Saturday, January 24, 2015

Boehner defies Obama; then Kerry trumps Boehner

The following is based on reporting by Akbar Ahmed for the Huffington Post.   Quotes are from Ahmen's article:

"House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared to have pulled off a masterful political victory against the Obama administration Wednesday when he revealed that he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the dangers of the administration's negotiations with Iran.

"Coming a day after President Barack Obama threatened to veto new Iran-related sanctions legislation that he said could harm the negotiations, Boehner's move looked like a smart way to . . .  [show] that the U.S.'s top ally in the region supported them.

"Then things started to fall apart.

"Secretary of State John Kerry . . . pulled off a diplomatic bank shot by using a different part of the Israeli government against Boehner. . . .  Kerry diplomatically said Netanyahu was welcome in the U.S. any time -- and proceeded to both steal Boehner's thunder and turn news coverage in a different direction.

"'In Israel, one of the top intelligence . . . personnel within the Israeli intelligence field . . . was asked directly by a congressional delegation that visited there over the weekend what the effect of sanctions would be. And this person answered that it would be like throwing a grenade into the process.' . . .  Kerry said.     'So we’re asking people to be responsible here, and then let’s have a good, responsible debate about what the best way to proceed is.'

"Kerry's comment altered the conversation, making it about whether Republicans want to torpedo nuclear talks with Iran. . . .  Kerry's message: It's Republicans, and the Democrats who support them on new sanctions, who would fail Israel by antagonizing Iran and destroying the chance of a peaceful resolution to the years-long controversy over Tehran's nuclear program."

"Within hours of Kerry's comment, . . . lawmakers [who were] present at the briefing . . . confirmed Kerry's comment. They added that two senior U.S. officials had told them members of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, 'shared its view with the administration that if legislation that imposed a trigger leading to future sanctions on Iran was signed into law, it would cause the talks to collapse.'

". . . [I]t forces lawmakers to be open about their intentions. Are they simply worried that Iran will renege on the agreement? Or do they genuinely want to blow up the talks? 

". . . Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Germany, Britain and France published an extraordinary joint op-ed in The Washington Post, pleading with Republicans to back off the effort before the sensitive talks are derailed." 

Deftly handled, John Kerry.   


PS:   The Obama administration announced that there would be no White House meeting with Netanyahu, because the invitation did not follow protocol, which avoids hosting heads of foreign states that are this close to an election back home, in order to avoid the appearance of trying to interfere or influence the democratic process in that country.

N0te the further subtle indirect reminder here that this is what Netanyahu is doing:   trying to influence a vote in our Congress, as well as his own vote back home.

Friday, January 23, 2015

10 True Facts that your conservative friends won't believe

Compiled and explained by Richard Riis on Daily Kos:

1. The United States is not a Christian nation, and the Bible is not the cornerstone of our law.  Let these Founding Fathers speak for themselves:
John Adams: “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” (Treaty of Tripoli, 1797)
Thomas Jefferson: “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.” (Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814)
James Madison: “The civil government … functions with complete success … by the total separation of the Church from the State.” (Writings, 8:432, 1819). . . .
These are hardly the words of men who believed that America should be a Christian nation governed by the Bible, as a disturbingly growing number of Republicans like to claim.

2. The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist.
The Pledge was written in 1892 for public school celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Its author was Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, Christian socialist and cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy. Christian socialism maintains, among other ideas, that capitalism is idolatrous and rooted in greed, and the underlying cause of much of the world’s social inequity. . . . 

3. The first president to propose national health insurance was a Republican.
He was also a trust-busting, pro-labor, Nobel Peace Prize-winning environmentalist. . . .   Theodore Roosevelt, who first proposed a system of national health insurance during his unsuccessful Progressive Party campaign to retake the White House from William Howard Taft in 1912 . . . .  

4. Ronald Reagan once signed a bill legalizing abortion.
The Ronald Reagan Republicans worship today is more myth than reality. Reagan was a conservative for sure, but also a practical politician who understood the necessities of compromise. In the spring of 1967, four months into his first term as governor of California Ronald Reagan signed a bill that . . . legalized abortion for the vaguely-defined “well being” of the mother. . . . 

5. Reagan raised federal taxes eleven times.
Okay, Ronald Reagan cut tax rates more than any other president . . .  [but] Reagan himself realized the resulting national debt from his revenue slashing was untenable, so he quietly raised other taxes on income – primarily Social Security and payroll taxes - no less than eleven times. . . .  

6. Roe v. Wade was a bipartisan ruling made by a predominantly Republican-appointed Supreme Court.
. . . .  [T]he landmark 1973 ruling that Republicans love to hate, was decided on a 7-2 vote that broke down like this . . . .    2 conservatives, 3 liberals, 2 moderates. . . .  No one can rightly say that this was a leftist court forcing its liberal beliefs on America. 

7. The Federal Reserve System was a Republican invention.
. . .  The Federal Reserve System was the brainchild of financial expert and Senate Republican leader Nelson Aldrich, grandfather of future Republican governor and vice president Nelson Rockefeller. . . . 

8. The Environmental Protection Agency was, too.
The United States Environment Protection Agency . . .  was created by President Richard Nixon. In his 1970 State of the Union Address, Nixon proclaimed the new decade a period of environmental transformation. . . .  Nixon also ordered a clean-up of air- and water-polluting federal facilities, sought legislation to end the dumping of wastes into the Great Lakes, proposed a tax on lead additives in gasoline, and approved a National Contingency Plan for the treatment of petroleum spills.   [I]f it hadn’t been for Watergate, we might remember Richard Nixon today as the “environmental president”.

Oh, yes - Republicans might enjoy knowing Nixon was an advocate of national health insurance, too.

9. Obama has increased government spending less than any president in at least a generation.
. . .  Government spending, when adjusted for inflation, has increased during his administration (to date) by 1.4%.  Under George W. Bush, the increases were 7.3% (first term) and 8.1% (second term). Bill Clinton, in his two terms, comes in at 3.2% and 3.9%. George H. W. Bush increased government spending by 5.4%, while Ronald Reagan added 8.7% and 4.9% in his two terms. 

10. President Obama was not only born in the United States, his roots run deeper in American history than most people know.
By way of his [mother's] Dunham lineage, President Obama has at least 11 direct ancestors who took up arms and fought for American independence in the Revolutionary War and two others cited as patriots by the Daughters of the American Revolution for furnishing supplies to the colonial army. This star-spangled heritage makes Obama eligible to join the Sons of the American Revolution, and his daughters the Daughters of the American Revolution. Not bad for someone 56% of Republicans still believe is a foreigner.

Just the fact, ma'am.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Boehner's response to Obama's plea: A defiant invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama said that further sanctions passed by congress would very likely derail the sensitive negotiations with Iran, even if they only were to take effect if Iran violated agreements.  In fact, it would be a violation of the temporary agreement with Iran under which the negotiations are taking place, and it would give them the perfect excuse to scuttle the whole process.

John Boehner's response:   You can't expect Congress to sit idly by and do nothing while the administration negotiates with Iran.

Well . . . yes, you can.  That's exactly what we expect.   It is the president's responsibility to negotiate treatiesthen Congress' responsibility to approve or disapprove of them.    But you can't have 435 people involved in sensitive negotiations over months of secret meetings.

Less than a day after the speech, in which President Obama practically begged the Congress not to interfere, Boehner announced that he is inviting the worst Iran hawk of all: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuto address a joint session of Congress.

It's a defiant response to the president, who has said he will veto any legislation that increases sanctions.   

So . . . .  this is a signal they are not buying the president's pleas for cooperation.


President hugs RBG at SOTU

 President Barack Obama hugs Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, before giving his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
Two of my favorite people -- Barack Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- share a hug as he enters the chamber to deliver his State of the Union speech.

Of the dozens of hugs and cheek pecks he exchanged as he made his way down the aisle, this one looks genuine and deeply heart-felt.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

GOP hopefuls hope SCOTUS legalizes gay marriage

How times have changed.

The Republican national platform still opposes same-sex marriage.  Yet, there has been a tsunami of a change in public opinion, as well as the fact that 70% of Americans now live in a state where it is legal -- and the sky has not fallen, Armageddon has not come, and children have not been recruited to the "homosexual life style."   Heterosexual marriage continues in its same, rather sad state -- no better, no worse -- as a result of the changed laws.

Republicans have a huge political problem here, going into the 2016 campaign.

UNLESS . . . . SCOTUS takes it off the table.   And that's what they're hoping.

Here's how New York Times writers Jeremy W. Peters and Jonathan Martin put it:
"If the high court resolves the issue as expected in June, it could deliver a decision that has the benefit of largely neutralizing a debate that a majority of Americans believe Republicans are on the wrong side of — and well ahead of the party’s 2016 presidential primaries.

"To have the question disposed of and dispensed with, many Republicans say, could make their opinions on the matter largely moot, providing a political escape hatch that gives them an excuse to essentially say: 'It’s been settled. Let’s move on.'"
Are we saying that they would rather give up than fight?   On this issue, yes.   All the court challenges have exhausted any plausible reason for opposing marriage equality, so they are looking for a way out of the corner they've painted themselves into.

In the end, perhaps it was more of a political wedge issue than a principled concern.   Now it has become a big political liability, as nearly 60% of voters approve and the evidence mounts that there are no bad consequences.   Yet their conservative base would never allow them simply to change the platform.

More important even than that, however, is the snowball effect.   As more same-sex couples are allowed to marry, more people now know someone personally who is married to a same-sex person.   Hearing their stories, as well as those in the news, changes attitudes.

It's exhilarating to me, who never thought it would happen in my life-time, to witness conservatives wanting it to happen . . . and quickly.   Even if their motive is simply to avoid a fight they can only lose, maybe they'll also learn something.  Maybe some of them have a brother, niece, staff member who has gotten married -- and they have genuinely evolved but were still stuck with the old platform opposition.    The relief may be personal, as well as political.


President Obama's speech on values

President Obama just gave a very strong State of the Union speech, focusing primarily on progressive values and his policy vision for the coming year.

He also appealed to all members of Congress to come together to solve the problems, and he conveyed an optimism that it can still happen.

Whether he intended it or not, the speech was also a message to Hillary Clinton -- essentially setting the tone and agenda for the 2016 campaign.

Good job, Mr. President.  It's wonderful to see you freed from political caution to protect key Democrats in conservative states.    To say he has no more campaigns to run -- it's not just about his own candidacy;   he also will preside over no more congressional races with vulnerable members to protect.

This freedom allows the president to make these bold proposals.   Most will not get enacted, but it seizes the initiative to set the agenda for the long haul.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Paris to sue FoxNews for insulting its image

Boy, do I love to see Fox News get its come-uppance.   The current case involves multiple Fox News programs that amplified claims made by a guest on one program.   The claim was that certain European cities (Paris, for one) had areas that were "no-go zones," where non-Muslims are not welcome.

Fox later called its characterizations a mistake and apologized, repeated by each show that had aired the false "news."   That apology, in itself, was quite unusual for Fox News;  so it must have already had some seismic tremors in high places.

That's not enough for the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who told CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Paris is planning to sue Fox News for insulting the image of their city.  
Mayor Hedalgo said:

“When we’re insulted, and when we’ve had an image, then I think we’ll have to sue, I think we’ll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed.  The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced. And I think in the great discussion of truth everyone is to play its role. And we’re going to have to be realistic and put things as they are.”
She specifically named Fox News, although of course Fox News wasn't the only one who repeated the lie.

Despertely 2016 hopeful Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal also touted the lie in a base appeal to ignorance as he grasps to be relevant in an over-crowded field.     And, unlike Fox News, he has not yet publicly apologized.   In fact, he doubled-down, insisting that people are upset that he is speaking the truth in talking about Muslims' lack of assimilation into the culture of the European countries they are now living in.

Definitely not presidential material, even if he is a former Rhodes Scholar.    For a bright man, he is pretty clueless, continually hitting the wrong mark.


Monday, January 19, 2015

"With the shake of an Etch-A-Sketch, Mitt Romney reinvents himself" -- this time as a poverty fighter

Blogger Igor Bobic so appropriately reintroduced the Etch-A-Sketch metaphor to remind us what we disliked about Mitt Romney in 2012.    The quote in my headline is from Bobic's blog.   If my memory is correct, it was one of Romney's own campaign advisers who first used the metaphor.  He was answering a question about how Romney would shift from the GOP primary mode, which pushed him to the right, to the need to move back to the center for the general election.

The metaphor stuck because . . . it's such a perfect fit.

In speaking to the Republican National Committee last week, Romney tried to mark out his appeal as a possible third-time contender for the presidential nomination.    And apparently he and his advisers have decided that this time he should appeal to the 47% instead of disparaging them.

He outlined his possible platform as:   making the world safer with a more muscular foreign policy, providing opportunity to all Americans, and lifting people out of poverty.

"It's a tragedy, a human tragedy, that the middle class in this country by and large doesn't believe that the future will be better than the past," he said. "We haven't seen rising incomes over decades."

"The rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before under this president," the new Mitt added.

So, to quote Igor Bobic:  "With the shake of an Etch-A-Sketch, Mitt Romney . . . "

He stressed his years as an LDS pastor, a topic he and his campaign rarely broached in 2012, and described working "with people who are very poor to help them get help."

Better shake that thing a few more time, Mitt.   Because all these quotes from 2012 are going to come back to haunt you.   Like:

"I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it."

"Corporations are people, my friend ... of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people."   [By "the people," he must mean the stockholders, hardly the nation's poor people."]

And of course his infamous remarks about "the 47 percent:"   "My job is not to worry about those people -- I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

And then there's his embrace of the Paul Ryan 2012 budget, which would have made draconian cuts to programs affect the poor, including Medicaid and Social Security.   And his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act and its subsidies for the poor."

You got a plan for how to answer to all that, New Mitt?    Or do you just give another shake to the Etch-A-Sketch and hope enough people forget Mitt 2.0?


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Third thoughts about the Duke-Muslim situation

My first thoughts when I read about the call to Muslim prayer from the Duke Chapel tower were:   what a great, inclusive gesture and I feel so proud of my school.  (Thursday, Jan, 15)

My second thoughts when I heard that the decision has been reversed were:   shock and embarrassment, as I wrote about here (Thursay, Jan. 15).

On more sober reflection now, my third thoughts are this:   Although it is a lovely, idealistic plan, we do not live in a time when that is a wise risk to take.   It is too big a leap in this time of crazy, bigoted, blind attack-and-retaliate.   And at a time when the conflict is flaring up worse than ever in Europe.

What changed my thinking was trying to imagine what would go on in the mind of a violence-prone, anti-Muslim angry guy who decided to retaliate.   And, believe me, there are plenty of those in North Carolina and more within easy traveling distance.

What made the gesture so appealing -- having the call to prayer come from the most imposing structure on campus -- also makes it the perfect spot for retaliation

Here's the crazy guy thinking:    they blew up our twin towers, we'll destroy theirs.  In the crazy guy's mind, the chapel would have now been contaminated and therefore "theirs."  The Duke Chapel has no security and is so easily accessible for planting bombs set to go off during the Friday prayers . . . or the Sunday morning non-denominational service.

Yes, it's about donor money.  But it's also about campus safety and security.   The campus can't be locked down.  There are too many crazy-angry, insecure white guys who see Muslims as invading Europe and just waiting for the chance to invade our country too.   This would tell them "it's already happening, right here." 

If I had been the one advising on this decision, I would have said:   It's a lovely ideaLet's do it but start small.   Test the reaction.   Have the call to prayer, just not from the tower itself, at first.  

And that's apparently what they are going to do.