Nel's New Day

March 19, 2015

Netanyahu Denies Racism That Elected Him

How far will GOP presidential wannabes go to pander to the crazies? When the crazies started talking around John McCain during his run in 2008, he shut them down. Not Rick Santorum. At Frank Gaffney’s South Carolina National Security Action Summit last week, a woman unleashed her venom against President Obama:

“Why is the Congress rolling over and letting this Communist dictator destroy my country? Y’all know what he is and I know what he is. I want him out of the White House; he’s not a citizen; he could have been removed a long time ago…

“Ted [Cruz?] told me I’ve got to wait for the next election. I don’t think the country will be around for the next election. Obama tried to blow up a nuke in Charleston a few months ago! And the three admirals, and generals. He has totally destroyed our military. He’s fired all the generals and all the admirals that said they wouldn’t fire on the American people.”

Santorum sidestepped the vitriol by saying it wasn’t his fault because he wasn’t in Congress any more. He refused to question the woman’s rants, instead saying that he can “absolutely agree” about the “complete lack of leadership” from the White House. Referring to immigration policy, Santorum said “the word ‘tyrant’ ” comes to mind to describe President Obama.

Eugene Robinson made an excellent observation in expressing gratitude that the self-identified retired school teacher is no longer in the classroom. A question, however, is where this woman got the idea that “Obama tried to blow up a nuke in Charleston a few months ago.”

David Weigel has the answer.  An “exclusive story,” published in 2013 on the conspiracy news site InfoWars, quoted “a high level source inside the military” about the transfer of nuclear warheads to the East Coast. The story, which moved across Facebook at least 25,000 times, also quoted Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) worry that a military build-up would lead to nuclear weapons moving through the port of Charleston.

Later that year the European Union Times, a “news” site that mixes accuracy with rumors, moved the false story along by citing a “Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) report circulating in the Kremlin today” to report that a nuclear weapon had been detonated off of Charleston’s harbor. The story’s proof was an October 8, 2013 earthquake that happened hundreds of miles from the coast. The website claimed that it was a botched “false flag” attack, carried out in the middle of the government shutdown.

Reddit discussion spread another rumor that the “false flag” attack caused the dismissal of U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, U.S. Air Force Major General Michael Carey, Major General Charles M. Gurganus, and Major General Gregg A. Sturdevant.  Giardina was caught in a poker-rigging scheme, and Carey was removed from his job after a drunken bender in Moscow. Gurganus and Sturdevant were forced into retirement before October 2013 after an investigation into a Taliban attack in Afghanistan. None of what the woman said was true, but Santorum just accepted it.

At a Minnesota McCain town hall meeting almost seven years ago, a woman said, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, he’s not uh—he’s an Arab. He’s not —. ”

McCain told his supporter:

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about. He’s not [an Arab].”

At another town hall meeting, McCain said, “We want to fight, and I will fight, but I will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”

Santorum and the rest of the far-right presidential candidates remember what McCain did and how he lost the election. They also watched this week’s election in Israel when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won his election after playing his bigot cards: the day before the election, he promised that no Palestinian state would be established as long as he stayed in office. Although Netanyahu has done everything he can to bury a two-state solution since his took the formal position of supporting it six years ago, he has not come out with any declaration against it until he was in danger of losing the election.

To cement his election, Netanyahu ran an ad that “Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes.” He accused “left-wing NGOs [of bringing] them in buses.”  During his campaign, Netanyahu accused foreign governments of undermining his leadership with non-governmental organizations (NGO).

Thomas Friedman wrote about the Middle East:

“It is hard to know what is more depressing: that Netanyahu went for the gutter in the last few days in order to salvage his campaign—renouncing his own commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians and race-baiting Israeli Jews to get out and vote because, he said, too many Israeli Arabs were going to the polls — or the fact that this seemed to work.

“The fact is a good half of Israel identifies with the paranoid, everyone-is-against-us, and religious-nationalist tropes Netanyahu deployed in this campaign. That, along with the fact that some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won.”

J Street vice-president for communications, Alan Elsner, said that the pro-Israel, pro-peace organization fears the newly-elected prime minister will have to deal with the consequences of his claims. Elsner said that “suggesting that Arab citizens who have the right to vote are somehow a threat to Israel because they exercise their democratic right is outrageous” and Netanyahu tried “to scare his own supporters to go to the polls … in a disgusting, racist way.” He added, “If he walks back from it, he’s really going to enrage his right-wing supporters, and if he doesn’t walk back from it, he’s going to enrage the international community. Either way, neither constituency is going to believe him because he’s shot his credibility.”

Today Netanyahu “shot his credibility.” In his first interview since the election, he said:

“I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change.”

He denied that he had changed his position from Monday’s comments when he explicitly eliminated the possibility of a Palestinian state. “I haven’t changed my policy,” he said. “What has changed is the reality.”

Netanyahu’s latest statement came after the White House suggested that the U.S. could stop protecting Israel with the UN and other international organizations if the country failed to commit to a two-state solution. The U.S. might even recognize a Palestinian state. White House spokesman Josh Earnest warned that the foundation for its policy for supporting Israel had been “eroded,” indicating that the U.S. would “need to re-evaluate our position in this matter, and that is what we will do moving forward.” Earlier Earnest had again denounced Netanyahu’s “cynical, divisive election-day tactics” and condemned the prime minister’s incendiary remarks about the Israeli Arab voters.

Friedman had predicted—correctly—that “Netanyahu could reverse himself tomorrow” and quoted Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea who described the prime minister’s promises as something “written on ice on a very hot day.” As Friedman wrote, however:

“The fact is a good half of Israel identifies with the paranoid, everyone-is-against-us, and religious-nationalist tropes Netanyahu deployed in this campaign. That, along with the fact that some 350,000 settlers are now living in the West Bank, makes it hard to see how a viable two-state solution is possible anymore no matter who would have won.”

Friedman also addressed the problem of Iran, writing that additional sanctions on Iran, as critics of President Obama want, are useless because the Middle East only reacts to regime changes. The U.S. tried—and failed—with this tactic in Afghanistan and Iraq. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big U.S. land army into the Middle East “should have his head examined.”

The question is why the United States is fighting, for the third time in less than 15 years, a war on behalf of Iran. The U.S. destroyed Iran’s main Sunni foe in Afghanistan (2002) and Iran’s main Sunni foe in the Arab World (2003), leaving a vacuum in Iraq and the Sunni Arab world. Now Iran’s proxies dominate Beirut, Damascus, Sanaa and Baghdad. As terrible as ISIS is, the Sunni Arab response to the U.S. defeat of Sunni Arabism is “the last Sunni bulwark to a total Iranian takeover of Iraq,” according to Friedman. By fighting ISIS, the U.S. is again hoping that the Shiite militias will rule better, an idea that has failed for over a decade.

Today marks two grim anniversaries: the 12th anniversary of U.S. preemptive war on Iraq and the 5th anniversary of the NATO intervention in Libya. Both overthrew Arab dictators; both left the local people in such horrific straits that many of them look back with nostalgia to the days of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi.

Now war against Iran is backed by 47 percent of the U.S. Senate and the new Israeli prime minister who appears to lead the U.S. House.

[Note: To the people who claim that anti-Netanyahu is anti-Israel, ask them if being anti-President Obama is anti-American.]

March 18, 2015

Congressional Budgets Separate GOP Legislators

The House budget blue-print for next year was unveiled yesterday, waiting to go through the sorry “sausage” process of legislating. Its usefulness lies in demonstrating the GOP disregard for most of the people in the United States. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is no longer chair of the House Budget Committee, but his replacement, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) mouths the same unbelievable excuses for trashing the safety net of people in the United States. In Washington-speak, Price said, “When Washington forgets the limits of its own understanding and power … social and safety net programs stop being a bridge to a more secure future and rather become a barrier to success.” The translation is that the GOP excuses its stripping benefits for people by saying that it’s all for everyone’s own good, perhaps similar telling children they will be more independent if they are hungry.

The budget plans to move Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP) into “block grants” for states. In that way, states can use the money that they get for the poor and then transfer the funding into the general fund that has been depleted by giving huge tax subsidies to corporations and huge tax cuts for the wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that block grants for Medicaid would increase the uninsured numbers to between 14.3 million and 20.5 million by 2022. The same block grant process was used during the 1990s for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), leaving spending for that program flat after far more people fell into poverty and should have been eligible for benefits. The Price budget also made a ten-year $165 billion cut in mandatory outside health and retirement programs; SNP is the biggest program in that area. Ryan’s budget cut of $137 billion last year was an 18-percent reduction.

Yesterday’s House budget plan also proposed repealing the Affordable Care Act. At this time, the number of uninsured people in the United States has dropped by 16 million people to 34 million because of expanded Medicaid in many states, cheaper insurance, and young adults’ ability to stay on their parents’ plan. Keeping the law would drop the number of uninsured to about 26 million. The GOP wants the number of uninsured to increase to 50 million people, as would happen without the ACA according to the CBO. This is 50 million uninsured people plus the 20 million who have lost Medicaid for a total of 70 million uninsured people by 2022. The GOP is talking about an Obamacare “replacement,” but legislators have no plans for one. Although the budget proposal included the ACA repeal, it kept the savings that the ACA brings to the federal government.

Without itemizing cuts, the budget cuts $400 billion from Ryan’s budget by cutting mandatory spending, consolidating programs, streamlining regulations, and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, according to Price’s report. The $1.017 trillion ceiling on spending in the fiscal year beginning on October 1 would be divided between $493 billion for domestic discretionary programs and $523 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget with $90 billion added to the base in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund.

Today’s Senate release of their budget also repealed the ACA, created block grants for Medicaid and food stamps, and cut domestic programs. As Jonathan Weisman wrote in the NYT, “the first Senate Republican budget since 2006 is long on ambition but short on details. It foresees cutting $4.3 trillion from mandatory programs like Medicare, food stamps and Medicaid, but unlike the House budget, it does not make specific policy prescriptions, such as converting Medicare into a voucherlike program that would allow recipients to buy subsidized insurance on the private health care market.” The Senate also proposed gaining billions of dollars by reducing education programs, freezing Pell Grants, and stopping regulatory actions under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street law.

The budget has caused a war, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), within the GOP congressional members between the fiscal hawks and defense hawks. Congress cannot overturn the Budget Control Act of 2011—better known as the sequester—which established ten years of spending caps and across-the-board spending cuts without another act of Congress. The war is even more embarrassing because the GOP bitterly criticized the Democrats for their failure to pass budgets while they controlled Congress. President Obama has proposed raising spending caps for the next fiscal year by $80 billion with half going to domestic programs, but the GOP wants defense to get everything. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) called the caps “a disaster” which “thematically” must go. This is his first year for the process.

Like the House,  GOP Senate defense hawks demand that the budget include the “deficit-neutral reserve fund,” allowing the Pentagon to break budget ceilings set by law almost four years ago. A deal in 2013 between then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and then-Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) gave two years of escape from the spending caps, but that deal has now disappeared for future budgets.

The fanatical GOP cry for more austerity will drive the economy back into the hole as it fails to create jobs and put money into workers’ pockets. Long-term economic growth could come from a strong surface transportation reauthorization bill, one which the GOP refuses to address. The $11 billion transportation funding expires on May 31, and lawmakers are making noises about a short-term extension blocking contractors from any long-term projects. Construction typically begins in the spring, and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said, “States have already notified the federal government that they will be delaying or postponing or canceling projects.”

At the same time, GOP policy is to lower taxes and raise subsidies for the wealthy and corporation, putting more stress and probably higher taxes on the middle class and poor—again shrinking the economy.

In analyzing tax subsidies for different economic levels, the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that the top 1 percent received $95 billion in tax subsidies for housing, education, retirement and savings in 2013, $5 billion more than the $90 billion received by the bottom 80 percent. The top 0.1 percent, with an average annual income of $7.6 million, received an average of $33,391 in federal tax payouts in these areas compared with the $1,000 for the bottom 60 percent, who earn less than $65,000. President Obama met a firestorm when he proposed doing away with tax benefits for 529 college savings plans in which families can contribute up to $14,000 a year. Households with incomes above $150,000 received 80 percent of that program’s tax benefit. Seventy percent of deductions for mortgage interest payments and property taxes, a total of $98.5 billion cost to the government in 2014, went to the top 20 percent of earners; the average gain for a household in the bottom 20 percent, earning less than $21,000 a year, was $3.

Meanwhile the nation reached its statutory debt limit last Monday. The Treasury Department is hunting for money to keep paying bills with a catastrophic default about the same time this fall that the GOP needs to stop—or start—another government shutdown. The GOP has the majority in both chambers, but neither leader has shown much ability in managing their caucuses. Some GOP senators such as Jeff Flake (AZ) and Orrin Hatch (UT) have expressed no enthusiasm for using the debt limit as leverage for immigration. Hatch even understands that blocking the limit doesn’t stop spending already authorized. On the other hand, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) wants the debt ceiling as leverage for “further reforms,” and Price wants the “Boehner Rule,” demanding one dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in extra borrowing.

Both budgets rely on the GOP’s euphemistic term “economic feedback.” The term used by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of “dynamic scoring” isn’t any better. That means that increased revenue in the budget is based on a guess of increase in such areas as tax cuts that the GOP think will occur—no substance, just assumption. In other words, Congress claims that tax cuts for corporations will provide more revenue so it put their guess into their budgets.

Dana Milbank described the House budget—rolled out on St. Patrick’s Day—as a “gimmick” in which the creators “employed lucky charms and mystical pots of gold to make them appear more sober about balancing the budget than they actually are.” His analysis of the budget:

  • It pretends to keep strict limits on defense spending — so-called “sequestration”–but then pumps tens of billions of extra dollars into a slush fund called “Overseas Contingency Operations.”
  • It assumes that current tax cuts will be allowed to expire as scheduled — which would amount to a $900 billion tax increase that nobody believes would be allowed to go into effect.
  • It proposes to repeal Obamacare but then counts revenues and savings from Obamacare as if the law remained in effect.
  • It claims to save $5.5 trillion over 10 years, but in the fine print—the budget plan’s instructions to committees—it asks them to identify only about $5 billion in savings over that time.
  • It assumes more than $1 trillion in cuts to a category known as “other mandatory” programs—but doesn’t specify what those cuts would be.
  • It relies on $147 billion in additional revenue from “dynamic scoring,” a more generous accounting method.
  • It doesn’t account for the $200 billion plan now being negotiated to increase doctor payments under Medicare and to extend a children’s health care program.

As Milbanks concluded, “[The budget] was the latest instance of the Republicans discovering how difficult it is to govern now that they have unified control of Congress.” When asked about specifics at the press conference rolling out the budget, Price answered questions with this statement: “Because we believe in the American people, and we believe in growth.” replied Price, predicting that higher-than-expected economic growth would boost tax revenues.

Again, the GOP has shown that they aren’t ready for prime time; they just show that their priorities aren’t most of the people in the United States.

March 17, 2015

Clinton Not Alone with Private Emails

Filed under: Surveillance — trp2011 @ 9:01 PM
Tags: , , ,

The war of the senatorial 47 percent signing a mutinous letter to Iran last week was accompanied by the war of the emails. First came the news that Hillary Clinton, while Secretary of State, used her private server for emails rather than the government server. By today, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had called on Clinton to turn over her email server to a “neutral third party” for review. He also attacked her for not signing a “separation statement,” a recommendation for State Department staff to acknowledge that they have submitted all appropriate records to proper officials.

State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, stated that there was no record of Clinton signing such a statement and that she had not violated any rule by not doing so. Psaki added that there is no record of Clinton’s immediate predecessors signing the form.

It is expected that two House panels will provide “rigorous oversight”–the Select Committee on Benghazi, chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Gowdy has issued a subpoena for emails related to the 2012 attacks on a diplomatic outpost that killed four U.S. citizens and agreed to the March 27 deadline for the emails.

Oversight committees into Clinton’s email might want to take a good look at the email addresses for Gowdy and Jaffetz, two men who also deal with sensitive information. Chaffetz’s business card lists a Gmail address, and Gowdy uses his own domain, treygowdy.com. AlterNet asked Gowdy’s office how the representative separates work through his personal domain and through his congressional work as well as where his personal email server is stored. More than two days after both the office and Gowdy campaign manager George Ramsey were contacted, AlterNet received no response to the questions. David Brock of The Record also received no response to these questions.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush isn’t the only GOP presidential wannabe to complain about Clinton’s email situation, but he may be the most vulnerable. Bush claimed:

“For security purposes, you need to be behind a firewall that recognizes the world for what it is, and it’s a dangerous world, and security would mean that you couldn’t have a private server. It’s a little baffling, to be honest with you, that didn’t come up in Secretary Clinton’s thought process.”

The media has largely ignored the fact that Bush used his private e-mail account as Florida governor to discuss security and military issues such as troop deployments to the Middle East and the protection of nuclear plants. Required to turn over records pertaining to official business “at the expiration of his or her term of office,” Bush waited more than seven years to meet these obligations. The search for a Clinton email “scandal” may eventually bring its similarity to Bush’s inactions to public notice because he did exactly what Clinton has done. Bush and his team examined the emails to determine the ones that should be released and the ones that should be kept private.

Perhaps they should have kept a few more emails private. Among the 275,000 e-mails Bush released, some of them showed a pattern of favors for donors. Although that doesn’t come as a shock in politics, the electronic trail doesn’t give a positive spin on Bush’s actions. An example is Bush emails is this one from GOP-donor William “Bill” Becker, Florida citrus grower: “Many thanks for an expedited and wonderful appointment.” People for the American Way, Every Voice, Public Citizen, Demos, the Brennan Center, and Common Cause jointly issued the statement:

“The emails reveal what most voters already know: Elected officials grant special favors and access to big donors that everyday voters can only dream about.”

As Jeb Bush started his meetings with major donors last December, the wealthy were telling him what they want in exchange for support and fundraising. These donors have a history from the 1999 meetings with George W. Bush with CEOs before his campaign was “officially” launched. At that time, a GOP lobbyist for Silicon Valley tech firms said that they were “educating” W. on the issues. Their “education” led to bundling millions of dollars for W., and the lobbyist became a liaison to the tech sector after Bush’s appointment to president in 2000.

States are fighting the same battle of the private emails:

  • Although the most recent issue came up in Oregon, the state Supreme Court in California is reviewing a lower court’s ruling that public officials’ communications on private accounts are not subject to the state’s public records law.
  • The Supreme Court ruled that the records on former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter are not public, prompting a dissenting opinion from two justices who said the court gave public officials a path to conceal public business “for the price of a monthly cellphone plan.”
  • The emails of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin weren’t released for three years after the request. She used three different accounts and regularly communicated with top aides who also used their own personal accounts.
  • Gov. Rick Scott of Florida has repeatedly fought with public record advocates, media organizations, and others over whether he has followed the state’s transparency law, one of the broadest in the country. Although denying that he used private accounts for state business, emails found after his re-election last November show that email exchanges with top aides and others included topics such as vetoes, the state budget, and his speeches. Florida law allows private email accounts but requires the emails be turned over if requested. Scott is currently being sued for flouting the law and ignoring public record requests.
  • Another Florida politician, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, deleted emails from his private account while serving in state government at the same time that he used this personal account for business related to his official duties.
  • Kansas has a bill would require disclosure of official emails from private accounts in response to the budget director for GOP Gov. Sam Brownback using a private email account at least twice in December to circulate a summary of budget proposals being considered by the administration. Two lobbyists with ties to the governor were in the group receiving the emails, weeks before lawmakers saw details of the governor’s budget proposals.
  • In New Mexico, GOP Gov. Susana Martinez has been sued by news organizations seeking access to her work and travel schedules, cellphone calls, and expenses of her security detail. A state district judge ruled last month that Martinez’s personal and political calendars are not public records because the documents were maintained by Martinez on her personal devices.
  • While calling Clinton’s use of a private email address an “outrage,” Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker is in the midst of a controversy surrounding his use of a private email address.
  • In New Jersey, GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s administration communicated through private emails and was chastised by lawyers hired by his team to investigate the lane closing at the George Washington Bridge.
  • Both Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry conducted official business from their private email accounts and have not released the emails for public scrutiny.

The GOP attack on Clinton’s emails managed to draw attention from another important progressive position. She was at the UN to celebrate the effects of the 1995 U.N. Women’s Conference for the grassroots empowerment of women. The attack on Clinton at that specific event was a parallel to Fox network’s reporting on President Obama’s speech in Selma about the during struggle for voting rights: the entire conservative focus was how George W. Bush’s was supposedly cropped out of official White House photographs. Jeb Bush was governor of Florida during the voting debacle in a state that actually voted for W. Bush’s opponent but was given to W. by Republican judges.

The controversy about Hillary Clinton’s emails is not irrelevant. Neither is the massive hypocrisy that has emerged from the criticism. The Bush/Cheney White House lost millions of important emails, Mitt Romney spend a great deal of time to hide his public emails during his most recent presidential campaign, and previous Secretaries of State send emails that the public will most likely never see. A “fair and balanced” media would highlight those issues with the same fervor that it has with the Clinton emails.

March 16, 2015

Cotton’s Letter to Iran Disgusts Both Left, Right

Filed under: Foreign policy,War — trp2011 @ 9:50 PM
Tags: , , ,

Talking points for the GOP for decades have been “compassionate conservativism” and  trickle-down economics as they claim that the rising tide will lift all boats. Neither conservative economic philosophy nor analogy has proven successful. The real GOP philosophy is corporate rule, low wages, and war, that adds money to the coffers of the wealthy. The 114th Congress has launched its boat onto the waters to drown any policies such as repairing the infrastructure, educating people, helping workers in a crisis, addressing climate change—anything that would contribute to the welfare of the people in the United States.

The current goal of the new GOP Senate is war, as evidenced by Tom Cotton (R-AK), architect of the letter to Iran, that awkwardly tells its leaders that Congress, not the president, is in control of foreign policy. In a speech to the Heritage Foundation, Cotton demanded a halt to any negotiations with Iran explaining that this is the intended consequence of congressional action. In short, “We want war.”

Cotton is riding a bit lower after his appearance yesterday on CBS’ Face the Nation. Other senators have demonstrated their abysmal background in foreign policy, but Cotton may have topped them when he said that Iran’s occupation of Tehran shows the country’s quest for regional domination. In fact, Tehran is the capital of Iran. He also said that he would agree to a deal with Iran only if they immediately dismantled their nuclear weapons—which they don’t have. Cotton wants to duplicate the start of war with Iraq in 2003 with a much worse consequence. Host Bob Schieffer also asked Cotton a very pointed question which made him slightly uncomfortable:

Cotton: “The fact that President Obama doesn’t see this letter as way to get more leverage at the negotiating table just underscores that he is not negotiating for the hardest deal possible.”

Schieffer: “Are you planning to contact any other of our adversaries? Do you plan to check with the North Koreans to make sure they know any deal has to be approved by the Congress?”

Cotton (smiling nervously): “Right now I and most every other senator is focused on stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Soon after the letter became public, a few people tried to defend Cotton with his military record in the Gulf. That failed after others pointed out that negotiator Secretary of State John Kerry has a much more distinguished military record.

cotton cartoon

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said the letter warning that any nuclear deal could be scrapped by a new president was “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” […]

“All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change, but the American senators are officially announcing that at the end of the term of their current government, their commitments will be considered null and void.”

People on the political right have been as critical as those on the left.

 

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and an aide in both Bush administrations, said partisan overtures such as the GOP letter make the world more uncertain, dangerous, and disorderly.

 

George Pataki, a former Republican governor of New York, said: “Just imagine if, come 2017, there’s a Republican president and a Democratic Congress. … Would Republican senators want a Democratic Senate sending a letter to a country when the president is engaged in negotiations? I don’t think so.”

 

Fox host Greta Van Susteran said during an appearance on ABC: “I think that letter was horrific. It end runs the president, which I think is terrible. I think they could have achieved the same goal without sending a letter becoming pen pals with the leadership of Iran.”

A major concern from the GOP leadership is that the letter, signed by 47 senators, will hurt its party. One Republican called the letter “a disaster” because “the Democrats have totally framed and owned the debate, and our GOP senators are getting pummeled.” This position is accurate, with conservative newspapers that endorsed Republican senatorial candidates in the last election are now chastising their choices for signing the letters.

 

The Ohio Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cincinnati Enquirer that endorsed Rob Portman in 2010: “The magnitude of this disgraceful decision,” a Plain Dealer editorial said, “shows the degree to which partisanship has gobbled up rationality on foreign policy.” (Plain Dealer) The letter “diminishes the dignity of the Senate by disparaging the president and presenting an amateur lesson on U.S. governance.” (Cincinnati Enquirer)

 

The Nashua’s (NH) Telegraph which endorsed Kelly Ayotte in 2010: “One wonders how loud and angry the Republican response would have been if a petty clan of Democratic senators had written an open letter to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev [during nuclear arms talks with Washington].”

 

The Peoria (IL) Journal Star which endorsed Mark Kirk in 2010: “Our expectations were higher of Kirk.”

 

The Salt Lake Tribune (UT) which endorsed Orrin Hatch in 2012: “The senators seem determined to build tensions in the Middle East, endanger Israel and greatly increase the chances that the United States will wind up taking military action against Iran.” Headline reads, “Lee, Hatch join a foolish campaign.” [It is to be noted that this newspaper, in the heart of Mormon country, endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2012.]

 

The Reno (NV) Gazette-Journal which endorsed Dean Heller in 2012: “The ones who may not fully understand how the U.S. government works are Heller and the other signatories…. Imagine if during George W. Bush’s presidency, the majority of Democrats in the U.S. Senate had written to the leaders of Iraq or Afghanistan that they should not take seriously any agreements hammered out with the White House and our allies because Democrats will try at the earliest opportunity to undo them.”

 

A huge irony surrounding Cotton’s letter is congressional members’ failure to even discuss—let alone debate or vote on—the war against the self-described Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It’s been going on for over seven months with more than 2,600 airstrikes and the deployment of about 3,000 troops. As GOP members of Congress wail about the president extending his powers, they have taken no action to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) allowing for continued expansion of war powers for the executive branch. The GOP will subvert the president by secretly inviting Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress and send a subversive letter to Iran, but they won’t take any action in Congress to take over the powers for themselves.

 

Raised by Democratic parents, Cotton’s “my-way-or-the-highway” philosophy was honed at Harvard where he wrote a thesis agreeing with his perception of the Founder’s opposition to democracy because people are inherently selfish, narrow-minded, and impulsive. According to Cotton, the United States must be led by a class of intellectually superior officeholders whose ambition sets them above other men. In other words, men like him.

 

Cotton voted against $300 million in federal funding for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock although he tried to convince voters that he had supported the hospital. In the House he was the only Arkansas Republican to vote twice against the farm bill and five times against disaster-aid funding, two areas important to rural Southerners. He was also the only Arkansan to vote for a budget that slashed spending, voucherized Medicare, and raised the Social Security age to 70. He wants food stamps cut because too many recipients live “high on the hog,” and he voted against equal pay legislation and the Violence Against Women Act. He opposed the relief bill for Hurricane Sandy was that it was rushed through, exactly like the letter to Iran as senators were leaving town. Cotton has shown “a harsh, unyielding, judgmental political philosophy, one that makes little allowance for compassion or human weakness,” according to journalist Molly Ball in The Atlantic.

 

This is the man who is leading 47 senators and at least five wannabe senators around by their noses.

March 15, 2015

Christians Support AR Rep. Harris despite New Allegations

Arkansas, the first state to elect a woman to the Senate, now has Tom Cotton to represent the people in the U.S. Senate. A sitting senator for just over one month, Cotton has gained international notoriety for authoring a hawkish letter intended to close U.S. negotiations with Iran and then persuaded 46 other senators to sign it. Donors intent on the U.S. supporting Israel in a war against Iran provided most of Cotton’s $13.9 campaign funds. Apparently, they got their money’s worth.

Another Arkansan legislator recently attracted attention for his “gifting” adopted children to others, including a child molester. The two girls, sisters, were in foster care because a male relative had sexually abused the older girl and left her traumatized. The last week has shown more fallout about Harris and his claims.

The Harris family said they gave the girls up because of the children’s violent nature. Marsha Harris told the babysitter that the girls were demonically possessed and that they had to be kept separate because they could communicate telepathically. Before isolating the middle girl in her bedroom, the Harrises removed all books, toys, and colorful clothing from the middle girl “because a demon told her not to share…Demons told her to not appreciate [her toys] and all that, so they took away all the toys and her colored clothes.” The girls was monitored with a video camera, and even their babysitter was told not to talk with them.  When the Harrises felt these actions were unsuccessful, they hired an exorcist from Alabama to cast out the girl’s demons.

Harris, a self-identified Christian, also owns and operates a Christian dayschool where an employee said that workers would also try to rid the children of their demons. If children were “acting up,” the employee said, “they would pray on the kids, do a circle around them, put their hands on their heads, saying, trying to rebuke demons.” After she suggested other ways to discipline the children, she was fired. Before then, however, Marsha Harris complained to the employee about the adopted girls’ demons. Despite its religious focus, Harris’ school has received over $4 million from taxpayers since 2010.

Foster families where the children stayed have disputed all Harris’ statements, including the ones about the girls’ violent nature. Craig and Cheryl Hart, an experienced foster family that housed the two younger girls for a year and a half prior to their adoption, claim that the Harrises had been warned several times that the girls were not a good fit with the family because of the children’s traumatic background including neglect, violent abuse, and sexual molestation.

Harris said that he and his wife had used therapy that they learned from Nancy Thomas’ book, When Love Is Not Enough, on reactive attachment disorder (RAD), despite the lack of this diagnosis for the children. In a 2006 report, the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children condemned unproven treatment methods that border on abuse and specifically cited Thomas’ work. “Treatments” include absolute control over children, including strict regulations on their movements, and extremely limited diets of bland, unappetizing food, forced sitting and facing the wall, and “holding therapy” which forcibly holds children down through feelings of rage and powerlessness until they submit. Children may also be assigned to hours of pointless, repetitive chores. A devout Christian, Thomas has no medical or psychotherapeutic training but makes a good living through her personal methodology. Psychology professor Jean Mercer says these RAD therapies mistakenly equate obedience with attachment and equates these to outdated religious child rearing philosophies that emphasize children’s submission above all else.

The youngest daughter told investigators that Marsha Harris “…touched her with a spanky thing,” going on to say it was a pink whip that made her bottom hurt. The girl also told investigators that one time Justin Harris “…touched her maybe with a stick outside.” She said she cried when he did that.

A Harris friend and DHS official, Cecile Blucker, pushed through the adoption, despite misgivings stated by state officials. A former DHS employee said that it was “true” that the wishes of the local adoption team were not followed because of Blucker. Harris said that Blucker knew he had given away the children. DHS refused to comment.

Cheryl Hart said that other objections came from a team working on the adoption: DHS caseworkers, adoption specialists, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and therapists from Ozark Guidance, and a mental health provider. Later they gave tentative approval, with conditions. She described a court hearing leading up to the Harrises’ adoption:

“The ad litem attorney—you know, the one who is representing only the interests of the children said, ‘When we met less than a couple of days ago, everyone’s recommendation was for these kids to not go to this home. Now, what has happened in the last 24 hours that everyone’s recommendation has changed?’

“Harris’ face was getting all red, and the ad litem asked him, ‘Did you make calls?’ And he finally said, ‘I did what I had to do to get these girls.’ I expected the judge would [stop the adoption] but she gave them the oldest girl.” The younger two soon followed.”

Before events turned sour for Harris, he used the oldest girl, then his foster child, in his 2012 campaign ads, in conflict with DHS regulations. DHS specifically prohibits the public use of photos or any other media that would compromise a foster child’s anonymity. This girl is the one that was institutionalized after living with the Harrises before adoption by a therapeutic foster family where she is doing well. Instead of seeking help from DHS for either of their adopted children, the Harrises gave them to Eric Francis, a serial predator who had molested the six-year-old.

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Conservative Christian legislators are still protecting Harris. State Rep. David Meeks wrote that he wouldn’t “throw someone I consider a friend under the bus” because of a “tabloid [that is] out to destroy Conservatives, Christians and are willing to spin, lie, or make up stuff to do it.”

Secretary of State Mark Martin posted a response on his Facebook to a recommendation that Harris resign by saying that she was “making a judgement [sic] based upon misinformation by a vile socialist anti-Christian propaganda blog about one of the most righteous seeming, humble, and gentle men I have ever met in my life.” In another exchange, he wrote, “This judgement [sic] against the Harris’ [sic] is the most hypocritically self-righteous bull I have ever heard.” Harris originally represented Martin’s former district.

In the first months of his first term as governor, Asa Hutchinson said, “I don’t have an inspector general’s office. I don’t have a budget that will cover hiring independent investigators, and if we did, they don’t have subpoena authority.” Other high-ranking Republicans, who want to stay anonymous, blame DHS.

Records show that Harris used his influence over the DHS in the legislature. Although at least 30 emails dealing with specific adoption and custody cases were withheld from the public, the ones released, several from March 2013 during Harris’ push for the adoption, showed a pattern of threats to DHS. After a meeting with DHS wasn’t scheduled as quickly as Harris wanted, he blocked the legislation that DHS wanted. The routine bill shepherded through legislature by fellow Republicans had already passed the state senate 34-0. After the House managed to get the bill, it passed 88-0 with Harris not voting. His emails indicated that the meeting he had demanded was a personal one, not one that had anything to do with the legislative votes, although his attorney denied this.

Harris continues to deny any wrongdoing and says that he will not resign from the legislature.

March 14, 2015

Fracking Affects Everyone

Until this year, large oil and gas corporations have successfully hidden the contents of its fracking fluid, the chemicals that is added to water and sand to release oil and gas. All people knew was that it caused health problems and probably deaths from the pollution of water, soil, and air. In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring disclosure of these chemicals and established air and water monitoring near fracking sites. This month the state stopped some drilling because it threatened drinking water sources, and officials admitted that they violated federal law because they hadn’t protected water sources from fracking pollution. A report stated that, in addition to excessive amounts of carcinogenic chemicals, the wastewater carried thousands of times more radioactive radium than considered safe by the state’s public health goals. The reporting in some areas is incomplete, and records are missing.

These chemicals cause health problems from headaches and nausea to benign and malignant tumors. Families living near a fracking site in California found black water smelling of sewage pouring out their taps. One woman reported that her dog has cancer and one of her daughters has skin issues. The Golden State Water Company has vouched for the water’s safety although it has not done any tests.

A Texas of University study found 18 times the safe amount of arsenic in U.S. drinking water. The closer the source to fracking sites, the higher the levels of arsenic. Investigators also found excessive amounts of other deadly chemicals such as selenium, strontium, ethanol, and methanol. Toxic chemicals and gas found in Wyoming led to residents being advised to no longer drink tap water or shower/bath in an unventilated room. The EPA research study has been turned over to the state of Wyoming where its funding comes from the company under investigation for the contamination.

The U.S. Geological Survey has also found that fracking is the main reason for the great increase in earthquakes throughout the central United States, something that other studies have long indicated.  http://www.care2.com/causes/fracking-confirmed-as-the-cause-of-earthquakes-in-ohio.html  From 1975 to 2008, Oklahoma averaged one to three earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater a year. That number began to skyrocket with 564 quakes with a magnitude of 3 or greater in 2014, almost six times as many as the year before. Nineteen were magnitude 4 or over. With a 22,900-percent increase in tectonic events since 2008, Oklahoma now has three times as many earthquakes as California. Oklahoma scientists have known about the link between fracking and earthquakes for at least five years but kept quite to keep in gas and oil industry happy. These earthquakes are moving across the border into Kansas, and a new study again shows that fracking is causing earthquakes in Ohio.

Municipalities in Ohio can also not protect themselves from fracking through local ordinances as New York state has done in the past. The state Supreme Court ruled by a 4-3 vote that the state has “exclusive authority” and that cities and counties can neither ban nor regulate fracking through zoning laws or other restrictions. For now, oil and gas companies have won in Ohio.

Fracking is also rapidly depleting the water supply in the United States. One well requires 4 million gallons, the same consumption as 3,000 families for ten years. The U.S. has 1.1 million wells. Parts of California are suffering the worst drought in 1,200 years, and last year frackers poured more than 3 billion gallons of polluted drinking water into aquifers in just that state.

Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought. Fracking those wells used 97 billion gallons of water, half of this water in Texas which expects to double production in the next five years. In the heart of Texas, local aquifer levels have dropped by up to 300 feet over the last few years, and many west Texas reservoirs are at 25-percent capacity. Twenty-nine communities across Texas could run out of water in 90 days.

After municipalities tired of taking their fracking concerns to a deaf Texas legislature, Denton passed a ban on fracking. Legislators are now trying to move any control to the state where “the expertise is,” according to state Rep. Phil King.

Ohio has also suffered from a number of explosions from fracking. In December 25 families were evacuated for at least three days because of a natural-gas leak that crews couldn’t stop and could explode at any time. Last May, a blowout spilled oil into a Ohio river tributary, a source of drinking water for residents. The next month, a fire at a Halliburton fracking site blew up trucks while thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals spilled into a Ohio river tributary, killing 70,000 fish. A well rupture in October caused 400 families to be evacuated. That was a few days after a worker at a fracking site was burned and a pipeline ignited several acres of woods. Ohio law doesn’t require fracking companies to reveal the chemicals that they use.

Almost a year ago, Colorado investigated a spike in fetal abnormalities such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects on the state’s western slope near a large number of natural gas wells. Although the state reported that it found no connection between the wells and the fetal abnormalities, glaring gaps existed in their examination, including a lack of water testing. Scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have determined that oil and gas operations on Colorado’s front range are pumping almost seven times more benzene into the air than previously estimated.

Health problems, water shortage, food contamination, earthquakes, explosions—these are a few of the problems from fracking. And there are more:

  • Housing Crisis: As a large number of people move to small towns for work at the wells, property owners double or triple the rents, forcing life-long residents to leave their homes.
  • More Public Assistance: New money in small towns drives up inflation, leaving formerly self-sufficient people no longer able to provide for themselves.
  • Traffic Jams: Trucks making thousands of trips to haul away hazardous material monopolize streets, and emergency vehicles may not get to critical areas in a timely fashion.
  • Truck Crashes: Some of the highest rates of vehicle accidents occur in fracking towns, especially on rural roads. Crashes are especially disastrous when trucks carry waste material and natural gas, annually costing fracking counties an additional $28 million.
  • Increased Crime and Arrests: Transient natural gas workers tend to cause more trouble; law enforcement officers in fracking towns have reported a 17-percent increase in disorderly conduct arrests.
  • Alcoholism: Bored workers with time and money to spend drink more, resulting in a spike in bar brawls and less safe communities. Officers also see a 12-percent jump in public intoxication arrests.
  • Sexual Assault: Popular fracking in North Dakota has led to one of the highest single men to women ratios in the country with 20 percent more single men than available women in fracking towns. Spikes in sexual assault cases have led to women being harassed and followed in public.
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections: Rural Pennsylvania hospitals found an increase of over 30 percent in rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea after fracking arrived, a 60-percent higher infection rate than in non-fracked areas.

People who live in areas where they don’t directly suffer from air and water issues, proximity to explosions and earthquakes, and loss of land may think that fracking is not their problem. Yet companies are going farther afield to dump radioactive waste, as North Dakota ships it to places such as Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Montana.     Even worse is the way that the radioactive waste permeates the entire food and water supply across the nation. Exposed animals and fish have made their way into the food system, and vegetables and fruit are grown in contaminated soil. Eating food contaminated with radium and other heavy metals leads to cancer and other health problems. Fracking is a problem for everyone.

March 13, 2015

Dueling Gun Bills in Congress

Proposed gun laws have been mostly flying under the radar with the wild debacles of the new GOP-controlled Congress, but congressional members on both sides of the issue are proposing gun laws. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), whose career took a radical shift after she was seriously wounded by a shooter four years ago, went Capital Hill to support reintroduction of legislation in the House to strengthen background checks for gun buyers.  Co-sponsor Peter King of New York has been joined by three other Republicans.

The federal bill would require background checks on private sales at gun shows, over the Internet, and through classified ads, transactions during which a check is not usually run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It would also strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System by providing states with incentives to improve reporting of criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to be included in the system’s database. Giving exceptions to transfers between family and friends, the bill would make misuse of gun-sale records a felony.

The NRA hit a new low when it tweeted its ridicule of the disabled woman, “Gabby Giffords: Everyone Should Have to Pass Background Check My Attacker Passed.” The gunman who massacred Giffords and others in Arizona had passed a background check, but Giffords was not supporting the law because it would have stopped that shooter. Law enforcement and criminal justice experts think background checks would reduce gun violence. Congress couldn’t pass sensible gun laws with a majority of Democrats, and it certainly won’t do it with a GOP majority. The NRA stupidity was a meaningless cheap shot.

Meanwhile Giffords’ home state has passed a bill removing bans on sawed-off shotguns and gun silencers. The new governor has not signed the bill yet but is expected to do so. Because of the state’s loose laws, Guns & Ammo magazine has awarded Arizona “best state for gun owners” during the last two years. Arizona plans to get the award for the coming year with pending laws such as preventing cities and towns from enforcing federal gun laws and allowing guns into such public buildings such as libraries so that people can protect themselves.

On the other side, GOP members in Congress, some of them the same people who thought that it was a good idea to undermine the president by communicating directly with the Iranian ayatollah, have again brought up the gun reciprocity bill allowing concealed carry in any state of the nation with a permit from just one state. Co-sponsor Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) compared gun permits to driver’s licenses. He is a strong states-rights legislator—until a federal law gives him what he wants.

After Cornyn justified the law with a comparison between driver’s licenses and gun permits, columnist Gail Collins pointed out the difference. She wrote that people can probably exhibit “a certain level of accomplishment when it comes to the basics of stopping, starting and steering.” On the other hand, those in Mississippi with gun permits have exhibited only proof that they can fill out applications. Virginia has only an online course, and Florida gives permits to people who live anywhere in the U.S. if they contribute $112 to the Florida economy. In 2007, the Sun Sentinel discovered that over 1,400 of these contributors had pled guilty or no contest to felonies and still received permits. In the same six-month period, Florida gun permits were given to 216 people with outstanding warrants, 28 people with active domestic violence injunctions against them, and six registered sex offenders. States with lax gun laws have given the NRA almost everything they want. The NRA will use a potential federal law to raise more money.

open carry

Even staunch NRA member Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is opposing a NRA-backed bill in his state that would eliminate any permits or training for carrying concealed guns. The bill passed both the state House and Senate. These are the people who would be carrying guns in any state if the reciprocity law passes.

In Ann Arbor (MI), 22-year-old Joshua Wade thought it was a good idea to open carry his revolver and ammunition to his younger sister’s choir performance. Although a teacher called the police, they couldn’t do anything because Michigan permits open carry everywhere. Ann Arbor Public Schools reviewed their gun policies and issued a state of concern about what had happened. At the next meeting, Wade and 25 of his friends came to openly display their loaded guns. Most of the 200 teachers, parents, and other residents, didn’t want guns in their schools, and 40 of them spoke out against open carry in schools. Wade told the crowd that carrying guns in schools “just makes sense.” They laughed at him. After he quit spouting nonsense, Ann Arbor’s school board passed a resolution demanding that Michigan’s legislature let them to ban guns in schools.

Wade’s cause isn’t helped by another incident in Michigan when Shawn Nixon of the Hell’s Saints Open Carry Group carried his gun around a school in Madison Heights and started a confrontation with police. Terrified teachers, students, and administrators went on lockdown. Proud of his behavior, Nixon posted a YouTube of his actions. One of his statements was “I don’t have to answer your questions, I’m not under arrest, but you do have to answer my questions, you’re public servants and my tax dollars pay you.” Mom’s Demand Action For Gun Sense In America and Everytown For Gun Safety are using clips from Nixon’s YouTube to show the need for stronger and common sense gun laws.

The far-right NRA is now being attacked by farther-right group Glenn Beck who demanded that anti-tax Grover Norquist not be allowed on the NRA board. According to Beck, Norquist is a front man for the Muslim Brotherhood and is therefore “a very bad man.” NRA’s Wayne LaPierre said that thousands of members are threatening to cancel, causing LaPierre to investigate Norquist and publish the results on the NRA website.

U.S. Air Force Sharpshooter Michael Wimberly has a message for the people who want unlimited rights to carry a gun anywhere with no training. As a child in Texas, he was trained that the only reason for a gun is to kill.

“The mentality of many gun owners today is a far cry from what I knew growing up. What is heard from open-carry fans seems to be a fascination with guns — a swagger-inspired fascination that possessing a pistol in a public forum will make everyone safe. The chutzpah of open-carry advocates: We will be the protectors against the bad guy!

“But I wonder: When the bullets fly, will police know who is the good guy? Maybe one will be a hero and then again maybe not when others pull their guns and begin to fire. Hero-seekers are a danger to themselves and others.”

If the reciprocity law passes Congress with a veto-proof vote, more and more people like George Zimmerman will wander the country causing millions of dollars in protecting those who don’t know if it’s the “good guy” or the “bad guy with a gun.”

Wimberly described his concern when he sees someone with a firearm in public: “Something tells me you fail to appreciate the wisdom of the 1890 Texas Legislature, which passed the no-carry law that served us well for 125 years. Lawmakers of the day had the keen understanding about what they were doing and why.” Texas wasn’t the only place with gun sense. During the 19th century, Dodge City, Wichita, Tombstone–indeed all of Wyoming–had gun ordinances that prohibited carrying guns in town.

The Second Amendment: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The meaning of the Second Amendment: you can bear your arms, but you need to be trained, and carrying those arms is to be regulated by the government.

March 12, 2015

Infamous 47 Senators Face Backlash over Treasonous Letter

The past week has seen news issues such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email, two drunken Secret Service agents disturbing a crime scene at the White House, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott preventing state EPA officials from uttering the term “climate change.” All these major stories, however, have been eclipsed by the letter that 47 GOP Senators sent to Iran in an effort to either join Iranian hardliners in their effort to stop negotiations stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons or undermine the White House administration in working for a peaceful resolution with Iran.

Sen. Tom Cotton, the attempted coup’s leader, received $13.9 for his senatorial campaign, much of these funds from Israeli hard-line sources, almost $1 million from the Emergency Committee for Israel, that support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in going to war with Iran. Cotton has also called for supplying Israel with B-52s and so-called “bunker-buster” bombs for a possible strike against Iran. He has had a good week, going to the top of TV bookers’ lists and being sought out by colleagues on foreign policy. As such, he finds himself in “tall cotton,” a farmer’s term for success from good prices for crops. The attention, however, may come from his idiocy. Cotton is not known for his connection with reality and even takes pride in his ability to lie to the public. While a U.S. representative, Cotton told uninsured people not to use the health care marketplace because their personal information would be “stolen by Russian mobsters.” Others, however, may suffer from the continuing outrage about the senators’ treasonous action.

Lacking any sense of propriety, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) used the letter for fundraising.  A communication from his “Reclaim American PAC” stated that a $25 donation “will allow us to immediately fight back against these outrageous attacks [against the letter signers].” He should instead be apologizing for telling Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. can’t fight ISIS because the president is afraid of antagonizing Iran. Rubio said, “Tell me why I’m wrong.” Kerry did. “Because the facts completely contradict that,” he said, before he offered more details in a classified session. ISIL is a threat to Iran, and the country appreciates the U.S. campaign against the terrorists. Rubio repeated his false theory, and Kerry described it as “flat wrong,” following the statement with information about his meeting with King Solomon who supports U.S. actions against ISIL.

Facing the outrage across the country, other senators are trying to cover their sabotage like a cat in its sandbox. Republican aides tried to excuse the letter as a lighthearted attempt to show Iran that Congress should have a part in the negotiations. Other aides described it as a “cheeky” reminder of congressional rights, accusing the administration of having “no sense of humor.”

Failing in this tack, the GOP blamed President Obama for their letter. If he had consulted legislators or not threatened a proposed bill to give them the final vote on the agreement, they wouldn’t have had to write the letter, they said. This argument  also came from both Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who did not sign the letter, and hopeful GOP presidential candidate, Jeb Bush.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) admitted that the letter might not have been the best idea. He also said, “I saw the letter, I saw that it looked reasonable to me and I signed it, that’s all. I sign lots of letters.” Next time he might want to actually read what he signs. His next excuse was that “everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he signed it to “strengthen the president’s hand.” He has lost any credibility as a non-interventionist, non-nation builder libertarian Republican by saying that he wants to create a new nation for the Kurds by giving them arms. He wants a new independent country, Kurdistan, by redrawing borders of Syria and Iraq. This claim came two weeks after he told Tea Party libertarians that the GOP should stop attempts at international nation building.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) might want to reconsider her signature; as an active duty lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, she may have violated her state’s Code of Military Justice, specifically, Chapter 29B.85:

“Any person subject to this code who uses contemptuous words against the president, the governor, or the governor of any other state, territory, commonwealth, or possession in which that person may be serving, shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

Chapter 29B.1 notes that “this chapter applies to all members of the state military forces, while not in federal service.” Thomas Jefferson, one of the constitutional founders who Ernst reveres, wrote, “[The president] being the only channel of communication between this country and foreign nations, it is from him alone that foreign nations or their agents are to learn what is or has been the will of the nation….”  An Iowa National Guard representative said that Ernst is an on active duty, but Ernst claimed on CPAC that “today I serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.”

Before the letter, some Democrats had considered joining GOP senators to pass a bill requiring more sanctions against Iran. The plan that would kill Iranian negotiations is likely dead.

Historically, the GOP has fought congressional interference with White House foreign policy. In 1986, then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, joined by Cotton’s letter signer Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), insisted that President Reagan had the constitutional authority to ignore the congressional ban on aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. That was when Reagan provided weapons to Iran in its war with Saddam Hussein, who was backed by the United States at that time. Cheney’s support of the president’s constitutional powers applied to all issues and all occupants of the White House:

“[C]ongressional overreaching has systematic policy effects…. Congress’ efforts to dictate diplomatic bargaining tactics, as well as the efforts by individual members to conduct back channel negotiations on their own, make it extremely difficult for the country to sustain a consistent bargaining posture for an extended time period, whomever the President and whatever the policy.”

A fact-check pointed out the flaws in Cotton’s letter. President Obama is working on an “executive agreement,” not a treaty, and the Supreme Court has ruled that the president has authority to carry these out. Cotton maintains that future Congresses could “modify” the agreement, but the agreement would be supported by five permanent UN Security Council members plus one: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, plus Germany. Modification requires all signers to agree to changes. Even if Congress demanded this action from the United States, at least 67 senators would have to vote in favor of this to override a veto, an unlikely number now and perhaps less likely after the 2016 election which could lose some GOP senatorial positions. Even with a GOP president, the action would require 60 votes.

Reneging on an executive agreement may violate international law, and doing so would certainly endanger the nation’s diplomatic credibility. At this time, 95 percent of international agreements are done through executive agreements; reversing one of these would create global doubt to the United States commitment to most of the existing international agreements.

Asked about the letter from the infamous 47, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.  It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.  This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.”

Zarif expressed the same astonishment that at least 22 major newspapers across the country expressed on their editorial pages. Like the media, Zarif pointed out that the senators fail to understand both international law and their own Constitution as it pertains to presidential powers in foreign policy.

As of this evening, a White House petition against the 47 letter signers has reached almost 260,000 signatures.

March 11, 2015

Walker Supports ‘Takers’ in Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker has created a new category of “takers” in his state of Wisconsin. Opposed to people getting something for free, he has signed the misnamed “right to work” law that allows people not to join the unions at their places of employment. To some people, this is “freedom,” but unions are not free to protect and negotiate for only their members. They must do this for all workers in places that unions cover. That means employees who don’t join unions but still benefit from the hard work of the organization are actually taking something free from the people who do pay for these services.

The law makes Wisconsin the 25th “right-to-work state” and the first state since Michigan and Indiana in 2012. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provided wording, also used by Wisconsin, for this bill and those being pushed through legislatures in other states. The takers of Wisconsin are funded by ALEC backers such as the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and Exxon Mobile. This law follows Walker’s stripping collective-bargaining rights from many state workers in Wisconsin.

Although the ALEC-worded RTW bill may succeed in Missouri, it has run into problems in Montana, Colorado, West Virginia, New Mexico, Kentucky, and New Hampshire—at least for now. Michigan has introduced a RTW extension for police, fire, and public safety unions. Kentucky is passing RTW on the local level, and billionaire GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order for RTW in Illinois public unions. On the federal level, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a “National Right-to-Work Act,” and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced its companion act in the House.

Walker said, “This [law] sends a powerful message across the country and across the world.” His message is his move to the right as he prepares for a presidential campaign. His email message immediately after he signed the bill is that he wanted money for his campaign when he asked for donations of $10, $100 and $1,000.

Walker consistently reneges on his statements. Until a few weeks ago, he denied that he would make Wisconsin a RTW state and claimed throughout his reelection campaign, “Private-sector unions are my partner in economic development.” Before his 2010 election, he told newspapers that he would negotiate with public sector unions; his anti-collective bargaining bill was introduced immediately after he took office in 2011. Two years ago, he was in favor of giving undocumented workers a chance at citizenship if they obeyed the law. Now he reversed that opinion to join another possible presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The governor’s position on abortion has also reversed. Before last fall’s election, he told voters, “I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options.” He claimed he supported a bill that “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” Now he plans to sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks in constitutional violation of Roe v.Wade and removing the decision from a woman and her doctor.

Wooing Iowa, he switched his opposition to mandating ethanol and other renewable fuels. Now he wants to continue the Renewable Fuel Standard. Iowans might want to use caution in believing him. Walker will no doubt flip his promises for any personal gain.

ALEC has been helped by the 60-year-old National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC), led by fundamentalist Christian Greg Mourad, that also receives huge donations from the Koch brothers. The organization was co-founded by right-winger Fred A. Hartley, who co-sponsored the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act restricting unions and also co-founded the John Birch Society. The NRTWC has been behind the skyrocketing income inequality in the United States. CEOs who earned 20 times a worker’s pay 50 years ago, now receive at least 300 times the worker’s pay. Between 1973 and 2014, public-sector union membership dropped by 78 percent. Unionization and minimum wages helped equalize the distribution of wages. That’s why the Koch brothers are determined to get rid of both.

In a comparison of the share of income going to the middle 60 percent of population, the workers in the ten states with the lowest rates of union membership brought home 46.8 percent of total income, and the ten states with the highest rates of union membership brought home 47.4 percent of total income. It may sound like a small percentage, but the difference is equivalent to billions of dollars.

Abdur Chowdhury, professor of economics at Marquette University in Milwaukee, explained why Walker’s legislation could annually cost Wisconsin $4.5 billion in lost income and revenue: “If our income goes down, we spend less money on groceries.” Walker also loses money for his state: less income means less tax revenue, at least $234 million. The state won’t get this back from the wealthy and corporations because of the massive tax cuts that Walker gave them.

Despite claims from ALEC “economists” that RTW laws boost per capita personal income, average wages for all occupations in RTW states were about $4 an hour lower compared to non-RTW states in 2013. In RTW states, workers have $5,971 lower wages and fewer employers offering pension benefits or health care. Employers looking for skilled workers or a well-developed infrastructure will most likely not go to RTW states because these are less likely to have these advantages. That’s a reason that 400 businesses formed a coalition to oppose the law.

Oklahoma, the first state to pass a RTW law in 2001 for 25 years, was also the first state to do so in the post-NAFTA era of globalization. There has been no positive impact on employment in Oklahoma in the last 14 years. In addition, the number of companies relocating to the state and the number of manufacturing jobs both fell by a third in the first decade after the law was enacted.

Walker is not finished with trying to lower wages for workers. He’s trying to restrict the role of administrative law judges in workers comp disputes and take authority for the system away from the state Department of Workforce Development, a move that has been found unconstitutional in Florida. Also, Wisconsin is one of 32 states with a wage law to “prevent lowball bids from depressing wages,” something that Walker wants to repeal. The third reduction of wages would come from prohibiting “project labor agreements” that bars non-union contractors from working on publicly-funded projects.

Unions in Wisconsin are fighting Walker in creating his new category of takers. The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO with chapters from the International Association of Machinists, and United Steelworkers unions have filed a suit on the basis that the law “deprives the unions of their property without just compensation by prohibiting the unions from charging non-members who refuse to pay for representative services which unions continue to be obligated to provide.” In other words, Walker’s permission for employees to free-load off the unions is unconstitutional.

When Walker was elected, he promised a massive increase in jobs in his state. He failed. Since Walker became governor, job growth, GDP, and decline of unemployment have all lagged behind neighboring states and the nation as a whole. He may fail again with his new RTW law. Seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are RTW. After stopping RTW laws in 2012, Minnesota’s average weekly wage is $877.81, almost ten percent higher than its RTW neighbor Michigan that has a 6.3 percent unemployment rate compared to Minnesota’s 3.6 percent. Indiana, another RTW state, has an average weekly wage of $788.70 and a 5.8 percent unemployment state. Minnesota is one of the five fastest-growing states in the nation since 2012.

RTW Michigan also has a huge budget deficit and no industry coming into the state. Gov. Rick Snyder has had to lower the number of jobs that businesses need to create in order to receive massive tax credits. The worst is yet to come because workers are still operating on contracts made before the 2012 law, something that won’t happen in Wisconsin because the law goes into effect immediately.

Quality of life in RTW states is measurably worse with eight of the worst states in the nation having RTW laws, and eight of the best being non-RTW. RTW states have poorer life expectancy and infant mortality, higher homicide rates, worse pollution, lower voter turnout, less broadband access, lower educational levels, and poorer housing. The 24 RTW states have 34 percent higher rate of deaths on the job in the construction industry. During the 20th century, the middle class grew as unions grew; it began to shrink when unions were weakened through the so-called “right-to-work” laws.

Walker’s legacy will be the bodies that he leaves strewn along his path toward the White House.

March 9, 2015

Will GOP Senators Start World War III?

In an act of possible treason, 47 GOP Senators have joined Iranian extremists in an effort to stop negotiations with Iran. In their attempt to undermine the U.S. foreign policy, the Republicans signed a letter to “leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” declaring the next president could reverse any agreement without legislative approval “with the stroke of a pen.” This action may support Iranian hardliners who want their to develop arsenal of nuclear weapons and lead the Middle East to greater instability.

The White House was not informed about the letter until after it had been sent to Iran, and Democratic senators were also not given advance warning. The secret action of these 47 GOP senators followed House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) secret invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who beat the drums of war in a speech before the U.S. Congress.

President Obama has been working with five other leaders of world powers to keep Iran from having a nuclear bomb. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to go to Switzerland within the next week to complete a framework agreement before the March 24 deadline, two weeks from now. If the pact lasted ten years, the world powers would lift its sanctions against Iran.

Fortunately, Iran leaders sneered at the GOP senators’ letter. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, issued a statement:

“In our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.”

Although the letter would most likely not stop any agreement, it could be used by Iranians if talks falter. The missive was called an “open letter,” meaning a statement and not an intervention in negotiations, but it is unprecedented. The purpose is another attempt to embarrass the president and keep him from carrying out the foreign policy of the United States. As Minority Leader Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-NV) said, “Republicans are undermining our commander-in-chief while empowering the ayatollahs.”

Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) drafted the letter. He said he did it because Iran’s leaders might not understand America’s constitutional system, in case those in Iran don’t know that presidents serve for only two terms. Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith describes the technical mistakes in the letter as “embarrassing”:

“The letter states that ‘the Senate must ratify [a treaty] by a two-thirds vote.’ But as the Senate’s own web page makes clear: ‘The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification.’  Or, as this outstanding 2001 CRS Report on the Senate’s role in treaty-making states (at 117): ‘It is the President who negotiates and ultimately ratifies treaties for the United States, but only if the Senate in the intervening period gives its advice and consent.’ Ratification is the formal act of the nation’s consent to be bound by the treaty on the international plane. Senate consent is a necessary but not sufficient condition of treaty ratification for the United States. As the CRS Report notes: ‘When a treaty to which the Senate has advised and consented … is returned to the President,’ he may “simply decide not to ratify the treaty.”

Negotiations require no congressional action because the president has the power to lift sanctions that he has imposed through his executive orders and suspend others imposed by Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to wait for any action in the Senate until talks with Iran were concluded.

The Republicans who did not sign the letter deserve a great credit. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Foreign Relations Committee chair who has been working with Democrats on Iran legislation, said, “We’ve got a bipartisan effort that’s underway that has a chance of being successful, and while I understand all kinds of people want to weigh in.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) also did not sign. She said it was “more appropriate for members of the Senate to be giving our advice to the president, to Secretary [of State John F.] Kerry and to the negotiators.” The other GOP senators who did not sign the letter are Jeff Flake (AZ), Lamar Alexander (TN), Dan Coats (IN), Thad Cochran (MS), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

Those who signed the letter fail to see that their action destroys any shreds of U.S. integrity for all future negotiations with foreign powers. The signers are part of a free-for-all climate in which they presume they have the autonomy to address foreign government with their own personal opinions—for example, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized President Obama’s actions in Guatemala. Even worse, they have taken this action during delicate negotiations in the sole purpose of creating chaos. The end result is loss of U.S. influence in foreign affairs.

As Vice-President Joe Biden wrote in a statement:

“In 36 years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary—that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.”

The letter’s author, Tom Cotton, has no interest in peace in the Middle East. During his campaign, he described ISIS and Mexican drug cartels joining forces to attack Arkansas as an “urgent problem.” Before he was sworn in, he said he wanted Congress to supply Israel with Boeing-made B-52s and so-called “bunker-buster” bombs. After less than a month in Congress, he called for offensive action and compared the negotiations with Iran to the appeasement of Nazi Germany. He also said that the president was wrong to not send U.S. forces into Syria. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he said, “The more we bomb … the safer we are.” He wants to create a regime change in Iran, just as George W. Bush wanted a regime change in Iraq. Cotton openly declared that he wants more sanctions on Iran to end current negotiations.

Under the current agreement with Iran, the country’s nuclear program has been frozen and is even rolling back while the IAEA has “unprecedented access” to Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to Dylan Williams, a vice president of the pro-Israel advocacy group J Street. All this would end without an agreement with Iran.  Two years ago, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that economic sanctions, diplomacy, international cooperation, and defensive preparedness are having a positive effect on Iran’s nuclear program. The Pentagon stated that Dempsey’s assessment is still “accurate.”

About the new senators who wants to be the leading hawk in the chamber, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said:

“Sen. Cotton is already on his way to marking himself as the premiere warmonger of the 114th Congress. I think this is just the beginning of his efforts to see that we’re involved not just in one war or two wars, but perhaps 15 or 20 wars; that’s the way he’d like to see it.”

Some people have brought up the Logan Act of 1799 that could declare Cotton’s actions as treason. Also the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936):

“The President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude; and Congress itself is powerless to invade it. As Marshall said in his great argument of March 7, 1800, in the House of Representatives, ‘The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.’ Annals, 6th Cong., col. 613.”

That decision has never been overruled; it covers Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to lobby for war in front of Congress.

 

cottonTomorrow, Cotton will attend an event with the National Defense Industrial Association, a lobbying and professional group for defense contractors.  His advocacy for higher military spending and attacks on the Middle East should gain him an increase in his next campaign’s “war chest.”

Patronizing, smug, arrogant, naïve, willful, controlling, ignorant, condescending—it’s hard to find enough words to describe the new senator from Arkansas. All I ask is that he also reinstate the draft to provide the “drone fodder” that World War III will cause. By doing so, people may stop the war hawks across the nation from leaving he United States in perpetual war.

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