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Never Mind the Doubters: The Iran Deal Is Good Enough

| Sat Apr. 11, 2015 9:12 AM EDT
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif applauds after the conclusion of nuclear talks in Switzerland.

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to have Cheryl Rofer, who for 35 years worked as a chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. If you don't follow her already, be sure to check out her writing on national security, women's issues, science, and nuclear power and weapons at Nuclear Diner.

When I started blogging in November 2004, Kevin was already defining the field with short, topical posts and Friday Cat Blogging. The internet was a smaller place then, and most of us knew all the others, or at least knew of them. We argued. We linked to each other, hoping to boost our SEO. We shared each others' successes and mourned when Inkblot disappeared. Kevin has been a good companion over the years. His broad coverage of topics and to-the-point style are touchstones, even as I stray into the wonkier corners of the news.

Recently, I've been writing a lot about the recent negotiations with Iran. A few days past a deadline that had nuclear wonks on the edge of their seats, the talks between Tehran and officials from six other nations brought forth a plan for a plan.

That's not nothing, although it sounds vague. Some vagueness is necessary to keep all sides happy—and that means that any description of the deal will sound vague. The United States and its partners in the P5+1 would like a neatly written-down to-do list (which they have sorta provided), and Iran's Supreme Leader has decreed that all must be written down just once—exactly when isn't yet clear. The results of negotiations must be spun by the sides to their very different bases.

In America, two consensuses are building. Most in the arms control community and a wide swath of foreign policy experts, including some conservatives, feel that the deal as described in that fact sheet is better than expected and should keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for the next decade or more. Not bad.

The more hawkish consensus ranges from bombing Iran now to leaving the talks in hopes of a better deal, which amounts to bombing Iran later. Why not, when you're confident it would take only a few days of air strikes? They say the deal is no good because it does not guarantee Iranian compliance for perpetuity and does not totally destroy Iran's enrichment and other nuclear capabilities. Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is apoplectic, but what else is new?

The same hawks also assured us back in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk. Their arguments this time around are just as boneheaded. According to the fact sheet, Iran would enter into agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; that would be, as much in perpetuity as any international deal can be. Under that treaty, Iran is entitled to peaceful nuclear energy, and, like any other country with smart scientists, can figure out how to make nuclear weapons. Bombs can't change that.

The final deal remains to be negotiated. The fact sheet is only an outline, and some issues will be easier to solve than others. Still to be worked out: Sanctions, particularly the schedule on which they are to be lifted. A list of research and development activities that Iran is allowed to pursue may or may not have been drawn up in Lausanne. Details on how Iran's enriched uranium stockpile will be reduced and the redesign of the Arak reactor are missing.

The extent of Iran's past activity on nuclear weapons was relegated to the IAEA by the P5+1 throughout the negotiations, and is a lesser provision in the fact sheet. Do we have to know all Iran's dirty secrets to police a future agreement? Probably not.

The Supreme Leader issued a tweet stream that seems to give his blessing for a deal to go forward, but his words were unclear enough that domestic hardliners could seize on them in an attempt to scuttle the deal. Iran's President Rouhani has voiced his support. In Israel, even the general who bombed the Osirak reactor thinks it's a good deal.

Stateside, President Obama is doing what he can to move the agreement along, talking to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the author of the bill most likely to throw a wrench in the machinery. Democrats who once supported that bill are now reconsidering that stance. The President has given major interviews to Tom Friedman and NPR. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, who was part of the negotiations, is talking to the press.

Yes, if the sanctions are lifted, Iran might be able to make other sorts of trouble in the Middle East. But it's doing that anyway. We won't know for some time whether an agreement can mellow Iran by opening it to the world and better economic conditions.

If an agreement can be negotiated to completion, Iran can't get the bomb for a decade or more. That's enough for now.

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The Guy Who Filmed Eric Garner's Death Is Still Fighting To Get Out of Jail

| Fri Apr. 10, 2015 2:55 PM EDT
The Rev. Al Sharpton introduces Ramsey Orta at Eric Garner's funeral in July 2014. Julia Xanthos/AP

Update: Ramsey Orta was released from Rikers Island on Friday night and is now with his family, according to his lawyers. Earlier on Friday, the Staten Island district attorney's office canceled Orta's "bond source" hearing after reviewing paperwork submitted by the bail bondsman regarding the crowd-funded bail money. "We were satisfied that it met the requirements of the statute," said Daniel Master, the chief assistant district attorney.

It's been a rough eight months for the man who shot the video of Eric Garner's death. Since Garner was killed by a police officer's chokehold on a Staten Island sidewalk last July, Ramsey Orta, the 23-year-old who filmed the scene, has been arrested twice and has spent the past two months in Rikers Island. According to his attorneys, Orta believes he has been targeted by New York police in retaliation for having shot the video, which became a flash point for the growing civil-rights movement against police brutality.

Orta also fears that jail officials will try to poison him. "He's not eating the food that Rikers provides him," one of his attorneys, William Aronin, says. "Instead, he's surviving right now off of candy bars, chips, things he can get on the vending machine or the commissary. He's hungry, he is not happy, and he is scared."

Last month, 19 other inmates at the jail filed a lawsuit alleging that they had fallen ill after being served meatloaf with blue-green pellets in it. They say the pellets were rat poison, a claim which New York City Department of Correction officials have dismissed. Orta has not eaten any food served at the jail since the incident, his attorneys say. Department of Correction officials were not immediately available to respond to requests for comment.

About two weeks after Garner's death, Orta was arrested for allegedly passing a gun to a 17-year-old girl. He was sent to Rikers Island and was subsequently released. He was later arrested for allegedly selling drugs. His attorneys say it is likely Orta's cases will go to trial. "We have to get him out of jail as soon as possible so that one, he's safe, and two, he can prepare for his defense," Aronin says.

On Thursday morning, Orta posted $16,250 bail with donations that he'd received on a crowdfunding website. His family has been trying to raise $100,000 for bail and legal fees, and over the past month more than 1,800 people have contributed more than $47,000.

"He should have been out today," says Ken Perry, another of Orta's lawyers. But the Staten Island district attorney's office isn't letting Orta leave just yet. The assistant district attorney prosecuting the case against Orta has requested a bail source hearing to "determine the funds being used did not come from an illegal or illicit source," explains a spokesman from the DA's office said. The bail source hearing is scheduled for this afternoon.

Orta's attorneys say they have provided the district attorney's office with an approximately 115-page packet with names and details about everyone who has donated to their client's campaign. The packet also includes copies of the transfers from the crowdfunding website to Orta's aunt, and from her to the bail bondsman. "Why are they keeping him in when it's so patently obvious where this money came from?" Aronin asks.

Family members were upset by the news of the delay. "My heart is extremely heavy, these past two months have been pure hell for Ramsey," his aunt, Lisa Mercado, wrote on his crowdthefunding page, which received a flood of donations this morning. "You are not alone, Ramsey," one donor commented. "You did something brave for all Americans."

In December, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in Garner's death. In Orta's video, Pantaleo can be seen wrestling Garner to the ground and wrapping an arm around his neck.

Orta has reportedly been arrested 27 times since 2009 for alleged offenses including drug possession, robbery, and fare evasion. His attorneys say the majority of the arrests have not led to charges, and that they believe Orta's claims of being unfairly targeted are viable. "There's something more going on than would normally be the case were this not Ramsey Orta," Perry says. "There are things here that are not right."

Bonus Friday Cat Blogging - 10 April 2015

| Fri Apr. 10, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

Quick health update: the stem cell collection went swimmingly this week. We now have loads and loads of fresh stem cells frozen and waiting for me when I go back for the final stage of chemotherapy. I got home yesterday, and at the moment I'm still fighting off some residual drowsiness from a week full of fairly powerful painkillers, but I've stopped taking them now and should be fine in a day or two. I hope.

The cats are fitting in nicely at my sister's house. Last night they woke her up at 3 am to play, which is certainly a good sign. We have two pictures of the furballs this week. On the top is Hilbert, caught in the act of knocking over (1) Big Ben and (2) the Eiffel Tower from the top of a bookcase. On the bottom, both Hopper and Hilbert are staring intently at the front door even though nothing is there. But you never know. There might be something there any second. Best to keep one's eyes peeled, no?

Hillary Clinton Is Focusing on the Middle Class—And That's a Good Thing

| Fri Apr. 10, 2015 11:30 AM EDT

Matt Yglesias takes a look at an economic blueprint from the Center for American Progress and suggests it's a useful proxy for Hillary Clinton's upcoming presidential campaign:

In some ways, it defies stereotypes of the Clintons as standard-bearers for neoliberal centrism by endorsing fiscal stimulus and a strong pro-labor union agenda while downplaying the strong education-reform streak of the Obama administration. But it's also notable for the Obama-era liberal ambitions it pushes aside. In the main recommendations for the United States, there's no cap-and-trade or carbon tax in here, no public option for health care, and no effort to break up or shrink the largest banks. Nor is there an ambitious agenda to tackle poverty.

Instead, you get a multi-pronged push to boost middle-class incomes. After an extended period in which Democratic Party politics has been dominated by health care for the poor, environmental regulation, and internecine fights about Wall Street, Hillarynomics looks like back-to-basics middle-class populism. It should in many ways further infuriate Clinton's left-wing intellectual critics — and then further infuriate them by turning out to be an agenda that makes the party's voting base perfectly happy.

....The report is especially striking for its endorsement of labor market regulations not normally associated with the Summers wing of Democratic thinking....On the non-wage front, inclusive growth calls for paid (gender-neutral) parental leave, expanded Family and Medical Leave Act eligibility, and universal paid sick days and paid vacation days — all loosely under the banner of increasing women's labor force participation. Clinton has, in the past, field-tested feminist frames as a means of selling big government.

None of this should come as a surprise. The Great Recession spawned a great deal of government help to the poor from the Obama administration but not a lot for the middle class, and politically the biggest problem Democrats now face is offering concrete programs for the middle class to compete with yet another round of tax cut proposals from the Republican field.

But the truth is that this helps the poor too, in the long run. Middle-class workers with stagnant incomes have become less and less willing to support more spending on the poor. That's just human nature. But if Hillary can successfully get the economy into a higher gear and funnel some of that money to the middle class, eventually things will ease up and it will become easier to win support for higher benefits to the poor.

I don't know if Hillary's proposals will go far enough, but they're the right thing to do. For the time being at least, Washington needs to focus on the middle class for a while.

Elizabeth Warren Explains How Washington Corruption Protects the "Tender Fannies" of The Rich

| Fri Apr. 10, 2015 9:54 AM EDT

During a spot on the "Daily Show" Thursday night, Senator Elizabeth Warren broke down the ways in which big banks and large corporations have rigged Washington politicians in order to ensure "the tender fannies of the rich and the powerful are always carefully protected."

"Powerful corporations, rich people, have figured out that if you can bend the government to help you just a little bit, it’s a tremendous payoff," Warren told host Jon Stewart. "And if you can bend it to help you just a little bit more, and a little bit more, the playing field just gets more and more tilted, and the rich and the powerful just do better and better."

The Massachusetts senator, whose appearance was tied to her book A Fighting Chance, went on to explain how both the steady circulation of money and the constant presence of lobbyists in Washington have worked together to create a culture in which such corruption is the norm. Watch below:

Even If Walter Scott's Family Wins in Court, the Cop Won't Pay a Dime

| Fri Apr. 10, 2015 9:45 AM EDT
Anthony Scott holds a photo of himself, center, and his brothers Walter Scott, left, and Rodney Scott, right, at his home near North Charleston, S.C., April 8, 2015.

The family of Walter Scott, the man who died on Saturday after being shot eight times by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, has decided to sue Slager, the city of North Charleston, and its police department. The civil lawsuit, which will seek damages for wrongful death and civil rights violations, follows murder charges already filed against the now-dismised officer.

Scott's family is hardly the first to seek civil damages after a police killing. In recent months, relatives of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner have all pursued civil court claims, where success isn't contingent on a criminal ruling against any police officer. But in the event that the Scott family wins a settlement, it's highly unlikely that Slager himself will have to pay. As I reported in January:

Instead, taxpayers will shoulder the cost. Between 2006 and 2011, New York City paid out $348 million in settlements or judgments in cases pertaining to civil rights violations by police, according to a UCLA study published in June 2014. Those nearly 7,000 misconduct cases included allegations of excessive use of force, sexual assault, unreasonable searches, and false arrests. More than 99 percent of the payouts came from the city's municipal budget, which has a line item dedicated to settlements and judgments each year. (The city did require police to pay a tiny fraction of the total damages, with officers personally contributing in less than 1 percent of the cases for a total of $114,000.)

This scenario is typical of police departments across the country, says the study's author Joanna Schwartz, who analyzed records from 81 law enforcement agencies employing 20 percent of the nation's approximately 765,000 police officers. (The NYPD, which is responsible for three-quarters of the cases in the study, employs just over 36,000 officers.) Out of the more than $735 million paid out by cities and counties for police misconduct between 2006 and 2011, government budgets paid more than 99 percent. Local laws indemnifying officers from responsibility for such damages vary, but "there is little variation in the outcome," Schwartz wrote. "Officers almost never pay."

Schwartz's study did not include North Charleston or any other law enforcement agency in South Carolina. But if other jurisdictions serve as any indication, Slager likely won't pay a dime, even if a jury finds him guilty of murdering Scott. Out of the 7,000 cases of police misconduct Schwartz studied, only 700 officers were convicted of a criminal charge. And only 40 officers ever contributed to a civil settlement out of their own pocket.

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Hillary Clinton May Ruin Pundits' Weekend, Announce Campaign Sunday

| Fri Apr. 10, 2015 8:53 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton is set to announce her run for president this Sunday, The Guardian, CNN, and other outlets are reporting. She reportedly plans to release a video with the news on Twitter and follow up with campaigns stops in Iowa.

If she secures the Democratic nomination, Clinton will become the first woman from either major party on the presidential ballot. For a deeper dive into the key players inside her campaign, read our inside look at the man tasked to guide her to the White House.

I Can't Stop Laughing At This Photo Of David Cameron

| Thu Apr. 9, 2015 6:45 PM EDT

The British go to the polls next month to determine whether Tory PM David Cameron gets to stay at 10 Downing St or if Ed Miliband and Labour get to form a government. Polls are close. It's getting down to the wire. Fascinating stuff. This post is not about that.

During a photo-op at a school in Westhoughton yesterday, Cameron gave some students a "reading lesson." But what one precocious child learned was how to steal the scene.

I wish the kid had fallen asleep because that would be hilarious but the video makes clear she only momentarily "head-desked" out of embarrassment after stumbling on a word.

(Don't worry, kid. It happems.)

The photo is amazing but even more amazing is that the same thing happened to Australian Tory PM Tony Abbott last year.

Since things tend to happen in threes, Canadian Tory PM Stephen Harper should consider himself warned.

Fox News Host Sees No Racial Factor in South Carolina Killing

| Thu Apr. 9, 2015 2:41 PM EDT

Fox News host Greg Gutfeld is not racist. How not racist is Greg Gutfeld? Very not racist! You're a racist. (You're a racist.) But Gutfield doesn't even see race. What's race? A race? Are we running a race? The word "race" for Greg Gutfeld only has one definition: a competition of speed.

White cop guns down unarmed black man in cold blood: a thing that happens unbelievably often in the United States. Almost always the cop gets to walk away scot-free. But this time the cop is actually charged with murder! Not because South Carolina is so evolved (haha), but because a video emerges that puts on display the undeniable reality of the cop's crime.

The Fox News chyron even calls it straight: "Video shows white police officer shooting black man in back." But apparently the Fox News chyron is less evolved than Fox News host Greg Gutfeld. Because Greg Gutfeld saw something else:

"I didn't see a black man killed by a white cop. I saw a man shoot another man in the back."

If Greg Gutfeld were at Wounded Knee, he'd say he didn't see white soldiers massacring Native-Americans.

If he were at Stonewall, he'd say he didn't see straight cops beating gay men.

And if he were in Pleasantville, he'd say he never saw color.

(via TPM)

Finally, a Candidate for People Who Think Jeb Bush Isn't WASPy Enough

| Thu Apr. 9, 2015 1:56 PM EDT
Tanned. Tested. Ready. Chafee.

Last week it was Ted Cruz. On Wednesday it was Rand Paul. And now, meet your newest presidential candidate: former Rhode Island Republican senator turned former Rhode Island Democratic governor Lincoln Chafee! Bet you didn't see that one coming.

Rhode Island Public Radio reported the news this morning:

Chafee said the launch of his exploratory committee will be made via videos posted on his website, Chafee2016.com.

"Throughout my career, I exercised good judgment on a wide range of high-pressure decisions, decisions that require level-headedness and careful foresight," said Chafee. "Often these decisions came in the face of political adversity. During the next weeks and months I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts about the future of our great country."

Lincoln Chafee, of the Rhode Island Chafees, won't be the next president, although he does enter the Democratic primary with strong name recognition among people who use "summer" as a verb. Chafee's father, great-great grandfather, and great-great uncle all previously served as governor of the state. Lincoln ran for the family seat only after losing his spot in the Senate in 2006 to Sheldon Whitehouse (of the Rhode Island Whitehouses), whose father had roomed with Chafee's father at some college in New Haven before entering the diplomatic corps (like his father before him).

But there is something worth highlighting in his announcement interview:

Chafee said his focus will be on building a strong middle class coupled with environmental stewardship. Chafee, who voted against former President George W. Bush's Iraq War, noted that Mrs. Clinton voted for it. He said he aims to send a clear message that "unilateral military intervention has damaged American interests around the world."

Did you catch that? It's easy to forget now that she's the email-destroying, dictator-courting villain of Benghazi, but there was a time when Hillary Clinton's biggest weakness was something else entirely: Iraq. Clinton's support for that war (and her inability to assuage its opponents) was the fuel for Sen. Barack Obama's rise in the polls in 2007. Eight years later, the issue has been all but erased from the political debate.

Don't bet on Chafee being the man who brings it back.