Monday, November 30, 2009

Senate Report: Rumsfeld Let Bin Laden Escape

The next time Dick Cheney criticizes President Obama's defense of the country in favor of the Bush record, remember which administration had Osama bin Laden in its grasp and let him go. A Senate report commissioned by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, concluded:

Osama bin Laden was "within the grasp" of US forces in late 2001 but escaped because then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [left] rejected calls for reinforcements, a US Senate report says.

...It points the finger directly at Rumsfeld for turning down requests for reinforcements as Bin Laden was trapped in December 2001 in caves and tunnels in a mountainous area of eastern Afghanistan known as Tora Bora.

"The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the marine corps and the army, was kept on the sidelines," the report says.

"Instead, the US command chose to rely on airstrikes and untrained Afghan militias to attack Bin Laden and on Pakistan's loosely organized Frontier Corps to seal his escape routes."

...Rumsfeld's argument at the time, the report says, was that deploying too many American troops could jeopardize the mission by creating an anti-US backlash among the local populace.

The decision haunts the U.S. to this day:

"But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed Bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide," it says.

"The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism, leaving the American people more vulnerable to terrorism, laying the foundation for today's protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan."

Cheney, constant critic of the current administration, was wrong in his defense of Rumsfeld:

The report, which Kerry says in a foreword "relies on new and existing information," dismisses statements from [General Tommy] Franks, Vice President Dick Cheney and others defending the decision and arguing that the intelligence was inconclusive about Bin Laden's location.

Swiss Damage Tradition Of Tolerance With Ban On Minarets

In a development that will increase the alienation, not assimilation, of Switzerland's Muslim minority and promote ethnic hostility instead of harmony, the Swiss have voted to ban the construction of minarets. The constitutional ban, 57.5 percent for and 42.5 percent against, was opposed by the government and represents a victory by the right-wing Swiss People's Party, which promoted Islamophobia:

Campaign posters [above] depicting a Swiss flag sprouting black, missile-shaped minarets alongside a woman shrouded in a niqab, a head-to-toe veil that shows only the eyes, starkly illustrated the determination of the right to play on deep-rooted fears that Muslim immigration would lead to an erosion of Swiss values.

The demographic makeup of the Muslim minority in Switzerland and the actual construction of minarets reveal that images of a fundamentalist takeover amount to fear-mongering:

Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets, and only 2 more minarets are planned. None conduct the call to prayer. There are about 400,000 Muslims in a population of some 7.5 million people. Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey, and most do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, said Manon Schick, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Switzerland.

Switzerland's vote damages the country's reputation for tolerance:

The government must now draft a supporting law on the ban, a process that could take at least a year and could put Switzerland in breach of international conventions on human rights.

...“That Switzerland, a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance and the provision of refuge to the persecuted, should have accepted such a grotesquely discriminatory proposal is shocking,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s deputy program director for Europe and Central Asia.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Iran Confiscates Nobel Peace Prize Medal Of Human Rights Lawyer Shirin Ebadi

One of the most consistent signs of an authoritarian regime is its treatment of human rights activists. Aung San Suu Kyi, pro-democracy campaigner and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been detained for more than 11 of the past 19 years by the Burmese regime. Huang Qi, Chinese dissident who tried to help parents protesting after thousands of children died in schools too shoddily built to withstand an earthquake, was recently jailed for three years.

Iran has engaged in both brutal repression, including increased use of the death penalty, and ideological re-education to stifle protests against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dubious landslide victory. Now, in an unprecedented move, the Iranian regime has confiscated the Nobel Peace Prize medal of human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi (above):

In Norway, where the peace prize is awarded, the government said the confiscation of the gold medal was a shocking first in the history of the 108-year-old prize.

Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts in promoting democracy. She has long faced harassment from Iranian authorities for her activities – including threats against her relatives and a raid on her office last year in which files were confiscated.

...Acting on orders from Tehran's Revolutionary Court, authorities took the peace prize medal about three weeks ago from a safe-deposit box in Iran, Ebadi said in a phone interview from London. They also seized her Legion of Honor and a ring awarded to her by a German association of journalists, she said.

Authorities froze the bank accounts of her and her husband and demanded $410,000 in taxes that they claimed were owed on the $1.3 million she was awarded. Ebadi said, however, that such prizes are exempt from tax under Iranian law. She said the government also appears intent on trying to confiscate her home.

...Ebadi has criticized the Iranian government's crackdown on demonstrations by those claiming the June vote was stolen from a pro-reform candidate through massive fraud.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Big Mama Thornton Belts Out "Hound Dog"

Despite the fact that "Hound Dog" is usually solely associated with Elvis Presley's mega hit in 1956, Big Mama Thornton also had success with this Lieber and Stoller tune three years earlier. Her she does a rousing rendition in 1965, with a young Buddy Guy, recently showcased here, by her side on guitar. Thornton also had a 1961 hit with her original composition "Ball and Chain," the song that launched the career of Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Obama Administration Continues Bush Stance On Landmines

In a disappointing continuation of one of the policies of the Bush years, the Obama administration has announced that it will not sign a global treaty banning landmines. The treaty has been signed by 156 countries, but the U.S., Russia, China and India have not joined them. The State Department said that the mines are essential to U.S. security commitments. One has to question this assertion, given the lack of actual use:

The United States generally abides by the provisions of the treaty. It has not used antipersonnel mines since the 1991 Gulf War, has not exported any since 1992 and has not produced them since 1997, Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, told a briefing on Monday.

What cannot be denied is the grevious harm landmines do to the innocent, including thousands of children, often long after conflicts have ended:

According to the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), landmines caused at least 5,197 casualties last year, a third of them children. A United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children, by Gra├ža Machel, the UN Secretary-General's Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children called landmines "an insidious and persistent danger" to children. An estimated 110 million land-mines of various types remain hidden and unexploded. Once laid, a mine may remain active for up to 50 years.

Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch correctly called the Obama administration's stance a contradiction in its "professed emphasis on multilateralism, disarmament, and humanitarian affairs." The policy also gains a measure of bitter irony in view of the president's upcoming receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) also criticized the lack of U.S. leadership on this humanitarian issue:

"This is a default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history... The United States is the most powerful nation on earth. We don't need these weapons and most of our allies have long ago abandoned them. It is a lost opportunity for the United States to show leadership instead of joining with China and Russia and impeding progress. The United States took some of the earliest and most effective steps to restrict the use of landmines. We should be leading this effort, not sitting on the sidelines."

Note: Click on Amnesty International ad to view it more clearly.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Teabaggers Mock Woman Who Lost Daughter And Grandchild Due To Lack Of Health Insurance

Reaching a new low in shamelessness and callousness, the Chicago Tea Party Patriots laughed at and heckled Midge Hough, who told them about her daughter, 24, and unborn grandchild who died partly due to a lack of health insurance. Hough spoke at a town hall meeting with Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL). Watch:

Kristen McQueary of the Southtown Star commented:

Their daughter-in-law, Jenny, and an unborn grandchild died recently due in part, they believe, to a lack of health insurance. They said Jenny was not receiving regular prenatal care and ended up in an emergency room with double pneumonia that developed into septic shock. Her baby died in the womb, and Jenny died a few weeks later, leaving behind a husband and a 2-year-old daughter.

Catherina Wojtowicz, of Chicago's Mount Greenwood community, an organizer for a Tea Party splinter group, Chicago Tea Party Patriots, falsely claimed that the Houghs fabricated their story. In an e-mail, she called them operatives of President Barack Obama who "go from event to event and (cry) the same story."

When the Houghs spoke at the Lipinski event, some Tea Partiers ridiculed them. They moaned and rolled their eyes and interrupted. Midge Hough began to cry.

The audience, Wojtowicz later explained, was exasperated by stories of isolated tragedies that cloud debate over the health care bill itself.

Wojtowicz's cynical and sickening accusations against the Houghs speak for themselves. The Houghs' tragedy, though, is not "isolated." According to a Harvard University study, "Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults," nearly 45,000 annual deaths are linked to a lack of health insurance.

Midge and Dan Hough, followed by Huffington Post editor Roy Sekoff, spoke to Ed Schultz about the shocking reception given to a grieving parent:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Anti-Health Care Reform Forces On The Wrong Side Of History

Nicholas D. Kristof reminds us of the history of opposition to progressive legislation such as Social Security and Medicare. Those who were on the wrong side of history in the past sound remarkably similar to those railing against health care reform today:

Indeed, these same arguments we hear today against health reform were used even earlier, to attack President Franklin Roosevelt’s call for Social Security. It was denounced as a socialist program that would compete with private insurers and add to Americans’ tax burden so as to kill jobs.

...Similar, ferocious hyperbole was unleashed on the proposal for Medicare. President John Kennedy and later President Lyndon Johnson pushed for a government health program for the elderly, but conservatives bitterly denounced the proposal as socialism, as a plan for bureaucrats to make medical decisions, as a means to ration health care.

Following the Senate's vote to open the health care debate, Senate majority leader Harry Reid drew similar lessons:

“Imagine if instead of debating either of the historic G.I. Bills — legislation that has given so many brave Americans the chance to go to college — if this body had stood silent,” Mr. Reid said. “Imagine if instead of debating the bills that created Social Security or Medicare, the Senate’s voices had been stilled. Imagine if instead of debating whether to abolish slavery, instead of debating whether giving women and minorities a right to vote, those who disagreed were muted, discussion was killed.”

Kristof warns that those who would obstruct health care reform today have not learned these critical lessons from American history:

It’s now broadly apparent that those who opposed Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965 were wrong in their fears and tried to obstruct a historical tide. This year, the fate of health care will come down to a handful of members of Congress, including Senators Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu. If they flinch and health reform fails, they’ll be letting down their country at a crucial juncture. They’ll be on the wrong side of history.

"Palin 2012": A Political Disaster Of Epic Proportions

Even those who are titillated by disaster movies might find this too intense. "Palin 2012" finds the Earth quaking in apocalyptic cataclysms as the half-term governor of Alaska is elected president. To add to the unimaginable horror, Glenn Beck is vice president–weeping in victory, of course. From "Saturday Night Live" (and replayed by Keith Olbermann), here's the chilling depiction of election day 2012, when the planet goes rogue:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gideon Levy Pays Tribute To Fellow Israeli Commentator Amos Elon At NYU Memorial

Gideon Levy, whose columns in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz focus on the corrosive effects of occupation, spoke last Wednesday at a New York University memorial event for Amos Elon (left), who passed away at 82 last May. Also a commentator for Haaretz, Elon was the author of nine books, one of which, "The Israelis: Founders and Sons" (1971), offered a view of his country both sympathetic and critical, as well as a profound understanding of the Palestinian perspective. In his remarks, Levy states that Elon's iconoclastic warnings about the occupation following the 1967 Six Day War were "nothing but prophecy" and that "if voices like Amos' voice wouldn't have been so rare in the Israeli media, Israelis wouldn't have felt so comfortable with the occupation." Watch:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Harsh Truth For Palinites: If You Backed Bush, You Can't Have Your Country Back

Plunderbund interviewed Sarah Palin fans waiting at a Dublin, Ohio, Borders bookstore as the half-term governor of Alaska and renowned expert on Russia took her book tour there. The interviewers presented the crowd with the harsh truth: they can't have their country back because they already created a mess voting for George W. Bush–twice. Watch:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Fairport Convention Live

Through their adaptation of traditional English folk songs, Fairport Convention, founded in 1967, became England's most influential folk rock band. Here the group performs "Matty Groves" in Birmingham Town Hall, 1990. The ballad, versions of which appeared in the 17th century, is about an ill-fated tryst between a nobleman's wife and a servant. "Matty Groves" is one of the tracks on Fairport Convention's seminal album "Liege and Lief," 1969.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wingnut Signs Of The Times

The Lafayette County Republican Central Committee in Missouri put up a billboard outlining "A citizen's guide to revolution of a corrupt government" and warning everyone to "prepare for war":

This billboard replaces the committee's previous sign decrying the communist "Obama-Nation":

Meanwhile, Wolf Automotive in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, placed a sign off an interstate highway showing the president wearing a turban with the wording, "President or Jihad...Birth Certificate...Wake Up America! Remember Ft. Hood."

In short, these are the signs displayed by America's loyal opposition.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Israeli Desire For Abbas To Stay Contradicted By East Jerusalem Plans

A strange disconnect has developed regarding the threatened resignation of Mahmoud Abbas (left), Palestinian president. Israel knows that Abbas is a reasonable man who renounces terror, supports a two-state solution and presents a positive alternative to Hamas:

The Israeli security establishment is in a state of alarm over the possible departure of Mr. Abbas, whom it considers a genuine moderate. Some of its top members are urging their government to make far-reaching offers — “not just lifting a few roadblocks,” in the words of one — that would persuade him to stay in power and resume negotiations with Israel on a solution that involves creating an independent Palestinian state.

...“Everyone is running around in circles trying to rebuild this process, to find some way to start it up again,” a senior Israeli official observed. “No one knows if it is possible.”

This sense of alarm is contradicted by Israeli settlement plans in East Jerusalem–seen by Palestinians as their future capital–that certainly won't strengthen Abbas or encourage him to stay:

Mr. Abbas has repeatedly stated that the only way forward is with a complete Israeli freeze on settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has offered to greatly reduce building, but not to stop it — and added that East Jerusalem would not be included. His government just announced plans to build hundreds of new units in a part of the city captured in 1967.

A groundbreaking ceremony for Nof Zion, an apartment complex in Jebel Mukaber, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and other actions are all part of this process:

The cornerstone-laying ceremony at Nof Zion took place a day after the Israeli authorities moved ahead with plans for the expansion of Gilo, a Jewish residential district in south Jerusalem also on land captured in the 1967 war. The plans for 900 more housing units drew a sharp rebuke from the White House.

...Across town, in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, the Israeli authorities on Wednesday demolished a Palestinian home that had been built without a permit. The security forces accompanying the bulldozers were pelted with stones. Several other unauthorized structures were taken down in other Arab areas, including Silwan.

When it comes to demolitions, Jerusalem’s City Hall says it applies the law equally in all parts of the city, regardless of religion or race. But officials acknowledge that the process of obtaining a building permit is costly and complicated. Most Palestinian residents do not qualify.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fox Misleads With Campaign Footage To Show "Huge Crowds" For Palin Book Tour

Fox News host Greg Jarrett gushed about the "huge crowds" that Sarah Palin is drawing while promoting her book. Watch:

Anyone notice anything strange? Here's the first shot in the video:

McCain T-shirts? "Country First" signs? That's file footage from the 2008 presidential campaign, as Media Matters and Think Progress asserted. The same can be said for scenes showing the waving of pom-poms and Palin's use of a teleprompter: they're from 2008 election rallies.

This follows the admission of Fox's Sean Hannity that, as pointed out by Jon Stewart, Fox used footage from a larger September 12 tea party rally to illustrate a smaller anti-health reform rally.

These two episodes were brought to you by Fox, the "fair and balanced" network.

Glenn Beck Compares Health Care Reform To Child Rape

I've offered examples of Glenn Beck's buffoonery and nonsensical commentary in the past. So his comparison of health care reform to child rape is appalling yet unsurprising:

Beck: "We're the young girl saying, 'No, no, help me,' and the government is Roman Polanski. In the end, we're all going to be cowering in France."

The last time the World Health Organization ranked the world's health care systems was in 2000. France, which represents hell on Earth for Beck and the right wing, ranked number 1. The U.S. was number 37, which inspired an anthem of sorts. The images of child rape swirling through his mind must have distracted Beck from statistics that, as an expert on health care, he surely must have known.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Republican National Committee Included Abortion Coverage In Health Plan

Politico recently reported an inconvenient fact about the Republican National Committee's health care coverage for its employees: the policy, purchased from Cigna, included abortion. Now they're altering the plan, according to Michael Steele, RNC chair (left):

"Money from our loyal donors should not be used for this purpose," Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement. "I don't know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled."

...As of Thursday, the RNC’s plan covers elective abortion – a procedure the party’s own platform calls “a fundamental assault on innocent human life.”

Informed of the coverage, RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitcho told POLITICO earlier Thursday that the policy pre-dates the tenure of current RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

“The current policy has been in effect since 1991, and we are taking steps to address the issue,” Gitcho said.

Of course, the Republicans' opposition to abortion was, to use the language of the insurance companies that they shill for, a "pre-existing condition." That is, it pre-dated the tenure of Mr. Steele. In addition, 1991 was 18 years ago. They've had plenty of time to align party platform and practice. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards provided a better explanation of why the RNC included abortion services in the plan:

“It’s an employer that wants to provide standard health benefits for its employees,” she said. “That’s why the Stupak amendment goes too far in taking away benefits that women have today, and that’s why women won’t allow the Stupak amendment to become law.”

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Giuliani Loses Faith In Our Criminal Justice System

Speaking to CNN's "State of the Union," Rudy Giuliani criticized the Obama administration for its decision to hold a criminal trial in New York City for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other alleged September 11 terrorists:

Giuliani: "It is an unnecessary advantage to give to terrorists. I don’t know why you'd want to give terrorists advantages and, secondly, it's an unnecessary risk. ...Our federal system has an enormously protracted process that's going to go on forever….It grants more benefits than a military tribunal will grant. There's always the possibility of acquittal, change of venue.”

Apparently Giuliani had much more faith in our criminal justice system in the past, when he praised the conviction of the World Trade Center bombers in 1993:

“ ‘It should show that our legal system is the most mature legal system in the history of the world,’ he [Giuliani] said...”-The New York Times, 3/5/94

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani declared that the verdict ‘demonstrates that New Yorkers won’t meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon — the law.’ ”-The New York Times, 3/5/94

“I think it shows you put terrorism on one side, you put our legal system on the other, and our legal system comes out ahead,” said Giuliani.-CBS Evening News, 3/5/94

Giuliani testified for the Justice Department in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui and had this response in 2006 to the latter's conviction in Federal Court:

After Moussaoui's trial resulted in a sentence of life in prison without parole, Giuliani reportedly praised the legal process as demonstrating "that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law." He added that Moussaoui will "be a symbol of American justice." He also reportedly said he was "in awe of our system."-New York Daily News, 5/4/2006

Demagogic Dobbs Quits CNN

After deciding that he could not accede to the request of Jonathan Klein, president of CNN/US, to tone down his rhetoric, Lou Dobbs decided to quit the channel. Dobbs said that he had been urged " go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving as well as to contribute positively to the great understanding of the issues of our day.”

"Constructive problem solving"? Is that Dobbs' specialty? In an editorial this past Thursday, The New York Times provides a succinct summary of Dobbs' greatest hits in demagoguery:

He calls himself Mr. Independent, but he is far closer in style and method to the right-wing ranters who mold the facts to shape the argument on television and on AM radio, where Mr. Dobbs still has a show. Mr. Dobbs’s CNN program has long been a nesting ground for untruths and conspiracy theories: fretting over a nonexistent, immigrant-borne leprosy epidemic; questioning President Obama’s citizenship; issuing dark warnings about the “North American Union,” a supposed plot to strangle United States sovereignty.

Media Matters has compiled 299 posts on Dobbs, from research to video and audio clips, and listed its efforts " combat Dobbs' pernicious influence on the national dialogue." Media Matters also released a video that recalls some of Dobbs' most disgraceful conspiracy theories and the resistance it inspired:

Where should Dobbs take his xenophobia, conspiracy theories and divisive rhetoric? Can anyone think of a suitable station?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Buddy Guy, Acoustic And Electric Blues Master

Buddy Guy is a longtime blues master in both the acoustic and electric genres, as he makes quite clear here. He performs "Crawlin' Kingsnake" and "Damn Right I've Got The Blues"; the former is from his acoustic "Blues Singer" album, and the latter is the title track of an electric album. I highly recommend both, but don't just take it from me. Here's what Eric Clapton has to say: "Buddy Guy is by far and without a doubt the best guitar player alive... If you see him in person, the way he plays is beyond anyone. Total freedom of spirit, I guess… He really changed the course of rock and roll blues."

Friday, November 13, 2009

South Park's Morning Announcements Turn Into "MoxNews"

Having posted Jon Stewart's and Saturday Night Live's skewering of Glenn Beck, I'll now turn to the animated mockery of "South Park." The character Eric Cartman turns the morning announcements into a forum for Beck-style irrational attacks on the school president's "socialist" agenda. All the while, "MoxNews.Com" is present in the lower left-hand corner. Watch:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Take Action Against Sen. Joe Lieberman's Filibuster Threat

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has put together a petition to be delivered to Democratic senators with the following warning:

"Any Democratic senators -- including Joe Lieberman -- who support a Republican attempt to block a vote on health care reform should be stripped of their leadership titles. Americans deserve a clean up-or-down vote on health care reform that includes a public option."

Senator Lieberman (I-CT), who has threatened to join Republicans in a filibuster if the Senate health care bill contains a public option, used to be an opponent of the filibuster. In 1994, he and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced legislation to get rid of the obstructive maneuver. At the time, Lieberman made the following statement:

"I'm very proud to be standing here with Tom as two Democrats saying that we're going to begin this fight, because we've just been stung by the filibuster for a period of years, and even though the tables have now turned, it doesn't make it right for us to use this instrument that we so vilified."

No, Joe, it simply isn't right for you to use this instrument that you so vilified. Rachel Maddow spoke about the Progressive Change Campaign Committee's petition:

To sign the petition, click here. You can also make a pledge at a Facebook page entitled, "If Joe Lieberman filibusters health care, I will donate to his opponent."

New York's Artistic Rebels Of The 1920s

Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan In The 1920s by Ann Douglas. 606 pp. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (paperback)

While the 1960s are associated with the counterculture, Ann Douglas makes the case in “Terrible Honesty” for the cultural breakthroughs that took place during the 1920s. Leading the charge were prominent black and white artists–a “mongrel” group that shook off a Victorian matriarchal culture and replaced it with a “terrible honesty.”

According to Douglas, the artists of the 1920s turned away from middle class piety, racism, and sexual repression. Freudian psychoanalysis, with its insistence on uncovering dark, unconscious forces, was a major influence on the era's moderns in their rejection of convention and flowery language.

These artists embraced an egalitarian, popular culture and recognized that African-Americans made major contributions to the nation’s original folk heritage. The figures in the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston and others, hoped that artistic accomplishment would pave the way toward greater acceptance of African Americans. While such hopes proved too idealistic, black achievements in literature, drama, jazz and the blues could not be denied. The blues in particular were an expression of skepticism against societal platitudes–and they were paralleled by the tough-minded literature of such white artists as Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O'Neill and Dorothy Parker.

Douglas makes the connection between the cultural figures of the 1920s and later artistic innovations: bebop jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll, Chicago electric blues, Beat literature, method acting, the New Journalism. “Terrible Honesty” is a detailed work, and at times it seems as if it loses the Manhattan focus to range over the entirety of American culture. But it makes a convincing, often fascinating study of the ways in which artists of varied backgrounds had a profound influence on each other and on the artistic life of the nation to this day.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Parody Of A Parody: SNL's Fox Sketch

Saturday Night Live's sketch of Fox News represents a double parody, since Fox itself is already a parody of a news station. The theme depicts the way in which Fox is constantly proclaiming the end of the Obama era, presumably so that we can return to the glories of the previous eight years. Like Jon Stewart, Jason Sudeikis portrays Glenn Beck's hysteria-prone persona. Watch:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"It's Your Appendix, It's Not Theirs": Jon Stewart Captures Glenn Beck

Jon Stewart does a masterful job in capturing the weepy mannerisms, buffoonery and outlandish conspiracy theorizing that form Glenn Beck's shtick. Watch him explain the "larger, more serious point" about Beck's appendicitis:

Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao Shows More Conscience Than Democrats Who Voted "No"

The Republican tally for House votes in favor of health care reform: one. That one affirmative voter is Representative Anh "Joseph" Cao (left) of Louisiana. Explaining his vote, Cao said:

“I read the versions of the House bill. I listened to the countless stories of Orleans and Jefferson Parish citizens whose health care costs are exploding — if they are able to obtain health care at all. Louisianans need real options for primary care, for mental health care, and for expanded health care for seniors and children.”

In voting to expand the numbers of Americans who are able to receive health care, Cao has shown more concern for his fellow citizens than the following Democrats who joined Republicans in voting "no":

John Adler (NJ); Jason Altmire (PA); Brian Baird (WA); John Barrow (GA); John Boccieri (OH); Dan Boren (OK); Rick Boucher (VA); Allen Boyd (FL); Bobby Bright (AL); Ben Chandler (KT); Travis Childers (MS); Artur Davis (AL); Lincoln Davis (TN); Chet Edwards (TX); Bart Gordon (TN); Parker Griffith (AL); Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD); Tim Holden (PA); Larry Kissell (NC); Suzanne Kosmas (FL); Frank Kratovil (MD); Dennis Kucinich (OH); Jim Marshall (GA); Betsy Markey (CO); Eric Massa (NY); Jim Matheson(UT); Mike McIntyre (NC); Michael McMahon (NY); Charlie Melancon (LA); Walt Minnick (ID); Scott Murphy (NY); Glenn Nye (VA); Collin Peterson (MN); Mike Ross (AR); Heath Shuler (NC); Ike Skelton (MO); John Tanner (TN); Gene Taylor (MS); Harry Teague (NM)

These officials mostly represent districts that voted for the GOP presidential ticket last November. They put politics above an issue that has been central to the Democratic Party for decades. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio deserves particular mention for his "nay." Kucinich, who is for universal health care, foolishly reasoned that since the bill wasn't progressive enough, whatever progress it represents should be scrapped.

One unfortunate aspect of Cao's vote, along with the "yes" votes of anti-abortion Democrats, was its reliance on tight abortion restrictions, sure to hurt women who can't afford the procedure. As the Guttmacher Institute and World Health Organization have shown, restrictions don't reduce the abortion rate; they just make the procedure more dangerous. Pro-choice House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, included these restrictions to get the bill passed, showing more pragmatism than Kucinich.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tancredo Storms Off Set After Moulitsas' Challenge On Vets' Health Care

Former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo asserted on MSNBC that all veterans are dissatisfied with Veterans Administration care and want a more privatized system: "Every veterans group I ever went and talked to complained about the Veterans Administration... They would much rather have vouchers that would allow them to go out and buy their insurance in a private marketplace."

The problem is that he was debating Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos and a veteran. Moulitsas questioned the credentials of Tancredo, who supported the war in Vietnam yet received a deferment after telling doctors at his physical that he'd been treated for depression. Markos said, "Tom, I'm a veteran. Okay? I did not get a deferment because I was too depressed to fight a war I supported in Vietnam. I'm a veteran. They want a more effective V.A. ..."

When Moulitsas refused to apologize, Tancredo stormed off the set. Tancredo did not show the same sensitivity when he attacked then-Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for belonging to La Raza, which he called "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses."

Moulitsas concluded that the Republicans "built an entire ideology predicated on telling people that government does not work. They are terrified of government programs that work because then people will realize that the government's not the enemy..." Watch:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Stockhausen/Snetberger Duo Live

Trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, son of 20th century composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and guitarist Ferenc Snetberger perform an instrumental whose haunting opening and closing passages frame a dynamic improvisation. The duo appeared at the Clusone Jazz Festival, Italy, June 2008.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Signs Of Hatred At Anti-Health Reform Rally

During the past week, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and the group Americans For Prosperity (AFP) joined forces to hold an anti-health care reform rally in the capitol. The AFP is a right-wing astroturf group that provided attendees with free buses, signs, directions, talking points, petitions and donuts.

Just as in the recent past, the tea party crowd carried signs (those below are not necessarily from the AFP) that expressed hatred of the president and a distorted perspective on health care reform. The familiar yet disgusting tea party comparison between Obama and Hitler found especially vile expression in the following sign, which showed victims of the Holocaust and the sentence, "National Socialist Health Care: Dachau, Germany–1945":

Of course there was also racist imagery, as in the following depiction of a ghoulish Obama in white face:

The individual carrying the following sign seems quite amused by its bigotry:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Maine Majority Votes Against Marriage Rights Of Gay Minority

Following the upholding of Proposition 1, Maine has become the latest state to reject marriage equality by repealing a law recognizing the right of gays to wed. Worse than the outcome of the vote was the fact that a vote was held at all, in which the majority was allowed to decide whether to grant civil rights to the gay minority. By that logic, voters, and not the Supreme Court in 1967, should have been allowed to decide the fate of anti-interracial marriage laws.

The injustice of such a ballot question was put by Jennifer C. Pizer, marriage project director of Lambda Legal: “They tend to marginalize the group that is being targeted and inflame people’s passions in a way that is at best divisive and at worst terribly cruel. Our founders did not intend to allow a majority to take basic rights from a minority.”

When the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a state law limiting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional, it invoked the "duty to ensure equal protection of the law." Gay marriage should be treated as the legal issue it is, not a popularity contest. As such, the courts and state legislatures are the proper forum for addressing this ongoing blatant injustice.

Despite Upstate NY Loss, Right Wingers Press On For Ideological Purity

One of the shrinking group of moderate Republicans, Dede Scozzafava, was pushed out as a candidate for New York States' northernmost Congressional district by right-wing forces that included Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard. They favored Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman, who lost to Democrat Bill Owens (left).

So what's the conclusion of the coalition behind Hoffman, the first Republican to lose the area in generations? Is it time to moderate the GOP's message and not subject candidates chosen by party districts to primary challenges? Here are two characteristic comments:

“To the tireless grass-roots patriots who worked so hard in that race and to future citizen-candidates like Doug,” [Sarah Palin] wrote on her Facebook page, “please remember Reagan’s words of encouragement after his defeat in 1976: the cause goes on.”

...Other conservatives, too, were not deterred by the New York defeat. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative organization that strongly supported Mr. Hoffman, said that conservative activists intended to play a role in Republican primary and general elections next year and that it was just as important to keep unacceptable politicians out of Congress as to help others win.

May "the cause go on" for these true believers in their effort to root out "unacceptable politicians." With only 20% identifying as Republicans, the lowest since 1983, let them continue their quest for ideological purity.

Reality Vs. Perception In New Jersey And Virginia GOP Victories

Do Republican gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia spell trouble for President Obama, who campaigned especially hard for Jon Corzine (left)? Not if one realizes that the electorate was focused on state issues and not the President. From a CNN analysis:

Further proof that this election was not solely focused on Obama, 56 percent of Virginians said that the president was not a factor when it came down to their vote. In New Jersey, that number increased to 60 percent of the people who went to the polls on Tuesday.

The New York Times reported a similar finding:

Voters in both states remained strongly supportive of President Obama, exit polls conducted by Edison Research showed, though they said that was not a factor in their decisions.

That's the reality of the election–but there's also the perception, including the media spin:

Still, in the coming days a storyline will develop that this was a referendum on Obama and his policies.

Naturally, we can expect Fox, the propaganda arm of the Republican party, to spin this narrative. In fact, its ratings have been boosted following election night.

The problem is that some Democrats, mistaking perception for reality, will try to appear as Republican Lite. That never works. Those who want Republicans in office will vote for the real thing. Independents will not respect unprincipled politicians, and Democrats will be alienated:

Jane Hamsher, founder of the liberal political blog firedoglake, noted that it is freshmen and sophomore Democrats who won by narrow margins in 2006 and 2008, who "are scared" of losing their seats in 2010.

"I would suggest that appealing to Republican interests is not the best way to turn out Democrats," Hamsher said. "It is just a fact of life. They have to turn out Democrats."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Schakowsky: After CIA Admits Lying, Republicans Owe Apology To Pelosi

When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that the CIA had lied in a briefing about the use of waterboarding, Republicans including Sen. Kit Bond (MO), Rep. Pete Hoekstra (MI), Rep. John Boehner (OH) and former speaker Newt Gingrich roundly attacked her. In a recent House Intelligence Committee hearing, however, an intelligence official related instances in which the CIA misled or lied to Congress, including withholding information to House and Senate committees on the use of torture.

Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL, shown above), one of the chairs of House Intelligence subcommittees, spoke about what the panel learned:

Schakowsky revealed that, in addition to withholding information from lawmakers about torture, the CIA lied or misled Congress about the shooting down of an airplane over Peru in 2001 carrying American missionaries, the destruction of torture tapes and a top secret assassination program aimed at targeting leaders of al-Qaeda. She would not reveal details of what the fifth case was. A 2008 CIA inspector general's report had already concluded that the agency lied to Congress about the Peru incident.

These revelations follow CIA director Leon Panetta's admission in a briefing to lawmakers months ago that the agency misled Congress "on significant actions" for "a number of years."

When asked whether Republicans owe Pelosi an apology, Schakowsky responded, "I certainly think they do." We await the words of contrition from those who savaged the Speaker.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Scozzafava Resignation From Upstate NY Race Shows Shrinking Of GOP Tent

The resignation of assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava (left) from the race for an upstate New York Congressional seat shows that there's no room for moderation in today's Republican party. Though Scozzafava was backed by the Republican National Committee and party leaders Michael Steele and Newt Gingrich, she was under siege from prominent right wingers such as Sarah Palin and Dick Armey for being too liberal on social and fiscal issues.

The race is now between accountant Douglas L. Hoffman of the Conservative Party and lawyer Bill Owens, a Democrat. Some Republicans criticized the intrusion into district affairs:

...If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make Pelosi speaker for life and guarantee Obama’s re-election,” said Mr. Gingrich, who had endorsed Ms. Scozzafava.

“They’re trying to bang 435 elections across the United States into the same mold,” said James Ellis, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party. “It’s a detriment to democracy.”

Frank Rich, in "The G.O.P. Stalinists Invade Upstate New York," agreed with Gingrich on the danger to the Republican party of insisting on ideological purity:’s even better for Democrats if Hoffman wins. Punch-drunk with this triumph, the right will redouble its support of primary challengers to 2010 G.O.P. candidates they regard as impure. That’s bad news for even a Republican as conservative as Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose primary opponent in the Texas governor’s race, the incumbent Rick Perry, floated the possibility of secession at a teabagger rally in April and hastily endorsed Hoffman on Thursday. The more rightists who win G.O.P. primaries, the greater the Democrats’ prospects next year.