Sunday, May 3, 2015

Baltimore's Lament is Ours.

The news that Marilyn Mosby, the Maryland state attorney, has decided to file charges against the six police officers who were involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray is welcomed news to millions of African Americans who had all but given up hope in the American criminal justice system. Finally, a prosecutor who has decided to behave like a prosecutor, instead of a defense attorney. Skip the grand jury and go straight to a jury trial. Maybe if Robert McCulloch had done the same thing in Ferguson, we would've been spared the ensuing riots that an entire nation witnessed.

But filing a charge is one thing, getting a conviction is quite another. Just last month, officer Michael Slager of North Charleston, South Carolina was charged with murder in the shooting death of Walker Scott, an African American, after a traffic stop. Even now, there are some legal experts who are speculating that Slager will not be convicted, citing the enormous burden of proof prosecutors have to overcome in such trials.

But while Mosby's decision is a step in the right direction, it is hardly the cure for what ails that city and hundreds like it. Millions of viewers tuned in to watch the streets of Baltimore turned into a war zone, and what should've been an opportunity to talk about poverty and racial injustice, instead was turned into a wrestling match between those who called the protesters "thugs" and those who thought they were innocent babes out for a stroll in the night-time air. This was one instance where both the Right and the Left got it all wrong.

For the record, the violence in Baltimore was unacceptable. Looting and burning stores, throwing rocks at cop cars and destroying private property is not an acceptable response to anything, much less something as important as what happened to Freddie Gray. Not only isn't it acceptable, it is completely counterproductive to the overall aim, which should be social and political justice, not just for African Americans but for all people stuck in poverty. Without quite realizing it and perhaps without quite intending it, those who took part in such acts of violence, did not help but rather hurt the cause they were fighting for.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. marched on Selma, he didn't burn down the city; instead he protested peaceably. The result was that the overreaction was left to the authorities to commit. America got a front row seat to Jim Crow and was rightly repelled by it. King understood that violence only exasperated tensions and gave fuel to his opponents. Leaders in communities of color would do well to remember his wisdom going forward.

But while it is only right to condemn the senseless violence that took place in Baltimore, all of us need to stop pretending that these riots somehow occur in a vacuum. There is a direct correlation between what's happening in cities like Ferguson, New York and now Baltimore and the growing sentiment within the minority communities in those cities that the criminal justice system has abandoned them. When a police officer clearly chokes someone to death and he isn't even indicted for negligent homicide, the message could not be any plainer: You're on your own.

No doubt this is the predominate view of many African Americans in the country today and, sadly, they are right to feel that way. The police, who are sworn to defend and protect the communities they serve, are seen by them as nothing more than execution squads who doll out death with impunity in their neighborhoods. And while I fully realize that the vast majority of cops do not behave in such reprehensible ways, that is of little consequence to the Eric Garners, Walker Scotts and Freddie Grays of the country.

To those who would prefer to assign blame here to the breakdown of the black family, I would point out that black families were very much intact in the 1960s and that didn't stop cops from turning hoses on them or hanging them from trees; nor, for that matter, preventing Watts from burning to the ground. More than fifty years have passed since the passage of the Voting Rights Act and states across the country are taking steps to undermine the rights of minorities to vote by enacting draconian suppression laws. And yet some still wonder how a people so deplorably treated could lash out so violently. When a people lose hope and faith in their government, sometimes their only recourse is to take to the streets.

It is the ultimate irony that a nation that was born out of a violent uprising against an oppressive and tyrannical government, cannot comprehend the depths of despair among African Americans today. They represent 13 percent of the country's overall population, yet comprise 60 percent of its prison population. For every dollar a white earns they make only 61 cents. The unemployment rate for them is twice what it is for whites and in some cities like Baltimore it is even higher.  Adding insult to injury, they are viewed by some cops as mere targets in a shooting gallery.

Until and unless America is prepared to take a long and painful look at its history and come to terms with it, I submit we have not seen the last of these uprisings. Indeed, should the six cops responsible for Freddie Gray's death walk, I fear for what might happen to Baltimore.

We have avoided dealing with this wound - this original sin, if you will - long enough. It is high time the nation ripped the scab off and let the puss drain out. Only then can we disinfect the wound properly and allow for the healing that is three centuries overdue to take place.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hillary's Real Threat Will Come From the Left, Not the Right

They'll write books about her that are full of falsehoods (among other things), they'll hold an endless assortment of hearings on Benghazi, make all kinds of wild accusations over deleted emails - emails mind you that other former secretaries of state have also deleted - and go on talk show after talk show ginning up a base that is already frothing at the mouth.

In the end, it won't matter. The simple fact is there isn't anything the Right can do that can mortally wound Hillary Clinton. Indeed, the argument can be made that the more they force this dog to hunt, the better she looks to the rest of the country. Witness how President Obama's approval numbers have risen in the months since the GOP took control of the Senate. They are now the highest they've been since early 2013. Republicans would do well to study the law of diminishing returns.

But if a piece by David Freedlander in the Daily Beast is to be believed, the storm clouds that are brewing on the horizon are coming from the Left. The simple truth is no matter how sincere Hillary appears to be, progressives just aren't buying it. It's not so much what she says, but how she says it.
In the week and a half since she launched her campaign, Clinton has done her damnedest to blast the skyrocketing rate of pay for CEOs, called for higher taxes on hedge fund managers, lamented wage stagnation, and has adopted the phrase "The deck is stacked in favor of those at the top" into her rhetorical arsenal.
She has called for a constitutional amendment to reform the campaign finance system, come out in favor of a constitutional right for same-sex marriage and drivers licenses for illegal immigrants, and pushed for free community college for all
But the more Hillary tries to woo the Left, the more the Left wants Elizabeth Warren. Of the two, Warren is seen as the real deal. Her recent battle with Obama over the free trade pact is a case in point. While Hillary vacillates over the pros and cons of the agreement, Warren has been relentless and fearless in going after her own president. That courage has earned her not only the respect of her party, but praise from her opponents.

Authenticity counts, even in politics. And while the Left may not be as unhinged as the Right when it comes to their core beliefs, they do demand that they be given more than just lip service. One of the main reasons Barack Obama beat her in '08 was he came across as genuine while Hillary was more calculated.

Take for example the issue of whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to get a driver's license. In a debate with Obama eight years ago she said the idea made "a lot of sense." Two weeks later she flip-flopped and said she would not support it if elected president. This tendency to vacillate on major issues leaves a bad taste in many people's mouth and makes even her stanchest defenders uneasy.

Look, I'm not saying Hillary won't win next year or that progressives will treat her the same way conservatives treat the RINOs in their party. But she has her work cut out for her. The best thing she can do is stop taking a poll on every damn issue under the sun. If she supports Obama's trade deal, she should come out and say so and then defend her position; if not, she should say so too. Either way she has to shit or get off the pot.

Few people have the debating skills of Hillary Rodham Clinton. She can go toe to toe with just about any opponent out there. What she can ill afford, however, is for one of those opponents to be her.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Marco Rubio: Fresh Face, Same Stale Ideas

So Marco Rubio's campaign slogan is "Marco Rubio: A New American Century." I guess the only question that begs to be answered is which century, the 19th or the 20th?

Because while Rubio's good looks and youthful appearance may be a breath of fresh air for a Republican Party whose average voter age is somewhere just north of, say, 60, his ideas are about as predictable and old-fashioned as a Barry Goldwater campaign ad.

Yes, he's Hispanic, but he's Hispanic the same way Ben Carson is black; that is to say his story, while novel, is unlikely to gain much traction within the Hispanic community, especially after the way in which he distanced himself from the bi-partisan Senate bill which he coauthored that would've given a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

The painful reality for Rubio is that once you get passed the pretty face, his positions, while popular within his Party's base, will prove to be his undoing in the general election. He's against gay marriage, he's a global warming denier, he's an unabashed supply-sider and he's against immigration reform, or, as it's referred to among conservatives, amnesty.

As if that wasn't a heavy enough cross for him to bear, his story - first term, charismatic senator - is eerily similar to that of another first term, charismatic senator who went on to become president. That man is Barack Obama, or, as he is more commonly known among the far Right, the antichrist, Kenyan, Muslim socialist who hates America. I can't wait to see Rubio's reaction during his first debate when Chris Wallace asks him why the country should elect another first-term senator as president knowing how well the last one worked out. I'm thinking a Ralph Kramden "hamina-hamina" moment is in the offing.

Then again, now that I think about it, I don't think Rubio's experience, or lack there of, will be a huge issue for the base. Just like Ted Cruz being born in Canada won't be that big of a deal among the birthers. Let's face it, when it comes to Obama, it was never about his inexperience or country of origin. He could've been a three-term governor from the heart of Dixie and a direct descendent of George Washington and they still would've hated him. From day one of his administration he has driven them up the proverbial wall.

No, Rubio's real problem with the base will be his perceived lack of sincerity. The wingnuts on the Right still haven't forgiven him for that immigration bill. No amount of backtracking is likely to heal that wound. But let's say Rubio does mend the fences enough to pacify the base and he actually gets the nod, he still has to win the general.

And that's his Catch 22. The further to the right he veers, the more extreme he becomes to the general electorate. This is the same problem that plagued the Romney campaign in 2012. Romney had to move so far to the right to get the nomination he was never able to successfully pivot back to the center.

Indeed, this is the real dilemma facing the GOP in 2016. No candidate can secure the nomination without the support of the base and getting it requires taking the most extreme positions possible. That is the primary reason Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to win the general. Democrats typically fare better in presidential elections while Republicans tend to prevail in midterms.

Marco Rubio can dress himself up as the second coming of JFK for all he likes. In the end, all he really is is a less insane version of Ted Cruz. Which means he'll lose by five million votes instead of eight.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Hillary Needs To Do To Win

Okay she's running. For those of you who thought she wasn't, you may now leave the room. You obviously weren't paying attention. Clintons run for office; it's what they do. Like fish swim in water.

But running is easy; winning isn't. If Hillary Clinton is going to win the White House in 2016, these are the things she needs to do.

1. She needs to define who she is and what she stands for.  I'm serious. Running on your last name will get you some votes; it won't get you over the finish line. The problem for Hillary is the same one Democrats face everywhere. The progressive and moderate factions are knocking heads as they vie for control of the Party.

Ever since the 2014 midterm disaster, the rift between both camps has grown. The rise of Elizabeth Warren as a star in the Party has given progressives hope and Blue Dogs and moderates heartburn. Like it or not, Warren will try to push Clinton to her left. How Hillary responds to those overtures will go a long way towards determining whether she will prevail or whether she ends up being the next Al Gore.

It won't be easy for her. Her husband's decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act is a thorn in the side of progressives who are weary of the cozy relationship the both of them have with Wall Street. She is going to have to square that circle in a way that appeases the Left while not throwing her husband under the bus. Bill is still very popular among both Democrats and independents. The last thing she needs is to piss off what will likely be her largest voter block.

On foreign policy she is perceived as a hawk. She voted for the Iraq War and that will be a soar spot for her. As Secretary of State, she oversaw the implementation of President Obama's Arab Spring policy. In retrospect, some of that didn't work out as expected. Despots were deposed only to see the rise of sectarian violence. If she ends up running against Jeb Bush, she'll be able to point to his brother's decision to invade Iraq as the principle reason for the entire region falling into chaos. If she ends up running against Rand Paul, however, she'll be playing defense a lot, including, unfortunately, having to deal with the Benghazi matter. How she handles the attacks from the Right will be crucial to her success.

2. She needs to control Bill. While Bill is an enormous asset  for any campaign - his address at the 2012 Democratic convention is one of the best I've heard in quite some time - he's also the bull in a china shop. In the '08 campaign, he went off script a lot, forcing Hillary to clarify his comments. It is vital that the two of them get on the same page and stay there.

3. Run a better campaign than she did in '08. Let's face it, she did not handle herself well in that campaign. She was antagonistic towards the press and too often was condescending to her fellow Democratic opponents. Obama schooled her during the debates which often led to tirades that made her look small and hardly presidential. If she winds up running against other members of her Party in the primaries, she must take care not to repeat those same mistakes. She also has to make amends with the African American community for remarks she made in '08 while running against Obama. It would be foolish of her to think they have been completely forgotten.

4. She must motivate the base to come out and support her.  The chief reason Hillary lost the '08 nomination was because she spent way too much time going after the middle of the road vote and not nearly enough time concentrating on the base of the Party. As a result Obama cleaned her clock. If she winds up running unopposed, she MUST do all she can to woo the Left. As a woman, she is in a unique position to speak to other women about those issues they care most about. She must embrace stances that are popular not only within the base, but also among more moderate voters: Gay marriage, raising the minimum wage, global warming, immigration reform and helping the middle class and working poor. These are all issues she can own and drive home to most of the electorate.

The lesson of the 2014 midterm debacle is that the Democratic base stayed home because it didn't see any reason to come out. Hillary Clinton must give them a reason to come out. She must motivate this base in the same manner that Obama did. To accomplish that she will need the help of the current occupant of the White House as well as her husband. Running away from Obama in retrospect hurt Democrats in 2014, just like running away from Bill Clinton in 2000 hurt Al Gore. If Hillary repeats that mistake, a Republican will be sitting in the Oval Office in 2017.

Well, Hillary, you're in it, as if any of us had any doubts. No go out there and win it!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Your Move, Congress

The deal struck between the United States and it allies with Iran is anything but perfect. But on the whole it's a good one; in fact, it's a little better than some thought was possible. Here is a list of what's in the agreement.

  • The Arak reactor would be converted so it would no longer produce weapons-grade plutonium.
  • The Fordow facility would be restricted to doing research only with no fission material.
  • Natant would be the only facility that would be allowed to contain uranium-enriching centrifuges.
  • Speaking of centrifuges, Iran would have to reduce its number from 19,000 to 6,104, and only 5,060 of them would be able to enrich uranium for 10 years.
  • Iran would have to reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms.
  • Iran would be limited to a 3.67 percent enrichment for 15 years; roughly 87 percent less than that needed for weapons grade uranium.
  • All Iran's nuclear facilities, including its centrifuge storage facilities, would be subject to inspections by the Atomic Energy Agency.
  • Not all the sanctions would be lifted; the U.S. would still keep in place some of its sanctions due to Iran's role as a sponsor of terror.
  • If Iran is caught cheating on any part of the agreement, all sanctions would be fully reinstated.

The Obama Administration, which has taken a lot of heat over the last few years over its handling of the rise of ISIS, should be commended for this deal. Yes, it's only a framework, but it represents the best path forward to ensuring Iran doesn't develop a nuclear bomb.

And yet Republicans and, sadly, some Democrats are taking aim at the agreement because it doesn't go far enough. They want all Iran's centrifuges gone and all its nuclear facilities dismantled. Some within the neocon lot have gone so far as to insist that the only solution is regime change.

The impasse is setting up a showdown between the Administration and Congress. Republican Senator Bob Corker has introduced a bill that if passed would give the Senate final approval on the Iran deal. The only thing standing in its way are a group of Democrats who are on the fence as to the merits of the deal. If Corker can convince six of them to join the other 54 Republicans, the bill will pass and then would head to the House where it will undoubtedly pass. And if that happens, the best chance to avert a military confrontation with Iran will go up in smoke.

Make no mistake about it, if this deal is rejected by the Congress, any hope of getting Iran back to the table is gone. The international coalition that brokered this deal will collapse. Sanctions will be off the table as Russia and China will be more than willing to trade with Iran. And, more importantly, Iran will now have a clear path to develop the nuclear bomb that everyone agrees is a nonstarter.

And if the neocons get their way and force a military confrontation, God help us. We will be looking at the clusterfuck of all clusterfucks. If you thought Iraq was a disaster, a war with Iran would make that look like a remake of the movie Stripes. Even with sanctions in place, Iran was still the preeminent military power in the Middle East. Its army is considerably larger and better trained than Saddam Hussein's was. The military engagement alone could take years and then there is the real hard part: instilling a functioning government to run the joint. If Iraq is any indicator, we will likely be there decades at a cost of trillions of dollars.

Yes, I get it. Iran is hardly a flourishing democracy. It's a repressive totalitarian regime that oppresses its citizens, jails its dissenters and supplies weapons to Israel's enemies. I get all that. But what a lot of people don't get is that the Mullahs who currently run Iran and are principally responsible for that oppression and the terror it spreads are all in their 70s and 80s. Within the country are the seeds of reform. The median age of its citizens is 28, among the youngest in the world. Most of the population is far more moderate than many give it credit for. A military confrontation would have the devastating consequence of driving those moderates right into waiting arms of the Mullahs. Far from ushering in a new wave of democratization, a war with Iran would plunge it further down the path of tyranny and chaos.

And then there's ISIS. Like it or not, Iran is our ally against what is the most radical and lethal threat in the Middle East. Without Iran's military intervention, ISIS most assuredly would've seized most if not all of Iraq. And for those who say that having Iran in Iraq poses other potential and far larger existential threats in the region, you can blame the Bush Administration. Its decision to invade Iraq and topple the Hussein regime, was the primary reason Iran became such a major player in the Middle East in the first place.

The framework is in place; the next move belongs to Congress. History awaits.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

It's Not About the Damn Wedding Cake!

Everyone's focusing on the homophobic baker who doesn't want to bake a wedding cake for the gay couple, or the equally bigoted photographer who won't photograph the newlyweds as they begin their new life together.

That's not the issue. It's not about the damn wedding cake or the photographs. If you're a gay couple and you absolutely insist on hiring someone to photograph your wedding or bake a cake that doesn't want to do it, you've got bigger problems than whether he - or society for that matter - accepts your sexual orientation.

The real issue, and the heart of the problem, with the Indiana religious "freedom" law, and the other state laws just like it, is that it ostensibly give license to bigots to discriminate against other people on the flimsiest of excuses: freedom of religious expression.

The argument that the Christian Right is making - and wants everyone to believe - is that the gay community somehow poses a threat to their faith; that if they agree in any way to service people within this group they are condoning their "sin" and that, in and of itself, is a "sin" that God will judge them for.


This has got absolutely nothing to do with sin, or for that matter sinful natures. If it did, if any of these Neanderthals were actually capable of thinking this through to its logical conclusion, they would realize, as all God's children should, that all of us have sinful natures and without the mercy and grace of Christ, we are lost. Straight people are no better or worse than gays. We are all equal in the eyes of the Lord. For anyone to call themselves a believer and sit in judgment of another human being is the very definition of sin. If there is any judgment from above, it will most certainly be reserved for those who, as Jesus said, "throw the first stone."

I am so sick and tired of these modern-day Pharisees speaking on behalf of the faith I love, serving as self-appointed jurors and judges on the conduct of other people. I have heard all I can stand; the comparisons to man on dog or sheep or whatever farm animal happens to be the flavor of the month in their warped, diseased brains.

To those who insist that being gay is a choice, I have just one question for you. When did you suddenly decide to be straight? Can't answer? Cat got your tongue? What do you mean you didn't decide to be straight? You mean you were born that way? Wow! So I guess sexual orientation isn't a choice after all. So much for your distorted and twisted thinking. Now let's move on to what's really going on.

The truth is the country is changing, evolving, if you will. And all this evolution has caused a great deal of consternation among some people who can't handle it. The world they knew is coming to an end and they don't like it. So they come up with specious arguments to defend their prejudices, not unlike the ones that were made fifty years ago throughout much of the South. Back then it was people of color who couldn't sit at the same lunch counter with whites because it went against the establishment's values and belief systems.

Then the laws were changed and the races were finally allowed to mix. In time, interracial marriage was even allowed. And guess what? The world didn't come to an end. The sun still rose in the east and set in the west. Society did not crumble into anarchy then and it won't now.

The fact that two gay people wish to spend the rest of their lives together in marriage should be celebrated, not condemned. Forcing them to deny who they truly are just to mollify a distorted and completely non-contextualized reading of Holy Scripture is wrong. Period.

I find it odd that in all four of the Gospels, Jesus, who never passed up an opportunity to speak his mind on matters he deemed important, said bupkis about homosexuality. In fact, if you subtract the books of Leviticus and Romans from the Bible, you'd be hard-pressed to find barely a mention of the topic, that's how rare it is.

And yet, to some Christians, the fight against homosexuality has become its own religion of sorts. They have become obsessed with stamping it out, like it was the black plague. If these religious zealots devoted even half the time they spent trying to cure homosexuals of their "infliction" on world hunger, poverty and injustice, the world would truly be a better place in which to live. I dare say, it would be more Christ-like.

Fortunately the majority of the country is on to these people and their con game. Politicians like Mike Pence can say anything they want to try to justify their ignorant and hateful positions. The public, or most of it anyway, isn't buying it. The good news for the rest of us is that the sands of time are running out on them. Like the segregationists of the '60s, they will eventually go the way of the dinosaur.

And I, for one, can hardly wait!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mike Pence Is Lying Through His Teeth

Indiana Governor Mike Pence went on ABC's This Week in an attempt to "clarify" his state's new "religious freedom" bill which he signed into law. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Pence said he was surprised by the reaction to the law. That was the only truthful thing he said in the whole interview. He repeatedly refused to answer the question as to whether the law allowed businesses to discriminate against the LBGT community.

Pence kept citing the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify the Indiana law.

"Well — well, this — there’s been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention all over the Internet. People are trying to make it about one particular issue. And now you’re doing that, as well. The issue here - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been on the books for more than twenty years. It does not apply, George, to disputes between individuals unless government action is involved. And, in point of fact, in more than two decades, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never been used to undermine anti-discrimination laws in this country."

There's just one problem with that claim: it isn't true and, furthermore, Pence knows that. Yes, all the above is true with respect to the federal version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But professor Howard Friedman at the Religious Clause Blog compared the Indiana law with the federal statute and found some disturbing distinctions between the two.

The (Indiana) bill is broader than its federal counterpart in several ways. 1. It explicitly protects the exercise of religion by entities as well as individuals. Its enumeration of entities includes "a corporation", without limiting this to closely-held companies. 2. The bill's protections may be invoked when a person's exercise of religion is "likely" to be substantially burdened by government action, not just when it has been burdened. 3. The bill also permits the assertion of free exercise rights as a claim or defense in judicial or administrative proceedings even if the government is not a party to the proceedings. The relevant governmental entity has a right to intervene in such cases to respond to the RFRA claim. A remedy under the bill is only available against the government; suits by employees or applicants invoking the law against private employers are precluded.

Summed up, the Indiana law, contrary to its supporters' claims, does indeed allow a business to deny services to the LBGT community on the grounds of religious freedom. It would permit virtually any business or individual to discriminate against a person or group that went against their religious beliefs. Not only that, the business or individual would only have to claim that they are "likely" to be burdened by said person or group. And, lastly, government involvement is not necessary in order to file a claim under law. The old "the government is forcing me to photograph that gay couple" line doesn't apply here.

Yep, Mike Pence and the Indiana General Assembly really stepped into it on this one. They passed a law that ostensibly gives carte blanche to religious bigots and, to their astonishment, they got called on the carpet for it. Want to know how bad they screwed the pooch on this one? When a similar bill passed the Arizona legislature last year, then governor Jan Brewer vetoed it, citing it was too controversial. That's right, Jan (crazy lady) Brewer thought her state's religious freedom bill was TOO controversial for her tastes.

Pence can dance all he wants around the central issue, but he can't hide from the one undeniable fact. When it comes to discrimination against the gay community, it's open season in the Hoosier state.

Sad, isn't it? Fifty years ago, it was the black community that was denied basic services because it went against certain people's beliefs. I guess it IS true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.