In the USA...Senate confirms Kerry as next secretary of state
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 17:53
The US Senate on Tuesday confirmed Senator John Kerry as the next secretary of state, approving President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Hillary Clinton by a wide majority.
The Senate voted 94-3 in favor of Kerry, after the chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination earlier in the day.
His nomination was pushed through the Senate in a matter of days, given the clear bipartisan support for the 69-year-old veteran Democratic lawmaker, who spent 28 years in the Senate.
Kerry — a senator from Massachusetts best known outside the United States for his unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign — was nominated last month by Obama to take over from Clinton as the nation’s top diplomat.
He is known to have long coveted the job, but almost lost out to US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who had been seen as Obama’s first choice.
But she withdrew from consideration for the post under Republican fire over the administration’s response to the September 11 attack on a US mission in Libya that left four Americans dead.
Earlier, Kerry said he was “humbled” and gratified by the support from the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he himself chairs.
“They’ve been wonderful, they’ve been really superb,” he said of his committee colleagues, adding, “I’m very wistful about it, it’s not easy” leaving.
Clinton, 65, is expected to leave her post Friday, amid swirling speculation about whether she will run for the presidency in 2016. For now, she has said only that she is looking forward to some rest after four grueling years.
At his confirmation hearing last week, Kerry called for “fresh thinking” as he outlined his foreign policy agenda and plans for relations with Iran, China and the Middle East.
“American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We cannot allow the extraordinary good that we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role that we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us,” he said.
The decorated Vietnam veteran turned anti-war activist has built impeccable credentials during his time in the Senate. He has sat down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, soothed nerves in Pakistan and visited the Gaza Strip.
***********Obama warns Republicans against blocking immigration reform
By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 19:50 EST
Barack Obama has warned Republicans that if they attempt to block his drive towards comprehensive immigration reform he will send his own legislation to Congress and force them to vote on it.
In a speech that sounded at times more like a campaign rallying cry than a presidential address, the US president said lawmakers on Capitol Hill should move swiftly.
“The time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now; now is the time,” he said.
The speech underlined the game of poker he is playing with Republican leaders, particularly in the House of Representatives. If they fail to fall in line over immigration reform, he implied, they would reap the electoral consequences. “If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send forward a bill based on my proposal and insist they vote on it right away,” he said.
Obama is hoping that the energy he gained from that presidential election victory 10 weeks ago will act as the fuel that will push immigration reform through the House and onto the statute books by the end of this year.
Underscoring the message, Obama delivered his keynote immigration speech at Del Sol high school in Nevada, a state whose population is more than a quarter Latino. Their overwhelming support for Obama in the presidential election last November helped him win Nevada by a comfortable six points. Republicans’ share of the Latino vote in the presidential election fell to an all-time low.
Obama did not, however, spell out any detail in his speech. Instead, he has decided to leave the heavy lifting in framing the detail of a comprehensive reform to the bipartisan group of eight senators who on Monday announced their own mission to introduce a bill to the US Senate. The four principles that the president outlined were identical to those adopted by the senators just a day earlier.
White House officials see the confluence of proposals from the administration and leading senators as a major sign that the gridlock on immigration can finally be broken. A senior administration official told reporters that the similarity of the proposals “gives us a great deal of encouragement that this is something we’re going to be able to get done and get done quickly”.
At the heart of both Obama and the senators’ plans is a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants – most of whom are Latino – currently living within the US. “For comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship,” Obama said.
The precise details of that pathway – how direct and how difficult it is – is likely to be the stuff of fraught political battles ahead. To assuage Republican opposition, Obama emphasised that undocumented immigrants would have to go “to the back of the line, behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally”. They would have to pass a background check, pay a penalty and taxes from the moment they were granted temporary work permits, as well as learn English.
As a further fillip to the conservatives, he adopted some of the language used by Mitt Romney on the presidential campaign trail last year. He said he would continue to insist on strengthened border security, and crack down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.
White House officials indicated that the plan was to extend the E-Verify system, that allows employers to check on the immigration status of job applicants, across the country over the next five years. Introducing a national E-Verify law was one of Romney’s main campaign pledges.
With the eight senators, who include senior Democratic figures such as Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin as well as prominent Republicans John McCain and Marco Rubio, taking the lead on drafting legislation, Obama confined most of his remarks to making the case for change.
The president said that it was easy to fall into the trap of thinking of immigration as an issue of “us” versus “them”. “A lot of folks forget that most of ‘us’ used to be ‘them’. It’s really important to remember our history. Unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from someplace else.”
He name checked the Irish, the Germans and the Scandinavians, the Poles, the Russians and Italians, the Chinese, Japanese and West Indians. “The huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one cast and Angel Island on the other. All those folks, before they were ‘us’, they were ‘them’.”
The received wisdom is that the White House must achieve an immigration reform act within the year. Once Congress enters 2014, thoughts and energies will turn to the mid-term elections and many Republican Congress members will become increasingly disinclined to risk incurring the wrath of the Tea Party by voting yes.
The calculation is that with elements included in the bill to please conservatives – notably the emphasis on border security and a federal E-Verify system – and with the threat of another rout of the Republicans in 2016 hanging over them, Congress will finally come on side.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
**********Obama Cleverly Plants the Seeds for Possible GOP Self Destruction on Immigration Reform
By: Jason Easley
Jan. 29th, 2013
President Obama not only offered his own immigration reform plan, but he also planted the seeds for potential Republican self destruction.
The president said,
Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution. Yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years.
So at this moment, it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon, and that’s very encouraging. But this time, action must follow. We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time. So it’s not as if we don’t know technically what needs to get done.
As a consequence, to help move this process along, today I’m laying out my ideas for immigration reform. And my hope is that this provides some key markers to members of Congress as they craft a bill, because the ideas I’m proposing have traditionally been supported by both Democrats, like Ted Kennedy, and Republicans, like President George W. Bush. You don’t get that match-up very often
So — so we know where the consensus should be. Now, of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details, and every stakeholder should engage in real give-and-take in the process. But it’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place. And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.
The president’s immigration reform proposal includes four parts, “First, continue to strengthen our borders. Second, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers. Third, hold undocumented immigrants accountable before they can earn their citizenship; this means requiring undocumented workers to pay their taxes and a penalty, move to the back of the line, learn English, and pass background checks. Fourth, streamline the legal immigration system for families, workers, and employers.”
Since he came from the Senate to the presidency, Obama spent much of his first two years in office watching his agenda get bogged down in congressional trench warfare. The attitude of second term President Obama is completely different. He is the one telling Congress what he wants from them. If they drag their feet, or if Republicans in the House or Senate try to bog down the legislation, he is going to send his own bill to the Congress and demand a vote.
Obama wasn’t just showing leadership in his speech. He was also sowing the seeds for potential Republican self destruction. The scenario goes something like this. A group of congressional Republicans decide that they are going to kill immigration reform. They bog down the legislation in the congressional swamp of inaction that is our current legislative process. The president sends his bill to the Congress for a vote. Democrats and enough Senate Republicans come together to pass his bill. If House Republicans reject his legislation, the table is then set for Democrats to build on their support from Hispanic voters in 2014 and 2016.
The president’s is allowing the Republicans to pick their path. They can either do the right thing for the country, or they can sentence themselves to political oblivion by pandering to the immigration hardliners in their party. Obama is leaving nothing to chance. Whether Republicans realize it or not, their future as a viable national party may depend on the choices that they make on immigration reform.
President Obama has made sure that there will be a heavy political price to pay if Republicans try to obstruction immigration reform.
*********If Republicans Think Latinos Are Uneducated, They Should Look at Their Own Base
By: Sarah Jones
Jan. 29th, 2013
Republicans seem unaware of the composition of their base. How else can they explain this thinking, which echoes Mitt Romney’s misunderstanding of where the takers are: Republican Representative laments working on immigration reform because there’s no point in Republicans trying to woo Latinos when they are uneducated and low-skilled, “They will become Democrats because of the social programs they’ll depend on.”
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) scoffs at immigration reform and warns Republicans to stop trying to cater to Latinos politically because they will never vote Republican. Via Think Progress:
“It’s amnesty that America can’t afford,” Barletta said Monday. “We have to stop people from coming in illegally. This will be a green light for anyone who wants to come to America illegally and then be granted citizenship one day.” [...]
“I hope politics is not at the root of why we’re rushing to pass a bill. Anyone who believes that they’re going to win over the Latino vote is grossly mistaken,” Barletta said. “The majority that are here illegally are low-skilled or may not even have a high school diploma. The Republican Party is not going to compete over who can give more social programs out. They will become Democrats because of the social programs they’ll depend on.”
This is more of the Republican propaganda that Obama is the “food stamp president” and that “all black people want are food stamps“.
Bartletta appears blissfully unaware of the largest segment of the Republican base (thanks to their southern strategy). Allow me to assist him in meeting them: Rural, uneducated whites from Southern regions. George Will explained this during the primaries as he lamented the southern strategy, “There’s also the problem that the Republican party has been, in recent years, too Southern. In the last five presidential cycles, they’ve got 79 percent of their electoral votes from the South. It’s too much.”
Jack Cafferty at CNN pointed out that most of the ten poorest states in the country are Republican. This isn’t new, but Republicans keep behaving as if they are the party of the white country club makers.
The biggest strengths for the Republican Party according to CNN exit polling from the 2012 election are those who support the Tea Party (not exactly known for being educated about the issues) and born again Christians. More high school graduates voted for Obama. By a slim margin (remember this is exit polling) more who attended college voted for Obama over Romney. More college graduates voted for Romney than Obama, but more post-graduates voted for Obama over Romney. The Washington Post’s exit polling concurs.
In 2008, the National Journal warned, “The GOP’s focus on social, cultural, and religious issues cost its candidates dearly among upscale voters.”
Clearly the Republican Party doesn’t own education any more than they own Hispanics.
Furthermore, a 2009 New York Times map revealed that the top ten counties in food stamp usage were all located in red states. 70% of all food stamp recipients are white. Low-skilled takers? Yes, Barletta, meet your base. The only difference is their skin color.
Barletta is just another Republican who believes what he hears on Fox News and reads on Breitbart; he’s operating as an elected official under misleading information.
In case you missed it, the Republican Party is now the party of snobby elites who look down on low-skilled workers. If you don’t have a high school diploma, you’re a taker and you won’t vote Republican. That this is coming from the party that resents public education and is actively trying to defund it, from the party whose last presidential candidate wanted to defund the Department of Education, should be a warning bell. This is the party that recently tried to fool America into cutting taxes for millionaires by throwing 300,000 kids off food stamps.
Somehow the Republican base takes great comfort in sneering at the brown-skinned takers, even as they collect their food stamps and Medicare. They hyperventilate with misspelled signs about “Socilism” when they don’t even know what it is, support a party chasing their adolescence by worshipping a Russian fiction author and are being fed propaganda by a channel whose biggest shareholder outside of the Murdock family is a Saudi Prince, but none of this will never cause them a moment of confusion or self-doubt.
The truth is that you don’t need a formal education to know when you’re being duped. You don’t need a formal education to be smart. But you can’t think clearly if you’re operating under a fictional set of beliefs being force fed to you by a propaganda machine. Thus we have the failure of education evident in representatives like Barletta.
Also, Republicans overlook the fact that smart people know when they’re being conned by a cynical party, using them as a punching bag in order to stoke the resentments of their less than bright base.
The Party of Takers points their fingers at The Other Guy once again. Sneering contempt for the win. If Barletta thinks Latinos are uneducated takers, he really needs to get out and meet his own base.
*********Immigration reform requires Republican reform
By: Black Liberal Boomer
Jan. 29th, 2013
Bitter old white male that he is, even Sen. John McCain knows immigration reform is not an option. You can either try and grow more fingers to plug up the cracks in the dike or you can learn how to swim.
Once again the Republicans are being forced to take a look in the mirror provided by attendance records at their 2012 Republican National Convention (and 2008, and 2004, and 2000, and…), where the only way the cameras could make it look like there were more than a handful of non-white people in the audience was to keep showing the same meager handful of darker skinned folks over and over and over again. Some not-quite-so-bright Republicans feel the best way to attack this issue is to just keep on gerrymandering. Just keep carvin up those districts. No doubt it is that same dim bulb crowd who thinks it’s a smart idea to try and change the rules of the Electoral College so maybe they don’t get beat up so bad in 2016. Voter suppression didn’t quite yield the desired result in 2012 so let’s just try another form of suppression and see how that turns out, right guys?
Those who are slightly more enlightened and whose political IQ at least reaches the three-digit range have come to understand that America does not look like the Republican Party. At all. And so if Republicans want to continue to lead a national political party that has a shot at remaining relevant for the next generation – hell, for this generation - then it kinda makes sense to begin addressing issues that matter to these folks. And by ‘these folks’ I mean Americans. Denial is not a viable forward-looking strategy. And it’s better to be a little late to the party than to miss it altogether – or to be celebrating in the wrong house down the street.
The Gun sickness that is the United States .......Republican lawmaker’s bill mandates NRA gun training for Missouri first graders
By David Edwards
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 9:09 EST
A Republican state senator in Missouri has introduced a bill that would require all first grade students to take a gun course provided by the National Rifle Association.
State Sen. Dan Brown on Tuesday told the Senate General Laws Committee that his bill bringing the NRA’s Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program to every elementary school was an effort to teach children how to react if they encounter an unsecured firearm. Brown had first introduced the bill one day before 20 students were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Some Missouri schools already use the NRA program, but Brown aims to make it a universal requirement.
“I hate mandates as much as anyone, but some concerns and conditions rise to the level of needing a mandate,” he explained to the committee.
The bill would also require that teachers take eight hours of training on how to respond to armed school intruders. Thanks to a grant from the NRA, the student training would be provided to the state at no cost. However, training the teachers was expected to cost around $16 million.
Democratic state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said that she would be willing to support the bill, but wanted an exemption for her district.
“I think we should be teaching kids to read, write and do math,” Nasheed said.
************15-year-old girl who performed at Obama inauguration gunned down in Chicago
By David Edwards
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 10:30 EST
A 15-year-old girl was killed on the South Side of Chicago on Tuesday, just a week after she performed at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Hadiya Pendleton was hanging out at Vivian Gordon Harsh Park near her high school at around 2:30 p.m., “when someone jumped a fence, ran up to them, and opened fire,” according to WBBM-TV.
Pendleton was taken to University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital where she died an hour later from a gunshot wound to her back. A 16-year-old boy was also wounded in the attack.
Chicago police said that many of those in the park were gang members, but Pendleton had no known gang affiliations.
The girl was majorette and a volleyball player, friends told The Chicago Tribune. She had performed at inaugural events in Washington, D.C. last week with the King College Prep band and drill team.
As of Tuesday evening, police had no suspects in the shooting. The 4400 or 4500 blocks of South Oakenwald Avenue, where the shooting occurred, was considered to be a low-crime area. No serious crimes had been reported there between Dec. 19 and Jan. 20.
“It’s a great neighborhood,” Roxanne Hubbard resident Roxanne Hubbard explained to the Tribune. “Nothing like this has happened since I’ve been here.”
Bonita O’Bannion told WBBM-TV that she was shaken after hearing at least six gun shots during the Tuesday shooting.
“There has to be an end to it,” O’Bannion said. “It’s just too much. The children cannot go to school. They’re in fear.”
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAAI0Py4Sbg
January 29, 2013Strict Gun Laws in Chicago Can’t Stem Fatal Shots
By MONICA DAVEY
CHICAGO — Not a single gun shop can be found in this city because they are outlawed. Handguns were banned in Chicago for decades, too, until 2010, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that was going too far, leading city leaders to settle for restrictions some describe as the closest they could get legally to a ban without a ban. Despite a continuing legal fight, Illinois remains the only state in the nation with no provision to let private citizens carry guns in public.
And yet Chicago, a city with no civilian gun ranges and bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, finds itself laboring to stem a flood of gun violence that contributed to more than 500 homicides last year and at least 40 killings already in 2013, including a fatal shooting of a 15-year-old girl on Tuesday.
To gun rights advocates, the city provides stark evidence that even some of the toughest restrictions fail to make places safer. “The gun laws in Chicago only restrict the law-abiding citizens and they’ve essentially made the citizens prey,” said Richard A. Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. To gun control proponents, the struggles here underscore the opposite — a need for strict, uniform national gun laws to eliminate the current patchwork of state and local rules that allow guns to flow into this city from outside.
“Chicago is like a house with two parents that may try to have good rules and do what they can, but it’s like you’ve got this single house sitting on a whole block where there’s anarchy,” said the Rev. Ira J. Acree, one among a group of pastors here who have marched and gathered signatures for an end to so much shooting. “Chicago is an argument for laws that are statewide or, better yet, national.”
Chicago’s experience reveals the complications inherent in carrying out local gun laws around the nation. Less restrictive laws in neighboring communities and states not only make guns easy to obtain nearby, but layers of differing laws — local and state — make it difficult to police violations. And though many describe the local and state gun laws here as relatively stringent, penalties for violating them — from jail time to fines — have not proven as severe as they are in some other places, reducing the incentive to comply.
Lately, the police say they are discovering far more guns on the streets of Chicago than in the nation’s two more populous cities, Los Angeles and New York. They seized 7,400 guns here in crimes or unpermitted uses last year (compared with 3,285 in New York City), and have confiscated 574 guns just since Jan. 1 — 124 of them last week alone.
More than a quarter of the firearms seized on the streets here by the Chicago Police Department over the past five years were bought just outside city limits in Cook County suburbs, according to an analysis by the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Others came from stores around Illinois and from other states, like Indiana, less than an hour’s drive away. Since 2008, more than 1,300 of the confiscated guns, the analysis showed, were bought from just one store, Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale, Ill., within a few miles of Chicago’s city limits.
Efforts to compare the strictness of gun laws and the level of violence across major American cities are fraught with contradiction and complication, not least because of varying degrees of coordination between local and state laws and differing levels of enforcement. In New York City, where homicides and shootings have decreased, the gun laws are generally seen as at least as strict as Chicago’s, and the state laws in New York and many of its neighboring states are viewed as still tougher than those in and around Illinois. Philadelphia, like cities in many states, is limited in writing gun measures that go beyond those set by Pennsylvania law. Some city officials there have chafed under what they see as relatively lax state controls.
In Chicago, the rules for owning a handgun — rewritten after the outright ban was deemed too restrictive in 2010 — sound arduous. Owners must seek a Chicago firearms permit, which requires firearms training, a background check and a state-mandated firearm owner’s identification card, which requires a different background review for felonies and mental illness. To prevent straw buyers from selling or giving their weapons to people who would not meet the restrictions — girlfriends buying guns for gang members is a common problem, the police here say — the city requires permitted gun owners to report their weapons lost, sold or stolen.
Still, for all the regulations, the reality here looks different. Some 7,640 people currently hold a firearms permit, but nearly that many illicit weapons were confiscated from the city’s streets during last year alone. Chicago officials say Illinois has no requirement, comparable to Chicago’s, that gun owners immediately report their lost or stolen weapons to deter straw buyers. Consequently those outside the city can, in the words of one city official, carry guns to gang members in the city with “zero accountability.”
And a relatively common sentence in state court for gun possession for offenders without other felonies is one year in prison, which really may mean a penalty of six months, said Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state’s attorney, who said such punishments failed to serve as a significant enough deterrent for seasoned criminals who may see a modest prison stint as the price of doing business.
“The way the laws are structured facilitates the flow of those guns to hit our streets,” Garry F. McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent, said in an interview, later adding, “Chicago may have comprehensive gun laws, but they are not strict because the sanctions don’t exist.”
In the weeks since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president, has introduced a countywide provision requiring gun owners beyond the city limits to report lost or stolen guns, though a first offense would result simply in a $1,000 fine. In the city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pressed for increased penalties for those who violate the city’s gun ordinance by failing to report their guns missing or possessing an assault weapon.
“Our gun strategy is only as strong as it is comprehensive, and it is constantly being undermined by events and occurrences happening outside the city — gun shows in surrounding counties, weak gun laws in neighboring states like Indiana and the inability to track purchasing,” Mr. Emanuel said. “This must change.”
State lawmakers, too, are soon expected to weigh new state provisions like an assault weapons ban, as Chicago already has. But the fate of the proposals is uncertain in a state with wide-open farming and hunting territory downstate.
“It’s going to be a fight,” said State Representative Jack D. Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, 60 miles outside Chicago. Complicating matters, an appellate court in December struck down the state’s ban on carrying guns in public, saying that a complete ban on concealed carry is unconstitutional. Illinois is seeking a review of the ruling, even as state lawmakers have been given a matter of months to contemplate conditions under which guns could be allowed in public.
Many here say that even the strictest, most punitive gun laws would not alone be an answer to this city’s violence. “Poverty, race, guns and drugs — you’ve got to deal with all these issues, but you’ve got to start somewhere” said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who was arrested in 2007 while protesting outside Chuck’s Gun Shop, the suburban store long known as a supplier of weapons that make their way to Chicago.
At the store, a clerk said the business followed all pertinent federal, state and local laws, then declined to be interviewed further. Among seized guns that had moved from purchase to the streets of Chicago in a year’s time or less, nearly 20 percent came from Chuck’s, the analysis found. Other guns arrived here that rapidly from gun shops in other parts of this state, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa and more.
“Chicago is not an island,” said David Spielfogel, senior adviser to Mr. Emanuel. “We’re only as strong as the weakest gun law in surrounding states.”