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Obama Honors Military Families, Cheers On Team USA In July 4 Address

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2015-07-04 12:19
President Barack Obama honored military families for their service in his annual July Fourth address.

"On this most American of holidays, we remember that all who serve here at home and overseas represent what today's all about, and we remember that their families serve too. We are so grateful for their service and their sacrifice," he said.

Every year on July 4, the White House hosts members of the military and their families for a celebration on the South Lawn. Obama also participates in a naturalization ceremony for immigrant service members.

In his address, Obama reflected on the nature of freedom and the role of individuals in fighting for that freedom, from the Founding Fathers to civil rights activists.

"We honor everyone who continually strives to make this country a better, stronger, more inclusive, more hopeful place," he said.

Obama also gave a shoutout to the U.S. women's soccer team, who will face Japan in the Women's World Cup final on Sunday.

"What better weekend than this to cheer on Team USA? Good luck to the U.S. Women's National Team in the World Cup final!"

Watch Obama's address in the video.

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Weekend Roundup

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 23:54
This week, while the U.S. celebrates its independence, the world watches a modern Greek tragedy unfold as Greece votes on austere bailout terms imposed by the country's creditors. However the vote goes, one thing is clear: The austerity that came with the two previous bailouts has utterly broken the Greek economy. GDP has gone down nearly 30 percent. A quarter of the country is unemployed, including half of its young people. Pensions have been slashed. The health budget has been cut by 40 percent. Suicides are up 36 percent since 2008. The Troika has authored a new Greek myth -- that you can cut your way to growth. And now they're back, demanding more of what's already shattered the economy. The question is will they shatter the spirit of the Greek people? Just as we value our independence, so do the Greeks, who, after all, invented democracy. No matter the outcome of the vote, feeling some measure of control will help keep Greece's spirit alive.

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Mitt Romney Hosts A Sleepover With Marco Rubio And Chris Christie

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 23:30
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney will be hosting two rival Republican presidential contenders at a holiday sleepover Friday evening.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will both be staying over at Romney's property in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, an aide to Romney confirmed. The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of what the aide called the private nature of the event, said the former governor and his wife opened their home to the Christie and Rubio families after hearing they would be in town for the holiday weekend. Both candidates are scheduled to march in Wolfeboro's Fourth of July parade.

Christie, who formally jumped into the race this week, told reporters in New Hampshire Friday that he was grateful for the invitation.

"I suspect there might be a little politics discussed tonight with Mitt and Ann, but me and Mary Pat, and Andrew and Sarah are really happy that Mitt and Ann invited us to stay with them tonight," he said, according to video posted by NJ.com.

A Rubio spokesman declined to comment.

Romney had considered another run for president in 2016, but announced in January that he'd decided against it. His endorsement is now coveted.

The Washington Post reported Friday night that Romney would meet next week with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, another GOP contender, at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Christie was a top surrogate for Romney's 2012 campaign and was considered a potential vice presidential contender. But he continues to receive heat in some Republican circles for leaving the trail and embracing President Barack Obama after New Jersey was hit by Superstorm Sandy just before the election.

Christie's campaign also announced some of its top staffers Friday.

The campaign will be managed by Ken McKay, who formerly worked for the Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association.

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Obama Plans Broader Use Of Clemency To Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 23:18
WASHINGTON — Sometime in the next few weeks, aides expect President Obama to issue orders freeing dozens of federal prisoners locked up on nonviolent drug offenses. With the stroke of his pen, he will probably commute more sentences at one time than any president has in nearly half a century.

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Friday Talking Points -- Always Twirling For Freedom!

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 21:20

It's officially a holiday since tomorrow's the nation's birthday and all, but since this column took a vacation last week, we thought we'd better get a new column out today. After all, it's been an eventful two weeks!

Right after we published our last column, the Confederate battle flag debate erupted in a major way. Leading the charge against the flag on the Republican side was none other than Mitt Romney, whose opinion gave a lot of other Republicans cover to do the right thing. First up to the plate was South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who called on her legislature to toss out the law which mandates flying the flag on the statehouse grounds. Next up was the governor of Alabama, who (since his state didn't have such an absurd law) was able to just take the Confederate flags down from his statehouse by executive order. Mississippi hasn't budged yet, and (as I wrote earlier) is the worst of the lot since it's the only state left that still incorporates the battle flag into their official state flag, but maybe eventually they'll get on this bandwagon too.

Of course, through the whole debate, Democrats were pretty much all against the flag. While Republicans struggle with the South's past, Democrats moved on decades ago, for the most part. Personally, though, we're amazed the debate happened and are amazed at this symbol of racism finally being retired from official use -- only about 150 years after it should have been. At the end of the week, President Obama gave a moving eulogy for one of those killed by the racist domestic terrorist in Charleston, which was notable for his stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace."

Obama (and the country) got two very big pieces of good news from the Supreme Court last week, which upheld the plain intent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare") and declared marriage equality throughout the whole of this great land. What was notable in both cases were the bitter, bitter dissents from the conservative justices. These dissents will provide lots of heaping doses of schadenfreude for progressives for years to come, that's our guess. Especially head-scratching was Justice Scalia opining on the difference between free love and marriage, which concluded with: "Ask the nearest hippie." We're not entirely sure, but this may have been the first time the highest court in the land has deferred judgment on legal matters to hippies, so that's an odd sort of milestone.

The conservatives on the court weren't the only ones being very sad about the two major opinions, of course. The conservative universe pretty much freaked out over both of them, in a frenzy of who could denounce the court in the whiniest terms possible.

There were a few other Supreme Court decisions of note, one dealing with citizens' movements to end gerrymandering (gerrymandering lost, the people won), and one on a Spider-Man toy where Elena Kagen had her own fun writing the opinion. Again, a historic precedent may have been set, since Kagen actually quoted a comic book ("[I]n this world, with great power there must also come -- great responsibility"). She also cracked a joke or two elsewhere in the text: "The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can)." Points for style, Justice Kagan!

It's not just on the court, even Senator Al Franken is confident enough to actually make a joke or two once again to a national audience. Franken has been fighting to not appear as "just a comedian" ever since he ran for his office, so it's good to see him comfortable enough with the level of support from his constituents to occasionally return to his comedic roots. We certainly would encourage him to do more of this, as he's one of the sharpest wits ever to trod the halls of the Capitol.

Over in the freakshow that is the Republican presidential race, Bobby Jindal threw his hat in the ring with a bizarre video made with a camera hidden in a tree which shows his own children not exactly enthused with the idea of Dad running. Team Jindal (or a super PAC supporting him) then decided it'd be a good idea to get Twitter to "AskBobby" about stuff. This, predictably, led to all kinds of fun. Our favorite response: "@BobbyJindal #AskBobby I'm gay, an atheist & an immigrant. How would you work to punish me, while ignoring separation of church and state?" Heh.

Chris Christie joined the ranks of the Republican wannabes, because somebody apparently told him he's actually got a chance of becoming president. Over on the Democratic side, Jim Webb apparently got the same advice.

Ted Cruz annoyed a lot of people when he couldn't accurately remember quotes from his favorite episodes of The Simpsons, but then he atoned for this sin by cutting a hilarious video where he "auditions" for the show. His Ned Flanders was arguably the closest to sounding right, but his "Kang and Kodos" quip stole the show (which we're saving for the talking points section).

Rand Paul has been touted as somehow "reaching out" to minorities -- which is notable indeed for any Republican candidate -- but every so often he shows how truly tone-deaf he is on issues of race. This week, Paul felt it was a valuable use of his time to hold an hour-long meeting with Cliven Bundy, the gun-loving (and lawbreaking) rancher who was a rising star on Fox News right up to the point where he uttered a whole bunch of the most vile racist garbage imaginable (his basic position: blacks had it better under slavery). Way to reach out to minorities, Rand!

But when it comes down to the freakiest of the freaky in the whole Republican field, Donald Trump is very hard to top. Trump not only is running for president, he's apparently on a mission to singlehandedly destroy his own Trump brand, forevermore. So far, he's been doing a bang-up job! Now, Trump is no shrinking violet when it comes to stating his racist opinions, as the Washington Post helpfully documented. It's not like he suddenly woke up last week and decided that he didn't like Mexicans or anything. But because of his new prominence as a presidential candidate, people (and corporations) were now forced to notice Trump's ravings. His beauty contest got dumped from Univision, then NBC told The Donald "You're fired!" from his own The Apprentice shows, and by week's end stores were dumping Trump menswear and mattresses as fast as they possibly could. Trump mattresses? Really? Dang, some people will buy anything with a famous person's name on it, won't they?

All this attention created a mini-surge for Trump, who is now polling second among Republican candidates not only in Iowa and New Hampshire, but also nationwide. The other Republican candidates are, understandably, horrified by this development, because it means they're not going to be able to get away with just ignoring the ignorance coming out of Trump's mouth. Democrats, also understandably, are delighted to paint the entire Republican Party as marching in lockstep with Trump (since so many Republican candidates are so scared of refuting Trump, fearing a voter backlash).

And it's only July! We've got a whole lot more track for this crazy train to run down before we're done, folks....

Let's see, what else has been happening in the world of politics? Recreational marijuana is now legal in Oregon (although they've still got to get their regulatory act together to create a full legal marketplace for weed). This just in: the sky did not fall. In fact, the sky is also still intact over Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. Chicken Little was wrong again!

And finally, does your state have a monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of your statehouse? Well, maybe you can get a statue of Baphomet placed beside it! The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled this week that their state's Ten Commandments monument had to go, as it is clearly a governmental endorsement of religion. This stopped the secondary effort by the Satanic Temple to erect their own statue. As a spokesman put it:

The entire point of our effort was to offer a monument that would complement and contrast the Ten Commandments, reaffirming that we live in a nation that respects plurality, a nation that refuses to allow a single viewpoint to co-opt the power and authority of government institutions. Given the Court's ruling, [The Satanic Temple] no longer has any interest in pursuing placement of the Baphomet monument on Oklahoma's Capitol grounds.

The statue, naturally, has a "public-friendly design," which might become "an object of play for young children." But they went ahead and cast the statue and all, so now they're looking for another suitable place to put it. You know, right next to a Ten Commandments monument in some other state. As the spokesman put it: "Arkansas is looking rather appealing." If you'd like to see it grace your statehouse instead, now is the time to act! After all, if one religious monument is allowed, then constitutionally all religious monuments should be allowed.


We have two awards to hand out in the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week category. We feel justified in handing the award out twice, because it has been two weeks since our last column.

The first goes to President Barack Obama, since he (and his legacy) have had an amazing couple of weeks. There was his eulogy (and singing) at the funeral last week. There were the two big Supreme Court victories. There was the whole Confederate flag debate. And Obama won a big victory on trade from Congress.

All that should have been enough to qualify for a MIDOTW award right there. But that list still isn't complete. Obama also personally announced (in a Huffington Post column) a long-awaited decision on overtime pay, which will better the lives of an estimated five million workers. Obama will raise the bar for mandatory overtime pay from the low $20,000s to over $50,000. Anyone making less than this will now automatically be entitled to overtime pay for more than 40 hours of work a week -- whether they're called a "manager" or not. Either they'll get more free time or more money in their paycheck for the hard work they put in.

The White House has been teasing this change since January, it bears noting. In fact, just a little over a month ago, we gave him a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award for stalling the announcement for so long (back in FTP [348]). Now, politically, maybe they were holding this rule change back for a moment when it would do Obama the most good -- like, perhaps, just after he's annoyed the Labor folks with a free-trade congressional victory? But whatever the timing and however long the wait, the change will be a monumental one for a whole lot of workers, and -- crucially -- Obama doesn't need to get it through Congress, which means it'll actually happen next year.

This week also saw the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and a promise by America and Cuba to exchange ambassadors and set up embassies. This is an enormous political achievement for Obama, and will be a big part of his legacy, even if it was kind of overwhelmed with all the other news Obama was making these last few weeks.

There were even minor news items to cheer about as well. The Department of the Interior announced it will not be taking any bid from the Washington [Racist Football Team Name] to redo Robert F. Kennedy stadium, until they change their name. Bully for them!

And in news which will have far-reaching impacts, the Obama administration announced they're scrapping a special review that all scientific marijuana research has had to go through before being approved. No other drug -- not even LSD or heroin or cocaine or crystal meth -- had to get a "Public Health Service" stamp of approval, but cannabis did. The only reason for this review was political -- essentially, to deny all studies of marijuana that didn't begin and end with the preconceived notion: "marijuana is bad... 'mmmkay?"

The White House released a downright stunning statement (compared to the entire history of the federal government and marijuana research):

Drug czar spokesman Mario Moreno Zepeda said, "The Obama Administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine. Eliminating the Public Health Service review should help facilitate additional research to advance our understanding of both the adverse effects and potential therapeutic uses for marijuana or its components."

Common sense seems to be breaking out all over the place!

In any case, add up all the events of the past two weeks and it's easy to see why President Obama deserves a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Not surprisingly, his poll numbers are up as well. In the Real Clear Politics daily average, his job approval rating hit 46.5 percent -- the highest it has been in over two years.

But we've also got another MIDOTW award to hand out, because Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is out there burning up the hustings. Now, some of this was kind of inevitable. The die-hard Elizabeth Warren supporters were eventually going to have to give up hope and attach themselves to another (actual) candidate. Plus, the longer Joe Biden goes without announcing, the smaller the chances he'll actually make a run for it. Even so, though, Bernie is rising noticeably in the polls. He hasn't polled better than Hillary Clinton yet, but he's coming within reach in New Hampshire and he's not too far out of reach in Iowa. None of the other Democrats running has even managed to break out of the single digits, so the race at this point is shaping up as a "Clinton v. Sanders" bout.

How long will it be, we wonder, before Hillary takes notice? Bernie has been drawing record crowds -- including the biggest campaign rally yet of any presidential candidate from either party, when Sanders got a capacity crowd of 10,000 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Sooner or later, the media is going to have to quit their snarky attitude towards Sanders and start taking his policy agenda items seriously. So is Hillary Clinton, for that matter. Because it's pretty obvious more and more voters are doing just that. The overwhelming consensus from all of them: "Bernie's the real deal."

For his Madison rally alone Bernie deserves his own Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. Looks like the Sanders campaign will soon be scouting out bigger and bigger arenas for him to speak in!

[Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, and Senator Bernie Sanders on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


It's hard to get too excited about any of the disappointing Democrats this week. We've got (Dis-)Honorable Mention awards for both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, for engaging in a public spat that basically boiled down to: "You can't get anything done in Albany!" "No, you can't get anything done in Albany!" Sigh.

But we also have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out. The first goes to an old story in California, one which we recounted way back in FTP [297]. State senator Leland Yee just pled guilty this week to gun-running, extortion, and accepting bribes while in office. Back then, we gave the MDDOTW award to the California state senate Democrats, who were dragging their feet on kicking out not just Lee but two other senators charged with serious crimes. But we went back and looked, and we hadn't actually given Yee himself an award, so we're kind of retroactively awarding it this week.

The second award is more timely, since it goes to newly-announced presidential candidate Jim Webb. Now, Webb used to be the senator from Virginia. And he had a long career in the military. Even so, when he jumped into the Confederate battle flag debate, the result was the wishy-washiest statement from any candidate to date -- and we include the Republicans in that. Here is what Webb had to say, on his Facebook page:

This is an emotional time and we all need to think through these issues with a care that recognizes the need for change but also respects the complicated history of the Civil War. The Confederate Battle Flag has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades. It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us.

But we should also remember that honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army from states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and that many non-slave holders fought for the South. It was in recognition of the character of soldiers on both sides that the federal government authorized the construction of the Confederate Memorial 100 years ago, on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.

This is a time for us to come together, and to recognize once more that our complex multicultural society is founded on the principle of mutual respect.

Is Webb for official governmental recognition of the Confederate battle flag? It's impossible to tell, at least from this statement. Is he for it flying over statehouses? Hard to say, really. Does he personally approve of the flag or not? Who knows... maybe, and then again maybe not.

Running for president means showing leadership. Webb's flag response shows none. At best, it's a ham-handed "can't we all just get along," but at worst Webb is supporting those who are supporting the flag's continued use by state governments. This is nothing more than a politician talking out of both sides of his mouth, folks. He obviously wants to have it both ways, which at this point is pretty indefensible (or should be, for a Democratic presidential candidate).

Webb has no excuse, really. He won his Senate race against George "Macaca" Allen (remember him?), a man who wore a Confederate flag pin for his high school senior photo and also had Confederate flag plates on his car in high school -- in California, for Pete's sake (not exactly the Deep South). Allen's first statewide race (for Virginia governor) featured a television ad with the flag prominently displayed. He opposed a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., unless it was merged with a holiday to honor Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. While serving in the Senate himself (before Webb ran against him), Allen played the role of a Confederate officer in a movie. So it's not like Jim Webb is any stranger to the Confederate battle flag being smack dab in the middle of a political race.

For his mealy-mouthed response to the issue, and for showing not a scintilla of leadership, Jim Webb has more than earned his Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Leland Yee is now a private citizen, and it is our policy not to provide contact information for anyone out of public office. While Jim Webb is a candidate running for president, he is also currently a private citizen, and our editorial policy also forbids linking to campaign websites, sorry.]


Volume 352 (7/3/15)

OK, since it's a holiday weekend already (meaning few people will likely read this far), we're going to get silly with the last four talking points. Normally we save one silly item for the last, but today we're just overwhelmed with silliness. The first three are serious and important issues for Democrats to speak out about, but from number four onwards, it's just a holiday lark.

Have a happy Fourth of July everyone, and don't burn your fingers on the grill (or, later, lighting fireworks). Happy birthday, America!


   Five million paychecks

This is a big deal, despite getting kind of buried in all the other news that's been happening. So point it out!

"Next year, when the new rule goes into effect, an estimated five million middle-class workers will get a break. Instead of their employers demanding they essentially work many hours for free -- what has been called 'wage theft' -- everyone making up to $50,000 will be eligible for mandatory time-and-a-half overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week. There's a reason the Labor movement got the 40-hour workweek standard enacted, and that reason is to leave workers enough free time to spend with their own families. If they are required to work more, they should be justly compensated for giving up that free time. When the old standard was set, back in the 1970s, it covered over half of America's workers. But because the limit had not been changed in so long, it only now covers a tiny fraction of workers -- those making about $11 an hour or less. President Obama's new standard will cover at least 40 percent of all workers. This is good news for America, and great news for those five million families. If an employer wants a worker to put in a 60-hour workweek, then they should have to pay overtime. It's really that simple."


   Civil rights don't end at the altar

What with the good news on the marriage equality front, many are assuming the battle is over. It's not.

"I call on all Democratic candidates for president -- indeed, I call on all Democrats -- to boldly stand up for adding the words 'sexual orientation' to federal civil rights laws. Any federal laws which have a list of 'race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender' should be changed to also include 'sexual orientation.' In far too many states, civil rights for gay people -- beyond the right to marriage -- simply do not exist. You can be fired in half of America's states for being gay. You can legally be discriminated against for housing. It's perfectly legal to do so, by state law. Now that we have achieved marriage equality, it is time to provide iron-clad civil rights guarantees to all gay Americans in every state. The best and fastest way to do so is to add 'sexual orientation' to all federal civil rights laws. It is the right thing to do, and I want to hear each and every presidential candidate make a firm promise to put this item near the top of their agenda. While celebrating the Supreme Court victory, it is important to remember that civil rights do not end at the altar."


   Bernie's actually pretty mainstream

The press are finally being forced to notice Bernie. But they've got a long way to go, obviously.

"You know, I have to laugh whenever I see media stories about Bernie Sanders out on the campaign trail. And no, that doesn't mean I'm laughing at the lame jokes lazy journalists make about his hair or his rumpled suits. I'm laughing instead at the idiocy of the inside-the-Beltway attitude that Bernie is somehow 'extreme.' When you go down the list of policies Bernie's running on, you find that almost all his issues poll overwhelmingly well with the public at large. Mandatory vacation time for workers? Mandatory sick leave? Taking on Wall Street? Free college tuition? A $15 minimum wage? All poll with big majorities -- sometimes in the 60-to-80 percent range. How can issues that are popular with 60 or 70 percent of the public be seen as 'extreme' in any way? There's a word for such issues, and it's not 'extreme' it is in fact 'mainstream.' Bernie's pulling in the biggest crowds of anyone -- that's anyone, Democrat or Republican -- running for president. There are several reasons why this is the case, and the inside-the-Beltway journalists need to wake up and discover Bernie's mainstream agenda for what it truly is."


   A divine sense of humor

Just to remind everyone, this is where the silliness begins. The following was a reaction from Paul Begala (Clinton consultant from way back) on the news that Donald Trump is doing so well. Best Trump reaction we've seen yet!

I am a person of faith -- and The Donald's entry into this race can only be attributed to the fact that the good Lord is a Democrat with a sense of humor.


   Twirling, always twirling

Ted Cruz, as noted earlier, put out a funny video this week. It would be an act of downright political malpractice if no Republican running against him ever uses this in an attack ad. Context: Cruz is actually quoting Kodos and Kang, the aliens from The Simpsons, from the "Treehouse of Horror" episode where they throw the Clinton/Dole presidential election. Even so, the funniest part (and the reason other Republicans should really use the clip) is that Cruz actually does perform a twirl, while reciting the quote:

"Forwards, not backwards! Upwards not downwards! And always twirling, twirling for freedom!"


   Kumbaya moment, with dip

This one is too funny.

"I see that President Obama and Jeb Bush actually strongly agree on one thing. Yes, it is comforting to know that even political rivals from across the aisle can join together in standing up for all that is good and right in the world. While Democrats and Republicans, and Bush and Obama in particular, can disagree about practically everything under the sun, it's good to know that both Jeb and Barack draw the line at the bizarre notion of putting peas in guacamole."


   Won't you please come to Chicago

And, finally, this one is personal.

"Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissent in the marriage equality case, told us all to, quote, 'ask the nearest hippie' what they think about marriage. Well, I can think of no better weekend for Scalia to do just that, and I invite him to travel to Chicago and mingle with the crowds at the final Grateful Dead shows ever. There will be roughly 60,000 hippies in one place, so Scalia shouldn't have any problem finding the 'nearest' one. From a relevant song (from another band of the era), I quote: 'Somehow people must be free/I hope the day comes soon/Won't you please come to Chicago/Show your face.' C'mon, Antonin -- if you want to talk to some hippies, this is your best chance!"


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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The Bob & Chez Show Podcast: The Confederate Flag, Crazy New Sarah Palin Audio and Rand Paul Meets Cliven Bundy

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 21:04
Today's topics include: Dukes of Hazzard Cast Member Defends Confederate Flag on Fox News; All New and Totally Crazy Sarah Palin Audio; Jim Webb is Running for President; Rand Paul Meets with Cliven Bundy; Steve King Wants to Impeach Supreme Court Justices; Rush Limbaugh's Butthurt Balm; Crazy Christian Facebook Lady is Crazy; and much more.

Download the mp3 (56 minutes, 23mb)
Listen and subscribe on iTunes (it's FREE!)
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The Bob & Chez Show is a funny, fast-paced political podcast that doesn't take itself too seriously. The twice-weekly podcast is hosted by Bob Cesca (Salon.com, The Huffington Post, The Daily Banter, The Stephanie Miller Show), and CNN/MSNBC producer turned writer Chez Pazienza. Follow the show at www.bobcesca.com with special thanks to Michael Kiely.

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Is "Dukes of Hazzard" Really Racist?

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 20:24
The controversy and soul-searching surrounding TV Land's removal of "Dukes of Hazzard" reruns from its schedule has prompted concerns across social media along the lines of, "Is this going too far?" More than once, I have seen people question, "What's next?" with a list of other things that might be prone to "revisionism."

I figured this day would come, where we would look back on a beloved show from childhood and minimize the implications from the Confederate flag on their car. Because in many ways, it echoes what we hear Southerners say in their defense of the flag: This is what we grew up with, but it wasn't being used to advance racism or slavery at that time, it was more like a local flag. But because we grew up with it, it's sentimental, it's tradition, it reflects the pride of my people. (A lot of people grew up with segregation, too.)

That day turned out to be the massacre at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., carried out coldly with expressed racist, terrorist objectives by a Confederate flag waver and selfie addict. The avowed white supremacy articulated at length by the shooter, plus his hopes for igniting a race war, kind of gave up the ghost on what that "Battle Flag" really meant and symbolized: actual battle. The arguments did not fly this time around that the Confederate flag and its cause were about "Northern aggressors" or economics, since so many of the writings from the Civil War are now just clicks away, and apparently nobody bothered to give any other reasons at that time besides slavery.

But what does this have to do with a 35 year-old TV show? Honestly, probably not much. I can almost see the meetings at CBS back in the day, "How do we make them look Southern?" "A banjo, some shots of moonshine jugs, overalls?" "What about a Confederate flag? Those folks in the South never got over the war." "Great idea! We can even call the car 'The General Lee'!"

And here is where the idea of any unintentional association starts to seem a little more like a boner for the South to rise again. Obviously, the car was the show. They went through like 80 cars doing the stunts for that show, because of course cars don't keep driving after jumping a river. Kids across America knew and thought General Lee was cool, not really knowing anything about who he was or that he sent thousands to their deaths to keep black people enslaved. The car could have had an American flag, a Spirit of '76 emblem, or some pin-up girl, it really would not have mattered to the rest of the show. The car did jumps, spin-outs, chases--everyone can get behind a bright orange '69 Dodge Charger spitting out dirt from its roaring wheels, no matter their race, creed, or ethnicity.

But if you were a Jew, and you saw this hit TV show with two guys in a stunt car with an SS symbol on it, named after Hitler or some other high-ranking Nazi, you might think to yourself, "Is that really necessary? Isn't this kind of like a commercial that makes the SS symbol, and thus what the Nazis were fighting for, kind of...glamorous?"

What is really prompting TV Land from pulling these reruns, like WalMart and Google no longer selling Confederate flags, is that nobody wants to be associated with it. It's bad for business, and this is a free market where consumer perception matters. So while it seems there are a lot of people online up in arms at the fact that this show is pulled, outraged that anyone should have to forsake/give up/sacrifice something they grew up with just because some people are offended, that is a mischaracterization. Imagine: choosing to act not because you have to, but because you choose not to offend others. Because maybe they have been insulted enough. That's what prompted Bubba Watson, the owner of the actual General Lee, to paint over the Confederate flag on the car with an American flag:

All men ARE created equal, I believe that so I will be painting the American flag over the roof of the General Lee #USA

— bubba watson (@bubbawatson) July 2, 2015

To be clear: no one is "banning" this show. There are no laws against Confederate flags in the works, though their days of flying over government property are numbered. Moreover, calling out one really old show for making Aryans look hunky is not an effort at revisionism, which seems to be a favorite allegation, or censoring, or the beginning of "taking away" other old films or TV shows because of its dated mores. It's not going anywhere, and if it means so much, download all six seasons of "Dukes of Hazzard" from iTunes or get the full DVD set from Amazon. No one is banning anything, even the episodes where Tom Wopat and John Schneider left the show over contract disputes, only to be replaced with the Dukes' "cousins," who also happened to be a brunette and blonde, but they lasted like three episodes. No one is even trying to ban guns, which is what actually killed those people in Charleston who had welcomed a stranger into Bible study.

It does not reflect upon you for liking a show that was a car ad for a big-time racist symbol. That is what inheriting culture is like. But at some point, if you are aware that something offends others, it is probably worth reflecting: why? What is so upsetting about this symbol/name/appellation? Are people wrong for being offended? These are questions even big name comics should ask themselves, as success breeds contempt for negative feedback.

But now you know, and there's really no going backwards from knowing something, you proceed with the knowledge or you disregard it. Tragic circumstances have brought this country together again to reaffirm its commitment to equality and justice, and this has broadened awareness and empathy to the point where Confederate flags are being abandoned across America.

This show may now be swept out with the cultural tide that carried away beloved classics like D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, the first feature film made in Hollywood, an heroic ode to the KKK which helped its ranks soar in the 1920's. The Duke boys can sail off with "Amos and Andy," the hit radio show from the 1920's-50's where two white guys voiced poor Southern blacks as gullible saps. They can drift away with episodes of old dating shows where interracial couples were forbidden. It's not revisionism, it's just retirement.

And while it may seem antiquated for its misplaced Southern pride, let's take this opportunity to review what "The Dukes of Hazzard" was about. Here is the classic opening by Waylon Jennings, along with the lyrics.

Just'a good ol' boys
Never meanin' no harm.
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born
Staightnin' the curves
Flatnin the hills
Someday the mountain might get 'em
But the law never will
Makin' their way
The only way they know how
That's just a little bit more
Than the law will allow.
Makin' their way
The only way they know how
That's just a little bit more
Than the law will allow.
Just a good ol' boy
Wouldn't change if they could
Fightin' the system like
Two modern day Robin Hood's

To review: these protagonists are criminals, but that doesn't seem necessary to stress because Jennings makes this point over and over that they are habitual offenders. What we also know for sure, as Waylon repeatedly assures us, is that these are Good Ol Boys. They would never mean harm. Though Bo and Luke Duke seem to have a propensity for blowing up stuff, particularly with a bow and arrow, but then they are like Robin Hood, and so their crimes are part of the good they do. Unrepentant and beyond reform, they wouldn't change, nor would they know how. Yet since their local law enforcement and civic authority are corrupt and inept, they don't need to comply with the government and its burdensome regulation, they can continue to run their moonshine, since they are a family of bootleggers, manufacturing and selling unlicensed intoxicants, similar to Breaking Bad, or True Detective.

All this, with a Dodge Charger Confederate Flag flying through the air as its money shot, and a profile might emerge of the types of people still so invested in this overly-narrated show. Devotees of "Dukes of Hazzard" are lamenting online, "They'll never make a show like this again." Yeah, that's the point.

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Depth Before Dishonor

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 19:51
As we mark the birth of our nation's independence this July 4th traditionally we do so with family gatherings, barbecues, fireworks and beer. I plan to do the same and think it is a wonderful way to celebrate this great holiday.

However, we need to add something to the celebration. At a time when many gather together discussing such issues as: Who is a more powerful couple, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, or Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris? I had this discussion last night, so no finger pointing, but we can improve our sense of self and in turn our sense of country, if we and our media broaden the scope.

As mentioned, there is nothing wrong with a little "water-cooler" type chat; it only becomes a problem when that is the majority of discourse. The other problem is when we and our media turn even important discussions into shallow sound-bites filled only with surface information. And, often times, what is most troubling is when we only hear information with only one slanted point of view.

The good news is we can do something about it and there is no better time to start than on Independence Day. The reason is because we have the one document at our finger tips that put enlightened thought into action.

Much of the sentiment in our Declaration of Independence stems from the ideas and writings of the great Enlightenment thinkers. The words of such philosophers the likes of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith and many others set forth the ideas of Ben Franklin, Thomas Payne, Thomas Jefferson and many of our Founding Fathers.

The American Experiment itself is an idea as much as it is a national experience. It is an idea that transcends place and provides a baseline on the macro level for the ideology of a country, as well as on a micro level for the life of an individual.

They did not just stitch together words but the thoughtful process that went into every single word, why they were chosen and where they were placed in our sacred text took months of deep thought and communication. Thomas Jefferson is given credit for penning the words but many others, especially John Adams, Ben Franklin and some lesser known like Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston gave their input before anyone put their John Hancock on it.

A few years ago we adopted a family tradition from a dear friend, and now every year, I share with my readers and viewers the Introduction and the Preamble of the document that started it all. We read these revered words at our barbecue and hopefully you will wish to do the same. Then, take it one step further and discuss some of the individual words and sentences. I am certain that you too will find the conversation exhilarating as the discourse not only fills your heart, mind and soul but is as much fun and entertaining as any great power couple debate. I am willing to bet my Brad and Angelina against your Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello.

Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies

In Congress, July 4, 1776

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Wishing all of you a joyous Independence Day and remember, you can have as much fun in the deep end, as the shallow end of the pool.


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George Takei Apologizes For Calling Clarence Thomas A 'Clown In Blackface'

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 19:44
George Takei has apologized for referring to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as "a clown in blackface."

In a Facebook update posted on Friday afternoon, Takei said, "I owe an apology. On the eve of this Independence Day, I have a renewed sense of what this country stands for, and how I personally could help achieve it."

On Thursday the Star Trek actor, who is gay, came under fire when he told a reporter he disapproved of Thomas' dissent on the high court's landmark same-sex marriage case.

"He is a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court,” a jolted Takei said. “He gets me that angry. He doesn’t belong there.”

Watch the interview:

On June 26, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, overruling state attempts to ban such unions.

The majority opinion, written by the court's liberal justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, determined that the right to marry is protected under the 14th Amendment.

The dissenters -- Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas -- disagreed, calling it unconstitutional.

Penning his own scathing dissent, Thomas wrote that the government could not take away "human dignity."

"Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved," Thomas wrote. "Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them."

This hit a cord with Takei, whose family was interned by Americans during World War II. Takei clarified that his remarks about Thomas, who is black, were not meant to be racial.

I recently was asked by a reporter about Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in the marriage equality cases, in which he wrote words that really got under my skin, by suggesting that the government cannot take away human dignity through slavery, or though internment. In my mind that suggested that this meant he felt the government therefore shouldn’t be held accountable, or should do nothing in the face of gross violations of dignity. When asked by a reporter about the opinion, I was still seething, and I referred to him as a “clown in blackface” to suggest that he had abdicated and abandoned his heritage. This was not intended to be racist, but rather to evoke a history of racism in the theatrical arts. While I continue to vehemently disagree with Justice Thomas, the words I chose, said in the heat of anger, were not carefully considered.

Takei apologized for personally attacking Thomas instead of the content of his argument:

I am reminded, especially on this July 4th holiday, that though we have the freedom to speak our minds, we must use that freedom judiciously. Each of us, as humans, have hot-button topics that can set-us off, and Justice Thomas had hit mine, that is clear. But my choice of words was regrettable, not because I do not believe Justice Thomas is deeply wrong, but because they were ad hominem and uncivil, and for that I am sorry.

Read his full apology:
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I owe an apology. On the eve of this Independence Day, I have a renewed sense of what this country stands for, and how I...

Posted by George Takei on Friday, July 3, 2015

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Parents Say 5-Year-Old Son Was Unfairly Punished For His Hair, File Discrimination Complaint Against School

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 19:31
Jalyn Broussard was excited to show off his haircut at school last December. It was the first time the 5-year-old sported a different haircut than his 8-year-old older brother.

Thirty minutes into the day, his kindergarten teacher called his mother in front of the class to tell her his haircut was inappropriate and he had to leave school and return once his hair had been changed, the San Jose Mercury News originally reported. Jalyn’s mother, Mariana Broussard, asked if her son could stay for rest of the school day and the school’s principal, Teri Grosey, agreed.

According to Broussard, Jalyn's kindergarten teacher and principal, at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Belmont, California said Jalyn’s “modern fade” violated the school’s hairstyle policy, insisting that it was a “faux hawk” and describing it as distracting to his classmates.

“I was really shocked,” his mother told The Huffington Post, adding that Principal Teri Grosey had complimented Jalyn and his brother’s haircut from across the parking lot earlier that day. Broussard picked Jalyn up after school and took him to cut his hair so he would be allowed to return to school that evening and sing in the Christmas program. After having his head shaved, he was allowed to sing.

Broussard believed that her son was being unfairly treated because his hair was different than most of the children in his predominantly white school, a private Catholic school outside of San Francisco. Members of the Immaculate Heart parish for 30 years, according to NBC Bay Area, Broussard and her husband sought equal treatment for their son.

Before he was forced to change it, the 5-year-old’s offending haircut was less than half an inch longer on top than the tapered, closely cropped sides, his mother described. Broussard said she reread the school’s parent handbook and could not find any rule that had been violated.

“There’s no spikes, it’s not long, it’s not a faux hawk,” his mother said. “This is a common, conservative haircut in the African-American community."

She brought in photos of talk show host Michael Strahan to demonstrate how common the haircut was and showed the administration photos of white students wearing a similar haircut at the school’s Halloween party.

The principal told Broussard she would "consult with the Archdiosese of San Franciso and Father Powell" and get back to her.

When the school returned from winter break in January, Broussard said she noticed that another student speaking at school mass had the same haircut her son was reprimanded for only a few weeks before. The student was not asked to change his haircut. Broussard asked the principal why her African-American son was forced to change his hair and the other student, who was not black, was not.

The principal told her the student’s modern crew cutwas acceptable because it didn’t extend from his hairline to his neck -- a small feature that apparently made Jalyn’s haircut “distracting to the learning process.” Broussard noted that this specific language was not in the handbook, nor was she notified of this detail when asked to change her son's hair.

After many attempts to get the school to rectify their unfair treatment towards Jalyn, Broussard removed her two children from the school in January. She filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in June to seek tuition reimbursement totaling about $16,000.

Broussard said that she’s disappointed in the school’s “lack of response and lack of interest” in addressing her concerns.

Immaculate Heart of Mary School did not return The Huffington Post’s request for comment.

“This is a clear cut case of discrimination based on race,” Jennifer Weiser Bezoza, Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights' Director of Education Advocacy, which works to justify inequities confronting racial minorities, said in a press release, which continues:

Jalyn Broussard was treated differently than other students for no reason. Furthermore, no consideration was ever shown for the fact that, as an African-American, Jalyn’s hair texture differs from that of his white and Asian peers, which necessitates a difference in cutting and styling. By targeting and isolating him because of his hair texture, [Immaculate Heart of Mary School] caused him severe emotional harm and distress.

Broussard said Jalyn and his brother, Noah Broussard, enjoy their new school. The school is bigger and more diverse and their mother really appreciates the school’s lessons on cultural sensitivity. Still, she says she can tell her son’s confidence took a hit.

“I think it ostracized him,” Broussard said, explaining that it took him longer than usual to adjust to his new environment. “He didn’t understand the singling out.”

Jalyn and Noah have been punished for trivial matters by the school several times, according to the complaint. Their father, Errol Broussard, talked to them about how being a black male in America means that sometimes they’ll be treated unfairly, regardless of age.

“We talk to them about how there will be higher visibility for them so they have to do better,” Broussard said. "Unfortunately, this is something you’re experiencing early."

In 2013, a Florida school considered suspending a 12-year-old girl unless she cut her long natural hair, deemed a "distracting" violation of the dress code before the school walked back the demand. Earlier this year, Army regulations for women's hair were challenged by servicemembers and members of the Congressional Black Caucus for being racially biased against black women.

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Next Steps in the Normalization of US-Cuban Relations: Thoughts From the Cuban Five

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 19:01
Now that United States and Cuba are preparing to open embassies in each other's countries, what else needs to happen to support the process of détente between the two countries?

During a recent visit to Cuba I posed this question to René González and Antonio Guerrero, two of the "Cuban Five" - five Cuban men who traveled to the United States in the 1990s to gather information about terrorist plots against Cuba and then became celebrated Cuban heroes during their subsequent incarceration by the United States.

Their reply? End the embargo and return Guantánamo Bay to Cuba.

"We have to remember that relations between the countries have never been normal," González said, arguing that the normalization of relations won't happen overnight.

He added:

"We were occupied by US troops in 1898. From then on, we were a subject of the US government and especially the US corporations. Then came the Revolution, which tried to correct that imbalance. Then came a different stage - of aggressions, blockade and policies against Cuba, which has lasted for more than 56 years. You cannot expect that establishing normal relations ... [for] the first time in history is going to be an easy process."

Guerrero noted that the US had taken one major step toward normalization already by removing Cuba from its list of countries alleged to support terrorism but noted that the next step toward normalization will require a much larger step - ending the US embargo, which in Cuba is more commonly referred to as the "blockade." Normalization, González said, will require "the dismantling of the whole system of aggression against Cuba, especially the blockade. Everybody knows how damaging it has been for the Cuban people. It's a small island. For 50 years, it has been asphyxiated by the biggest power in the world. It had a cost on the Cuban people, on their economy."

The Illegal Occupation of Guantánamo Bay

González also listed the return of Guantánamo to Cuba as necessary for normalization. After the blockade is lifted and Guantánamo is returned to Cuba, he told me, "I believe the process will take speed."

González rightly pointed out that the US occupation of Guantánamo is illegal. The United States gained control of Guantánamo Bay in 1903, when Cuba was occupied by the US Army after its intervention in Cuba's war of independence against Spain. Cuba was forced to accept the Platt Amendment to its Constitution as a prerequisite for the withdrawal of US troops from Cuba. That amendment provided the basis for a treaty granting the United States jurisdiction over Guantánamo Bay.

The 1903 Agreement on Coaling and Naval Stations gave the United States the right to use Guantánamo Bay "exclusively as coaling or naval stations, and for no other purpose." A 1934 treaty maintained US control over Guantánamo Bay in perpetuity until the United States abandons it or until both Cuba and the United States agree to modify it. That treaty also limits its uses to "coaling and naval stations."

None of these treaties or agreements gives the United States the right to use Guantánamo Bay as a prison, or to subject detainees to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment - which has been documented at the prison. The United States thus stands in violation of the 1934 treaty.

Moreover, the doctrine of rebus sic stantibus, enshrined in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and a norm of customary international law, allows one party to a treaty to abrogate its obligations when there is a fundamental change in circumstances. Using Guantánamo Bay as a prison and torturing detainees is a fundamental change in circumstance, which constitutes grounds for Cuba to terminate the treaty.

The Diplomatic Importance of Freeing the Cuban Five

The United States and Cuba would not likely have announced this week their plans to reopen embassies in each other's countries if President Barack Obama had not successfully negotiated the full release of the Cuban Five in the agreement he reached with Cuban President Raul Castro on December 17, 2014. That deal, to work toward normalization of relations between the two countries, had eluded Obama's 10 predecessors over a 55-year period. It will likely be Obama's signature foreign policy achievement.

A part of the deal that had enormous symbolic significance to the people of Cuba was the freeing of Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino - the three members of the Cuban Five who were still imprisoned at the time of the agreement. On December 17, 2014, the three men were granted clemency and returned to Cuba. The other two members of the Cuban Five - René González and Fernando González - had previously been released in 2011 and 2014, respectively, after serving their full sentences.

The case of the Cuban Five garnered international condemnation in particular because the five men had traveled to the United States to gather intelligence on Cuban exile groups for a very legitimate reason. Since Cuba's 1959 Revolution, terrorist organizations based in Miami, including Alpha 66, Commandos F4, the Cuban American National Foundation and Brothers to the Rescue, have carried out terrorist acts against Cuba in an attempt to overthrow the Castro government. The most notorious was the in-air bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976, which killed all 73 persons aboard, including the entire Cuban fencing team. These groups have acted with impunity in the United States.

The Cuban Five peacefully infiltrated these organizations. They then turned over the results of their investigation to the FBI. But instead of working to combat terrorist plots in the United States against Cuba, the US government arrested them and charged them with crimes including conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Although none of the Five had any classified information or engaged in any acts to injure the United States, they were convicted in a Miami court in 2000 and sentenced to four life terms and 75 years collectively.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals unanimously overturned their convictions in 2005, ruling that the Five could not get a fair trial in Miami due to the pervasive anti-Cuba sentiment there. Nevertheless, the 11thCircuit, sitting en banc, upheld the convictions, and Hernandez's life term was affirmed on appeal.

Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

The Cuban Five endured years of harsh conditions and wrongful imprisonment before their release. After being arrested, they were immediately put into solitary confinement and held in "The Hole" for 17 months. Solitary confinement amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, according to United Nations special rapporteur Juan E. Méndez.

"I believe they expected to break us down," González added. The US government "used the CIPA [Classified Information Procedures Act] and randomly classified everything," which "allowed them to prevent us from looking at the evidence," González said. "So they put us in "The Hole" and then put the evidence in another hole."

Yet, González noted, "Sometimes you have to react as a human with your dignity. And they went after our dignity. And we had to defend it. We were more committed. We were more encouraged to go to trial, and that's what we did."

"For us," González said, "going to trial was great. We wanted to go to trial every day because we wanted to face them and expose the truth of terrorism against Cuba and how the government of the United States supported those terrorists."

"They decided to behave like thugs." he told me. "And then you have to resort to your moral values, again to your human dignity and defend that." González said, "We always knew what we were doing there. We knew that we never intended to make any harm to the United States at all, to the US people. We were very clear on that. As a matter of fact, there was nothing in the whole evidence that would show hatred toward the United States or the US people or an intent to damage anybody. We knew that we were defending human life. And going to prison for defending the most precious thing which is the human life - it makes you strong."

Surviving Prison Through Poetry and Art

I asked González and Guerrero how they survived prison for all those years. "Our humor never went down," González said. "We played chess from one cell to another by yelling. We did poetry. Sometimes we had fun just reading the poetry through the doors."
Guerrero also began writing poetry in prison.

"I started writing poems without even having paper," he said. "A poem came to my head after they arrested me ... And I cannot explain how because I wasn't a poet. And then I started writing poems." Guerrero never imagined that his poems would be published, but he shared them with the other prisoners and shared them with people in court. He couldn't believe it when his first book of poems, Desde Mi Altura ("From My Altitude"), was published.

Guerrero also became a painter in prison. "The penitentiary is very tough," he said. "So one day I went to the art room ... that was another way to free my mind."

I was thrilled when Guerrero gave me a copy of his newly published book, Absolved by Solidarity, a collection of his paintings depicting the different stages of the trial.

The Five Return to Cuba

When I asked what it was like when all the members of the Cuban Five were back in Cuba together, Guerrero said: "It's a sense of joy. It's a sense of victory. It's a sense of returning to the place where you belong to. And it feels great."

González added: "My little daughter was four months when I was arrested. I came to Cuba two days before her 15th birthday. I have a grandson now which is a beautiful boy."

Both González and Guerrero said they had thought they would never see Hernandez in Cuba again because he was serving a term of life imprisonment. "My biggest fear was he would die there," González said. "And let's not fool ourselves. The US wanted him to die in prison. And the prosecutor wanted him to die in prison."

"We know how hard it is to take him from those appetites," he added, "and we managed to do that. It speaks a lot about Cuba, a lot about the Cuban people, because the Cuban people together as one did everything possible for the Five and it's just pure joy."

The Way Ahead

In the days ahead, the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States will rely most of all on the United States' willingness to act out of respect for Cuban self-determination. "The only thing we want is respect," Guerrero said. "Let's try to build something now - good for you, good for us - with respect in the middle. ... The point is, we don't know if the interest of the American government is really to be respectful and friendly to the Cuban government."

Guerrero said that even if millions of American tourists come flooding in to visit Cuba, he cannot conceive of Cuba becoming a capitalist country and forgetting about the Revolution. "Somebody may bring drugs, or somebody may bring a lot of money and try to buy things," Guerrero said. "We are not accustomed to that. But we are ready to deal with that and create our security and our understanding. They will be received with peace, with love."

González added that the Cuban people don't have hatred or resentment toward the American people specifically. "We don't blame the American people for the faults of the their government," he said. "We know they are people like people anywhere. I believe that all of us have more in common than things that divide us. ... And I hope sincerely that this new relationship with the US will allow Americans to come here and share with us this beautiful island."

In June, the Cuban Five visited Robben Island in South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years by the apartheid regime. Hernandez wrote in the guest book, "It has been a great honor to visit this place together with some of the brave compañeros of Nelson Mandela," who were "a source of inspiration and strength for the Five Cubans to withstand the more than 16 years in US jails." Hernandez added that Mandela's legacy is one "the Five will honor for the rest of our lives."

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is "Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues." Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

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What I Signed on to

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 18:06
How do I say this?

There comes a time, maybe long after, when you ask yourself why you wanted to serve the nation. An old poster tells me why I signed on:

In the entire grand poster field of World War II memory, full of hope and promise -- even swagger and boasting -- this poster stands out as a unique call to duty.

We are not winning here -- there is not even a promise of victory. Instead, ancestral ghosts are in formation for review. Is this still a beginning, or is it maybe a last hurrah for America? The spirit-soldiers are as stone-faced and grim as the winters at Valley Forge and the mountain fastness of the Wachtung had made them.

These are not the soldiers of victory -- these are the soldiers who will fight no matter what it comes to -- to the bitter end. These are the men who made this country.

Parading before them are the men now marching to the same dread uncertainty, in another war where American existence itself is in doubt. In the bitter winter of 1943, Rommel laid on a terrible defeat of American forces in Tunisia, 52 Soviet divisions were destroyed in the third battle of Kharkov, and convoys HX-229 and SC-122 lost 22 ships to U-boats. It was a grim March for the Allied cause.

So America's soldiers pass in review, from light into shadow, into fate's storm. Yet the Continental veterans are bathed in storm light, the kind you see in a lightning strike, or a moment's crack in dark clouds.

The GI's faces are turned -- a grimness highlighted by absolute anonymity. What does this mean? The message is this: We Americans are all in, and all in this together, and it is no longer about us anymore as individuals, but about us all together. We fight together; we sacrifice together; we live or die together.

Thus the motto is most important of all: Americans will always fight for liberty.

A poster about existence chooses its words carefully, and chooses them well. This is not a struggle for "freedom" -- it is a struggle for liberty. But liberty has the same Latin root as the Anglo-Saxon frēodōm. So what is the difference?

The usage of liberty has taken a distinct path in modernity. For example, while we say we give a people freedom, or even "liberate" them, we cannot give them liberty. Liberty is a self-made state of political realization that must be self-proclaimed, fought for, and won. It is the opposite state of being, say, the passive recipient of American altruism, like in Operation Enduring Freedom or Iraqi Freedom.

Moreover, as George Orwell so archly reasoned in his guide to Newspeak, even in the all-grinding tyranny of 1984 you could still say: "The dog is free of fleas." Free is a loose, generic, individual, and even momentary state of mind and being.

Liberty, in contrast, is the living embodiment of the collective oath of a people -- and will ever be thus. So when the poster invokes liberty, it is speaking directly to the survival of Americans: Americans who can survive only by living in liberty.

Would that I could say, this July 4th, that I am the citizen of such a nation!

To the contrary, I see a nation committed to the defense of tyrannies that are nothing less than an abomination on humanity. I see a government that arrogates to itself the right to assassinate anyone on the planet that it deems displeasing. How many movements against tyranny and injustice has the United States sought to destroy, or fought relentlessly, or strafed and killed, simply because they threaten the cruel despots we call "friends and allies?"

Meantime, our military far more closely resembles the resplendent British regiments our Continental veterans once met in battle -- even if their digital camo looks nothing like royal scarlet and gold. General officers act like courtiers, and pin stripe courtiers ape the Roman Cubicularii of the imperial court, desperately seeking face time with the emperor. The radiance of our palace precincts on the Potomac far outshines the old limestone digs of the Sun King.

Yet what of all those fine officers I have taught, and with whom I served these years? They remain the stalwart and the good, like great rocks in a sea, to be used up by the system, where the waters rush over them, inexorably wearing them away.

And the people, for whom The Fourth is simply sunny respite for family BBQ, fireworks, and flat screen action, where have you been? Where have you been while the grand enterprise of the imperial state has played out its game of "strategic competition" and forever war these fifteen years?

You are supposed to be the army. You are supposed to be the state. You are supposed to be the unstoppable defending force of the American Idea. After all, you were not so long ago the very ones who always fought for liberty. My father fought. My uncle fought and died. Now, at BBQ, you have forgotten even what once you did.

Thus, in every great nation in every time, the idea for which we serve is always lost, long before the fall.

Michael Vlahos signed on to naval service in November 1974, serving also in the State Department and CIA, most recently teaching at the US Naval War College.

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What the Referendum Means for Greece

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 17:08
The news about Greece and its precarious financial situation has gripped the globe. There is a multidimensional matrix of positions, parameters and opinions arising from all the different working and interested parties. Clarity is essential ahead of the forthcoming referendum.

In a nutshell, a yes vote means willingness to work with Europe and to be amenable to cooperation; it is a positive call to seek help in a constructive way. This would in turn mean that tax rates must not be increased. Greek people see themselves as part of Europe. It is also true that the drachma will not bring the financial relief needed by Greece in a very short space of time. Yes the debt would be written off by the default, but market chaos would ensue whilst settling down to a new currency.

Greek goods and services would be exported and sold at the devalued rate of the new currency and imports would be subject to exchange controls. The result would be a difficult period of re-adjustment within Greece and somewhat Europe. This default would be like no other. For the country to become independent, the economy would have to restructure itself completely. The production levels for mined goods and other agricultural products will not be able to grow quickly, and services including tourism have a certain capacity and style, both sectors would need some time for any new investment to take effect for growth to be achieved.

The question remains who invests and who should invest in the Greek economy how and why.

The European partners of Greece are asking for certain reforms which would make Greece more competitive and more transparent and hence able to attract capital. Some other reforms like increasing the tax rate instead of reducing it -- perhaps to match the 10 percent of its neighbors -- may be punitive rather than productive and enlightened.

Some measures may be more effective than others and all should be evaluated. Does Europe see itself as ready and able to invest and co-manage with the host countries valuable infrastructure projects, and other essential governance activities, like the security of Europe and its borders, for the joint total benefit of the citizens of Europe, of investors, shareholders and the local population all becoming stakeholders, and engaged within common purpose?

This is the challenge Europe faces, and here it has an opportunity to rise to it. It is important to understand that Europe has looked kindly overall to the Greek predicament, and has been willing to help Greece. The key is to find the innovative path that will lead Greece out of the last century of politics into a more stable future. It is wrong to take the view that the correct process is divorce and to negotiate accordingly. There are segments of the population and the economy that are suffering and have suffered and they cannot be ignored.

Plans based on common sense of purpose and partnership in problem solving, are the basis for delivering the much needed change. There are many areas which should be subject to deep structural reform. The willingness has to be there from both sides to set priorities and tackle the change management systematically and with the full backing and support of the Greek population. Europe must not be so harsh, that any approach by the Greek people to establish a viable forward path will end in failure. Neither Greece should be so unyielding as to resist the necessary changes and next steps.

One thing is clear: Greece has not been able to manage its economy itself. Now Europe has to look within itself, to find excellence, those people, ideas, agreements, financing, projects and spirit of peace and conciliation that will lead to growth and stability for all.

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Bernie Sanders Will End the IMF's Economic Violence in Greece and Africa

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 15:43
Many people want to know more about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' foreign policy agenda. Yes, they say, we like what Sanders is saying about reducing extreme inequality, about reducing the political power of the billionaire class. But what about U.S. foreign policy? Yes, they say, Bernie voted no on the Iraq war; yes, they acknowledge, Sanders supports the Iran deal. But we're spending more than half of our federal income tax dollars on the Pentagon's empire, money we should be spending on rebuilding our nation's domestic infrastructure. "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death," Dr. King said. What's Bernie going to do about that?

I'm all for pushing Bernie to talk more about downsizing the Pentagon to be an institution focused on actually defending the United States, as opposed to running around the world overthrowing other people's governments -- a Pentagon that "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy," as President John Quincy Adams put it.

But we should also take advantage of the new opportunity that now presents itself; it's not only with bombs that U.S. foreign policy kills and injures innocent civilians.

We should recognize and publicize the fact that Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate who is talking about what the IMF is doing to Greece, the only presidential candidate who has a track record of opposing the IMF, the only presidential candidate who, if elected, is likely to do anything to end the economic violence of the IMF.

In his historic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, Jesse Jackson often invoked the theme of "economic violence":

Economic violence is the critical issue of our day. When plants close on workers without notice, and leave them without jobs or training for new jobs -- that's economic violence. When three to five million Americans are on the streets and homeless -- that's economic violence. When merger maniacs make windfall profits and top management is given excessive bonuses, golden parachutes to aid a soft landing, while workers are asked to take a wage cut, a benefit cut and a job loss, a crash landing -- that's economic violence. When our children are victimized with poor health care, poor education, poor housing, poor diets and more -- that's economic violence against our children.

Jesse Jackson was talking about U.S. domestic policy. But others have used the idea to talk about the IMF:

Hundreds of campaigners are marching in Prague as the main policy-making body of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) begins a meeting to discuss debt relief.

They want the IMF and its sister organisation, the World Bank, to cancel altogether debts owed to them by the poorest countries.

The protesters are staging a "funeral" procession through Czech capital to highlight their view that 7 million children a year die because of the debt crisis.

Jubliee 2000, which is organising the march, says it will be totally non-violent and that it is committed to peaceful protest.

"We condemn violence, both the violence which ends in broken windows, and the violence that kills 19,000 children a day," the group's UK director Ann Pettifor told the BBC.

The IMF is not "over there." The IMF is headquartered in Washington, physically, politically and financially. A progressive economist once reported that he was at a seminar at the IMF, where a senior IMF official was indignant that people were saying that IMF is unaccountable. The IMF official demanded to know: why do people always accuse us of being unaccountable? We never do anything without checking with the U.S. Treasury Department!

Until now, unfortunately, Congressional Democrats have been largely content to let Treasury to run the show at the IMF without the input of real Democrats.

The IMF is now doing to Greece what the IMF has been doing to Africa since the 1980s and what the IMF did to South America until the progressive governments there kicked the IMF out. The IMF is a member of the "troika" of official creditors that have been making extreme austerity demands on the Greek government and are now openly demanding "regime change" in Greece before there can be any deal that ends the crisis in Greece that the troika has imposed.

(Some people complain that we shouldn't blame the IMF for what is being done to Greece; they say that some other institution or actor is more responsible. These people want us to play "accountability whack-a-mole" with the institutions. We need to hold the institutions "jointly and severally liable"; and the IMF is the bad actor in the troika for whom Americans have the most responsibility.)

Bernie Sanders is the only presidential candidate who is speaking out about this. In Congress, it's the progressive Democrats - including Sanders - who are speaking out about this.

U.S. support for the IMF is more politically fragile than many people realize. Many Congressional Republicans hate the IMF, in significant measure because they see the IMF as a Democrat-supported taxpayer-financed slush fund to bail out big private banks when their international bets go bad (which assessment is quite correct.) Without the support of Congressional Democrats, the IMF is dead meat in Washington. Whenever the IMF wants more money from Washington, there's a campaign to trick low-information Democrats into believing that the IMF is "foreign aid," so that Democrats will support it.

When more Democrats own the fact that the IMF agenda is the NAFTA-WTO-TPP agenda with a European internationalist smiley face mask pasted on, the IMF will be on a fast train to the dustbin of history. And this is not necessarily a remote prospect - the fact that this is the fundamental identity of the IMF is well known among labor activists, for example.

AFL-CIO chief economist William Spriggs recently wrote:

In the U.S. we must take the side of Greece in this fight. It is in our interest, as the immediate problem of the instability this is causing is a rising dollar that will hurt U.S. exports and jobs. And, we can never be sure of the interrelated nature of financial collapses since so much of the banking sector remains in the shadows; with global derivatives trading at values greater than global output.

More importantly, we must also revolt against this economic order. It is the same order that saved JP Morgan Chase, but let Detroit and now Puerto Rico fail. It is the same religion that would sacrifice the earnings of American students with rising student debt and de-invest in public higher education. It is the same religion that would sacrifice American jobs and labor standards and back the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We must see these as the same struggle to restore sanity and purpose to role of government and its servant, the economy.

This is why supporters of the IMF should be very afraid that Bernie Sanders and progressive Democrats are denouncing what the IMF is doing to Greece. You can add your voice here.

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Memo to Media: Ask Trump if He's a 'Serial Racist'

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 15:43
It's easy to laugh off Donald Trump's fact-free comments about Mexican immigrants being rapists. And easy to poke fun, as Jon Stewart did, at Trump's grudging admission that some Mexican immigrants might be "good people."

But there is a serious issue here, and mainstream media interviewers have neglected to ask Trump about it -- and that's Trump's history of pointing the finger of rape at innocent men of color. I'm talking about his high-profile effort years ago that fanned racial tensions after perhaps the most notorious rape in New York City's history.

In 1989, a white, female investment banker was viciously raped and nearly murdered while jogging in Central Park. Police quickly pinned the crime on five Black and Latino youths, aged 14 to 16, after extracting rape confessions (soon to be retracted). Mainstream media piled on behind the police -- abandoning usual hedge words of "accused" or "alleged" -- by referring to the accused rapists as a "wolf pack" and "park marauders."

A racially-tinged lynch mob had formed, and real estate mogul Donald Trump used his money to try to lead the mob.

A dozen days after the attack, as the 100-pound rape survivor emerged from a coma, Donald Trump bought a full-page ad in all four New York dailies with the banner headline: "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!"

Trump's ad spoke of "roving bands of wild criminals" who "roam our neighborhoods"; it decried a "permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman and then laugh . . ."

The ad blamed civil liberties concerns for permissiveness and, ultimately, the Central Park rape: "Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS" [capitalization in the original]. Trump called for killers to be "executed for their crimes."

We know now -- after the five convicted Harlem youths had collectively served more than 40 years in prison for the crime -- that they had not raped anyone. Sarah and Ken Burns' documentary, "The Central Park Five," shows that the wrongful imprisonment resulted partly from police/prosecutorial misconduct and an abridging of the youths' civil liberties.

Needless to say, if the youths whose alleged crime sparked Trump's ad had been put to death, we would have had five more innocent men of color executed in our country.

Thirteen years after the Central Park rape and Donald Trump's full-page ad, it became clear - thanks to a jailhouse confession confirmed by DNA testing - that the culprit, acting alone, had been a convicted serial rapist.

A question journalists might pose to candidate Trump today, especially when he's discussing the issue of rape: "Mr. Trump, are you a serial racist?"


Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group FAIR in 1986.

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Watch The Emotional Moment A Judge Recognizes The Accused As A Former Classmate

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 15:07
Courtroom cameras captured the bittersweet moment that a south Florida judge realized the burglary suspect in front of her was a former middle-school classmate.

Arthur Booth, 49, was in Miami-Dade Circuit Court for a bond hearing Thursday when Judge Mindy Glazer asked him if he had attended a nearby middle school, according to WSVN News.

"Oh my goodness, oh my goodness," Booth said as he realized the judge was a former classmate.

Booth then burst into tears when Glazer reminisced about their childhood.

"This was the nicest kid in middle school," the judge said, according to KFOR-TV. "He was the best kid in middle school. I used to play football with him, all the kids, and look what has happened."

Booth repeated, "Oh my goodness, oh my goodness," as he wept.

WSVN News reported that Booth had been arrested Wednesday in connection with a June 29 burglary.

Booth's cousin Melissa Miller told WPLG-TV that she believes Booth cried because he was ashamed of his arrest.

"It just brought back memories of how smart he was," Miller said. "He was a scholar, well-rounded athlete, bilingual."

She said the bright future Booth once faced was destroyed by drugs. "I was heartbroken. I mean, it just broke my heart," Miller said. "We're really trying to find help because there's obviously a need for help."

Glazer set Booth's bond at $43,000 and told him she hopes he will turn his life around.

"Good luck to you, sir," she said. "I hope you're able to come out of this OK and just lead a lawful life."

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Fordham, Education Department Sued Over Student's Mental Health Records

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 14:39

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A graduate student has sued Fordham University, seeking $5 million in damages and saying the college violated her civil rights by demanding her entire record of mental health treatment as a condition for returning.

The federal lawsuit by Emily Pierce also names the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, saying the agency has been investigating her discrimination complaint for two years but has gone silent.

Pierce, now 34, was studying at the Graduate School of Social Services in 2011 and 2012, then took two medical leaves. She alleges her federal complaint resulted in retaliation by Fordham, a Jesuit school in the Bronx.

A university spokesman said Fordham followed well-established re-entry procedures in Pierce's case.

"After all this I'm bankrupt," Pierce said. She's now working in retailing, facing debt collectors, hoping to finish her degree to become a social worker and said she's trying to ensure no other mental health patients are treated the same way.

According to the lawsuit, Pierce re-entered the program where she had a 3.3 grade point average after the first medical leave in 2012 and sought additional financial aid. The disagreement over medical records led to the complaint and a second medical leave in 2013 and further demand for records. Pierce said she had provided a letter from her psychiatrist at the time, saying she was ready and able in the fall of 2013 to return.

The Office of Civil Rights initially found she had viable claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, arranging mediation between Pierce and school officials and their lawyers, which failed, the lawsuit said.

"Fordham's well-established re-entry procedures were followed closely in the case of Emily Pierce," spokesman Bob Howe said. "Fordham has complied with all of OCR's requests in a timely manner in this case."

He declined to share Fordham's policy on access to student medical records with The Associated Press.

According to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, schools may inquire into a student's current condition and request recent mental health information and records, but only the information needed to determine whether the student is a threat. "The school cannot insist on unlimited access to confidential information or records," Bazelon said in a 2008 report on campus rights.

The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights tries to resolve most complaints within 180 days but some take longer due to their complexity, spokesman David Thomas said. It refrains from offering opinions without a thorough investigation and doesn't comment on pending litigation, he said.

The situation was further complicated, Pierce said, during her second leave of absence from a misdiagnosis by a psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Westchester, changing her primary diagnosis from recurrent depression to schizoaffective disorder. She said Dr. Xiaolei Baran also changed her medications in what became an agonizing three-week inpatient treatment that followed an emergency room visit when Pierce reported feeling overwhelmed.

In a federal complaint initially filed with the Justice Department in December 2013, seven months after her hospital discharge, Pierce also alleged New York Presbyterian improperly shared information with Fordham, violating her privacy rights. The Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for enforcing patient privacy rules, reviewed that complaint and rejected it, saying it wasn't filed within 180 days, as required.

A hospital spokeswoman said New York Presbyterian wasn't named in the suit and declined to comment.

Calls to Baran were not returned.

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11 Reasons to Love the USA On July 4th

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 14:31
July 4th signals both the beginning and the ending of summer for me. Don't know about you, but the summer just seems to fly after this holiday despite our best efforts to soak it all in. In addition to the celebrations of barbecues and fireworks, we're also celebrating the greatness of a document that declared the independence and sovereignty of our country and the individual rights we've come to accept as a result.

As a country, we still have work to do (equal pay for women, anyone?) but the good news is we have the freedom to live our personal agendas safely. We may join whatever groups, clubs, or political parties we so choose without fear of repercussion. Those on the fringes who threaten our safety or interfere with our rights just don't get that freedom is what America is all about.

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the magnificent freedoms this beautiful and diverse country allows. And, sometimes, we need to take a moment to remind ourselves how truly lucky we are.

So, soak up the sun this weekend, but don't forget to bask in the exceptional freedoms we enjoy in the USA:

1. Freedom to love. Most Americans celebrated the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling this week. But even for those who didn't, it's important to recognize what this ruling represents. It represents a country that is open and accepting. A country that doesn't tell its' citizens whom to marry. A country that fights discrimination rather than promotes it. And those are things we can all celebrate.

2. Freedom to learn. Every citizen of this country is given the gift of education from kindergarten through high school. And, no matter who you are, how much money you have, or what disabilities you may struggle with, not one of us is turned away from this incredible opportunity. Want to go on to higher education? Opportunities abound there as well. We choose how far we want to take our education.

3. Freedom to excel. We have the right to have ambitions, to hope for more, to work toward bettering ourselves. True, we have a long way to go in ensuring sustainable living for all, but there aren't any laws in place that prevent us from pursuing our dreams. Carry on, dreamers! You never know where those dreams may take you.

4. Freedom to believe. Religious? Atheist? Agnostic? You choose. And no one will tell you to do otherwise. Next time you openly celebrate a holiday or walk into your place of worship, take a moment to appreciate this immeasurably beautiful right.

5. Freedom to travel. Want to explore the world? Great. Get your passport, pack your bags, and book your flight. Really. It's that simple. Having the freedom to leave the US and return at will may be something we take for granted and absolutely should not.

6. Freedom to speak up. Don't like your congresswoman? The president? The mayor of your town? You're free to make your feelings known. You won't be arrested or tortured for it. You won't be thrown into prison at the whim of a tyrannical government. Want to protest peacefully? All yours.

7. Freedom to videotape. Recently we've watched as the most unsettling incidents unfolded in real time thanks to witnesses who used their cell phones to record these travesties. And guess what? We have the right to do that (with some caveats). See something? Start rolling. As long as you're not violating someone else's privacy, you're within your rights. And you may be providing invaluable testimony as well.

8. Freedom to express ourselves sexually. Monogamy? Gay pride parade? Online porn? Open marriage? As long as it doesn't involve those who can't or don't legally consent, the field is endless in the ways we can comfortably and freely express our sexuality.

9. Freedom to procreate. You decide how many kids you want, not the government. Huge brood or none at all? Go forth and multiply as you see fit.

10. Freedom to vote. Eighteen or over? Sign up and submit your ballot. No one will stop you. No one will force your vote. No one can relieve you of this right. This is one of the greatest freedoms the US provides. We might not always get the government we want, but we're free to try.

11. Freedom to celebrate our freedoms. We're not a perfect nation nor do we claim to be. We have much work to do on many fronts. But we're also a country that has demonstrated a willingness to grow and evolve to the benefit of our citizens. So, despite our differences -- and because of them -- let's celebrate and appreciate our Day of Freedoms and this spectacular country we call home.

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Is Silicon Valley Charting the Future While All the World's Pols Play Small Ball?

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 14:20
"It is dangerous to mix godlike technology with megalomaniac politics but it might be even more dangerous to blend godlike technology with myopic politics. Our politics is becoming mere administration and is giving up on the future exactly when technology gives us the power to reshape that future beyond our wildest dreams. Indeed, technology gives us the power to start reshaping even our dreams. If politicians don't want the job of planning this future, they will merely be handing it on a platter to somebody else."

Professor Yuval Harari

As we contemplate our present and future around the 239th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, are we being myopic? Is our politics focused mainly on marginalia while real change, big change, is being prepped elsewhere?

In a cover story late last month in the usually intriguing British magazine New Statesman, entitled "Who Owns the Future?: The Silicon Valley Prophets And A Runaway World," Israeli historian Yuval Harari argues that, following a 20th century dominated by political movements pushing profound change, the new century is ironically marked by political managerialism and arguments on the margins. Ironically not only in comparison to the not so long ago, but especially because revolutionary change is just around the corner. In this case, not from political visionaries but from technological imagineers.

Communism and fascism failed, while liberalism succeeded in the 20th century in establishing vast new education, health, and welfare establishments. The conflict over these revolutionary movements, violent and non-violent, Harari argues, left politics coming out of the 20th century enervated and wary, with the outcome of the great ideological wars mostly horrible. The relative triumph of liberal moves to create vast new establishments to uplift and ameliorate carried with it the pressing need to manage the new leviathans. And something else happened as well to tamp down political enthusiasm and imagination: The triumph of the market and the accompanying political counsel to do little other than help business and finance.

Geopolitical threats? Challenging, but manageable. China and Russia are playing familiar great power games. Terrorism has taken a minor toll. North Korea and Iran, with threats of missiles and nukes? "That's so 1945," scoffs Harari, author of the provocative international best-seller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. (Tell that to Bibi Netanyahu.)

This is a particularly bad time for politics to go small-bore, suggests Harari, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, because new forces are being unleashed, the implications of which more than rival the fever dreams of Communism and fascism.

Now the grand visions of the future stem largely from the private sector, from revolutions in biotechnology and supercomputing leading to projected changes in the human genome, the creation of cyborgs and robots and artificial intelligences and a post-scarcity society in which most people consume rather than produce.

This last, also covered in the new Atlantic cover story on "The End of Work," posits the obsolescence of many millions of jobs, leading to the rise of the "economically useless," requiring radical new arrangements in society.

Also part of the foreshadowed technology-driven remaking of economy and society? The overcoming of old age and possible defeat of death, the engineering of super-humans, the advent of the "Internet of Things," and some sort of merger between human awareness and a new super-Neet to produce a higher level of consciousness.

How valid are Harari's assessments?

Allowing for a certain degree of Silicon Valley hype and journalistic exaggeration, they seem valid enough to consider.

Are pols really only into small ball driven by hack politics and megabucks? Well, for the most part, yeah.

Isn't gay marriage a revolutionary advance? Not really. It's certainly quite historic. But it only directly affects a relatively small number of folks, providing more a memorialization of further advance of their hard-won rights than a breakpoint in human civilization.

Isn't climate change a civilizational issue?

Why yes, it is. And the world is so far failing the test, refusing to take logical and achievable steps to avert a scenario in which the world becomes perilously close to uninhabitable for humanity.

Climate change is an example of an issue in which a few politicians -- like Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- have engineered dramatic action.

Not that Schwarzenegger or Brown is anyone's idea of a typical politician. That's one of the reasons I've always liked those guys.

Their sort of Think Big agenda -- on climate, renewable energy, conservation, clean transportation systems, water, stem cell research, and so on -- provides the exception that proves the rule. And of course, as Californians, they are near the Silicon Valley gravity well which further encourages thinking different(ly).

Speaking of which, again, is all this stuff Harari is talking about real or just so much hype?

Well, Silicon Valley has a history of "vaporware." And there is a present annoying tendency to act as though various largely trivial "apps" are big "game-changers."

However, there is also the rest of the history, of massive change.

It's not hard to notice that some extremely high-powered techies are getting to be like Tony Stark on a caffeine buzz. And the subliminal hmm of revving new tech is getting louder.

So what should the political and media classes do? Pay attention. Learn. And think, not tweet, about it.

As our small ball politics rolls inexorably into a presidential primary season already redolent with risible distractions, with the prospect of a general election between the inheritor of one non-great presidency squaring off against the inheritor of another non-great presidency ever present on the horizon, the same old song and dance is likely to continue.

Politics is seldom ahead of the curve on big change.

Just ask my old friend and boss Gary Hart, who tried to devise a post-Cold War politics in the midst of the Cold War only to be shot down from his presidential frontrunner's perch in a sex scandal spoon fed to the media just as hearings on the massive Iran/Contra scandal were getting underway.

The Cold War ended less than five years later, to the widespread shock of its most ardent promoters, as Hart's friend Mikhail Gorbachev dismantled the Soviet empire. Not that we ever got a coherent post-Cold War politics.

Will the prophesied wave of deep technological change make us happier? Harari notes that the earlier, pre-technological revolutions of the 20th century left society more atomized.

Looking at what was to come with the personal computing revolution 30 years ago, one of its pioneers then questioned what was beginning to unfold.

With Hart riding high after his near miss '84 presidential campaign, I put together a meeting between him and the principal inventor of the personal computer, Steve Wozniak. The Apple co-founder had been an enthusiastic backer and Democratic convention delegate for Hart and I wanted his support for Hart's think tank.

The meeting at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel began well. Since this was in the days before the mobile phone changed everything by turning half the world into shuffling extras in The Walking Dead, I slipped away to make some calls on a pay phone only to find up my return that Gary and Woz were a bit at loggerheads. The issue? Whether people with all their gadgets were happier than cave men.

The ultra-bright if a bit unworldly Woz took the position that cave men were really better off than we were with all the gadgets we had and were about to have. The gadgets were a distraction. Wolves seemed to be in the mix as well.

Which provided me with a distraction to get things back on track, noting that the cave folks had lacked an environmentally benign program for wolf control.

Yet the point, of course, remains. Are we happier today than we were four thousand years ago? (To adjust a saying of a certain former president.) Or are we better distracted?

I have neither an answer nor a quip. The one thing that is sure that we're quite different. Fortunately, we understand that.

If we fail to understand how we'll be different after the next waves of big change, we will be in big trouble.

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SAE Fraternity Hires Woman To Lead Diversity Efforts

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2015-07-03 14:19

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The fraternity connected to a racist video featuring University of Oklahoma students that surfaced this spring announced Thursday that it has hired a director of diversity and inclusion.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon said it has appointed Ashlee Canty, who has worked in fraternity and sorority affairs at DePaul University and Syracuse University, to the new position to help oversee efforts to enhance diversity at the fraternity's more than 230 chapters. Canty, who is African-American, also will work with local chapters to develop a system for monitoring and reporting diversity statistics.

The position is part of an initiative announced by the Evanston, Illinois-based fraternity in March after members of the now-defunct OU chapter were recorded taking part in a chant that included a reference to lynching and used a racial slur to describe how black students would never become members. At the time, SAE's Executive Director Blaine Ayers acknowledged the chant was likely shared at the fraternity's six-day retreat during an informal "social gathering" outside the normal slate of classes and seminars.

After the video came to light, OU President David Boren ordered two students expelled, severed ties with the local chapter and closed down the fraternity house. More than 20 other members of the chapter faced punishment that included mandatory community service and cultural sensitivity training.

The fraternity also announced in March that it was reviewing all 237 chapters for racially offensive behaviors, but a spokesman said Thursday that investigation hasn't been completed.

"We knew that it was going to take some time," said SAE spokesman Brandon Weghorst. "It's tough to perform an investigation over the summertime whenever the undergraduates aren't even on campus."

SAE began collecting racial and ethnic data in 2013. About 3 percent of SAE's reporting members identified as African-American and 20 percent identified as non-white, Ayers said.


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