December 19, 2013
By ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh from shackling the traditional blocking ability of the Senate's minority party, Democrats are ready to muscle through President Barack Obama’s nominees for pivotal judgeships and other top jobs.
Despite last month’s Democratic power play, Senate Republicans retain the power to slow, though not derail, Obama’s appointments.
Left unchanged were other rules that the out-of-power party could use to grind the chamber’s work to an excruciating crawl. That ranges from requiring clerks to read voluminous bills and amendments to forcing repeated procedural votes.
“There are so many ways of slowing things down in the Senate,” said Robert Dove, the Senate’s former long-time parliamentarian.
Monday starts a two-week, year-end Senate session in which Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hopes to finish work on a modest budget deal, a defense bill and other lingering items.
It will also be the first test of how Republicans respond to the Democratic changes.
Monday’s meeting marks the chamber’s first since irritable lawmakers left town Nov. 21 for their Thanksgiving break. Earlier that day, Democrats used their 55-45 edge to reshape how filibusters work, trimming the number of votes needed to halt procedural delays against most nominations from 60 to a simple majority.
Democrats pushed through the changes after tiring of what they consider excessive GOP efforts to derail Obama's nominees. The move angered Republicans, who argue that Democrats frequently tried blocking President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
How the GOP responds will become clearer when they return to the Capitol. But in a chamber whose arcane rules give any single senator the ability to throw the brakes on much of its work, partisan friction can hurt.
“The fact is it changes personal relationships with everybody on the other side,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “It has damaged the ability of us to move forward.”
The Senate is vulnerable to delays because its rules technically require votes on almost anything it does. This includes agreeing to not read aloud an entire amendment, agreeing to begin considering nominations, even letting committees meet while the Senate is in session.
To save time, the Senate usually does such things by unanimous consent — a quick voice vote to which no one objects. But angry senators can block fast action.
Democrats could make GOP delays as painful as possible, such as keeping the Senate in all night and on weekends.
“We’re going to seek to achieve as much as we possibly can and hope Republicans will cooperate with us, instead of just using knee-jerk obstruction,” said Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Reid.
Republicans are already using the rules to flex their muscle.
When the Senate recessed for Thanksgiving, it did not approve a batch of noncontroversial nominations and bills, which it usually does before such breaks. With 60 votes still required to end filibusters against legislation, GOP senators are blocking final passage of the defense bill until Reid allows votes on Republican amendments.
On Tuesday, the Senate planned to vote to confirm Patricia Millett to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A vote had been planned for Monday but was postponed because winter weather was making travel difficult.
Millett is a prominent private lawyer who worked in the solicitor general’s office under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, arguing 32 cases before the Supreme Court. Republicans used the old 60-vote requirement for stopping filibusters to prevent a vote on her nomination in October, a blockade that helped prompt Democrats to force the changes.
Her nomination was viewed as key by both sides. The appeals court is disproportionately powerful because it rules on White House actions and federal agency rules. Her ascension will tip the balance of that circuit’s judges to five appointed by Democratic presidents, four by Republicans.
Minutes after the Senate altered the filibuster last month, senators voted by simple majority — and along party lines — to end GOP delays against her. A roll call on final approval has been locked in, and Republicans can do nothing but vote against her.
Over the next two weeks, Reid plans to push five more major nominees through the Senate.
They include Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security and Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. There are also two more Obama picks for the remaining vacancies on the D.C. court — attorney Cornelia “Nina” Pillard and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins.
There is little doubt all five will be approved. But time-consuming GOP delays are possible, especially against Watt. Some Republicans say he is not qualified to run an agency that oversees federally backed home lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
“Their objective was to guarantee success, not to make the Senate more efficient,” said Donald Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “There’s nothing they did that makes the Senate go any faster.”
Under Senate rules, once a filibuster is defeated, senators can debate nominations for circuit court judges and Cabinet-level appointees for 30 hours before a vote on final confirmation. For a lesser post like Watt's, the maximum is eight hours.
“I’m sure he’ll get eight hours of debate because the American people need to know he’s not qualified to fill that position,” said Coburn.
Democrats say Watt, a 21-year veteran of the House Financial Services Committee, is well suited for the job and say Republicans consider him too liberal.
Republicans can also force at least one procedural vote on each nominee before roll calls are taken to end filibusters and for final approval. Each requires only a simple majority for Democrats to prevail.
December 12, 2013
By Xavier Higgs
LAWT Contributing Writer
As the world mourned Nelson Mandela, who died last Thursday at age 95, Hildred “Hal” Walker and AMEN, Inc will continue a commitment to educating South African young people.
Hildred “Hal” Walker, 80, retired aerospace engineer from Hughes Aircraft Company, is co-founder of AMEN, Inc an Inglewood based a science and technology mentoring program.
In 1994, former State Senator Diane Watson invited Hal and wife Dr. Bettye Walker, a retired educator, to visited South Africa as part of a Los Angeles delegation.
About 80 professionals traveled to determine the needs of the new South Africa and how to assist its people. The Walkers were encouraged by what they saw and return to South Africa to explore ways to utilize their expertise.
While visiting the ANC Headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa in 1997 Hal and a group of 14 students from Compton, were introduced to President Mandela.
The President took a break from a cabinet meeting for a photo opts. Included in this meeting was Vice President Thabo Mbeki.
According to Hal, “the President was so impressed with the young people he cancelled his next appointment.”
“He engaged them about their education interest and their preparation for the future,” says Hal.
Many of the students spoke about space technology and their ambitions in life.
Hal recalls, Mr. Mandela “seemed amazed at their level of knowledge and technological awareness.”
Mr. Mandela was visibly impressed with the impact of the AMEN. He asked Hal and Dr. Walker if they would come back and duplicate the AMAN program in South Africa.
“We said yes, how could we refuse Nelson Mandela,” says Hal.
For 13 years Hal and Bettye commute to and from South Africa.
Before retiring Hal spent some 35 years in the laser industry, and was responsible for the Laser Ranging experiment conducted during Apollo 11.
AMAN was formed 1986 in Compton, CA from a research grant. It was created to study the decline of the African American male.
Along with Rotary International, they worked with a farm school. Today AMAN is affiliated with 10 sites in South Africa. These schools are located in the Johannesburg and Cape Towns areas. AMAN’s headquarters is located in Cape Town.
Hal says it was former President Mandela’s goal to bring South Africa’s education system into the 21st century using a new learning method. There is an educational gap in the country. He saw the AMAN youngsters, ages 9 to 14, as a model of what can be done with the youth of South Africa and build the next generation of South Africans.
He is proud of their success. AMAN has its first Ph.D. in computer science and in 2004 one of their high school students participated in JPL’s Mars rover program.
In addition to AMEN’s success, Hal is instrumental in establishing a chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
The question is “where do we go in South Africa,” says Hal. “We must make sure there is a sustained educational program as well as jobs in South Africa. This includes turning around the aids epidemic. AMAN’s job is to continue Mandela’s dream through our education models.”
December 12, 2013
By George E. Curry
SOWETO, South Africa (NNPA) – President Barack Obama described Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first Black elected president, as “the last great liberator of the 20th century” and thanked the grieving nation for sharing their beloved former leader with the rest of the world.
Speaking Tuesday at a rain-soaked memorial service here attended by nearly 100 current and former international leaders, Obama said, “It is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life like no other. To the people of South Africa, people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and your hope found expression in his life. And your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.”
Mandela died last Thursday at the age of 95 after a long illness. The memorial service kicked off a week of celebrations that will culminate Sunday with his burial in his ancestral village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape region. Flags are flying throughout the country at half-staff.
Coincidentally, the memorial service fell on United Nations Human Rights Day. Obama used the occasion to deliver stern words to leaders who repress their own people yet profess to admire Mandela, whom Obama mostly referred to as Madiba, the former president’s Xhosa tribal name.
“There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” President Obama said. “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”
Like many U.S. civil rights leaders, Obama drew a parallel between Mandela’s struggle for majority rule in South Africa and African-Americans’ struggle to overcome slavery and Jim Crow laws that treated Blacks as second-class citizens.
“We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice – the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle,” Obama said to applause. “But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.”
Mandela, a former amateur boxer, gave his last public speech in the soccer stadium where the tribute was held. Fittingly, the stadium is located in Soweto, a township were Blacks were forced to live under apartheid and where Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu have homes.
Accompanying Obama on Air Force One were former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter arrived in South Africa on separate aircrafts.
Like many international gatherings, journalists observe every detail, including whether adversaries shake hands.
Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands but, White House officials were quick to note that it amounted to nothing more than an exchange of pleasantries.
“Nothing was planned in terms of the president’s role other than his remarks,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama. “He really didn’t do more than exchange greetings with those leaders on his way to speak, it wasn’t a substantive discussion.”
The fact that Obama and Castro were at the same event demonstrated the breath of Mandela’s impact on their world.
“He was more than one of the greatest leaders of our time. He was one of our greatest teachers,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told those in attendance. “His baobab tree has left deep roots that reach across the planet.”
Following in the footsteps of Mandela is a tough act to follow, as South African President Jacob Zuma has already discovered. He and the ruling ANC Party are unpopular because of a poor economy and record economic inequality. When Zuma rose to give the keynote speech Tuesday, he was widely booed. Some gave the thumbs down sign or rolled their wrists, a soccer gesture for substitution.
“There is no one like Madiba. He was one of a kind,” Zuma said, as the booing subsided. “Mandela believed in collective leadership. He never wanted to be viewed as a messiah or a saint. He recognized that all of his achievements were a result of working with the A.N.C. collective.”
President Obama relayed how Mandela’s fight for freedom impacted him personally.
“Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us.”
Gen. Thanduxolo Mandela, a relative who offered one of the eulogies, said: “I am sure Madiba is smiling from above as he looks down at the multitude of diversity gathered here, for this is what he strove for – the equality of man, the brotherhood of humanity.”
December 12, 2013
By Thandisizwe Chimurenga
LAWT Contributing Writer
This week began a 10-day period of national mourning and celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela throughout South Africa. The 95-year old statesman passed away Dec. 5, 2013 after a prolonged respiratory illness and a lifetime of struggle to free the country from violent white minority rule that officially lasted from 1948 until 1994.
Based on observations of social and traditional media, it appears that both within South Africa and worldwide, Mandela is being hailed by two different groups of people: those who remember him as an impassioned yet calm and rational thinker who felt the use of arms was absolutely necessary to end the brutal rule of apartheid – “separateness” – in his homeland of South Africa; and those who say he forgave his enemies and became a pacifist – a believer in the power and use of non-violence – after he had been imprisoned for 27 years.
Additionally it appears that, also based on observation, key pieces of Mandela's legacy are being overlooked: the economic status of the country nearly 20 years after Mandela became president, and the role of his former wife, Winnie Mandela, in both his life and the political struggle in South Africa.
After graduating from the University of Fort Hare in 1943, Mandela began the study of law and became a founder in 1944 of the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest organization in South Africa dedicated to fighting for the rights of Blacks. Mandela, along with Youth League co-founders Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo (who was also his partner in a law firm), would eventually rise to leadership positions in the ANC. Throughout the 1950s the ANC engaged in different acts of protest against the white minority government and the various laws designed to keep Blacks in their place. After a series of direct action campaigns against the South African government were met with the full power of the police and the army resulting in scores of deaths in the late 1950s – early 1960s, Mandela led the founding of the armed wing of the ANC called Umkhonto we Sizwe – Spear of the Nation – in 1961 and became its chairman.
The purpose of Umkhonto was to engage in acts of sabotage directed at South Africa's military and its infrastructure. Since Mandela was “banned” due to his political activities – he was not supposed to leave his home – he traveled secretly throughout not just South Africa but across the continent of Africa from 1961 through 1962 raising money to fund the organization and then, in August he was arrested. Rumors have swirled for years that the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) played a role in his arrest but nothing has been substantiated, and Mandela said in his autobiography “Long Walk To Freedom” that his arrest was due to his own carelessness.
Once arrested, Mandela went on trial for leaving the country without permission and encouraging workers’ strikes. He would be found guilty and sentenced to prison but while this was happening, evidence linking him to Umkhonto we Sizwe was found by the police. He would then be tried for acts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. Found guilty in 1963, Mandela would be sentenced to life in prison where he would remain for the next 27 years.
During that 27-year imprisonment Mandela never wavered in his support for the use of arms to bring about the downfall of apartheid. Amnesty International, the London-based organization which calls on governments worldwide to release what it calls “prisoners of conscience,” sympathized with Mandela’s plight in the early years of his imprisonment but they could not name him as one of their prisoners of conscience, notes Terry Coonan, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University, because Mandela was committed to that principle of using arms to bring about political change.
Mandela “went into prison anti white, anti Afrikaner” said Coonan (Afrikaner is the name the white minority in South Afrika called themselves). “He came out pacifist, very strongly.”
Coonan argues that this is part of the great legacy that Mandela leaves behind. “His thinking had readily changed on violence. [Mandela was] a person who could get mortal enemies to sit down at a table; that is one of his greatest legacies.
Also part of Mandela's legacy, according to Coonan, is how Mandela led South Africa in the adopting of international law standards. “South Africa went from being an outlier in the international community, and within four or five years … embraced international law. South Africa has ratified far more international laws than the U.S. has. The Rome Protocol of the International Criminal Court, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the role that international law plays” are key parts of Mandela's legacy that stand today, Coonan says. “The way he also took on complex issues like poverty, AIDS and crime … he didn't operate at 30,000 feet [above the people], he was a man of the people and so he had an understanding of those issues from that place, and that had an effect on people in Africa and beyond.
Bill Fletcher disagrees with some of us Coonan's analysis. A labor and social justice activist for over 30 years, Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum, which exists to positively influence U.S. policy toward Africa.
“Mandela was no pacifist when he came out of prison. He was a very realistic liberation fighter, and what he concluded was that neither the ANC or the South African government could win militarily. Neither side could win militarily, and as a result he concluded, as did the ANC, that they needed to engage in negotiation. He understood the need to compromise because neither side can take the other. That's very different from being pacifist,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher went on to extoll what he considered to be some of the other parts of Mandela's legacy: “His courage in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles; a long-term perspective that he understood, as did the other leaders, that the struggle against apartheid is going to take a long time and you will need patience as well as passion and energy, and that you should not expect some sort of silver bullet; and that Mandela himself recognized that he was one person among a litany of great leaders in South Africa – there is a tendency to forget that; a tendency to place on Mandela sole responsibility for the movement, not recognizing that there were countless other leaders … and that there were other organizations of significance in the struggle – Mandela never forgot that, and he talked about the necessity of organization and the need to be accountable to an organization,” Fletcher said.
Activists around the world and within the U.S. who followed South Africa's struggle say that the contributions of Winnie Mandela should not be separated from Nelson Mandela's legacy. Throughout their 27-year imprisonment, Winnie Mandela was an active participant in the South Africa freedom struggle and at one point during Nelson's 27-year imprisonment, Winnie endured 18 months in solitary confinement.
“[Winnie Mandela's] picture helped [Nelson] remain strong and steadfast throughout those years of imprisonment,” state Emira Woods, the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus, which is housed at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.
“[Winnie] herself is a freedom fighter,” said Woods. “[Nelson] was married before, then, essentially met Winnie in the struggle; they were both active.”
Many observers and supporters of South Africa's liberation struggle credited Winnie with keeping Nelson's name front and center during his imprisonment. They looked on with a degree of dismay and sadness when, after walking out of prison hand in hand with Winnie in 1990, the couple would divorce in 1995, one year after Nelson became the first Black/African president of South Africa in the country's first democratic, multi-racial elections. The Mandelas’ divorce had a mixture of the personal (charges of infidelity) as well as the political (differences in ideology) which, more than likely, should have been expected in such a high-profile marriage that was rooted in such an intense national liberation struggle. According to Woods, “Winnie wanted to pursue more militant strategies. [Nelson] was trying to avert a blood bath, make sure [the country] did not descend into civil war. That's a clear sort of difference in strategies. Winnie was also looking at full emancipation, which means economic emancipation, which means the lives of the people in the street are bettered.”
Fletcher elaborated on the aspect of economic liberation that many say Nelson Mandela “left out” of his presidency, and now also comprises part of his legacy.
“The ANC made a campaign promise of redevelopment; if they won there would be wealth redistribution and a strengthening of the welfare state. One year later, they made a fateful decision to scrap the redevelopment program and instead implement a program that was consistent with the “Washington Consensus,” neoliberalism. In addition to instituting privatization [of key government sectors], the government – with the ANC in power and Mandela as president – made the decision to pay back the debt the previous [white minority] government “ had accumulated, fighting Black folks, borrowing all kinds of resources to fight the front line states and strengthen the apparatus of the apartheid regime.”
In a Dec. 8, 2013 article on the website Global Research, Dr. James Winter, a professor of Communication, Media & Film at the University of Windsor in Ontario Canada writes, “With its wrists handcuffed, Mandela's ANC opted for neo-liberal shock therapy of more privatization, cutbacks to government spending, looser controls on money flows, fewer labour laws, and selling off state-owned firms to service a horrendous debt owed to the oppressors” Winter quotes Naomi Klein, the author of Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism as saying that Mandela told the members of the ANC “that the globalization of capital 'makes it impossible for countries to decide national economic policy'..." in 1997, three years into his presidency.
Additionally, Fletcher states, the removal of trade barriers – the boycotting and divesting directed toward South Africa that had gone on for years – ironically created the loss of thousands of jobs in South Africa. Since South Africa was a pariah among the world's nations, they had to rely on themselves in practically every industry; once apartheid ended and the trade barriers lifted, companies that had been forced to stay in South Africa left to other countries in Africa to get a cheaper workforce.
“So in 2013, the scorecard is very mixed,” said Fletcher. “The apartheid state has been eliminated; great advancements have been made in electricity, sewage, water, housing, but it hasn't gone far enough. Economic polarization is great; land has not been redistributed on any great scale.”
“Nelson led a movement for political emancipation, and the bigger struggle for economic justice is still going on, and Winnie played a role in reminding not only Nelson but the world that that struggle is not complete, not over …,” said Woods.
As the celebrations and accolades continue to roll in for Nelson Mandela, Fletcher says a note would be wise, especially for those of us within the United States. “Could [Nelson] have done more? Probably. Would he have liked the ANC to have done more? Sure. Given who he was at that point [in his life], he made certain decisions that needed to be respected … We can disagree. But did we spend decades in Robben Island Prison? There's room for humility when reflecting on the life and legacy of Mandela. Doesn't mean we hold back on our criticism; it just means there is no need to be self-righteous with our criticisms.”