Thursday Reads: A Mixed Bag of News and Views

Tea in the garden darker

Good Morning!!

I’m not seeing any particular theme in today’s news, but there is quite a bit of good stuff to read; so I’ll just toss out a few items that interested me.

Poor Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems all his efforts to use the Republican Congress to squash President Obama’s negotiations is one big giant fail. He managed to get reelected with the help of John Boehner et al., but that’s about it. First Obama said that Iran recognizing Israel wouldn’t be part of any deal, and then yesterday the White House mocked Bibi on Twitter.

The Washington Post: Why Obama says Iran does not have to recognize Israel as part of a nuclear deal.

President Obama, who doesn’t get along with Netanyahu, seemed to dismiss the Israeli premier’s latest demand in an interview this week. When asked by NPR’s Steve Inskeep whether Iranian recognition of the state of Israel would be included in any final deal, Obama deemed such a move a “fundamental misjudgment.” Here’s an excerpt of his remarks:

Well, let me say this — it’s not that the idea of Iran recognizing Israel is unreasonable. It’s completely reasonable and that’s U.S. policy….

There’s still going to be a whole host of differences between us and Iran, and one of the most profound ones is the vile, anti-Semitic statements that have often come out of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. But the notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons, in a verifiable deal, on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.

The point here is one that diplomats would take for granted. When attempting to make a deal with your interlocutor, particularly one where there’s a considerable history of grievance and animosity, you can’t expect to win a total capitulation.

Duh. Poor Bibi, like today’s Republicans doesn’t comprehend the notion of compromise.

David Knowles at Bloomberg Politics on the Twitter gag: White House Trolls Netanyahu on Iran with Bomb Graphic.

The White House has employed a graphic first used by Benjamin Netanyahu to push its case for a nuclear deal with Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister opposes. On Wednesday, the president’s office posted a tweet that borrowed the graphic representation of a bomb that Netanyahu had held up during a speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly in which he warned of Iran’s growing nuclear capability.

The fuse on the original image was intact, and there was no sign of the metaphorical scissors or accompanying text that the White House saw fit to add.

Bibi bomb

Pretty funny.

And how about this op-ed from the Jerusalem Post: How Netanyahu is single-handedly hurting the US-Israel relationship.

Benjamin Netanyahu is singlehandedly hurting a relationship that has resulted in over $100 billion in military aid to Israel since 1962.  The Prime Minister is hurting a relationship with a country that constantly defends Israel at the UN; resulting in over 30 U.S. vetoes of resolutions critical to Israel. Because of Netanyahu, some are wondering if the U.S. should continually give $3.1 billion in annual aid and professors like Harvard’s Steven Strauss have written about ending this perpetual assistance. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s supporters in Israel and abroad don’t seem moved by the magnitude of what could be lost if Netanyahu’s feud with Obama “gets even worse.”  [….] 

even those whose job it was to protect Israel from the threats trumpeted by Netanyahu feel that the Prime Minister has overstepped the boundaries of rationality.

According to The Jerusalem Post recently, “Former Mossad chief slams Netanyahu for insistence that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Efraim Halevy also predicted a“dramatic” improvement in Israeli relations with the U.S. if Netanyahu were to be defeated in the latest elections.  Another former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, called Netanyahu’s speech to Congress “bull—t” and views the Prime Minister’s policies as dangerous to Israel’s future. A third former Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, stated that a nuclear Iran did notpost an existential threat to Israel; a viewpoint directly at odds with the hysteria (fueled by Netanyahu’s political ideology) surrounding Obama’s nuclear deal.

When three former Mossad chiefs are forced to speak out, an Israeli Prime Minister should tone down his paranoid rhetoric, not increase the tempo of his political exploits. Say what you will about Bibi’s critics, but former Mossad chiefs aren’t “leftist” and they know quite a bit about Israeli security threats. Their sober assessment of Netanyahu’s P. T. Barnum inspired diplomacy (regarding Israel’s U.S. relationship) is just cause to reassess the Prime Minister’s behavior; not champion his constant criticism of Obama’s nuclear deal.

The Economist writes that “RARELY have relations between an American president and an Israeli prime minister sunk so low.” The New Yorker published an article titled A Bad Day In American-Israeli Relations. Senator Dianne Feinstein recently stated she wished that Netanyahu “would contain himself” and I echoed the California Senator’s sentiment in a recent Congress Blog piece. Tzipi Livni has warned that Netanyahu is leading Israel into “crisis and diplomatic isolation.” Like Livni, Yair Lapid has lamented over the state of relations between the White House and Israel, stating, “This damage will take a long time to mend.” Everyone from former Mossad chiefs, U.S. Senators, Israeli politicians, and journalist have expressed dismay about the decline in a relationship that is essential to Israel’s future.

Valerie_Jarrett_insert_c_Washington_Blade_by_Michael_Key

From The Washington Post, here’s more interesting news from the White House: White House condemns therapy to ‘cure’ gay youth.

The statement was issued in response to a White House petition signed by more than 120,000 people after the suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio whose suicide note condemning the society’s treatment of transgender people went viral after her death. In the note, she indicated she had been subjected to such therapies.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” Alcorn wrote in her note.

The White House statement, issued by President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, condemned “conversion” therapy, also known as “reparative” therapy, which she defined as any treatment aimed at changing a person’s sexual identity.

“The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,” she wrote. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

Shortly before releasing the White House response to the petition on conversion therapy, according to a White House official, Jarrett spoke with organizers of the petition. “She listened to their personal stories about why this was important to them and thanked them for their efforts,” said the official, who asked for anonymity in order to describe a private conversation.

Transgender Bathroom

And from The Advocate: The White House’s Executive Office Now Has Gender-Neutral Bathroom.

An all-gender restroom is for the first time available in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, confirms a White House spokesman. Alternatively, guests are invited to use whichever bathroom fits with their gender identity.

“The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity,” said White House spokesman Jeff Tiller, “which is in keeping with the administration’s existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors.”

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, had mentioned the policy change in an op-ed today for The Advocate, saying the adminstration had “closely examined” its policies on “restroom access” to help “ensure that everyone who enters this building feels safe and fully respected.”

Gender neutral bathrooms, if single-stall, also often offer a safe space to differently abled users, parents with their children, and anyone else seeking privacy.

The push for gender-neutral restrooms in public buildings and workplaces has been one cause taken up by transgender rights activists — and one that’s found the most visible sucecss on university campuses — making Jarrett’s anouncement feel to many like a win for trans Americans.

“It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, at least the White House is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Advocate.

Within the past several years, the Obama administration has been increasingly affirming of trans citizens, with Vice President Joe Biden referring in 2012 to transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time” and President Obama using the word “transgender” (in addition to “lesbian” and “bisexual”) in this year’s State of the Union Address for the first time ever for any president. Federal employees have had the right to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identiy since 2011.

Around the country, heads of Republican homophobes must be exploding. Read the whole article for more on LGBT-positive actions the Obama administration has taken.

Xavier Morales

Xavier Morales

Some not so good news: the Secret Service’s credibility continues to slide downhill rapidly.

WaPo: Secret Service manager put on leave during probe of alleged assault.

The D.C. police’s sex-crimes unit and a government inspector general are investigating the female agent’s allegation that Xavier Morales, a manager in the security clearance division, made unwanted sexual advances and grabbed her on the night of March 31 after they returned to the office from a party at a downtown restaurant, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the probe.

The woman told police and agency investigators that Morales, her boss, told her during the party at Capitol City Brewing Company that he was in love with her and would like to have sex with her, according to two people briefed on her statements. In the office later, she alleged, Morales tried to kiss her and grabbed her arms when she resisted, according to the two people briefed on her complaint. The woman alleged that the two scuffled until Morales relented.

Through an agency spokesman, Morales declined to comment, and he did not respond to requests for comment left on his personal phone.

Late last week, the Secret Service took the unusual step of placing Morales on indefinite administrative leave and adding his name to an internal “do not admit” list prohibiting entry to the office, a Secret Service official said. The Secret Service also took away his gun and badge after agency investigators launched a preliminary review of the complaint and conducted “subsequent corroborative interviews” Thursday afternoon, said agency spokesman Brian Leary.

More details at Heavy.com: Xavier Morales: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.

Ugh. Maybe we need more female Secret Service agents to quell the “boys will be boys” atmosphere in the agency.

Christ-Christie-Bridgegate-Press-Conf-3-620x430

More trouble may be coming for NJ governor and possible GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie.

NJ.com reports:  Indictments may come very soon in Bridgegate, report says.

Indictments may be coming very soon in Bridgegate, the investigation into improper lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in late 2013 that has also led to questions about bribery and conflicts of interest possibly involving Gov. Christie and the Port Authority, sources told The New York Times.

New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman launched the probe a few months after three lanes were closed to the bridge in September 2013, causing gridlock in Fort Lee. The closures were initially attributed to a traffic study by a Port Authority executive, Bill Baroni, but emails unearthed during an investigation revealed that the lanes were shut down on the orders of a Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, to a Port Authority official appointed by Christie, David Wildstein. Some believe the lane closures were retribution for the failure of Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election at a time when the governor and likely Republican presidential candidate was trying to build bipartisan support.

The Times previously reported that Fishman’s office may bring indictments to the operators of the bridge under a little-used statute that makes it a crime to use the bridge for something other than its intended purpose. Fishman’s office declined to say what course the investigation is taking.

This could be very interesting.

I have more news links, but I’m running out of space and time. I’ll add them to the comments.

What stories are you following? I’d love to read your comments on this post and click on your links to your recommended reads for today.

 


Monday Reads

Good Morning!! Yesterday was an exciting day for the Libyan rebels, who have taken over the capital city, Tripoli. From the NYT:

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s grip on power dissolved with astonishing speed on Monday as rebels marched into the capital and arrested two of his sons, while residents raucously celebrated the prospective end of his four-decade-old rule.

In the city’s central Green Square, the site of many manufactured rallies in support of Colonel Qaddafi, jubilant Libyans tore down green flags and posters of Colonel Qaddafi and stomped on them. The leadership announced that the elite presidential guard protecting the Libyan leader had surrendered and that they controlled many parts of the city, but not Colonel Qaddafi’s leadership compound.

The National Transitional Council, the rebel governing body, issued a mass text message saying, “We congratulate the Libyan people for the fall of Muammar Qaddafi and call on the Libyan people to go into the street to protect the public property. Long live free Libya.”

Officials loyal to Colonel Qaddafi insisted that the fight was not over, and there were clashes between rebels and government troops early on Monday morning. But NATO and American officials said that the Qaddafi government’s control of Tripoli, which had been its final stronghold, was now in doubt.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens next. I hope it will mean the U.S. pulling out of there, but that’s probably a vain hope. After all, Libya has oil and gold.

Business Insider: AFTER QADDAFI: Oil Prices Will Tank, Stock Prices Will Soar

Watch what happens to oil prices if and when the Qaddafis lose and leave.

In short order, Libyan oil production will ramp up. As it does, oil prices in world markets will fall and oil futures markets will reflect the expected increase in production of oil from Libya. The key prices to watch are those trading in Europe, like Brent. US oil prices (WTI) are no longer the leading indicator of world prices intersecting with world supply/demand. Excess inventory at Cushing, OK is complicating the pricing structure.

We expect oil prices to fall when highly desirable, sweet Libyan crude production is fully resumed and enters the pipeline. Maybe, they are going to fall by a lot. This will come as a much-needed boost to the US economy and to others in the world.

Remember: the oil price acts like a sales tax on consumption. To clarify this relationship we convert crude oil prices to gasoline prices and then estimate what a change in gas price will mean for the American consumer. Roughly, a penny drop in the gas price per gallon gives Americans 1.4 billion more dollars a year to spend on other than gasoline. That is a huge stimulant to the economy. The ratio is different in Europe because the gas taxes are so much higher there. Nevertheless, it is still significant.

In other news, President Obama is still on vacation, and unemployment is still soaring. From the SF Chronicle: Obama keeps full vacation day after Libya briefing

In between briefings on Libya, President Barack Obama packed golf, beach time, a stop at a seafood restaurant and a visit to a wealthy friend’s seaside compound into his Martha’s Vineyard vacation Sunday….

Then Obama and his family headed to dinner at the house where White House adviser Valerie Jarrett is staying.

Earlier, Obama spent about an hour at the home of Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts after playing golf with some buddies. The golf foursome included Obama’s Chicago pal Eric Whitaker, UBS America executive Robert Wolf and a White House aide. Obama spent the morning at the beach with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Sasha and Malia.

From the LA Times: Congresswomen hear economic, unemployment woes at Inglewood event

…hundreds of people from Los Angeles-area communities…gathered Saturday to share their stories of hardship and to urge local members of Congress to push corporations to help fix the economy and devise ways to put people back to work. Three Democratic U.S. representatives attended the event: Maxine Waters and Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Laura Richardson of Long Beach….
The recession has slammed Los Angeles County, where 1 in 4 workers are jobless or underemployed, according to Good Jobs LA. This summer, L.A. businesses announced 5,700 layoffs, the jobs advocacy group said.

At the same time, corporations are hoarding almost $2 trillion in cash but failing to invest in jobs, the advocacy group said. The group also cited skyrocketing bonuses for many chief executives and big tax breaks for some of the nation’s largest companies.

Warren Buffet recently asked President Obama to raise taxes on the rich for the good of all. Another multi-billionaire, David Koch, disagrees with Buffet that rich Americans should sacrifice anything for their country.

America’s current tax system forces people making $50,000 a year to pay a higher rate than hedge fund managers making $2.4 million an hour. Warren Buffett penned an op-ed last week declaring that America’s super-rich have been “coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress.” Lamenting the numerous tax loopholes and special breaks afforded to billionaire investors, Buffett noted that in his entire career, even when capital gains rates were as high as 39.9 percent, he never saw anyone “shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain.”

Charles Koch, head of the massive petrochemical, manufacturing, and commodity speculating Koch Industries corporation, has responded to Warren’s call for shared sacrifice: “No Thanks.” In a statement to right-wing media, Koch states:

Much of what the government spends money on does more harm than good; this is particularly true over the past several years with the massive uncontrolled increase in government spending. I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.

Yeah, like supporting wingnuts like Scott Walker and Paul Ryan is good for our country. I’d like to see Koch’s fortune confiscated. Maybe we need to bring back the guillotine?

Romney's home in La Jolla, CA

Speaking of rich A$$holes, Mitt Romney has decided that his $12 million mansion in La Jolla must be enlarged–he wants the already huge house to be four times as big.

LA JOLLA — GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, scheduled to attend a series of fundraisers this weekend in San Diego, is also working on plans to nearly quadruple the size of his $12 million oceanfront manse in La Jolla.

Romney has filed an application with the city to bulldoze his 3,009-square-foot, single-story home at 311 Dunemere Dr. and replace it with a two-story, 11,062-square-foot structure. No date has been set to consider the proposed coastal development and site development permits, which must be approved by the city.

The former governor of Massachusetts purchased the home three years ago. According to a description from the listing agent, the Spanish-style residence at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac is sophisticated and understated in its décor, “offering complete privacy and unsurpassed elegance.”

Tentative plans call for new retaining walls and a relocated driveway, but would retain the existing lap pool and spa.

Just how many homes does this man own anyway? Slate Magazine says “just” two. He had a huge house in Massachusetts, not too far from where I live, but he sold it in 2009 for $3.5 million.

I guess after he used (screwed) our state to set up his run for President, he decided to clear out and move his con man act to California. He also sold a “$5.25 million, 9,500-square-foot ski villa in Deer Valley, Utah,” according to Slate. Time calls that “the new frugality.” He’s hanging onto a home in New Hampshire apparently. Where’s that guillotine?

In science news, from Clive Cookson at the Financial Times: Life on earth came from space

The existence of amino acids in space has already been proved by the analysis of meteorites that have struck earth, and comet samples collected in space during Nasa’s Stardust mission. It has been harder to prove that traces of nucleobases found in meteorites were not the result of contamination after they arrived – but the new study seems to do so, while showing that nucleobases reach earth from space in greater diversity and quantity than scientists had thought.

The Nasa team analysed samples of 12 carbon-rich meteorites, including nine found in Antarctica (a rich collecting ground), and detected guanine and adenine, two of the four nucleobases that make up DNA. They also found three related molecules known as nucleobase analogues, a discovery which provides confirmation that the organic compounds in meteorites come from space.

“You would not expect to see these nucleobase analogues if contamination from terrestrial life was the source, because they’re not used in biology,” says Michael Callahan, lead author of the study, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “However, if asteroids are cranking out prebiotic material, you would expect them to produce many variants of nucleobases, not just the biological ones, because of the wide variety of ingredients and conditions in each asteroid.”

Further confirmation came from an analysis of Antarctic ice, taken from near where the meteorites were collected, which showed no trace of the compounds.

Wait…. you mean life didn’t originate in the Garden of Eden?

In related news, a court has ruled that a teacher who made fun of creationism and Christianity cannot be sued for expressing her opinions.

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that a California teacher could not be sued for criticizing Christianity and Creationism during a college-level European history course.

“This was a really important ruling for academic freedom,” University of California constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, who took on the case pro bono, told The Orange County Register. “There has never been a precedent set for something like this before. Teachers should be able to criticize religion just like they can criticize government, business and similar groups without the fear of being sued.”

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a lower court’s decision, which held that teacher James Corbett violated a student’s First Amendment rights by making comments during class that were hostile to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular….

Corbett said during his class that serfs opposed social, political and economic [sic] that were in their best interest because of religion, compared Creationism to “magic,” and made twenty other comments that then-sophomore Chad Farnan alleged were disparaging to Christians.

Oh, did I mention this was a college course? Good grief!!

That’s all I have for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Is Valerie Jarrett Really as Simple-Minded as She Seems?

Yesterday Special Adviser to the President for intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement Valerie Jarrett contributed a blog to the Huffington Post entitled Why I’m Proud to Be Part of President Obama’s Team.

In the piece, she alternates reminiscences of her relationship with Barack and Michelle Obama with little homilies describing her feelings about her former protegee and now boss. Honestly, this woman comes across as about as politically sophisticated as an eighth-grader.

She begins by describing how she met the Obamas, and then shares her first uninspiring homily:

Today, President Obama is managing our nation’s challenges with the courage, wisdom, and compassion that I’ve seen time and time again over our two decades of friendship.

Really? She offers no specific examples of Obama’s “courage, wisdom, and compassion,” so I have no idea what she is referring to here.

Next Jarrett explains that her friend Barack always had a “remarkable clarity of vision, and an abiding faith in the power of ordinary individuals to do extraordinary things.” He grew up with people of other cultures, so he learned how to bring people together–or something. I think that’s her point.

That belief has been one of the driving forces behind President Obama’s career. Since his time as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, he has always held firm to his principles, but has also understood the importance of working towards the art of the possible. He knows that true leaders never let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

What do you suppose these “principles” are that Obama has “held firm to?” Jarrett doesn’t say. She certainly can mean that he has delivered on his promises, because he’s broken just about every one of them–except for his promise to “reform” Social Security.

The president has also always believed that a leader’s job is to act on behalf of the people he serves, not to score political points. Every day, he receives letters and emails from Americans who are doing everything in their power to solve the tremendous challenges they face. As long as President Obama is in the White House, he will listen to those Americans, and they will have a voice here in Washington. The president will never stop fighting on their behalf.

Do these letters and e-mails come from Wall Street insiders? Surely Jarrett cannot believe that Obama has listened to the concerns of poor, working-class, or middle-class Americans. Presumably, she is not a stupid person. She has a law degree and and undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford University.

Mr. Obama “is determined to change the tone” in Washington, she tells us. Apparently As an example of this, she relates a little parable about Obama welcoming Ruby Bridges the to the White House. Ruby Bridges was a little girl whose parents volunteered her to help integrate the New Orleans school system in 1960. She was “the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South,” according to Wikipedia.

Ruby Bridges in 1960

And why was this White House visit so significant in demonstrating Obama’s great leadership skills?

The president told Ruby that were it not for her bravery, he might not be in the White House today.

That moment was a reminder that in my lifetime, we have made progress my parents and grandparents could barely have imagined. Through acts of courage large and small, Americans have chosen unity over division.

And besides, the Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby surrounded by Federal Marshals is now “on display outside the Oval Office!” {Gasp!}

People like Ruby “inspire the President,” Jarrett tells us. And Jarrett is inspired because after Obama’s speech last Monday

thousands upon thousands of citizens answered the president’s call, and proudly voiced their support for a balanced approach – not just to our deficits, but to our politics as a whole.

But they didn’t get a “balanced approach.” They got cuts to programs that affect the most needy Americans as well as the middle class and no increases in revenues. So what is Jarrett’s point here? Does she really believe this garbage? Does she expect people to read this article and not laugh at her? Is the woman really as simple-minded as she seems?

I’m not sure what Valerie Jarrett actually does in her job. My impression is that she is a highly paid “friend” who hangs around with Obama and flatters him. But perhaps “public engagement” in her job title translates to “propaganda minister?” If so, she’s not very good at her job. A child could see through her facile lies.