Extremism on Voting Rights

March 29, 2020

NPR Reporter, Miles Parks, reported that, In Alabama, voters can use the corona virus as an excuse to get an absentee ballot. But it needs to be signed by two other people or a notary public. As Parks commented, that’s a challenge at a time “when social distancing is being encouraged.” So he asked Republican Secretary of State, John Merrill, whether “Voters were hoping for a loosening of those rules or an expansion of mail voting due to fears about the virus.”  Merrill responded that “we don’t hear that except from liberal extremists.” So apparently it is “extremist” to want the ballot to be available to everyone. That’s not surprising for a public official in a state that was born in slavery, fought to continue it and has never gotten used to the idea that people with dark skin are humans who deserve to be able to exercise the right to vote. That is extremism in Alabama. There are good people in Alabama and some of them are friends. But for a State Secretary of State to treat advocates for voting rights as “extremist” tells us instead that he is the extremist, more appropriately quarantined to Antarctica where the climate matches the temperature of his heart.

I’d suggest getting in touch with your Alabama friends and give Merrill a flood of angry messages over whatever media. Extremists? He should be living with the penguins as long as his blood is one degree above freezing.


Trump’s war on the people by destroying the institutions that protect us

March 19, 2020

A friend sent me a link to this article in The Atlantic with a note that “This explains a lot.” Indeed it explains how dangerous Trump is. The digital version calls it “The President is Winning His War on American Institutions. In the print edition it will be called “How to Destroy a Government.” Both titles are accurate. He certainly is destroying good government and all its institutions and moral underpinnings.


Coronavirus Action Needed for Iran

March 17, 2020

Just received this from friends who, like us, served in the US Peace Corps in Iran in the days of the Shah. Our friends note that both President Bush and President Obama provided sanctions relief to deal with earthquakes in Iran. The letter was written by Brad Hanson, lightly edited and then forwarded to us by Paul Barker. Both Brad and Paul spent their careers working with international organizations, and all of us are active in the Peace Corps Iran Association, of which my wife is president:

Coronavirus Action Needed for Iran

As you cope with the coronavirus pandemic in your own daily life, take a moment to act to help relieve the suffering of Iranians from the virus.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the interconnectedness of all mankind, expressed nine centuries ago by the great Iranian poet, Sa’adi Shirazi, in his “Bani Adam” or “Children of Adam” poem:

بنی‌آدم اعضای یکدیگرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند

چو عضوى به‌درد آورَد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نمانَد قرار

تو کز محنت دیگران بی‌غمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی

Rhyming translations by M. Aryanpoor:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

Iran is the epicenter of the corona virus in the Middle East, with the most cases of any country in that region, and among the top four countries of the world in numbers of confirmed cases.  As of 8 AM EDT, March 17, Iran had 16,169 confirmed cases and 988 deaths.

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/iran/

Some observers believe the true number is much higher.

The Iranian government underrated the initial outbreak, covered it up, did not share accurate information with its public, and made other mistakes in dealing with the pandemic – as did many governments around the world.  But now it is treating the outbreak most seriously, closing schools and universities, suspending Friday prayers, and mobilizing its already beleaguered health system to stem the spread of the virus and care for its victims.  Supplies of medicines, protective masks, medical equipment – already strained before the pandemic – are in very short supply and very difficult to obtain from abroad.

In combatting the virus, Iran confronts an obstacle most countries around the world do not – heavy US sanctions against the sale of its oil, against its banks, against its participation in the international trading and financial system.

Humanitarian assistance — food and medicine — are supposed to be exempt from US sanctions.  The US Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control on February 27 issued an amendment to the license under sanctions regulations against Iran’s Central Bank to make it easier to engage with it on transactions involving humanitarian assistance.  However, the US secondary sanctions against companies, banks, and countries engaging in trade and financial transactions with Iran has made many banks and companies reluctant to engage in any transactions with Iran, including humanitarian, lest they somehow violate US sanctions.  And the sanctions against the sale of oil have greatly diminished the Iranian government’s resources for funding its health system, dealing with the increasing unemployment from the disease, etc.

Thus, it’s imperative the US lift its sanctions against Iran for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic given the humanitarian emergency.

There are two precedents for doing this, albeit in response to much smaller humanitarian emergencies.  President George W. Bush in February 2003, in response to the horrific Bam earthquake, relaxed US sanctions to facilitate humanitarian assistance and even authorized US military cargo planes to transport it and some 200 US civilian disaster responders to Bam.  President Barack Obama in August 2012, in reaction to another earthquake, relaxed sanctions to facilitate humanitarian assistance, including from NGOs.

Lifting or relaxing sanctions to truly facilitate humanitarian assistance might also have some diplomatic benefits.  It might be portrayed as a good will, humanitarian gesture by the US Government making eventual negotiations on the nuclear agreement and other issues a little bit easier.

Iranian FM Zarif has written the UN Secretary General asking the economic sanctions be lifted on humanitarian grounds.

The Iranian government has also asked for a $5 billion loan from an arm of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, its first request in sixty years.  The IMF announced in early March a $50 billion package of financial assistance under its Rapid Financing Instrument to governments struggling to combat the coronavirus.  To get the IMF loan, the US Government, as the dominant member of the World Bank, would have to approve.  There would be ample safeguards written into the IMF’s terms to ensure that the loan would be used for measures related to combatting the virus.  And the bulk of the loan is likely to be spent with European pharmaceutical and other companies to procure the necessary medical equipment and supplies.

It’s also important to advocate for US approval of Iran’s request to the IMF for a $5 billion rapid financial relief package is also the right thing to do.

Most importantly, these two actions are the humanitarian thing to do in this time of pandemic crisis, to show that Americans are “bani adam.”

Although a few Members of Congress in recent days have called for lifting or relaxing sanctions against Iran to facilitate its ability to combat the coronavirus, we are not aware of any specific legislation introduced in Congress.  That could change, especially if enough Members of Congress hear from us.

We urge readers:

Contact your Members of Congress, both in the House and the SenateIf you do not know your Representative’s phone number, you can call 202-224-3121 and ask for your Representative by name.

Ask them to advocate with the Administration for lifting or relaxing US sanctions against Iran for the duration of the pandemic and to consider sponsoring legislation or joint resolutions in Congress.  Ask them also to advocate with the Administration, the Treasury Department, the State Department for US support for Iran’s requested IMF emergency financial relief package for combatting the coronavirus.

Write letters to the editor, engage with the electronic media in interviews, and use social media to get across the same messages.

Show the world and Iran that we Americans are caring “bani adam.” [“children of Adam”]

For further information:

Negar Mortazavi: Bush and Obama eased sanctions on Iran during humanitarian crises, why isn’t Trump?

https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2020/03/13/bush-and-obama-eased-sanctions-on-iran-during-humanitarian-crises-why-isnt-trump/

And this from Code Pink:

https://www.juancole.com/2020/03/help-coronavirus-sanctions.html?fbclid=IwAR2Qy9_gg1IWW60653P7PDYpkK_r7f0PxGZJdEwcZXSaciCaHRlxJtpslGY

And from NIAC:

Coronavirus FAQ – Updated 3/10/20

NIAC Sends Letter to Treasury Encouraging Steps to Ensure U.S. Sanctions Do Not Hinder Iran’s Ability to Address Coronavirus

NIAC Welcomes U.S. Treasury Reversal to Exempt Certain Humanitarian Trade with Iran as it Combats Coronavirus

And regarding Iran’s IMF assistance request::

 

https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2020/03/17/will-the-trump-administration-block-irans-request-for-an-emergency-loan-to-


The New Bail Law statement from the NYCLU

February 3, 2020

THE NEW BAIL LAW (an excellent brief statement from the NYCLU that corrects the nonsense being spread)

Last year, legislators passed a broad criminal justice reform bill that eliminated the use of cash bail for most misdemeanors and some nonviolent felony charges, in an overdue recognition that a person’s wealth shouldn’t determine their liberty. Under the new law, judges retain their discretion to set terms that ensure a person shows up for trial. New York has never permitted judges to guess whether a defendant is dangerous to determine whether they should be released before their trial – and lawmakers rightly rejected attempts to insert such a new standard into our law. But there has been much misinformation spread about the impacts of the new bail law. Below are the facts.

  1. The new bail law, which reduces our reliance on money bail and pretrial detention, helps keep New Yorkers safer.
    • Studies show that people who are kept in jail pretrial are more likely to be rearrested for another crime.
    • We know from decades of our mistakes: A knee-jerk, lock-‘em-up approach only furthers the cycle of violence and incarceration.
  1. No system – including money bail and pretrial detention can ensure that people who are released before their trials won’t be suspected of committing another crime.
    • The new law does not release people who were ineligible for release under the old law. Under the old law, release has always been an option for the vast majority of charges – just for those who could afford it.
    • We need to take crime seriously. The best way to do that is to stop criminalizing poverty and race, increase supportive housing, and provide mental health services and programming – not to lock up everyone who is merely accused of a crime.
  1. The new bail law empowers judges – in the right way.
    • Under the new law, judges will actually have improved ways to use their discretion to determine what is needed in each case to ensure a person’s return to court. They can use their discretion to open up pathways for defendants to receive mental health services, supportive housing, and drug treatment – services that defendants were often denied when sent to jail under the old law.
    • Judges did not have authority under the old law to guess who might be dangerous. That’s because there is no way to accurately predict who will commit a crime, and perceived dangerousness often becomes a proxy for race and skin color.
  1. Impacted communities fought to pass the new bail law. Fearmongering and misleading statements are attempting to weaken support.
    • The new bail law was widely supported when it passed. Support has decreased, but only because DAs and law enforcement have stoked fear. We’ve seen this tactic before: It led to the War on Drugs and decades of harsh sentencing, over-incarceration, entrenched racial inequities, and wasted money.
  1. New York must not repeat the mistakes of New Jersey and other states that have mandated pretrial risk assessment tools.
    • Studies show that risk assessment tools cannot reliably predict future actions, especially for Black and Latinx people. That’s because these algorithms rely on factors like past encounters with law enforcement and convictions from a time we know police and prosecutors were targeting, prosecuting, and punishing Black and Latinx people for drug crimes at disproportionate rates.
    • We know that Black and Brown people have been targeted and discriminated against by law enforcement for decades. We cannot double down and now use the effects of discrimination to perversely justify denial of pretrial liberty. These tools are regressive and will only deepen racial inequities, as they have done in other states.

WHAT THE NEW BAIL LAW DOES

  • Reduces courts’ reliance on money bail by eliminating money bail for most misdemeanors, nonviolent felonies, burglary in the second degree and robbery in the second degree) and by guaranteeing their release either on their own recognizance or by setting the least restrictive conditions on release (i.e. check-ins or electronic monitoring).
  • Improves citation-and-release policies by requiring police to issue appearance tickets with court notifications to people charged with some low-level minor offenses (violations, misdemeanors, and class E felonies, unless they qualify for exceptions).[1]
  • Limits the use of electronic monitoring (EM) by permitting judges to only order EM for people charged with felonies, domestic violence misdemeanors, sex misdemeanors, and anyone who has had a misdemeanor conviction in the past five years; by imposing 60-day caps on the use of EM with the option of continuing its use only after another review; by qualifying time under EM as time subject to speedy trial dismissal protections; and by requiring judges to justify that EM is the least restrictive means to ensure return to court and is “unobtrusive to the greatest extent possible.”
  • Makes judicial pretrial decisions more transparent by requiring judges to make their findings on conditions of release, bail, and remand on the record or in writing.
  • Requires judges to set at least one alternative to money bail that is either partially secured or unsecured, which should make it easier for people to post bail.
  • Requires any pretrial risk assessment tools used to be made public and prohibits questionnaires that discriminate on the basis of race.
  • Requires court reminders for all people released pretrial in advance of all court appearances by providing text messages, telephone calls, emails, or first-class mail. Prior to issuing a bench warrant for a failure to appear, the court must provide 48 hours’ notice to the principal or their attorney.
  • Requires judges to consider a person’s ability to pay when setting bail for those charged with bail-eligible charges.

[1]Exceptions:

  1. no one who has an outstanding warrant
  2. no one who has failed to appear in court during the past 2 years
  3. no one who has failed to reasonably verify their identity and methodology of contact
  4. no one charged with a sex offense
  5. no one charged with a DV offense
  6. no one who may need an order of protection according to police
  7. no one charged with an offense that could result in suspending or revoking driver’s license
  8. no one who seems to need immediate medical or mental health care

 


Disloyalty if not Treason

November 12, 2019

The U.S. was the world’s most powerful country when Trump took office. Though we couldn’t control everything, we influenced outcomes all over the world. Then Trump pulled us out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving China the dominant player in the Pacific. He withdrew from the multi-power nuclear agreement with Iran, leaving Iran to reorganize its nuclear ambitions to meet its new security situation. Bizarrely he keeps claiming Iran must abide by the agreement even as the founders of our country would have explained to him that breach by one party to an agreement terminates the other’s obligations to it. He withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, not only undermining the international effort to limit global warming, but undermining other countries’ willingness to count on American promises. And he withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, inviting Russia to restart the nuclear arms race.

He publicly questioned the value of the two major institutions formed to keep the Russians in check – the European Union which strengthened and unified Europe as a counterforce to Russia, and NATO, the military alliance between the U.S. and the European countries outside the Russian orbit, famously dubbed the “Iron Curtain” by Winston Churchill. He urged letting Russia back into the economic organization of major economies despite having been kicked out because of the Russian invasion of Crimea. He pushes Putin’s proposal that Ukraine virtually give Russia back its eastern provinces, the ones Russia had invaded until the West pushed back. And he has just invited the Russians back into Syria and a major role in the Middle East. In reality, Trump is being impeached because he keeps helping Russia.

I know there are people who call themselves super patriots who believe the US would be better off able to make its own independent decisions. What that means, of course, is that we will no longer have the trust and confidence of other countries who will no longer see us as reliable allies. When we do our best to isolate Iran, we think of it as a punishment, but when we do it to ourselves, it’s supposed to be a great advantage.

Yes, we think of ourselves as a superpower, but how much of the world can we take on alone? We didn’t win World War II alone. We certainly had the major role in the Pacific but those of us who lived through or studied the War, know that Russia did most of the fighting in Europe. So there is a large cost to isolating ourselves and convincing our allies that they can’t rely on us. If they can’t rely on us, then they can’t be reliable for us. They have to seek their own advantage.

In sum, Trump has enormously weakened America. It’s bad enough if he did it out of stupidity. But it’s disloyal if he did it for his own advantage. And since Russia can clearly be described as an enemy of the US, even though we’re not now making war against each other, we would be justified in calling that treason.

Let me suggest that you read and think about Art. III, sec. 3, of the Constitution:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Whether or not it fits the definition of treason, weakening America for the advantage of Russia and China is certainly disloyal. As Hamilton explained in The Federalist, the basis for impeachment is “the abuse or violation of some public trust.”[1] No abuse of public trust can be more serious than disloyalty to America for the benefit of a foreign power.

  • Broadcast on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio on Nov. 12, 2019

[1] Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, The Federalist, No. 65 (Hamilton) at 396 (Clinton Rossiter ed., New American Library 1961); and see Peter Charles Hoffer and N.E.H. Hull, Impeachment in America, 1635-1805 chronicling the development of impeachment from English precedents through the Founding Era in America (Yale U. Press 1984).

 


Hitler’s Acolyte – Trump’s Dangerous Motives

October 8, 2019

I spoke last week about the importance of the whistle-blower’s complaint. It’s also the tip of the iceberg. Burt Neuborne was ACLU legal director and a founder of NYU’s Brennan Center.  I’ve known Burt for decades. His publisher accurately describes him as a leading constitutional lawyer who’s sued every president since LBJ.

His new book raises very serious concerns about Trump’s dictatorial intentions. As Burt notes, we’ve known since 1990 that Donald Trump kept a copy of Hitler’s collected speeches by his bed and studied them carefully.

For those born later, Adolf Hitler initiated World War II and the extermination camps that were responsible for the deaths of seventy to eighty-five million people, from all continents. More than a million American soldiers were killed or wounded. That’s Trump’s idol.

Burt goes further, comparing the themes that both Hitler and Trump emphasized. Whatever else he hasn’t figured out, or doesn’t care about, Trump has been a good student of Hitler’s.

There isn’t time to lay them all out. Like Trump, Hitler fired his supporters up with racial and religious hatred, extreme nationalism, closing borders, mass detention and deportation. Almost every word from Trump is about hostility based on race, religion, national origin, closing the southern border and extreme nationalism, stirring a recipe for violence.

Hitler and Trump insulated themselves from criticism by denying the press any credibility and found ways to reach the public without going through the media. Reporters spend their days interviewing people, checking documents, records and participants in the news. Trump simply calls everything fake, and attacks the media in its entirety, though he’s obviously the biggest liar among us. Everything he says is reduced to single adjectives – fake, terrific, good, bad, etc. – without evidence or explanation while denying the obvious. Unhinging his audience from the work of everyone else means he can speak without fear that contrary argument will reach his audience’s ears, until truth becomes meaningless.

Both Hitler and Trump cemented their rule by enriching the wealthiest, giving them outrageous gains, tax cuts, and exemptions from rules meant to protect the public from death, destruction and deceit.

Both thumbed their noses at democratic, judicial and legislative processes and powers. In other words Trump cares only about himself and his ability to become a dictator in the style of his idols. Encouraging people to use what he labels their “Second Amendment rights” in politics is what Hitler did with his Brown Shirts, substituting the nozzle of their guns for ballots and elections. That’s the path to hell but it is a path, with the trappings of dictatorship, that looks good to Trump.

I’ve hesitated to call for impeachment because my priority is to oust Trump from office, however possible, before he can get further with his obvious desire for unchecked power.

That said, Trump’s refusal to obey constitutional limitations on using his office for personal gain, and to abide by statutes and congressional subpoenas, are clear indications of his thirst for power and disrespect of the work of the American Founders, the Constitution, its meaning, original or otherwise, and the system of checks and balances set up to control people like Trump. The emoluments clause was intended to limit opportunities for presidential disloyalty to America. But rather than make America great again Trump is intent on destroying America for personal gain, the ultimate form of disloyalty.

He must be removed from office.


At SPAC last night

August 18, 2019

The Philadelphia Orchestra with the Albany Pro Musica chorus and four international soloists kept my heart on fire and my eyes well watered at SPAC last night with Mozart’s Requiem. Wow. And thank you.


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