Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Past Recaptured, The Present Apprehended In A Fleeting Life

The Womb of Memory by Dibakar Barua. 64 pp. World Parade Books. $12.95 (paperback)

Reading Dibakar Barua's poetry collection "The Womb of Memory" put me in mind of the French novelist Marcel Proust. Proust's exploration of the power of memory to spark long-buried experience had its most famous treatment when he recalled his entire childhood village upon eating a madeleine cake. Barua, a native of Bangladesh and a professor of English at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California, depicts moments of sudden memory evoked by everyday sights and sounds. 

In "Monsoon," the tapping of a keyboard brings to mind rainstorms, with the poet "reliving scenes that put me inside a hum/of quiet explosions–a slant rain or a burning house popping like twigs..." Food from the past brings forth a stream of associations: "Chopping the chichinga/picked today from an Asian market/a touch of something so close and so forgotten for decades..." Sometimes he has to tease out the past, as he writes in "Sleepwalk," "with buried things that burrow/up to the rim." Barua possesses a keen recollection of figures from the past, whether it's his father whom he imitated "with a matchstick in my lips/for your Capstain cigarette" or his Aunt Lina who "died still young" and for whom he felt "a sly love" at 11 years old. 

Not every poem in the volume is devoted to the past; those taking place in the present show a sensuous apprehension of the world: "This seasonal profusion of pale purple/so luminous in the sun/stains the tar pavement below." The beauty of the world is paralleled by a sense of empathy for all creatures. Viewing a crushed, bloodied rattlesnake from a tour bus window brings forth a "self-conscious shame" that "no one will come/to greet or help him; no one stirs/from the mirror like windows." He imagines a victim who disappeared during a war: "...I often imagine your last fear and pain/see your round face and lively eyes/bloom quietly a moment among bayonets." Human aggression, passed from generation to generation, is lamented: "...young men contract a blindness from their Rough-riding feckless fathers; raw carnage/Etches, in acid, the crimson clouds of history."

This sensitivity toward all beings is made all the more acute by an awareness of the impermanence of life. In "Hospital Roommate," a dying young man makes a deep impression with his "laser like gaze/coming at me from the wall mirror--/a curious and unflinching look." Recovering from illness, the poet, after a fitful night, is fanned by his wife "cooling a bilious fire inside" as "A hum in my ears now sinks/into the skin of memory and time; an enveloping calm drops like silk./I begin to stir in the astonishing silence/of knowing this life will end." This realization, obvious yet startling, closes this powerful collection.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Where's The "Liberty"? Liberty University Bans Campus Democratic Party Club

Do you think of a university as a marketplace of ideas where free and open discussion is encouraged? That vision doesn't jibe with Liberty University, founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, where the Democratic Party club has been banned:

Liberty University has revoked its recognition of the campus Democratic Party club, saying “we are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by” the university.

...According to the e-mail [that notified club president Brian Diaz], the club must stop using the university’s name, holding meetings on campus, or advertising events. Violators could incur one or more reprimands under the school’s Liberty Way conduct code, and anyone who accumulates 30 reprimands is subject to expulsion.

...Part of [vice president of student affairs Mark] Hine’s e-mail said, “The Democratic Party platform is contrary to the mission of Liberty University and to Christian doctrine (supports abortion, federal funding of abortion, advocates repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, promotes the “LGBT” agenda, hate crimes, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, socialism, etc.)” LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Maria Childress, the staff advisor to the club, was right on target: “[Hine's] bottom line was, ‘You can’t be a Democrat and be a Christian and be a university representative.' "

University president Jerry Falwell Jr. (top left) let it be known that his school expects its students to tow the ideological line: “They are good, Christian kids who sit with me at ball games. I just hope they find a pro-life family organization to affiliate with so they can be endorsed by Liberty again.“

The school evidently has a fine sense of irony. They clamp down on free expression while retaining the name "Liberty." In addition, Hine states, “We are in no way attempting to stifle free speech.” 

Do those who run Liberty criticize the theocratic ways of Iran? Does the Liberty administration believe that they stand for American freedoms? Do they also criticize what they see as "political correctness" on liberal campuses? Is there a liberal campus in the country that has banned the Republican Party club? I would guess not; that would contradict the very term "liberal."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tancredo: Sotomayer Belongs To La Raza, "A Latino KKK"

Tom Tancredo, former Colorado congressman and anti-immigrant activist, was praised in 2008 by Gordon Baum, head of the Council of Conservative Citizens, for having "the best track record in Congress." The Council, in its Statement of Principles, "oppose(s) all efforts to mix the races of mankind." Baum was impressed by Tancredo's supposedly protecting the country from a "full-scale invasion" of Latin immigrants." Tancredo, a grandson of Italian immigrants, wanted to halt all immigration, legal or otherwise.

Tancredo's bigotry against the Hispanic population was quite evident in his comments to CNN's Rick Sanchez. He attacked Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for her membership in La Raza, a Latino civil rights group, which he compared to the Ku Klux Klan. Watch:



Tancredo: If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case, which is, from my point of view anyway, nothing more than a Latino — it’s a counterpart — a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses. If you belong to something like that in a way that’s going to convince me and a lot of other people that it’s got nothing to do with race. Even though the logo of La Raza is “All for the race. Nothing for the rest.” What does that tell you?
Sanchez: Alright. We’re not talking about — we’re not talking about La Raza –
Tancredo: She’s a member! She’s a member of La Raza! (h/t Think Progress)

Of course, any resemblance between La Raza, concerned with civil rights, education, employment, immigration, health and other issues, and the Ku Klux Klan, with its history of lynching and terrorizing African-Americans, exists only in Tom Tancredo's warped imagination. Also false is Tancredo's claim that La Raza's slogan translates as "All for the race, nothing for the rest." In reality, the slogan stands for "Strengthening America by promoting the advancement of Latino families."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Right-Wing Commentators Start Smearing Sotomayor

Here's the comment that conservative critics of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, cite as racist:

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Yes, somewhat awkwardly put. But within its context, the statement, part of a lecture in 2001 at the Berkeley School of Law, makes sense. Sotomayor was referring to the fact that she grew up in an immigrant family in the Bronx and as a member of a minority group, which may give her an added understanding of individual cases:

"For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Others simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be the presence of women and people and color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experience and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

Glenn Greenwald has pointed out that conservative Supreme Court Judge Sam Alito made similar statements during his confirmation hearings:

"Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position. ...When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account."

The meaning of Sotomayor's statements and their similarities with Alito's makes no difference to right-wing commentators out to spread fear and division. In this video from Media Matters, a succession of wingnuts call the judge a "racist" based on one statement taken out of context:



The most outrageous comment is from the always buffoonish Glenn Beck, who states, "Hispanic chick lady. You're empathetic? She says, 'Yup!' They say, 'You're in.' That's the way it really works." Such ignorant comments deny Sotomayor's compelling life story and legal accomplishments. They also don't help Republican loyalists add women and Hispanics to the party's shrinking base of support.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Unequal Protection Under The Law: California Supreme Court Upholds Proposition 8

Last May, the California Supreme Court ruled that homosexual couples have the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. Back then, they affirmed the principle of equal protection under the law:

The majority opinion, by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, declared that any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation will from this point on be constitutionally suspect in California in the same way as laws that discriminate by race or gender, making the state's high court the first in the nation to adopt such a stringent standard.

One would think that this principle, and the civil right to which it applied, would no more be subject to a vote than the 1967 overturning of miscegenation, the laws that prevented interracial marriage. How is a "right" recognized by the state's Supreme Court allowed to be put to the test at the ballot box? Regardless, equal protection and civil rights were jettisoned by the vote and now by the court in its upholding of Proposition 8, which rescinded the previously recognized right of gays to marry. 

The 18,000 already existing gay marriages will stand, since Proposition 8 was not retroactive. Nevertheless, unequal protection has been confirmed for now. Since the right of gays to marry is subject to a vote, along with attendant privileges regarding taxes, inheritance and health insurance benefits, gay rights groups are organizing for another ballot initiative to reverse the current inequality:

In Los Angeles, Jennifer C. Pizer, marriage project director for the gay rights organization Lambda Legal, said the decision “puts it to us to repair the damage at the ballot box.” One of the state’s largest gay rights groups, Equality California, sent an e-mail message to supporters pleading for contributions to raise $500,000 toward “a massive campaign to put an initiative on the ballot and win.”

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the decision “a terrible blow to the thousands of gay and lesbian Californians who woke up this morning hoping and praying their status as equal citizens of this state would be restored.”

Powell Responds To Criticisms From Cheney And Limbaugh

Colin Powell responded to Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh, who questioned his Republican credentials after he voted for Obama. Powell made the case for appealing beyond the party's right wing base, especially in view of the GOP's shrinking support–a point recently made by Senator Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine. Referring to Limbaugh as "an entertainer," a term the talk show host apparently loathes, Powell questioned why Republicans, including RNC chair Michael Steele, have to kowtow to him. Watch:



On party moderation: What the concern about me is, well, is he too moderate? I have always felt that the Republican Party should be more inclusive than it generally has been over the years. And I believe we need a strong Republican Party that is not just anchored in the base but has built on the base to include more individuals. And if we don’t do that, if we don’t reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. ...what we have to do is debate and define who we are and what we are and not just listen to diktats that come down from the right wing of the party.

On Rush Limbaugh: The nature of our country is we ought to debate these things. But he shouldn’t have a veto over what someone thinks. And he’s an entertainer. He is a radio figure, and he is a significant one. But he’s more than that. When the chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele, issues the mildest of criticism concerning Mr. Limbaugh, and then 24 hours later the chairman of the RNC has to lay prostrate on the floor apologizing for it, and when two congressmen offer the mildest criticism of Mr. Limbaugh, they too within 24 hours have such pressure brought to bear on them that they have to change their view and apologize for criticizing him -- well, if he’s out there, he should be subject to criticism, just as I am subject to criticism.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Somalia: Libertarian Paradise

"We don't want the government to do anything for us," Ted Nugent told Glenn Beck at one of the "tea party" rallies. So why not move to the libertarian paradise, Somalia, where the  government barely functions? The young couple below react with dismay when they visit a tax-payer funded, public beach–i.e., a "socialist beach," where big government bureaucrats post petty rules on signs. They escape to the "rational self-interest and libertarian magic dust" of Somalia. Watch:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Conservative Host "Mancow" Waterboarded, Admits It's "Absolutely Torture"

In an attempt to prove that waterboarding isn't torture, conservative Chicago radio host Erich "Mancow" Muller decided to try it. He came to a completely different conclusion:

...Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop. He only lasted 6 or 7 seconds.

"It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke," Mancow said, likening it to a time when he nearly drowned as a child. "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."

"I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said. "They cut off our heads, we put water on their face...I got voted to do this but I really thought 'I'm going to laugh this off.' "

Watch:



In August 2008, writer Christopher Hitchens tried waterboarding and wrote about his terror during the process and his panic afterwards of being short of breath. He concluded, "Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."

Jonathan Chait wrote, "I think the torture debate would be mighty different if more of the conservatives who scoff at waterboarding would try the same thing." Sean Hannity, for example, said that he would experience a "dunking." MSNBC's Keith Olbermann offered to contribute $1,000 to a charity for every second of Hannity's waterboarding. Hannity never responded. Olbermann rescinded the offer to Hannity and instead gave $10,000 to the Veterans of Valor following Muller's waterboarding. Olbermann concluded, "Mancow Muller had the guts to put his mouth where his mouth was, and the guts to admit he was dead wrong. ...So the offer to the coward Hannity—a thousand dollars a second he lasted on the waterboard—is withdrawn."

Bob Herbert On Pending Execution Of Troy Davis "In The Absence Of Proof"

Bob Herbert wrote a characteristically excellent article on the Troy Davis case, "In The Absence of Proof." Davis (left) is on death row despite persistent doubts about his guilt in the murder of a police officer:

Mr. Davis was convicted of shooting a police officer to death in the parking lot of a Burger King in Savannah, Ga., in 1989. The officer, Mark Allen MacPhail, was murdered as he went to the aid of a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped.

...Nine witnesses testified against Mr. Davis at his trial in 1991, but seven of the nine have since changed their stories. One of those seven, Dorothy Ferrell, said she was on parole when she testified and was afraid that she’d be sent back to prison if she didn’t agree to cooperate with the authorities by fingering Mr. Davis.

“I told the detective that Troy Davis was the shooter,” she said in an affidavit, “even though the truth was that I didn’t know who shot the officer.”

Another witness, Darrell Collins, who was a teenager at the time of the murder, said the police had “scared” him into falsely testifying by threatening to charge him as an accessory to the crime. He said he was told that he would go to prison and might never get out if he refused to help make the case against Mr. Davis.

Davis's lawyers filed a last-chance petition, supported by 27 former judges and prosecutors, asking the Supreme Court to intervene and examine the prisoner's case for innocence. It's clear why, given both the recantations cited above and the doubts regarding evidence:

There was no physical evidence against Mr. Davis, and no murder weapon was ever found. At least three witnesses who testified against him at his trial (and a number of others who were not part of the trial) have since said that a man named Sylvester “Redd” Coles admitted to killing the police officer.

Mr. Coles, who was at the scene, and who, according to witnesses, later ditched a gun of the same caliber as the murder weapon, is one of the two witnesses who have not recanted. The other is a man who initially told investigators that he could not identify the killer. Nearly two years later, at the trial, he testified that the killer was Mr. Davis.

Herbert asks whether our justice system will live up to the concept of justice:

The very idea of executing someone who may in fact be innocent should also violate the nation’s conscience. Mr. Davis is incarcerated. He’s no threat to anyone. Where’s the harm in seeking out the truth and trying to see that justice is really done?

And if the truth can’t be properly sorted out, we should be unwilling to let a human life be taken on mere surmise.

...Officer MacPhail’s murder was a horrendous crime that cries out for justice. Killing Mr. Davis, rather than remedying that tragedy, would only compound it.

The Troy Davis case is a reminder of the ultimate case against the death penalty. Our legal system is run by human beings, prone to error. Inevitably there are unjustifiable convictions, some ending up on death row. The Innocence Project, in fact, uses DNA testing to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. As long as the death penalty exists, we run the risk of state-sponsored killing of the innocent for the crime of another. Troy Davis may be one of those innocents. Are we willing to run that risk? To those who say yes, would they feel the same if a family member were wrongfully convicted?

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Tim Buckley Performs "Dolphins," 1974



Tim Buckley started his career as a folk artist but went on to experiment with jazz, funk, soul and avant-garde rock. Shown here in his folk rock period, he employs the full range of his expressive voice in "Dolphins," a rueful meditation on personal relations and the possibilities for peace. Buckley's career spanned nine albums from 1966-1974, ended by his overdosing on heroin at age 28 in early 1975. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cheney's Speech Filled With "Omissions, Exaggerations And Misstatements"

Instead of treating the speeches on Thursday of President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney as a rhetorical boxing match, Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel actually did some research and analysis. The two uncovered Cheney's "omissions, exaggerations and misstatements." 

Speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, Cheney claimed that Admiral Dennis Blair stated that the information gained by "enhanced interrogation" gave us a "deeper understanding of al Qaida."

In a statement April 21, however, Blair said the information "was valuable in some instances" but that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is that these techniques hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

A top-secret 2004 CIA inspector general's investigation found no conclusive proof that information gained from aggressive interrogations helped thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to one of four top-secret Bush-era memos that the Justice Department released last month.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair magazine in December that he didn't think that the techniques disrupted any attacks.

Cheney called Obama's release of four Bush administration memos on interrogation "contrary" to national security.

However, Blair, who oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, said in his statement that he recommended the release of the memos, "strongly supported" Obama's decision to prohibit using the controversial methods and that "we do not need these techniques to keep America safe."

Cheney saw no connection between the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and Bush administration policies, blaming it on "a few sadistic guards."

However, a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report in December traced the abuses at Abu Ghraib to the approval of the techniques by senior Bush administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Cheney said that the only ones subject to harsh interrogation were "detainees of the highest intelligence value" such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.

He didn't mention Abu Zubaydah, the first senior al Qaida operative to be captured after 9-11. Former FBI special agent Ali Soufan told a Senate subcommittee last week that his interrogation of Zubaydah using traditional methods elicited crucial information, including Mohammed's alleged role in 9-11.

The decision to use the harsh interrogation methods "was one of the worst and most harmful decisions made in our efforts against al Qaida," Soufan said. Former State Department official Philip Zelikow, who in 2005 was then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's point man in an internal fight to overhaul the Bush administration's detention policies, joined Soufan in his criticism.

Cheney stated that only "ruthless enemies of this country" were detained overseas and taken to secret U.S. prisons.

A 2008 McClatchy investigation, however, found that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees captured in 2001 and 2002 in Afghanistan and Pakistan were innocent citizens or low-level fighters of little intelligence value who were turned over to American officials for money or because of personal or political rivalries.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Echoing Bush, Obama Calls For Prolonged Detention Without Charge

Indefinite military detention and the denial of habeas corpus are illegal concepts associated with the Bush administration. It was therefore disturbing to read about President Obama's proposal of "prolonged detention" for terrorism suspects, presented at a speech at the National Archives in Washington:

Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted.

The answer proposed by Mr. Obama would write an entirely new chapter in American law to permit “prolonged detention” — just as at Guantánamo, but with oversight by the courts and Congress. Human rights advocates express outrage at that approach, however, saying it would violate the very civil liberties Mr. Obama, a former lecturer on constitutional law, has vowed to protect.

“It is very troubling that he is intent on codifying in legislation the Bush policies of indefinite detention without charge,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said after the speech. “That simply flies in the face of established American legal principle.”

Interspersing excerpts of Obama's speech with her comments, Rachel Maddow spoke of the contradiction between the president's defense of the rule of law and his call for indefinite detention:



Obama: There may be a number of people who can’t be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.
Maddow: We’re not prosecuting them for past crimes, but we need to keep them in prison because of their expectation of their future crimes.
Obama: Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture, like other prisoners of war, must be prevented from attacking us again.
Maddow: Prevented. We will incarcerate people preventively. Preventive incarceration. Indefinite detention without trial. That’s what this is. That’s what President Obama proposed today if you strip away the euphemisms. 

Obama: We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified. …My administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.
Maddow: You’ll construct a legal regime to make indefinite detention legal. …so you can construct a whole new system outside the courts, even outside the military commissions, so that you can indefinitely imprison people without charges.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reid Against "Releasing" Guantanamo Detainees To U.S. Prisons

Senate Democrats, led by majority leader Harry Reid (left), said that they will not provide the $80 million that President Obama said is needed to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. They joined with Republicans in demanding that the president provide more details on the closing and assurances that detainees will not be sent to the United States. Reid explained the latter point to reporters as follows:

Reid: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.
Question: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.
Reid: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.
Question: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? I mean (OFF-MIKE).
Reid: I can’t -- I can’t -- I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States. I think the majority -- I speak for the majority of the Senate.

"Can't put them in prison unless you release them"? Is there a lapse of logic here? If a detainee is transferred to another prison, is he "released" at any point? A reporter tried to press Reid for clarification:

Question: But Senator, Senator, it’s not that you’re not being clear when you say you don’t want them released. But could you say -- would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?
Reid: Not in the United States.

So Reid doesn't want the detainees transferred to an American prison if it happens to be in the United States. Anyone following this? Reid's objection comes despite the fact, as Andrew Sullivan points out, that convicted terrorists held in Florence, Colorado, alone include Zacarias Moussaoui, Omar Abdel-Rahman, Richard Reid, Jose Padilla and Mohammed A. Salameh, among others. 

To add more to the absurdity, there is a new, state-of-the-art prison facility in economically depressed Hardin, Montana, whose residents want the prisoners and the employment that jailing them would bring. Montana's three-man Congressional delegation, including Democrat Max Baucus, was not supportive, to the dismay of many local taxpayers. And, of course, Harry Reid wouldn't want them to be "released" to the Hardin penitentiary.

Guantanamo is a blight on the reputation of the United States, and it's time to close it. The Democrats are not helping by joining the Republicans in obstructionism.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Put Down That Latte, Tell Starbucks To Stop Union-Busting

When you think about union-busting, does Wal-Mart come to mind? There's certainly justice in that response. How about Starbucks? True, it cultivates a more progressive image. But when it comes to union-busting, Starbucks is on par with Wal-Mart. Consider this ruling in December:

A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled...that Starbucks had illegally fired three baristas and otherwise violated federal labor laws in seeking to beat back unionization efforts at several of its Manhattan cafes.

The administrative law judge, Mindy E. Landow, found that Starbucks had also broken the law by issuing negative job evaluations to union supporters and prohibiting employees from discussing the union even though the employees were allowed to discuss other subjects not related to work.

Starbucks demands that its full-time workers be available 70 percent of open store hours even though the company doesn't guarantee that an employee will work any of those hours. This commitment makes it difficult for Starbucks baristas to take a second job. Starbucks also provides a lower percentage of its work force with health insurance than Wal-Mart does, 40.9% to 47%.

Starbucks, Whole Foods and CostCo have joined together to weaken the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the right to form a union either through signing cards or a secret ballot. The three organizations' "compromise" on the issue is to demand that an unreasonably high 70% of the workers sign the cards affirming that they want to unionize. 

Brave New Films has produced a new video on Starbucks' union-busting tactics:



After watching, sign the petition to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz demanding that he allow workers to organize and stop opposing the Employee Free Choice Act. As Ari Yampolsky, campaign coordinator for the Service Employees International Union, puts it, “The choice about whether and how to form a union is something that belongs to workers. Employers should have about as much say in that as workers do about whether and how employers join the Chamber of Commerce.”

To read more about Starbucks' union busting activities, click here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Debating Globalization: Some Things Don't Want To Be Owned

Fences And Windows: Dispatches From The Front Lines of The Globalization Debate by Naomi Klein. 268 pp. Picador. $14.00 (paperback)

Does a book of essays on globalization from the beginning of the decade have any relevance today? Yes, if one considers the protests that met the recent meeting of the Group of 20 (G-20) industrialized nations in London. Demonstrations against the G-20, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Bank, are not so much against world trade per se as the denial of labor and environmental standards and the conditions imposed by such bodies: "...the IMF's structural adjustment policies...are overt in their demands for governments to cut social spending and privatize resources in exchange for loans."

Klein, whose "No Logo" is the most prominent study ever written on the anti-globalization protest movement, here depicts "fences" as symbols of exclusionary policies that benefit multi-national corporations: "The invading of the public by the private has reached into categories such as health and education, of course, but also ideas, genes, seeds, now patented and fenced off, as well as traditional aboriginal remedies, plants, water and even human stem cells." 

Globalization, which was supposed to represent an opening up–or a "window"–has all too often revealed itself as a "fence": "Opposition to free trade has grown, and grown more vocal, precisely because private wealth has soared without translating into anything that can be clearly identified as a public good. ...The labour and environmental side agreements tacked onto the North American Free Trade Agreement have a spectacularly poor track record. Today 75 percent of Mexico's population lives in poverty, up from 49 percent in 1981." One is reminded of the electoral success of Latin America's left following frustration with free market policies.

Lest one conclude that Klein is just railing at the "fences," she depicts the "windows" as alternative visions that have arisen in response: "Maybe it's students kicking ads out of their classrooms ...Maybe it's Thai peasants planting organic vegetables on over-irrigated golf courses ...Maybe it's Bolivian workers reversing the privatization of their water supply ...Despite all the attempts at privatization, it turns out that there are some things that don't want to be owned. Music, water, seeds, electricity, ideas–they keep bursting out of the confines erected around them."

"Fences And Windows," appropriately enough, takes a world-wide perspective on the globalization debate, from Mexico to Prague to London to South Africa and beyond. As the recent London demonstrations showed us, however, this is a debate that is far from over.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Derek And The Dominos On The Johnny Cash Show, 1970



The album "Layla, and Other Assorted Love Songs" (1970) by Derek and the Dominos is one of the high points of Eric Clapton's career. An interesting subtext runs through the band's appearance on the Johnny Cash Show in Nashville on November 5, 1970: the influence of American musical genres on English musicians such as Clapton. Cash introduces the song "She's Gone" with a reference to its "country-blues picking." Following the performance, Clapton acknowledges the English interest in American music when Cash states that he hears "a lot of down-home country blues in your playing." It was fitting, then, that Carl Perkins, the "King of Rockabilly," joined Clapton and Cash in a rendition of the Perkins classic "Matchbox," also recorded by The Beatles.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Finally A Gutsy Republican Defies Limbaugh: McCain's 97-Year-Old Mother

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said, "My intent was not to go after Rush..." Governor Mark Sanford's aide said that the governor was speaking "generically," not about anyone in particular. Representative Phil Gingrey said, "I regret those stupid comments."

What do these statements have in common? They're all apologies by Republicans who criticized party boss Rush Limbaugh. Finally, though, one Republican has the guts to stand up to the entertainer: Roberta McCain, John McCain's 97-year-old mother. Here she speaks to Jay Leno:


Roberta McCain: "I belong to the Republican Party.... What [Limbaugh] thinks about or represents of the Republican Party has nothing to do with my side of it. I don't know what the man means, I don't know what he's talking about... I think that the chairman of the Republican, Steele, was exactly right when he defined this man as an entertainer. And, to my horror, the Republican Party made him back up on it. Limbaugh, you're a compliment when you say the man is an entertainer. I don't know what he is, but he does not represent the Republican party that I belong to."

Limbaugh now has a new enemy in Roberta McCain:



Rush Limbaugh: "McCain's mother is dumping on me... She's absolutely right. The Republican party she belongs to gets shellacked election after election after election. Man, send McCain's mother out to dump on me? I love it. Her son said the same thing: 'He's just an entertainer!' "

For Limbaugh, being called "an entertainer" crosses all red lines. After Steele dared to use the "E" word, Limbaugh responded, "So I am an entertainer and I have 20 million listeners because of my song-and-dance routine?" The word denies Limbaugh's conception of himself as party boss, a status reinforced by the Republicans' obsequious behavior. Roberta McCain doesn't see it that way–and she's not about to apologize. This 97-year-old mother has more guts than the entire party combined.

Sen. Hendren Calls Schumer "That Jew," Apologizes And Explains: "I Don't Use A Teleprompter"

State Senator Kim Hendren (R) of Arkansas (left), a candidate for the U.S. Senator against Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln, apologized for referring to Senator Chuck Schumer (D) of New York as "That Jew" at a party meeting.

Schumer accepted his apology. Hendren explained the circumstances surrounding his comment to The Tolbert Report:

I don’t use a teleprompter and occasionally I put my foot in my mouth. ...At the meeting I was attempting to explain that unlike Sen. Schumer, I believe in traditional values, like we used to see on ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ I made the mistake of referring to Sen. Schumer as ‘that Jew’ and I should not have put it that way as this took away from what I was trying to say.”

Apparently Hendren needs a teleprompter to keep him from making ethnic slurs. According to him, the problem with his comment was that it was a distraction from his main point. Wasn't the problem the fact that it was bigoted? Is prejudice one of the traditional values Hendren learned from the sheriff of Mayberry?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Libyan Militant Agreed To False Iraq-Al Qaeda Link To Stop Torture

The AP story about the suicide of Libyan militant al-Fakheri, aka al-Libi (left), made essential points about Bush administration policies whose repercussions affect us today:

A Libyan militant whose false information about links between Iraq and Al Qaeda was used by the Bush administration as part of its justification for war in Iraq has died in a prison in Libya, a Libyan newspaper reported. The militant, Ali Mohammed Abdel-Aziz al-Fakheri, known by his nom de guerre, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, hanged himself late last week, the newspaper, Oea, said. There was no official confirmation of his death from Libyan officials or state-run news media. Mr. Libi was captured in Pakistan in 2001 and later sent by the C.I.A. to Egypt, where he was subjected to harsh interrogation techniques. It later emerged that he had fabricated his stories about Iraq to try to avoid harsh treatment by his Egyptian captors. Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said the United States handed him over to Libya in late 2005 or early 2006, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

First, we have the disgraceful policy of "extraordinary rendition" in which detainees in CIA custody were sent to countries that practice torture. Second, there are the Bush administration's false premises for the invasion of Iraq, in this case the discredited Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. Finally, we have the unreliability of using torture to extract information. Al-Libi was an example of those who agree with their torturers in order to stop the pain. Juan Cole of Informed Comment called the al-Libi case "eloquent testimony against torture."

Human Rights Watch reported in September 2006 about a speech that President Bush gave  defending "alternative procedures." Knowing that the information from al-Libi was tainted, Bush said nothing about it, even though Colin Powell used it in his speech on Iraq to the U.N.:

In his speech, President Bush claimed that useful information has been obtained using such “alternative” techniques, but he pointedly omitted mentioning the information obtained from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, one of the first top suspects placed in CIA detention. Al-Libi was excluded from President Bush’s long narrative of successful detainee captures because under “enhanced interrogation” al-Libi reportedly told interrogators that Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to al Qaeda. This information – which turned out to be entirely wrong – was used in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations to justify war with Iraq. Sources later told ABC News that al-Libi “had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.”

At a Pentagon briefing this morning for the release of the Army’s new field manual on interrogation, Lieutenant General John F. Kimmons, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Intelligence, put the matter succinctly: “No good intelligence comes from abusive interrogation practices.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obama Administration To Take Antitrust Laws Seriously

Embarking upon yet another positive reversal of Bush administration policy, the Obama administration is taking antitrust policy seriously. Christine A. Varney (left), head of the antitrust division of the Justice Department, made the announcement this week:

President Obama’s top antitrust official...plans to restore an aggressive enforcement policy against corporations that use their market dominance to elbow out competitors or to keep them from gaining market share.

The new enforcement policy would reverse the Bush administration’s approach, which strongly favored defendants against antitrust claims. It would restore a policy that led to the landmark antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft and Intel in the 1990s.

...The administration is hoping to encourage smaller companies in an array of industries to bring their complaints to the Justice Department about potentially improper business practices by their larger rivals. Some of the biggest antitrust cases were initiated by complaints taken to the Justice Department.

The Bush administration's antitrust track record was so weak that it literally didn't exist:

As a result of the Bush administration’s interpretation of antitrust laws, the enforcement pipeline for major monopoly cases — which can take years for prosecutors to develop — is thin. During the Bush administration, the Justice Department did not file a single case against a dominant firm for violating the antimonopoly law.

The previous administration's lack of enforcement was based on its reverence for the free market under all conditions:

Conservative antitrust experts, some judges and defendants in such cases have said that the line is too difficult to draw and that it is better to let rivalries play out in the marketplace than in the courts.

The irony of this laissez-faire approach is that by allowing corporations to elbow out small companies, they dominate their industries to the point that no competition is left. Without competition, what is left of the free market? In addition, where's the incentive to lower prices for consumers? Once again, the best policy is, as stated above, to "reverse the Bush administration's approach."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Michael Steele's First 100 Days: "There's A Logic Behind It"

Michael Steele's tenure as Republican National Committee chairman has been...well, eventful. He called Rush Limbaugh "an entertainer...incendiary," only to join the line of Republicans who apologized to the de facto party leader. He caused a stir among party colleagues by calling, correctly in my view, abortion "an individual choice" and homosexuality an innate orientation. 

Hosting a radio show, Steele laughed along with a caller who called Obama "the magic Negro." He told Glenn Beck that there's "no reason" to trust the Republicans. He stated on "Morning Joe" that he likes to "wear my hat backwards, you know, because that's how we roll in the Northeast."

Steele has assured us, "If I do something, there's a reason for it. Even it may look like a mistake, a gaffe. There's a rationale, a logic behind it." Victor Zapanta of Think Progress has put together a video retrospective of Michael Steele's first 100 days. As you watch, see if you can discern the logic behind the chairman's words and actions:


For more Steele retrospective, read The Hill and Senate Guru.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

President Obama, Wanda Sykes Do Stand-up At White House Correspondents Dinner

President Obama performed sharp political standup at the White House Correspondents Dinner:





Fox News: Most of you covered me. All of you voted for me. Apologies to the Fox table.
Rahm Emanuel: This is a tough holiday because he’s not used to saying the word ‘day’ after ‘mother.’
Michael Steele: Michael, for the last time time, the Republican party does not qualify for a bailout. Rush Limbaugh does not count as a troubled asset.
Dick Cheney: Dick Cheney…is very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively entitled, ‘How to shoot friends and interrogate people.’ 
Arlen Specter: In the last 100 days, we’ve also grown the Democratic party by infusing it with new energy and bringing in fresh, young faces like Arlen Specter.
Hillary Clinton: We had been rivals during the campaign, but these days we could not be closer. In fact, the second she got back from Mexico she pulled me into a hug and gave me a big kiss and told me I’d better get down there myself.

Wanda Sykes skewered two of the president's critics, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity:



Rush Limbaugh: Boy, Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails. Yeah. So you're saying I hope America fails ....To me that's treason. He's not saying anything differently than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, but I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker but he was just so strung out on Oxycontin he missed his flight...
Sean Hannity: Sean Hannity said he was going to get waterboarded for charity for our armed forces. He hasn't done it yet, I see. You know, talking about he can take a waterboarding. Please. Hey, okay, you might want to get waterboarded by someone you know or trust but let somebody from Pakistan waterboard him, or Keith Olbermann. Let Keith Olbermann waterboard him. He can't take a waterboarding. I could break Sean Hannity just by giving him a middle seat in coach. Oh, I need leg room! (h/t Crooks and Liars)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Green And Santana Perform "Black Magic Woman," 1998



Peter Green wrote "Black Magic Woman" as a founding member of Fleetwood Mac when it was an English blues band–and Carlos Santana popularized it with a Latin rhythm and beat. Here they join together in a blistering, soulful performance of the song in 1998.

Cheney: GOP Doesn't Need To Moderate

After Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched to the Democrats, Senator Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine wrote that the gradual loss of Republican moderates was unhealthy for the party:

...we cannot prevail in the future without moderates... There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party.

Dick Cheney is having none of it. In an interview with North Dakota radio host Scott Henen, he affirmed that there's no need for moderation:

Hennen: Some people are wringing their hands saying, “This is an example of why the party needs to change, to hear the message of Specter,” that, as Colin Powell said, the Republican Party needs to moderate. Do you think the Republican Party needs to moderate? Is that the message of the Specter defection, or the state of the party these days?

Cheney: No I don’t. I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate. This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas ... what the role of government should be in our society, and our commitment to the Constitution and Constitutional principles. You know, when you add all those things up the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy. I for one am not prepared to do that, and I think most us aren’t. Most Republicans have a pretty good idea of values, and aren’t eager to have someone come along and say, “Well, the only way you can win is if you start to act more like a Democrat.”

Presumably among the "fundamental beliefs and values and ideas...and our commitment to the Constitution" are waterboarding, sending detainees abroad to countries that practice torture (extraordinary rendition), launching unnecessary wars and wiretapping American citizens. In defending "enhanced interrogation techniques," i.e., torture, Cheney refers to the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  Hennen did not ask him why, if the method is so effective, the Mohammed had to be subject to it 183 times in March 2003.

If the GOP continues to take Cheney's advice, Snowe's words of a shrinking party may very well be looked upon as prophetic. 

CBS Golf Analyst David Feherty On U.S. Soldiers' Death Wish For Pelosi And Reid

David Feherty, golf analyst for CBS Sports and former professional golfer, wrote an article in which he suggested that American soldiers have the desire to murder Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid:

From my own experience visiting the troops in the Middle East, I can tell you this, though: despite how the conflict has been portrayed by our glorious media, if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Osama bin Laden, there’s a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death.

These comments are not only threatening to national leaders, and therefore treasonous, but they're also insulting to soldiers whose mission is to defend the country, not shoot elected officials. Further, to put Pelosi and Reid on the same level as mass murderer bin Laden shows a serious lack of perspective, to put it mildly. I have no recollection of liberal commentators speaking about the assassination of Republican leaders during the Bush era. Feherty is living up to the title of his book "An Idiot For All Seasons." CBS should suspend or fire him immediately.

Right-Wing Outrage On Critical Issue: Obama Puts Mustard On Burger

President Obama recently went with Vice President Biden to Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia, for some burgers. Obama asked for spicy mustard and the right wing pundits went nuts. Ordering mustard instead of ketchup is elitist, you see. Here's Fox's Sean Hannity on what was clearly a slow news day:



It wasn't only Hannity. Mark Steyn, filling in for Rush Limbaugh, said, "John Kerry couldn't get away with that stuff, but he makes it seem just like a regular thing to do." Laura Ingraham asked, "What kind of man orders a cheeseburger without ketchup, but Dijon mustard?"

Why is the condiment Obama chooses so important to the wingnuts? They're against universal health care, the minimum wage, the State Children's Health Insurance Programveterans' benefitswomen's reproductive rights and the Employee Free Choice Act. On the other hand, they're right on board with cutting taxes for the wealthy and repealing the estate tax, which affects the richest .2% of estates.

The right is hostile to anything that answers the economic and health concerns of the lower and middle classes. But they still want to appeal to those whose interests they are hurting. The strategy is to come off as regular folks, whether it's Sarah Palin speaking about "Joe Sixpack" or pundits asking whether one would rather have a beer with George Bush or John Kerry. This phony populism didn't work during the presidential election; the country is facing too many critical issues in terms of the economy, health care, energy and foreign policy. Perhaps the majority of citizens finally sees through the right's deception.

Besides, isn't ketchup a much sweeter condiment than spicy mustard? Perhaps the president just raised the bar on manliness.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Obama Cuts Bush "Abstinence-Only" Program, Stresses Teen Pregnancy Prevention

In cutting budget funds for an "abstinence-only" program for schoolchildren, President Obama opted for realism as opposed to the religiously based social conservatism of the Bush administration:

President Barack Obama's $3.55 trillion budget proposal...eliminates spending for programs that teach U.S. schoolchildren sexual abstinence and shifts funds to programs aimed at reducing teenage pregnancy.

..."The program will fund models that stress the importance of abstinence while providing medically accurate and age-appropriate information to youth who have already become sexually active," the budget proposal said.

The so-called "abstinence only" programs, backed by many social conservatives who oppose the teaching of contraception methods to teenagers in schools, have received about $1.3 billion in federal funds since the late 1990s.

The track record of the abstinence program is not exactly an unmitigated success. Teens didn't necessarily stop have sex just because of the wishes of the Bush administration. "Abstinence only" programs presented sexually active teens with no guidance as to how to avoid pregnancy:

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics published in March said the U.S. teen birth rate rose for a second straight year in 2007 after a long decline.

Some experts blame the teen birth rate increases on government support for "abstinence-only" education under the Bush administration... But abstinence-only advocates have defended it as sound.

The American Public Health Association and U.S. Institute of Medicine told Congress last year that scientific studies have not found that abstinence-only teaching works to cut pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.

The Bush administration was already conducting a war on science, in terms of abstinence, global warming and stem cell research, so what would scientific studies have meant to them? In electing Barack Obama, the country has made a giant leap from an eight-year medieval era.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Obama Seeks $210 Billion From Overseas Corporations And Tax Havens

One of the most inexplicable and frustrating features of the U.S. tax code in recent years has been the granting of breaks to corporations that relocate overseas. These industries shed American jobs, preferring to pay sweatshop wages in Third World countries. Naomi Klein explained the process in her groundbreaking work on globalization, "No Logo." In addition, wealthy individuals have been allowed to park millions in offshore tax havens.

If we had to make up for the loss of revenue by raising payroll taxes and by slashing away at infrastructure, education and other essential services and by borrowing more money from Asian banks...well, hey, that was the cost of doing business!

President Obama is seeking to end or at least modify these foreign tax dodges. It couldn't come at a better time, when the nation is experiencing a recession and the administration is seeking to expand health care and develop alternative energy sources. Naturally, the president's opponents are ready to man the barricades on behalf of corporate welfare:

President Obama...called for curbing offshore tax havens and corporate tax breaks to collect billions of dollars more from multinational companies and wealthy individuals.

The move would appeal to growing populist anger among taxpayers but is likely to open an epic battle with some major powers in American commerce.

With the proposals he outlined at the White House, the president sought to make good on his campaign promise to end tax breaks “for companies that ship jobs overseas.”

He estimated the changes would raise $210 billion over the next decade and help offset tax cuts for middle-income taxpayers...

...Mr. Obama said most Americans paid taxes as “an obligation of citizenship,” but some businesses and rich people were “shirking” their duties, “aided and abetted by a broken tax system, written by well-connected lobbyists on behalf of well-heeled interests and individuals.”

“It’s a tax code full of corporate loopholes that makes it perfectly legal for companies to avoid paying their fair share. It’s a tax code that makes it all too easy for a number — a small number of individuals and companies to abuse overseas tax havens to avoid paying any taxes at all,” the president said. “And it’s a tax code that says you should pay lower taxes if you create a job in Bangalore, India, than if you create one in Buffalo, New York.”

Joe The Plumber Wouldn't Let Gay People Near His Children

In an interview with Christianity Today, Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber," spoke about same-sex marriage and stated that he wouldn't allow gay people "anywhere near my children":

Christianity Today: In the last month, same-sex marriage has become legal in Iowa and Vermont. What do you think about same-sex marriage at a state level?

Wurzelbacher: At a state level, it's up to them. I don't want it to be a federal thing. I personally still think it's wrong. People don't understand the dictionary--it's called queer. Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do--what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children. But at the same time, they're people, and they're going to do their thing.

Exactly why are gays–even Wurzelbacher's supposed "friends"–so dangerous that they'd be off-limits to his children? Is he reflecting the nonsensical proposition that gays need to "recruit" children to the "homosexual lifestyle" in order to boost the "queer" population?

The interview also considered the possibility of Wurzelbacher as a politician:

Christianity Today: Do you have plans to run for public office?

Wurzelbacher: Not right now. God hasn't said, "Joe, I want you to run." I feel more important to just encourage people to get involved, one way or another. If I can inspire some leaders, that would be great. I don't know if I want to be a leader.

Whether or not God tells Wurzelbacher to become a political leader, he already has a following in conservative circles. He has shilled for the anti-union Americans For Prosperity against the Employee Free Choice Act and spoken at the Conservative Political Action Conference and to the Conservative Working Group.

With spokespersons like Joe the Plumber, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, is it any wonder that the Republicans are losing support and are in such disarray?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Condoleezza Rice Presents Torturous Explanation To Fourth Grader

Condoleezza Rice recently stated at Stanford University that President Bush's authorization of an interrogation method implies that it was not torture: "...the United States was told...nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture."

Rice was asked again about the Bush administration's torture policies–this time by a fourth grader–and gave the same answer:

Rice, in her first appearance in Washington since leaving government, was at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation's Capital before giving an evening lecture at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.

...Misha Lerner, a student from Bethesda, asked: What did Rice think about the things President Obama's administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from detainees?

..."Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country," she said. "But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country."

Rice again states that the president's authorization is proof that the methods were not torture. Since Bush said that we wouldn't torture, anything that he approved was not torture. That would presumably include the methods described in four recently revealed CIA memos: waterboarding; slamming into walls, prolonged sleep deprivation; dousing with water as cold as 41 degrees, placing detainees in a dark, cramped box, and placing insects in the box to exploit fears.

Rice also contends her remarks do not resemble Richard Nixon's famous statement, "When the president does it, that means it's not illegal": "I said at one point that it was ahhh, given, right that if the president authorized it, it was legal. This was not a 'Nixon/Frost' moment. What I intended to say or what I meant to say about this is: The president said I won't authorize anything that is illegal. It's not that because he authorized it, it was legal..." (h/t Crooks and Liars)

Got that? It's clear that Rice is tying herself up in rhetorical knots with torturous explanations that evade the truth: President Bush and his administration, including former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, authorized torture.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sen. Ben Nelson: Public Health Plan Too Threatening To Private Insurance Industry

Senator Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska has declared his opposition to President Obama's intention to offer a public health insurance plan, favored by most Americans. From the Huffington Post:

A poll released this week by Consumer Reports National Research Center showed that 66 percent of Americans back the creation of a public health plan that would compete with private plans. Nelson, in comments made to Congressional Quarterly, joins the 16 percent of poll respondents who said they oppose the plan.

Nelson's problem, he told CQ, is that the public plan would be too attractive and would hurt the private insurance plans. "At the end of the day, the public plan wins the game," Nelson said. Including a public option in a health plan, he said, was a "deal breaker."

So Nelson's "problem" is that too many people want public health insurance–and the "deal breaker" is that it would hurt private insurance. On the issue of health care, Nelson is not a public, but a "private," servant.

I must say that Nelson is at least honest about his reasons. He didn't offer the usual nonsense about how privatized health care, which results in 47 million uninsured Americans, is the best system we can have. There's something refreshing in his candor, yes?

Why is Nelson so concerned about the health insurance industry? The group Health Care For America Now! explains that the senator has certain close campaign connections:

The company Nelson finds himself in is laid out clearly: business, the insurance industry, and Republicans. Of course, this isn't surprising, considering his campaign donation history. Open Secrets says Nelson received $608,709 from the insurance industry in 2007-2008, making the insurance industry his biggest donor group, more than lawyers and even lobbyists.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Bird And Diz Play "Hot House," 1952



Breaking from the big band arrangements of the swing era, bebop musicians of the 1940s-1950s conducted a revolution that initiated modern jazz. They emphasized complex arrangements, a fast pace, improvisation and a small group that provided a more active role for the rhythm section. For those used to tunes suitable for dancing or singing, here were compositions that seemed frenetic and fragmented. To its fans, though, bebop was a style that called for outstanding musicianship and innovation. Above, two of the giants of jazz and the bebop style, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, known as "Bird," and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, perform "Hot House" in 1952.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Too Moderate To Appear At GOP Fundraiser

Following the loss of Senator Arlen Specter, the Republicans are debating their direction: 

A fundamental debate broke out among Republicans on Wednesday over how to rebuild the party in the wake of Senator Arlen Specter’s departure: Should it purge moderate voices like Mr. Specter and embrace its conservative roots or seek to broaden its appeal to regain a competitive position against Democrats?

I therefore found it interesting to learn via Think Progress that the Kent County Republican party chair Joanne Voorhees in Michigan cancelled a fundraiser with Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah (above) because he's too moderate. Voorhees said, "The voters want and expect us to stand on principle and return to our roots." The group Campaign for Michigan Families said, "Presumably he is testing the waters [for a presidential run] and we hope he realizes now the waters in Michigan will be hazardous to someone who endorses the homosexual activist political agenda."

Though Utah, like Michigan, passed an amendment prohibiting gay marriage in 2004, Huntsman believes that the amendment may not ban civil unions–apparently a heretical position among right-wing homophobes. 

In an interview, Huntsman said, “Instead of just kind of grousing and complaining, it would do us all a whole lot of good if we actually started engaging directly in finding compromises and common ground and shared solutions.” No doubt that's another heretical view in a party that continues to purge moderates as it shrinks.