Feed aggregator

Graphic Photos From The Gaza Strip Show Destruction And Death

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2014-07-20 17:17
Israel's attack on Gaza City on Sunday made for the deadliest day in the nearly two weeks of conflict between Palestine and Israel. At least 87 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed on Sunday, according to reports from the Palestine Health Ministry and Israeli military.

In the images below, courageous photographers at the forefront of the conflict show chilling scenes of death, destruction and survival in the tumultuous region.

Warning: Some of the images below may contain graphic content.



An Israeli soldier is seen on a Merkava tank, as part of the Israeli Army deployment near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 20.


Smoke rises from explosions caused by an Israeli missile strike in the Shijaiyah neighborhood in Gaza City on Sunday.


Palestinians, one holding a white flag, flee Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday.


Wounded children sit in a hospital after an Israeli air strike hit Gaza City.


Palestinian rescuers remove a body during the Israeli military offensive on the Shijaiyah neighborhood.


The legs of a dead child hang off a table at the morgue of the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.


A relative of Palestinians killed during the overnight shelling of the eastern Gaza district of Shijaiyah by the Israeli military faints after collecting a body at the morgue.


A doctor reacts next to a body lying at the morgue of the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on July 20.


Israeli soldiers stand on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip to watch the fighting between the Israeli army and Palestinian militants on July 20.


A picture taken from Israel at the southern border with the Gaza strip shows smoke billowing from behind a hill following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City.

New York Activists Ask De Blasio To Stop Detaining Immigrants For ICE

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2014-07-20 16:33
A group of immigrant rights activists called on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in an open letter published this week, to use his executive authority to keep the city’s police from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of the federal government.

Dozens of police departments across the country have stopped complying with such requests, known as detainers, but New York City -- where more than one in three residents is an immigrant -- has yet to join them.

The letter took issue with de Blasio administration’s continued cooperation with Secure Communities, a fingerprint-sharing system used to identify deportable undocumented immigrants.

“The city’s collaboration with ICE programs like Secure Communities (S-Comm) invites racial profiling and discourages victims, including victims of police brutality, from exercising their rights,” the letter says. “This program never did and never will belong in New York City.”

Immigrant rights groups have long pressed local governments to disregard ICE detainers, arguing that they undermine trust between the police and immigrant communities, and that they arbitrarily funnel undocumented immigrant into deportation proceedings.

The letter, published by a coalition of organizations that includes the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Carwasheros, Families for Freedom and the Migrant Power Alliance, highlights that holding immigrants on ICE detainers goes beyond any problems with the law they may face.

“It is important to note that a policy against ICE detainer requests does not release anyone into the community who is not otherwise eligible to be released,” the letter says. “Using the criminal justice system as a gateway for immigration enforcement is feeding off a system that is racially biased at every stage.”

ICE holds are also expensive, the groups point out. A 2012 study found that taxpayers in Los Angeles doled out $26 million per year to cover the cost of ICE holds.

But as of this month, however, Los Angeles no longer honors ICE holds without judicial review. Los Angeles joined the California cities of San Diego and San Francisco, which also decline to honor ICE detainers. Outside California, many jurisdictions, including the cities of Philadelphia and Las Vegas and the state of Rhode Island, have adopted similar policies.

Under New York City’s previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the City Council twice passed laws limiting the city’s cooperation with ICE holds. The first law, in 2011, established guidelines under which to honor an ICE detainer. The bill was followed up last year with a law that further restricted cooperation with ICE.

But activists say the reform didn’t go far enough. The law contains several exceptions, the New York Times reports, that allow the city to honor ICE detainer requests if the person in question has been convicted of a felony or is facing a felony charge, has outstanding deportation orders, or was included in a gang database or terrorism watchlist. The exceptions also include several misdemeanors.

Between October 2012 and September 2013, New York City’s Department of Correction assented to 73 percent of ICE detainers, according to the New York Daily News.

The de Blasio administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter. In May, de Blasio’s press office released a statement to the Daily News that said:

The city has taken action to limit the impact of S-Comm in our immigrant communities through new detainer discretion laws that limit who is turned over to ICE when they are arrested for non-serious crimes. Mayor de Blasio is committed to enforcing those laws and ensuring that people are not put on the path to deportation for minor violations.

Sunday Roundup

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2014-07-20 00:00
This week, President Obama's $3.7 billion request to deal with the border crisis stalled as lawmakers introduced a bill that purportedly aims to help young unaccompanied immigrants but actually just makes it easier to quickly deport them -- a measure Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, dismissed as "the deportation-only agenda dressed up in sheep's clothing." The crisis is certainly a chance to look in the mirror and decide what kind of nation we want to be: one that holds up "return to sender" signs and walks through towns with AR-15 rifles to protest the possible arrival of a few busloads of Central American children (as happened in Arizona and Michigan respectively), or one that decries "racist and xenophobic attitudes," as Pope Francis urged on Monday, and lives up to our founding principles as a nation of immigrants. Hanging in the balance isn't just which direction the children will go in, but the rest of us, as well.

NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo Stripped Of Gun, Badge After Chokehold Death

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 22:03
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City police officer involved in the arrest of a man who died in custody after being placed in an apparent chokehold has been stripped of his gun and badge and placed on desk duty, police said Saturday.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo, an eight-year NYPD veteran, and an officer who has been with the force for four years were both taken off the street after the death Thursday of 43-year-old Eric Garner on Staten Island, police said. The department would not identify the second officer but said he would retain his gun and badge while on desk duty. The reassignment is effective immediately and will remain in effect while Garner's death is being investigated, police said.

The president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the city's largest police union, called Pantaleo's reassignment a "completely unwarranted, knee-jerk reaction."

The decision, Patrick Lynch said in a statement, "effectively pre-judges" the case and denies Pantaleo the "very benefit of a doubt that has long been part of the social contract that allows police officers to face the risks of this difficult and complex job."

Pantaleo did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

Partial video of the encounter obtained by the New York Daily News shows the 6-foot-3, 350-pound Garner becoming irate and refusing to be handcuffed as officers tried to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed, loose cigarettes on a sidewalk.

The video then shows one of the officers placing Garner in what Police Commissioner William Bratton said Friday appeared to be a chokehold. The tactic, which can be fatal, is prohibited by departmental policy.

The city's Civilian Complaint Review Board said Saturday it would review more than 1,000 chokehold complaints it has received against officers over the last five years in an attempt to "discern why officers continue to use this forbidden practice."

The department disclosed Pantaleo's reassignment hours after Garner's wife, Esaw, burst into tears at a Harlem rally where Rev. Al Sharpton said his death could strain the black community's relationship with the police department.

"This is going to be a real test to see where policies are in the city now and whether the change that we feel occurred has occurred," Sharpton said, referring to promises made by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Bratton to improve the relationship between officers and the city's minority communities. "We are the only ones in the social setup that has to deal with fear of cops and robbers."

Another rally was held Saturday afternoon on Staten Island, near where Garner died. A funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at the Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn.

According to federal court records, three men have sued Pantaleo within the last two years over what they argued were unlawful, racially motivated arrests on Staten Island.

In the first lawsuit, settled by the city in January, two black men in their 40s accused Pantaleo and other officers of arresting them without cause and subjecting them to a "humiliating and unlawful strip search" on a Staten Island street that involved ordering them to "pull their pants and underwear down, squat and cough."

The men said they were held overnight on charges that were ultimately dismissed seven months later.

In a second lawsuit, a man accused Pantaleo and other officers of misrepresenting facts in a police report and other documents to substantiate charges that were eventually dismissed.

Garner, who has been arrested for selling illegal cigarettes numerous times in recent years, told the officers who confronted him Thursday that he had not done anything wrong, according to the video of the arrest.

"Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I'm tired of it. It stops today," Garner shouts. "I'm minding my business. Please just leave me alone."

As four officers bring him down, Garner is heard gasping, "I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" The video shows one officer using his hands to push Garner's face into the sidewalk.

Prosecutors and internal affairs detectives are investigating the death of the father of six and grandfather of two; authorities believe he suffered a heart attack.

De Blasio has called the circumstances of his death "very troubling."

More tests are needed to determine the exact cause and manner of Garner's death, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office said.

Garner's death evoked memories of a similar incident 20 years ago.

Police officer Francis Livoti was dismissed from the NYPD and convicted by a federal jury of violating the civil rights of a Bronx man who died after he apparently used a chokehold on him in 1994.

Livoti has denied he used a chokehold, insisting Anthony Baez died from an asthma attack. The case remains one of the most high-profile allegations of police brutality in city history.

___

Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak and Rachelle Blidner contributed to this report.

___

Online:

New York Daily News video: http://nydn.us/1nh2KXr

Lake Mead Drops To Lowest Levels Ever As 14-Year Drought Plagues Southwest (PHOTOS)

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 19:47
Last week, Lake Mead dropped to the lowest levels since the reservoir was filled upon the completion of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. The Southwest has remained in the grips of an everlasting drought for the past 14 years, forcing waters down more than 130 feet since a high-water mark was last reached in 2000.

As entire marinas run dry, the Bureau of Reclamation fears that an ongoing drought could force the agency to declare a shortage by 2017, which could ultimately affect the more than 40 million people that rely on Lake Mead for water. Take a look at some startling photos of the nation's largest reservoir, now just 39 percent full, below.

The Surprising South Carolina Evangelicals Who Support Immigration

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 19:13
Something is changing in the most conservative corner of conservative South Carolina. Some tea-party Republicans and evangelical Christians are softening toward immigration.

California Republicans in Focus: The Controller's Race Gets A Democrat, Kashkari vs. Schwarzenegger, The Brown Parade Rolls On

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 18:45
The long road back for California Republicans came into clearer focus in the past few days as the Democratic candidate in the race for state controller was finally confirmed and the party's little-known nominee for governor took some ill-advised cracks at the only Republican to win two landslide elections as governor of the nation's largest state since Earl Warren more than 60 years ago.

A month and a half after the June 3rd primary election, former Assembly Speaker John Perez dropped his recount bid and thus his race for state controller, letting his fellow Democrat, state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, assume her spot in the November 4th run-off election against what may be the Republicans' only rising star, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. Yee finished just 481 votes ahead of the heavily favored Perez in the June open primary, as each trailed Swearengin's 25 percent of the vote with 21.7 percent each.

Swearengin, a moderate conservative who backs Governor Jerry Brown's controversial high-speed rail project already had the only shot at preventing another statewide Democratic sweep before the chaotic aftermath of the primary. With all the uncertainty and Perez's attempt to tilt a recount his way by cherry-picking areas he did well in -- a plan that yielded little once set in motion -- the lightly-funded Yee has lost several weeks of building a general election campaign as the Democratic candidate. Not that the party organization didn't step in and endorse her earlier this month, a key cue to Perez to find the door.

How did the heavily favored Perez, from vote-rich LA, get in this situation? Well, he chose to save funds for what he expected to the general election against Swearengin. His campaign was blind-sided on two fronts. First, by the emergence of Republican accountant David Evans, who nearly made the top two himself with a 21 percent showing after running second much of election night. Then by the campaign of San Franciscan Yee, a chief deputy budget director under Governor Gray Davis who refused to back away from Perez.

The reality is that Perez should not have been surprised either by Evans's surprise showing or by Yee's tenacity. As a powerful recent Assembly speaker -- he just gave up the office to San Diegan Toni Atkins in May -- Perez has a platoon of political operatives, advisors and consultants. Yet nobody noticed how the campaign was unfolding.

Swearengin, an articulate former local TV news anchor, found her way into politics as a leader in the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, a regional improvement organization created by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The party's sacrificial candidate for governor, former Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari, in contrast, did not find his way into politics via Schwarzenegger. So, despite the fact that he has a few ex-Arnold aides working on his campaign, he has some very negative things to say about the former governor. Kashkari has taken to calling the state's high-speed rail project, heavily championed throughout his governorship by Schwarzenegger, "the crazy train."

He also ripped into California's landmark climate change program, a signature Schwarzenegger accomplishment with global recognition, casting doubt on the effects of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and saying that California shouldn't go it alone on what is supposed to be a worldwide issue. As fate would have it, he issued this opinion on the same day that President Barack Obama, through the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, ordered major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, following the lead of California http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-bradley/california-says-welcome-a_b_5433658.html

In a Thursday talk in Newport Beach, Kashkari said that Schwarzenegger failed to reform the state -- at least to his liking -- because "he needed to be loved."

Actually, Schwarzenegger spent an entire year of his governorship pushing four controversial reform initiatives, all of which were defeated. He would have been better served had he tried not to do so much. As it was, he later got one of the those initiatives, on redistricting reform, passed on another try. And his administration's moves served to tee up a successful (so far) lawsuit challenging the state's very expansive teacher tenure laws.

He also infuriated many Democrats by cutting social programs even as he moved forward on the biggest infrastructure program in decades.

In contrast, Kashari says he is the right man for governor because doesn't need to be popular, ignoring the fact that you need to have a certain degree of popularity to get elected in the first place.

"When I talk about my need to be loved, I like to point out I'm the guy who ran TARP," Kashkari gibed. TARP, of course, was the Troubled Assets Relief Program, better known as the Wall Street bailout. Kashkari thinks that was a great success.

And so it was. For some.

More than $400 billion of federal government funds was injected into Wall Street investment firms to keep them afloat after their highly speculative and leveraged projects nearly destroyed them. The program saved the firms, allowing them to keep paying big bonuses to their executives and continuing their business with little interference from the government. It even got paid back, on a dollar for dollar basis, but certainly didn't make any money for the treasury as would have been the case with a private bailout.

It also came with so few strings attached that the economic recovery which followed during the Obama administration has been marked by a relative paucity of broad-based investment, resulting in a remarkably uneven recovery in which vast numbers of Americans have participated not at all.

Which sounds remarkably like the hollowing out of the middle class that Kashkari ludicrously blames on Jerry Brown.

I would say that Kashkari can't possibly believe that he can run against Jerry Brown on the Wall Street bailout, but I've noted his extraordinary ignorance before.

The reality is that he is a bog standard corporate conservative. To him, a tough choice is one that doesn't hurt the elite. He's also a decidedly down-wing candidate, in that he rejects the sort of signature programs of future-oriented candidates of civilizational uplift, i.e., "up-wing" politicians like Schwarzenegger, such as renewable energy, climate change, and high-speed rail.

Instead, Kashkari sticks to big business as usual while he pretends that the only real problems in the state are caused by public employee unions.

If Kashkari was smart, he would study Schwarzenegger's two campaigns for governor for clues on how to be a successful candidate in California without being a liberal Democrat.

Otherwise, he is just an occasional minor noise-maker in Jerry Brown's latest political parade.



Brown delivered this rousing, largely extemporaneous keynote address last week at the annual InterSolar North America conference in San Francisco. Brown, who championed one of the first major solar programs back in 1975, when solar collectors were used for heating water rather than producing electricity with the latter still a phenomenon of the space program, declared solar energy one of the keys to a more just world. But he warned that, despite the vast progress on renewable energy achieved in California, the state still has not achieved a sustainable economy. Yet.

Speaking of which, Brown -- who solved the state's chronic operating budget crisis by continuing Schwarzenegger's budget cuts, adding more of his own, and then raising some taxes on the clients of the firms bailed out by Kashkari's claim to fame -- got some more good news recently, this time about the high-speed rail project. First, longtime Atlantic writer James Fallows launched a series of articles supporting California's high-speed rail program as an historic project after the fashion of the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highway system, even the Silk Road.

The Silk Road? Really? Well, let's not get too carried away.

Then more signs emerged that the bullet train is getting on course. Brown's decision to dedicate a portion of the annual proceeds from the state's greenhouse gas cap-and-trade market has triggered new interest in potential private investments in the project.

Meanwhile, demolition work has begun in the Fresno area to clear the way for the first length of track.

I bet Kashkari ends up getting involved in this when he's back in the investment banking business.





William Bradley Archive

New Raw Video Surfaces In NYPD Chokehold Death (GRAPHIC)

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 18:14
Another video has surfaced online of Eric Garner, a New York man who died after an NYPD officer put him in a chokehold in broad daylight on Thursday.

In the new video, Staten Island resident, 43-year-old Garner, appears unconscious or dead as officers stand around him, keeping him rolled onto his side.

WARNING: This video may be disturbing to some.



Witnesses at the scene remark that police aren't doing enough to save Garner's life in the video.

"Now they're trying to get him an ambulance, after they harassed and slammed him down," a woman taking the video says. "[The] NYPD harassing people for no reason, he didn't do anything at all."

Police said Garner "took a fighting stance" and was resisting an arrest for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes when he suffered a heart attack and died.

Medical examiners have not yet released an official cause of death.

In video obtained exclusively by The New York Daily News, an officer can be seen wrapping his arm around Garner's neck in a chokehold position and throwing him to the ground.

Garner desperately shouts "I can't breathe!" multiple times before going silent.

In the new video, an emergency medical service worker can be seen taking Garner's pulse and attempting to talk to him.

"Why is no one doing CPR?" a witness at the scene asks.

"He's breathing," an officer responds back.

Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed his condolences, and promised a thorough investigation into the incident. In the wake of Garner's death, de Blasio has delayed his ten-day Italian vacation.

@media only screen and (min-width : 500px) {.ethanmobile { display: none; }}

Like Us On Facebook |
Follow Us On Twitter |
Contact The Author

Sustainable Development: An Agenda for India

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 17:47
Over the next 18 months, the world is set to witness three major international events that could be potentially game-changing in efforts aimed at addressing global warming. The first would be the UN Summit next September revolving around the post 2015 development agenda; the second would be centered on the climate negotiations, which are supposed to culminate in Paris in December 2015; and the third would be the meeting to explore a new agreement on finance for development, which will take place next July 2015 in Ethiopia. This "global climate fest" may well turn out to be the world's last chance to save the planet from climate change.

Where does India -- an emerging economy facing enormous growth and social development challenges -- fit in this roadmap?

This is a historic opportunity for India to take the lead in shaping the global sustainability agenda. Backed by a strong electoral mandate, the new Indian government has been actively rooting for clean technology and energy efficiency in its endeavor to pursue a low-carbon growth model. At several fora, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have shared his vision for "sustainable economic growth without compromising on environmental safety." Within a month of coming to power, the government initiated a multi-sector debate on reinvigorating the sacred River Ganges, which is arguably one of India's most polluted water bodies.

The recently-unveiled federal budget also accords high priority to new and renewable energy. Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has proposed to set up mega solar power projects in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Jammu and Kashmir with a fund of Rs. 500 crores. The government has also announced a scheme for solar power driven agricultural pump sets and water pumping stations, for which Jaitley earmarked a sum of Rs. 400 crores in the fiscal plan. In addition, implementation of the Green Energy Corridor Project is expected to be accelerated in this financial year to boost renewable energy across the country.

This churning stems from the growing socio-political realization in India on the need to take ecological challenges head on. Growing pollution levels (a 2014 WHO report ranked New Delhi as the world's worst city in terms of air pollution), water scarcity and energy crisis have been raising fetters across India. And justifiably so: after all, the country is particularly vulnerable to global ecological variations. In the last few years, many of its water bodies have dried up and groundwater levels have been depleting due to unplanned urbanization. There has been widespread damage to natural ecosystems and biodiversity; and land degradation and extreme weather events have severely impacted agriculture.

Combining economic development and environmental sustainability -- and fast -- is hence imperative for the new government, as it charts out a new development strategy in infrastructure, water, energy, agriculture and jobs.

The question is what India can do to bring about low-carbon development in its economic mix. The shift to renewables, although necessary, is tricky because it requires higher capital investments. To bear this cost burden, India would need to depend on foreign fund inflows and technology assistance, especially with wind, solar and natural gas utilization. Reducing the cost of wind and solar storage technologies with technical progress will be the most crucial step in India's journey towards following a low carbon strategy, claim experts.

At a recent media interaction in New Delhi, Economist Jeffrey Sachs said, "We cannot combine growth and climate safety using existing technology. The only choice is a massive shift of technology. Some of those technologies exist but are not deployed. India at a very small cost could be deploying more renewable energy technologies than it does at present. Hydropower from Nepal and the Himalayas can be channelized and used. Globally, I feel by 2030, new automobiles should be zero CO2 emitting vehicles. They should be electric, fuel cell, advances biofuels but not internal combustion engines of the traditional sort. That is only 16 years from now. The question is moving as aggressively as possible towards right technologies."

That India's energy costs are high is evident. The other pertinent problem is that of accessibility of affordable energy. The development of mini-power stations and mini grids is the single most important opportunity to explore and address rural and remote electrification. Models that allow mass scale development of such grids, without capital subsidy, but through feed-in tariffs, may be be considered.

Transportation efficiency and fuel economy standards in India also need serious attention, as many Indian cities -- including Tier-2 and Tier-3 town -- rapidly motorize and urbanize. It is essential to rethink a mobility system that allows and supports public transport. At present, efforts are focused towards trying to fit in public transport models within a cars-centric system in Indian cities, but not creating innovative mechanisms and models for public transport.

Indian leadership has made climate change planning a priority but this is an ideal time to move over rhetoric and deliver the goods. In the past few years, India has experienced multiple extreme weather events, including record-breaking heat, crippling drought, and devastating storms and floods. It is hence vital to understand, prepare for and respond to new risks that are emerging across a range of sectors. Building institutional capacity to address climate risks will be crucial to protect livelihoods and promote sustainable development. For instance, capacity building in water continues to be huge issue for India. There is a significant skills shortage in the field, and high demand to recruit people for the water industry. Collaborative training programs may be an answer to deal with this problem.

Undeniably, greater investment is the cornerstone for sustainable growth. It is clear that for India, moving ahead with resilience will require substantial capital. Indeed, the price tag for both sudden-onset and slow-onset climate events will be large, but resiliency measures that aim to protect coasts, water resource, agriculture, and other areas can lower the cost burden. As Sachs puts it, "Our development is about consumption. We don't think about the future, we don't invest towards social returns. The market signals are wrong about this. Our politicians' time horizons are wrong about this. It turns out this is all very consequential. We can't even make consumption growth anymore."

Raising these issues at the 2015 meetings, India should push for a set of global goals -- including reducing coal dependence; shifting to cleaner technologies; and increasing resource efficiency -- to be incorporated into national policies by all governments. This would be an effective way for governments to examine their carbon use arithmetic -- how much CO2 will be emitted over which periods of time, what can be done about that technologically, and what would be a fair and adequate way to reach a global agreement to keep within that carbon budget.

The message is clear: Sustainable development will not be easy. Yet, it is an unavoidable responsibility that is achievable with better planning, stronger policies, and effective execution. Governments can no longer look at the issue from a narrow, short-term perspective. To avoid destabilization of the planet, the inclusion of the sustainable development agenda in public and private policy spheres is not only unavoidable, but inescapable.

--

(Samarth Pathak is a Program Officer at the Ananta Aspen Centre, a New Delhi-based institution working on international relations, domestic policy and values-based leadership. A former journalist, his experience encompasses news reporting and policy research on issues pertaining to politics, foreign policy and human rights. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Views expressed are personal.)

GOP Will Find a Way to Blame President Obama on Ukraine Jet Downing

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 17:40
The monstrous downing of a Malaysian jet liner apparently by Russian backed separatists in the Ukraine did something that few thought could happen. It has gotten GOP leaders momentarily to agree with President Obama when he pointed the finger squarely at Russia for the horrific attack. But don't expect the GOP's hand hold with Obama to last. GOP leaders have been relentlessly snipping at Obama from the moment that Russia muscled into the Ukraine, lopped off slices of its territory, and cheered on and supplied pro-Russian separatists in the nation with sophisticated weapons. Presumably those weapons include the kind of missile thought to have taken down the jetliner. If it's shown beyond doubt that the rebels downed the plane and did it with a Russian supplied missile, GOP leaders almost certainly will renew their barrage of attacks on Obama.

As always, their attacks will have absolutely nothing to do with indignation and outrage over the mass killing. It will have everything to do with politics. In April, when Obama first talked with Russian President Vladimir Putin to get him to stand down on stirring up tensions in the country, GOP leaders pounced. They branded him as too weak, soft and conciliatory. The smear was a rerun of the same smears it has repeated time and again against him on the issues of national security and foreign policy.

The GOP has dusted off the script on every foreign policy crisis that's popped up since Obama entered the White House. The list is endless: Somalia, Bin Laden, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran and, of course, Benghazi. In each instance, just change the names and the rap is till the same, he's weak, indecisive, and soft, and always the charge is that his alleged weakness somehow puts the nation at mortal risk. As in every one of the crisis's that Obama allegedly bungled and jeopardized the nation's security, the unreconstructed cold war hawks and professional GOP Obama bashers flatly declare that the U.S. must get tough, firm and resolute up to and including a military and even nuclear a saber rattle against a perceived American foreign enemy.
The Ukraine crisis has been no different. GOP leaders have called for Obama to do everything short of putting boots on the ground in the Ukraine to battle the Russian backed separatists. The only thing that has stopped those tempted to cross that line and make that call is the vehement overwhelming opposition of the American public. As horrible, bloody and now humanly catastrophic with the jetliner attack, the conflict is, it's still a regional conflict in which the U.S., no matter how long and loud the saber rattle from the GOP, can do little beyond the strongest political and moral condemnation and sanctions. In themselves they are weak and for the most part ineffectual. As morally odious as the conflict is especially with its latest horrific turn, it still poses no direct threat to American security.

However, that means little to a GOP determined to score big in the mid-term elections. It will do everything it can to turn the heinous downing of the jetliner into yet another political indictment of Obama. They will scream louder to slap even tougher sanctions on Russia. Some of which are border on the absurd. This includes proposals to bar Russia from landing its Aeroflot planes in the U.S and other Western nation airports and even more dangerous and counterproductive, demanding that the U.S. arm the Ukraine military to the teeth. This almost certainly will guarantee a frantic arms race with Russia shipping even more heavy weaponry to the Rebels. The GOP nowhere explains exactly how any of this will bring Russia to its knees, to stop it from aiding the rebels or make airspace over Ukraine any safer.

Obama's sensible option continues to be to redouble efforts through a combination of new sanctions which he did a day before the jetliner debacle that involved energy and banking transactions and negotiations aimed at stopping the flow of weapons and military support to the rebels. No matter how loud the war hawks scream about Obama's actions, he has little choice but to try and help craft a solution through diplomacy. This hardly shows weakness, but recognition that the U.S.'s options are few.

The Malaysian jet liner downing was a senseless and heart-breaking tragedy that served absolutely no political or military purpose for the rebel separatists, if they indeed committed the dastardly deed. It will fuel even further the justifiable worldwide public rage at Russia and Putin. It will push Russia further to being branded a rogue state. Obama's careful measures in dealing with the conflict have done much to insure that's the case. The GOP's inevitable finger point at him for the latest tragedy in the Ukraine will stand again as nothing more than the usual false, phony and opportunistic political pandering.

--

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

May Musharraf Escape Treason?

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 17:18
Pakistani politicians are faltering in their resolve to prosecute General Pervez Musharraf for high treason. Under Article 6 of the Pakistan constitution, "any person who abrogates or subverts or suspends or holds in abeyance, or attempts or conspires to abrogate or subvert or suspend or hold in abeyance, the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by any other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason." This far-reaching language was drafted to deter military generals from seizing power. In 1999, Musharraf did topple a democratically elected government. However, the treason case for which Musharraf is being prosecuted involves the 2007 subversion of the constitution -- a move directly assaulting the independence of judiciary.

In 2007, Musharraf did not overthrow a civilian government. This time Musharraf staged a coup against the Pakistan Supreme Court. By 2007, under an emerging lawyers' movement to restore democracy, the judiciary had been emboldened to stand up to the military generals. Fearing a non-cooperative Supreme Court, Musharraf found a way to remove the antagonistic judges. Invoking the non-existing powers of the Chief of Army Staff, Musharraf passed a new ordinance, prescribing a fresh Oath of Office for all Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. Many Judges refused to comply. Some Judges were not even invited to take the Oath. A few Judges of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice of Pakistan, were put under house arrest.

Nowhere does the constitution empower the Chief of Army Staff to demand a fresh Oath of Office from Judges of Superior Courts. This brazen constitutional subversion lies at the core of the high treason case against Musharraf.

Political Wisdom

The political elite of Pakistan are divided over the prosecution of General Musharraf. The party in power favors prosecution. Musharraf's name has been placed on the Exit Control List, which means that he cannot leave the country though he has been granted bail in all outstanding cases. While a listless prosecution is moving at a snail pace, some prominent politicians are speaking against the wisdom of prosecution. They prefer that the prosecution be halted and Musharraf be allowed to leave the country.

The pro-Musharraf forces make several pragmatic arguments. Two arguments carry the most traction. First, they argue that the military establishment opposes the Musharraf prosecution. Therefore, antagonizing the generals does not serve the larger interests of Pakistan, particularly at a time when the military is fighting in North Waziristan. Second, they argue that the government should focus on solving more pressing problems, including poverty and shortage of energy, rather than wasting time and resources on prosecution. The party in power is losing steam in making a strong case for the finality of prosecution, and pro-Musharraf forces seem to be gaining momentum.



Law's Wisdom

It is unclear how Pakistani lawyers and judges feel about letting Musharraf go. Lawyers need to be more vocal in expressing their views. After all, the 2007 constitutional subversion was not against politicians or elections; it was against Judges and the rule of law. Musharraf invoked arbitrary powers to dismiss and detain Judges, not politicians. Lawyers know that a nation without an independent judiciary lacks stability and eventually fails. That is why the independence of judiciary is a core principle of contemporary human civilization regardless of culture, religion, political system, and form of government. When judges are at the mercy of rulers, law is no longer a vital force.

While politics is the name of compromise, law is much more complex. Surely, law allows negotiated solution, mediation, conciliation, and settlement of disputes. Relentless compromising, however, is not the wisdom of law. Law needs to be sturdy in select cases. For example, the perpetrators of torture, rape, and genocide cannot be allowed to settle their crimes. The society has a stake in the prosecution of certain crimes even if the victims are willing to forgive and forget.

The Pakistan constitution rightfully identifies constitutional subversion as high treason. Arbitrary dismissal and detention of the Judges of Superior Courts is unforgivable. The treason case is showing the nation that law can reach the high and the mighty. Any political compromise that weakens the sturdy hand of law and finds a way for Musharraf to escape the charges of constitutional subversion will be a regrettable choice. The Pakistan Supreme Court needs to be vigilant in making certain that the law is not compromised.

This Is Where You Don't Want Your Tax Dollars Going

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 17:09
After the inevitable argument broke out in my high school civics class -- I was often the lone voice or at least the leader of a chorus of quiet liberal voices who dared speak out against the conservative rhetoric of my red-district raised classmates -- my teacher looked me in the eye and wondered what would happen when I received my first paycheck and saw the chunk of change taken out for taxes.

"I'll bet you'll become more conservative in your views then, Higgins," she told me.

There's not much empirical evidence that backs the claim that one grows more conservative with age, but its an axiom that stems back to at least 1922, to a book on aging written by American psychologist GS Hall. Now, political scientists recognize that political identification and ideology is largely generational, with people shaping their views as they become aware of the world. That's why today's teenagers, born in the late '90s and early 2000s, are more likely to lean further to the right than millenials. They lack memories of the Bush years, but have become socialized politically in a time period where a Democratic president inherited two long drawn-out wars, struggled to pull the economy out of the post-2008 recession, and condemned the man who revealed the extent of the government surveillance program which had its roots in post-9/11 legislation.

But let's for a minute, accept the idea that politics isn't fully generational and something about sending a moderate fraction of every paycheck to the government really does make people become more conservative with age.

I'll admit, that moment that I received my first paycheck from my first real-world, post-college job, I was stunned that the amount I calculated I would have for rent, loan payments and happy hours was much less than I thought.

However, my instinct was not, and still is not, that there should be no health care, no social security, no public benefits, or any of the number of expenditures that conservatives protest against paying for with their tax dollars.

It is entirely possible to be critical of where your tax money is going without "becoming conservative" and letting go of the liberal notion that higher tax rates -- when allocated effectively -- can create a more even playing field, domestically through welfare programs and abroad through foreign aid.

The truth is, there are large sums of money within the federal budget that are not allocated in a way that is remotely in line with liberal values. Liberals may mock conservatives who don't want their money going toward "abortion pills like Plan-B," laugh and tell them to pay up like the rest of us, but we must remember that unless we stand up for our values and make an attempt to have some say in where our tax dollars are going, we are complicit in the very types of oppression to which we are ideologically opposed.

Federal spending for the "War on Drugs" amounts to an estimated $15 billion annually while state and local governments pick up the tab for another $25.7 billion. The United States boasts the largest incarcerated population in the world, and many of those serving time are behind bars on drug charges. At the state level, 16 percent of male prisoners were incarcerated for drug offenses while amongst the female inmates, who are overwhelmingly women of color, 25 percent were serving time for drug offenses. The statistics on federal prisoners, are even more striking. In June 2014, 49.7 percent of the federal prison population were serving time for drug offenses. Where African-Americans are four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than whites despite the fact that statistics show the two groups use the drug at similar rates, the War on Drugs is one example of a systematic criminalization of race that is completely contrary to liberal values.

The U.S. spends more than $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement. Aside from dollars, immigration enforcement also has a high human cost. This past year alone, the Border Patrol apprehended 57,525 unaccompanied minors who went to overcrowded processing facilities such as this one in Texas. Meanwhile, the U.S. inexplicably spends about $5 billion a year on deportations rather than make better use of federal funds to treat these children as refugees and do something other than send these children, some of which are as young as four-years-old, "back to certain death." Liberals wouldn't tolerate this treatment of refugees abroad, so why allow your tax dollars to fund it here?

And finally, and the issue where many liberals seem to forget their values, is the U.S. financing of the Israel and her military, the IDF.

Since World War II, the United States has provided Israel with $121 billion in foreign assistance, making Israel the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid in history.

Supporters of Israel and the IDF will tell you that Israeli aid is all in the form of buy-backs, and isn't really foreign aid per se, which is true, but it still does not compute that a nation that is far wealthier than it neighbors combined requires $3 billion a year in what boils down to coupons for guns.

Supporters of Israel will tell you that it is necessary because Israel cannot afford to lose a war, and the surrounding Middle Eastern states represent an existential threat to the Jewish state. But this argument, which is highly questionable considering Israel is the only state in the region with nuclear capabilities, still does not justify an illegal, highly asymmetrical war against the Palestinian population.

Netanyahu's argument for the current assault on Gaza, which has been reiterated by the U.S. government, is that Israel has a right to defend herself from rockets attacks from Hamas. But the reality is, Palestine has a legal right to resist occupation under international law, as per the 1960 Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.

As the occupier of the land she claimed in the 1967 war, the rights and responsibilities of Israel differ dramatically from those afforded to Palestinians. As Noura Erakat, Co-Editor of Jadaliyya writes:

Israel has the right to protect itself and its citizens from attacks by Palestinians who reside in the occupied territories. However, Israel also has a duty to maintain law and order, also known as "normal life," within territory it occupies...where an occupation already is in place, the right to initiate militarized force in response to an armed attack, as opposed to police force to restore order, is not a remedy available to the occupying state.

Defending oneself from low tech Hamas rockets need not take the form of militarized force: Israel's sophisticated Iron Dome and the use of police force when necessary, not all out warfare, would be enough. Even if Israel were entitled to use military force against the occupied population, the disproportionate force and the targeting of schools, hospitals, mosques and homes which has resulted in an 80 percent civilian casualty rate are not protected uses of military power under international law. As law professor Majorie Cohn writes:

Israel's overwhelming use of military force constitutes collective punishment, which is a war crime. The laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, are primarily found in the Geneva Conventions. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a party, specifically forbids collective punishment. It says, "No protected person [civilian] may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed ... Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territory, and unless it stops killing Gazan children and civilians in its pursuit to oust Hamas and take greater control of Palestine, I cannot and no American liberal should, support the United States government bankrolling Israel.

So though I surely did not become more conservative with age or my first paycheck, I found a few things that I do not want my tax dollars funding. Let's make some noise on the left and shake up this highly entrenched system where year after year, our tax dollars fund the very systems of oppression we on the left seek to dismantle.

Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Destroying Evidence At Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash Site

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 17:01

By Anton Zverev and Peter Graff

HRABOVE/DONETSK, Ukraine, July 19 (Reuters) - Ukraine accused Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Saturday of destroying evidence to cover up their guilt in the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner that has accelerated a showdown between the Kremlin and Western powers.

As militants kept international monitors away from wreckage and scores of bodies festered for a third day, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the rebels to cooperate and insisted that a U.N.-mandated investigation must not leap to conclusions. Moscow denies involvement and has pointed a finger at Kiev's military.

The Dutch government, whose citizens made up more than half the 298 aboard MH17 from Amsterdam, said it was "furious" at the manhandling of corpses strewn for miles over open country and asked Ukraine's president for help to bring "our people" home.

After U.S. President Barack Obama said the loss of the Kuala Lumpur-bound flight showed it was time to end the conflict, Germany called it Moscow's last chance to cooperate.

European powers seemed to swing behind Washington's belief Russia's separatist allies were to blame. That might speed new trade sanctions on Moscow, without waiting for definitive proof.

"He has one last chance to show he means to help," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after a telephone call to Putin.

Britain, which lost 10 citizens, said Prime Minister David Cameron agreed with Rutte that the European Union, warier than Washington of hurting its own economy by imposing sanctions, should reconsider its approach due to evidence of rebel guilt. On Friday, Cameron had urged caution before an investigation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most powerful figure in the EU, spoke to Putin on Saturday, urging his cooperation. Merkel's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper: "Moscow may have a last chance now to show that it really is seriously interested in a solution."

"Now is the moment for everyone to stop and think to themselves what might happen if we don't stop the escalation."

Germany, reliant like other EU states on Russian energy and more engaged in Russian trade than the United States, has been reluctant to escalate a confrontation with Moscow that has revived memories of the Cold War. But with military action not seen as an option, economic leverage is a vital instrument.


RUSSIAN RETALIATION

Russia said on Saturday it was retaliating against sanctions imposed by the United States last week, before the air disaster, by barring entry to unnamed Americans and warned of a "boomerang effect" on U.S. business. But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did agree in a phone call to try and get both sides in Ukraine to reach a consensus on peace.

Driving home its assertion that the Boeing 777 was hit by a Russian SA-11 radar-guided missile, Ukraine's Western-backed government said it had "compelling evidence" the battery was not just brought in from Russia but manned by three Russian citizens who had now taken the truck-mounted system back over the border.

The prime minister, denying Russian suggestions that Kiev's forces had fired a missile, said only a "very professional" crew could have brought down the speeding jetliner from 33,000 feet - not "drunken gorillas" among the ill-trained insurgents who want the Russian-speaking east to be annexed by Moscow.

Fighting flared in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. The government said it was pressing its offensive in the east.

Observers from Europe's OSCE security agency visited part of the crash site near the village of Hrabove for a second day on Saturday and again found their access hampered by armed men from the forces of the self-declared People's Republic of Donetsk. An OSCE official said, however, they saw more than on Friday.

At one point, a Reuters correspondent heard a senior rebel tell the OSCE delegation they could not approach the wreckage and would simply be informed in due course of an investigation conducted by the separatists. However, fighters later let them visit an area where one of the airliner's two engines lay.

"The terrorists, with the help of Russia, are trying to destroy evidence of international crimes," the Ukrainian government said in a statement. "The terrorists have taken 38 bodies to the morgue in Donetsk," it said, accusing people with "strong Russian accents" of threatening to conduct autopsies.

Ukraine's prime minister said armed men had barred government experts from collecting evidence.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko urged the United Nations on Saturday to label rebels fighting his forces in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as belonging to "terrorist organizations".


RETRIEVING REMAINS

In the regional capital Donetsk, the prime minister of the separatist authorities told a news conference that Kiev was holding up the arrival of international experts whose mission to probe the cause - and potentially blame - for the disaster was authorized on Friday by the United Nations Security Council.

And contrary to earlier statements by the rebels, Alexander Borodai said they had not found the black box flight recorders. He said rebels were avoiding disturbing the area.

"There's a grandmother. A body landed right in her bed. She says 'please take this body away'. But we cannot tamper with the site," Borodai said. "Bodies of innocent people are lying out in the heat. We reserve the right, if the delay continues ... to begin the process of taking away the bodies. We ask the Russian Federation to help us with this problem and send their experts."

Midday temperatures are around 30 Celsius (85 Fahrenheit).

At Hrabove, one armed man from the separatist forces told Reuters that bodies had already been taken away in trucks. Another said that immediately after the crash people had looted valuables. But fighters and local people say they have been doing their best to collect evidence and preserve human remains.

As the stench of death began to pervade the area after Thursday's crash, correspondents watched rescue workers carry bodies across the fields and gather remains in black sacks.

Meeting Ukrainian President Poroshenko in Kiev, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said: "We are already shocked by the news we got today of bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly ... People are angry, furious."

The Ukrainian security council in Kiev said staff of the emergencies ministry had found 186 bodies and had checked some 18 sq km (7 square miles) of the scattered 25-sq km crash site. But the workers were not free to conduct a normal investigation.

"The fighters have let the Emergencies Ministry workers in there but they are not allowing them to take anything from the area," security council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said. "The fighters are taking away all that has been found."

Malaysia, whose national airline has been battered by its second major disaster this year, said it was "inhumane" to bar access to the site around the village of Hrabove but said Russia was doing its "level best" to help.

A team of Malaysian experts flew in to Kiev on Saturday and experts from Interpol are due there on Sunday to help with the identification of victims. Dutch, U.S. and a host of other specialists are being lined up to help in the investigation.

As tales of personal grief unfolded, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak revealed his own family was involved - his 83-year-old step-grandmother had been aboard the flight.

The United Nations said 80 children were aboard. The deadliest attack on a commercial airliner follows the disappearance of flight MH370 in March with 239 passengers.

Malaysia Airlines has defended its use of the route, 1,000 feet above the area close by Ukraine due to the hostilities. Some airlines had been avoiding the area, though many others were flying over. The issue has raised questions of liability for the deaths and damage and about international supervisors' roles.

The scale of the disaster could prove a turning point for international pressure to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, which has killed hundreds since pro-Western protests toppled the Moscow-backed president in Kiev in February and Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula a month later. (Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Elizabeth Piper in Kiev, Peter Graff in Donetsk and Siva Govindasamy and Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah in Kuala Lumpur; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Sonya Hepinstall)

Congressional Staffer Pleads Not Guilty To Gun Charge

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 16:45
Ryan Shucard, the Capitol Hill aide who allegedly tried to bring a 9 mm handgun and magazine to work Friday, was released from police custody on Saturday afternoon after pleading not guilty to a felony charge for carrying a pistol.

Constitutional Rights in the Digital Age

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 16:22
The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Riley v. California held that the police must obtain a warrant before searching the cell phone of someone who has been arrested. This decision applied the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- which prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures" -- to take account of vast advances in technology since the time the Constitution was written.

What should Riley tell us about how the development of technology affects other constitutional protections? In particular, how does the rise of the Internet affect the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to free speech?

The Court's decision in Riley rested on a simple premise: Cell phones are different from ordinary physical objects. The latter may be searched following a lawful arrest. The former, after Riley, may not. That is because, to use the Court's own words, "Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse."

So if searches of cell phones are different from searches of ordinary physical objects, then should online speech be analyzed differently from offline speech? The logical answer is yes. Just as cell phones are different from ordinary physical objects, the Internet is dramatically different from earlier speech mediums. And the Court should acknowledge those differences in determining the scope of First Amendment protection for speech.

The differences between offline and online communication closely parallel Riley's distinction between ordinary physical objects and cell phones. One such distinction is quantitative. As the Court wrote in Riley: "One of the most notable distinguishing features of modern cell phones is their immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and tended as a general matter to constitute only a narrow intrusion on privacy." This quantitative distinction extends to online speech. A large distribution of fliers might reach a few thousand people; in contrast, a public posting anywhere on the Internet can be read by billions. For instance, reddit.com -- where anyone can post content -- reports between 15 and 20 million unique visitors per month.

Riley also noted qualitative differences between ordinary physical objects and cell phones. The Court stated: "The term 'cell phone' is itself misleading shorthand; many of these devices are in fact minicomputers that also happen to have the capacity to be used as a telephone. They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers." That is, cell phones "collect[] in one place many distinct types of information -- an address, a note, a prescription, a bank statement, a video."

The Internet likewise enables qualitatively different speech. Internet speech incorporates linking, which -- not unlike the cell phone in Riley -- aggregates a great quantity of information in a single place and creates a close connection between original and linked material. A much greater quantity of Internet speech is anonymous, and research indicates that anonymity breeds incivility as well as harassment and threats, which research has found disproportionately affect women. As many people have learned the hard way, the combination of the Internet and other electronic forms of communication enable the viral spread of information in a manner vastly different from people passing copies of a news article from hand to hand or calling up their neighbors to spread a juicy bit of gossip. And Internet speech is often both permanent and easily retrieved in a matter of seconds using a search engine, in stark contrast to the effort required to locate a yellowed news clipping stored in a box in the attic.

The First Amendment should take account of these differences between online and offline speech, as the following examples illustrate.

Consider, first, the doctrine of obscenity. The Supreme Court held in Miller v. California that speech is obscene only if "the average person, applying contemporary community standards," would believe that the allegedly obscene item appeals to the "prurient interest," or an excessive and unhealthy interest in sexual matters. The Court specified that contemporary community standards should be evaluated locally: that is, what counts as prurient in Topeka might not in San Francisco. Yet while perhaps locally-calibrated evaluation made sense in 1973, when Miller was decided, the standard requires updating now that an image posted on the Internet is theoretically viewable by anyone in the world.

Second, the Supreme Court will soon take up the question of whether and how the First Amendment protects arguably threatening speech posted on the Internet. The Court recently granted review in Elonis v. United States, a case involving a man who was convicted under a federal law that criminalizes "true threats" after he posted disturbing rap lyrics about his ex-wife on Facebook. The lyrics included such statements as:

There's one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die, bitch, so I can bust this nut all over your corpse from atop your shallow grave. I used to be a nice guy but then you became a slut.

The defendant's lyrics also involved a number of other violent statements, including a reference to "making a name for himself" with a kindergarten shooting and a fantasy about killing an F.B.I. agent. An issue in the case is whether the statements were "true threats" -- in particular, whether the defendant's claim that he did not intend his statements as serious threats should matter. Here again, the distinct qualities of the Internet make a difference. Because the Internet filters out voice and demeanor cues, online statements provide less information about the seriousness of the statement, and are thus more likely to be reasonably interpreted as threats. Likewise, because the Internet is not tied to a particular physical location, disturbing statements are more alarming to a reasonable person: one doesn't know whether the person making the threats is in a different state or in the next room. The Court should take these realities into account next term in fashioning a "true threats" doctrine for the digital age.

Third, the Internet medium poses novel considerations when it comes to First Amendment doctrine governing hate speech. The Court's past decisions on that issue have been mixed: in RAV v. City of St. Paul, the Court unanimously struck down a hate-crime ordinance that had been interpreted to criminalize cross-burning, while in Virginia v. Black, it upheld a statute that criminalized cross-burning so long as "intent to intimidate" was proven. Yet there are good reasons for the Court to analyze Internet hate speech differently. First, the Internet facilitates the gathering of like-minded individuals united by their hatred of particular groups. Second, the anonymity of the Internet facilitates easy expression of hateful ideas. And finally, Internet hate speech sometimes leads to serious real-world consequences: consider, for example, the ease with which al-Qaeda's hateful anti-American sentiments facilitate recruitment of new members.

Fourth, the phenomenon of "revenge porn" -- the distribution of intimate pictures of another person without that person's consent -- is another instance in which First Amendment analysis should take account of the unique characteristics of Internet speech. Some have argued that new state laws criminalizing revenge porn are, in at least some instances, constitutionally sound and good policy; others are more ambivalent. But broadcasting intimate images to the public via the Internet is quantitatively and qualitatively different from, say, distribution of such images by mail. I do not mean to imply that offline non-consensual distribution could not also be prohibited consistent with the U.S. Constitution. But First Amendment analysis of statutes criminalizing Internet revenge porn should not ignore the real-world differences associated with online distribution. The Internet allows easy dissemination of large quantities of revenge porn, facilitates the viral spread of such material, and potentially preserves the material online indefinitely, with devastating consequences for victims.

The Supreme Court's decision in Riley is a timely acknowledgment of the need for Fourth Amendment doctrine to take account of developments in technology. It's time for the Court to do the same with other areas of constitutional law, starting with the First Amendment.

Photos Show Tariq Abu Khdeir's Family Home Ransacked By Israeli Police

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 15:12
Israeli police raided the home of 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir early Friday, just hours after the Palestinian-American teenager left for Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport to return home to Tampa, Florida.

Abu Khdeir, whose brutal beating at the hands of Israeli security forces was captured on camera, had been under house arrest in East Jerusalem. He was released on Thursday after pressure from the U.S. State Department and an ABC interview, wherein he defended his presence at a protest of the murder of his cousin, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive.

According to Hassan Shibly, Abu Khdeir's legal counsel and the director of the Florida branch of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, Israeli police burst into the family home in Shufat on Friday and destroyed furniture and emptied cabinets. Shibly said the police then arrested and detained Abu Khdeir's uncle and two other cousins without charges.

Abu Khdeir’s mother said she was informed by a judge that they would be released, according to Mondoweiss. However, Shibly told HuffPost that they still remain in custody, and it is unclear when or if they would be released.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a press briefing Friday that the United States was "shocked by the treatment of Tariq and strongly condemned any excessive use of force."

"We are deeply concerned about this latest development and reports and are closely tracking them on the ground," Psaki said.

But Psaki couldn't confirm whether Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had discussed the latest reports about the incident.

In a statement to HuffPost, CAIR urged the State Department to investigate the matter, which it called an "apparent retaliation" against the family for publicizing Abu Khdeir's beating.

"This is clearly unacceptable retaliation against the Khdeir family for exposing the brutal treatment Tariq received at the hands of the Israeli police," it read. "The State Department must send a clear message that Israel cannot continue to violate human rights and international law with impunity."

CAIR released photos that allegedly show the Khdeir home after the visit by Israeli police:






Amherst Sued For Trying To Handle A Sexual Assault Case Almost 5 Years Later

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 13:41
A would-be 2014 Amherst College graduate is suing the school for $2 million in damages after it withheld his diploma to investigate allegations that he sexually assaulted a former roommate almost five years ago.

Last month, the accused student filed a lawsuit against Amherst in U.S. District Court in Springfield, Massachusetts, under the name John Doe. The suit claims he's facing double jeopardy for an offense he didn't commit.

The case embodies the complications and confusion facing a prestigious Massachusetts school as it tries to address its handling of similar cases, after coming under fire for claims it failed multiple sexual assault survivors.

Because the case is now playing out in court, the roommate who claims he was assaulted told HuffPost that he feels forced out into the open. He never had any intention of making his allegations public, he said. Many of the documents related to the college's 2014 investigation, including some from the roommate and Doe, have been submitted to the court.

"If you are anyone from the class of 2013, you know him, and you know I was his roommate freshman year," Doe’s former roommate, who requested anonymity to protect his privacy, told The Huffington Post. "It's sort of what I was trying to avoid."

According to court documents, Doe's roommate reported that in the early morning hours of Dec. 19, 2009, he awoke to find Doe in his bed, smelling of alcohol. Doe later told college investigators he had seven to nine drinks that night. According to undisputed facts of the investigation, the roommate told Doe that he did not want to have sex. The investigator's report states that Doe said it wasn't clear to him whether the complainant was enjoying his kissing, "but he did not show signs of resisting," and sexual contact ensued.

Court documents also indicate that during his freshman year in fall 2009, the roommate had reported Doe to the college for coming into his private bedroom on multiple occasions at night in just his underwear, alleging Doe was sometimes intoxicated and solicited him for sex. An Amherst investigator's report from 2014 stated such episodes like this happened on several occasions leading up to the alleged 2009 assault.

The roommate has denied reciprocating Doe's advances in any way on the morning of Dec. 19. According to statements to the investigator in 2014, he took a shower after the alleged assault and spent the rest of the night out of his room, contacting his family.

Emails submitted to the court indicate that later that morning, Doe’s roommate called Assistant Director of Residential Life Pamela Stawasz, who relocated the roommate to another room and helped him purchase new bedding. The roommate told HuffPost that the school did not tell him at the time that pursuing adjudication was an option.

According to documents provided to the court, Dean Allen Hart placed Doe on medical leave in 2010 for problems with "alcohol use" and "deeper personal issues" that had contributed to "multiple episodes of improper, non-consensual personal contact with other students." Hart also wrote in another letter that he placed Doe on a medical leave "rather than impose a disciplinary suspension."

When Doe returned to the college, he was warned in a letter that if he violated the honor code, he could face "further disciplinary action." A March 2010 letter from the school to Doe, provided to the court, noted that his behavior had violated the honor code and "could have resulted in disciplinary actions being taken against you."

The roommate said he dropped out in 2011 to avoid going to school with Doe.

The roommate told HuffPost that he learned in the spring of 2014 that Doe had been hired by the college as a "Green Dean," which would require Doe to travel the country speaking to graduating high school seniors who were considering applying to Amherst.

The roommate told HuffPost he contacted Amherst officials to find out what happened. Court documents indicate that Hart was unaware that Doe had been hired by the college, and that the staff that hired him was unaware of the 2009 issue.

Amherst’s annual report on discipline for the 2009-10 year makes no mention of the adjudication against Doe.

On May 14, Amherst Title IX coordinator Laurie Frankl, who oversees sexual misconduct complaints, learned of the incident and moved to have an independent attorney formally investigate the allegation against Doe, with the college as a complainant. The roommate who reported the assault is not a party to the investigation.

Doe states in his suit that he was informed he couldn't receive a degree until a misconduct board hearing took place. Then, Doe says he was told, the faculty and trustees would vote to confer his degree, in October at the earliest. Amherst also informed Doe that he would no longer be employed by the college.

Doe filed his lawsuit last month, seeking an injunction against Amherst to stop it from pursuing its disciplinary process. Doe claims he's facing double jeopardy in the case because his medical leave constituted a punishment.

Doe, a South Africa native, also told the court he risks deportation due to the loss of his job with the college. Luke Ryan, Doe's attorney, said his client "wishes to be compensated for the loss of a job with the Office of Admission that he was counting on," and to hold Amherst "accountable for its unjust actions." Ryan said Doe hopes the lawsuit "will make Amherst less likely to put another student through the ordeal he is experiencing."

"We allege that the College breached that contract by seeking to subject him to further discipline for an incident that led to him being placed on probation," Ryan added, noting his client was on probation after returning from medical leave.

When asked for comment, the college defended its actions as in keeping with its policies, and characterized Doe's claim that the loss of his employment with Amherst puts him at risk of deportation as "speculation."

The judge declined to rule from the bench Tuesday and is expected to issue a written opinion by July 21.

The roommate told HuffPost that he believes the college "mishandled everything" in 2009, but is trying to make things right.

"Amherst is making some really good decisions, from my point of view," he told HuffPost, "and they've put themselves in a very precarious legal situation to do that. They're getting sued ... and they don't necessarily have anything to gain from it."

Who Started It Doesn't Matter, Who Has the Wisdom To End It Does

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 04:19


Remember back in childhood how, whenever a melee erupted on the playground or in a backyard, mothers, fathers or teachers would suddenly emerge to pull wrestling bodies apart while some sweaty kid, with pointed fingers and glaring eyes, would caterwaul, "But he started it!"? That familiar, blurted defense was intended to justify the chaos and fisticuffs, rationalize the bullying and bloody noses, and, usually, it didn't work.

Because instead of reacting as the finger-pointing child hoped, most intelligent adults would respond along the lines of (and this was my mother's favorite rejoinder): "I don't care who started it! I just want to know which one of you is going to end it?" And from there heads hung, consequences were meted, and we'd be on our way, grumbling about how unfair life was.

Yet our parents' wisdom in understanding that who "started it" was irrelevant to the goal of peace was actually a highly evolved concept pulled right from the tenets of higher consciousness thinking, philosophy that seeks to transcend our biological response to aggression and adversity. Unfortunately, the persistence of human beings to assert that who "started it" matters terribly (with results that usually are terrible), is, in fact, the flawed rationale behind why rockets are blowing up families in the Middle East and passenger planes are being shot out of the sky in service to the Ukraine/Russian skirmish. We are a world beset by tragedy and trauma motivated by the battle cry, "they started it!" and... it's killing us.

While many question who exactly shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 (according to the latest it was Russian-backed separatists), and media, social and otherwise, is aflame with heated discussions of who's more right or wrong in the Middle East, there's no end to the spectrum of finger pointing to be found. Charles Krauthammer's "Moral Clarity In Gaza" was posted on Facebook today with an assertion that it defined who, at least, "started it," but my own thought was: does that really matter at this point? Hasn't the never-ending reality of war proven that defining who "started it" has no bearing on the impact and tragedy of the escalation beyond that inception?

But we continue to go round and round, century after century, for time immemorial, ripping each other to shreds with pointed fingers, bombs and rockets, terrorism and intolerance, in support of nationalism, ethnicity, and religion, defended and justified by who "started it." Seems we've not gotten much beyond our schoolyard defenses... except now the costs are so much more grave.

In response to the current state of warring humanity, l can't help but ponder an oft-asked and existential question: what is a human being? Apart from our ethnic, national, religious, and sexual background, what, really, are we? If one has a religious or spiritual bent (and isn't religion most often cited for our historical attachment to war and violence?), doesn't one embrace the doctrine that every human is a spirit, has a soul, or is in some way an energy or essence that transcends the physical self? If so, doesn't it follow that, beyond life, as one transitions to whatever is next, the spirit shakes off those physical identities we hold so dear and fight for so viciously? And if that's true (and if one has spiritual belief one typically believes some measure of that is true), then it also follows that, in fact, and beyond where we landed on this planet at birth, we are ALL, truly and irrevocably, made of the same stuff, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion. If human beings - particularly those who would kill or die for their religious or national affiliation - instead embraced that spiritual philosophy of oneness, wouldn't peace, then, be possible?

Certainly it should be. But history tells us peace is the greatest uphill battle. Because the invisible hand of religion, national and ethnic pride, and that unfortunate human impulse to, instead of turning a cheek, push when pushed, shoot when shot at, or rush to the killing field to decimate an enemy rather than negotiate a peace, keeps our warring factions ratcheting to higher and higher levels of discord and devastation. Strange how religious tenets of harmony and oneness are never the rallying cry of those who kill in religion's name.

It doesn't really matter who started it, whichever it we're talking about. If it's one side this time, it's another the next. The anatomy of feuds, combat, war, and strife depends on enflaming our differences - nationalities, religions, ethnicities - instead of honoring our shared humanity. And until someone on one side or the other finds the humility and wisdom to not shoot back, not point fingers, and not allow ancient wounds and animosities to persistently preempt peace, the human right to pursue happiness and raise our children in health and safety will never be a reality for some in some parts of the world. And that is unacceptable.

Our parents were right... it only matters who ends it. So let's stop talking about "moral clarity," and "who's at fault this time." Just tell me who will end it. That's the only analysis I want to hear.

Original finger-pointing icon by Debivort @ Wikimedia Commons
___________________________________________

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Facebook, Twitter, and Rock+Paper+Music. Find details and links to her other work at www.lorrainedevonwilke.com, and be sure to follow the journey with her new novel @ AfterTheSuckerPunch.com.

AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH
by Lorraine Devon Wilke
______________________________

U.S. Building Case Tying Pro-Russian Separatists To Plane Crash In Ukraine

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-07-19 00:26
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States began building a case Friday linking pro-Russian separatists to the shocking downing of a passenger jet in Ukraine. A somber President Barack Obama declared the deaths of those on board, including at least one American, an "outrage of unspeakable proportions."

Obama said the U.S. believes the Malaysia Airlines plane was felled by a surface-to-air missile launched from an area near the Ukraine-Russia border that is controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists. Even as he cautioned that the exact circumstances were still being determined, the president turned his sights on Russia, saying the insurgents would not be capable of carrying out such an attack without Moscow's support. "We know that they are heavily armed and they are trained, and we know that that's not an accident," Obama said. "That is happening because of Russian support."

The president spoke shortly after Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined preliminary evidence against Russia and the separatists during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Power said separatists were spotted Thursday with an SA-11 anti-aircraft missile at a location close to the site where the plane came down and that they had boasted on social media sites about shooting down a plane, then later deleted those posts.

Power joined Obama in calling for an immediate international investigation, and she warned that the separatists and those supporting them would have "good reason to cover up evidence of their crime." The U.S. has called for evidence from the crash site to remain in Ukraine until investigators determine who is responsible.

The American killed in the incident was identified as Quinn Lucas Schansman. Officials said they were still working to confirm whether any other U.S. citizens were on board the plane.

For Obama, the downed plane adds new complexity to U.S. efforts to quell the months-long conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Increasingly stringent economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe, including a new round of penalties announced a day before the plane was shot down, have done little to change Russian President Vladimir Putin's approach.

Obama warned Russia anew on Friday that the U.S. has the capacity to increase the economic pain, but he outlined no specific potential actions. He did say he saw no U.S. military role in the conflict that has stemmed in part from Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

All 298 people aboard the Malaysian plane were killed in Thursday's incident. The passengers, including scores of children, came from a dozen countries, spreading the impact of the Ukraine crisis around the globe.

"This certainly will be a wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine — that it is not going to be localized, it is not going to be contained," Obama said.

The president has spoken with several world leaders since the crash, including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. On Friday, he called British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss possible responses to the crisis. He also spoke with Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia, whose country lost 27 citizens in the crash, while Vice President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, a NATO ally alarmed by Russia's actions in neighboring Ukraine.

Obama learned of the plane crash during a phone call Thursday with Putin. On Friday, the president stopped short of blaming Putin for the downing of the plane, but he said the Russian leader could bring the broader conflict to an end.

"He has the most control over that situation, and so far at least he has not exercised it," the president said.

A U.S. official said all available evidence, including satellite imagery, pointed to the plane being shot down with an SA-11 anti-aircraft missile fired by pro-Russian separatist forces. The official said the U.S. detected three separate events associated with the shootdown: the launching of the missile from the Ukraine side of the border, the missile's impact with the plane and the plane slamming into the ground.

That official was not authorized to discuss U.S. intelligence matters publicly by name and commented only on condition of anonymity.

Power, during her remarks at the United Nations, said Ukrainian forces as well as the separatists have SA-11 systems in their inventory. However, she said the U.S. was not aware of those systems being in the area of the shooting, and she noted that Ukrainian air defenses have not fired any missiles during the dispute with Russia.

The State Department said the FBI and National Transportation Security Board were each sending at least one agent to Ukraine, and perhaps more later, to assist with the crash investigation.

A command center has been set up at the State Department, where officials from agencies participating in the delegation gathered Friday morning for a briefing from the CIA on the political and military situation.

___

Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Joan Lowy, Josh Lederman and Lara Jakes contributed to this report.

___

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Friday Talking Points -- Democrats' 'Middle Class Jumpstart' Agenda

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-07-18 21:13

The media, quite obviously, is currently in a frenzy. Actually, two frenzies, since they've now got two wars to cover, one of which has provided shots of a grisly plane crash. This all meant that a lot of oxygen was sucked from the normal political news scene, meaning this week's column will be somewhat abbreviated. Both wars didn't really impact America all that much, so there's not a lot to add to the media cacophony on either one, to put this another way.


The biggest political event of the week (for Democrats, at any rate) was Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats rolling out a new campaign agenda -- the "Middle Class Jumpstart" -- in the tradition of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America." But we'll have much more on this later, as we're turning over the whole talking points portion of the program to this rollout.


In other Democratic campaign agenda news, Carl Gibson of the Huffington Post wrote a great article which starkly lays out the difference between two states that charted separate ideological budgetary paths during the recession: Kansas and California. In a nutshell, Kansas decided to massively cut taxes and California not-so-massively raised taxes on the wealthiest. The result? California's economy (and budget) is now almost fully recovered, and the Kansas economy is now in the toilet. Kansas saw its incoming revenues plummet, and their bond rating was downgraded as a result. This is one of the best evidence-based articles on the aftermath of the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats, and is well worth reading in full.


The annual liberal blogger/activist Netroots Nation conference is happening this week, but sadly we decided not to attend, so we have no news from Detroit for you (sorry about that).


The Senate effectively got within three votes of essentially overturning the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision. Senator Barbara Boxer wrote a wonderful piece on the issue this week, as well. The House -- astonishingly -- actually passed a much-needed bill to continue funding highway and infrastructure projects, even if it was nothing more than another short-term stopgap bill. Hey, a stopgap is better than stopping the government, right? This should be seen as a clear victory for the Establishment Republicans over the Tea Party, it's worth mentioning.


In funny candidate news, Republican Scott Brown verbally tripped over his carpetbag, once again. Hey Scott, it helps when running for office to remember what state you're actually in! Ask any rock star, they'll tell you the crowd does indeed notice when you blow this line. Heh.


In Arizona, a Republican congressional candidate was trying to fan the flames of the immigration issue, but instead wrongly identified a busload of Y.M.C.A. campers as Central American children. Whoops!


In Kentucky, voters have a fake Senate candidate to consider: Gil Fulbright. His ad his hilarious, and starts with:


Hi, I'm Gil Fulbright. The people who run my campaign, they've made this commercial -- and I'm in it. This campaign -- it's not about me, it's about crafting a version of me that will appeal to you. A version that visits random worksites with paid actors pointing at things. A version of me that doesn't find old people loathsome or pointless.


The people behind the effort are making a strong point about money in politics, and doing so in a very funny way, we have to say.


Not-as-fake (but still pretty laughable) candidate Thomas Ravenel is running for Senate down in South Carolina. He's not only been on reality television, but he's also been previously convicted of drug trafficking. I don't think Lindsey Graham's very worried, personally.


Speaking of politicians (well, "ex-politicians") and drugs, there are some highly amusing photos of Tom Tancredo joshing around with some legal marijuana in Colorado, if you haven't yet seen them.


Which brings us to the week's weed news. Sam Tracy has a great summary of the most-important legislative marijuana news of the week (which is worth checking out) up on Huffington Post, if you're interested in more detail. Washington, D.C. is still locked in a struggle with Congress over decriminalization, and the White House weighed in strongly on the local government's side. A unanimous decision was just announced by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that new sentencing standards for non-violent federal drug offenses will actually be applied retroactively -- which could give tens of thousands of prisoners shorter sentences to serve. And, finally, a research scientist at the University of Arizona was just fired -- coincidentally, right after she received federal approval to study marijuana's effect on P.T.S.D. in returning soldiers. She describes herself thus: "I am a lifelong Republican, and I am very conservative." But that hasn't stopped plenty of liberals from supporting her, by signing a petition to get her reinstated in her job. As of this writing, there are close to 32,000 signatures on the petition, so why not take a minute and add yours to the list?


Let's see, what else? The majority of the American public already thinks John Boehner's idea of suing the president is a gigantic waste of time (and the lawsuit hasn't even really begun, mind you). Oh, and just about anybody can automatically now become a political non-profit group, because the I.R.S. just totally threw in the towel and admitted that they weren't even going to screen all but the largest new tax-exempt organizations. So maybe we should form a "Friday Talking Points" non-profit, so we can get lotsa money that our donors can write off on their taxes. After all, there's nothing really stopping anyone from doing exactly that, now. Only in America!


 



Joe Biden deserves at least an Honorable Mention this week, for singlehandedly raising the profile of the annual Netroots Nation liberal conference. Because Biden's speech coincided with the Malaysian Airlines crash (Biden's was one of the first official statements on the crash), there were a whole lot of clips on the news with the "Netroots Nation" background.


Alan Grayson also deserves an Honorable Mention, for his efforts to force the House to vote on increasing the minimum wage for federal employees. Keep fighting the good fight, Alan!


We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, and the first goes to Shenna Bellows, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Maine. Now, Bellows is a longshot, since Susan Collins is one of the more reasonable Republicans in the Senate, and she is well-loved in her home state. So Bellows decided to stage a political stunt of sorts, but an impressive one nonetheless: she's going to personally walk the length of Maine, to meet the voters. The best line from the story: "She will reportedly be outfitted in Maine-made New Balance sneakers and an L.L. Bean raincoat." Nice. Now, this sort of small-town campaigning wouldn't work in a larger state, and her chances for victory in November are slim, but we have to say that it does show an astounding amount of personal dedication to walk over 300 miles in a bid to get elected. Even if she loses, she deserves a MIDOTW for her long walk.


The second MIDOTW goes to none other than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is just about the only Democrat showing some optimism about their chances in House races this year, but then that's actually just part of her leadership job. But she really earned the award for rolling out a "Contract With America" sort of campaign platform for Democrats to support this year. It is called the "Middle Class Jumpstart" agenda, which is a pretty good name for what Democrats stand for in general. Pelosi unveiled the agenda with other House leaders in a press conference, which we're going to quote from in a moment.


Pelosi has a tough row to hoe in this year's midterms. The sixth year of any president is a tough one for his party in Congress, traditionally, but Pelosi is going to give it all she's got to try and pick up seats for Democrats this year. Whether she's ultimately successful or not, the fact that she's fighting hard is a lot better than if Democrats had just decided to roll over and give up.


So, for both her eternal optimism and for providing a ready-made platform for Democratic candidates this fall, Nancy Pelosi has earned herself another Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.


[Shenna Bellows is a candidate for office, and it is our standing policy not to link to candidate web pages. Congratulate House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi on her House contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


 



We had no candidates this week for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, since no Democrat uttered a cringe-worthy line all week long. At least, that we are aware of -- if we've overlooked some disappointing behavior, please feel free to make nominations in the comments, as always.


Instead, we have an award in the technical category. We're not sure who's responsible, and it is likely some non-partisan technical official, but we have to create a "Back To The Drawing Board" award for whoever was responsible for the microphones in the White House press room. The press room was recently refurbished and upgraded, to the delight of the White House press corps. But, after watching this morning's press conference, we have to wonder who is responsible for the sound quality in the room. Because instead of hearing the president and the press interacting, what you instead mostly hear is: "CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! CLICK!" The still photographers' cameras are the loudest I think I've ever heard, which is likely due to choosing omnidirectional microphones for the podium and the questioners' microphone. The annoying camera sounds were so loud that it was impossible to hear some of the questions, in fact.


This is after, mind you, spending a whole bunch of money upgrading the room. So, to whoever is responsible for the sound quality, please either get directional microphones or install a sound filter to dull the loudness of the camera clicking. And enjoy your "Back To The Drawing Board" award.


[Since we have no idea who is responsible for this sort of thing, we cannot provide any contact information, sorry.]


 



Volume 312 (7/18/14)


Political historians differ over the relative influence that Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" actually had on the voting public. Some say not many people even knew what Newt was talking about, and some say it was the theme that won Republicans a big victory.


Historical quibbles aside, though, it is indeed a tactic well worth emulating. Political campaigns are supposed to be all about drawing contrasts between the political parties. Not very many people actually ever read the political parties' official platform documents, so highlighting a few specific legislative agenda items is worth attempting. It gets the message out in a concrete way: "this is what we will do if elected." In true Gingrichian fashion, Democrats are promising to achieve all of these things "in the first 100 days" of the new Congress, should they regain control of the House.


So the Democratic leadership held a press event, to announce their 2014 campaign agenda. Here is Representative Steve Israel, giving an overview of what this will include, by way of an introduction:


This is the "Middle Class Jumpstart." It is to jumpstart the middle class -- 100 days of action to put the middle class first, ahead of the special interests. Now, you couldn't have a more vivid contrast in priorities. They [Republicans] have passed maximum subsidies for the special interests. In the first 100 days, we [Democrats] will increase the minimum wage for America's workers -- first 100 days.


They have protected the profits of the big banks. In the first 100 days, we will allow every student in the middle class and working families to refinance their student loans. In their House majority, they have supported putting bosses in charge of women's health freedoms. In the first 100 days, we will require bosses to pay a woman the same as a man for equal work.


That's the difference between them and us: 100 days. Putting the middle class first. More jobs, not more subpoenas. More jobs for the middle class, not more jobs for partisan lawyers. Supporting women and families, supporting affordable and accessible education.


This quote (and all the talking points below) come from the transcript of this press event, which was held this week on the steps of the Capitol (again, matching Newt's rollout idea). This is a ready-made campaign platform for any Democratic House candidate to use this year, and it deserves more attention than it has so far received. Which is why we're turning the entire section over to the rollout event.


Nancy Pelosi herself came up with a few snappy lines that are even shorter than "talking points," being more in the "bumpersticker slogan" category. For instance, in touting a "Make It In America" idea, Pelosi came up with a simple refrain: " 'A' and 'B': American-made; Build it in America." This was probably the best she came up with, although she also contributed "Children learning, parents earning," which has a nice rhyming quality but is less overtly political upon first glance. And then there was one for the inside-the-Beltway types: "Republicans are about process, Democrats are about progress" (this, in reaction to "partisan lawsuits against the president" -- hey, I warned you it was wonky). She also led a call-and-response towards the end, which consisted of her prompting: "When the middle class succeeds... when families succeed... when women succeed" which was followed by rousing choruses of "America succeeds!" from her fellow Democrats.


But we're going to use seven longer excerpts from the event (longer than soundbites, in other words), so let's get on with it. Here are the best talking points from the rollout event, in the order they were delivered.


 



   Draw a sharp contrast


Representative Xavier Becerra got things rolling, by drawing a clear and sharp contrast between the two parties.


[W]e are gathered here today to send a very clear message to America: you can either sue the President of the United States, or you can do your job here in the House of Representatives and pass laws that help the middle class and working families.


You can shut down the government, taking 800,000 workers and 24 billion taxpayer dollars with you; or you can enact the president's jobs agenda. You can vote more than 50 times to tear down America's new health security and patients' law, or you can make the law even better so every working family in America has a doctor and the peace of mind that comes with it.


You can pass stopgap measures that merely kick the can down the road on our nation's budget or on the construction and repair of our roads, rails, and bridges, or you can do it the right way and pass stable, long-term laws that give our businesses and employers the confidence to hire and grow. You can do nothing other than block a vote to fix a broken immigration system, or you can pass the bipartisan fix that the Senate voted out 384 days ago.


 



   A Republican do-nothing and do-bad-things Congress


Minority Whip Steny Hoyer began introducing the specific pieces of legislation that make up the Middle Class Jumpstart plan. He also got in a real zinger, at the end.


The "Make It In America" plan is a broad agenda for jobs and competitiveness and is a central part of this "Middle Class Jumpstart." We want to provide tax incentives to encourage companies to bring jobs home, rather than send jobs overseas.


We want to invest in increased exports, improved infrastructures and skill-training programs that attract jobs and promote a strong manufacturing base. Democrats have a real plan to get things done. And if we have the majority in January, as I fully expect us to have, we will be introducing the "21st Century Make It In America Act."


Americans are tired of a Republican do-nothing and do-bad-things Congress focused simply on partisan divisions.


 



   Build America


Representative Jim Clyburn wasn't as focused, but did introduce the Democratic infrastructure agenda item.


Republicans voted to give tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. House Democrats will pass the "Build American Bonds Act" to boost job growth and modernize American infrastructures by building roads, bridges, broadband technology, and investing in clean energy. And we will pay for it by closing corporate tax loopholes.


Republicans have blocked legislation to make long-term investments in our nation's aging highway system and oppose creating clean energy jobs for the future. House Democrats will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and pass the "Tax Fairness Act" to deny CEOs the ability to claim tax deductions for pay over $1 million, unless they give their employees a raise.


Republicans refused to raise the minimum wage, but give massive tax giveaways to corporate special interests and the ultra-wealthy.


 



   It's pretty simple. It's pretty fair.


Congressman Chris Van Hollen went next, and provided a bit more detail.


[T]wo things we're going to do in those first 100 days. The first is end the scandal that in America, you can work 40 hours a week all year long and still have to raise your family in poverty. That is simply wrong. We need to make sure we raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and get that done once and for all.


But we cannot stop there. We need to make sure all of America has a shot at a wage. What we've seen over the last several decades is large increases in worker productivity. We have seen skyrocketing increases in CEO pay and bonuses. What we have not seen is increases in the employee pay. They have been left behind even though they are working to boost that productivity and boost those corporate profits.


So, we have a very simple proposition. We have a proposition called the "CEO-Employee Pay Fairness Act," and that is this: if you're a corporation, you cannot give your CEO and top executives -- you cannot take a deduction for their pay over $1 million unless you're going to give your employees a raise. It's pretty simple. It's pretty fair.


 



   Whose side are you on?


Representative John Tierney introduced his bill to allow all students and former students to refinance their student loan debt.


What this bill does is provide existing student loan borrowers the opportunity to refinance their debt at a lower rate. Banks can do it. Businesses can do it. Families can do it with their home ownership. And students should be able to do it. It would save students and parents and graduates thousands of dollars on their loans. And that savings no doubt will get spent right back into the economy, giving it a boost. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says clearly that it would reduce the deficit by $22 billion in 10 years, so taxpayers also benefit from it.


Right now, the House Republicans are in there trying to find out how to sue the president. We're out here making sure that we're fighting for tens of millions of parents and students and graduates to make sure that they have an equal chance. This is all about: whose side are you on? And we're on the side of students and graduates and parents.


 



   From Day One


Representative Joe Crowley went next, expanding on the education theme.


[E]ducation doesn't start at college. And we also know that our children only have one real shot -- one real shot at a quality education. And it's imperative that they get off to the right start, the right jumpstart. Decades of studies have found that quality pre-school not only leads to higher academic achievement and stronger job benefits, but it also lowers crime and delinquency levels -- and even more importantly, it reduces poverty, which really is the cause for the prior two issues.


So while House Republicans voted to limit access to early childhood education and essentially squashed the hopes and dreams of America's children, House Democrats will pass legislation to expand access to education and make the investments needed to set our children on a path of future success. Our legislation, the "Strong Start for America's Children Act"... is a bold, ten-year, federal/state partnership to expand and improve early learning opportunities for our children. This bill will expand access to pre-school for four-year-olds and make critical investments to improve the quality of child care for infants and toddlers. We want to jumpstart the middle class, and that must include jumpstarting our children's education -- not when they're going to college, but from Day One.


 



   When Women Succeed, America Succeeds


Majority Leader Pelosi finished up the laundry list, with a measure targeted directly at women voters. This one has a snappier title than other agenda items, which could make it more memorable to the voters. Pelosi, in general, is a lot better at presenting complex legislative ideas as snappy soundbites.


But one of the best actions that we can take to increase and grow our economy is to increase the role of women in our economy. Our agenda for women and families is "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds." This is not just the title of our agenda; this is a statement of absolute fact. And our agenda presents a stark contrast to what the Republicans have done to roll back women's rights and limit women's opportunities.


You've heard our three categories: (1) Make It In America. (2) Affordable Education to Keep America Number One. This is all about our country. And (3) When Women Succeed, America Succeeds -- when Republicans have refused to ensure equal pay for equal work, reduced access to affordable child care and voted against paid sick leave for men and women.


 


Chris Weigant blogs at:


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant
Become a fan of Chris on Huffington Post
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank