Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ted Cruz actually said this with a straight face

If you're looking for an illustration of the adage about 'the pot calling the kettle black,' here it is.

Yesterday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) actually said this:

"The way to make the senate work would be 
for the Democrats not to be obstructionists." 

Words fail me.


WSJ editorial blames tea party wing

Even the decidedly conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal has been criticizing the Republicans in congress.

The negative editorial was prompted by the Republicans' opposition to the Homeland Security funding bill.   It further blamed the tea party wing for "playing into Democratic hands."  It also called them "immigration restrictionists" for their excessive response to President Obama's using executive authority to grant deportation relief to millions of undocumented immigrants.

Here are some excerpts from the editorial:

"Restrictionists like Sens. Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions are offering their familiar advice to fight harder and hold firm against “executive amnesty,” but as usual their strategy for victory is nowhere to be found. So Republicans are now heading toward the same cul de sac that they did on the ObamaCare government shutdown. . . .

"If Homeland Security funding lapses on Feb. 27, the agency will be pushed into a partial shutdown even as the terrorist threat is at the forefront of public attention with the Charlie Hebdo and Islamic State murders. Imagine if the Transportation Security Administration, a unit of DHS, fails to intercept an Islamic State agent en route to Detroit…

"The restrictionist caucus can protest all it wants, but it can’t change 54 Senate votes into 60 without persuading some Democrats...It’s not too soon to say that the fate of the GOP majority is on the line.  Precious weeks are wasting, and the combination of weak House leadership and a rump minority unwilling to compromise is playing into Democratic hands. This is no way to run a Congressional majority, and the only winners of GOP dysfunction will be Mr. Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.”

Yes, indeed.   When the internal strife of the Republican Party induces the editors of WSJ to take sides in such an overt way, . . .    the Republicans have a big problem.


Friday, February 13, 2015

FBI Director James Comey addresses racial bias -- with amazing forthrightness

This post is based on reporting by Ryan Reilly, who reports on the Justice Department for Huffington Post. 

FBI Director James Comey gave a major speech on race and law enforcement at Georgetown University, probably the first time that an FBI director has spoken so candidly about the way that race influences law enforcement. 

While he had high praise for law enforcement officers in general, he also said he was "not looking to let law enforcement off the hook" as he called for an “open and honest discussion” about the role that race can play in the justice system.   Here are some excerpts:
"First, all of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups."

"Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. We all — white and black — carry various biases around with us."

"So many young men of color become part of that officer’s experience because so many minority families and communities are struggling, so many boys and young men grow up in environments lacking role models, adequate education, and decent employment. They lack all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted." 

"We must better understand the people we serve and protect -- by trying to know, deep in our gut, what it feels like to be a law-abiding young black man walking on the street and encountering law enforcement," Comey said. "We must understand how that young man may see us. We must resist the lazy shortcuts of cynicism and approach him with respect and decency."
He also said that one of his proudest moments as FBI director was that, when FBI agents went to Ferguson, Missouri to investigate Michael Brown's death, they were trusted by members of the black community.    The unstated, but obvious, comparison was to the mistrust that the community felt toward the local police officers and elected officials

Comey, a white Republican who served in the George W. Bush Justice Department, addressed race in a way that is not likely to evoke the same conservative criticism that the same speech given by Barack Obama or Eric Holder would have done.    Or -- even by Progressive Democratic New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, when he talked about needing to have the discussion with his mixed-race son about how to conduct himself if stopped by the police.    Look at the outcry from conservatives falsely claiming he was against the police.

Which all makes me realize my own political bias -- not racial bias; political bias.   Because I find myself really wanting to deny that someone who says things like Comey did could be a Republican.    That's my prejudice against their whole tribe. 

It was this same James Comey, then Deputy Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration, who saved the nation from the Cheney/Bush/Gonzales putsch on March 10, 2004.   This was the evening, when AG John Ashcroft was lying in a hospital bed gravely ill with pancreatitis, that Cheney/Bush sent his chief of staff Andrew Card and his legal counsel Alberto Gonzalez to Ashcroft's hospital room to coerce him to sign the reauthorization for the illegal NSA wiretapping program.

Comey got the call, rushed to Ashcroft's hospital room and was there for the showdown.   Ashcroft, under the influence of pain killers had already told Comey he would not sign it.  He told Card and Gonzalez that he was not the AG at this point.   "There's your Attoryney General," he said pointing to Comey there in the room.   Comey of course refused to sign;  and later he, the FBI Director, the solicitor general and others were all prepared to resign rather than carry out Bush's orders.    Bush backed down.

Comey was the real hero in this tawdry matter by standing on principle and defying Cheney/Bush.    And it is hard for me to admit that such a man of integrity and courage and decency could be one of them.

Which focuses the sad truth that one of the terrible consequences of the high-jacking of the Republican Party by its fringe right wing and FoxNews is the erosion of respect that some of us now lack for the whole tribe.    I admit I am guilty of generalizing and stereotyping.    We need a few more like James Comey to help re-balance and re-establish the Republican party as a needed ideological adversary that we can respect.

This speech today only doubled that respect for James Comey.   Putting him in charge of the FBI was one of Obama's best appointments.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Beyond the Boehner-Bibi folly: The more serious damange will be to nuclear negotiations with Iran

Beyond all the fallout over the devious arrangements by John Boehner and Benjamin Netanyahu for him to address Congress -- and that really is all the bad stuff that's being said, and worse -- still, don't let's forget what this is really all about, beyond politics.

This is an attempt by both of these politicians to interfere, probably even to scuttle, the delicate negotiations process with Iran over its nuclear development program.   The result is likely to be that Israel will then use the failure of diplomacy as an excuse to bomb Iran's facilities.

And then where will we be?

Here's how progressive blogger digby put it on her blog "Hullabaloo:"
"But the real issue here is that Netanyahu and the Republicans are trying to tank the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Even if they had crossed all their Is and dotted their Ts they'd still be trying to stand in the way of a more peaceful world. That's the problem, not the lack of protocol. And it's a big one."

Williams lied about one episode of the Iraq war; what about Cheney's lie that started the Iraq war?

Blogger Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, the largest online news program, wrote a somewhat different take on the Brian Williams problem of doctoring up his war experience as a journalist in Iraq.  Uygur wrote:

"People think that Brian Williams is the problem because he exaggerated a war story about Iraq? Are you kidding me? The whole war was based on a monstrous lie that almost the entire media enabled and perpetuated. That's the real problem.

"If the rest of the press scapegoat Williams and feign righteous indignation over his lie, as they are in the middle of doing now, it will be unbearable. Where were all of those people when we were being sold a bill of goods on Iraq? Oh I know, on air. They sold us those lies en masse. So, please don't pretend you have integrity now. Please don't pretend that the real problem is an exaggeration about a tiny story in the middle of the war.

"Sixty-nine percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for 9/11 when we invaded Iraq. That is the biggest failure of the media I have ever seen. Has anyone apologized for that yet? Has anyone been fired for that yet? If you want to fire all the executives and editors who let that lie be sold to the American people through their media outlets, then I'm a 100% with you. Then we can also fire Brian Williams. . . .  "

Amen to that.   Of course, the big problem with what Williams did has to do with his personal credibility going forward.   But Uygur is absolutely right in saying this pales in comparison with the Big Lie that started the whole Iraq thing.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Natanyahu admits his intent is to interfere with the Iran nuclear negotiations

As reported on Huffington Post by Sam Stein, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu told members of his Likud Party:
"A bad deal with Iran is forming in Munich that will endanger Israel's existence.  "Therefore, I am determined to go to Washington and present Israel's position before the members of Congress and the American people."
This is outrageous.    What right does the leader of another country have to come into our country and be given the most public of platforms to try to scuttle the delicate negotiations that President Obama and five other nations have been conducting for over a year to contain Iran's nuclear development program.

And, even worse, the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is complicit with this by issuing the invitation and, so far, not backing down despite the growing criticism and the number of Democrats who will not attend.


More Dems to skip Bibi speech

Sen. Bernuie Sanders (I-VT) says he's not going to attend Netanuayu's speech to Congress.  And yesterday Sanders' fellow Vermonter, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, also said he will not attend.    They join the list of a number of Democratic House members who will not be there.  Here's part of Leahy's stinging comment:
"The unfortunate way that House leaders have unilaterally arranged this, and then heavily politicized it, has demolished the potential constructive value of this Joint Meeting. They have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt that has embarrassed not only Israel but the Congress itself. It has long been an unwritten rule and practice through the decades that when it comes to American foreign policy, we speak and act thoughtfully, with one voice when we can, with the national interests of the United States as our uppermost consideration, and with caution about the unintended consequences of unilateral actions like this. They have diminished that valuable precedent."
His colleagues in congress seem to be going easy on John Boehner for his role in this.   But actually it only seems that way because they are not mentioning him by name.   If you read what Leahy said, "They have orchestrated a tawdry and high-handed stunt" is aimed directly at the Speaker of the House who issued the invitation.

This is a big black eye in the image Republicans as a party that is capable of governing and of managing the affairs of the government -- which necessarily includes diplomacy and upholding the dignity of the United States Government.

So far, they are proving themselves incapable.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

SCOTUS suprises with 7-2 ruling in Alabama marriage equality ruling

A federal judge ruled that Alabama's gay marriage ban violates the constitution of the United States.     The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Alabama, Georgia, and Florida) upheld the unconstitutional ruling.

Then Alabama's Attorney General appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court for a stay of implementing the law, and the notorious Chief Justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, Roy Moore, issued an order forbidding state officials to issue marriage licenses.

On Monday, the U. S. Supreme Court refused to stay the implementation, which is not surprising since they've been doing this in other states.

What surprised me was the announced vote of  7 to 2.

Now I'm trying to figure out whether this is a clue to how they will vote when SCOTUS makes it's big ruling on the two questions it has formulated for itself in hearing appeals from four states:  (1) whether states must allow same-sex marriage and (2) whether they must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions where it is legal.

Why would any justice, who plans to vote against full legalization nationwide, vote to allow gay marriages to go ahead in Alabama now?    It doesn't make sense to me by any rationale.

So I'm wondering if the ultimate big vote will be, not the squeeker 5-4 vote, or possibly 6-3, but maybe even 7-2 ? ? ? 

If so, it must be the liberal 4 plus Kennedy and Roberts.   But who would be the 7th?  Could it be that Scalia will vote on principle, rather than prejudice?


LATER BREAKING NEWS:    Later in the day yesterday, Reuters reported that it was Scalia and Thomas who voted for the stay, meaning Alito was the 7th for the refusal.   In a dissenting opinion, Thomas noted that the court's usual practice would have been to put the Alabama case on hold until it had decided the cases to be heard in the spring from Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan.   He then acknowledged this "may well be seen as a signal of the court's intended resolution" of those cases.    As SCOTUS itself has framed the questions to be answered, an affirmative decision would remove bans on same-sex marriage in all states nationwide.

Gay rights groups definitely read it that way and told couples in the remaining 13 states to "start making your wedding plans now" for the decision that is expected in June.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Boehner and Bibi's dangerous folly

It seems that House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give a joint address to Congress has caused trouble for everybody."

The Anti-Defamation League is calling on Netanyahu to cancel the speech.   His political opponents in Israel are highly critical of the strain in Israel-U.S. relations that Netanyahu's action has caused.   Vice President Joe Biden, as presiding officer of the Senate, will be out of the country and not attend the speech.   A growing number of Democrats are saying they will not attend.

President Obama and the military generals he commands have a somewhat strained relationship, and it's no secret that at least behind the scenes they are critical of his military strategy and his leadership as commander in chief.    The generals have also been highly supportive of Israel.

Yet, even some of them are speaking out, including a senior Joint Chiefs staff officer who said, "There’s always been a lot of support for Israel in the military, but that’s significantly eroded over the last few years. This caps it. It’s one thing for Americans to criticize their president and another entirely for a foreign leader to do it. Netanyahu doesn’t get it. We’re not going to side with him against the commander in chief. Not ever.”

Another general, now retired called it "a gross breach of protocol to invite a head of state without due coordination with the president."   Another called Netanyahu's planned speech to Congress "a new level of chutzpah” and said it raised the question of whether Israel is becoming a strategic liability for the U.S.

Still another retired general said, "It’s one thing to show disrespect for President Obama — that happens all the time — but it’s another thing to show disrespect for America. That just can’t be tolerated.”

Of course, it's far more than just a breach of protocol and more than just disrespect.   As the president has warned and pleaded with Congress, passing more sanctions at this critical juncture would likely scuttle the negotiations with Iran at the most critical time.   It's hard to interpret these actions any other way than that being the intent of Boehner and Bibi and their supporters.  

So it's a problem all around.  But what about Boehner?   Already with a somewhat shaky hold on control of his caucus, Boehner keeps making one blunder after another.   It certainly doesn't make the Republicans look like they are capable of governing -- and that is crucial for them to establish if they want any chance at winning the presidency in 2016.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

RBG's perfect answer

The nation's first U. S. Supreme Court Justice with a cult following and rock-star appeal, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was addressing a group of law students.   She was asked when she thinks there will be enough women on the court.

She answered, as though the question didn't even need to be asked:

"When there are nine."

 Now, before you think she's being a bit chauvinistic, remember that for most of our nation's history the court has been made up of nine men.   And the four present women comprise the largest number, ever.    About time to even things up.


Dumbed down America

One of my frequent rants is about how the Republicans are dominated by those who do not respect the intelligence of the American people.    They think they can tell them lies and repeat them often enough that they become false 'truth.'

And fool the little people into voting against their own best interests.

I used to say that the American people are smarter than that;  they see through such tactics.   Not always and not right away.   But in the end that kind of perfidy will trip itself up.

Now, I'm not so sure.   I'm afraid the dumbed down element of conservative politics may be proving that you can fool the people.   Truth doesn't seem to be winning the battle.

The latest reason for this pessimism:  The response to President Obama's talk before the National Prayer Breakfast, where he touched briefly on a nuanced, intelligent, true discussion about the historical role of Christianity in violence and bloodshed.   As reported in the Washington Post, he said:
“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history" about tension between the compassionate and murderous acts religion can inspire. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
Others have pointed out, in the recent days of global furor over the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot, that lynchings of black men in the South often included being burned alive -- and the Ku Klux Klan styles itself as being Christian . . . remember that?

However, it didn't take long for Republicans to pounce, distorting the president's remarks to make it seem that he was siding with the jihadists against Christians.   Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) cried,  "He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.”

That is an absolutely scurrilous, shameful distortion.   The president's comments were very balanced and only briefly touched on the violence of Christians in the past.   Here's some of what preceded and then followed the lines quoted above from the president's remarks:
". . . [W]e've seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil. . . .  we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another -- to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife. . . .  We see faith driving us to do right.

"But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, . . . we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, . . .  stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying itWe see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism . . .  and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

"We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

"So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

"Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. . . 

"So this is not unique to one group or one religionThere is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try."

President Obama introduced a topic that needs national dialogue, helping everyone to understand the difference between extremists claiming the defense of Islam as their justification and the peace-loving, gentle vast majority of Muslims.   Instead, we get pandering from the right for cheap political gain and sensationalist attention-seekers.

And there seem to be no consequences for such willful, indifference to the truth of what you're saying.    It's just one step removed from shouting "Fire !!" in a crowded theater.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.    And dangerous.