September 28, 2016

Wondering, on Wednesday (v65)

Well, well. well.  We're only a few months short of the end of the current administration, and today Congress decided to override an Obama veto.

The bill that Obama vetoed is the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism (JASTA), which
...grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on US soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government.
Obama's veto stemmed from concerns that American soldiers, companies or assets could be jeopardized should other countries follow our lead and pass similar legislation. He also expressed concern that JASTA would alienate allies,with whom we have long had the reciprocal sovereign immunity rules in place.

On the other side, families of the 9/11 victims have long fought for this legislation, and as this was the 15th anniversary - and an election year - hopes were high that the bill would pass and that, if Obama vetoed it, there was enough support to override the veto. He did, and there was.

It's hard to imagine the pain felt by families of the victims, but I can't help wondering whether we have opened a can of worms that we will not be able to close.

Drone strikes that killed civilians? Hospitals bombed accidentally? Sanctions that put innocent citizens in untenable situations? Armed occupation of someone else's country? Spying, or taking out bad guys on the sly like happens on TV shows all the time?  Yeah, all of these could be turned against us by someone who claimed terrorism or extremism or nose-where-it-doesn't-belong-sticking.

Tonight on the PBS NewsHour, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey echoed points he and former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton made in a column in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.
America has diplomats, military personnel and intelligence operatives serving in greater numbers in more places than any other country.  They -- and we -- are sheltered in that good work by sovereign immunity, which protects them from being hauled into court by those who oppose US policy and would use judicial proceedings to frustrate it, especially in countries where courts are puppets of the regimes. 
We have far more to lose than other nations from creating exceptions to sovereign immunity that others could use against us.  
Hope is not lost. There are a number of folks who want some changes made in the bill, and that could conceivably happen at some point after the election.

Having accomplished the veto override for what I'm sure were good intentions, Congress moved on to working on funding the government for a while longer.

Knowing how critical it is to get this done, I was a little surprised to see this opening paragraph in an article tonight in the International Business Times. (Full disclosure: the article came across my Twitter feed; I'm not a regular reader of the IBT).
As lawmakers frantically negotiate a last minute budget deal to avert a government shutdown, Republican lawmakers are attempting to use the standoff to help corporations hide their political spending. Any agreement to keep the government running, GOP leaders insist, just include a provision that blocks regulators from requiring companies to fully disclose their political spending to their own shareholders.
I am simply breathless with astonishment that we - and by we, I mean Senators who are beholden to the tens of millions of dollars in political contributions made by corporations - apparently cannot even comprehend funding the government of the United States of America without making sure this protection is sustained.

We've got Zika funding that needed to get done, and we have funding to help take care of the people who were poisoned by their government in Flint, and our number three priority, per the Republicans, is keeping transparency out of the political money game?

Do you wonder, as I do this Wednesday, what the hell these politicians are doing down there in DC? And do you wonder, will anyone remember this stuff come November?

Finally tonight, I'm wondering who will win the chance to punch Martin Shkreli in the face?
Shkreli said on Twitter this week that he would offer the chance to hit him to the highest bidder on eBay. After the eBay listing was removed he said those donating to a fundraiser would be entered in a raffle to punch him.
Or, maybe, have dinner with him - he's open to that as well.

What's the point? Well, ostensibly it's for charity, to provide for the son of Shkreli's PR guy; the dad died of cancer. If you're cynical, like I can be on Wednesdays, it's to make sure that your name stays in the public eye.

Pretend you win the raffle.  Punch, or dine? I wonder.

September 26, 2016

Presidential Debate Questions (v1)

Tonight, NBC's Lester Holt will be the moderator of the first 2016 Presidential Debate.

Much has been said about what a moderator shouldn't do (repeat Matt Lauer's horrid performance hosting the Commander in Chief forum a while back; don't ask questions just to hear yourself talk; don't cut off the candidates unnecessarily; don't play favorites; don't be the star of the show, and so on) and what a moderator should do (fact-check Donald Trump; call him a liar when he lies, which he will; keep the candidates on the clock; ask Hillary about her emails, and so on).

We can expect that the rules will be broken, quickly - and that there'll be some squabbling, and Lester will likely have his hands full with these two candidates.

Personally, I have only one ground rule: answer the questions you are asked, and do so without talking about your opponent.  Meaning, talk about what you believe, and what you propose to do if elected, rather than wasting time talking about what you think your opponent believes or will do.

I know, I know, that's actually two ground rules, sorry. Mostly, I just want to have some questions answered. And none of them have anything to do with emails.

Here are five questions for Donald Trump:
  1. You have so far refused to release your most recent tax return, which we've been told are hundreds and hundreds of pages long, and that you are under a routine audit for the twelfth year in a row. Instead of telling us why you won't release your taxes, can you please truthfully answer these three questions: What was your adjusted gross income? What was your tax liability (the amount you owed the government)? How much did you personally donate to charity?
  2. You have made creating American jobs one of the cornerstones of your race for the Presidency. Please explain why your and your daughter personally brand items that are not made in America, and why over the past decade you have sought permission to bring in over 1,200 foreign workers to be waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and housekeepers for properties such as Mar-a-Lago and the Jupiter Golf Club?
  3. You have talked in your speeches about immigrants needing to 'assimilate' if they want to stay. Not far from me, there's a two or three mile stretch of road that is anchored at one end by a Slovakian Baptist church and by a mosque at the other end. In between are an Antiochian Orthodox Christian church and a Macedonian Orthodox church. Given that they maintain their own houses of worship, would you consider any of these populations to be 'assimilated'? If yes, which one(s), and if not, what would you do about their lack of assimilation?
  4. You have mentioned that we need to very extremely vet refugees and potential immigrants from Syria and other countries to prevent terrorism. Given that the several recent acts of what you refer to as radical Islamic terrorism have been committed by American citizens, should American citizens be 'extremely vetted?  And if yes, how would you identify the people who would be subject to this vetting?
  5. You have said, when talking about the Second Amendment, that our broken mental health system needs to be fixed, and that "we need real solutions to address real problems." However, you offer no proposals on how to fix it.Name three specific things you believe we need to do to solve this problem.
And here are five questions for Hillary Clinton.
  1. As part of your plan to combat terrorism, you make reference to an 'intelligence surge' to get security officials the tools they need to address both foreign terrorism and terrorism committed by American citizens. What is this surge, how would it be implemented and what are the expected outcomes?
  2. You have talked about cutting the wasteful subsidies that oil and gas companies have enjoyed for far too long and instead invest in clean energy. Given the widely publicized failure of Solyndra, how would your plan differ from efforts undertaken by the Obama administration?
  3. You mention creating incentives for companies to bring jobs back to America. Specifically, what incentives would you offer, and what are the specific job gains those incentives are designed to achieve?
  4. Please provide some details on your plan to fundamentally reform veterans' health care and explain how you would pay for this program?
  5. Name three specific things you would consider to be legitimate reasons to send American soldiers to war.
After each answer, they can argue at each other for a bit, and then move on to the next question. Now these questions won't likely be asked, but it would be interesting. 

As will tonight's real action - hope you'll be watching!