Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Tribute To Jackie Wilson, "Mr. Excitement"

Watching Jackie Wilson perform "Lonely Teardrops" on Dick Clark's American Bandstand, one understands why he was called "Mr. Excitement." Besides his wide-ranging voice, Wilson also had the moves capable of electrifying an audience (watch for that smooth split!). Making his start in the rhythm and blues era of the 1950s, Wilson became an important 1960s soul music artist, recording such hits as "That's Why (I Love You So)," "Baby Workout" and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." While singing "Lonely Teardrops" at Dick Clark's Oldies Show at the Latin Casino in New Jersey, Wilson suffered a heart attack that would lead to his hospitalization and death at 49. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Van Morrison, whose versatility is reflective of his many musical influences, paid tribute to Wilson in his song "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)," which he performed at the Hollywood Bowl in November 2008:

Jonathan Alter On Obama's Impressive Debut

In "America's New Shrink" (Newsweek, 3/2/09), Jonathan Alter assesses President Obama's first month:

"During the transition, Obama developed a day-by-day plan for his debut, and he's executing it well. In his first month, the list of achievements is impressive: universal health insurance for children; more pay equity for women; higher fuel-economy standards for autos; the first major investment in inter-urban trains; electronic medical records; hundreds of new charter schools; new money for college loans; help to homeowners facing foreclosures, to mention only a few."

I'm leery of charter schools in terms of educational accountability, the tendency to oppose teachers' unions and the siphoning of public funds. Diane Ravitch, education historian at New York University, asked, "Doesn't [Obama] realize that they are a deregulation strategy much beloved by Republicans?" Nevertheless, Obama's record in a short period of time is quite impressive (let's also not forget the passage of the $787 billion stimulus package). He's done more good in a month than Bush did in eight years. That's the difference between a president whose agenda takes in the needs of all of the American people and one whose goal was to shovel as much cash as possible in the direction of the wealthiest.

CPAC 2009 Conference Reveals A Conservative Movement Out Of Ideas

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC 2009), taking place in Washington, D.C., from February 26-28, reveals a movement that's out of ideas, direction and leadership. 

Consider some of the specific issues on the agenda: "New Challenges in the Culture War," "Sarah Palin Unplugged on the Media Video Interview," "Al Franken and ACORN: How Liberals Are Destroying the American Election System," "Will Congress Take Your Guns?," "Health Care: The Train Wreck Ahead," "Will Obama's Tax Policy Kill Entrepreneurship?" (Gee, I wonder what their answer is to that one.)

Whew! Remember the "angry left" that Bush referred to in his speech at the Republican National Convention? These titles don't exactly speak of a right wing brimming with bipartisan goodwill. Two points stand out: first, the culture war, Sarah Palin, ACORN and gun confiscation may be issues that bring out resentment and excitement among the right, but they are not among the current major concerns of the American people. Those concerns were outlined by President Obama in his speech to a joint session of Congress this past Tuesday: the economy, employment, energy, health care and education.

This is not to say that the conference does not address these issues at all. But when addressed, they're framed from a reactive, negative perspective. Titles are important indications of one's approach to an issue–and in this conference, the titles form a clear pattern. Instead of a conservative vision of health care and the economy, we get warnings of train wrecks and the death of entrepreneurship. Presentations with such straightforward, positive themes as "A Conservative Foreign Policy: What is America's Best Interest?" are the exception.

Then there are the presentations themselves. Speaking of foreign policy, listen to one of former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton's laugh lines:

"Pick [an American city] at random," indeed. Bill O'Reilly was the last member of the right to speak about terrorists blowing up a city, San Francisco, offensive to conservative sensibilities. Now it's Obama's home town. Bolton's contention that Obama said Iran is a "tiny threat" is inaccurate; what Obama did say was that Cuba and Iran "...are tiny compared to the Soviet Union," our former adversary.

Now consider Cliff Kincaid, head of Accuracy in Media. While introducing Congressman Mike Pence, Kincaid brought up two issues of immediate concern to the American public, namely that Obama is a communist and that he wasn't born in the United States:

This nonsense about Obama's birthplace has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked, (h/t Think Progress), unless one believes that Hawaii isn't part of the country. As for his being a "communist," I haven't received notification yet to report to a collective farm.

Speaking of communists, Joseph Stalin would surely approve of the views of major thinker Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher, on hand to state that, were he a Congressman, he'd "be in jail...for slapping some member" and "Back in the day, really, when people would talk about our military in a poor way, somebody would shoot 'em":

Finally, perhaps the most revealing comments came from former Congressman Tom "The Hammer" Delay of Texas, who was asked, "What do conservatives need to do to get back in power?" His answer:

According to Delay, it's all about "organizations that can drive a conservative message," "communications organizations...that can match the left-wing media" and "coordination" to "leverage not only our organizations, but leverage our money." In other words, it's all about public relations and campaign strategy. As important as these are, they're no substitute for ideas that address the overwhelming concerns of Americans–ideas that are scarcely on display at CPAC 2009.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal: Not Ready For Prime Time

"To come up in this moment in history with a stale, 'Government is the problem, you can't trust the federal government' is just a disaster for the Republican Party. It's not where the country is, it's not where the future of the country is."

That view of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's rebuttal to President Obama's Thursday night speech didn't come from a liberal. It came from conservative columnist David Brooks, speaking on PBS. Jindal was also criticized by others on the right, including talk show host Laura Ingraham and Juan Williams of Fox News, who called the response "very simplistic and almost childish."

On taxes, Jindal said, "...the way to lead is not to raise taxes, not to just put more money and power in the hands of Washington politicians." What Jindal really objects to is Obama's plan to raise taxes on those who are earning over $250,000 and give everyone else a tax cut. 

At one point, Jindal referred to the "bureaucrats" who got in the way of rescue work during Hurricane Katrina. "The strength of America is not found in our government," he stated, in a classic self-fulfilling conservative ploy. It works like this: first, destroy a government agency, as Bush did to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and then, when it is unable to cope with a disaster, use that as "proof" that a government agency can't do anything right.

Jindal also referred to the way in which citizens "got Louisiana through the hurricanes" without the help of the government. Without denigrating anyone who contributed to New Orleans in its moment of need, can anyone doubt that a timely government response to the disaster–as well as shoring up the levees beforehand–would have made a tremendous difference in terms of the deaths, destruction and economic damage the city suffered?

In short, one would have thought that Katrina would be a "lets-not-go-there" subject for the Republicans.

Jindal also scornfully referred to "...$140 million for something called volcano monitoring." Who else, though, but the government would undertake such an activity, as economist Paul Krugman points out. I suppose, though, that since there are no volcanoes in Louisiana, the idea of monitoring them is ridiculous everywhere else. From another geographical perspective, of course, the idea of flood monitoring must be ridiculous, too.

If Jindal is supposed to represent a rising star and fresh ideas among the Republicans, the party is more out of touch than ever.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

President Obama's Address Repudiates Destructive Bush Legacy

President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress last night contained explicit repudiations of the destructive policies of the Bush administration. Consider the following ten points, none of which would have been made by his predecessor:

1. Restoring progressive taxation: "A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. ...In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans."

2. Regulating the financial industry: "Regulations...were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. ...It is time to put in place tough, new commonsense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation and punishes shortcuts and abuse."

3. Renewable energy: " truly transform our economy, to protect our security and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

4. Health care reform: "When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for 11 million American children whose parents work full-time. ...This budget...includes a historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform, a down payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American."

5. Education: "I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why, if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education."

6. Protecting American jobs: "We will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas."

7. Ending the war in Iraq: "Along with our outstanding national security team, I am now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war."

8. Caring for veterans: " keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned."

9. Closing Guantanamo, repudiating torture: "...I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists because living our values doesn't make us weaker. It makes us safer, and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture."

10. Diplomacy: "We cannot shun the negotiating table nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. ...To meet the challenges of the 21st century -- from terrorism to nuclear proliferation, from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty -- we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power."

Will Obama be able to accomplish all of these monumental goals? Given what he accurately termed "the massive debt we've inherited" and the unpredictability of domestic and foreign affairs, he faces tremendous challenges. Nevertheless, the president's priorities are the right ones. Any reversal of the Bush legacy is a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal Refuses $90 Million That Could Aid 25,000

In his response to President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress tonight, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana stated disapprovingly, "Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us."

Jindal is out to prove that the Louisiana state government can't rescue 25,000 residents, by rejecting $90 million in recovery funding available through the stimulus package. He turned down extending the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, which provides 20 weeks of benefits to those "who had already collected all regular state benefits," and he rejected widening the pool of eligible individuals.

Is Jindal playing politics to position himself favorably among his party's conservative base? Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu of Louisiana stated, “Jindal needs to choose whether to represent the state of Louisiana or be the spokesman for the national Republican Party.”

Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans observed, "“I think he’s been tapped as the up-and-coming Republican to petition a run for president the next time it goes around. So he has a certain vernacular, and a certain way he needs to talk right now."

Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California is not taking Jindal's example: “You just tell them that anyone that doesn’t want to take the money: I’m ready to take their money and rebuild California.”

In an editorial, "What Part of 'Stimulus' Don't They Get?," the New York Times criticized Jindal and fellow Republicans who refuse to take money that could aid those who have joined the rising number of unemployed:

Imagine yourself jobless and struggling to feed your family while the governor of your state threatens to reject tens of millions of dollars in federal aid earmarked for the unemployed. That is precisely what is happening in poverty-ridden states like Louisiana and Mississippi where Republican governors are threatening to turn away federal aid rather than expand access to unemployment insurance programs in ways that many other states did a long time ago.

What makes these bad decisions worse is that they are little more than political posturing by rising Republican stars, like Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. This behavior reinforces the disturbing conclusion that the Republican Party seems more interested in ideological warfare than in working on policies that get the country back on track.

...The governors are blowing smoke when they suggest that the federal unemployment aid would lead directly to new state taxes. No one knows what the economic climate will be when the federal aid has been used up several years from now...

...Governors like Mr. Jindal should be worrying about how to end this recession while helping constituents feed and house their families — not about finding ways to revive tired election-year arguments about big spending versus small government.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Republicans Engage In Blatant Stimulus Package Hypocrisy

The passage of President Obama's stimulus package has brought forth a number of Republicans who voted against the bill but are touting aspects that benefit themselves and their constituencies.

As seen in the MSNBC report above, Representative John Mica of Florida first voted against the bill, then, hours later, issued press releases praising the $8 million investment in national high speed rail projects and a commuter train in Central Florida: “If we could put a man on the moon, we should be able to move people from city to city quickly instead of wasting time on a congested highway. I applaud President Obama’s recognition that high-speed rail should be part of America’s future.”

After Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, criticized the hypocrisy of Mica and other Republicans, Rusty Roberts, chief of staff to the Florida congressman, stated, “Certainly it’s possible to oppose the entire bill on principle and favor certain sections of it.”

Is there a lapse in logic here? Is it really possible to oppose the entire bill while not opposing the entire bill?

Representative Don Young of Alaska issued a press release on his winning "...a victory for the Alaska Native contracting program and other Alaska small-business owners." Later Young criticized the bill for its "pet projects." Presumably one of the pet projects is not the Alaska Native contracting program.

Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan enthusiastically posted online, "“If you know of someone thinking of buying first home, now may be the time. Stimulus incentive is very generous! Up to 8k! Check it out.” This is the same Hoekstra who earlier said of the spending bill, "I don't believe it will work."

On February 13, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri issued a press release that warned, “Hold on to your wallets folks because with the passage of this trillion-dollar baby the Democrats will be poised to spend as much as $3 trillion in your tax dollars. Taxpayers will be on the hook for spending that will stimulate the debt, stimulate the growth of government, but will do little to stimulate jobs or the economy.” 

Yet on February 17, Bond bragged in another release about a housing provision he put into the bill: "...Bond led a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing an amendment to help provide needy families affordable housing. ...As part of the Democrats’ spending bill now signed into law, the Senate unanimously accepted Bond’s provision." 

The senator, who earlier wrote that the stimulus package would not stimulate jobs, subsequently stated, "We must jumpstart the building of affordable housing units to help struggling families while creating jobs and putting people back to work.”

For more blatant Republican stimulus package hypocrisy, see Think Progress's list, "Blocking The Recovery While Reaping Its Benefits."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gibbs Addresses Santelli's Anti-Mortgage Plan Rant

CNBC's Rick Santelli, shown above, engaged in a rant about President Obama's mortgage plan, stating that we're "subsidizing the losers' mortgages." Amazingly, he was cheered on by Wall Street traders–members of the very same financial industry whose recklessness and incompetence have a great deal to do our current economic straits. As reported on "60 Minutes":

The numbers are staggering, but they don't begin to explain the greed and incompetence that created this mess.

It began with a terrible bet that was magnified by reckless borrowing, complex securities, and a vast, unregulated shadow market worth nearly $60 trillion that hid the risks until it was too late to do anything about them.

...this disaster was created entirely by Wall Street itself, during a time of relative prosperity. And they did it by placing a trillion dollar bet, with mostly borrowed money, that the riskiest mortgages in the country could be turned into gold-plated investments.

This industry had no problem being bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of billions–yet these "winners" are livid at bailing out the mortgage "losers." Let's also not forget the CEOs whom President Obama recently called out for enjoying huge bonuses courtesy of the taxpayers.

All this and more was apparently not clear to Santelli, so Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was compelled to explain what the mortgage plan is and is not. Watch:

Gibbs: "This plan helps those who have acted responsibly, played by the rules and made their mortgage payments. This will help people who aren't in trouble yet keep from getting in trouble. You can't stay in this program unless you continue to make mortgage payments. is not going to help a lender who knowingly made a bad loan and it is not going to help...somebody who has long known they were in a house they can't afford. ...This plan helps people that have been playing by the rules but can't get refinancing [to] get that refinancing so their home doesn't become foreclosed on. And Mr. Santelli might also know that if you live in a home that's near one that's been foreclosed, your home value has likely dropped about 9%, which for the average home is about $20,000."

Gibbs ends with his best line on the grandstanding Santelli: "I'd be happy to buy him a cup of coffee. Decaf."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Jefferson Airplane Takes Off

Two appearances helped the Jefferson Airplane take off, the first being their appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. The songs performed above represent elements of their signature sound: "High Flyin' Bird" was a carryover from the band members' participation in the San Francisco Bay folk music boom of the mid-1960s, while "Today" was one of many love ballads composed by co-singer Marty Balin. 

One year later, the band appeared on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to perform two of their greatest hits, "White Rabbit," which draws parallels between the imagery in "Alice In Wonderland" and psychedelic drug hallucinations, and "Somebody To Love." The songs appeared on the Airplane's outstanding 1967 album "Surrealistic Pillow." Grace Slick seems to perform both live against pre-recorded instrumentals. As you watch, you'll again see a liquid light show that was part of the stage setting for many psychedelic bands of the era:

Friday, February 20, 2009

NY Post Issues Non-Apology For Racist Cartoon

Under the heading "That Cartoon," the New York Post has issued a so-called apology for the racist cartoon, drawn by Sean Delonis, depicting the author of the stimulus package as a dead chimp. 

The Post's "apology" is as follows:

Wednesday's Page Six cartoon - caricaturing Monday's police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut - has created considerable controversy.

It shows two police officers standing over the chimp's body: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill," one officer says.

It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill.


But it has been taken as something else - as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism.

This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.

However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past - and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback.

To them, no apology is due.

Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon - even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.

The above has to be one of the most inadequate, insincere apologies ever written. Nowhere is there an admission of wrongdoing. The Post does not acknowledge that the man most associated with the stimulus package is President Obama, an African American. In addition, The Post does not acknowledge that African-Americans have historically been the subject of racist attacks depicting them as "synonymous with monkeys," as the Reverend Al Sharpton has explained.

Instead, The Post evades responsibility. After refusing to acknowledge the racist imagery, The Post apologizes "to those who were offended." It's all a matter of perception, you see; there are those who just didn't see the Post's harmless "intent" and didn't realize that it's "just a cartoon." According to The Post, they really did nothing wrong, but just in case you've distorted their meaning, they're sorry.

Then there's the reference to "some in the media and public life who have had differences with The Post in the past," a thinly veiled reference to Sharpton, leader of the protests shown in the video above.

Incredibly, the "apology" ends by naming The Post itself as the victim. It is the Post that is the supposed victim of "payback" foisted on them by "opportunists" seeking to make their cartoon "something else." 

In reality, it is The Post that is trying to make the cartoon something else–something other than what is is, an expression of sheer racism.

If this is an "apology," The Post need not have bothered. The only proper response on the part of the public is a boycott of the newspaper until a proper apology is issued.

Obama Lawyer Follows Bush Administration Argument For State Secrets

The Obama administration recently surprised a panel of federal appeals judges when  a government lawyer, Douglas N. Letter, made an argument for the preservation of state secrets–an argument first made by the Bush administration.

Mr. Letter was responding to a case involving allegations of extraordinary rendition, the practice of sending detainees to other countries that practice torture. The case involves Binyam Mohamed, a native of Ethiopia, and four other detainees, who accuse a subsidiary of Boeing of arranging lights for the Bush administration for the very purpose of extraordinary rendition. Mr. Mohamed claims that he was beaten and tortured in Morocco. The case is outlined in the video above.

The legal representative of the Obama administration carried forward the Bush administration's claim that the case should be dismissed since it involves state secrets that, if revealed, could harm national security. Judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit were startled by the fact that the administration is continuing this policy:

“Is there anything material that has happened” that might have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.

“No, your honor,” Mr. Letter replied.

American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony D. Romero  issued a critical statement:

"Eric Holder's Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama's Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue..."

Former constitutional law and civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald wrote that state secrets can be invoked regarding specific pieces of information; the problem comes when the government decides to dismiss an entire case, opening the door to legal abuse:

Nobody -- not the ACLU or anyone else -- argues that the State Secrets privilege is inherently invalid. Nobody contests that there is such a thing as a legitimate state secret...

What was abusive and dangerous about the Bush administration's version of the States Secret privilege -- just as the Obama/Biden campaign pointed out -- was that it was used not (as originally intended) to argue that specific pieces of evidence or documents were secret and therefore shouldn't be allowed in a court case, but instead, to compel dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance based on the claim that any judicial adjudication of even the most illegal secret government programs would harm national security...

...It doesn't take much time or energy to understand why that instrument is so pernicious. It enables a Government to break the law -- repeatedly and deliberately -- and then block courts from subjecting its behavior to any judicial accountability, and prevent the public from learning about the lawbreaking, by claiming that its conduct generally is too secret to allow any judicial review. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

NY Post Cartoon Depicts Author of Stimulus Package As Dead Chimp

Sean Delonis, known for his vile cartoons in the New York Post in which gays marry sheep and Al Qaeda celebrates the election of Democrats, is under fire for a cartoon that refers to a 200-pound chimpanzee that recently attacked a woman and was shot by a police officer. In the cartoon, an officer is shown shooting a chimp and stating, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." 

The Reverend Al Sharpton, Governor David A. Patterson, Senator Kirstin E. Gillibrand, and Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, among others, criticized the cartoon. Rev. Sharpton, who has been the subject of negative drawings by Delonis, said:

The cartoon in today’s New York Post is troubling at best, given the racist attacks throughout history that have made African-Americans synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual inference to this form of racism when, in the cartoon, the police say after shooting a chimpanzee, “Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.”

Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him, it is not a reach to wonder whether the Post cartoonist was inferring that a monkey wrote it?

Post editor-in-chief Col Allan denied that the cartoon was racist:

The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.

Allan's statement makes no sense. First, the mauling of a woman by a chimpanzee is not an appropriate subject for a parody. Second, what does a chimp have to do with the writing of the stimulus package? It would seem that Sharpton is correct when he asserts that the cartoon is steeped in  racist associations with African-Americans. That point was backed up by Andrew Rojecki, associate professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mr. Rojecki, who co-authored "The Black Image in the White Mind," said:

“Of course I would say it’s racist. There’s no question about it. The cartoonist, whether he did this consciously or not, was drawing upon a very historically deep source of images about African-Americans that African-Americans do not have a lot of control over.”

At this point, the best that the Post could do would be to admit that the cartoon is indeed racist and to apologize for publishing it. Nonsensical statements like the one made by the Post's editor-in-chief only show how out of touch the paper is.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

RNC Chairman Steele: "No Reason" To Trust The Republicans

First Joe Scarborough said on MSNBC, "Perhaps...we don't know what we're talking about." He was referring to misplaced conservative confidence that the public would favor the Republicans over President Obama on the stimulus package. Now Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, speaking to Glenn Beck on Fox News, has made another startlingly honest admission:

"Yeah, no, Glenn. I’m not gonna, look, I’m not going to soft pedal this with you. I’m not going to try to blow smoke either. The reality of it is, you are absolutely right. You have absolutely no reason, none, to trust our word or our actions at this point. So, yeah, it’s going to be an uphill climb." (H/t Think Progress)

Steele's comments, of course, came in response to Beck's statement that conservatives don't "expect socialism" from the Republicans. But the chairman's words can be applied to economic issues beyond socialist measures taken to rescue the financial and mortgage industries. The Bush administration, supported by the Republicans, ran up a deficit to the tune of trillions of dollars. They conducted two wars while cutting taxes for the wealthy at a cost of $2 trillion. The unnecessary war in Iraq alone has cost $1 trillion and counting. Their deregulation policies led to rampant speculation and an economic catastrophe.

Suddenly, though, the Republicans have rediscovered fiscal responsibility the minute Obama announced his stimulus package. But given the GOP track record over the past eight years, their pose is without credibility. There is indeed, "no reason, none, to trust" their "word or actions," as their chairman so candidly states.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rock Video Boasts "House GOP Is Back"–But Scarborough Expresses Doubts

Republican Whip Eric Cantor came out with an ad, "The House GOP Is Back," set to the tune of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle":

And how, exactly, is the GOP "back"? It's not that they managed to stop the president's stimulus package. No, they're "back" because every House Republican voted no. They stood together as obstructionists while offering nothing new on the nation's dire economic straits. Paul Krugman put it well: 

"In both the House and the Senate, the vast majority of Republicans rallied behind the idea that the appropriate response to the abject failure of the Bush administration’s tax cuts is more Bush-style tax cuts."

Conservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough had a more honest assessment of the fact that the $787 billion economic stimulus bill not only passed but, according to Gallup, 67% of Americans approved of President Obama's handling of the issue compared to 31% approval of the Republicans:

It seems that Scarborough's candid statement, "Perhaps...we don't know what we're talking about," applies to Eric Cantor's falsely triumphalist ad.

Finance Expert Suze Orman On The Economic Injustice Of Gay Marriage Ban

Economic discrimination is one of the negative results of the ban on gay marriage upheld in every state except for Massachusetts and Connecticut. Personal finance expert Suze Orman's Valentine's Wish was for gay couples to no longer experience this blatant injustice: 

...when it comes to money, marriage is such a privilege. You will save thousands, tens of thousands of dollars, all kinds of money, if you're allowed to be married. Which is why, in my opinion, it is such a travesty that a few months ago Proposition 8 in California passed. Proposition 2 in Florida passed. What is that about everybody? We are taking away a birthright, if you ask me, for people to get the most out of the money that they have spent their lives working. Those people are making money, they pay taxes on the money. Every single one of us deserves to have the same financial benefits whether we are gay or whether we are straight. And therefore we have got to do everything we can to turn that around. Every single one of use deserves to be loved. Every single one of us deserves to love. And every single one of us deserves to make the most out of the money that we have. That's my Valentine's Day wish for every single one of us. 

Amen. Orman, by the way, came out in February 2007.

Experience The Miraculous GOP Problem Solver

Did I really write about GOP cluelessness yesterday? Little did I know of the existence of the "GOP Problem Solver: Utilizing the latest and greatest of Republican economic thought to improve your life." Now I see how the opposition party has a unifying philosophy that answers every question. To experience the miraculous GOP Problem Solver, click here. (H/t Oliver Willis.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

SNL, Frank Rich On GOP Cluelessness Following Stimulus Bill Passage

Saturday Night Live mocked the Republicans' obstructionist stance on the stimulus package, their belief that they somehow "prevailed" during the past week and the influence of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on their party. The reference to President Obama providing "too much information" at a recent press conference is a clear dig at his predecessor, who was not exactly renowned for his precise and detailed articulation of policies. Veteran SNL actor Dan Ackroyd played a self-assured John Boehner, Ohio Representative and House Minority Leader.

Meanwhile, Frank Rich, in "They Sure Showed That Obama" (2/15/09), also focused on GOP political cluelessness regarding their delusive belief in a "victory." If the passage of a $787 billion economic stimulus bill in the first three weeks of the Obama presidency is a "defeat," may there be many more such "defeats." From Rich's column:

...Because Republicans are isolated in that parallel universe and believe all the noise in its echo chamber, they are now as out of touch with reality as the “inevitable” Clinton campaign was before it got clobbered in Iowa. The G.O.P. doesn’t recognize that it emerged from the stimulus battle even worse off than when it started...

...the final score was unambiguous. The stimulus package arrived with the price tag and on roughly the schedule Obama had set for it. The president’s job approval percentage now ranges from the mid 60s (Gallup, Pew) to mid 70s (CNN) — not bad for a guy who won the presidency with 52.9 percent of the vote. While 48 percent of Americans told CBS, Gallup and Pew that they approve of Congressional Democrats, only 31 (Gallup), 32 (CBS) and 34 (Pew) percent could say the same of their G.O.P. counterparts.

...But the Republicans are busy high-fiving themselves and celebrating “victory.” Even in defeat, they are still echoing the 24/7 cable mantra about the stimulus’s unpopularity. ...There hasn’t been this much delusional giddiness in these ranks since Monica Lewinsky promised a surefire Republican sweep in the 1998 midterms.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering "Ronette" Estelle Bennett

"They could sing all their way right through a wall of sound. They didn't need anything. They touched my heart right there and then and they touch it still."Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones introducing the Ronettes at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2007

Estelle Bennett, one of the backup singers of the 1960s "girl group" The Ronettes, died at 67 at her home in Englewood, NJ. The group's hits, including "Be My Baby," performed above on "Shindig!" in 1965, as well as "Baby I Love You" and "Walkin' In The Rain," incorporated producer Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound" technique. The Ronettes also included Estelle's younger sister Ronnie Spector, the lead singer, and cousin Nedra Talley.

Michael Moore To The Financial Industry: "Will You Help Me With My Next Film?"

Michael Moore, whose last film, "SICKO," skewered the nation's privately run health insurance industry with commentary from health insurance administrators and those they "serve," has asked for public participation in his new film. He intends to"expose the biggest swindle in American history" on the part of Wall Street and the financial industry. Moore made the appeal on his web site:

I am in the middle of shooting my next movie and I am looking for a few brave people who work on Wall Street or in the financial industry to come forward and share with me what they know. Based on those who have already contacted me, I believe there are a number of you who know "the real deal" about the abuses that have been happening. You have information that the American people need to hear. I am humbly asking you for a moment of courage, to be a hero and help me expose the biggest swindle in American history.

All correspondence with me will be kept confidential. Your identity will be protected and you will decide to what extent you wish to participate in telling the greatest crime story ever told.

If you have any info that would help, please contact me at my private email address:

In the video above, Democratic Representative Michael Capuano of Massachusetts was among those who were outraged at Wall Street bank executives over the way they used $176 in bailout money. The swindles continue as evidently the money was not used to ease the credit crisis. Capuano's advice to the CEOs: "Start loaning the money that we gave you. Get it on the street. And don't say, 'Oh well, we're not using that money for bonuses.' Come on! Money is all of a sudden not fungible in your entity."

Ari Folman's "Waltz With Bashir," Part 2

WALTZ WITH BASHIR: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman and David Polonsky. Copyright: 2009 by Ari Folman / Bridgit Folman Films Gang. Published by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an Imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

I recently posted Part 1 of the new graphic novel "Waltz With Bashir," based on the outstanding animated film by Israeli director Ari Folman. I also posted a review of the film, which drew upon the director's repressed memories of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. In the excerpt above, Folman draws closer to the source of his repression: the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Israel's Christian Phalangist militia allies.

Perhaps the most meaningful commentary on the film came from Lokman Slim, activist with the Lebanese UMAM organization, which screens movies related to the country's violent history:

"It's one of the greatest films I've ever seen. I feel jealous that those we should consider our enemies have the courage to revisit events in which they were involved, while we Lebanese are in an endless silence regarding our history."

In order to show the film in Beirut, where it is banned, the organization had to obtain it privately and hold a select showing. You won't have to go to such trouble if the film is playing in your area, so if it is, I urge you to see it. 

To view the pages above, click on the thumbnails in succession. With thanks to TomDispatch for permission to show the excerpts.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Senator Pat Leahy Proposes Truth Commission On Bush Administration Abuses

Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, has proposed a truth commission to investigate the Bush administration's illegal activities. Leahy contends that his compromise proposal would not focus on prosecution but on revealing the truth about abuses of power "from torture to illegal wiretapping." He said the following at a speech at Georgetown University, as seen in the video above:

I think there is another option... You could probably call it a middle ground, but a middle ground to find the truth. We need to get to the bottom of what happened and why, and the reason we do that is so that it will never happen again.

One path to that goal would be a reconciliation process and truth commission. We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair minded, and without any axe to grind. Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth. People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts.

If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers, and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecutions for anything except perjury in order to get to the full truth. Congress has already granted some immunity, over my objection, to those who facilitated warrantless wiretaps and those who conducted cruel interrogations. It would be far better to use that authority to learn the truth.

President Obama signaled his reluctance to engage in an investigation, stating, "I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Republicans are against any commission; Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, senior Republican of the House Judiciary Committee, said the proposal was a scheme "to unjustly malign former Bush administration officials."

Smith must have been referring to those who considered potential hires at the Justice Department according to their political views, engaged in illegal wiretaps to eavesdrop on Americans, approved the war crime of waterboarding, and sent detainees to foreign countries that reputedly torture (extraordinary rendition), among other crimes. "Unjustly maligned," indeed.

Paul Krugman disagreed with the president's readiness to move on, writing that an investigation is the only way to ensure that the abuses are not repeated:

I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.

...There’s much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?

Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dylan's Anthem Of Freedom Promised "No Direction Home"

Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan At The Crossroads by Greil Marcus. Illustrated. 286 pp. Public Affairs. $14.00 (paperback)

Is one song a viable focus for a book almost 300 pages long? Yes, if the study is written by music and cultural historian Greil Marcus and if the song is Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone," listed by Rolling Stone Magazine as number 1 on their "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."

Marcus recounts how the song was part of Dylan's penchant for defying expectations. "Like A Rolling Stone" was composed during the period when he threw off the folk purists by pioneering the folk rock sound, for which he was booed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 and the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England, in 1966. 

It wasn't just the folkies who were upended by Dylan's compositions; it was also the pop music teams of Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Said Goffin, "I wish we had tried more to write some songs that–really meant something... Dylan managed to do something that not one of us was able to do: put poetry in rock 'n' roll, and just stand up there like a mensch and sing it." Elvis Costello registered the song's impact: "What a shocking thing to live in a world where there was Manfred Mann and the Supremes and Engelbert Humperdinck and here comes 'Like A Rolling Stone.' "

The shock of the song brought with it various interpretations of this portrait of a spoiled young woman who found herself on the streets, among the very people she once looked upon with condescension. Some saw the song as self-righteous put-down, "refusing women any middle ground between the pedestal and the gutter" or "sneeringly and contemptuously sung to a spoiled rich girl" with "the reactionary stagnation of the social order...personified as female."

The song that promises "no direction home" can also be viewed, however, as an anthem of freedom, especially in the context of the 1960s. Rolling Stone Magazine founder Jann Wenner offered this perspective: "So now you're without a home, you're on your own, complete unknown, like a rolling stone. That's a liberating thing. This is a song about liberation. About being liberated from your own hangups, your old knowledge, and the fear, the frightening part of facing that." On a broader level, Wenner applied the song to "a comfortable society suddenly discovering what's going on in Vietnam–the society we're taught about, and you realize, as you become aware, drug aware, socially aware, the disaster of the commercial society." Marcus agrees with this perspective: "Confused–and justified, exultant, free from history with a world to win–is exactly where the song means to leave you."

Marcus's depictions of the musical traditions and landscapes of America can rise to pure poetry. "Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan's first folk music hero" is described as a "troubadour of the dispossessed, poet of the Great Depression, ghost of the American highway, a man blown by the wind and made out of dust." Highway 61, which took Dylan to cities where he discovered folk music, "...would have seemed to go to the ends of the earth, carrying the oldest strains of American music along with businessmen and escaped cons, vacationers and joy-riders blasting the radio–carrying runaway slaves north before the long highway had a single name, and, not so much more than a century later, carrying Freedom Riders south."

The descriptions of the studio sessions leave an impression of the contingent nature of recordings. The musicians were fumbling around with the song until they came upon the single take that did it justice. Al Kooper was originally not even supposed to be part of the ensemble, but he happened to be in the studio and sat down at the organ. One also hears fresh elements of the song after reading the book: blues guitarist Michael Bloomfield's leads that form a bridge between stanzas, or the sound of the tambourine throughout. Forty-four years later, "Like A Rolling Stone" can be discovered anew, as is always the case with great art.

Suggestions for further reading:
• "Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'N' Roll Music" by Greil Marcus
• "Down The Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan" by Howard Sounes
• "Positively Fourth Street" by David Hadju
• "Chronicles: Volume One" by Bob Dylan

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

RNC Urges Supporters To Call Right-Wing Talk Radio

I've written a number of times about the role of Fox News as the propaganda arm of the Republican party, despite the network's farcical claim to being "fair and balanced." We should not forget, however, the role of right wing talk radio in serving the same purpose (h/t Crooks And Liars). 

President Obama recently told the GOP, "You just can't listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done." The influential conservative talk show host told his audience, in reference to Obama, "I want him to fail."

On the right-hand column of the Republican National Committee's web page, there's a blatant appeal to "Call Talk Radio: Get the word out by calling local radio shows & promote the GOP" (above). But not just any talk radio. No, it's the radio that talks the GOP party line. Granted, these shows have a point of view; however, there isn't even a pretense about any objectivity or independent expression.

When one clicks on "Call Talk Radio," one links to a list of all those who've used the airwaves to support the disastrous policies of the past eight years, from Glenn Beck to Michael Savage to Sean Hannity to Bill O'Reilly to Limbaugh and more:

To read about the latest outrageous statements of these hosts, I suggest taking a look at Media Matters.

Monday, February 9, 2009

President Obama Asserts Government's Role In Economic Revival

In his news conference today, President Obama outlined the country's dire financial picture and addressed the conservative position that government should adopt a hands-off stance to such problems:

There have been criticisms from a bunch of different directions about this bill, so let me just address a few of them. Some of the criticisms really are with the basic idea that government should intervene at all in this moment of crisis. Now you have some people, very sincere, who philosophically just think that government has no business interfering in the marketplace, and in fact there are several who suggested that FDR was wrong to intervene back in the New Deal. They're fighting battles that I thought were resolved a pretty long time ago.

Most economists, almost unanimously, recognize that even if philosophically you're wary of government intervening in the economy, when you have the kind of problem we have right now, what started on Wall Street goes to Main Street, suddenly businesses can't get credit, they start paring back their investment, they start laying off workers, workers start pulling back in terms of spending, that when you have that situation, that government is an important element of introducing some additional demand into the economy.

The deregulation of the financial industry was a result of this hands-off approach. According to such an outlook, the market is always self-correcting, since it never wants to sabotage its chances of maximizing profit. Yet the lack of oversight leads to rampant speculation undertaken by those who want to realize a quick return. When we add in tax cuts for the wealthy that clearly don't trickle down to the rest of us and the enormous cost of two simultaneous wars, we've got more than enough ingredients for an economic disaster.

According to the latest Gallup Poll, the public agrees with Obama's determination to have the government play an active role in stimulating the economy:

The American public gives President Barack Obama a strong 67% approval rating for the way in which he is handling the government's efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill, while the Democrats and, in particular, the Republicans in Congress receive much lower approval ratings of 48% and 31%, respectively.

It seems that the public recognizes, along with the president, a "full-blown economic crisis" when it sees one–despite the misgivings of those whose economic outlook played a major role in the current crisis.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Obama Signs Children's Health Insurance Bill, Reversing Disgraceful Bush Vetoes

Among the most disgraceful and heartless of George Bush's domestic stances was the repeated veto of the State Children's Health Insurance (S-chip) bill. The S-chip program helps families who earn too much to qualify for Medicare, but still cannot afford private health insurance.

The last veto, in October 2007, was even criticized by several Republican senators, including Orrin Hatch of Utah, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who said that Bush's vision for the insurance plan “...won’t even cover kids on the program today, much less reach out to cover more kids.”

Of course, the Bush administration hardly had as its priority covering as many kids as possible who needed health insurance. Its energy was taken up with such items as cutting the capital gains tax. One can be well assured that the children of those who benefited from such a cut already had health insurance.

Paul Krugman, with his usual insight, pointed out in "An Immoral Philosophy" (7/30/07) what lay at the heart of Bush's veto–and at the heart of the conservative outlook: the hatred of government and the fear that it may actually improve people's lives:

...[Mr. Bush] wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

This sounds like a caricature, but it isn’t. The truth is that this good-is-bad philosophy has always been at the core of Republican opposition to health care reform. Thus back in 1994, William Kristol warned against passage of the Clinton health care plan “in any form,” because “its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas.”

It was therefore gratifying to see President Obama recently reverse the Bush vetoes with his recent signing of a bill to extend health insurance to millions of low-income children. The bill will continue coverage for seven million, while enabling states to cover more than four million more by 2013, paid for by an increase in tobacco taxes.

While Bush said that access to health care is no problem because "After all, you just go to an emergency room," Obama said, as shown in the video above, "No child in America should be receiving his or her primary care in the emergency room in the middle of the night." In contrast to the Republican philosophy, Obama eloquently spoke of the responsibility we have to the youngest and most vulnerable: "In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to trade-offs or negotiations, and health care for our children is one of those obligations."

Finally, where Bush viewed S-chip negatively as "...a strategy to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care,” Obama views it positively as "...the first step...a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American." May this crucial goal come to pass.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Thelonious Monk, Oslo 1966

"You know, anybody can play a composition and use far-out chords and make it sound wrong. It's making it sound right that's not easy." –Thelonious Monk, 1961

Thelonious Monk was one of jazz's geniuses. While he was considered to be among the founders of bebop, his style and compositions were too innovative to remain categorized according to one school. He was known for his dischords, angular improvisations, and use of space and silence. This video of a performance of "Blue Monk" focuses at one point on Monk's hands, showing his percussive approach to the piano, including playing with his arms crossed. Monk is joined by the group that played with him during his peak years, 1964-1967, at Columbia Records: Charlie Rouse, tenor sax; Larry Gales, bass, and Ben Riley, drums.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cheney: Read Them Their Rights At Our Peril

Dick Cheney (left) apparently isn't following the protocol whereby former administration officials refrain from criticizing the new president–even when he's been in office for less than a month. In an interview with Politico, Cheney wondered about the Obama administration's commitment to protecting the country:

“When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.”

In the Cheney worldview, it's impossible to balance national security with upholding such quaint documents as the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. The reading of rights not only contradicts safeguarding the country; indeed, it is proof that one is not doing so.

Cheney referred to the inmates still at Guantanamo as the "hard core" ones. Yet he's used that characterization before, even when events called it into question. From The New York Times of January 18, 2009:

"...a pattern...has emerged in the closing chapter of the administration. In the last three months, at least 24 detainees have been declared improperly held by courts or a tribunal — or nearly 10 percent of the population at the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where about 245 men remain.

"The Bush administration has maintained that the detention camp holds “the worst of the worst.” In a radio interview Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney said that “now what’s left, that is the hardcore.”

But for Guantánamo’s critics, the timing of the decisions on the two dozen detainees adds new urgency to a review of all Guantánamo cases... “The house of cards is finally falling down,” said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has coordinated detainees’ lawyers.

Significantly, these releases "...came after the Bush administration said it had reduced the population to the most dangerous terrorists." (My italics.)

In the Politico interview, Cheney also stated that the Obama administration is "...unwisely following 'campaign rhetoric' and preparing to release terrorism suspects or afford them legal protections granted to more conventional defendants in crime cases." Yet the Times article indicated the seriousness with which the Obama administration regards the Guantanamo cases:

"President-elect Barack Obama, who plans to close Guantánamo, has said that some of the detainees are too dangerous to release. Mr. Obama’s administration is expected to begin an effort to sort these detainees from those who pose less of a threat or are being held on weak evidence."

Regarding the nation's dire economic straits, Cheney stated, “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The combination of the financial crisis that started last year, coupled now with, obviously, a major recession, I think we’re a long way from having solved these problems.”

Naturally, the former vice president had nothing to say about the deregulation of the financial industry, tax cuts for the wealthy, the simultaneous pursuit of two wars, and the dependence on foreign oil–Bush administration policies that were decisive in leading to the current impasse.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Joe The Plumber Emerges As Conservative Standard Bearer In Economics And Journalism

What are we to make of the fact that Joe the Plumber, aka Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, recently presented a talk on the proposed stimulus package to the Conservative Working Group, an organization of Capitol Hill staffers who plan weekly GOP strategy?

Does Joe's appearance say something about the intellectual standards of a party searching for its bearings? Does he follow in the tradition of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and other prominent conservative thinkers of the past?

Or was he just there to get people to show up at the 9:00 a.m. meeting? Kimberly Wallner, an aide to South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, sent out an e-mail to drum up excitement: "In case you weren't planning to attend GWC tomorrow morning, you might want to reconsider because Joe the Plumber will be joining us!"

Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly offered a telling assessment of Joe's lecture: "This is what it's come to for Republican staffers in Congress. In the midst of an economic crisis, and after balking at a stimulus package, the GOP is turning to an unlicensed plumber/campaign prop to discuss legislative strategy on economic policy."

Yes, I know I've kept you in suspense regarding Joe's perspective on President Obama's stimulus package. Well, here it is: he doesn't like it.

In addition to serving as an economist–the right's answer to recent Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman–Joe was also recently sent to Israel by the conservative PJTV to serve as a war correspondent. His conclusion? Journalists shouldn't do war journalism (h/t Think Progress):

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think journalists should be anywhere allowed war. I mean, you guys report where our troops are at. You report what’s happening day to day. You make a big deal out of it. I think it’s asinine. You know, I liked back in World War I and World War II when you’d go to the theater and you’d see your troops on, you know, the screen and everyone would be real excited and happy for ’em. Now everyone’s got an opinion and wants to downer–and down soldiers. You know, American soldiers or Israeli soldiers.

I think media should be abolished from, uh, you know, reporting. You know, war is hell. And if you’re gonna sit there and say, “Well look at this atrocity,” well you don’t know the whole story behind it half the time, so I think the media should have no business in it.

Actually, Thom Hartmann of Air America Radio conducted an excellent interview with Joe the Plumber. Hartmann used the situation in the Middle East as a jumping off point to focus on Joe's real area of expertise. Listen:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ari Folman's "Waltz With Bashir," Part 1

WALTZ WITH BASHIR: A Lebanon War Story by Ari Folman and David Polonsky. Copyright © 2009 by Ari Folman / Bridgit Folman Films Gang. Published by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an Imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Last month, I reviewed Israeli director Ari Folman's remarkable animated film "Waltz With Bashir," which I highly recommend seeing if it's in your area. I understand that the film was recently privately shown in Beirut, even though it's banned in Lebanon. It was also screened in the West Bank city of Ramallah and may soon be shown in the Arab gulf states, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "Waltz With Bashir" won the Golden Globe Award for best foreign film and is nominated for an Oscar in that category.

The autobiographical film focuses on Folman's army service during Israel's 1982 war in Lebanon and his repressed, traumatic memories of the massacre of hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian Phalangist militia. The Israeli Defense Forces let them into the camps, supposedly to root out terrorists. A commission of inquiry found Ariel Sharon, then serving as defense minister, indirectly responsible for the massacre and forced him to resign.

A book version of the film will soon arrive, according to TomDispatch, which I thank for permission to show the excerpt above. I'll be showing two more excerpts soon. To read the pages, click on the thumbnails above in succession.

To read an interview with Folman, click here. The linked page also features a video showing an interview of Folman with film excerpts.