Saturday, February 21, 2015

JEB's foreign policy stuck in Cold War thinking

Jeb Bush, a former governor with no experience in foreign policy and national defense, sought to fill in that gap in his resume by giving an address to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.   But most accounts concluded that he didn't do well.

He stumbled over names, spoke in generalized cliches of backward-looking rhetoric, and generally was not impressive.

His most memorable line -- as it was intended to be -- was:  "I am my own man."   He framed this by saying he loved his father and his brother, but his foreign policy would be shaped by his own ideas and his own experiences.

The problem is that -- on the same day -- he announced his list of foreign policy advisers, including his father's Secretary of State James Baker and the discredited Paul Wolfowitz, who was Deputy Secretary of Defense in his brother's Iraq war administration.   Of the list of 21 foreign policy advisers released by Jeb Bush, 20 of them worked either for his dad or his brother, or both.  Among campaign professionals, this is known as a"stepping on your message."

As Rachel Maddow put it:   Aside from the merits of the policy positions but just as a campaign strategy, you can't say that your policies will be different from your brother's and father's, and you can name a foreign policy team made up almost exclusively of their advisersBUT YOU CAN'T DO THEM BOTH ON THE SAME DAY !!   

That just shows a lack of thinking and planning on the part of whoever is running this campaign.     Or maybe they're in a bubble and don't even realize it was a major gaffe.

If that's what you want, vote for Jeb Bush in 2016.    Realize that, if he is elected, it would mean that the last three Republicans to occupy the White House would all be named Bush. -- two brothers and a dad. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

Muslims answer violence with love and forgiveness

From a Huffington Post article by Antonia Blumberg:

"After the shooting of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a message of compassion rose up from many corners of the Muslim community.

"Farris Barakat, the brother of one of the victims, spoke at a vigil at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill the day after the shooting, saying: 
"I plead that you live in their legacy, that you share the good that you know of them ... It was quite possible, that this was an act based off of evil and a scared, ignorant man, do not let ignorance propagate in your life. Do not reply to ignorance with ignorance. Become an amazing, bright intellectual leader that I know this university can create."
"Thousands heeded Barakat's charge in the days that followed, organizing vigils, canned food drives, fundraisers and more to honor the lives of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. . . .

"Muslim activists launched a campaign called "Feed the Hungry" to encourage groups and individuals around the country to participate in a nationwide canned food drive, referencing Deah Barakat's last Facebook post, which showed him delivering food and free dental supplies to homeless people in the Chapel Hill area.

". . . Despite these efforts, the Center for American Progress has warned that the roots of Islamophobia run deep and take many shapes, which became ever more apparent in the days following the Chapel Hill shooting. Just three days after the tragedy an Islamic center in Houston was set on fire, and over the weekend a Muslim school in Rhode Island was vandalized . . .  

"A man arrested for the Houston fire called the incident an accident, which some Muslim groups found hard to swallow in the context of other anti-Muslim attacks and threats reported in recent days.

"Nonetheless, Ahsan Zahid, assistant imam at the Quba Islamic Institute in Houston, said he was ready to turn the other cheek -- regardless of the man's motives.

"We have forgiven, we have forgotten and we'd like to express that we'd love to have [the arsonist] come by and see us and let us know what was the misconceptions that he had about us that led him to commit such a crime," Zahid told local ABC affiliate, KTRK. 

"'There's no reason for there to be so much hate within someone to want to do something like that, at that level of violence,' he said. 'But at the same time, we have forgiven. We don't want to know necessarily his motives, but we want to help him get better and get to know us better as well.'" 

That is the face of Islam that the media need to let us hear more about.    This is what I have seen in some Muslim individuals that I know and admire.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

No surprise here: WH is wary of trusting Natanyahu with details of the Iran nuclear negotiations

Quoting David Sanger of the New York Times:
"With the Obama administration racing to negotiate the outlines of a nuclear deal with Iran by the end of March, aides to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel have charged in recent days that they are being deliberately left in the dark about the details of the talks. . . ."
What a surprise !!!   Netanyahu didn't see fit to share with President Obama or Secretary of State the fact, much less the details, of his planned address to the United States Congress in joint session, with full pomp and ceremony.    Why would we trust him with details of the delicate negotiations that he has vowed to try to derail because he thinks it's a "bad deal?" 

In response, White House spokesman Josh Earnest criticized Israel's:
"continued practice of cherry-picking specific pieces of information and using them out of context to distort the negotiating position of the United States. . . .There's no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate.  There's no question about that.
"But I think it is fair to say that the United States is mindful of the need to not negotiate in public and ensure that information that's discussed in the negotiating table is not taken out of context and publicized in a way that distorts the negotiating position of the United States and our allies."
This would be great fun to watch -- if the stakes between the United States and Israel were not so vital and so high.    Coming on top of the still unresolved problem of the Boehner-Netanyahu caper about speaking to congress, Natanyahu comes across as being dangerous and manipulative.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Choice words

1.  Commenting on recent gaffes from some of the 2016 GOP hopefuls, professional crisis manager Eric Dezenhall said this:
"Politics used to be about where you stoodNow, it's about what you stepped in."
2.  In her spirited dissent to the SCOTUS decision that overturned a major part of the Voting Rights Act, Ruth Bader Ginsburg skewered Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion that said preclearance was no longer needed because voter discrimination was no longer a problem.  Here is Ginsburg's saucy response to that:
Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

3.  And -- from the sublime to the profane -- a Twitter exchange between disgraced, crotch-photo-sharing Congressman Anthony Wiener and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's staff:
Weiner, responding to cold weather forecast:   "It's going to be cold.   So Gov. Cuomo will be closing the subway."   This was a dig at New York's over-reaction to the predicted record-breaking snow a few weeks ago that didn't happen.

Cuomo staff:   "Yes, it's going to be coldWhich is a good reason to keep your pants on."
4.  Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KA), whose massive tax cuts and austerity budget have plunged Kansas into economic disaster, is now threatening to ruin (with more draconian cuts) its top-ranked state university system.    So, to change the subject, he issued an executive order rescinding job protection for LGBT state workers.    Jon Stewart responded with a quip that refers to Dorothy's line in The Wizard of Oz: "There's no place like home."   Home for Dorothy was Kansas.    
Jon Stewart:    "There's no place like homophobia."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chris Christie's ratings continue to fall

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) continues to drop in approval ratings in his home state.   From a high of 72% following his response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, his latest poll of NJ voters shows 37% approve, while 52% disapprove of his job performance.

It's also beginning to look like the personality that (many) people liked at first -- honesty, integrity, frankness -- are now more often characterized as arrogant, rude, and abrasive.

"Bridgegate," his handling of the state's economy, higher-than-U.S.average unemployment, as well as questions about other possible scandals involving payoffs to contributors and friends, mishandling of state funds, accepting lavish travel freebies, a rumored federal investigation involving abuse of power, etc. etc. -- all seem to be taking a toll.   Who would even think that someone with that list of negatives would have a chance?    On top of that, his lackluster performance while visiting London to build up international creds also seems to have backfired.

In this recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll, voters cited "overall attitude, behavior, and personality" more than any other factor to explain the decline in his favorabiliy numbers.

This does not bode well for a sitting governor who hopes to be the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

It's no secret here on ShrinkRap that I have long had a dislike of Chris Christie.   Bullies are low on my list of "like."   Arrogance comes a close second.


The faces of obstruction and dysfunction

So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner are now in charge of Congress.   They don't look very happy.

How are they doing?    Floundering.   Messing up.   Unable to get their own caucuses to cooperate.   And now they're fighting each other. 

If one of their goals in gaining control was to show that Republicans can govern effectively, their grade so far is an F.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Pope Francis says chuch must reach out to all who are rejected by society and the church

Reported by Religion News Service, David Gibson.
"Pope Francis on Sunday (Feb. 15) said the Roman Catholic Church must be open and welcoming, whatever the costs.

"He also warned the hierarchy not to be 'a closed caste' but to lead in reaching out to all who are rejected by society and the church. .

“'Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences,' Francis declared. 'For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family. And this is scandalous to some people!'

“'Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal,' the pontiff continued. 'He does not think of the close-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity.' . . . 

"Throughout his 15-minute homily, Francis repeatedly slammed the 'narrow and prejudiced mentality' of believers who cling to religious laws out of fear. They wind up rejecting the very people they should be ministering to, he said, which means anyone on the margins of society 'who encounters discrimination. . . .  

“'We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized!' he concluded. 'Truly the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, where it is found, and where it is revealed.'”

Well, yes.    Isn't that straight from Jesus's teachings, as recorded in the New Testament?    On one hand, this should not be surprising at all.   On the other, it is such a departure in tone and emphasis from the previous Pope Benedict -- who, incidentally, was in attendance during Francis's homily -- that is does come as a surprise.

Theologically, I don't endorse the pope's beliefs;   but his pastoral role and emphasis on the basic teachings of Jesus toward other people, I find very compatible with my secular humanism.

Pope Francis is indeed a welcome breath of fresh air.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Governor in red state shows expansion of Medicaid boosts the economy

From the New York Times, Lisa Shapiro. Feb 13, 2015

Gov. Steven L. Beshear of Kentucky released a study Thursday predicting that his expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would generate a positive fiscal impact of nearly $1 billion for the state over the next seven years … counter[ing] a drumbeat of Republican warnings that extending the program to nearly 400,000 additional Kentuckians to date … would eventually impose a heavy burden on state taxpayers.”

Are you listening, Gov. Deal and Georgia legislators?    Stop saying Georgia can't afford it -- while you give away billions in tax incentives to get Mercedes to move its headquarters here.


Scalia: "Don't paint me as anti-gay, anti-abortion."

Two Supreme Court Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, were interviewed jointly at George Washington University.   Although they are at opposite ends of the conservative-liberal spectrum and usually cancel each other's votes on controversial cases, they are personal friends.    They share a love for opera and have been known to travel together.    Personally, I don't see the likeable side of Scalia -- and I do have great liking and respect for RBG.    But, as is often said: there's no accounting for (the other guy's) taste.

Anyhow, we saw a slightly more humanized side of Scalia in this interview where, according to the Washington Post, he said:
"Don't paint me as anti-gay or anti-abortion or anything else.  All I'm doing on the Supreme Court is opining about who should decide: Is it a matter left to the people, or is it a matter of my responsibility as a justice of the Supreme Court? . .

"The issue of gay rights, on abortion, on many of the issues in which Ruth's opinions and mine differ does not pertain to the substance.  It doesn't pertain to whether gay people ought to have those rights or whether there ought to be a constitutional right or a right to an abortion."
Such a lovable guy, isn't he?     Perhaps RBG brings out the best in him.   It's actually the first time I've ever heard any quote from him where he seemed to care a damn what people thought of him.

Now, if she could just get him to change his mind about all those SCOTUS decisions.   While he's being "pure" in his strict contructionist, literal reading of the Constitution, his decisions have had devastating consequences for real, live people.

Is he right that his job is merely to decide what is up to the legislature to change -- and what might be a violation of the law, as already defined?    That would be so easy, compared to what a compassionate justice would consider.