Monday, July 29, 2013

Obama Denies Knowledge of Federal Law

A few days ago, Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report wrote a scathing review of President Obama's response to the Zimmerman acquittal (which you should go read in full right now).  I hadn't listened to Obama's speech yet, and so was unaware of the breathtakingly absurd claims made therein.  Here is Mr. Ford's summary: 

Beginning his performance with “Once the jury’s spoken, that’s how our system works,” and an endorsement of the propriety of the trial, Obama half-mumbled 2,100 words designed to indicate that he is aware of “a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws” – and then almost immediately washed his hands of the matter with the caveat: “The criminal code and law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.”

 Astounding, isn't it?  The President of the United States, the head of the Federal government, is claiming that the Feds don't do criminal law enforcement!  Does Mr. Obama think, perhaps, that his audience will have forgotten about such institutions as the Department of Justice and the FBI?  While it is indeed true that most criminal law enforcement is done at the local level, to claim that it is simply not done by the Feds ("traditionally," whatever that means) is simply ludicrous.

But perhaps I am being too hard on the President, perhaps there is simply no Federal criminal statute under which Zimmerman could be prosecuted.  Actually, there is.  And one must assume that Mr. Obama is aware of it, since he signed a portion of it into law only four years ago.

The law is 18 U.S.C. § 245, commonly known as the Civil Rights act of 1968.  The act permits federal prosecution of anyone who "willingly injures, intimidates or interferes with another person, or attempts to do so, by force because of the other person's race, color, religion or national origin"  when they are engaged in any "protected" activity (like attending school or voting, for instance).  In 2009, President Obama signed off on an expansion of the Civil Rights Act to include protections based on gender, disability, sexual identity and gender expression, as well as removing the requirement that the victim be engaging in protected activity.  Thanks to Obama, Trayvon was covered by the Civil Rights Act even while walking back from the convenience store. (For the record, that law is known as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and is one of the few good things to come out of the National Defence Authorization Act of 2010)

I believe, along with many other people, that the murder of Trayvon Martin would never have happened if Trayvon had been white.  If Zimmerman followed and then confronted Trayvon even in part because of his skin color, he could be prosecuted under federal hate-crimes statutes

Not sure if Trayvon's murder qualifies as a hate crime?  Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist said that "bias-motivated crimes are more likely to provoke retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their victims, and incite community unrest."  The victims in Trayvon's murder include not only Martin himself, but also his parents, friends, siblings and community.  I think it's safe to say that they have incurred "distinct emotional harm" as a result of Zimmerman's actions; and those actions have certainly led to "community unrest" all across the country.  So while one may debate how much racism was involved in Zimmerman's actions (as opposed to undifferentiated stupidity), the results of his actions bear all the hallmarks of a hate-crime.

The truth is that while Mr. Obama claims (with no hint of shame) that the federal government simply doesn't do criminal law enforcement, the President could easily have directed Attorney General Holder to charge Zimmerman under federal hate-crime statutes.  The truth is that the President doesn't particularly care about endemic racism in our society and our justice system, and is definitely not concerned enough to try to do anything about it.  The truth is, as Glen Ford's article proclaims, Obama supports the racial surveillance that killed Trayvon.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Obama Administration Thinks Egypt is a "Stabalizing Force"

Bloomberg, yesterday, ran an article with the headline Egyptian Crackdown on Mursi Supporters Leaves Dozens Dead.  Buried at the end of the article is this lovely bit of absurdity:

President Barack Obama’s administration, in a move that may protect U.S. aid to Egypt, has concluded that it doesn’t have to make a formal determination on whether Mursi’s ouster was a coup, a State Department official said.

Making such a determination, which potentially would have required cutting off aid, wouldn’t be in the U.S. national interest, State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said yesterday. Egypt is a stabilizing force in the region, and it’s to the U.S.’s advantage to continue providing aid, she said. [emphasis added]
We'll get to that bit about whether or not there was a coup in a moment, but first take a moment to savour the supreme absurdity of claiming that Egypt is a stabilizing force.  Coming at the end of an article documenting the state of chaos in Egypt (with violent protests and counter-protests going on across the country, besides the military and police violence highlighted in the headline) that claim can only strike the reader as bizarre. 

What Ms. Psaki is actually trying to say (though political correctness restrains her) is that the U.S. wants to make sure that it maintains a strong military presence in the country (and the region), which it does by funding the Egyptian military.  Which is why Obama directed the State Department to figure out a way to keep that funding flowing, despite the fact of a coup having taken place which, legally, should cause all aid to be suspended.  Or, as Bloomberg puts it:
Obama had asked U.S. agencies on July 3 to review whether Mursi’s removal required halting about $1.5 billion in U.S. aid, of which $1.3 billion is military assistance. A U.S. law requires the denial of “any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d’etat or decree,” or a coup “in which the military plays a decisive role.”

“Our national security interests influence our policy as it relates to aid with Egypt,” Psaki told reporters at a State Department briefing. “We reviewed the legal obligations and determined we did not need to make a determination one way or the other.”
One might point out that a year ago, Mr. Obama clearly recognized the legitimate character of the Mursi government.  As the Washington Times reported at the time:
The White House congratulated Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi on his election as Egypt’s first freely elected president, calling it a milestone in the country’s transition to democracy.
 This would seem to indicate that Mr. Mursi was indeed a "duly elected head of government" who has been "deposed by a military coup d'etat."  According to U.S. law, all aid to the country should now cease.  But as pointed out above, Mr. Obama doesn't want to lose his army buddies in the Middle East, so some way had to be found to get around U.S. law. 

So, rather than come to the obvious conclusion that a coup had taken place, the State Dept. discovered that, according to the letter of the law, they could just ignore reality by not declaring the takeover a coup...but not declaring it not-a-coup either.  How clever!  And how incredibly see-thru.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Administration Opposes Amash Amendment for the Same Reasons the Amash Amendment Opposes the NSA

In a stunning display of unintentional irony, the Obama Administration released a statement two days ago in opposition to the Amash Amendment (limiting the NSA's domestic spying abilities) which accuses the amendment's backers of the exact same things that are so disconcerting about the NSA's surveillance program.  Here is what the Administration had to say about the amendment:

This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.

Recall that the NSA's approach has been to sweep up all possible information (blunt), using secret rulings from a secret court to do so (not open or informed); which court has been characterized by insiders as little more than a rubber stamp factory (not deliberative).

Unlike the NSA's programs, the Amash Amendment was debated and voted on in public, but that didn't stop the Obama Administration from running with this bit of absurdity.

Fortunately, the amendment went down by an incredibly slim margin, which means we'll likely get another chance to have an open and informed deliberative process regarding just how much power we want our "intelligence" agencies to have.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Obama brags about $65 payouts

Near the end of a recent article in the Financial Times, entitled Treasury secretary rebuffs finance reform critics in Congress, I came across this lovely bit of absurdity:
In a White House ceremony on Wednesday, Mr Obama said the CFPB had already managed to get back more than $400m in refunds from “unscrupulous lenders” for “6m Americans”.
Alright children, everybody take out your calculator.  400,000,000 divided by 6,000,000 is what?  That's right $66.67 !

What's that you say?  Your lender misled you into signing a loan you couldn't afford, which caused you to loose your house and sent you into bankruptcy?  Don't worry, Uncle Sam is gonna give you enough money fill-up your gas least halfway!

(Of course, some people may have received more than the average amount...but that only means others got less.  Go Team Obama!)

OECD brings spitwads to a gunfight

British rag, The Telegraph, ran an article recently with this headline :
 OECD unveils plan to end ‘golden era’ of tax avoidance

Apparently, all the big nations have agreed that tax avoidance by the world's largest multinational corporations must come to an end.  And this isn't just hot air they're blowing.  Governments are showing that they're willing to back up their words with their wallets:
Tax reform has been a key feature of the UK’s G8 presidency this year and it followed up its commitment by pledging to contribute €400,000, alongside France and Germany, to help the OECD turn its proposals into concrete policies.
I, for one, am glad to see they’re not just making a token gesture.  €400,000…impressive, isn’t it? When engaging in a political battle with the wealthiest companies on the planet, it’s good to know you’ve got enough financial resources to see you through.
Formal proposals to prevent what the OECD described as “artificial shifting of income” through “base erosion and profit shifting” will not be in place for two years, but will only work if they win universal support, lawyers and accountants warned.
And I am sure that won’t be any problem at all. Achieving unanimity among every single country in the world is usually a cinch. I mean, just look at the United Nations…

Perhaps a better headline would have been
OECD unveils underfunded plan that has no chance in hell of ending 'golden era' of tax avoidance