Nel's New Day

January 13, 2016

Iran–a Nightmare for the GOP

President Obama’s last State of the Union speech was one of his best, both in delivery and writing. Listening to it was a joy, but even more delightful were the frantic attempts of House Speaker Paul Ryan to keep a straight face, to appear somber and disapproving so that his party not pillory him for reacting in any way that might indicate approval of the president who the GOP is determined to hate. Here’s one of Ryan’s failed attempts.

sotu

The conservatives did have about 16 hours of joy after Iran picked up ten sailors and two Navy patrol boats that wandered into Iranian waters. While Secretary of State John Kerry was negotiating for their return, GOP leaders disparaged the president’s leadership abilities and, as usual, accused him of letting Iran “push us around.” Saint Ronald Reagan came into the dialog as the GOP tried to use the incident to start a war with Iran.

Forbes Senior Political Contributor at Forbes Rick Ungar used Facebook to explain how far off base the Reagan worshippers are:

“One of the advantages of having graduated high school with Abraham Lincoln is that I was quite present during the Reagan administration. I remember all too well when our Marine barracks in Lebanon was bombed during Reagan’s term of office, killing 241 Marines and injuring another 100. Reagan knew who did it- it was Hezbollah with the support of Iran and Syria. How did Ronald Reagan respond?

“First, Reagan assembled his National Security team and hatched a plan to seek retribution by blowing up the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, which housed Iranian Revolutionary Guards that were there to train Hezbollah fighters. The only problem was that Reagan ultimately decided not to do it because it would harm relations with other Arab nations.

“Not only did he not do anything to avenge the deaths of our Marines, four months later he withdrew all of our Marines from Lebanon, never so much as firing a shot in retribution for our dead military. There was no shortage of people at that time who were incensed with that move, just like these armchair quarterbacks who are on Obama’s case because someone took a photograph they don’t like- forget killing over 200 of our finest.”

Like President Obama in the current era, Reagan realized that “carpet bombing” Damascus and Tehran wouldn’t solve any problems: it would just cause more conflict and destroy foreign policy. Yet conservatives follow the war hawks, Israelis, and defense contractors who are salivating for a fight with Iran to further line the pockets of the rich to the loss of U.S. soldiers, economy, civilians, and peace.

The GOP House has been determined to scuttle the Iran deal determined by six major world leaders, but Ryan seems unable to get his members into the chamber to vote in a timely fashion. Today the vote to trash the Iran deal passed on an almost strictly partisan vote of 191 to 106, meaning that over 50 Republicans were missing. Because Ryan kept to the 15-minute limit for voting, something that his predecessor had not done, he had a serious shortage of votes. The House Speaker than promptly scrapped the vote and set a new one for January 26.

The bill would force the president to certify that entities benefiting from lifted sanctions would have to prove they never supported terrorism or Iran’s missile program. The new vote may be too late to stop Iran from regaining about $100 billion of its own assets. Even if the bill had passed, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said, “It’s a waste of all our time” because the president would veto the bill. This is the process, however, that the GOP continually follows—pass only bills that they know the president will veto.

Congress has another Iranian problem in the Supreme Court when it argued in Bank Markazi v. Peterson that the legislature is above the court system. That position didn’t sit well with the justices. Congress had ordered a federal court to determine how the U.S. could give almost $2 billion in security assets from Iranian’s bank to victims (and their families) of Middle East terrorist acts blamed on Iran by using language in its caption, including the case number of the victim’s lawsuit, for a law governing no other lawsuit. Justices seemed to initially go along with the process, but lawyers told the court that Congress could change any pending case in the courts by modifying a law to apply to only one case. Lawyer Theodore B. Olson told Chief Justice John Roberts that Congress does this all the time—in essence, tells the court how it shall rule—even saying that Congress could take such action in a Supreme Court case. Roberts wasn’t happy about Olson’s position.

In another Supreme Court case, Congress is trying to prove that it controls Puerto Rico instead of the country following its own constitution.

Convinced that Iran would not live up to its agreement to stop its path to a nuclear program, Republicans had a bad shock in the end of 2015. Iran has turned over almost all its enriched uranium to the Russians with plans to downgrade the little remaining material to fissionable reactor plates for an internationally supervised test reactor. The country will have no ability to produce weapons-grade material.

This positive move by Iran is not only irreversible but also months ahead of schedule. The country is also in the stages of completing other requirements, including dismantling the mandated number of centrifuges, reconfiguring the Arak heavy water reactor (to close down the pathway via plutonium), and allowing for more intrusive inspections. Although violating UN Security Council resolutions, Iran’s ballistic missile test does not violate the agreement. President Obama said he will address that problem by enforcing sanctions that are not part of the agreement.

Before the completion of the Iran deal, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) got signatures from 47 senators on a letter to Iran stating that the U.S. might not live up to their agreement. Living in relative obscurity since then, Cotton selected the night of President Obama’s last State of the Union speech to spread more lies about the U.S. boats being picked up in Iranian waters. According to the Tea Partier, it was not “coincidental” that Iran had selected that night to “seize” the boats and that the White House was “apologizing for Iran seizing two U.S. Navy vessels and holding 10 sailors hostage.” A minor blip on history was also blown out of proportion by GOP presidential candidates in an effort to score points and appeal to war hawks.

Republicans may have benefitted financially from their virulent opposition to the Iran deal. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials tried to bribe members of Congress to stop the agreement. They may have succeeded. The discussion shows that some legislators conspired with a foreign government to undermine the Commander-in-Chief’s foreign policy agenda—a definition of treason. The GOP has already evidenced its allegiance to Israeli’s lobbying groups such as AIPAC and the Israeli government. Sheldon Adelson, the 20th richest person in the world, spent $30 million on legislators to oppose the Iran deal.

Republicans have a reason other than supporting Israel to stop lifting sanctions on Iran: oil prices. Last spring, guesstimaters said that the price of oil could skyrocket to $250 a barrel with a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Now they wonder if the prices will drop even more because Saudi Arabia will drop its prices to force down those of Iran. With gas prices hovering at $2 per gallon and $30 per barrel, a 70-percent drop in the past 15 months, conservatives in Congress are considering action to raise oil prices. Fracking in the U.S. has caused an oil glut of oil, driving the prices down; thus lawmakers are considering retaliatory trade measures against Saudi Arabia for flooding the market with its own oil. A few years ago, Republicans blamed President Obama for high gas prices; now they complain about low prices.

All the GOP can hope for is a Republican president, one who would start World War III.

August 16, 2015

‘End Times’ Guide Religious Direction

Former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is framing the Iran deal in terms of the Bible, claiming that the UN vote to approve the Iran deal fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah 12:3 that all the nations of the world will unite against Israel, “with the United States leading that charge.” According to Bachmann, God and “heaven’s armies” will use groups like AIPAC to defeat the deal in Congress and in doing so “prove to the world His power and His strength.” She added that people are lucky to be living in these dark times because the world will soon come to an end.

John Hagee concurs, explaining fundamentalist Christian love for Israel with the belief  that Israel is connected to the Christian belief of End Times. Like ISIS, these Christians think that we’re nearing the time when the Rapture will take all those faithful up to heaven while the rest of us burn down below. In 2011, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL), said that if “we stop helping Israel, we lose God’s hand and we’re in big time trouble.” This week, Hagee said:

“God could care less about what we say about Russia, about China, about Iran, but when we as a nation take a stand against Israel, God will take a stand against us.”

A pop-upon Hagee’s website this week states, “Bibi [Netanyahu] Did His Job. Now We Must Do Ours.” Since 2001, his foundation has donated over $58 million to hard-right Israeli organizations, and Christian Zionists have paid millions of dollars for Jews to immigrate to Israel. Over 60 percent of white evangelicals believe that at least half of world Jewry must be in the Land of Israel for the End Times to proceed, and 77 percent of evangelicals think that they are living in the End Times as do 40 percent of all people in the U.S.

Jim Bakker, the televangelist who went to prison for bilking over 152,000 of his flock, is back with a new scam—selling gear and food to survive the End Times. Hoping to instill even more fear from the projected End Times, he advertises:

“New York, Chicago, all of your big cities, will be Hell. The gangs will take what they want. They will kill to take what they want. Then they will start eating bodies of the people they kill.”

This past week he talked about the End Times with Rick Wiles, who has his own issues:

“Add it up: Bird flu is killing tens of millions of chickens and turkeys, a mysterious virus is killing millions of piglets, a mysterious colony-collapse disorder is killing billions of honeybees, California is in the throes of a mega-drought unlike anything seen in over 1,200 years. Why? The answer is very simple: America is in a state of rebellion against almighty God.”

Wiles has had a good talk with God:

“He said, ‘America has dealt treacherously with me as a treacherous wife.’ And He said, ‘She wants what’s beautiful and good and then she began to commit adultery with other men and I forgave her, and she did it again and I forgave her, and she did it again and I forgave her, and she did it again and I forgave her. But now she’s committing homosexual sex with another woman and I cannot look at her anymore.’ He said, ‘I can’t even look at her, she’s not my wife anymore. The divorce is final.’ He told me that on the day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, God went to court too and he got a divorce.”

Bryan Fischer joined Wiles in lambasting same-sex couples through his complaint about their trying to adopt children. Somehow he managed to compare forcing to do things against their will to slavery, ending with the “homosexual lobby” trying to bring “slavery back to the Confederate States of America.” Even if anyone could follow his irrational pretzeling, why would he think that racists in the former Confederacy wouldn’t want a return to slavery?

Rafael Cruz, Christian father of wannabe “Christian” president Ted Cruz is also agonizing about his loss of freedoms. Liberty is important to the elder Cruz because he escaped the Batista regime in Cuba, and he wants everyone here to know how freedom is being taken from us. On the Jan Mickelson show, he listed examples of our lost free will: our ability to buy incandescent light bulbs and our preference of toilet seat is gone. Another myth from Cruz is that the Clean Air Act will regulate the puddles in our own backyard: two mistakes—it’s the Clean Water Act, and it’s not happening. The younger Cruz is equally wacky; he’s claimed that the UN wants to close down all the golf courses in the United States. Racism, uncontrollable gun ownership, healthcare, income inequality, crumbling infrastructure, climate change, lack of food and water aren’t worth a mention, but don’t take away preferred Cruz’s toilet seat.

The War on Christmas has started four months before the actual holiday. Elizabeth Hasselbeck, conservative reject of The View, fired the first salvo from her current position on Fox and Friends when she addressed the story of how people asked for the move of the nativity scene in Belen (NM) from public to private property. The mayor will use taxpayers’ money to go to court because the town is named after Bethlehem. Fox is most likely looking forward to its one-sided “war” after losing the one against Donald Trump.

Outdoing all these ridiculous religious views, however, is this story. The Family Council Action Committee is presenting its first annual “Power of Courage” award to Arkansas state Rep. Justin Harris and another state legislator, Rep. Charlene Fite. Earlier this year Harris “rehomed”—aka gave away—two adopted daughters to a sex offender who then raped the six-year-old daughter. That was after Harris and his wife tried to exorcize the three-year-old and six-year-old girls. FCA’s press release praises the two lawmakers because they “demonstrated courage by standing strong in faith when situations were tough at the State Capitol and they did so with grace. They are consistently models of their Christian values in their homes, their communities, and their churches.” The press release made no mention of Harris’ behavior other than he won’t be seeking reelection.

The Arkansas Times was careful to point out that this news was not satire because it could come straight out of The Onion. The award was to have been presented at an event headlined by GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) until the organizers, the Crawford County Republican Party, asked FCA not to do this at this event.

Despite hate messages from radically-right Christians, the world of religion has some good news this week. Muslim leaders plan to issue a call next week to protect the planet and demand that Islamic followers help the environment. They are taking the same position that Pope Francis has espoused—that humans are stewards assigned to care for the Earth and leave it “a better place than we found it.”

Georgians in the 80th state house district has overturned tradition by electing a Democrat in a district that voted for Mitt Romney by a 56-43 margin. In a special election, Taylor Bennett won the seat over Max Davis by 55 to 45 points, despite spending only one-third as much as his opponent. The winning Bennett ran on his opposition to a proposed “religious freedom restoration act” and talked about his lesbian mother and sister.

The best religious quote of the week comes from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ):

Cory Booker

Glenn Beck makes me proud to be from Oregon. Number One of the 15 worst cities in the United States (to quote Beck, “avoid like the plague when things go bad”) is Portland. The remainder are, in order, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Phoenix, St. Petersburg (FL), Columbus (OH), Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Washington, DC, and St. Louis.

[Chuck Todd update: After Todd interviewed Donald Trump on Meet the Press, his conservative panel concentrated on bashing Trump. No one pointed out that the same criticisms, such as Trump not directly answering questions, are also true of other GOP candidates. Or the fact that both Chris Christie and Rand Paul already said that they want to rescind automatic citizenship for everyone born in the U.S. Todd consistently interrupted Trump but treated Ben Carson with great courtesy. Bernie Sanders, another interview subject, had to disabuse Todd of the notion that he and Trump are alike. The husband of a staff member for Democratic candidate Jim Webb, Todd praised Jeb Bush for his speech at the Iowa State Fair but trashed Hillary Clinton, providing the conservative press with several criticisms for the Democratic candidate. Todd is at least consistent in his openness to endorse candidates while trying to keep up a pretense of being a journalist.]

August 14, 2015

Iran Deal: Irrationale Fear Comes from Ignorance

Filed under: War — trp2011 @ 8:40 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Almost 100 years ago, two psychologists wrote about how people can be trained to be afraid, making a calm and even-tempered nine-month-old baby terrified of his previously beloved fuzzy stuffed animals. After researchers constantly matched the objects with loud clanging sounds, “Albert B,” the subject,” would consistently “burst into tears” when he saw these objects. Fired for having an affair with his research partner, the lead in the study moved on to be the vice-president of J. Walter Thompson, a huge advertising firm, where he used more behaviorism to sell products. The study does show that people can be desensitized to irrational fears with the refusal to reward panic based on childish ignorance. Science historian Rob Boddice wrote, “Objects of fear fill the spaces where knowledge and certainty are absent.”

Such is the case of Iran and Republicans. Iran may be scary, but to be ruled by that fear is to stay at the level of animals. Republicans and U.S. Jewish lobbying groups are determined to keep people in the United States at the level of animals in order to control them. Organizations and pro-Israel conservatives like Sheldon Adelson are pouring tens of millions of dollars into television advertising with the goal of making people afraid of Iran. The polls opposing the Iran deal show that this advertising is succeeding.

One reason from conservatives for keeping conflicts alive in the Middle East is the money coming into large companies for the sale of missiles, helicopters, fighter jets, and other war needs:

Boeing: Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates paid $618 million for just two C-17s, and two years ago, Saudi Arabia and UAE gave Boeing part of a $10 million contract for high-tech missiles. Two years before that, a $29.4 billion contract with Boeing provided Saudi Arabia with 84 F-15 fighter jets and upgrades on older aircrafts. Qatar paid $23 billion for 24 Apache helicopters. The list goes on.

Raytheon. Saudi Arabia paid $1 billion for 15,000 anti-tank missiles, and the company made billions for supplying Patriot missiles to Qatar and UAE. Oman got a ground-based defense system from Raytheon for over $2 billion.

Lockheed Martin. This major player provided the UAE with another defense system for $3.9 billion as well as $600 million from Oman for 12 fighter planes. More equipment went to Saudi Arabia for $112 million.

Sikorsky Aircraft. Saudi Arabia got 12 Black Hawk helicopters for $30 million with another $270 million to upgrade UAE Black Hawks. The company plans to sell 400 helicopters to Middle East countries over the next five to 10 years.

Even before they read the Iran agreement, political war hawks spread fear by claiming that “harsher sanctions” would make a “better deal.” They made this claim even before the deal was finalized. When the opposition was asked if they had read the agreement, the frequent response was that they didn’t need to read it because Iran is “evil.” They ignore the reality that the U.S. cannot stop Iran at this time from exporting a million barrels a day to countries such as China. Other countries are also increasingly refusing to support U.S. sanctions, and technological innovation such as deep gas pipelines would make sanctions much more difficult. Refusal of the agreement in place of a hope for “harsher sanctions” would lose the United States whatever standing it has left in the world.

War hawks also ignore the opinion of scholars and military leaders who claim that the U.S. should take the Iran deal. Three dozen retired generals and admirals released an open letter this week urging Congress to support the agreement. The called it “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons” and stated that the U.S. could gain international support for military action against Iran, if necessary, only “if we have first given the diplomatic path a chance.” This letter follows one from 29 of the nation’s top scientists–Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms, and former White House science advisers—endorsing the Iran deal. And that letter follows another one from over 100 former U.S. ambassadors, supporting the Iran deal. Retired GOP Colonel Lawrence put it very succinctly when he said, “My political party wants war.”

Even the recent chair of United against Nuclear Iran has decided that U.S. should take the Iran deal. Dr. Gay Samore, scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, stepped down after he declared support for the agreement, and UANI hired Joe Lieberman, Middle East hawk who had said he wouldn’t be a lobbyist before he became a lobbyist. UANI pays for some of the TV ads intended to create irrational fear about the agreement.

During the debate, Israel’s far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been suppressing opposition from his country’s Intelligence Corps, including those in the research division dealing with Iran. Support for the Iran agreement goes as high as former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy and Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. A Jewish group in the United States also paid for 40 Democrats to visit Israel last week so that Netanyahu can lobby them.

democrats in Israel

With less than a month for conservatives to destroy the agreement, politicians on both sides are carefully counting the votes. The one Democrat senator who has joined the Republicans in opposing the agreement is New York’s Chuck Schumer, yet he appears to have no followers in the senate. Conservatives think that they will have enough votes to pass the opposition to the agreement—two-thirds for an override of President Obama’s veto—and progressives think that the conservatives will fail.

It is tradition during for the past few decades since Ronald Reagan sold weapons to Iran that people in the U.S. love Israel and hate Iran. We have tremendous financial support of Israeli weaponry, and the Judeo-Christian culture has stronger roots in Israel. An examination of the two countries, however, brings up strong differences between Iran and Israel:

Nuclear bombs: Iran lacks these weapons, gives no evidence of an active nuclear weapons program, and has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The theocratic Supreme Leader has forbidden making, stockpiling, and using nuclear weapons. Israel refuses to sign the NPT and has several hundred nuclear warheads, which it constructed stealthily, sometimes through acts of espionage and smuggling in the United States and against the wishes of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Their leaders have openly stated that they are ready to use nuclear weapons.

War: Iran has not launched an aggressive war since 1775, when Karim Khan Zand sent an army against Omar Pasha in Basra in neighboring Iraq. This might have actually been a response to provocation rather than an act of aggression. Israel started wars in 1956, 1967 and 1982 as well as committed acts of aggression in 2006, 2009, and 2014.

Occupation: Modern Iran has not occupied neighbors’ territory and didn’t try to take and hold Iraqi territory after Iraq’s attack of Iran in 1980. The UN Charter of 1945 forbids countries to annex the land of their neighbors through warfare, but Israel occupies Palestinian territory with 4 million stateless Palestinians who are treated as subjected, colonized population. Israel has promised to never give Palestine back its land.

Voting: All the people ruled over by Iran can vote in national elections, and even Iranian Jews have a representative in parliament. Four million of the 12 million people ruled by Israel have no vote in Israeli politics but are ruled by Israel.

Opposition: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is not trying to undermine the Obama administration’s negotiations with his country which states that Iran can have nuclear electricity plants but not nulear weapons. Israel has consistently tried to control U.S. foreign policy through bribery of politicians.

Iranian leadership is dictatorial and puritanical, and Israel is better than Iran in many ways. Détente, however, could make life better for people in Israel, Iran, and the United States. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who may be the most reasonable person in Congress at this time, has written a rationale for supporting the agreement. Reading this information may help people get over the irrational fear the Republicans and Israel are pushing onto the people of the United States.

August 6, 2015

GOP Determined to Repeat Past Mistakes

Fifty years ago, the Voting Rights Act enforced constitution rights for millions of people by removing the rights of states to disenfranchise people from this right. It has been called the most effective piece of legislation ever enacted in the United States. After the Supreme Court struck down some of its provisions two years ago, the number of draconian laws begun with the GOP sweeps in 2010 rapidly accelerated to prevent people from voting by mandating photo IDS, restricting times to vote, and shutting down voter registration drives. Chief Justice John Roberts had written in the majority opinion, “things have changed in the South.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent argued that the justices had stripped the provisions that made the Voting Rights Act a success. She wrote:

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

The rainstorm has flooded the country throughout the past four years. From 2011 to 2015, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in forty-nine states (Idaho is the lone exception). Half the states in the country have adopted measures making it harder to vote.

voting_2011

In the first few weeks of this year, 40 new voting restrictions were introduced in 17 states. The Supreme Court wrote in its ruling that Congress could pass a law to allow people to vote, but the GOP-controlled federal legislature has refused to take any steps in this direction.

As with other issues of inequality, the courts have begun to act. Yesterday, the 5th Circuit Court, one of the most conservative appeals courts in the nation, used what remains of the Voting Rights Act to strike down a voter suppression law in Texas. The unanimous opinion from a three-judge panel and written by a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that the photo ID requirement is illegal under Section 2, because of the negative impact it has on the voting opportunities of minorities and the poor, and that a lower court must reopen the case to determine a legal remedy for the violation. That court must also further examine the law for intentional discrimination by lawmakers.

Judge Catharina Haynes’ ruling agreed with an analysis that “Hispanic registered voters and Black registered voters were respectively 195% and 305% more likely than their Anglo peers to lack” a voter ID in the state of Texas. Texas’ own expert “found that 4% of eligible White voters lacked SB 14 ID, compared to 5.3% of eligible Black voters and 6.9% of eligible Hispanic voters.” Low-income voters are also less likely to have ID: “testimony [showed] that 21.4% of eligible voters earning less than $20,000 per year lack SB 14 ID, compared to only 2.6% of voters earning between $100,000 and $150,000 per year.”

People trying to restrict laws, although sometimes open about their desire to stop votes for Democrats, also claim voter fraud—a situation that rarely exists. In a Wisconsin study, the 2004 election had seven cases of fraud in three million votes, and none of these cases could have been stopped by a voter ID law. Iowa found exactly zero (0) cases of in-person fraud during several elections.

The court’s suggestion was that a lower court either reinstate voter registration cards or allow someone to sign an affidavit saying that they lack an acceptable form of identification before they vote. Last October, a federal judge called the law an unconstitutional “poll tax” that was intentionally discriminatory, but the Supreme Court allowed the law to be in effect of November’s midterm election with over 600,000 Texas unable to vote because they lacked the state-mandated type of voter ID. Gun licenses were acceptable, but student IDs were not.

The court’s decision is not a definite win, but it moves in the right direction. Although the ruling did not explain whether Texas needed to get official permission before changing its election or voting laws, it is the first circuit court opinion against a voter ID law and against the enforcement of it. State officials can either ask for a new review from all judges in the 5th Circuit or go back to the Supreme Court. With the stronger Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act eliminated, plaintiffs must rely on the weaker Section 5 which requires that plaintiffs cannot file until after they have suffered discrimination. Thus they have already lost the constitutional right to vote.

State officials in Texas now have two options:  to seek a new review by the full Fifth Circuit, which would set aside the panel ruling, or to go directly to the Supreme Court as the next step.

In California, tens of thousands of residents will be able to vote after the state dropped its appeal of a court decision that gives voting rights to people who left prison and completed parole and are now under county supervision. When the state shifted low-level offenders into county custody, a former secretary of state, Debra Bowen, ruled that the same state law barring people in prison or on parole for felony convictions applied to ex-offenders under county supervision. The current secretary of state, Alejandro “Alex” Padilla, said:

“No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”

While 113 bills to restrict voting access have been introduced or carried over in 33 states this year, four times as many—464 bills—are circulating in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Only one state, North Dakota, has managed to pass a voter ID bill this year; all others failed. Arizona and North Carolina have ongoing lawsuits.

The grandest law passed came from my home state of Oregon. All eligible citizens with driver’s license and don’t ask to stay unregistered are automatically registered to vote. The state’s “motor-voter” law is now being introduced in 14 other states as well as District of Columbia. Some of these states have bills to automatically register citizens conducting business with other government agencies. Vermont passed a bill to establish Election Day registration, and Indiana enacted a bill to allow state agencies that issue SNAP and TANF benefits to electronically transfer voter registration information to election officials (which is currently in place only at the DMV). A bill to restore voting rights to people with past criminal convictions passed the Maryland legislature but vetoed by the governor may have enough votes to override the veto.

Yesterday, Rep. Chuck Schumer (NY) introduced three bills to make voting easier for all citizens in every state—online registration, seven days of early voting plus absentee ballots for anyone, and same-day voting for people who moved within the state where they registered.

House Democrats said they would even drop bills against Confederate flags for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act that passed nine years ago and was partially struck down by the Supreme Court. The GOP isn’t interested. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has refused to have an up-or-down floor vote, and the Judiciary Committee chair, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) likes the status quo.

Today is another anniversary, the 70th anniversary since the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Military leaders opposed dropping the atomic bomb, but politicians told President Harry Truman that it needed to be done. Top American military leaders, mostly conservatives, who fought World War II declared that dropping the bomb was unnecessary because Japan was on the verge of surrender and the destruction of large numbers of civilians was immoral. Adm. William Leahy, President Truman’s Chief of Staff, wrote in his 1950 memoir:

“The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender.… in being the first to use it, we…adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”

The war hawks seem aimed toward another nuclear disaster, claiming that the president was wrong for not putting more pressure on Iran through sanctions. President Obama responded that other countries—Russia, China, France, Great Britain, and Germany—to go along with that argument. After the existing diplomacy, the only option is military action. His talking points are here. President Obama was more direct in his speech at American University when he talked about how U.S. Republicans hope to give extremist Iranians, who hate the Iran deal, exactly what they want.

Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act made voting a reality for people in the United States; 70 years ago bombing Hiroshima showed people the terror of nuclear warfare. Today, conservatives want to keep millions of people in the U.S. from voting and engage a country in war that could end up with a nuclear weapon dropped on the United States. Those people should read what Padilla and Leahy have to say.

August 4, 2015

We Should Fear GOP Ignorance

Filed under: Foreign policy — trp2011 @ 7:37 PM
Tags: , ,

During some of the darkest days of the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” As William Saletan writes in this article about the congressional debate on the Iran deal, we now need to fear the possibility of the Republicans winning the White House and taking over the entire federal government. I have paraphrased his article below.

Instead of showing that they are ready for responsibilities of national security and foreign policy, Republicans have participated in “a spectacle of dishonesty, incomprehension, and inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world.” According to Saletan, the danger comes from the interrogators.

“In challenging [Secretary of State John] Kerry and [Energy Secretary Ernest] Moniz, Republican senators and representatives offered no serious alternative. They misrepresented testimony, dismissed contrary evidence, and substituted vitriol for analysis. They seemed baffled by the idea of having to work and negotiate with other countries. I came away from the hearings dismayed by what the GOP has become in the Obama era. It seems utterly unprepared to govern.”

“Here are the lowlights of what you missed” in the 11 hours of hearings on July 23, 28, and 29:

  1. North Korea. In all three hearings, Kerry explained how the inspection and verification measures in the Iran deal are designed to rectify flaws that led to the failure of the North Korean nuclear agreement. He spent much of his opening statement outlining these differences. This made no impression. When the Senate held its next hearing a week later, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presiding Republican, dismissed the Iran agreement with a quip: “How did that North Korean deal work out for you?”
  2.  Israel. As evidence that the Iran deal is bad, Republicans point to criticism from Israel. But they seem more interested in the rhetoric of Israeli politicians than in the judgments of Israeli security experts. Kerry read from an article that quoted supportive statements about the deal from the former leaders of two Israeli intelligence agencies. Republicans batted the quotes away. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming scoffed, “That wasn’t even in the newspaper. That was a blog post.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina dismissed the statements as irrelevant because they didn’t come from elected officials. Why listen to experts when you can rely instead on quotes from politicians?
  1. The IAEA’s “secret deal.” Kerry and Moniz have repeatedly explained that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which enforces nuclear conduct agreements, publicly evaluates each country’s compliance but keeps some details about inspection logistics private. The IAEA briefs other governments about its procedures but doesn’t give them the logistical documents. Republicans, having shrugged at this policy for decades, are suddenly outraged. Many of them seem to think the Obama administration is colluding with Iran and the IAEA. They claim that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, has seen the IAEA’s Iran documents but won’t show them to Congress. Rep. Ted Poe of Texas asserted that Rice “said that she has seen this deal with the IAEA.” Kerry corrected him: “Susan Rice’s quote is, ‘We know their contents, and we’re satisfied with them. We will share the contents of those briefings in full and classified sessions with Congress.’ She has not seen them. She has been briefed on them.”

Kerry’s clarification should have settled the matter. But it didn’t. The next day, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma grilled Kerry” and constantly insisted that Rice had said she say the deal with IAEA. In attempting to quote Rice, Inhofe actually quoted Congressman Poe and then refused to understand, saying, “Who is quoting her. This is quotation marks.” He was actually quoting Poe’s misinterpretations.

  1. EMPs. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked Moniz about a 2008 commission report on EMPs, electromagnetic pulses, which could be triggered by nuclear detonations and could knock out the U.S. power grid. Moniz, the former chairman of MIT’s physics department, has spent his career working in nuclear science. He told Johnson that he was unfamiliar with the report but that “if you look at our Quadrennial Energy Review published in April, we do identify EMP as a risk to transformers, and we are beginning to try to work up a response to that.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas used this exchange to portray Moniz as an idiot. (Cruz finished his grilling by not allowing Moniz to answer a question and then saying, “OK. You’re refusing to answer the question.”
  1. Sanctions. Kerry uses the phrase snapback to describe how sanctions are automatically re-imposed if any permanent member of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, or Russia) decides Iran has violated its obligations. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska berated Kerry for using this term, since, although the agreement outlines this procedure, it doesn’t literally include the word snapback. Sullivan also argued that the term was misleading because, in originally building the sanctions, it “took years to get countries to divest out of the Iranian economy. It’ll take years to do it again.” But Sullivan ignored the implication of his own argument: As Kerry has said all along, the unhappiness of our allies about having to enforce these sanctions, let alone China and Russia, is why the sanctions won’t last if we reject these countries’ terms for the deal.
  1. Pariahs. Republicans accuse Kerry and Obama of isolating them by agreeing to terms that suit our allies but don’t suit Congress. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told Kerry, “You have turned Iran from being a pariah to now Congress being a pariah.” Sen. James Risch of Idaho offered the same complaint: “These negotiations have taken us from a situation where we had Iran exactly where we wanted them to now, if we don’t go along with this, then we are going to be the isolated pariah character.” The Iran talks involved seven countries. Corker chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Ed Royce chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Yet Royce protested that the deal gave Russia and China “a say in where inspectors can and cannot go,” failing to understand that international sanctions require international support. When everyone else in the talks finds terms they can agree on, we can’t hold out for our own terms and expect sanctions to persist.
  1. Bad guys. Republicans think that because Iran is dangerous, we shouldn’t negotiate with it. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the most outspoken critics of any deal, has consistently hammered this point. Rep. Randy Weber of Texas repeatedly used the phrase “bad actor” to dismiss Iran and the idea of negotiating with it. Rep. Dave Trott of Michigan invoked a motto from his business career: “You can’t do a good deal with a bad guy.” These are people who revere Ronald Reagan, who negotiated with the Soviet Union.
  1. Indifference. Republicans think it’s weak and softheaded to care what Iran thinks. Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania told Kerry we should demand a better deal, “and if the ayatollah doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to negotiate it, oh, ‘boo-hoo.’ We’re here for America.” Weber, speaking for others in his party, ridiculed Kerry’s concerns about Iranian distrust of the U.S.: “Me and my colleagues were up here thinking, ‘Who cares?’ ” When Kerry replied that the Iranians wouldn’t have negotiated on Weber’s terms, the congressman scoffed, “Oh, my heart pains for them.” A negotiator’s job consists of understanding, caring about, and accommodating the other side’s concerns.
  1. Winning. Graham is running for president as a foreign-policy expert. But three hours of testimony on Wednesday about the difficulties of using military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program taught him nothing. Wrapping up the hearing, Graham demanded that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter answer a simple question: “Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?” When he didn’t get the prompt answer he wanted, Graham thunderously answered the question himself: “We win!” He sounded like a football coach delivering a pep talk. The differences between football and war—what “winning” means, and what it costs—didn’t enter into his equation.
  1. Patriotism. You might think that Kerry’s service in Vietnam—a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts—would deter Republicans from challenging his patriotism. But you’d be wrong. At the House hearing, Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York lectured Kerry: “A lot of Americans have fought and died to make our country the greatest nation in the world. And you, sir, respectfully, you don’t have the power to surrender our greatness.” Cruz, who has never served a day in uniform, ended the Wednesday Senate hearing with this remarkable assault on the secretary of state:

Cruz: Gen. Soleimani, the head of the al-Quds forces, has more blood of American service members on his hands than any living terrorist. Under this agreement, the sanctions under Gen. Soleimani are lifted. Now, Secretary Kerry said to the families of those men and women who gave their lives, who were killed by Gen. Soleimani, we should apologize. …

Kerry: Sir, I never said the word apology. I never mentioned apologize. I said we should thank them for their extraordinary service. I never said the word apologize. Please, don’t distort my words.

Cruz: Secretary Kerry, it is duly noted you don’t apologize to the family members of the service members who were murdered by the Iranian military.

Kerry: That’s not what I said, senator. [I said] I thank them for their extraordinary service and I would remind them that the United States of America will never take the sanctions off Qasem Soleimani.

Cruz: Sir, I just want to clarity. Do you apologize or not?

Saletan finished, “There’s plenty more I could quote to you. But out of mercy, and in deference to the many dead and retired Republicans who took foreign policy seriously, I’ll stop. This used to be a party that saw America’s leadership of the free world as its highest responsibility. What happened? And why should any of us entrust it with the presidency again?”

July 31, 2015

Travesties in Friday News Dump

The last day of the traditional work day is known in the media as “Trash Day,” according to the classic TV series “West Wing” description of the Friday news dump. The tactic is to “dump” bad news or documents on that day so that media scrutiny would be minimized. Here are some of the Friday dump day travesties:

 

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day was last Tuesday: July 28, 2015, is the day when black women caught up with the salary that white men made in 2015. In other words, black women had to work 575 days to match the pay that men made in 365 days. Black women make 64 percent of white men, but Native American women salaries are far worse—at 59 percent of white men’s salaries.

What Voting Problems?! A Wichita State University mathematician asked for Kansas voting machines to be audited because of suspicious patterns in electronic returns, but government officials don’t want anyone to know about its problems. When Beth Clarkson, chief statistician for WSU’s National Institution for Aviation Research, made calculations after last November’s election, she found a “statistically significant” pattern in which the percentage of GOP votes increase according to how big the precinct is, even where other demographics don’t agree. She said that this anomaly happens across the country. Forced to file a lawsuit against state Secretary of State Chris Kobach for documentation, she still hasn’t been able to get the information.

Walker Rides High on Hypocrisy. In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, presidential candidate and Wisconsin’s GOP governor, Scott Walker, wrote, “You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.” His reference was to how Hillary Clinton spent time in meetings with union bosses, who he calls “big-labor special interests,” as she will “shun everyday” people. Walker is headed to a luxury hotel in Southern California with other GOP presidential candidates—Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio—to attend the Koch brothers annual summer conference for Freedom Partners with 450 of the wealthiest donors on the far-right.

An Environmental Award for Rick Scott Is a Joke. The governor has  one of the worst environmental records in the history of Florida—and that’s saying something—and banned state employees from saying “climate change.” He decimated funding for important departments and projects while appointing developers and land use lawyers to their boards. They gave employees bonuses for speeding up permit approval and suspended Connie Bersok who refused to violate state law by approving development in the state’s wetlands. Chair of the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida giving Scott an award for his “conservation work” is Rodney Barreto—wealthy businessman, lobbyist, chair of the South Florida Super Bowl Committee, and Jeb Bush appointee.

McConnell Shows Game Plan for 2017: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to use reconciliation to bypass the 60 votes necessary to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The purpose of reconciliation is reducing the deficit, and repealing the ACA would increase the deficit. The far-right Heritage Action group suggests replacing an official score of a repeal with a GOP invented score.

GOP Women Posted Graphic Illustration of Lynching on Facebook. The official Facebook page of the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women briefly showed an image of a lynched black man until complaints led to its withdrawal. The text read, “The KKK was formed by the Democrats to keep control over black Americans. The Democrats of today just traded ropes for welfare.” In 2013, over 40 percent of food stamp recipients were white. The number of food stamp beneficiaries who are black has declined every year from 2001 through 2010; in 2013, only one-fourth of the recipients were black. Even if more beneficiaries were black, there is no excuse for using either the illustration or the text.

Pro-Israel, Anti-Iran Agreement Organization Pays to Take Democrat Senators to Israel on a Propaganda Tour: Lobby group AIPAC led the United States into a war with Iraq, and now it wants the United States to start a war with Iran. That’s why they are sending 40 members of Congress, several of them Democrats, to Israel this coming month to listen to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explain why they should vote with him instead of the President of the United States. Legislators prefer to meet with Netanyahu rather than their own constituents. AIPAC is spending at least $50 million to persuade people to vote against the Iran agreement.

Super PAC Carly for America Is Coordinating with Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina: The Supreme Court ruling allowing almost unlimited money in donations to political candidates through super PACS also mandated no communication between the organizations and the individual campaign efforts of political candidates. Yet the super PAC for Fiorina, confusingly called “Carly for America,” has invited its supporters to join a conference call with the candidate Carly Fiorina while including the necessary legal notice that Carly for America “is an independent expenditure committee and not authorized or coordinated with any federal candidate or candidate’s committee.” The super PAC also performs candidate campaign functions such as managing rapid response to press questions, rolling out endorsements of the candidate, funding grassroots organizing, and organizing advance work for Fiorina’s appearances. Fiorina isn’t alone in crossing the line: presidential candidate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered his anti-Donald Trump speech at a July 22 event hosted by his super PAC, Opportunity and Freedom PAC.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) Lecture Nuclear Physicist on Nuclear Weapons. Last week, Cruz and Johnson accused Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz of knowing less that they did about Iran’s possible nuclear weapons and the threat of an imaginary Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon to take out the nation’s electronic grid. First, the senators accused Moniz of not knowing what an EMP was because he had said he did not know the 2008 Congressional report recommendations. Cruz claimed to be “stunned” at what he considered Moniz’s ignorance about the subject. Then he refused to allow the nuclear physicist, longtime MIT professor, and holder of a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford to answer a question before accusing him of “refusing to answer the question.” Far-right articles claim that the EMP could easily leave “9 out of 10 Americans dead,”but the Federation of American Scientists stated that this would require a “large device” detonated about 300 miles above Wichita at the altitude of the International Space Station.

Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, Appointed Matthew Brown to the State Department of Education: The new appointee is a fundamentalist Christian who hates the public school system and has sworn that his children will never attend public school. Bentley said, “Matthew brings a unique perspective to the position.” His perspective is to starve the public education system through vouchers and charter schools, which Bentley strongly supports through taking $30 million from public schools.

Medicare Turned 50 Yesterday: That’s the good news. The travesty is the GOP attempts to eliminate health care for the elderly and disabled. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush is leading the charge to”figure out a way to phase out this program for [younger people] and move to a new system that allows them to have something.” Backlash led a Bush spokesman to say that Bush wanted only modest reforms. Conservatives say they want to shift the current “defined benefit” program providing specific protections and levels of financial security to a “defined contribution” that distributes money according to a pre-determined formula and require seniors to shop for coverage. What they really want is to end Medicare’s guaranteed health care.

Cruz Tells Code Pink That “Truth Matters” Before He Lies: After pointing out the importance of truth, Cruz said that both Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani “explicitly said they are developing nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about it.” Code Pink’s co-founder Medea Benjamin said, “That is absolutely false.” Benjamin speaks the truth, but Cruz told Benjamin not to interrupt him. Conservatives failed to report the statements but said that Cruz “crushed” Code Pink. [Insight into Cruz: one of his favorite superheroes is Rorschach, the mentally unstable killer in Alan Moore’s Watchman who lives by his own moral code and exacts severe—maybe psychotic—punishment for anyone who violates it.]

pigs flyTexas Displays Judicial ActivismAfter anti-LGBT activists couldn’t get the 17,000 signatures required to put Houston’s anti-discrimination measures to a vote, the Texas Supreme Court suspended the ordinance, ruling that it either be repealed or put before voters. The court couldn’t do this legally, but it made the ruling. Do conservatives find this judicial activism—which they profess to hate? Will they object? Do pigs fly?

Congress Passes Short-term Highway Funding Bill: The Senate has passed a funding bill to continue the Highway Trust Fund for six years but pays for only three, providing $45 billion spread out for the six years over the gasoline tax. They not only refused to increase the gas tax to levels of 20 years ago but also could not work anything out with the House, that passed only a three-month extension of the funding. The Senate made a bipartisan refusal with 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans voting against it. Great comment from Oregon’s senior senator, Ron Wyden:

“I said to a friend this morning with apologies to the elephants: When the elephants lock tusks, it’s never dull.”

States cannot possibly plan for major transportation projects and prolong maintenance on dangerously damaged roads and bridges with short-term fixes, and this is the 34th “fix” since 2009—an average of five each year. After the recess, the two congressional chambers will have to tackle the problem again. And the Iran deal. And the appropriations bill. And Planned Parenthood. And anything else that has nothing to do with jobs. And the infrastructure suffers because Congress hands out the money in dribbles and drabs.

 

July 26, 2015

Hateful Religious Beliefs–and a Bit of Hope

Our country’s leaders used their religious perspectives to make the comments last week:

John Hagee: “Planned Parenthood … brings to mind the evil of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and Dr. Mengele.”

Mike Huckabee (in an African-American church about racial problems):  “We don’t have a skin problem in this country, we have a sin problem in this country.”

Mike Huckabee (on the Iranian deal): “This president’s foreign policy …  will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,”

Sam Rohrer (Pennsylvania State Representative 1992-2009): “Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church [are] the protectors of moral truth. The west and the United States have become the leaders of moral depravity.”

Pat Robertson (once presidential candidate): “Love affairs between men and animals are going to be absolutely permitted…. And it will be called a right.”

Pat Robertson (about criminalization of homosexuality): “Boy those Africans have got it right. One wishes that the president of the United States would listen to some of his fellow Africans, cousins, to what they have to say because they speak truth and they speak wisdom.”

David Brody, Chief Political Correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network (about why Donald Trump operates like Christians): “Donald Trump operates in a world of absolutes: A world of right and wrong; a world of winners and losers…. And what does Trump get for speaking out so boldly without holding back? Public ridicule.”

Randy Brogdon, Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman: “The federal courts don’t have the authority to make us kill babies. Are the Supreme Court justices going to come down to Oklahoma and make us stop?”

How did GOP senators spend their Sunday today? They voted against health care. And they lost. They needed 60 votes and couldn’t even get a simple majority: the vote was 49-43 with eight senators not voting. All Republicans voted against health care except for five who did not vote at all: Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Pat Tommey (R-PA). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided to have a vote last week to shut up his party opposing the Export-Import Bank. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) thinks he can circumvent the 60-vote threshold by refilling the health care amendment as one connected to the highway funding bill. When the Senate chair rejects this premise, Lee would object, allowing a 51-vote majority to overturn the decision.

Before Lee’s ploy failed, presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) unsuccessfully tried to attach an amendment keeping sanctions on Iran until it recognizes Israel’s right to exist to the same highway bill. Even ultra-conservative Lamar Alexander (R-TN) worried about Cruz’s tactics, and the other Texas GOP senator, John Cornyn, called the strategy a “terrible mistake,” urging Republicans to vote against it. As he pointed out, voting on Cruz’s amendment would mean that “any senator who wants to get a vote on an amendment will be entitled to do so and that can’t be the rule.” John McCain said that if they were going to change the rules, which takes 67 votes, then they should have a debate.

Last week, Cruz had a temper tantrum on the floor of the Senate after 67 senators voted in favor of advancing the attachment of the Export-Import Bank to the necessary highway bill. When he called McConnell a liar, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) read aloud rules prohibiting attacks among chamber members on the Senate floor. John Thune (R-SD) said that Cruz’s idea would “make it impossible to get anything done in the Senate.” Evidently he doesn’t understand that this has been the Senate MO for quite a while.

Cruz and another presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have started using a term for their Islamphobia. In targeting Muslims, they both referred to “not Presbyterian” in a coded language that another religion, not extremist terrorists, is a problem. Nothing has been said about the far-right Christians who are trying to match ISIS in terrorism.

This weekend, Cruz will speak at a conference by the Center for Security Policy alone with other candidates Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Carly Fiorina, and Bobby Jindal. The director of this group, Frank Gaffney, has indicated that Obama is a Muslim and that the Muslim Brotherhood has supposedly taken over the U.S. government. Gaffney has support from Huckabee who said this year:

“Everything he [Obama] does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community.”

Former Democratic presidential candidate General Wesley Clark suggested internment camps for radicalized Muslims. The camps would not be for people who committed crimes—just those who don’t hold Christian values. George W. Bush’s religious advisor, Franklin Graham, agreed with the camps for Muslims as well as an official ban to stop Muslims from immigrating.Muslims make up roughly one percent of the U.S. population, and Muslim Americans don’t ask for special favors. The building hatred, however, could return the United States to the dark days of Japanese internment camps 70 years ago.

In March, U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg ordered Philadelphia’s transportation system to accept anti-Islamic hate ads on its buses. They feature a 1941 photo of Hitler meeting with an Arab leader and read: “Islamic Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quaran.” The small print states, “Two-thirds of all U.S. aid goes to Islamic countries” and “End all aid to Islamic countries.” Israel, a Middle Eastern country, receives one-third of the foreign aid budget, and Islamic countries that receive aid, such as Egypt, are key contributors to Israel’s security. Egypt is a major aid in controlling the Palestinian people.

Pamela Geller’s group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), is behind the ads. Great Britain considers the organization a hate group and barred Geller from going into the country in 2013. In 2011, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused to grant trademark status to Stop Islamization of America on the grounds that the name could be disparaging to American Muslims. The USPTO’s decision was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit a year ago. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) prohibits ads that disparage people or groups “on the basis of race, religious belief, age, sex, alienage, national origin, sickness, or disability.”

Fortunately, the ads ran for only a month until AFDI’s contract ran out. During that time SEPTA made its advertising policy much more restrictive—no guns; tobacco products; politics; viewpoints about “economic, political, religious, historical or social issues”; content that is “disparaging, disreputable or disrespectful” to various individuals and groups—in short, anything that “that threatens the public image of SEPTA.”

Some Florida Islamophobes are trying to ban two children’s books from the public school because they “promote” another religion than Christianity. Both books written and illustrated by Jeannette Winter are based on true stories: “Nasreen’s Secret School” is about a young girl in Afghanistan whose grandmother sends her to a secret school for girls, and  “The Librarian of Basra” is about Alia Muhammad Baker who saved part of Basra’s library collections before the building was burned after British forces entered the city. Two years ago, New York parents also tried to ban the books about book banning.

Texans in Farmerville, who firmly believe in freedom, don’t want a Muslim cemetery in their county. One of their threats is to dump pigs’ blood or put pigs’ heads on posts on the property so that Muslims won’t buy it. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33599843  The Muslims bought the property anyway. Three cheers for Mayor Joe Helmberger who said the cemetery would be approved as long as the town’s development standards are met and that the US was founded on religious freedom.

Islamophobes might use these Muslims as examples. During the aftermath of the white man who killed nine black people in a Charleston (SC) church, several black churches were burned, some because of arson. Muslims have raised over $100,000 to help rebuild these churches.

A ray of hope in separation of church and state: pharmacies cannot refuse to dispense Plan B or other emergency contraceptives, according to a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court. For the second time, this ruling overturned a 2012 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton who thought that the Washington state law violated religious freedom.  Leighton is a George W. Bush appointee, as is one of the three unanimous votes against Leighton.

Last May, Sharmira Johnson was awarded $75,000 after the Christian non-profit organization United Bible Fellowship Ministries after they fired her because she was pregnant. Women who are pregnant or recently gave birth have to be treated the same as others “in their ability or inability to work,” and employers must offer these women the same light duty or other workplace accommodations that they would offer any other employees.  An estimated 250,000 women are denied these requests each year, and an untold number of women don’t ask because of adverse consequences.

July 16, 2015

Congress to Decide between Iranian War, Peace

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) has declared that his first priority is to represent Jesus. He could start by supporting the Iran deal to bring peace and persuade his Christian GOP colleagues to do the same. But that’s not going to happen. The instant that a deal was announced, Republican presidential candidates led the charge against peace in a deal among six countries that would curb Iran’s nuclear program and significantly limit the country’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon for over ten years. (Details here.)

walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (above), who declared his presidential candidacy on the day that the deal was announced, said, “President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran will be remembered as one of America’s worst diplomatic failures.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) doesn’t expect Congress to approve the deal. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the agreement appeasement. Rick Santorum called the deal a “catastrophic capitulation.”

Kerry and Zarif, photo Thomas Imo

The deal took 19 days and four missed deadlines before Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, appeared at Secretary of State John Kerry’s working quarters at midnight Monday. Kerry flew 400,000 miles to prevent the tenth country from getting the bomb in the first successful dealings with Iran since its 1979 revolution. In addition to containing the country’s ability to produce a bomb for at least a decade, it provides for permanent, broader U.N. inspections to monitor Iran’s declared and suspected nuclear facilities, even after the deal expires. The combination of restrictions and time frames from ten to twenty-five years gives the international community more insight into Iran’s program and capabilities.

War hawks in the U.S. will complain that Iran can still enrich uranium, yet it’s at a minimum level, with the number of centrifuges cut by two-thirds. Some Congressional members, accompanied by Israel and the Gulf sheikhdoms, insist on zero facilities instead of one. The Iran deal will not diffuse deep sectarian and political rivalries in the Middle East with Sunni concern about Iran become a player instead of a pariah, but that was not the goal. Under the deal, Iran can reclaim between $100 billion to $150 billion of its oil revenues from foreign banks. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the deal before the details were released.

Yet U.S. involvement in the Middle East is already overwhelming—air wars in Iraq, Syria, and Libya as well as selling arms to Saudi Arabia to wage its war in Yemen. The deal creates no renewal of U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran. Lifting sanctions on Iran will open international markets to Iran’s population that has more than doubled since 1979, but U.S. businesses will be limited in trading with Iran because of sanctions tied to human-rights practices and support for terrorism. If Iran breaks the deal, the U.S. still has a military option.

Congress has 60 days to review the deal with Iran. It can vote for a resolution of disapproval that President Obama has promised to veto. An override of his veto requires two-thirds vote in each chamber. GOP legislators have reasons to vote against the deal, oil prices being one of them. Prices in the United States began to fall in June as the deal came closer to fruition, shrinking to $54 a barrel this past week, and more oil availability from the Middle East forcing down the oil market may bring the price of gas down to below $2 a gallon by the end of the year. The International Energy Agency estimates that Iran could add 800,000 barrels a day to the global market within months of the lifting of sanctions, but immediate relief could come from the 30 million barrels of Iranian crude in storage and ready for sale. A general rule is the two-thirds of the cost of gas comes from the crude oil cost and the remaining one-third comes from taxes, refining, distribution, and marketing. Republicans like to claim, however, that the president is completely responsible for higher costs of gas. They won’t want to see the price go down in the Obama administration.

Any deal from the president is described as a “bad deal” to Republicans. Presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that the deal is “a possible death sentence for Israel,” but he hasn’t read it. He added that reading it didn’t’ matter because visits to the Mideast made him know that he didn’t like the details. The GOP belief that any international interaction is a “bad deal” goes back to the opposition to the Hot Line Agreement, in which Moscow and Washington could communicate directly during emergencies such as the Cuban missile crisis. The right opposed then-President Nixon going to China and called it “appeasement,” just as they are describing the deal with Iran.

The biggest influence on conservative members of Congress is Netanyahu. Some congressional leaders put Israel’s prime minister above the President of the United States in their loyalties. Last year, presidential candidate Graham told Netanyahu that Congress would “follow his lead” in reinforcing sanctions on Iran despite President Obama’s refusal to do so. Last March, Netanyahu spoke to both chambers of Congress after House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited him without notifying the president, a breach of protocol. His speech was intended to persuade congressional members and the people of the United States against Iranian negotiations. At this time, President Obama is offering additional military aid to Israel beyond billions of dollars to help build Israel’s Iron Dome and provide ammunition that killed the people in Gaza last summer. Netanyahu may be willing to sell out his principles for more billions of dollars from the United States.

Soon after Netanyahu’s speech, 47 U.S. senators, led by Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter to Iran, explaining that they might as well not make the deal because any future president could negate it. The letter also claimed—erroneously—that there could be no agreement unless Congress passed it by a two-thirds vote. To this next breach of protocol—and possibly a treasonous act—Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif wrote that Cotton’s letter was a “propaganda ploy” meant to undermine Obama. Yesterday the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Wednesday told Congress to reject the nuclear deal with Iran.

The Republicans have a history of sabotaging U.S. welfare to elect their candidates. When President Jimmy Carter thought he had a deal with the new Iranian president to release 52 hostages in 1979, the Reagan campaign went behind Carter’s back arranging with the Iranian radical faction to keep the hostages in captivity until after the Reagan v. Carter presidential election in 1980. Iranian extremists released the hostages on January 20, 1981, the moment that Reagan was inaugurated, and pointed out that Reagan must keep his agreement to ship weapons to the radical forces. The result was deaths of thousands of people throughout the world, especially in Central America where Reagan took money from the Iranians to destabilize Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. Those areas have still not gained stability after Reagan’s actions. Carter’s loss in the election led to the appointment of Justice Antonin Scalia and the elevation of William Rehnquist to Chief Justice. One reason for the GOP to keep Iran closed to the U.S. is to cover Reagan’s actions.

Although Netanyahu has expressed strong opposition to the Iran deal, not everyone in Israel supports his position. Israel is also a dangerous country with undeclared chemical warfare capabilities and between 75 and 400 nuclear weapons. It is also one of four nuclear-armed countries not recognized as a Nuclear Weapons State by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the others being India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Because Israel never signed the NPT, the country does not have to submit to inspections. Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer and its takeover of the Palestinian West Bank shows that the country will use any means to defeat other countries, whether warranted or not.

The GOP refuses to admit that, like almost every problem in the U.S. during the 21st century, Iran’s expansion of its nuclear program can be traced back to the Bush/Cheney administration. With 164 centrifuges in 2003, Iran wanted to negotiate with the U.S. to remove the sanctions blocking the growth of the country’s middle class. Cheney said, “We don’t talk to evil,” and Iran built 5,000 centrifuges in the next two years. The country had 8,000 by the time that Bush/Cheney left. Now Cheney is lobbying to add another war to the ones they started during their administration instead of letting this generation try to achieve peace through diplomacy.

Polls, even one from the conservative Fox network, consistently show approval of the deal, but Republicans spreading lies that may reverse the surveys. Yet conservatives ignore their constituents and oppose the deal because they are convinced that the U.S. should rule the world and dictate the behavior of all countries. That’s what led us into the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq that almost wiped out the U.S. economy.

A comparison between Iran and the United States:

iran v. u.s. nuclear weapons

The only purpose of the Iran deal is to reduce the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon. In opposing the Iran deal, Congress has three alternatives: kill the deal and do nothing else, leaving few restraints on the growth of Iran’s nuclear program; declare war and ignite a catastrophic regional conflict; and increase sanctions, which looks like the first option. Without a deal, Iran has a much better chance of building bombs. Increased sanctions are useless because U.S. business dealings with Iran are already limited and the rest of the world will leave the U.S. standing alone.

As conservatives continue to posture without reading the deal, Congress is in charge of deciding whether the United States will go to war with Iran. And the media focus on Iran will cause Scott Walker, the 15th presidential candidate, to stay in the shadows—at least for a while.

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