Tuesday Reads: Rachel and Trayvon, Reid Going Nuclear, Spy Stories, and Much MorePosted: July 16, 2013
I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the depressing news, but I’m having a hard time getting going this morning.
We’re into our third heat wave of the summer, and I’m actually getting acclimated to 90 degree weather; but I suppose it still has an effect on my body and mind.
I’m also somewhat depressed about the Zimmerman verdict and by the often ignorant reactions I see on-line and on TV.
Rachel and Trayvon
One bright spot in the coverage for me was Rachel Jeantel’s interview with Piers Morgan last night. She was real and authentic, and Morgan pretty much stayed out of the way and let her talk. I think she made a real impression on him and the reaction from the live audience was very positive too. It was refreshing. IMO, it says a lot about Travon Martin’s character that he had a friend like Rachel. I’m going to post the whole interview here in case you missed it or you want to watch it again.
Asked about what Trayvon Martin was like as a friend, Jeantel described him as a “calm, chill, loving person” and said she never saw him get “aggressive” or “lose his temper.” She said that the defense’s attempts to portray Martin as a “thug” were unfounded and defended his relatively mild drug use. “Weed don’t make him go crazy,” she said, “it just makes him go hungry.”
Jeantel also responded to the massive mockery she received in social media for the way she speaks, explaining that she was born with an under-bite that has made it difficult for her to speak clearly. When Morgan asked if she’d been bullied for her condition, she simply responded, “Look at me,” to laughter from the studio audience.
Morgan attempted to get Jeantel to offer her opinion of defense attorney Don West, who many claimed was condescending towards her when she was on the stand. Jeantel shook her head, declining to say anything bad about the man given her “Christian” upbringing.
In the second part of his interview with Jeantel, Morgan turned to the “creepy-ass cracker” comment she made and the major impact it had on the tenor of the case. She explained that the term is actually spelled “cracka” and defined it as “people who are acting like they’re police.” She said that if Zimmerman had calmly approached Martin and introduced himself, her friend would have politely said what he was doing there and nothing more would have happened.
Unlike the juror, Jeantel did think Zimmerman was racially motivated. “It was racial,” she said. “Let’s be honest, racial. If Trayvon was white and he had a hoodie on, would that happen?”
I’d also like to recommend this piece by Robin D.G. Kelley at Counterpunch: The US v. Trayvon Martin.
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senator Rand Paul, Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley (also sponsor of his state’s Stand Your Ground law), along with a host of other Republicans, argued that had the teachers and administrators been armed, those twenty little kids whose lives Adam Lanza stole would be alive today. Of course, they were parroting the National Rifle Association’s talking points. The NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative lobbying group responsible for drafting and pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, insist that an armed citizenry is the only effective defense against imminent threats, assailants, and predators.
But when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, teenage pedestrian returning home one rainy February evening from a neighborhood convenience store, the NRA went mute. Neither NRA officials nor the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party argued that had Trayvon Martin been armed, he would be alive today. The basic facts are indisputable: Martin was on his way home when Zimmerman began to follow him—first in his SUV, and then on foot. Zimmerman told the police he had been following this “suspicious-looking” young man. Martin knew he was being followed and told his friend, Rachel Jeantel, that the man might be some kind of sexual predator. At some point, Martin and Zimmerman confronted each other, a fight ensued, and in the struggle Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.
Zimmerman pursued Martin. This is a fact. Martin could have run, I suppose, but every black man knows that unless you’re on a field, a track, or a basketball court, running is suspicious and could get you a bullet in the back. The other option was to ask this stranger what he was doing, but confrontations can also be dangerous—especially without witnesses and without a weapon besides a cell phone and his fists. Florida law did not require Martin to retreat, though it is not clear if he had tried to retreat. He did know he was in imminent danger.
Why didn’t Trayvon have a right to stand his ground? Why didn’t his fear for his safety matter? We need to answer these questions as a society. Please read the whole article if you can.
The big “news” in Washington DC these days–if you want to call it that– is the endless logjam in Congress. Once again, Harry Reid is talking about using the “nuclear option” to force Republicans to all votes on President Obama’s executive appointments. The mess in Congress is so mind-numbing that I can barely force myself to write about it. Will Reid actually take action this time. It’s hard to imagine he’ll do anything more than issue threats as always.
Senate Democrats are prepared to muscle through a controversial change to the chamber’s filibuster rules if last-ditch horsetrading fails to produce a breakthrough on a handful of contentious presidential nominees.
As early as Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is vowing to change by 51 votes the filibuster rules for executive branch nominees if he cannot reach an accord with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And in closed-door meetings, McConnell (R-Ky.) and Reid (D-Nev.) went back-and-forth over a series of proposals to avert the unprecedented “nuclear option,” but could not reach consensus.
Reid and Mitch McConnell have been talking, but anyone who would trust McConnell to keep his word on anything is an idiot.
In a highly unusual closed-door Monday night meeting of bipartisan senators in the ornate old Senate chamber — where deals like the Missouri Compromise were struck nearly two centuries ago — no consensus was reached over how to reform an institution where gridlock has become the norm. More than 30 senators spoke one-by-one, and a timekeeper made sure that long-winded lawmakers kept their comments relatively brief.
Nothing came out of the meeting, and unless there is a last minute agreement today,
Reid is warning he’ll move forward with a plan to effectively end the 60-vote requirement to overcome filibusters on executive branch nominees, instead changing that requirement to a simple majority vote. The rules change would not affect the filibuster rules on judicial nominees and legislation.
But the process that Reid is using to change the filibuster rules is unprecedented: He would invoke the nuclear option, setting a new precedent for the chamber by allowing it to approve some nominees with 51 votes, rather than drumming up the traditionally required 67 votes. That means all Reid needs are his fellow Democrats to change the filibuster rules — he doesn’t need the bipartisan support that would ordinarily be required under regular order.
I hope Reid and the rest of the Senate Democrats have the guts to pull this off. Meanwhile Lamar Alexander is threatening to go nuclear on some of his favorite projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Yucca Mountain Project if the Dems don’t give in on the filibuster. And then there’s this:
- Separately, Alexander tried invoking a few liberal watchwords when speaking before the press last Thursday. An empowered majority, he warned, “can change abortion rights. It can change civil rights. It can change environmental laws. It can change labor laws. Today, the House can do that, and when it comes to the Senate, we stop and think and consider. But after this, whoever has the majority can do anything it wants, on any day.”
Read more at The New Republic.
Fame is a Harsh Mistress
Remember Charles Ramsey, the Cleveland man who helped to rescue three women who had been held in Ariel Castro’s house a couple of months ago? According to HuffPo, he is now “broke and homeless.”
“I’m broke, bro,” Ramsey told the Daily Mail. “That’s the truth.”
Ramsey said he was fired from his job working in a kitchen because customers kept coming in to shake his hand.
The Mail reports that Ramsey was “shamed” out of his former home next to alleged kidnapper Ariel Castro by his neighbors “who claim he exaggerated his role in the rescue of the girls.”
But the Mail also reports that Ramsey has made around $50,000 over the last two months largely from “corporate speaking engagements” and money raised by private individuals as a reward for helping the kidnapping victims.
Nevertheless, “Money goes fast if you have bills,” he told the Mail.
I hope someone lends him a helping hand.
Here an interesting McClatchy article about some intelligence that must have come through NSA data collection: Lebanese officials say CIA warned them of imminent al Qaida attack on Hezbollah.
BEIRUT — The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency warned Lebanese officials last week that al Qaida-linked groups are planning a campaign of bombings that will target Beirut’s Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs as well as other political targets associated with the group or its allies in Syria, Lebanese officials said Monday.
The unusual warning – U.S. government officials are barred from directly contacting Hezbollah, which the U.S. has designated an international terrorist organization – was passed from the CIA’s Beirut station chief to several Lebanese security and intelligence officials in a meeting late last week with the understanding that it would be passed to Hezbollah, Lebanese officials said.
Hezbollah officials acknowledged the warning and took steps to tighten security in the southern suburbs that are known locally as Dahiya.
Is it really possible that something good came of NSA foreign intelligence gathering, despite the moral qualms of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald? According to a Lebanese official:
“They had transcripts of calls made from known al Qaida people in Lebanon to people in the Gulf that included detailed information about the attacks, including the amounts of explosives that had been smuggled into Lebanon,” said one Lebanese intelligence official who is barred from speaking openly to reporters. “We have already begun to make arrests.”
The official said Lebanese officials had monitored a series of militant phone calls but had not been able to listen to the calls’ content because it was encrypted. The United States, however, was able to listen to the calls, he said.
“America might hate the NSA right now, but they were able to actually hear the calls and warn us what was said,” the official said.
Russia says they have received an asylum request from NSA leaker Edward Snowden. From Reuters:
“He reached the conclusion that he needs to write an application for temporary asylum (in Russia), and this procedure has just been done,” Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer who met Snowden on Friday along with human rights activists, told Reuters.
“For now he is not going to go anywhere. For now he plans to stay in Russia,” he said, adding that if Snowden were granted temporary asylum, he should have the same rights as other citizens and be free to work and travel in Russia.
The asylum application could end his time in limbo but risks deepening tension between the United States and Russia, which has refused to expel him to his homeland for prosecution.
The head of Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) confirmed the agency had received Snowden’s application. Anti-secrecy group Wikileaks, which has been helping Snowden, said on Twitter that he had applied for “a temporary protection visa”.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is really enjoying dragging out this whole drama. It’s obvious the Russians are orchestrating the whole circus, while pretending that Snowden is an independent agent, free to do what he wants. But even the human rights groups that met with Snowden over the weekend admit that the meeting and “press conference” were organized by Russia. The Moscow Times:
Snowden, who remains stuck at Moscow’s main international airport while safely guarded by unidentified security officials, shed little light on who was helping him deal with everyday life at a meeting Friday with Russian officials and heads of international human rights organizations.
Evidently, the former U.S. government contractor had to rely on help from a third party in organizing that meeting, with the guest list showing an unlikely blend of international human rights organizations and a pro-Kremlin State Duma deputy, suggesting that someone must have given Snowden recommendations on who should be invited.
These and other concerns have led Andrei Soldatov, Russia’s preeminent expert on the security services, to question whether human rights activists — the first to see one of world’s most sought-after fugitives in three weeks — had fulfilled their duties in ensuring that Snowden was not being supervised by Russian security services.
“If human rights groups commit themselves to protect Mr. Snowden and be responsible for his fate, they have to make sure he is safe and in control of his own decisions,” he said.
Yeah, right. Putin is enjoying every minute of this golden opportunity to stick it to the U.S., which has lorded it over his country since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Alexei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International Russia, said that his organization had a limited scope in its work.
“What we are concerned about is human rights, and we repeatedly stated before the meeting that we consider Mr. Snowden a whistleblower and that he had the right to do what he did,” he said.
At the same time, Nikitin said it was clear that the meeting was under the control of the Russian government, noting that the way it was organized made him think that “Snowden’s asylum application will yield a positive result.”
Another participant at the meeting, Tanya Lokshina, a senior researcher at Moscow’s Human Rights Watch office, was more critical in her remarks.
“I did not understand what the meaning of the meeting was … It was very clear that the meeting was more like a news conference, albeit with no journalists present,” Lokshina told Interfax.
The process of evaluating Snowden’s application for asylum could take months, so this could drag on a lot longer. I hope we get to a conclusion soon.