Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Israeli Historian Benny Morris: The Attack Will Not Solve The Gaza Problem

One section of Israeli historian Benny Morris's essay, "Why Israel Feels Threatened," stood out for me: his realistic assessment of Israel's dilemma in Gaza:

...the attack will not solve the basic problem posed by a Gaza Strip populated by 1.5 million impoverished, desperate Palestinians who are ruled by a fanatic regime and are tightly hemmed in by fences and by border crossings controlled by Israel and Egypt.

An enormous Israeli ground operation aimed at conquering the Gaza Strip and destroying Hamas would probably bog down in the alleyways of refugee camps before achieving its goal. (And even if these goals were somehow achieved, renewed and indefinite Israeli rule over Gaza would prove unpalatable to all concerned.)

More likely are small, limited armored incursions, intended to curtail missile launches and kill Hamas fighters. But these are also unlikely to bring the organization to heel — though they may exercise sufficient pressure eventually to achieve, with the mediation of Turkey or Egypt, a renewed temporary truce. That seems to be the most that can be hoped for, though a renewal of rocket attacks on southern Israel, once Hamas recovers, is as certain as day follows night.

The longer this military campaign goes on, the less clear its strategic purpose is. Recently I read that Israel does not intend to reoccupy Gaza or overthrow Hamas. A reoccupation of the hostile, packed area is clearly undesirable, and the overthrow of Hamas could bring even more instability. For one thing, who is to replace Hamas?

On the other hand, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel is engaged in an "all-out war with Hamas." This is a strange all-out war, then, since it apparently doesn't seek the complete destruction of the enemy. Yet if it doesn't, what is the purpose of the constant bombing?

Of course, Israel learned in Lebanon that bombing alone isn't sufficient for obliterating the enemy and destroying its weapon supplies. For that, combat troops are necessary, at a great cost in blood to both troops and civilians–and the latter are already suffering tremendously. It's unclear whether Israel wants to pay that price and to what end.

Even though Israel planned the Gaza invasion for months, its aims are hard to discern. If, as Morris states, the realistic, albeit unfortunate, option is limited incursions, a cease fire, more rockets and another incursion, what is all this pounding for?

Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, all Hamas has to do to emerge politically stronger is to withstand the Israeli assault. A strengthened Hamas is not a positive prospect. Hamas is a rejectionist, terrorist, religious fundamentalist group. Yet like with Hezbollah, Israel will bear a good deal of responsibility if the one clear result of this massive death and destruction is to present Hamas with a public relations bonanza.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tribute To Harold Pinter: "What Has Happened To Our Moral Sensibility?"

British playwright Harold Pinter, who died on December 24th, had a gift for evoking a sense of menace and claustrophobia, even within a pause. The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, Pinter was suffering from cancer of the esophagus and could not travel to Stockholm to attend the awards ceremony. Instead, he delivered his lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics," in a wheelchair via recorded video.

Pinter's acceptance speech, the entirety of which is shown above, included a stinging attack on American foreign policy and on Britain's supporting role. In contemplating the Bush administration's war in Iraq, detention policies and use of torture, Pinter again invited us to consider the themes of violence, power and morality treated in his drama:

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. ...What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

Pinter's words are especially relevant now that Dick Cheney has stated that he approved of torture, including waterboarding. So we have a vice president who admits to his status as a war criminal, in full defiance, as Pinter put it, of the Geneva Convention, as well as the War Crimes Act. In addition, the unrepentant Cheney maintains that the legality of an action during wartime is based on whether the president decides to do it. As a "general proposition," of course.

"What has happened to our moral sensibility?" Pinter asked. In listening to Dick Cheney, the man who has served as our vice president over the past eight years, we realize that Harold Pinter never stopped haunting us with the right questions.

Israel's Gaza Invasion: The Question Of Limits And Goals

Israel and Hamas have been playing a game of brinksmanship since their cease-fire ended, and the current conflagration is therefore no surprise. Exactly what was Hamas thinking in allowing rocket fire to target Israeli towns bordering Gaza? Did they really believe that Israel would allow such a situation to continue without a military response? Is there any country in the world that would?

On the other hand, Israel aggravated the situation by continuing the economic siege, something Hamas thought the cease fire would end. Severely limiting the numbers of goods to cross into Gaza has placed the citizens there in a desperate situation, with many suffering from malnutrition. While this in no way justifies indiscriminately firing rockets into Israeli towns like Sderot, there's no question that Israel has been engaged in collective punishment, a human rights violation. One of the siege's chief purposes, to cause a rift between the citizens of Gaza and Hamas, will not work. It only causes the population to rally around their government. In addition, as the U.S. saw in Iraq, sanctions hurt average citizens, not the rulers.

While Israel has the right–indeed, the obligation–to protect its citizens, it has been known to adopt a sledgehammer approach coupled with grandiose ambitions. During the 1982 Lebanon war, one of Ariel Sharon's goals was to install a friendly government. During the 2006 Lebanon war, Israel sought to destroy Hezbollah. Neither goal was realized. In both cases, however, the extent of Israeli bombing obscured the original, reasonable aim of defending the borders. As of this writing, with nearly 300 killed, including young police cadets, and the Islamic University bombed, the charge of "disproportionate force" is being heard once again.

Israel now considers all of Hamas a target. If Hamas is destroyed, what is to take its place? Complete chaos? A re-occupation of the area? The installation of Hamas' rival Fatah, which now rules the West Bank (an impossible option, since Fatah would be accused of collusion). What are the limits to Israel's actions and what are its goals? In this regard, I agree with a recent editorial in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

...working toward long-term goals that would completely change the landscape in the region, like toppling Hamas from power in Gaza, is liable to turn out to be a wild fantasy. It would be best to make do with immediate goals and with measured, calculated accomplishments that could restore quiet, particularly the cease-fire Israel enjoyed for five months, which enabled Gaza residents to lead reasonable lives.

...It would behoove both sides to enlist every possible mediator - from Egypt to Qatar to the United States and Europe - to implement those terms. One may assume that the military message Israel sent was fully understood. It would be best not to turn it into a disaster that would preclude a future agreement.

The first step toward implementing terms of agreement is a cessation of hostilities. An extended military operation and mounting casualties could render another cease fire out of reach.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Eartha Kitt

Seductive chanteuse, actress and dancer, Eartha Kitt passed away at 81 on Thursday. The multi-talented performer was one of the first prominent African-American sex symbols, called by Orson Welles "the most exciting woman alive." In fact, Welles was so taken with Kitt that he once bit her on stage. 

The outspoken Kitt criticized the Vietnam war at a White House luncheon attended by about 50 women, telling Lady Bird Johnson, "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. They don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam." Her career was derailed for four years after her statement. She performed mostly overseas and was investigated by the FBI and the CIA.

The multilingual Eartha Kitt is shown above performing "C'est Si Bon" in 1962.

Candidate For Republican Party Chairman Sends Out Racist CD

Chip Saltsman, candidate for Republican party chairman and former campaign manager for Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign, sent out a CD, "We Hate The USA," that contains a racist song, "Barack the Magic Negro." 

Written by parodist Paul Shanklin, whose work, not surprisingly, is a regular feature of Rush Limbaugh's radio show, the song follows the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon" and supposedly features the voice of Reverend Al Sharpton complaining about President-elect Obama's popularity: “Barack the Magic Negro made guilty whites feel good/They’ll vote for him and not for me/Cause he’s not from the ’hood.”

Current Republican party chairman Mike Duncan, running for re-election, and Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker, criticized the song. Other Republicans defended it, including Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state and candidate for the RNC chair who could be the first African-American in that position. He criticized what he termed "hypersensitivity." As for Mr. Saltsman, listen to what he called "lighthearted" and "good humor":

Duncan stated, "The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction." 

Duncan is correct. During the last election, Democrats made gains among Hispanics, the young and suburbanites, and continued to do well among African Americans and Jews. The Republicans have become increasingly marginalized, appealing more to a southern, white, less educated and poorer constituency. Clearly, sending out racist garbage like "Barack the Magic Negro" will not help the Republicans widen their appeal.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Nation Editorial: Republicans Conducting "Class Warfare" On Auto Workers

Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia recently offered the Republican explanation for auto industry problems: "Everyone knows that the wage rates of the domestic manufacturers far exceed that of their foreign competitors." An editorial in The Nation, "Dumping On Detroit," takes issue with that assertion:

This sudden fixation on competitiveness is a sham. Contrary to widely circulated claims that UAW members make an average of $73 per hour, union wages are, in fact, already in line with nonunion salaries at foreign-owned US plants. In 2007 the average UAW member made about $28 per hour, while the average American Honda or Toyota worker made $20 to $26 per hour; a new UAW hire earns as little as $14 per hour. It's UAW wages and benefits that built the American middle class, and cutting what's left of them risks plunging the country deeper into recession.

The concentration on workers' wages is not matched by outrage over executive salaries in the financial industry, recipient of a much larger bailout:

Where was the devotion to fiscal rectitude when Congress passed a $700 billion bailout for the financial sector? ...While the average CEO of a large US corporation makes about $12 million a year in salary, bonuses and stock options, his Japanese equivalent carts home a lean $1.3 million. If Congress is serious about making failed industries globally "competitive," let's start with a 90 percent pay cut for corporate executives. Don't hold your breath waiting for one.

Despite their rhetoric about "trickle down" economics, the Republicans are not interested in workers becoming part of the middle class. Instead, their goal is to make non-union salaries the standard. If all auto workers earned the same, the United Auto Workers would be irrelevant. The conclusion of the editorial is right on target:

For all the talk from Senate Republicans (and some Democrats) about fiscal responsibility, the reluctance to rescue autoworkers isn't based on economic principles of even the conservative sort. It's political and class warfare, pure and simple. "Crisis is when good things happen," Corker said during the bailout negotiations, "when you make people do things." What Senate Republicans wanted, however, was not to retool the ailing auto industry but rather, as one of their internal memos put it, to "take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it."

Note the smug satisfaction of Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee at the prospect of making the workers "do things." He'd love for unionized laborers at American plants to earn no more than non-unionized workers at foreign-owned plants. The CEOs at the Nissan plant in his state would love it, too.

Congressman Barney Frank: GOP Focused On Auto Workers' Concessions

Speaking on CNN, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts pointed out to Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia that the concessions the GOP demands from the auto industry fall disproportionately on the side of the workers:

Cantor: ...we over the last several weeks been talking about alternatives as to how we can protect the tax payers and then stave off the threat of a loss of significant number of jobs in the auto industry. And I believe the way we do that is that we get the concessions up front. Everyone knows that Detroit is not competitive. Everyone knows that the wage rates of the domestic manufacturers far exceed that of their foreign competitors...

Frank: ...It is striking to me that when Eric Cantor talks about concessions, it's only the workers... Yes, the workers have already started to make concessions. They signed a contract that will be much less going forward. They have agreed to waive their jobs bank. I agree there should be concessions but unilaterally imposing them on working men and women and setting -- and by the way, what the Republican position was was that the foreign auto companies should set the wage level for Americans. They want to put that into law, that American workers in unions, bargaining, would instead be told by the law that they would be paid what foreign auto companies would pay without comparable concessions.

Frank points toward the goal of Southern Republicans in particular, many of whom host foreign auto manufacturers in their states. By weakening collective bargaining and driving down wages to the level of the foreign companies, they will render the United Auto Workers irrelevant. The dialogue continued:

Cantor: We all know that in this country, there are three manufacturers that are not doing well and the rest that are doing well.

Frank: No, they're not doing well.

Frank, unlike Cantor, knows what he's talking about:

In more bad news for Japan’s auto industry, Toyota said Wednesday that its global vehicle sales plunged 21.8 percent in November, the biggest drop in eight years.

A rival, Nissan, said its worldwide sales sank 19.8 percent and global production nose-dived a record 33.7 percent on depressed sales in the United States.

...Japan’s No. 2 carmaker, Honda, also said Wednesday that its global production in November tumbled 9.9 percent, the biggest fall in five years, to 326,176 vehicles. Honda does not provide global vehicle sales.

So the foreign auto manufacturers are also not doing well, despite the lower wages of their employees. Such considerations, however, are irrelevant to the Republicans as they continue their war against the labor movement and their determination to reduce workers' salaries.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Remembering British Poet Adrian Mitchell, Voice For Peace And Social Justice

British poet Adrian Mitchell, who railed against war, racism and injustice, died on Saturday. “I think a poet, like any other human being, should recognize that the world is mostly controlled by political forces and should become politically active, too,” he stated. 

Such convictions found expression in his famous anti-war poem "To Whom It May Concern (Tell Me Lies About Vietnam)," read as part of the International Poetry Incarnation, Royal Albert Hall, 1965. The performance, shown above, was part of the film "Wholly Communion" (participant Allen Ginsberg is seen at the end).

The poem's narrator longs to be shielded from the horrors of the war in Vietnam:

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I've walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain,
Couldn't find myself so I went back to sleep again
So fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

The concluding stanza condemns those who send other human beings to wars built on lies:

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Mitchell could just as well have been condemning the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. Such is the power and universality of his impassioned protest.

Two Holiday Classics From John Lennon And Adam Sandler

John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)," a stirring call for peace:

Adam Sandler's original "Hanukkah Song," always hilarious:

Happy holidays to all my readers. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for The Liberal Curmudgeon for 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Allen Ginsberg To Henry Kissinger: Let's Get Naked

The National Security Archive of George Washington University has published an online edition of transcripts of 15,000 phone calls of former national security adviser Henry Kissinger. A selection is posted at the archive's web site; the entire collection is available to subscribers.

One call between Kissinger and Nixon concerned their own "shock and awe" campaign during another unnecessary war. Both express their satisfaction over the massive bombing of North Vietnam in a conversation that each recorded without the other's knowledge:

Kissinger: They dropped a million pounds of bombs.

Nixon: A million pounds of bombs. Goddamn, that must have been a good strike. That shock treatment [is] cracking them. I tell you the thing to do is pour it in there every place we can…just bomb the hell out of them.

Kissinger: I mean if as a country we keep our nerves, we are going to make it.

Others were not as enthusiastic about the horrific bombing. The archives contain a call placed by Allen Ginsberg (top photo) to Kissinger, during which the Beat poet tried to arrange a meeting between the administration and antiwar activists. Ginsberg had a novel idea:

Ginsberg: Perhaps you don’t know how to get out of the war.

Kissinger (regarding a possible meeting): I like to do this not just for the enlightenment of the people I talk to, but to at least give me a feel of what concerned people think.

Ginsberg: It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television.

Kissinger: (Laughter).

Ginsberg's suggestion followed a lifetime of insistence on nakedness in his art and life. In "Dharma Lion: A Biography of Allen Ginsberg," Michael Schumacher describes a confrontation between Ginsberg and a drunken heckler, who asked what he was trying to prove. "Nakedness," replied Ginsberg, who stripped off all his clothes as the heckler retreated. "The poet always stands naked before the world," he declared.

Ginsberg made his suggestion to Kissinger in the same spirit of nakedness, honesty and openness. Kissinger and Nixon, after all, both secretly taped each other. Of greater consequence, however, was their extension of the Vietnam war through secret bombing raids in Cambodia, which cost thousands of lives and led to the rise of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. In addition, CIA documents strengthen suspicions of Kissinger and Nixon's involvement in Operation Condor, whose aim was to assassinate political opponents in Latin America.

Ginsberg's nakedness ran counter to the secretive, dishonest and destructive policies of Kissinger and Nixon–and, for that matter, the war, torture and domestic spying carried on by the Bush administration over the past eight years.

Caroline Kennedy's Coronation Not Yet Assured

Caroline Kennedy has asked New York Governor David Patterson to appoint her as senator, filling the seat of incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Kennedy has never held an elected political position before, and it's clear that her name, wealth and connections are essential to her aspirations. Kennedy is not helping fight charges of elitism by declining to make a financial disclosure:

...Ms. Kennedy, who has asked Gov. David A. Paterson to appoint her to succeed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton...is declining to provide a variety of basic data, including companies she has a stake in and whether she has ever been charged with a crime.

...“If this were an open primary, and all the people seeking that position had to run, she’d have to make all those disclosures, so why not in the appointment process?” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, a watchdog group that lobbies for tighter ethics rules. “She can’t simply ride in on her name recognition or place in history. The voters and people of New York deserve that full disclosure.”

In addition, Kennedy has also declined to be interviewed by reporters and supplied only brief written answers on 11 major issues. Meanwhile, there is growing resistance among Democrats to the Kennedy bid, due to the governor's irritation and her ties to Mayor Bloomberg of New York City:

The governor is frustrated and chagrined, the advisers said, because he believes that he extended Ms. Kennedy the chance to demonstrate her qualifications but that her operatives have exploited the opportunity to convey a sense that she is all but appointed already. He views this as an attempt to box him in, the advisers said.

...her refusal to say over the weekend whether she would back a Democratic candidate next year, when Mr. Bloomberg will seek re-election as an independent, set off intense reaction among some in the party.

Apparently, then, the appointment – or coronation – of Kennedy is not necessarily inevitable. There are, in addition, other possible appointees, including Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Representative Carolyn B. Maloney. Both carry the asset of actual political experience.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Language Excluding Gay Membership Removed From Saddleback Church Web Site

On Saturday I noted the policy of Saddleback Church to exclude gays from membership. Church Pastor Rick Warren, who backed California's anti-gay marriage initiative Proposition 8, has been chosen to deliver the inaugural invocation on January 20th.

Americablog reported on Monday that the offending language, shown above with a photo of individuals who presumably don't have a "homosexual lifestyle," has been removed from the site's "What We Believe" section.

One would hope that this represents a deliberate policy reversal and not just a temporary public relations move. Another positive step would be for the church to stop the "Celebrate Recovery" efforts to "cure" gays of their desires. Such attempts to expunge one's innate sexuality seem more likely to result in torment and self-hatred, as one writer in Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish recounted.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Senate Committee Report On Torture Contrasts With Cheney's "Legal" Standards

The New York Times December 17 editorial "The Torture Report" commented on a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report that makes a strong case for bringing criminal charges against Bush administration officials:

The report shows how actions by these men “led directly” to what happened at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret C.I.A. prisons.

It said these top officials, charged with defending the Constitution and America’s standing in the world, methodically introduced interrogation practices based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War. Until the Bush administration, their only use in the United States was to train soldiers to resist what might be done to them if they were captured by a lawless enemy.

The officials then issued legally and morally bankrupt documents to justify their actions, starting with a presidential order saying that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners of the “war on terror” — the first time any democratic nation had unilaterally reinterpreted the conventions.

The counterproductive nature of the abuse was found to pose a danger to U.S. Armed Forces:

Alberto Mora, the former Navy general counsel who protested the abuses, told the Senate committee that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.”

Regarding the "top officials, charged with defending the Constitution," it is instructive to view a recent interview between Chris Wallace and Vice President Dick Cheney, who offered a simple standard: if the president does it during wartime, it's legal. One then understands how this administration justified its actions to itself:

Wallace: ...If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?

Cheney: General proposition, I'd say yes...you take the oath to support and defend and protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...I think that what we've done has been totally consistent with what the Constitution provides for.


Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Miles Davis Quintet, 1959

On April 2, 1959, the Miles Davis Quintet played their classic composition "So What" in CBS studios, New York, for a show, "The Sound of Miles Davis," broadcast on July 21, 1960. Personnel included Miles Davis on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. This all-star lineup is especially notable for bringing together two jazz giants, Davis and Coltrane, at the height of their powers. "So What" is one of the tracks on Miles Davis's "Kind Of Blue," notable for its cool sound and its status as the best-selling jazz album of all time.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fox News Thinks This Photo Might Have Altered The Election

Still unable to accept the fact that Barack Obama won the election and that it wasn't accomplished through a media conspiracy, Fox News spun a theory that photos from 1980 in Time Magazine's photo essay "Obama: The College Years" were suppressed until the election was over.

Some of the photos, like the one on the left (h/t Time), show Obama looking cool with a wide-brim hat and a cigarette. Apparently these photos were so important that they were discussed on three different shows on Fox, with the suggestion that they might have altered the presidential race. Would we have been so concerned about the war and the economy if we had seen Obama's college photos? Inquiring minds at Fox, as reported by Media Matters, want to know:

Sean Hannity, December 18, radio show: "Just take a look at this. Barack Obama has a hat, you know, pulling a drag on a cigarette. I wonder if they had a picture of John McCain, you know -- I wonder why -- why didn't we see these pictures beforehand? You think the media maybe thought, well, it might not hurt -- it might not help Barack Obama?"

Brian Kilmeade, December 19, Fox & Friends First: "And the college student who would become president. Pictures of Barack Obama just released. Was the Time Magazine sitting on these photos until after the election?"

Gretchen Carlson, December 19, Fox & Friends: "Would it have -- yes, after the election. Would it have -- I don't know. Would it have served any purpose to release these photos before the election?"

Steve Doocy, December 19, Fox & Friends: "Yeah, well, you know, so here you've got these pictures of the president and some of the headlines that said something about, look he was cool even back then. What if somebody else like McCain had pictures like that, that -- you've got to figure that they probably would have come out before the election."

There's just one problem with this repeated inference that the media or Time kept the photos under wraps until the election was over: the media, including Time, had nothing to do with the decision. Lisa Jack, who was a fellow student of Obama's and took the pictures, made a completely private decision to place the photos in a safe-deposit box and take them out only after the election.

Yet here's Fox News trying to churn up a media conspiracy over trivia, without any basis for their accusations. So have they retracted any of the statements above? Not that I've heard. But the truth of the matter is irrelevant to Fox. The aim is just to get the spin out there. "We Report. You Comply"? I recently read a parody that slogan, one that captures Fox's real modus operandi: We Distort. You Comply.

Pastor Rick Warren Spouts Holy Nonsense About "Immature" Gays

In the video above, Pastor Rick Warren, who is to present the inaugural invocation on January 20th, explains why gays should not give in to their natural impulses:

"I've had many gay friends tell me, 'Well, Rick, why shouldn't I have multiple sexual partners? It's the natural thing to do.' Well, just because it seems natural doesn't mean it's best for you or society. I'm naturally inclined to have sex with every beautiful woman I see. But that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. And why should I reign in my natural impulses? And you say well, because I have natural impulses toward the same sex, I shouldn't have to reign them in. Well, I disagree. I think that's part of maturity. I think it's part of delayed gratification. I think it's part of character."

Warren's statements about promiscuity are beside the point, since he would contend that a monogamous gay couple is still unacceptable. According to him, such a couple is composed of "immature" individuals who lack "character." They should delay gratification for their entire lives. Why? Because Warren and other homophobes "disagree" with who they are.

So what to do if one is gay and takes such judgment to heart? Warren's Saddleback Church has a "Celebrate Recovery" program that aims to eliminate gayness. Here's the testimony from a reader of Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish who recovered–from "Celebrate Recovery." He concludes with bitter reflections about the fact that Warren was chosen to present the invocation:

I was in full time ministry at a neighboring evangelical megachurch, where I was fighting a desperate battle against depression and despair in attempting to “cure” myself of my homosexuality. This was, without a doubt, the worst time in my life. I spent the majority of my Fridays as a young, 23 year old gay man sitting in a room with a group of men whose self loathing and struggle was overwhelming...

Looking at the deadlock these otherwise gifted men were in was extremely painful and one of the major spurs to my rethinking issues of sexual orientation and faith, and I am proud to say I came out the other side a reasonably well adjusted gay man...

It’s obvious what Obama is trying to do by having Warren give the convocation at his inauguration, and it is understandable – but for me as a human being who was personally damaged by Warren’s theology and his church specifically, it is unforgivable. And to cover it over with vague rhetoric about a politics of inclusion and unity is similarly unforgivable.

Gays Need Not Apply For Membership At Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church

Presumably President-elect Barack Obama and his advisors acted in the name of inclusiveness by selecting Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation on January 20th. Evangelicals, after all, have long been partial to the Republican party.

Inclusiveness is a worthy goal, but the selection of Pastor Warren carries with it a certain irony, to say the least. The Saddleback Church web site explicitly excludes gays from membership:

Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in one’s life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted as a member at Saddleback Church. That does not mean they cannot attend church – we hope they do! God’s Word has the power to change our lives.

So gays can get in the door, and I'm sure that the church members feel that they're being open-minded. The goal, though, is for gays to see the error of their ways, which clearly sends a message of intolerance.

Is there any other group in American to whom such a policy would apply? Can we imagine the outrage–and rightfully so–if such a barrier were presented to any other minority? Why is it accepted when it applies to gays? 

Finally, if the inauguration is a celebration that includes all Americans, does Pastor Rick Warren exemplify this spirit?

Dick Cheney Admits To Approving War Crimes

In the interview above with ABC's Jonathan Karl on December 16, Vice President Dick Cheney admits that he approved torture, including waterboarding. He remains an unrepentant advocate of actions forbidden by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Convention–actions that are war crimes:

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

CHENEY: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

KARL: In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?

CHENEY: I don't.

KARL: And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that you think was appropriate?


Marjorie Cohn, writing in Truthout, examines the implications of Cheney's admissions in terms of the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions:

US courts have long held that waterboarding, where water is poured into someone's nose and mouth until he nearly drowns, constitutes torture. Our federal War Crimes Act defines torture as a war crime punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty if the victim dies.

...On February 7, 2002, Bush signed a memo erroneously stating that the Geneva Conventions, which require humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But the Supreme Court made clear that Geneva protects all prisoners. Bush also admitted that he approved of high-level meetings where waterboarding was authorized by Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet.

According to the New York Times, the methods Cheney advocates have caused consternation in the CIA and are banned by the FBI, which sees them as severe and counterproductive:

The Central Intelligence Agency has used coercive interrogation methods against a select group of high-level leaders and operatives of Al Qaeda that have produced growing concerns inside the agency about abuses, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.

...The methods employed by the C.I.A. are so severe that senior officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have directed its agents to stay out of many of the interviews of the high-level detainees, counterterrorism officials said. The F.B.I. officials have advised the bureau's director, Robert S. Mueller III, that the interrogation techniques, which would be prohibited in criminal cases, could compromise their agents in future criminal cases, the counterterrorism officials said.

Friday, December 19, 2008

All Caroline Kennedy Wants For Christmas Is A Senate Seat

"I thought it was a basic tenet of progressive and liberal values that one of the things we're supposed to do before we get stuff is to work for it. We should get stuff because of what we do, not because of who we are," states Ron Kuby (above) of Air America Radio. Kuby was questioning Caroline Kennedy's quest to be appointed by New York Governor David Patterson to fill the Senate seat vacated by incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Kuby raises a valid point. Kennedy's aspirations are made possible only through her name, connections and wealth. She has not been a prominent political activist and she's apparently not interested in starting out as, say, a local councilwoman.

Others are taking notice. Democratic city councilman John C. Liu said, "It appears to be another case of central casting by the city’s cognoscenti. It’s amazing how much it’s all about the upper crust."

Columnist Judith Warner writes, "In 2008...I’m not sure we can afford to extend excessive amounts of public generosity to the wealthy and well-connected. It doesn’t strike me as desirable or — for New York Democrats in particular, and even for Caroline herself — very wise. 

"We are living in a moment when all the machinations, the corner-cutting, the inside deals, mutual back-scratching and indifference to the larger world of our nation’s wealthiest and most interconnected have led us straight into the ground."

Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake strikes a similar note: "It doesn't seem to have occurred to her that letting people know where she stands on important issues of the day should matter, or that she should have to subject herself to public questioning. At best it seems like a political afterthought -- because she hasn't troubled herself to do so.

"It appears Ms. Kennedy thinks that US Senate seats are something to lobbied for amongst political elites when one decides one wants them, and that the public should be happy to simply fall in line. The fact that one has a family political machine currently in the process of steamrolling David Paterson and a famous last name should be enough for the little people."

No matter what her political positions turn out to be–and it's telling that we really don't know what they are–and regardless of the fact that she's a Democrat, the fact is that doors are opening for Kennedy due solely to her standing among the rich and powerful. That is indeed contrary to the progressive and liberal values that Ron Kuby cites.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pastor Rick Warren Offers Water-And-Donuts Defense As Proof He's Not Anti-Gay

The choice of Pastor Rick Warren to present the invocation at the inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20th has cause quite a stir. Warren endorsed Proposition 8, which rescinded the legal rights of gays to marry in California. He cited "the tyranny of activist judges" in explaining how those rights were recognized before being voted down.

Similar to others who are opposed to gay marriage, Warren  doesn't understand that it is the role of the courts to enforce equal protection under the law, as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

Warren's statement in the video above that opposition to gay marriage is valid since it has not been recognized by various religions has two major flaws. First, we don't live in a theocracy in which policy is set by religious beliefs, despite the wishes of the right-wing American Taliban. Second, the fact that prejudices are ancient does not justify them. Most alarmingly, Warren has elsewhere likened gay marriage to incest, child rape and polygamy.

But the video above also contains some reassuring words from Warren (h/t Think Progress):

 Q: Your position has raised the specter that you are homophobic.

Warren: Hahahah!

Q: Are you homophobic?

Warren: Of course not. I have always treated them with respect. When they come and want to talk to me, I talk to them. When the protesters came, we served them water and donuts.

Ah, water and donuts. If only more people had known about the snack he provided, this entire silly fuss about Proposition 8 would have been brushed aside.

McCain "Can't Say" He'd Endorse Prominent Russia Expert In 2012

Not too long ago, John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, signaling that she was the most qualified individual to take over as president if need be. What impressed him so much? Was it her knowledge of Supreme Court cases? Her expertise on Russia due to its proximity to Alaska? Her familiarity with today's leading periodicals? Her incisive commentary on the Bush doctrine? Surely when McCain vetted her, he must have been impressed by the breadth of her knowledge on these and other issues.

Yet when asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos whether he would endorse Palin were she to run in 2012, McCain stated, "...I can't say something like that. We've got some great other young governors..." The interview proceeded:

Stephanopoulos: But why not? Six months ago you thought she was the best person to succeed you if something should happen to you.

McCain: Sure, but now we're in a whole... election cycle. Have no doubt of my admiration and respect for her and my view of her viability, but at this stage, again...my corpse is still warm.

What is meant by that bizarre last comment? That he has enough mental faculties remaining to realize what a blunder he made by choosing her?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

George W. Bush's Nightmare Before Christmas

Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films produced the video above about George Bush's "midnight regulations," whose purpose is to do as much damage as possible to health care, labor, the environment and civil liberties–what I've previously called Bush's domestic agenda of destruction

Based on the famous poem " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," the script uses such lines as “Let’s help all the brokers and jack up their wealth. Let’s cut family planning and slash women’s health"–typical priorities of Bush and his Republican cohorts. The video cites the following sinister regulations–by no means all–that the administration is currently pursuing:

• Emission increases for power plants
• Undermining the endangered species act
• Restricting access to critical care for Medicaid patients
• Limiting access to reproductive health services

Bush is doing an end-run around Congress and issuing these regulations through the executive branch, posing a difficult challenge for Barack Obama to reverse them. These rulings are the concluding chapter of the Bush administration's disastrous legacy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cenk Uygur Of Young Turks On Anti-UAW Southern Senators

Cenk Uygur of Air America Radio’s Young Turks points out that Republican Senators are against the United Auto Workers for their support of Democrats and, in the case of the Southern contingent, because of the presence foreign car manufacturers in their own states. Excerpt from the video above:

A lot of the Republican Senators are in the South. And in the South we have factories as well that make cars. But they’re not American cars. They’re Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW and Mercedes Benz. So a guy like Richard Shelby, Senator from Alabama, thinks, “I killed the unions, I help the Nissan plant in my home state or the Toyota plant in my home state, I come out a winner every way." Except three million Americans are now out of a job, the recession gets a thousand times worse, and we might break the back of the economy. But once again, the Republican senator thinks, “What does that have to do with me?”

Conservative Columnist Kristol: Labor Only 10% Of Car Costs

Now even conservative columnist William Kristol is expressing skepticism about Southern Republican Senators' arguments that the United Auto Industry workers are behind the Big Three's troubles:

Last week, Senate Republicans picked a fight with the U.A.W. on union pay scales — despite the fact that it’s the legacy benefits for retirees, not pay for current workers, that’s really hurting Detroit, and despite the additional fact that, in any case, labor amounts to only about 10 percent of the cost of a car. But the Republicans were fighting Big Labor! They were standing firm against bailouts! Some of the same conservatives who (correctly, in my view) made the case for $700 billion for Wall Street pitched a fit over $14 billion in loans for the automakers.

So Senate Republicans chose to threaten to filibuster the House-passed legislation embodying the George Bush-Nancy Pelosi deal. The bill would have allowed President Bush to name a car czar, who could have begun to force concessions from all sides. It also would have averted for now a collapse of the auto industry, and shifted difficult decisions to the Obama administration.

Instead, Bush will now probably have to use the financial rescue funds to save G.M. — instead of being able to draw from sums previously authorized for the green transformation of the auto industry, a fight he had won in the negotiations with Pelosi. And Senate Republicans now run the risk of being portrayed as Marie Antoinettes with Southern accents.

Whichever party can liberate itself from its well-worn rut to propose policies that help both American businesses and workers has a great opportunity. That party’s leaders could begin by offering management and labor at the Big Three a little more sympathy, and heaping upon them a little less calumny...

I agree with Kristol (four words I don't write too often) that labor costs are not breaking the back of the auto industry and that the Southern Republican Senators are playing a destructive, obstructionist role. They include Jim DeMint, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby and Bob Corker, all of whom host foreign car manufacturers in their own states. And yes, there is certainly a disparity between what at least some of them are willing to do for Wall Street and not willing to do for Detroit. I don't agree, though, with the statement that retirees are "really hurting Detroit"–again, their costs are a part of what amounts to just 10% of the cost of a car.

In any event, Kristol, not exactly a stalwart supporter of the labor movement, is one more voice pointing out how fraudulent the complaints are against the auto workers.

Bush In Iraq: From "Mission Accomplished" To Dodging Shoes

Let me state from the start: I do not condone the throwing of shoes or any other objects as a form of protest. I wish that journalist Muntader al-Zaidi had instead engaged in non-violent civil disobedience. That being said, I believe that his shoe-throwing, a distinct insult in Iraqi culture, will be one of the enduring images of the war that Bush pursued in Iraq. It also symbolizes the lasting anger, expressed at the end of the video above, of many Iraqis who have had to endure the consequences of our invasion and occupation.

When al-Zaidi shouted, "This is a gift from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq," he spoke for those for whom the "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad meant devastation and death, not just the administration's media-savvy slogan. He expressed the rage of the tens of thousands of civilians whose family members were killed, the ethnic cleansing that devastated neighborhoods and the citizens who fled in terror as a result.

The Washington Post put the incident in fitting historic perspective:

The shoe assault turned Bush's trip to Iraq into a public relations fiasco, overshadowing the White House's message of impending victory in a long and unpopular war. The incident served as a bookend to Bush's flamboyant 2003 arrival aboard an aircraft carrier decorated with a banner reading "Mission Accomplished," which was meant as a declaration of victory but soon became a symbol of U.S. hubris as the war continued.

Yet Bush doesn't see any larger implications. He stated, "I don't think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq. You can try to do that if you want to. I don't think it would be accurate."

The statement epitomizes Bush's very lack of historic perspective that led him to prosecute this unnecessary war in the first place.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bush And Cheney Shrug At The Disasters They've Wrought In Iraq

George Bush and Dick Cheney have repeatedly referred to the war in Iraq as "the central front in the war on terror" and pointed to al Qaeda in Iraq's presence there as proof. There is one flaw, though, with this analysis–and it is a monumental one. It was our presence that brought the terrorist group there in the first place, following our 2003 invasion. That point was brought out in the interview shown above with Martha Raddatz (h/t Think Progress):

BUSH: One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq. This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand. This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take–

RADDATZ: But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH: Yeah, that’s right. So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they’re going to take a stand. Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat. And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.

On the one hand, this exchange is amazing. Bush is actually acknowledging a major argument posed by critics of the war–and then stating he doesn't care. Yet Bush's statement is also to be expected from an administration that has remained indifferent to the opinions of the country and the world–and, as a result, has pursued disastrous policies that have alienated both.

There's a precedent for Bush's "So What?" It's in the form of Cheney's "So?" He also spoke to Martha Raddatz about the war:

RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.


RADDATZ: So? You don’t care what the American people think?

CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

Watch how Cheney compliments Bush in arrogance and indifference:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chicago Workers' Factory Sit-In Succeeds

Workers at the Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago were victorious in their efforts to receive their severance pay and vacation time after the company gave them just three days' notice that the plant was closing and that they'd receive no compensation. 

Federal law requires 60 days' notice. The company told the workers that the Bank of America would not extend a line of credit to cover their benefits. The workers decided to occupy the factory in response to the injustices they were facing. From the New York Times:

By the time their six-day sit-in ended on Wednesday night, the 240 laid-off workers at this previously anonymous 125,000-square-foot plant had become national symbols of worker discontent amid the layoffs sweeping the country. Civil rights workers compared them to Rosa Parks. But all the workers wanted, they said, was what they deserved under the law: 60 days of severance pay and earned vacation time.

And to their surprise, their drastic action worked. Late Wednesday, two major banks agreed to lend the company enough money to give the workers what they asked for.

“In the environment of this economic crisis, we felt we were obligated to fight for our money,” Armando Robles, a maintenance worker and president of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, which represented the workers, said in Spanish.

The reverberations of the workers’ victory are likely to be felt for months as plants continue to close. Bob Bruno, director of the labor studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, predicted organized labor would be emboldened by the workers’ success. “If you combine some palpable street anger with organizational resources in a changing political mood,” he said, “you can begin to see more of these sort of riskier, militant adventures, and they’re more likely to succeed.”

The company and the bank gave the workers no other choice when they were denied what they earned–and I wouldn't be surprised if Bruno's prediction proved true. As union representative Mark Meinster stated in the video above, "I think it sends a very strong message to any company that tries to close without giving notice to its employees, who tries to skirt the federal laws that we have around this issue."

Just think: workers united with union support to receive the money they actually earned. No doubt the Southern Republicans have taken notice and are more determined than ever to destroy the United Auto Workers.

Bush Administration OKs Packing Heat In National Parks

I've been writing about the Bush administration's destructive domestic endgame, the goal of which is to work against the interests of the American people in terms of health care, labor, the environment and civil liberties. Now, thanks to the Bush administration, if you're taking a stroll in a national park, you'd better watch your back. From Boston.com:

People will soon be able to carry concealed, loaded guns in most national parks and wildlife refuges.

The Bush administration said Friday it is overturning a 25-year-old federal rule that severely restricts loaded guns in national parks.

Under a rule to take effect in January, visitors will be able to carry a loaded gun into a park or wildlife refuge -- but only if the person has a permit for a concealed weapon and if the state where the park or refuge is located also allows concealed firearms.

The new rule goes further than a draft proposal issued last spring and would allow concealed weapons even in parks located in states that explicitly ban the carrying of guns in state parks. Some states allow concealed weapons but also ban guns from parks.

...The Interior Department rule overturns a Reagan-era regulation that has restricted loaded guns in parks and wildlife refuges. The previous regulation required that firearms be unloaded and placed somewhere that is not easily accessible, such as in a car trunk.

...The National Rifle Association hailed the rule change, which will take effect next month before President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

Following its custom, the NRA has defied the common sense recommendations of those who are charged with maintaining public safety:

A group representing park rangers, retirees and conservation organizations said the rule change will lead to confusion for visitors, rangers and other law enforcement agencies.

"Once again, political leaders in the Bush administration have ignored the preferences of the American public by succumbing to political pressure, in this case generated by the National Rifle Association," said Bill Wade, president of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

"This regulation will put visitors, employees and precious resources of the National Park System at risk. We will do everything possible to overturn it and return to a commonsense approach to guns in national parks that has been working for decades," Wade said.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence issued a statement that pointed out the dangers of concealed weapons:

"The Bush Administration's parting gift for the gun lobby to allow hidden weapons in our parks threatens the safety of these national treasures and those who visit them," said Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke. "We should not be making it easier for dangerous people to carry firearms in our parks. We urge the proper authorities to use common sense, and stop this senseless rule."

...Experience in states that have allowed concealed carrying of firearms has shown that thousands of dangerous people are able to get licenses. In Florida, for example, more than 4,200 licenses were revoked because many of these licensees committed a crime. Since becoming the first state to allow the concealed carrying of firearms in 1987, Florida consistently has had one of the highest rates of violent crime in the nation. Florida has been ranked as the state with the highest annual violent crime rate more often than any other state in the last two decades.

Many states' concealed carry licensing systems have endangered public safety by allowing licenses to be obtained by dangerous people who commit violent acts with their firearms. Numerous concealed carry license holders have been arrested for crimes after they were granted a license. Utah, for example, has even granted licenses to thousands of non-residents, including citizens of foreign countries. Many of those individuals received licenses without any background checks or proof of adequate firearms training.

Constitution Defended As Judge Issues Injunction Against Religious License Plates

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states, in part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."

Americans are free to practice their religion, but the government will not establish, or favor, one religion over another. That guarantee is essential to religious freedom. If one religion is favored, that threatens the free exercise of other beliefs–or the right not to believe. That's why U.S. District Court Judge Cameron McGowan Currie was correct in stopping South Carolina from making "I Believe" license plates, shown above. From GreenvilleOnline.com:

A federal judge on Thursday temporarily stopped the state from making and issuing "I Believe" religious license plates, granting a request from a group that had argued the plates showed an unconstitutional preference for Christianity.

U.S. District Court Judge Cameron McGowan Currie issued the preliminary injunction after finding that the statute creating the plate violated the constitutional establishment clause forbidding government from establishing a religion.

The license plate, approved by the Legislature, contains a stained glass emblem with a cross on it and the words "I Believe" on top. No plates have been distributed, though hundreds have been ordered.

...Currie found that for the purposes of an injunction, the law creating the plate didn’t have a secular purpose, didn’t have a primarily secular effect and entangled religion and government. To avoid an injunction, she said, the statute would have had to have passed all three parts of that legal test.

"I find it unlikely the act satisfies even one of these," she said.

Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit earlier this year against DMV and the prison system, which makes all license plates, on behalf of some religious leaders and the Hindu American Foundation who claimed their First Amendment rights were infringed by the plates.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State hailed the decision:

“The ‘I Believe’ license plate is a clear example of government favoritism toward one religion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The court drove home an important point: South Carolina officials have no business meddling in religious matters.”

...Americans United brought the Summers v. Adams legal challenge on behalf of four local clergy the Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Summers, Rabbi Sanford T. Marcus, the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Knight and the Rev. Dr. Neal Jones as well as the Hindu American Foundation and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

...Americans United also pointed out that some legislators openly admitted that they would not vote for similar plates for minority faiths.

Asked by a reporter if he would support a license plate for Islam, Rep. Bill Sandifer replied, “Absolutely and positively no…. I would not because of my personal belief, and because I believe that wouldn’t be the wish of the majority of the constituency in this house district.”

Said AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, “The ‘I Believe’ license plate sends the message that South Carolina has a favored religion. That’s one message the state is not permitted to transmit.”

South Carolina was headed in the direction of transmitting the dangerous message referred to by Mr. Khan. Once the establishment clause is violated, the state becomes the arbiter of which religions are acceptable. That distortion is reflected in the statement of Representative Sandifer, who apparently believes that the expression of particular religions depends on the wishes of the lawmaker and the majority–wishes that can turn into the tyranny of the majority. Let's hope that the temporary injunction against religious license plates becomes a permanent ban.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Dylan Goes Electric, Newport 1965

One of the major transitions in Bob Dylan's career took place at the Newport Folk Festival, July 1965. Never content as an artist to stand still, Dylan outraged many of the acoustic folk purists in the audience by performing with an electric rock band, one that included the late blues guitar master Mike Bloomfield. The three-song set started with "Maggie's Farm," above. At the end of the performance, one can hear the boos among many in the audience; regardless, Dylan prevailed by loosening the boundaries of both folk and rock. He gave rise to the hybrid folk-rock sound characteristic of such groups as The Byrds, who became known for their outstanding covers of his work. 

To read a passage on the Newport performance from Robert Shelton's "No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan," click here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Republicans' Driving Goal On Auto Bill: Destroy The UAW

An "Action Alert-Auto Bailout" memo obtained by MSNBC's "Countdown" exposed the Republicans' ultimate reason for abandoning the faltering auto industry. The Los Angeles Times wrote that this memo was circulated among Senate Republicans. It said, in part:

This is the democrats first opportunity to payoff organized labor after the election. This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it.

They don't propose outlawing the United Auto Workers; instead, their goal is to weaken it to the point of irrelevance. As reported in the New York Times:

The automakers would also have been required to cut wages and benefits to match the average hourly wage and benefits of Nissan, Toyota and Honda employees based in the United States, and the companies would have to impose equivalent work rules.

It was over this proposal that the talks ultimately deadlocked with Republicans demanding that the automakers meet that goal by a certain date in 2009 and Democrats and the union urging that the deadline wait until 2011 when the U.A.W. contract expires.

The UAW has already agreed to concessions with the auto makers and have indicated that they are ready for more. But that's not enough for the GOP, which, since it can't wait two years, demands immediate salary cuts to match non-unionized salaries at foreign-owned plants. 

Rachel Maddow reports that the Southern Republican Senators who are the most prominent in making these demands are indeed those whose states have no American car manufacturers. They do, however, have foreign car plants: Senators Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina host BMW; Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Toyota; Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes, and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, Nissan.

In addition to putting forth their "first shot" against organized labor, these senators also wish to make lower, non-unionized salaries paid in foreign owned plants the industry standard. If in the process they destroy the American auto industry, put thousands out of work, and cripple supportive industries, parts suppliers, repair shops and auto dealers, all the way down to the luncheonettes that serve workers–well, so be it.

One of the Republicans' chief arguments against the auto workers is their supposed $70 per hour salary. Keith Olbermann of "Countdown" has cited the Center for Automotive Research, which states that the average auto worker salary for GM, Chrysler and Ford is $28 per hour. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, makes the same point in American Prospect:

The New York Times told readers that GM's autoworkers are paid $70 an hour (including health care and pension). This is not true. The base pay is about $28 an hour. If health care cost per worker average $12,000 per year, that adds in another $6 an hour. If the pension payment takes up 25 percent of base pay (an extremely high pension), that gets you another $7 an hour, bringing the total to $41 an hour. That's decent pay, but still a long way from $70 an hour.

How does the NYT get from $41 to $70? Well the trick is to add in GM's legacy costs, the pension and health care costs for retired workers. These legacy costs are a serious expense for GM, but this is not money being paid to current workers. The person on the line in 2008 is not benefiting from these legacy costs.

It would be helpful if the NYT could get its numbers straight. It certainly can affect public support for a bailout if they are led to believe that autoworkers are paid much more than is actually the case.

Can the senators mentioned above get their numbers straight? Senators Bob Corker and Mitch McConnell voted to bail out the financial industry but not the car makers (Senator Lindsey Graham said yes to Wall Street but didn't vote on the auto bill), among others, predominantly Republicans, who took the same stance. How is it that they could find $700 billion for Wall Street but not $15 billion for a bridge loan for Detroit? Did they insist that white collar workers take salary and bonus cuts because they earn too much? Have they followed up the financial bill by investigating exactly how the money is being used? 

In contrast, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut in the video above expresses outrage over the small percentage of the debt comprised by workers' salaries; the fact that labor had agreed to compromises; the fact that working families who have taken the largest economic hit are the ones who are being asked to take another, and the fact that the financial industry received a much loan, but we can't approve a much smaller one for the auto industry.

Senator Jim DeMint said, "I'm not trying to get rid of the unions, but I am saying that they appear to be an antiquated concept in today's economy." That's especially so when your goals are to serve foreign-based companies and lower unionized workers' wages and benefits to the level of non-unionized workers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Right Wing Makes Desperate Attempt To Tie Obama To Blagojevich

In the video above, Rachel Maddow focused on the efforts of the right wing to tie President-elect Barack Obama to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, arrested on federal charges of attempting to sell Obama's senate seat, among other allegations. 

The right has tried to make this connection despite the statement of Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney of the Northern District, regarding Obama: "We make no allegations that he was aware of anything."

In addition, there are the taped statements of the governor cursing Obama and stating about the Obama camp, “They are not willing to give me anything but appreciation. (Expletive) them."

There's also Obama's statement: "I have not discussed the senate seat with the governor at any time."

None of this is enough to keep the Republicans from making dark, insupportable allegations against Obama:

Robert "Mike" Duncan, Republican National Committee Chair: "President-elect Obama's carefully parsed and vague statements regarding his own contact and that of his team with Governor Rod Blagojevich are unacceptable."

Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina Republican party: "[The Obama camp should] immediately release all records of discussion about the appointment of Obama's successor."

Republican Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia: "[The scandal] raises questions about the interaction with Governor Blagojevich, President-elect Obama."

The right-wing blog Powerline asks, "What did Obama know and what did he do about it?"–the second question implying that he did indeed know something about the corruption scandal.

Naturally, conservatives do not want to discuss their record of failure over the past eight years, including economic turmoil and an unnecessary war that they are leaving to Obama. So they are desperately trying to make a connection that simply doesn't exist. This latest attempt to tarnish Obama will have no more traction than their previous efforts.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reagan's And Obama's Responses To Labor Action: A Stark Contrast

In August 1981, confronted by air-traffic controllers who threatened to go on strike due to wages, retirement benefits, long hours and dangerous stress levels, President Ronald Reagan's response was uncompromising:

They are in violation of the law, and if they do not return to their jobs within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.

Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers and signaled his hostility to organized labor and the interests of working people. His policies have been carried on by the Bush administration, which recently stripped federal employees of collective bargaining rights.

Now workers from Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago have been occupying their factory after being told that the doors will shut in three days and they will lose all benefits and severance. President-elect Barack Obama's response:

The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned. I think they’re absolutely right and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

Notice the subtle difference in responses?

The workers in Chicago are in violation of the law, just as the air-traffic controllers were. But unlike Reagan, Obama realizes that there are greater issues at play. We should appreciate having an incoming president who is sympathetic to the problems of working people and their struggles to receive just compensation.

Photo: Striking PATCO air-traffic controllers, 1981, from NPR.