Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Palestinian Statehood Now

In 1993's Oslo Accords, Israel acknowledged the PLO negotiating team as "representing the Palestinian people".  In return, the PLO recognized Israel's right to exist in peace, and accepted UN Security Council Resolutions 242 ( and 338 (

Two years later a right-wing Israeli extremist gunned down Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin following a peace rally in Tel Aviv.  Rabin was widely viewed as the the one Israeli politician who seemed capable of bringing about a genuine peace.  Then in 1996, as Israel prepared for elections that would pit Labour's Shimon Peres against Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas embarked on a deadly terror spree throughout the country.  Netanyahu subsequently came to power, and Oslo effectively ended as he increased the pace of illegal  settlements on the West Bank.  In 1996, the settlement population totaled 140,00.  By June of 2009, the estimated total had grown to some 300,000.  Since 1967, Israel has built 120 settlements and over 100 "outposts" (settlements by another name) on the West Bank.

Palestinians have been waiting for a viable solution to their plight since 1948.  Arab leaders have offered lip service on their behalf  when it's expedient to do so (though more often than not they choose to ignore the matter), and the world community has effectively abandoned the Palestinian people.
Is it any wonder then that President Mahmoud Abbas has stated his intention to seek recognition for a Palestinian state at the United Nations this week?  If not now, when? 
The United States has threatened to veto this effort (in addition to threatening economic sanctions and withdrawal of U.S. government funding from the U.N.), but President Abbas maintains that if Palestine is recognized by the international body he will resume negotiations with Israel over all the issues that divide the two sides.  The difference would be that negotiations would now take place between two states, not one powerful state that holds all the cards and a supplicant begging for a few favors.

The impasse has lasted far too long already, and the settlements only continue to multiply.  Why not do what's morally right and support a Palestinian state now?  It's time for all of us to recognize they're people too, people with rights that include full sovereignty over the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.  Peace through justice... imagine that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bill Clinton's Common Sense

     I'll admit it right up front:  after the Monica Lewinsky affair, "common sense" was not an attribute I thought I'd ever assign to Bill Clinton.  But here we are in 2011, and the Tea Partiers are clearly determined to bring about the downfall of our nation, while the Republicans are falling all over themselves carrying out Tea Party edicts.  In other words, these folks are incapable of offering constructive ideas in the face of our economic stagnation--just more of the same:  when in doubt, surrender more of the nation's wealth to those who are already sitting pretty.
     On the other hand, in a recent Newsweek article Mr. Clinton offered up numerous common sense ideas for job creation.
     To begin with, he argued that in lieu of tax credits for start up companies, Congress should once again allow these credits to be converted into cash equivalents for every employee hired.  This had been a part of President Obama's energy policy, but last December the Republicans in Congress refused to extend this benefit--in effect saying "this is a spending program, not a tax cut... we only approve tax cuts."
     The former President maintained that the way we produce and use energy today could result in the same massive job growth that information technology provided during his administration.  He estimates, for example, that retrofitting buildings all across America would create over a million new jobs.  Citing the Empire State building project--which saw hundreds of jobs created, greenhouse gas emissions cut substantuially as overall electricity usage decreased by close to 40%, Mr. Clinton then argued that since 7000 jobs are created for every billion dollars in retrofitting, the construction industry would be kept busy for years--with effects from a million new jobs rippling all through the economy.  Schools, colleges, hospitals, state, county, and local government buildings throughout the country from coast to coast are ripe for retrofitting.
     While infrastructure initiatives would result in massive job creation, there aren't the votes in Congress to pass another stimulus package.  Clinton believes we need to unlock that money and take steps to get U.S. corporations to invest some of the $2 trillion they've accumulated. (Clinton points out that TARP and the stimulus saved us from a second Great Depression.  It worked, but didn't entirely "fix" the economy since an $800 billion stimulus simply couldn't fix a $3 trillion hole.) Mr. Clinton maintains that cutting government spending with the economy currently receiving so little private investment is incredibly risky, and will further increase the deficit as tax revenues fall.
     With regard to corporate taxes, Mr. Clinton acknowledges ours are the second highest in the world.  He advocates lowering the rates while simplifying the tax code and broadening the actual tax base.  This way, all
corporations will pay a reasonable amount of tax on their profits.  In other words, lower the rates to be competitive, but eliminate the loopholes that cause widespread discrepancies.
     Clinton is certainly ready to support individual state initiatives if that's where good ideas are originating.  While noting there are 3 million posted job vacancies (and filling them faster would make a huge difference to the economy) he cites a Georgia program where after vacancies go unfilled for a certain period of time, the state offers businesses money to train potential employees.  During the training, companies aren't yet employers, so they don't have to start paying Social Security taxes, or benefits.  Potential employees are trained the way the company desires, then they hire those who successfully complete that training.  Lag time is reduced, and a job vacancy is filled.
     In addressing the issue of rules and regulations that can often delay shovel-ready projects by up to 3 years, Mr. Clinton states that the federal government should be able to issue waivers(where there are no environmental concerns) to the states to speed up the starting time for construction projects, for example.
     There you have it, a number of solid, thoughtful ideas.  Pretty refreshing, wouldn't you say?  Alas, I doubt they'll ever be given the very serious consideration they deserve while the "nattering nabobs of negativity" (thanks you Spiro Agnew) Boehner, Cantor, Ryan, McConnell, etc. carry out their plans to undermine the President by any means necessary.  I suspect they'd rather torch the country than "compromise", or worse yet, have to forego the media spotlight.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rick Perry to Execute Another Innocent Man?

     Rick Perry could be at it again.  He's anxiously awaiting the opportunity to add yet another notch to his grisly "execution belt".  There are 234 notches there already, and it includes a number of individuals who had substantial claims of innocence (notably Cameron Todd Willingham, but undoubtedly including others).  The lengths to which Perry goes in attempting to score death penalty points with the red-meat brigades, it's a wonder his campaign bus doesn't tow a death chamber gurney out behind it for maximum effect.
     Larry Swearingen was convicted in 1998 for the horrific kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 19 year old college freshman named Melissa Trotter.
     Three days after Trotter disappeared, police arrested Swearingen on (non-related) outstanding warrants.  When Melissa's body was discovered in the pine woods of Sam Houston National Forest some three weeks later, Swearingen was charged with capital murder.
     Although there was no direct evidence linking Swearingen to the murder, he was convicted on circumstantial evidence (including the fact that he was one of the last people to have seen Melissa prior to her disappearance) and sentenced to death.  (To read an excellent and detailed account of the case, see Jordan Smith's piece here )
     Medical evidence does not support the state's case, however, and actually points to a different killer.  Dr. Llyod White, a deputy medical examiner in Ft. Worth was the first to call the biological evidence into question.  In addition to the fact that the male DNA found in Trotter's fingernails does not match Swearingen's, there is tissue evidence supported by more than a half dozen Texas forensic scientists that is completely inconsistent with the state's theory of Trotter's death.
     In late 2007, Dr. Joyce Carter who was the chief ME in Houston, and who had performed the autopsy, recanted her trial testimony (which claimed Trotter had likely been dead for 25 days).  In fact, a 2009 analysis of the preserved histological evidence (never made available to the defense) revealed Trotter had likely been dead for only two or three days before being left in the woods--in other words, weeks after Swearingen was behind bars.  Dr. Stephen Pustilnik, the ME for Galveston County stated "the way biological tissue reacts during decomposition, there's no doubt about it.  Period.  End of story."
     The cellular structures of Trotter's lungs, heart, and vasculature were clearly intact--these are basic structures that break down quickly after death and certainly would not have remained intact in a body exposed to the elements for a month.
     Texas courts and prosecutors have a spotty record when it comes to accepting scientific evidence.  The doctors in the Swearingen case are adament that the science in question is undeniable.  They argue it's simply not possible that Trotter was killed and her body abandoned at that location by Swearingen.  Dr. White states this conclusion "is affirmed beyond all reasonable doubt."
     One can only hope, and pray, that this matter will be resolved swiftly and fairly in Swearingen's favor, and that the case doesn't wind up anywhere near The Lord High Executioner.  We know with certainty what Governor Perry would do...