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The judicial system’s new “crack” cocaine fix


crack vs powderRemember how the punishment for possessing or dealing in crack was substantially higher than for cocaine, even though “crack” was nothing more than cocaine on steroids?  That disparity was eliminated when President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 because quite frankly is disproportionately negatively impacted minorities.  The Act was unanimously approved by both Houses of Congress meaning it faced no serious opposition from Republicans.

As usual, the criminal justice system has found other ways to exacerbate racial divisions in enforcement and punishment and have filled the gap with “suspended license” offenses.  Like all bad policy it has not yielded the intended results of increased revenue for the “State” simply because it was not well thought out and unfair public policy.  Basically what happens is suspended licensestates “suspend” a person’s drivers license if they are unable to pay court costs for appearances before the judicial system for any offense meaning the only way a driver can retrieve or if they don’t have one get a license is by paying all past due court costs. Of course it doesn’t matter if you have to drive to get to work or not, and in the case of  places with large rural populations like Tennessee where public transportation is sparse in some areas, tough! Such poorly planned law means a person commits the other illegal act of driving with a suspended license and when caught only increases their debt and criminal record…..if they’re lucky enough to survive the encounter with police when ticketed for such an offense.   The NYT piece goes on to say

Going through the legal system, even for people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors, can be expensive, with fines, public defender fees, probation fees and other costs running into hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Many people cannot pay.

As a result, some states have begun suspending driver’s licenses for unsatisfied debts stemming from any criminal case, from misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies in which court costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars……..Most states also suspend licenses for failure to pay traffic fines, another policy that critics say creates a quicksand of debt.

Though the law was projected to raise more than $20 million a year, it has not come close, according to state agencies. Revenue from litigation taxes, the primary court fee collected by the state, has remained flat and even declined a bit in 2014, and license reinstatement fees have increased far less than was anticipated.

But since suspensions under the law began in mid-2012, almost 90,000 licenses have been suspended. Over the same period, 170,000 Tennessee licenses were suspended for unpaid traffic tickets. In both categories, more than 40 percent of the suspended drivers were black, compared with 16 percent of state residents.

Bad policy often gives bad results that are of no benefit to the state or its citizens.  This trend in the justice system is another example of bad policy.  Fix this America!!

 

John Boehner’s outrageous plan to help a foreign leader undermine Obama


When I first saw this headline, I tweeted how some members of America’s body politic love all of these foreign leaders rather than their own President and as they stand compared to Obama, these leaders, Putin and Netanyahu  are losers in the arena of policy vis-a-vis American interests.  That hasn’t stopped Speaker of the House, Joh n Boehner from doing an end round and bringing Netanyahu to town to upstage the American President.  America, love it or move to Israel…

Vox

House Speaker John Boehner has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress in February, on the topic of Iran. On the surface, this might seem innocent enough. Israel is a close American ally. Surely he should be welcome in Congress, particularly to discuss an issue that concerns his country.

On the surface, Netanyahu’s speech will be about opposing Obama’s nuclear talks with Iran and supporting Republican-led sanctions meant to blow up those talks.

But there’s more than meets the eye here. Netanyahu is playing a game with US domestic politics to try to undermine and pressure Obama — and thus steer US foreign policy. Boehner wants to help him out. By reaching out to Netanyahu directly and setting up a visit without the knowledge of the White House, he is undermining not just Obama’s policies but his very leadership of US foreign policy. The fact that Netanyahu is once again meddling in American politics, and that a US political party is siding with a foreign country over their own president, is extremely unusual, and a major break with the way that foreign relations usually work.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Obama in the White House in March 2014 (Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Obama in the White House in March 2014 (Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty)

Throughout Obama’s tenure, he has clashed with Netanyahu. That is no secret, and it’s nothing new for American and Israeli leaders to disagree, sometimes very publicly. But Netanyahu, beginning in May 2011, adopted a new strategy to try to deal with this: using domestic American politics as a way to try to push around Obama.

During a trip that month to Washington, Netanyahu publicly lectured Obama at a press conference and then gave a speech to Congress slamming the president. That speech, also hosted by Republicans, received many standing ovations for Netanyahu’s finger-wagging criticism of Obama.

At first it appeared that Netanyahu was merely trying to steer Obama’s foreign policy in a direction that he, Netanyahu, preferred. Obama wanted Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement growth in the West Bank, for example; Obama has also sought, in his second term, to reach a nuclear deal with Iran that Netanyahu earnestly believes is a bad idea.

Netanyahu’s first responsibility is to Israel’s national interests, not to Obama, so it makes sense that he would push for policies that he thinks are good for Israel.

But in 2011 Netanyahu started going a step further, and appeared to be working to actively remove Obama from power. During the 2012 election cycle, Netanyahu and his government were increasingly critical of Obama and supportive of Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for whom he at times appeared to be actively campaigning. Netanyahu’s criticisms of Obama were so pointed that some of Obama’s opponents cut a campaign ad out of them. It became a joke within Israel that Netanyahu saw himself not as the leader of a sovereign country, but as the Republican senator from Israel.

But trying to unseat a foreign leader is not a joke, especially when that foreign leader is funding your military and guaranteeing your nation’s security.

Netanyahu’s government ramped down this strategy after Obama won; he even gave Obama the world’s most awkward congratulations speech. But throughout Obama’s second term he has once again gradually escalated from trying to influence Obama to actively undermining both the president and his party. The new Israeli ambassador to the US for months would not even bother to meet with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, yet held many meetings with Republican fundraiser Sheldon Adelson. Israel’s foreign policy, in other words, was more focused on undermining the American leadership than working with it.

The Jerusalem skyline (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty)

The Jerusalem skyline (MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty)

Republicans, aware that Americans are supportive of Israel, have urged on Netanyahu’s anti-Obama campaign since it began in 2011. Inviting him to speak to Congress that year was shrewd domestic politics, and it will be shrewd legislative politics next month when Netanyahu publicly supports the GOP’s sanctions efforts.

This makes sense within the narrow scope of domestic politics — if you can use something to convince voters your party and its policies are a better choice than your opponents, you use it, even if that something is a foreign head of state. But members of Congress are purportedly supposed to put their country before their party, and siding with a foreign leader over your own president doesn’t seem to do that. Neither does cheering a foreign leader when he lambasts the president of the United States.

More to the point, it was a really significant breach when some conservatives supported Netanyahu’s implicit lobbying on behalf of the Romney campaign. If a foreign country wants to unseat your president, that is generally considered an outrageous breach. But Netanyahu has been invited in, and with the 2016 presidential elections ramping up it appears likely he will be invited in once more to implicitly run against the Democrats.

This speaks, in a very real sense, to just how extreme political polarization has become in Washington.

This sort of practice is bad for America’s ability to conduct foreign policy

To be very clear, this is not just a breach of protocol: it’s a very real problem for American foreign policy. The Supreme Court has codified into law the idea that only the president is allowed to make foreign policy, and not Congress, because if there are two branches of government setting foreign policy then America effectively has two foreign policies.

The idea is that the US government needs to be a single unified entity on the world stage in order to conduct effective foreign policy. Letting the president and Congress independently set their own foreign policies would lead to chaos. It would be extremely confusing for foreign leaders, and foreign publics, who don’t always understand how domestic American politics work, and could very easily misread which of the two branches is actually setting the agenda. (This confusion, by the way, is exactly what some Republicans are hoping to create in Iran with new sanctions.)

This could also allow a foreign country to play those two branches off of each other. That’s in part what Netanyahu is attempting to do here, and it’s working. The Obama administration did not even find out about Netanyahu’s planned visit to Washington until Boehner announced it. The Republicans are attempting to run a foreign policy that’s separate from the actual, official US foreign policy.

One more anti-Obama speech from Netanyahu on the floor of Congress is not going to break US foreign policy, of course. But it’s troubling that Republicans are willing to breach such an important principle for some pretty modest short-term gains.

Jihad in Islam


One always hears how there are no voices opposing Islamic terrorism, or so the saying goes, although the two term “Islamic terrorism” is an oxymoron, and it’s really a false argument.  If you want to know what Muslims say about terrorism there are plenty of places where you can find the voice that expressly unequivocally denounces terrorism.  One can find a very good source here if you care to look.  jihad

However, as for the issue of “jihad”, there’s lots written about it but it all boils down to this.

Declare your Jihad on thirteen enemies you cannot see – egoism, arrogance, conceit, selfishness, greed, lust, intolerance, anger, lying, cheating, gossiping, and slandering. If you can master and destroy them, then you are ready to fight the enemy you can see.

Ok…do you know anyone who has fought jihad in the way described above?

 

Dueling tweets


These two tweets ran across one another in the net-o-sphere

Right

 

Left

…and here’s the skinny

The number of Americans who have been killed by Islamic extremists in the United States since September 2001 is just 21 — less than two per year — and none of them on airplanes. Statistically speaking, you’re several times more likely to be fatally attacked on an American schoolyard: in just the year and a half since the December 2012 Sandy Hook attack, 28 people have been killed in US school shootings. And meanwhile, right-wing extremists — virtually all of them white — have killed 37 people since 2001.

The truth about Gaza’s tunnels


A thing or two about “terror tunnels”

SAMI KISHAWI

When I visited family in Gaza City in 2011, they reluctantly agreed to take me to see some of the tunnels that had been constructed in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

At the time, there were an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 tunnels criss-crossing their ways underneath Gaza’s border with Egypt. Designed to outsmart the blockade that had essentially cut the coastal territory off from the world since 2006, the tunnels instantly grew in popularity. They were seen as a source of relief. The food, construction materials, and even animals that Israel had banned from entering the Strip was finding another way in.

As Israel and the Egyptian government cooperated to keep even the most basic necessities out of the Gaza Strip, smugglers went to work. In just three to ten minutes, a runner could smuggle anything he wanted from one of the tunnel to the other. Many requests were bold — new cars, tunnel-kfc deliveryhealthy sheep, a family who had waited too long at the border — and some were ridiculous — a family meal from KFC, and why not a wife — but they all got through. So is the quick-witted brilliance of the Palestinian under occupation.

With the popularity grew attention, and the Israeli and Egyptian governments agreed to handle the threatening illusion of freedom with force. Egyptian armed forces demolished any tunnel they uncovered. The Israeli military launched air strikes even during periods of rest with the same purpose in mind.

Since then, the number of tunnels in Gaza has certainly grown. It is a bafflingly elaborate system, and although few people will ever be able to conceptually grasp the full extensiveness of the tunnel network, a quick look at the tunnels themselves reveal just how much time and effort goes into them.tunnel-bride

As I stood at the mouth of a tunnel used primarily to shuttle fish from an Egyptian port, one smuggler gave me a brief rundown of how the tunnels are built and, in some cases, destroyed. Curiously, he had no qualms about me taking photographs. Israel knew everything there was to know about his tunnels, he informed me. The one that smuggled fish and other small food goods had been hit six times already, prompting him to reinforce the interior of his tunnel with steel plates. Three years later, I am unsure if his tunnels still exist.

This is what the tunnels were built for in the first place, and for the most part, this is what they continue to be used for. Israel knowingly targets them, claiming them to be security concerns when all the tunnels really do is relieve a bit of the pressure that people in Gaza have had to face for almost a decade now.

There are other tunnels that are used to connect opposite ends of the Gaza Strip without exposure to Israeli weaponry. These tunnels are used by Palestinian government leaders who constantly have to duck Israeli assassination attempts as well as resistance fighters who are legally entitled to resist their occupier. Never forget this last part, I am always told.

These very same tunnels were the ones used to keep Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit alive when he was captured and taken as a prisoner of war on June 25, 2006. Shalit would later be swapped in a prisoner exchange with the Israeli government.

Lately, however, new tunnels have been uncovered in the northern Gaza Strip that are being used in the defense of Palestine. As part of the Israeli military’s egregious public relations campaign, Israel has officially dubbed them “terror tunnels,” carrying absolutely no context whatsoever.

tunnel-sheepTo Israel, every tunnel — be it one that brings food into an impoverished Gaza Strip where over half of the population depends on food aid or one that delivers sheep to a Khan Younis farmer who lost his other farm animals to a prior Israeli incursion — is a “terror tunnel”. The phrase alone has given Israel the impunity it feels it needs to enact vengeance against the Gaza’s population. After all, “terror tunnels” was the pretext for Israel’s repeated bombardment of the Shuja’iyya neighborhood or the Jabalya Refugee Camp, where hundreds including many children were massacred and thousands displaced.

“Terror tunnels” is also why entire city blocks were wiped off the map, or why every single building in Beit Hanoun is either damaged or demolished, or why Eid Al-Fitr wasn’t celebrated in Gaza. “Terror tunnels” is Israel’s attempt at justifying war crimes and human rights abuses in the Strip, which are increasingly being investigated by the United Nations and other international observers.

Israel’s media strategists and spokespeople have been trained to bring up the “terror tunnels” as often as possible. In some cases, they even present the tunnels with unsubstantiated claims that they were built to ‘massacre’ Israelis.

The message they give is that Palestinians are popping out of the ground like groundhogs, and that Israel is simply hammering them back into the ground. Israel is, in essence, basing its invasion of the Gaza Strip on a hypothetical. But Gaza is all too familiar with this. Each Israeli major military offensive on the Gaza Strip has been announced as a necessary defensive maneuver to keep Israel from being wiped off of the map. Meanwhile, Israel wipes Gaza off the map.

Incidentally, one such “terror tunnel” made its way onto cameras yesterday when Hamas fighters filmed their infiltration of the Nahal Oz military base in southern Israel. Five Israeli soldiers were reported killed.

In another “terror tunnel” story that happened today, three Israeli soldiers fell into a booby-trapped tunnel entrance in the southern Gaza Strip.

While the Israeli government continues to purport the idea that the tunnels are meant to target thousands of Israelis, we are left with the very obvious: every single military assault carried out by Palestinian fighters that has used an infiltrating tunnel has only ever targeted Israeli soldiers. In other words, armed tunnel activity is targeting armed and active combatants, not civilians or noncombatants. Maybe Israel can learn a thing or two.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza has just exceeded 1,300. Most of the dead, according to the United Nations, are civilians, with over 250 children.

Israel, who says that it acts solely in self-defense, is enacting on Gaza the kind of destruction and misery that it projects to the world as its greatest fear.

Israel, whose spokespeople say it acts “as surgically as is humanly possible,” has no regard for civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Israel, with its seemingly endless supply of advanced and pinpoint-accurate weaponry, has demolished entire neighborhoods and taken so many lives in search of tunnel entrances no larger than two meters in width.

Who Broke the Ceasefire?


By Max Blumenthal, Allison Deger

A beleaguered looking President Barack Obama appeared before the Washington press corps Friday to lash into Hamas for supposedly violating the 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire that his Secretary of State John Kerry and the United Nations had labored so tirelessly to secure.

“I have unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third minutes after a cease-fire was announced,” Obama said.

But evidence supporting Obama’s claim of Hamas responsibility has been difficult to come by. Indeed, even the Israeli Army news desk was unable to provide AlterNet with a clear narrative or substantial evidence regarding the incident in question. Moreover, accounts published in Arabic by Hamas’s military wing along with details provided by the PLO indicate that the killing of two soldiers and disappearance of another actually occurred before the cease-fire went into effect — when Israel was assaulting Rafah.

“Today at 9:30, terrorists executed an attack from which two soldiers were killed and an additional is now missing and therefore he is suspected to have been abducted,” an Israeli army spokesperson told AlterNet. The army spokesperson went on to state that Hamas and the army “exchanged shelling,” yet they were unable to provide details on the source of the Palestinian fire. “They used several forms of fire simultaneously,” was all the spokesperson could divulge.

“I cannot confirm at the moment as we are still looking into it, but it may have been live bullets and a suicide belt,” which killed the soldiers, the army spokesperson said.

When asked why the army did not have a solid account of the events that broke the promised 72-hour cease-fire, the army spokesperson maintained, “There were terrorists and they attacked the soldiers, two soldiers didn’t just drop dead.”

Tweets from Gaza contradict official US-Israeli claims

The PLO and Palestinian Authority both insisted to AlterNet that Hamas fighters engaged Israeli soldiers inside Gaza well before the cease-fire took effect – and during an Israeli assault on Rafah leading up to the 8am cease-fire.

“They aborted the cease-fire from the beginning,” said Nabil Shaath from the PLO’s Central Committee.

A veteran negotiator, Shaath has become the de facto liaison between the PLO and Hamas. He confirmed to AlterNet that PA President Mahmoud Abbas received a briefing from Hamas this morning on the incident near Rafah. Shaath’s account reflects details provided directly by Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip.

According to Shaath, at 6am Hamas fighters engaged Israeli forces in Rafah. He maintained that it was then — almost two hours before the cease-fire went into effect — that the two Israeli soldiers were killed and the other went missing.

Shaath’s account was supported by dispatches published before the cease-fire went into effect by the official Twitter account of Hamas’s Qassam Brigades military wing. In a tweet published at 7:34 a.m. on August 1, the Qassam Brigades stated, “At 7 a.m. a group [of Hamas fighters] clashed with [Israeli] forces east of Rafah and caused many injuries and death to them.”

In a separate tweet published at 6:22 a.m. on the say day, the Qassam Brigades declared, “At 6:30 a.m., a group of the Qassam infiltrated behind enemy lines at east Rafah and bombed a house that the enemy had taken as a stronghold with a Tandem missile after the enemies bombed the whole area.”

The following day, Qassam Brigades reiterated its description of the incident in an official statement: “The clashes began at 7.00am, before the proposed truce was in effect, while the enemy launched its attack on civilians at 10 a.m, blatantly violating the truce in aims of finding a missing soldier.”

Qassam Brigades added that it had “no knowledge regarding the soldier missing in action [Lt. Hadar Goldin] or his location or the circumstances of his disappearance” — a departure from previous instances when it trumpeted claims that it had captured Israeli troops. Despite the denial, Obama vehemently demanded that Hamas unconditionally release Goldin.

The cease-fire was first violated at 8:30 a.m., according to Shaath, when the Israeli army destroyed 19 buildings in an operation to demolish tunnels. “Destroying tunnels is destroying houses,” Shaath said, noting that the cease-fire allowed hostile Israeli forces to continue to operate inside the Gaza Strip, making violence almost inevitable. “We do not accept a cease-fire that allows the invader to attack and murder,” he declared.

Conflicting claims and evidence ignored

In announcing the brief cease-fire, Kerry said its terms authorized Israeli forces to carry out“defensive” operations against tunnels. He seemed unaware of the ramifications of such an agreement, or what Israel’s attacks on tunnels actually entailed. A glimpse at Human Rights Watch’s bracing report on the Israeli army’s brutal assault on Rafah in 2004, “Razing Rafah,” which it conducted under the auspices of anti-tunnel operations, would have offered a glimpse of what was to come. (American activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer during the 2003 attack on Rafah).

Following the incident in Rafah that left two Israeli soldiers dead and one presumed missing, Kerry immediately declared that Hamas had committed an “outrageous violation of the cease-fire.” White House Press Secretary Joshua Earnest echoed Kerry by accusing Hamas of “a barbaric violation of the cease-fire agreement.”

But sources offer starkly conflicting accounts of the incident in question. The Israeli army claimed to AlterNet that Lt. Hadar Goldin went missing at 9:30 a.m., an hour and a half after the cease-fire was declared. Yet Obama claimed that the attack occurred “minutes after the cease-fire began.” For their part, Qassam reported engaging and killing Israeli soldiers well before 8 a.m.

So when did the incident actually occur? And why was Obama’s information so dramatically different from details the Israeli army was furnishing journalists with?

More importantly, why was the Obama administration so quick to jump to conclusions?

Framing Hamas, driving the death toll

Perhaps the answer was credulousness or sheer laziness, with its diplomatic corps and intelligence services neglecting to examine sensitive details from sources on the ground. But the more likely explanation is that Washington has sought to frame Hamas as the aggressor to enable Israel to intensify military operations disproportionately directed against a besieged civilian population.

Since violence escalated in mid-July, the Obama administration has demonstrated a disturbing pattern of legitimizing suspect Israeli claims about Hamas’s malevolence and bad faith. In each case, the administration provided political cover for disproportionate Israeli violence, deepening the damage to civilian life in the West Bank and Gaza. And in each case, Washington’s claims were ultimately discredited — but only after Israel had ratcheted the violence up to a frightening new stage.

The first case of irresponsible enabling by the Obama administration occurred in the immediate wake of the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank on June 12. It was on June 15, before evidence was made public about the kidnapping suspects’ identities, that Kerry pointed the finger at Hamas, suggesting that the organization’s leadership had authorized the crime. His words helped justify Operation Brother’s Keeper, an army rampage through the West Bank in which thousands of Palestinian homes were raided, over 500 were arrested without charges, and 6 civilians were killed.

A month later, Israeli Police Spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld finally admitted what was widely known and had been extensively documented: Hamas leadership had no role in or advance knowledge of the kidnappings. But by then, the damage to the West Bank had already been done. Kerry has yet to retract his demonstrably false and damaging claim.

The next case of Obama administration enabling came on July 15 as the military regime of Egypt – a ferocious antagonist of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas – introduced a cease-fire proposal developed in intimate collaboration with Israel that would not have lifted the 8-year-long siege of Gaza. Hamas had not been consulted on the proposal or even briefed on its details, exposing it as a hollow document conceived as a ruse to frame the Palestinian faction as rejectionists. Kerry brought the Israeli-Egyptian scheme to its fulfillment when he launched into an indignant condemnation of Hamas for rejecting the Egyptian proposal, accusing the group of “purposely playing politics.”

Kerry’s statement was a political boon to Netanyahu, providing the Prime Minister with all the cover he sought to initiate and expand ground invasion of Gaza. Hamas’s refusal to accept the proposal “gives Israel full legitimacy to expand the operation to protect our people,” Netanyahu declared on July 15.

Human catastrophe with no end in sight

Some thousand civilian deaths later, with morgues filled with the bodies of children and the UN no longer able to care for the 25% of the Gaza Strip forced to flee from sectors of the Gaza Strip that resemble post-apocalyptic moonscapes, the Obama administration was at it again. As before, they blamed Hamas without the benefit of anything remotely resembling substantial evidence.

In turn, Washington provided political legitimacy to military operations aimed at an occupied and vulnerable civilian population with nowhere to flee, allowing the killing to continue unabated. Following the collapse of the cease-fire, Israel bombarded Rafah with US-supplied F-16’s and tank artillery, decimating the center of the city and killing over 70. At the time of publication, the death toll is rapidly rising.

Meanwhile, the talks scheduled to take place in Egypt over the next 72 hours seem to have fallen into shambles.

Obama has described the scenes of human misery pouring out of the Gaza Strip as “heartbreaking.” If only he and his administration had demanded evidence before enabling Israeli aggression, he might have been able to forgo the empty displays of hand-wringing. More importantly, hundreds of innocent lives might have been spared from a marauding army operating behind a shroud of impunity.

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