The political ramifications are clear: House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a colossal mistake by conspiring behind President Obama’s back, and the move has ricocheted on both of them.
The big, scary issue underlying the contretemps — how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program — is a more complicated story. I believe strongly that Obama’s approach, which requires the patience to give negotiations a chance, is the right one. To the extent that a case can be made for a more bellicose approach, Boehner and Netanyahu have undermined it.
First, the politics. Why on earth would anyone think it was a good idea to arrange for Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress without telling Obama or anyone in his administration about the invitation?
Yes, Congress has an important role to play in international affairs. And yes, the days are long gone when disputes among officials over foreign policy ended at the water’s edge; members of Congress routinely gallivant around the globe and share their freelance views of what the United States should or should not be doing. But inviting a foreign leader to speak at the Capitol without even informing the president, let alone consulting him, is a bald-faced usurpation for which there is no recent precedent.
Pending legislation, which Obama threatens to veto, would automatically impose tough sanctions against Iran if the drawn-out, multiparty nuclear negotiations fail. If Boehner wanted to build support for sanctions, he failed spectacularly.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a vocal hawk on Iran policy, announced Tuesday that he would not vote for his own bill imposing automatic sanctions — at least not until after a March 24 deadline for negotiators to produce the outlines of an agreement. Nine of his pro-sanctions Democratic colleagues in the Senate joined him, meaning the bill is unlikely to win the necessary 60 votes for passage.
If Boehner’s aim was to paint Obama as somehow soft on Iran, he failed at that, too. The speaker inadvertently turned the focus on himself and has had to spend the week explaining why he went behind the president’s back, not even giving the White House a heads-up until hours before the March 3 speech was announced.
Netanyahu, for his part, may have thought this was a way to boost his prospects in the upcoming Israeli election, scheduled for March 17. Or he may have fantasized that somehow, by openly siding with the Republican Party, he could snatch U.S. foreign policy out of Obama’s hands. Judging by the pounding he is taking from the Israeli media, he was mistaken on both counts.
Note to all foreign leaders: We have one president at a time. Americans respected this fact when George W. Bush was president, for better or worse. And we respect it now.
The speech episode borders on farce, but the larger debate over Iran’s nuclear ambitions could not be more serious. The central issue is whether a negotiated deal will leave Iran with the theoretical capability to build a nuclear bomb if it were to decide to do so. No amount of diplomatic legerdemain, it seems to me, can avoid answering this question with a simple yes or no.
If you say yes, as Netanyahu does, then Iran must be stripped of all ability to enrich uranium. It is easy to understand why the Israeli government sees a nuclear-capable Iran as an existential threat — and also worries that other regional powers concerned about Iran’s growing influence, such as Saudi Arabia, might decide that they, too, need to get into the nuclear game.
Iran insists, however, that it has the right to a peaceful nuclear program. The government in Tehran is unlikely to give up that right but may be willing to limit itself to low-grade enrichment that produces material incapable of being used in a bomb. At least some infrastructure for high-grade enrichment would remain, however — and so would some risk of an eventual Iranian bomb.
Is this good enough? If the alternative is war with Iran, it may have to be.
I do not believe that war is in the interest of the United States. I also do not believe that war is in the interest of Israel, but of course Netanyahu has the right — he would say the duty, if he concludes that force is required — to disagree. Nothing that remotely resembles a perfect outcome is in sight. It must be better to keep talking than start bombing.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 29, 2015
“American Pathologies”: A Texas Law Would Let Teachers Shoot Students Who “Threaten” School Property. Guess Which Students Would Suffer Most?
Proposed legislation in Texas would allow teachers to use force, including deadly force, against students threatening the lives of others. If that unsettles you, consider the bill’s next provision: Teachers could also use deadly force to stop students from threatening school property. The bill, nicknamed the “Teacher’s Protection Act”, would create “a defense to prosecution for and civil liability of an educator who uses force or deadly force to protect the educator’s person, students of the school, or property of the school, and suspension of a student who assaults an employee of a school.” Proposed by Rep. Dan Flynn, the bill is unlikely to become law—but it indicates a twisted pathology in the way we think of schools and students.
The bill is the logical conclusion of a diverse set of American pathologies, including the tendency to classify the protection of property as tantamount to the protection of life, and the use of zero tolerance policies in schools to make them precursors to prison, especially for black students. This law expresses both disturbing habits in two distinct ways.
First, by extending protected lethal force from the defense of life to the defense of school property, the law permits deadly violence in schools as a reaction to rather typical disciplinary problems. Imagine, for instance, a case of trespassing (students coming onto school property after hours) or theft of school property. In ordinary circumstances infractions like these would be regulation bad behavior, but if schools are given their own version of castle doctrine, it is unclear if these behaviors would still be viewed as ordinary rule-breaking, or something worthy of a lethal reaction.
Second, the law would rely on teachers’ judgment to distinguish between situations requiring lethal force and situations not requiring lethal force. In such situations, teachers own unconscious biases could influence their decisions in ways that disproportionately affect minority students. It’s already clear, for instance, that when it comes to doling out discipline, teachers are not colorblind. A 2014 report produced by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil rights found evidence that black children as young as preschool aged are suspended at much higher rates than their white peers. As they move up in the school system, the report found, black students are expelled and suspended at a rate three times higher than their white peers. Moreover, while black students comprise only 16 percent of total school enrollment, they make up 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students arrested for school-related reasons. In all grades and forms of discipline (expulsion, suspension, etc.) boys make up a greater proportion of the punished than girls.
All of this amounts to a much harsher disciplinary picture for black boys than any other students, suggesting that, if teachers were to be given leeway to use lethal force for widely expanded reasons—such as the defense of lunch tables and chalk boards—it’s likely black boys would wind up disproportionately on the losing end. Far from protecting teachers, this law would only place a population already vulnerable to harsh disciplinary measures inside school walls at further risk. Texas doesn’t exactly have a history of forward thinking when it comes to matters of human rights, but in a time when the lives of black boys seem to be ended with startling impunity by authority figures, this bill seems especially ill-considered, and especially cruel.
By: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The New Republic, January 30, 3015
Three weeks after throwing the early competition for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination into chaos by announcing that he was “seriously considering” joining the race, Mitt Romney announced on Friday morning that he would not launch a third bid for the White House.
“After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee,” Romney told a group of staffers and supporters.
Romney’s decision was probably a good one; although he led most of his Republican rivals in the polls, that advantage was largely built on name recognition. The vulnerabilities that sank him in the 2012 general election still exist, and the conservatives who will play an outsized role in picking the 2016 nominee still distrust him. Furthermore, Romney’s plan to rebrand himself as an anti-poverty warrior would have been tough to buy, due to his longstanding reputation for flip-flopping (and his flat acknowledgement in 2012 that “I’m not concerned about the very poor”).
There are some obvious winners in the wake of his decision: Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker will now be able to compete for the moderate-leaning, pro-business Republicans who have long favored Romney. The former Massachusetts’ governor’s staffers and donor base will now be up for grabs as well.
But Republicans still find themselves in the same situation they were in before Romney ever floated a third run: with a crowded, unsettled field.
A Public Policy Polling survey released Friday illustrates the tumultuous state of the race. It polled the Republican field both with and without Romney, and found that his staying on the sidelines leaves the GOP in a free-for-all fight for the nomination. With Romney’s supporters reallocated to their second choices, Bush leads the field with 21 percent. Former surgeon-turned-Tea Party activist Ben Carson trails with 16 percent, followed by Walker at 14 percent, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee at 12 percent, and Texas senator Ted Cruz at 10 percent.
In other words, it’s anyone’s game.
Republicans do have some incentive to figure things out sooner rather than later, however. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton appears unlikely to face a serious primary challenge, leaving her free to coast and raise money as the Republicans batter each other in their primary contests. While there’s a compelling case to be made that tough primaries make stronger candidates, that’s a scenario that Republicans would still clearly rather avoid.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, January 30, 2015
“Walker Pushing Drug War Testing Scheme”: And He Doesn’t Care That The Courts Say That’s Unconstitutional
According to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, what American employers are really looking for these days is “someone who can pass a drug test.”
Walker made that remark in a question-and-answer session in Washington, D.C., Friday following his remarks at the American Action Forum’s inaugural Fred Malek lecture series, which are named after the GOP powerbroker who served as Richard Nixon’s “Jew counter”). The Wisconsin governor is expected to formally unveil the drug testing proposal in his budget next week.
The imitative would require drug testing for recipients of government benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. Walker says his plan is justified because there are many open jobs waiting for people who can pass drug tests and know “how to show up [for work] everyday five days a week.”
Walker first touted the idea while running for re-election last year, and pledged to “require a drug test for those requesting unemployment and able-bodied, working age adults requesting Food Stamps from the state.” But, sadly for Walker, the plan is almost certainly unconstitutional.
Federal courts have found that laws that require all recipients of welfare benefits to be drug tested violate the 4th Amendment as an unconstitutional search and seizure. However, states have recently passed laws that only require drug tests for those on government assistance for whom there is “a reasonable suspicion” of illegal drug use. This is considered far more likely to pass constitutional muster than blanket drug testing of everyone who applies for public assistance.
Walker did seem aware of these obstacles at the event, describing the pushback from the courts as “a classic example where the federal government pushes back and says you can’t do that.”
But even if Walker does manage to require drug testing for welfare recipients, the plan would likely be quite expensive for taxpayers. Before it was overturned in federal court, Florida’s mandatory drug test law ended up costing the state more money than it saved.
In the meantime, it does make for good political rhetoric. Very few candidates have won election on a platform giving more money to drug addicts. But Walker’s plan is unlikely to turn into effective or lasting legislation.
By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, January 30, 2015
J.P. Morgan was recently socked in the wallet by financial regulators who levied yet another multi-billion-dollar fine against the Wall Street baron for massive illegalities.
Well, not a fine against John Pierpont Morgan, the man. This 19th-century robber baron was born to a great banking fortune and, by hook and crook, leveraged it to become the “King of American Finance.” During the Gilded Age, Morgan cornered the U.S. financial markets, gained monopoly ownership of railroads, amassed a vast supply of the nation’s gold and used his investment power to create U.S. Steel and take control of that market.
From his earliest days in high finance, Morgan was a hustler who often traded on the shady side. In the Civil War, for example, his family bought his way out of military duty, but he saw another way to serve. Himself, that is. Morgan bought defective rifles for $3.50 each and sold them to a Union general for $22 each. The rifles blew off soldiers’ thumbs, but Morgan pleaded ignorance, and government investigators graciously absolved the young, wealthy, well-connected financier of any fault.
That seems to have set a pattern for his lifetime of antitrust violations, union busting and other over-the-edge profiteering practices. He drew numerous official charges — but of course, he never did any jail time.
Moving the clock forward, we come to JPMorgan Chase, today’s financial powerhouse bearing J.P.’s name. The bank also inherited his pattern of committing multiple illegalities — and walking away scot-free.
Oh, sure, the bank was hit with big fines, but not a single one of the top bankers who committed gross wrongdoings were charged or even fired — much less sent to jail.
With this long history of crime-does-pay for America’s largest Wall Street empire, you have to wonder why Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s CEO, is so P.O.’d. He’s fed up to the tippy-top of his $100 haircut with all of this populist attitude that’s sweeping the country, and he’s not going to take it anymore!
Dimon recently bleated to reporters that “banks are under assault.” Well, he really doesn’t mean or care about most banks — just his bank. Government regulators, snarls Jamie, are pandering to grassroots populist anger at Wall Street excesses by squeezing the life out of the JP Morgan casino.
But wait — didn’t JPMorgan score a $22 billion profit last year, a 20 percent increase over 2013 and the highest in its history? And didn’t those Big Bad Oppressive Government Regulators provide a $25 billion taxpayer bailout in 2008 to save Jamie’s conglomerate from its own reckless excess? And isn’t his Wall Street Highness raking in some $20 million in personal pay to suffer the indignity of this “assault” on his bank. Yes, yes and yes.
Still, Jamie says that regulators and bank industry analysts are piling on JPMorgan Chase: “In the old days,” he whined, “you dealt with one regulator when you had an issue. Now it’s five or six. You should all ask the question about how American that is,” the $20-million-a-year man lectured reporters, “how fair that is.”
Well, golly, one reason Chase has half a dozen regulators on its case is because it doesn’t have “an issue” of illegality, but beaucoup illegalities, including deceiving its own investors, cheating more than two million of its credit card customers, gaming the rules to overcharge electricity users in California and the Midwest, overcharging active-duty military families on their mortgages, illegally foreclosing on troubled homeowners and… well, so much more.
So Jamie, you should ask yourself the question about “how fair” is all of the above. Then you should shut up, count your millions and be grateful you’re not in jail.
From John Pierpont Morgan to Jamie Dimon, the legacy continues. Banks don’t commit crimes. Bankers do. And they won’t ever stop if they don’t have to pay for their crimes.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, January 28, 2015