Saturday, March 14, 2015

What the letter caper means for our own government. Why it matters so much.

Regarding "that letter" (again), there's the effect on the negotiations with Iran;  there's the shocking disrespect for our commander-in-chief with roots in Obama-hatred;   there's the effect on the U.S.'s standing in the world.

And then there is this:   The dysfunctional Republican congress has reached the point that seasoned senators have allowed the most irresponsible, right-wing zealot,** the youngest member of this once-august body, to lead them to abandon the near sacrosanct agreement that -- when it comes to dealing with foreign governments and national security -- we are one nation under one leader.

Are we going to return to the late 18th century, before the U. S. Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation and established the office of president, with the power to make treaties?  Before that, individuals and even states tried to make deals with foreign governments concerning their own local issues.   That was pretty chaotic, even in a world that was magnitudes less complex and without weapons of mass destruction.

Let us not return to that.


** Another time, I'll back up this claim about Tom Cotton.

The "Letter" through Al Jazeera's eyes -- more comprehensive than American media

Anyone who has had enough of my obsession with the debacle of the 47-senator-letter-to-Iran can just skip this post and read what Robert Reich says about economic myths.

I just ran across this in Al Jazeera, the English language version of the Arab language web news service based in Qatar, that gives a somewhat more substantive perspective on The Letter.   I have previously found their news stories to be more balanced and less sensationalized than ours, either from the right or the left.   It's refreshing to get a view from outside the U.S. that reflects how others see us -- but without anti-American bias or condescension.

In fact, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences named the Al Jazeera web news site as one of the five best, along with the BBC and National Geographic.   The American web news service,, said that Al Jazeera's coverage of the 2011 Egyptian uprising was superior to that of American media.   Want to check it out?   Go to

I wanted to pass along this excellent explanation by Tony Karon of the senators' letter and the Iranian response.   It is worth reading for anyone who likes to understand it in full.   In truth, it should be read and absorbed by those 47 senators, who obviously do not have a good understanding of the diplomatic negotiations.    Here is Karon's Al Jazeera article.

"What 47 Republican senators may not understand about Iran."

"There’s a charming naiveté to the open letter [PDF] by 47 Republican senators that condescendingly seeks to explain features of the U.S. constitutional system to Iran’s leaders that they otherwise 'may not fully understand.'

"The missive warns that, with respect to 'your nuclear negotiations with our government ... any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress' could be revoked by the next president 'with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.'

"Beyond the amusing inaccuracies about U. S. parliamentary order, it seems there are some features of the nuclear negotiations that the signatory senators don’t fully understand — not only on the terms of the deal, but also on who would be party to an agreement.

"There are no negotiations on Iran’s 'nuclear-weapons programbecause the world’s intelligence agencies (including those of the U.S. and Israel) do not believe Iran is currently building nuclear weapons, nor has it made a strategic decision to use its civilian nuclear infrastructure to produce a bomb. An active Iranian nuclear-weapons program would render moot the current negotiations, because Iran would be in fundamental violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"As things stand, Tehran remains within the terms of the NPT, which allows nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but monitors member states to prevent weaponization. Tehran and the IAEA remain in dispute over full compliance with all transparency requirements of the NPT, particularly over alleged previous research into weapons design. But Iran’s nuclear facilities remain under constant monitoring by international inspectors who certify that no nuclear material is being diverted.

"The current negotiations are focused on strengthening verifiable safeguards against weaponization over-and-above those required by the NPT, yet the Republican-led Congress, egged on by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is warning that those goals are insufficient, and the terms and time-frame of the deal are unacceptable.
"The key element missing from the GOP Senators’ letter, however, is that the deal is not being negotiated between Iran and the United States; it is being negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 group, in which the U.S. is joined by Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Even if the U.S. is the key player in that group, the deal being pursued reflects an international consensus — the same consensus that has made sanctions against Iran so effective.

"This was likely in the mind of Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who dismissed the letter as 'of no legal value' and a 'propaganda ploy.'   Zarif noted that the deal would indeed be an international agreement adopted by the U.N. Security Council, which a new administration would be obliged to uphold — and that any attempt by the White House or Congress to abrogate, unilaterally modify or impede such an agreement would be a breach of U.S. obligations.  

"The U.S. has barely traded with Iran since the revolution of 1979; its capacity to sanction Iran relies on its ability to persuade or force other countries to do the same. Many of Iran’s major trading partners, such as Russia, China, India and Turkey, are not taking their lead from the U.S., even if they’re partially abiding by sanctions imposed by Washington and the European Union. Moscow and Beijing, in particular, have expanded trade and investment deals in recent months, and more ominously signaled a willingness to cooperate with Iran on defense issues to an extent that will make Tehran’s adversaries uncomfortable.

"China late last year conducted joint Naval exercises with Iran, while Russia has raised the prospect of selling Iran its most sophisticated surface-to-air missile system.

"The scenario sketched by the GOP Senators would have an incoming U.S. president tear up or seek to unilaterally modify an international agreement painstakingly negotiated over seven years, even if that agreement were being observed by Iran. Such a move would put Washington sharply at odds with the international consensus, leaving it more isolated than Iran on the question of sanctions or other pressure tactics.  

"And that would likely suit Iran’s clerical leaders just fine. After all, what the clerics want is an end to sanctions, not invitations to address Congress or host political fundraisers. And the hardliners running against the current government in the 2017 elections are, for their own political ends, also seeking to undermine the current negotiations.
"Moreover, the Senators’ letter’s scenario also disregards Iran’s own leverage in the talks. As Columbia University professor and former National Security Council Iran analyst Gary Sick noted, periods of heightened pressure on Tehran over the past decade-plus have actually seen it increase and accelerate its nuclear work, shortening the distance it would have to travel should it decide to build nuclear weapons. While sanctions played a role in bringing Iran to the table, Iran’s leaders also know that enrichment of uranium to 20 percent helped bring Western powers to the table seeking compromise. Sick warns that should the current deal be broken in search of one more to the liking of a new U.S. administration, Iran could be expected to escalate its nuclear work to the same end.

"So, while the GOP senators believe Iran’s leaders may not understand the workings of the U.S. Constitution, the decision-makers in Tehran may see a bigger picture than those Republican legislators."
*  *  *  *  *
A very disturbing element in this extraordinary debacle of Republican juvenalia is that so many of the seasoned senators who have been there for 20 or 30 years fell for it.    And now some of the senators are frantically trying to spin it, saying that they "sign letters all the time" (John McCain) and their aides are putting out the word that nobody took it very seriously;  it was sort of a joke for some of them.

That is as appalling as the letter itself.    They have truly lost their way -- and don't deserve to be members of "the most deliberative body" in the world.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Chuck Todd's straight talk about the ACA

Egberto Willies, writing on the Daily Kos blog site, credited Chuck Todd for speaking some truth to media about the Affordable Care Act.   Here's part of the Daily Kos piece:

"Well Chuck Todd did his job this morning, well mostly did his job. The recent Gallup data simply confirms what was known and what should have been reported ad nauseam while Republicans continued using the media to lie to their constituents.

"Chuck Todd pointed out the fact that Obamacare , , ,  is dramatically lowering the uninsured rate throughout the country. He pointed out that the states with the biggest drop in uninsured rates were in fact two of the poorer states in the nation with Democratic governors who accepted the Medicaid Expansion to Obamacare. 

"He pointed out that the only state that showed an increase in the uninsured rate was Kansas, a state controlled almost entirely by Republicans and a state that refused to take the Medicaid expansion to Obamacare. 

"Chuck Todd failed to mention that Obamacare Marketplace is making health insurance in the aggregate more affordable.  He also failed to mention that in fact Obamacare is bending the cost curve more and faster than expected.

"While Republican politicians continue to dig their heals in, progressive policies are helping many of their constituents. It is important that this message gets to them in an unbiased manner. Let them see who is really looking out for them."

*  *  *  *  *
If so many people didn't believe and repeat the Republicans' repetitive talking points about what a "train wreck" Obamacare is (Ted Cruz) -- it would really be funny.  Because many of those same people who say they hate Obamacare actually love their new insurance that they obtained through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

Groucho Marx's famous line comes to mind:   "Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?"


47% of the U. S. Senate tells a foreign government not to trust us

Ralf Michaels, chaired professor, Duke University School of Law draws a deeper lesson from the controversy over the 47 senators' Letter to the Iranians than is being debated on Capitol Hill and by our media pundits.    He says that the damage goes far beyond the insult to the intelligence of the Iranian cabinet and its Foreign Minister who has a PhD in International Relations from a U. S. university;   it goes far beyond the letter's inaccuracies in constitutional law;   it goes far beyond the politicization of such a sensitive international moment and the disrespect for the office of the president and its current occupant.

Professor Michaels says that the critics have been outraged, but mostly for the wrong reasons.   To quote his editorial on the Huffington Post:

"What the letter says is essentially this: The word from the United States, as expressed by its head of state, has no value. We, the United States, should not be trusted. . . .  It warns our other allies to avoid entering into international agreements with us, because we may simply "revoke" them. . . . 

"This letter, therefore, does damage not only to President Obama, the office of the president, and the Senate as a respectable institution. The letter undermines the very standing of the United States in the World. . . . 

"The revocation of a binding international agreement . . . is a 'blatant violation of international law.'

"Now, the senators might of course say they do not care, that they would rather violate international law than risk an Iranian nuclear bomb. But their letter has broader implications, and it is astonishing that it takes the Iranian foreign minister to point them out: The letter 'undermines the credibility of thousands of such 'mere executive agreements' that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments' . . . .  Are the Republican senators really saying they do not feel bound by them? Should those other countries not feel bound either? . . .

"The United States has done much, since its founding, to earn the decent respect of mankind that the founders felt the country needed since the moment of foundation. But in directly asking foreign countries to mistrust us, Republicans are, it seems, intentionally trying to throw away what remains of this respect. It is hard to see how this could be good for the country."
*  *  *  *  *
There is nothing I can add except to thank Professor Michaels for such clarity and knowledge.   Let's hope there is some soul-searching among at least a few of those 47 senators, asking themselves why they allowed themselves to get stampeded by this two-month old upstart senator from Arkansas.    Is the political bubble so strong around Washington that they have lost their way?

It appears they have.    We cannot let the country follow them.    Some of them will be up for re-election in 2016.   Take note.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cheney: Congress must not interfere with the president's Iran policy

Congress must not interfere with the president's Iran policy.    Yes, that was Dick Cheney's stated position -- in 1986 -- when he was a congressman from Wyoming, the president was Ronald Reagen, and the issue was the Iran-Contra scandal that almost brought down the Reagen presidency.

For those too young to know what this was about, President Reagen got caught trading arms to Iran for money that was then secretly and  illegally diverted to aid the Nicaraguan rebels.   He could not openly support them, so this was a covert way to get money to them.   The truth came out and there was a congressional investigation, which Cheney denounced, saying, in effect, congress cannot interfere with the president's dealings with Iran.

Cheney wrote at the time:
"[T]hroughout the Nation's history, Congress has accepted substantial exercises of Presidential power -- in the conduct of diplomacy, the use of force and covert action . . . . "
Then, in 1989, speaking to the American Enterprise Institute, Cheney made it clear that his opposition to congressional interference in the president's power to conduct foreign policy and diplomacy applied, "whomever the President and whatever the policy."
In light of such a strong position on this in the past, what has Cheney said about the latest flap concerning Iran?     

So far, not a word.    I guess he wouldn't want to appear to be siding with Barack Obama after such dismissive comments he has made about him as commander-in-chief.


Hillary's emails

The media seem more excited about Hillary Clinton's emails than about the borderline treasonous letter that freshman Sen. Tom Cotton got 46 other senators to sign onto.

So, let me have my say about the emails.    Yes, Hillary created a perception of hiding something by using only a personal Blackberry email account for both her personal and her government work while she was Secretary of State.  But I understand why she would want to keep control of them, given that people will comb through them with a microscope looking for anything to blow up into a scandal.   

The hue and cry is about whether she can be trusted to have turned over all relevant government-related emails in those 55,000 pages she has revealed.    She and her staff had the opportunity to delete any that they didn't want to come to light.   And she can't prove that they didn't do that.     She can't prove her innocence to those who want to find her guilty.

But, before we jump to the conclusion that this is so different, stop a minute to think about the set-up for officials who do use a separate government email account, which is automatically preserved, and a personal email account, which can remain private.

Let's say current Secretary of State John Kerry does use the requisite two accounts.   At any moment that he decides to send an email, he has to decide which account to use.   If he wants to keep it private, even if it is government-related, all he has to do is send it on his personal account.    It still comes down to having to trust the official.

How is that really different from Hillary in retrospect deciding which emails on her one account need to be submitted to the State Department for reviewed and archived?

I guess the difference is that it allows hindsight to determine the choice, whereas if the choice is made up front, there is a greater possibility of some slip-up revealing something for the scandal-mongers.


PS:   My main concern in all of this is how Hillary's news conference response sounds like the 2008 campaigner.   I'm told that she is very warm and relaxed in person but that, when the microphones appear, she tightens up, gets formal, looks out above the crowd, and speaks in tones too measured, too legalistic, lacking the warmth she is capable of.   And she gets defensive when attacked.   Not a good sign.    She needs some of what Elizabeth Warren has.  Or, dare I say it?   Bill Clinton.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Now Ferguson may get some real reform

Three days ago (Sunday) I wrote that so far the police and courts in Ferguson were having a tepid response to the scathing Department of Justice investigation report on racial bias in the city police and court system.    

At that point, two police officers and a court clerk who had sent racist emails had resigned or been fired.    That was not enough.  The problems went much deeper than email racist jokes.

Now, three days later, the three most important key figures have resigned:   the Chief of Police, the City Manager, and the Judge of the Municipal Court system.

This should open the way now for new leadership.    It won't bring back Michael Brown, but now maybe his loss of life, and the blatant racism it exposed, will lead to some real reform.


WHAT? That letter is Obama's fault?

In my previous post, I mentioned Sen. Tom Corker (R-TN) as one of the senators who did not sign Tom Cotton's letter to the Iranians.   He is chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.  

But then Corker threw out this corker:   The letter is really President Obama's fault, because he failed to consult lawmakers, and he threatened to veto Corker's own proposed bill that gives Congress the final vote on any nuclear agreement.

The message to President Obama in the letter was:  'See, give us what we want -- or we will piss on your fire and put it out.   Nyah, nyah, nyah.'

And now, in defense of the stupidity and borderline treason of his colleagues, Corker blames the victim of their vindictiveness.   It's like the rapist saying "It's her fault.  She made me do it, because she was so provocative in her sexy red dress."

It won't wash, guys -- except with your war-crazed, Obama-hating base.  But the adult, reality-based world was appalled by this juvenile, dangerous action that just goes further to prove that the present-day Republican party is not capable of responsible governing.  They are not ready for prime time.


Reactions to "the letter" to Iran and to its author: the new bad boy of the Senate: Tom Cotton

Move over, Sen. Ted Cruz.   You have some competition for the role of know-it-all, bad boy spoiler from the ultra-conservative Tea Party crowd:   newly elected Sen. Tom Cotton from Arkansas who defeated Sen. Mark Pryor in November.   Like Cruz, Cotton is a Harvard Law School graduate, who came into the senate with his guns blazing to prove that he can be the leader of the far-out right.    What is it with Harvard Law graduates these days?   How could Barack and Michelle Obama be graduates of the same law school as Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton?     It just proves that Harvard is not 100% liberal, pinko after all.

Cotton is the author and promoter of the open letter signed by 47 of the 54 Republican senators and addressed to "The Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran."    The letter has a condescending tone as it explains that "you may not fully understand our constitutional system."   It then informs them that any agreement they make with our president that is not approved by congress will be considered "only an executive agreement" between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei and that it may be changed by the next president.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister and counterpart to Sec. of State John Kerry in the negotiations, is a highly educated man who studied international relations in American universities and needs no instructions about governments and international agreements.    His initial response was a curt dismissal of the letter as a "propaganda ploy."   Later, he released a statement saying that:
"The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations."
Further, Zarif explained that an agreement would also involve the five other nations involved in the talks.  In other words, 'get your facts straight, little boy, before you start lecturing us.'

 A U. S. State Department official clarified that this would be a non-binding international agreement, not a treaty of the sort that requires senate ratification.   We have many such agreements with other nations that govern our operations in international relations, like those that protect our troops abroad.  Sen. Cotton should know this, having served as a military officer in Iraq.

Even though it does not require senate ratification, many who support the negotiations also think that the magnitude of the issue makes it advisable to get input and backing from the senate -- but not in the middle of the negotiations and not with the purpose of killing them.

Last year, the Economist pointed out that the Iranian cabinet has more people with PhDs from American universities than does the Obama cabinet.   So much for Cotton's arrogance in presuming that they need schooling in the U. S. Constitution.

President Obama's reaction was a cool observation on the irony of Republican senators trying to make common cause with the hard liners in the Iranian government who want to kill the negotiations.   Vice President Biden supplied the heat for them both.   He was livid and didn't mind letting it show as he blasted the signers, saying the letter was "beneath the dignity of the institution that I revere."   Biden served in the senate for 36 years, and was chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

The most authoritative legal opinion however came form Jack Goldsmith, currently a professor in Harvard Law School and former top legal counsel to the Bush administration.  Goldsmith pointed out that the letter is not correct in saying that the Senate has to ratify an agreement, which "in a letter purporting to teach a constitutional lesson, the error is embarrassing."

So far, it looks like Zarif, at least, is not going to let this ruin the talks.  But it will give ammunition to the Iranian hardliners, who can more justifiably now say that they can't trust the U. S.    Let's hope that the Iranian moderates want this settlement badly enough to chalk this up to petty politics and ignorance on the part of some newcomers.

I can't though.    What were people like Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Richard Shelby, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham -- all seasoned senators who know better -- what were they thinking?   No matter how hawkish, they know better than to let this 2 month old whippersnapper senator lead them into such a protocol sin.

This was a black day for the institution of the United States Senate.  

Seven senators, including Bob Corker (Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee), Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Lamar Alexander, Lisa Murkowski, Thad Cochran, and Dan Coates showed wisdom in not signing the letter.   But that's all;   47 lemmings were willing to jump off the cliff.   Predictably, the increasingly ridiculous Gov. Bobby Jindal wheedled to get his name added, even though he is not a senator.  He just couldn't let his rivals Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz get all the credit with the crazed right-wing base that will see them as heroes.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

47 Republicans senators warn Iran not to trust the US negotiations. Get ready for war and the draft.

We already know that Republicans no longer feel bound by the long-standing dictum that politics stops at the water's edge, that we stand united when dealing with foreign governments.    Just ask John Boehner and the hundreds of cheering Bibi Netanyahu fans during last week's defiance of our president and all protocol.

With their latest outrage, they have surpassed even the Bibi-Boehner stunt -- and this time it is the Republicans in the Senate, who I thought were less ideological crazed than their counterparts in the Tea Party dominated House.

According to Bloomberg News:
"A group of 47 Republican senators [out of 54] has written an open letter to Iran's leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama's administration won't last after Obama leaves office."
This goes beyond political differences and personal disdain for the president.   This is, in the words of political organizer and consultant Robert Creamer,
". . . a brazen, breathtaking attempt to sabotage U.S. foreign policy and stampede America into another war in the Middle East. . . .  Can you imagine the reaction if members of Congress had sent a similar letter to the Soviets urging them not to sign an arms control agreement because the United States would not keep our end of the bargain?"
What are our options if the Iranians are unwilling to sign an agreement because of such a perfidious betrayal by such a large number of U. S. senators?    Our other negotiating partners will not likely agree to greater sanctions.

And what then?   The hard-line old guard in Iran would be vindicated and politically strengthened; and they would likely rush toward bomb capabilityAny hope for trust between our two countries would be set back for a decade at least.

Under the proposed treaty, their nuclear capability would be limited to uranium for peaceful purposes, stringent inspections would be carried out, the more moderate leaders in Iran would be strengthened, and a better economy for Iran would pull them more toward the modern world.   In addition, Iran would become part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which would bring more accountability.

What, after all, do these Republicans want?   War?

Well, here's my answer to that.    Do not even think of another war in the Middle East unless you are willing to reinstate the draft AND raise taxes to pay for it.  We cannot fight another war on the backs of the soldiers many of whom have done 6, 7, or even 8 deployments in the Middle East.   And we cannot afford another major war without raising the revenue from those wealthy people who have been getting the breaks.

So the louder they yell for War, I'm going to be yelling for "The Draft" with no exemptions.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Obama's soaring speech; Selma's 50th anniversary

The link below is to a full transcript of President Barack Obama's speech  in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the Selma march in support of passing the civil rights law in 1965.

It was a powerful, passionate speech, worth reading it all.    Here are selected excerpts:

"There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

"Selma is such a place.

"In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – met on this bridge.

"It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America. . . .

"We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice. . . .

"The Americans who crossed this bridge . . . . gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before. . . . 

"What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course? . . . 

"Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political, economic, and social barriers came down, and the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office. 

"Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past. . . .   

"First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done . . . . 
"[A] common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete . . . .  We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. . . . 

"This is work for all Americans, and not just some. . . .  All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.

"With such effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. . . . 
With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. . . .  And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge – and that is the right to vote. Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, stands weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor.

"How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year. . . .  

"America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. . . .  [T]he single most powerful word in our democracy is the wordWe.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. . . .  ."

 -- the words of Barack Obama, March 7, 2015

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Netanyahu now behind in Israel polls

NEWS  FLASH:    A new poll released today by the Jerusalem Post shows that Benjamin Natanyahu's Likud Party is running behind the Zionist Party 22 seats to 24 seats for the parliament.    The election is less than 10 days away.

In the parliamentary system, the people elect representations to the parliament;   the winning party chooses i6s leader to be Prime Minister and form a government, usually having to form a coalition with another party to achieve 50%.   If Likud doesn't get the most seats, however, it would not be the leading party and Netanyahu would not be the PM.

So, according to this major newspaper in Israel, Netanyahu's speech to the U. S. Congress did not help his party's reelection chances.


So far, Ferguson police and courts responses have been tepid, more like a shrug

So far, from reports I'm reading, it looks like the "withering" Department of Justice report on racial bias in the Ferguson, Missouri police department and court system is falling more or less on, if not deaf ears, at least on shrugged shoulders.   Sort of like, 'Yes, but everybody does it;  that's just the way the system works."

Here's an example.   The DoJ report mentioned several racist jokes that had been emailed around as a mere introductory illustration of some of the blatant racism.   So they're now saying that the people who sent those "no longer work here."   They either resigned under pressure or were fired.

As if that fixed the problem.  But that is not even scratching the surface.  It's equivalent to giving aspirin for a fever, and thinking you've cured the infection.  Here's just one  example:

Black drivers are stopped and their cars searched far more frequently than whites.   Officers write tickets for minor violations, like maybe a tail light out, that would just get a warning to a white driver to get it fixed.   Instead, blacks get ticketed.   They're supposed to appear in court and pay a fine.    If they don't pay the fine on time, then the fines start escalating along with court costs;  and they are charged with another crime, for not paying what they can't afford.

What started as a simple traffic ticket for minor violation now accumulates to hundreds of dollars that the person cannot pay.    Pretty soon, they put this person in jail.  Then they're faced with even more court costs.

Meanwhile, the municipal judge who oversees all this trades favors and fixes traffic tickets for police officers and his friends.   And, worse than that, this particular judge owes $170,000 in back income taxes.   Why isn't he in jail with the black man who owes a few hundred in traffic fines?

Outrage overflows.   A racial joke on an email is bad.   But this -- putting people in jail for a tiny fraction of the offenses of the judge who orders them there:   that is despicable.

I can only imagine the sense of vindication felt by the black community of Ferguson as they see all of this exposed by the Justice Department of the United States.    It cannot stop with firing a few low level people for emails.   They've got to sweep the whole system of the judges and the police chiefs who allow this to happen -- and are often guilty themselves of worse than what they are putting people in jail for.

 They're right -- that it isn't just in Ferguson or even St. Louis county.   It is a nationwide problem -- as the news of the epidemic of police killings of young, unarmed black men across the country testifies so tragically.