40, whom DA McCulloch singled out for mention in his summary at the press conference.

Still, he did also present #40 to the grand jury, after her tertimony and her credibility had been essentially destroyed by the federal investigators -- and he knew that.

When District Attorney Robert McCulloch held his now-infamous press conference to announce "no indictment" of police officer Darren Wilson, he emphasized the testimony of "witness #10."   

Having talked about the many contradictory accounts from other witnesses, some of which did not fit with the physical evidence, he singled out #10, whose description of Brown charging at Wilson "like a football player, head down" closely corroborated Wilson's account.

Now a report from "The Smoking Gun" is circulating that claims the testimony of witness #10 may be unreliable, perhaps even false.  She has claimed that she wrote her account in her journal just after witnessing the shooting, but this report says that she did not even mention a journal when she first spoke with police -- four weeks after the incident.   In addition, she has a history of having perviously inserted herself into another case by lying to the police, and her story about why she was in Ferguson changed.

Officers were skeptical of why a resident of St. Louis happened to be in Ferguson that morning.   At one point, she told them she had made the 30 mile trip "to better understand African-Americans."   At another time, she said she had gone to visit an old classmate in Ferguson and saw the incident when she stopped to ask directions.

In the four week period before she contacted police with her story, she had posted comments on her Facebook supportive of officer Wilson.

A cross-examining attorney would have easily destroyed the credibility of such an unreliable witness.    And yet McCulloch cites her testimony over that of other witnesses who seem far more credible -- simply because #10 corroborates Wilson's version of what happened.   This is exactly what was so wrong with this whole process.   It was not a trial, there was no judge, no adversarial attorney to challenge such questionable witnesses as a means to getting the truth.  And yet McCulloch -- displaying his pro-Wilson bias -- presents it as if it had been a trial with a verdict that cleared Wilson of wrong-doing.

The person was so right who described McCulloch's press conference as sounding like a defense attorney's summing up -- rather than the impartial report of the District Attorney.

This does not prove that Wilson should have been gound guilty.  What it does show is that there should have been a trial to resolve these and a myriad of other questions.   There is good reason why trials are set up as they are:   rules of evidence, cross-examination of witnesses by opposing attorneys, and a judge to ensure fairness and correct instructions of the law -- none of which occurred.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Defeat for the NRA

The nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General of the United States was an important enough one that the NRA's minions in the senate had held up confirmation for nearly a year.

The reason?   Dr. Murthy has been outspoken on the subject of gun violence in the U.S., claiming that it should be viewed as a pubic health problem.   He's exactly right, of course.  But that made him an enemy to the NRA and all those it owns in congress.

But in spite of the NRA, the Senate confirmed Dr. Murthy, 51-43.   A loss for the NRA;  a win for the American  people.   One Republican joined the Democrats, while three Democrats from red states voted against Murthy.


"Good riddance, Darrell Issa: A wasteful blowhard's humiliating history" ---

ShrinkRap readers know of my deep contempt for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose term as chair of the Government Oversight Committee comes to an end this month. The reasons behind my scorn for that man are explained in this article by Ari Rabin-Havt on, who calls Issa the "king of made-up scandals."

Here are some excerpts from Rabin-Hart's article and a picture of the typical angry countenance of Issa himself scowling down from his committee chair's perch:
Good riddance, Darrell Issa: A wasteful blowhard's humiliating history
"In four years at the helm of the House of Representative’s primary investigative body, Darrell Issa launched major investigations into the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the IRS’s alleged targeting of conservative organizations, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms’ failed “Fast and Furious” operation, the bankruptcy of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, and the launch of  In pursuit of these scandals he was granted a budget of $25,678,100.

"This figure does not account for the $14 million spent by the IRS answering voluminous and often duplicative subpoenas, the “millions” spent by the Department of Defense responding to inquiries about the attack in Benghazi, the budget of the Oversight Committee’s minority staff, nor the massive expenditure of resources by the dozens of other federal agencies that have come under the scrutiny of the Oversight Committee. By its conclusion Darrell Issa’s chairmanship could cost the U.S. Treasury well into the nine figures [over $1 billion]. From that astounding allocation of resources, Issa has unveiled no major corruption or gotten to the bottom of [any] significant scandal.

"By mistaking bureaucratic incompetence for scandal, ineptitude for criminality, and general stupidity on the part of low- and mid-level government employees for political conspiracy, Issa all but guarantees that only the most fervent partisans will trust any information that emerges from his committee. In that way he is perhaps the best Oversight chairman a Democratic administration could hope for — one whose investigations can simply be disregarded as partisan witch hunts and whose influence waned with each misstep. . . .

". . . Darrell Issa’s chairmanship is without accomplishment. His primary targets – Benghazi, “Fast and Furious,” the IRS, Solyndra — have all led to dead ends. . . .  the chairman never acknowledging that no evidence existed for charges he leveled in the media.

"His investigation into Benghazi has been one embarrassing episode after another [and] has unearthed no significant findings.   Speaker Boehner, in the ultimate slap in the face to Issa, essentially removed him from the case, choosing South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy to lead the Benghazi Select Committee.  

"During the IRS investigation Issa ignored facts and remained dedicated to the predetermined conclusion that the agency was used by the Obama administration to target conservatives. . . .  he will not acknowledge his investigation has yet to turn up a single document suggesting anything untoward about the IRS’s actions, other that an attempt by an understaffed department to deal with a huge influx of applications . . . . 

"Contrary to Issa’s repeated assertions of criminality, not a single act of wrongdoing by any White House official has been uncovered by his efforts."

This is really good riddance of a terrible committee chair, completely aside from his partisanship.   Remember how shabbily -- how actually demeaning -- he treated the ranking Democratic member of his committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-SC) by actually cutting off his microphone when he tried to speak as Issa was adjourning a meeting in which he had not allowed any committee member to speak?


Monday, December 15, 2014

Cheney 'indicts' himself as the torturer-in-chief

No one has mounted a more vigorous defense of the CIA's torture program than the former VEEP, Dick Cheney.    And that includes CIA Director John Brennan, some former CIA directors, and President Bush himself -- all of whom have shown at least some reservations and contextual explanations.   

Even John Yoo, the Justice Department official who authored the Office of Legal Council opinion that water-boarding was not torture, has said some methods revealed in the Senate Intelligence Committee report probably went too far.

But not Dick Cheney, who was in full growl on Sunday's "Meet the Press" interview with Chuck Todd.

No second thoughts.   No doubts.   Not a whiff of remorse

"It worked. It absolutely did work. . . . I'd do it again in a minute" said Cheney justifying use of any means necessary "to get the bastards" behind the 9/11 attacks. 

Cheney's statement, "I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective," was in response to a question about some detainees who were extensively tortured and who turned out to be totally innocent of any involvement.   But Cheney has no remorse for what was done to them -- in the name of "achieving our objective."

That answer begs for the follow-up questions:   "Is there any limit to what you would do to another human being if you thought it would achieve your objective?"    "Are you saying that nothing is off limits?"   What about boiling in oil?   The rack? 

He refused to be drawn into such questions.   For Cheney, the Office of Legal Council had the final word;   no need to think about it further.   Never mind that this decision was obviously demanded and enabled by Cheney himself and the people he installed in positions to do his bidding.    He forced the decision that gave him cover, then hid behind the decision as the authority he needed to proceed.

[Parenthetically, this is a typical Cheney tactic.   In his retaliation against Joseph Wilson and the outing of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative, Cheney "leaked" false info to the New York Times and then quoted the Times to show that this information was widely known.]

Cheney's unwavering attitude here in 2014, following the proof from internal CIA documents that it really did not give us any important actionable intelligence that we didn't also get another way, and following all the discussions of how the program hurt us in world opinion as well as in our national soul -- all adds up, for me, as proof that Cheney must have been the driving force behind all the CIA excess.

We know that the Office of Legal Council and the CIA were responding to demands from higher up for the answers they wanted;  and, when useful answers were not forthcoming, the pressure just got stronger to double down on the efforts.   We know that Cheney made repeated visits to CIA headquarters, always hounding them about intelligence -- and wanting the raw data without their analysis, so he could cherry-pick what suited him.

Thus, torture.    And Cheney is the dark force behind that betrayal of our values and wisdom.   As Rachel Maddow's research showed in a program aired last week, even the CIA itself had concluded back in the 1970's, from it's own bad experiences, that torture did not work and they ruled it out for future use.    But when the powerful VEEP insists . . .  it's hard to resist, although some CIA operatives did resign in protest or asked to be transferred out of the sites where it was taking place.

Cheney's convictions are unshakable by facts;   he simply denies or ignores inconvenient facts.  It's rare -- outside the insanely obsessed -- to see such absolute certitude of the correctness of one's beliefs in the face of conflicting facts.   But, in this same interview, Cheney also insisted that he still believes that invading Iraq and overthrowing Sadaam Hussein was the right thing to do;  he has no doubts and would do that again too.    That certitude survived even when Todd played a clip from the 1990's of Cheney himself predicting what would happen if Iraq's government were toppled.   Todd pointed out that everything Cheney predicted then as a disaster is exactly where the country is today.

Cheney had an answer for that.   Oh, but look at all that has happened in the meantime.   We had 9/11 [which had nothing to do with Iraq] and WMD [which didn't exist] and the connection with Al Queda [again no connection with Iraq and Sadaam].    His answer is to connect things that have no connection.

Cheney can no longer be taken seriously.    The problem is that people still do.  This was not Fox News but NBC giving him a 20 minute interview in prime Sunday morning time on "Meet the Press."  Cheney's persuasive certitude has always been a dangerous problem because, even when he is talking nonsense, he sounds like he knows, and he sways people into believing him.     Fortunately, he is not in an official position of power now.   But for 8 years, he was -- and we do not yet know all the damage this one man caused.   Torture is one, manufacturing false claims about WMD is another.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wall St. wins; but progressives found their voice

Maxine Waters in the House and Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren in the Senate put up a good fight to preserve parts of Dodd-Frank -- and, in doing so, put both centrist Democrats and Republicans on notice that they are going to be fighting for ordinary citizens.

My values and my sentiments are 100% with them.   At first I was dumbfounded that Obama and the Democratic leadership went along with this reversal of part of Dodd-Frank banking regulations;   but on a bit of reflection, here's what I'm thinking, and it's about compromise and practicality.

This is the last week before Republicans will be in charge of both the House and Senate.   They will pass an even worse bill in January, if we don't do this now.   So let's use this as a bargaining chip now and get something we want out of it.

One thing Harry Reid got was time to get a bunch of nominations confirmed, including the controversial Surgeon General -- a highly qualified, effective spokesman, who was opposed by the NRA (and hence those in their pay) because he has spoken out about gun violence as a public health problem.

So I think what we've just seen is the politics of compromise and pragmatism.    It feels better to be a pure idealist and not give in, but it does raise the questions:    Is something better than nothing?    Would you rather be right and lose?   Or compromise?

I suggest that the progressives channel their idealism and outrage into encouraging progressive candidates for 2016 and them doing everything to help them win.


Elizabeth Warren . . . the one we're waiting for? . . . . or a spoiler for Hillary?

We're having a great economic recovery for Wall Street investment bankers and for big stock owners.    But the middle class and working people are not getting any benefit from this "recovery," and economic inequality remains at record highs and still climbing.

President Obama has not been the economic populist we hoped for, partially because he is hampered by conservative obstructionists and partially because at heart he is more of a centrist than a drum-beating progressive -- at least on economic issues.   Too many of his economic team have represented the interests of Wall Street more than the interests of Main Street.

And Hillary Clinton?    She's more of a centrist and friend to Wall Street than Obama.   As much as I want to see Clinton be our first woman president, the times are calling for that drum-beating populist progressive.    

Elizabeth Warren fills that bill:  not only is she right on the issues, but she has a rhetoric and speaking style that is both pithy and inspiring.   You just know she is speaking the truth.    She doesn't seem to have a bit of guile in her body.   Her fighting for all Americans seems 100% genuine.

Listen to her speech on the senate floor about the provision to roll back reforms of banking practices that led to the near collapse of our whole economic system in 2008.   This roll-back provision, written largely by CitiCorp lobbyists and without open debate -- would undo a major part of the Dodd-Frank bill that forced investment banks to use their own money, not depositors' money, when they make risky investments.  

In short, it dumps responsibility back onto the tax-payers for bailing out "too big to fail" banks that reap profits from high risk investments and are protected by taxpayers from losses.  That just is not right.   It's depositors, not investment bankers, that should be protected by taxpayers.    Listen to Warren's own words:

"Democrats don't like Wall Street bailouts. Republicans don't like Wall Street bailouts. The American people are disgusted by Wall Street bailouts.

"And yet here we are, five years after Dodd-Frank with Congress on the verge of ramming through a provision that would do nothing for the middle class, do nothing for community banks, do nothing but raise the risk that taxpayers will have to bail out the biggest banks once again. . . .

"So let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi[group]. I agree with you.   Dodd-Frank isn't perfect. It should have broken you into pieces!

"If this Congress is going to open up Dodd-Frank in the months ahead, then let's open it up to get tougher, not to create more bailout opportunities. . . .  let's pass...something...that would help break up these giant banks.

A century ago Teddy Roosevelt was America's Trust-Buster. He went after the giant trusts and monopolies in this country . . . .  because all that concentrated power threatens the very foundations up our democratic system.

"And now we're watching as Congress passes yet another provision that was written by lobbyists for the biggest recipient of bailout money in the history of this country. And its attached to a bill that needs to pass or else the entire federal government will grind to a halt.  Think about that kind of power. If a financial institution has become so big and so powerful that it can hold the entire country hostage, that alone is reason enough to break them upEnough is enough. . . . 

"Washington already works really well for the billionaires and the big corporations and the lawyers and the lobbyists.  But what about the families who lost their homes or their jobs or their retirement savings the last time Citigroup bet big on derivatives and lost? What about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck and saw their tax dollars go to bail out Citi just 6 years ago?

"We were sent here to fight for those families. It is time, it is past time, for Washington to start working for them!"
I don't know if Elizabeth Warren would make a better president than Hillary Clinton.   Certainly she does not have the broad experience in government that Clinton does.   But she has passion -- unbridled passion -- for what is right for the majority of Americans, not the elite who already have the highest profits in history.

At the very least, we need her voice in a series of primary elections, debating the issues, forcing Hillary Clinton to take a position, pulling her to the left of center and unleashing some passion about doing the right thing.

Yes, I'm ready for Elizabeth Warren to become part of an ongoing debate within the Democratic Party.