Category Archives: Socio-Political

Thomas Jefferson On Religious Freedom

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“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. We have solved … the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.”

~Founding Father Thomas Jefferson: in a speech to the Virginia Baptists, 1808

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How To Tell If Your Religious Liberties Are Being Violated In America

Religious Liberties

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Iran Schools Duplicitous Letter-Writing US Senatorial Conservatives

Teaching Moment On U.S. Constitution and Diplomacy to Sophomoric GOP Senators

From Iranian Ministry Of Foreign Affairs (Smack, In Your Face):

[In response to] the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that, “In our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.” It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.

Peace

Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Zarif added that, “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law.” The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that, “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued, “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.”

He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

Zarif expressed the hope that his comments, “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not modify the terms of the agreement at any time as they claim,” and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.

The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

He reminded them that “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements” that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.

Zarif concluded by stating that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.”

Repiy


Republican Letter To Iran Violates Logan Act

Is there no end to Republican conservative duplicity?

Just when you thought congressional Republicans couldn’t look any more like a troupe of treacherous and sophomoric hooligans hellbent on undermining the United States, they pull out another bag of high-school level tricks.

On Monday, 47 Republican senators signed an open letter addressed to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” on U.S. Senate letterhead. The correspondence advises that Iran’s ongoing negotiations on its nuclear program with the Obama administration are a futile endeavor that will be overturned by the next President or modified by Congress.

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Violation Of The Logan Act

Senator Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran is a direct violation of the Logan Act and should lead to prosecution as Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other signatories letter to the Iranian Government is an attempt to influence and interfere with the President’s current negotiations.

The Logan Act is a United States federal law that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. It was passed in 1799 and last amended in 1994. Violation of the Logan Act is a felony, punishable under federal law with imprisonment of up to three years.

traitors

While the letter’s signatories are U.S. senators, they do not have the “authority of the United States” as required by law since, in conducting foreign policy, the executive branch is the United States’ only authorized authority, taking into consideration the occasional “Advice and Consent of the Senate” as prescribed by the Constitution. It’s directly addressed to leaders of a foreign government presently involved in talks with the U.S., and it is designed to thwart those talks. Unless the senators were authorized by the President to address Iran’s leaders in this letter, the 47 U.S. senators violated a federal law that carries a prison term of up to three years.

§ 953. Private correspondence with foreign governments.

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

1 Stat. 613, January 30, 1799, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 953 (2004).

The Constitution expressly provides sole authority to the President or his designated representative to negotiate with other countries. The Congress only has that authority if the President extends it to them. They only authority they have is after the negotiations are over…and then only if it’s a treaty.

It Is Sedition

Moreover, the action may be considered sedition: “sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order.” This Republican action is clearly designed to undermine the authority of the legally elected executive while negotiating with a hostile foreign power—it is formal, declared in writing, printed and signed on official Senatorial letterhead, and was not voted on by Congress before the act of sedition took place. As such, it is prosecutable under 18 US Code Chapter 115.

They are aiding and comforting the Iranians by presenting the United States as irrevocably divided and utterly undisciplined nation. The Republican Senators clearly have no interest other than their own aggrandizement and the sabotage of effort to make the world a safer place for all.

Republican party members have demonstrated themselves on numerous contemporary occasions to be unfit to govern.

Biden Lashes Out Accurately

“In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country — much less a longtime foreign adversary — that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

“The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.”

—Vice President Biden in a statement released by the White House

Republicans Fail The Test Of Ronald Reagan

Once upon a time, Republicans negotiated nuclear agreements with archenemies, and they actually signed them—Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Reagan’s approach was simple and has guided President Obama’s tact: “Trust, but verify.” Thirty years later, it’s a shame Republicans refuse example.

ronnie


Freedom To Marry Marches Across The Globe

freedom to marry across the globe

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Eighteen nations legally allow the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide (Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, Luxembourg and Finland)

Two very large nations have regional or court-directed provisions enabling same-sex couples to share in the freedom to marry (Mexico and the United States [soon to be nationwide]). In Slovenia, Parliament approved a marriage bill in March 2015, and it awaits signature by the President.

Fourteen other countries provide legal protections for same-sex couples through “unions.”

As more and more countries—and hopefully soon in the United States with a Supreme Court decision—win the freedom to marry, families are supported and communities and countries strengthened by protecting all loving committed couples. The world can become stronger while growing kinder and more respecting of freedoms.


In St Louis, Riot Boarding Becomes Art For Hope

A project of peace in the aftermath of rioting in St Louis brings a message of hope through art on boarded up shops.

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Michael Brown & Ferguson | Facts & Reality — Not The Same Thing

I’ve been trying to understand why different groups of honest and sincere people see the same incident of Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Missouri and come to very different conclusions. Yes, primarily, it seems as if “whites” conclude that this is simply a case of a thuggish boy acting wantonly, provoking police, and causing his own demise. And yet, “blacks” seem to see the incident more personally, as an indictment of their own experience, and have reacted as if the justice system denied each of them due process.

One group has no identification with the victim or the situation and views it detached and isolated. One group sees themselves vicariously as the victim. I’d not been able to quite understand the contrasting perspectives, until I read the article below. I think the authors performed a service for us all if we take the time to think about what they are saying, and I think they may have hit the situation spot on.

Ferguson killing: the facts and the reality

People’s own lives can make for different views of Brown slaying.

By Victoria Loe Hicks  and Craig Schneider with Atlanta Journal Constitution

When white people talk about the death of Michael Brown, they talk about facts. When black people talk about it, they talk about reality.

They are not the same thing.

Deena Mann Maxson of Hiram looks at the facts of Brown’s shooting: that he reached into Officer Darren Wilson’s car, that he was facing and perhaps advancing on Wilson when he was killed. She does not see what happened in terms of race.

“Brown committed a crime and assaulted and attacked Officer Wilson when questioned. Officer Wilson was doing his job. Stop committing crimes and there won’t be an issue,” Maxson said.

Wade Clark of Duluth looks at the reality of Brown’s shooting: that black people are far more likely to be shot by police than white people, that many African-Americans have felt the indignity of being challenged by police or store security for merely being “out of place.”

“You very rarely see white guys getting shot like this,” said Clark, 32.

That’s not to say that black people have ignored the facts of the Brown case. They question, for example, the unusual nature of the grand jury that heard evidence against Wilson, and also the way the evidence was presented. All of which reinforces, for many, the idea that the Brown shooting was less an isolated event than a point on a long and dismal continuum.

White Americans and black Americans can look at the same thing and see something quite different — not because of what they’re seeing but because of where they’re standing. Those remarkably different perspectives lead to misunderstanding and frustration on both sides.

Bridging that divide will not be easy, but even in the heat of moments like these, some people, police included, are determined to try.

‘Police officer is a very scary job’

Much of the conversation relates to the relationship between the police and the black community. The work of scholars and government analysts is awash in statistics about the intersection of race and justice.

Here is perhaps the most stark: Black teenagers are at 21 times greater risk of being shot dead by police than white teenagers, according to a report last month from the investigative journalism website ProPublica. The analysis examined 1,217 deadly police shootings included in federal law enforcement data from 2010 to 2012.

As an African-American, Wade Clark feels some whites look at him and see every black criminal they’ve seen in the news. “You see one do a bad thing and we’re all judged. We have to constantly prove ourselves. It’s frustrating,” he said.

Bill Florence, 57, lives in Dunwoody, but he used to work in Clayton County as prosecutor. Florence, who is white, said racial perceptions may have influenced Officer Wilson’s behavior.

But he said it’s important to weigh his actions in the context of a police officer’s experience.

“Let’s face it, being a police officer is a very scary job,” he said. “You never know when it might be your last minute or somebody else’s.”

Faced with making split-second decisions, an officer can’t stop and evaluate whether racial stereotypes are clouding his or her judgment, he said.

“You can’t think about the socioeconomic forces at work, because a bullet could be coming at you,” he said.

Driving while black’ in America

Deaths like Michael Brown’s are relatively rare. At the other end of the spectrum are simple traffic stops, the most common interaction between all citizens and police.

In its most recent survey, in 2011, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 12.8 percent of black drivers reported being stopped by police in the past year; for whites, the number was 9.8 percent. Twice as many blacks (32.5 percent) as whites (16.4 percent) believed they were stopped for no legitimate reason. They were equally likely to feel that way whether the officer was white or black.

Once they were stopped, black drivers were more than twice as likely to be searched and also more likely to be ticketed.
Among African-Americans, “everybody has stories” of the perils of “driving while black,” said Carol Anderson, an associate professor of African-American studies and history at Emory.

For her, one such incident occurred while she was driving accompanied by a white friend in the friend’s neighborhood. Anderson made a quick turn and the police lights appeared behind her. Her friend started railing that she had made that quick turn often without any trouble, that Anderson being pulled over was just wrong.

Her outrage didn’t comfort Anderson; it scared her, because she feared it might inflame the cop. “I was like, ‘Shut up,’” the scholar said. “(My friend) is not going to get shot. I can easily be shot. My Ph.D. doesn’t matter.”

‘They should start asking questions’

Researchers have reported for decades that African-Americans make up a disproportionate share of people arrested, convicted and imprisoned in this country.

What’s difficult to know for sure is why.

No one is arrested for the vast majority of reported crimes, so there’s no way to know the races of the ones who evade prosecution. That opens the possibility that racial bias is behind the discrepancies in arrests and convictions. But it doesn’t prove it.

Perhaps, in a country that is majority white, lawmakers, police, prosecutors, judges and juries do share an opinion that black people are inclined toward criminality. Even if that bias is unconscious, the likely result — blacks being more likely to be arrested and prosecuted than whites — would only reinforce the belief.

“It’s certainly something that should get your attention and you should start to ask questions,” said David A. Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh school of law who is an expert on racial profiling, police conduct and accountability. “Does this reflect discrimination? You can’t make that judgment without knowing more. But a pattern of disparity should be enough to make police departments, courts, whoever, they should start asking questions about whether they have a problem.”

‘Biased policing is not legitimate policing’

It’s also possible that the circumstances in which black people commit crimes — for instance, the open-air drug markets that plague some low-income neighborhoods — make criminals who operate in such settings easier to catch. And, once caught, they are less likely than whites to have the money to hire a skilled defense lawyer.

When it comes to the fraught relationship between African-Americans and police, it may be that both sides come to any encounter primed with suspicion, expecting the worst. Sadly, our expectations sometimes affect our behavior in ways that turn those expectations into self-fulfilling prophesies.

Some leaders in law enforcement are sufficiently worried about the reality or perception of bias to have created a working group designed to research and prevent it.

“Biased policing is not legitimate policing and leads to mistrust in the communities that most need effective law enforcement services,” said a report from the group, the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity. “This perception is driven in part by historical realities and in part because the percentage of stops that result in valid arrests tend to be relatively low and the number of innocent racial/ethnic minorities subjected to police stops, frisks, and searches tends to be relatively high.”

‘Staggering disparity’ in arrest rates

The Ferguson shooting spurred a flood of fresh analysis that reinforced the findings of previous research.

Just this month, USA Today identified a “staggering disparity” in arrest rates based on race in communities across the country, based on a nationwide analysis of arrest data.

In Ferguson, blacks are almost three times as likely to be arrested as non-blacks. The newspaper’s analysis found more than 1,500 communities, including some of the largest in metro Atlanta, with even greater disparities between white and black arrest rates.

In Atlanta, the arrest rate is more than five times greater for blacks. In Sandy Springs and Marietta, it’s more than three times higher. In areas patrolled by DeKalb County Police, arrest rates are more than four times higher for blacks. For Clayton County Police, it’s five times higher. Among the jurisdictions included in USA Today’s analysis, Acworth was the only place in the five core metro counties with no racial disparity in arrest rates.

Another recent report, by scholars at Stanford, sheds a startling light on one impact of such statistics. In their study, the data didn’t make whites favor reforms; rather, they increased support for get-tough-on-crime policies.

The toll of the ‘war on drugs’

In the U.S., the “war on drugs” epitomizes those policies. After the war began in the 1980s, drug offenses became the leading source of convictions in the United States.

Drug offenses are also one area where it’s possible to test the justice system for bias. That’s because independent data, gleaned through large, anonymous surveys, show how many people use drugs and which types they use.

Contrary to popular perception, by far the most common drug crime prosecuted in the past few years has been possession of marijuana. Although surveys show that whites and blacks use pot at nearly the same rate, blacks are 3.7 times as likely to be arrested for possession, according to an analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Georgia, 65 percent of all drug arrests in 2010 were for marijuana possession. Sixty-four percent of those arrested were black.

In the 1980s and ’90s, cocaine was the target of legislators, prosecutors and police. As crack began to flood into poor neighborhoods, Congress passed laws designed to stem its rise. One set the minimum sentence for possession of 5 grams of crack at five years but left the maximum sentence for possession of any amount of powdered cocaine at one year.

Subsequent federal studies found that more than 80 percent of inmates serving time for crack were black, although studies showed the majority of users were not. Data also showed that blacks served roughly as much time for nonviolent drug offenses as whites did for violent crimes.

‘They’re going to get pulled over’

So, back to this facts-vs.-reality thing.

In many instances, whites and blacks do seem to be talking past each other from different planets. But that doesn’t mean they can’t reach beyond the boundaries of their own experiences and grasp the nuances of a complex and intractable problem.

Ronnie Burden is 46 and black. The Decatur resident thinks police sometimes shoot black suspects “at the drop of a hat,” but he acknowledged some young blacks bring trouble upon themselves.

“Our youth, some are very much out of control,” he said.

Myna Helfont is 86 and white. The Sandy Springs resident thinks the way many young black men present themselves is a provocation.
“If these kids want to look like gangsters, they’re going to get pulled over,” she said.

But, she, too, sees another side to the story.

“(Blacks) don’t trust the police and there are incidents in which innocent young boys are pulled over. It leads to a lot of distrust,” Helfont said.