Tuesday, June 30, 2009

With Franken Finally A Minnesota Senator, Can Filibuster-Proof Democrats Unite?

Minnesota finally has a second senator after eight months of legal wrangling. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Al Franken's favor–not the first time a legal body had ruled for him–and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman conceded defeat. In his victory speech, Franken outlined priorities that all progressives welcome:

Franken: Working with our fantastic senior senator Amy Klobuchar, I'm going to fight hard to make quality health care accessible and  affordable to all Minnesotans. To make sure that our kids have an education that prepares them for a 21st century economy. To make Minnesota the epicenter of a new, renewable energy economy that frees us from our dependence on foreign oil. To restore our standing in the world and put people to work here at home.

Coleman may have kept this legal circus going because he and his backers knew that with Franken, the Democrats would have a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority. That would strengthen President Obama in fighting for initiatives that Republicans loathe, including providing health care for all through a public option.

I'd be less of a curmudgeon, however, if I didn't warn my fellow Democrats not to celebrate excessively. Yes, be pleased. But remember the words of Will Rogers: "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." Consider health care legislation. We now have a filibuster-proof majority. Millions of Americans are going without health insurance, and the costs continue to rise. A majority wants a government-run, public option and are willing to pay higher taxes for it. So the trends are better than ever for passage of health care reform. With all that, Obama will have his hands full keeping wayward Democrats in line:

Some Democrats are privately pushing the president to do more to bring his party in line. When Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, went to Capitol Hill last week, the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, pressed for the president to intervene more directly to settle Democrats’ disputes over Mr. Obama’s call for a government-run insurance plan to compete with the private sector, two people familiar with the session said.

Mr. Emanuel, in an e-mail message, acknowledged that some Democrats “wanted more direct and specific involvement,” but said others were happy with the president’s level of engagement, adding, “We received a lot of advice.”

Are 60 Democrats enough to accomplish Obama's legislative agenda? Here's one more piece of advice: get a few more Democrats elected to be on the safe side.

Monday, June 29, 2009

House Republican Leader John Boehner Refers To Climate Bill In Scatological Terms

The passage of the climate bill by the House was both historic and an initial step toward combating global warming and building a "green economy":

The passage of the House bill on Friday night was an important, if tentative, victory for the president, becoming the first time either chamber of Congress had approved a mandatory ceiling on the gases linked to global warming.

...[President Obama] acknowledged that the initial targets for reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases set by the House bill were quite modest and would probably not satisfy the governments of other countries or many environmental groups. But he said he hoped to build on those early targets in fashioning a more robust program in the future as part of his administration’s efforts to move the nation from an economy based on fossil fuels toward one built on renewable energy sources.

Paul Krugman, in "Betraying the Planet," commented that to vote against this bill is to commit treason against the planet and betray our future security:

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

Despite warnings by the vast majority of scientists, there remain those who are still in denial for ideological reasons:

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Joining Representative Broun in opposition was House Republican leader John Boehner (upper left), who delayed the bill with an hour-long speech, calling it "a bureaucratic nightmare." After being asked why he delayed the vote, Boehner said, "Hey, people deserve to know what's in this pile of sh-t."

Remember, this is a bill with modest aims. But it's still too much for John Boehner, who refers to legislation on the most important environmental issue of our time in scatological terms. That's today's Republican leadership in action.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

40 Years After Stonewall Rebellion, The Gay Rights Struggle Continues

Forty years ago, in the early hours of June 28, 1969, the gay liberation movement was born at the Stonewall Inn Rebellion. It was common back then for gay bars like the Stonewall in Greenwich Village to be raided by the police and for many of the patrons to be harassed and hauled off to jail. This time the crowd resisted, battling the police for six nights, an historic event outlined in the CNN video above.

Since then, gay marriage is legal in six states, many gays have come out of the closet, there are annual gay pride marches and gay elected officials. Those are indicators of progress, but the movement for full equality for gays still has a long way to go:

...if the culture is moving on, national politics is not, or at least not as rapidly. Mr. Obama has yet to fulfill a campaign promise to repeal the policy barring openly gay people from serving in the military. The prospects that Congress will ever send him a bill overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, appear dim. An effort to extend hate-crime legislation to include gay victims has produced a bitter backlash in some quarters: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sent a letter to clerics in his state arguing that it would be destructive to “faith, families and freedom.”

"Faith"? Isn't that a personal matter? "Families"? Gay couples can't make families? Children of gay couples disagree. "Freedom"? Is denying the right to marry based on sexual orientation consistent with freedom? Changing generational attitudes, however, bode well for future progress:

A New York Times/CBS News poll last spring found that 57 percent of people under 40 said they supported same-sex marriage, compared with 31 percent of respondents over 40. Andy Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, said the generational shift was reflected in his polling, in which the number of Americans opposing gay people serving openly in the military had dropped to 32 percent now from 45 percent in 1994.

Many gay rights leaders are criticizing the Obama administration for its timidity on gay issues, including ending the "Don't ask, don't tell" military policy that started under the Clinton administration and is now opposed by 75 percent of Americans. The administration also submitted a brief supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), also passed under Clinton and recently under legal challenge, that allows states not to recognize gay marriages and denies federal benefits to gay married couples. While the Justice Department filed the brief, the President states that he wants to repeal DOMA. Frank Rich, in "40 Years Later, Still Second-Class Americans," implores Obama to remember the commitment he made to gay Americans:

...Obama’s inaction on gay civil rights is striking. So is his utterly uncharacteristic inarticulateness. The Justice Department brief defending DOMA has spoken louder for this president than any of his own words on the subject. Chrisler noted that he has given major speeches on race, on abortion and to the Muslim world. “People are waiting for that passionate speech from him on equal rights,” she said, “and the time is now.”

Action would be even better. It’s a press cliché that “gay supporters” are disappointed with Obama, but we should all be. Gay Americans aren’t just another political special interest group. They are Americans who are actively discriminated against by federal laws. If the president is to properly honor the memory of Stonewall, he should get up to speed on what happened there 40 years ago, when courageous kids who had nothing, not even a public acknowledgment of their existence, stood up to make history happen in the least likely of places.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael And Elvis: Cautionary Tales Of Two Kings

I was never a big Michael Jackson fan. He was the "King of Pop," and readers who've followed my "Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon" series know that my tastes run toward blues, Sixties rock, jazz and folk. Nevertheless, I recognize that Jackson was an enormous talent who had an electrifying stage presence and will remain a lasting influence on artists throughout the world. Indeed, he was a global superstar who even united Israeli and Arab fans in their enjoyment of his music.

Jackson's 1983 performance of "Billie Jean" shows the way he combined stylized, almost mechanical movements with the smoothness of his famous moonwalk, carrying it all off in a seamless flow. His vocal style featured the "hiccuping" effect reminiscent of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley:

Speaking of Elvis Presley, one must take note of Jackson's prescience that his fate would resemble that of "The King of Rock," as recounted by Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Presley and ex-wife of Jackson:

Michael Jackson knew "exactly how his fate would be played out" and feared his death would echo that of Elvis Presley, Lisa Marie Presley wrote in an online blog posted Friday morning.

..."At some point he paused, he stared at me very intensely and he stated with an almost calm certainty, 'I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, the way he did,' " Presley wrote.

"I promptly tried to deter him from the idea, at which point he just shrugged his shoulders and nodded almost matter of fact as if to let me know, he knew what he knew and that was kind of that."

...Elvis Presley collapsed in the bathroom of his Memphis, Tennessee, mansion -- Graceland -- on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42. While his death was ruled the result of an irregular heartbeat, the autopsy report was sealed amid accusations that abuse of prescription drugs caused the problem.

Prescription drugs, of course, are a focus of inquiry in Jackson's death, just one point of resemblance in the fates of the two superstars. When we consider both, we see a similar trajectory from wholly original young talent to a long decline. The early Elvis combined rock, blues and country with his trademark "sneer" and gyrations–his nickname was "Elvis the Pelvis"–to groundbreaking effect, as seen in this performance of "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1956:

Elvis's rise and fall, recounted in Peter Guralnick's masterful two-volume biography, "Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley" and "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley," included the prescription drugs, eating binges, reckless spending and mismanagement by Colonel Tom Parker, who steered Presley toward second- and third-rate movies that kept the focus off his music. As for Jackson, his later years included the prescription drugs, the trial for molestation, plastic surgery that turned his face into a mask (see the computer generated image of a plastic-surgery free Jackson), extravagant spending that caused a severe financial toll and exile in Bahrain, Dubai and Ireland.

Every year on "American Idol," many who don't pass the audition are devastated as they lose their shot at stardom. Yet the lives of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley ought to stand as cautionary tales, along with those of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. Each one warns us that fame and adulation are no guarantors of happiness in this life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Limbaugh: Obama To Blame For Sanford's Affair

Mitt Romney, former Governor (R) of Massachusetts, recently advanced the notion that election fraud in Iran was President Obama's fault. Since then, we've learned that Governor Mark Sanford (R) of South Carolina, missing for several days, was conducting an extramarital affair in Argentina. And whose fault was that? You guessed it: Obama's.

In a departure from the conservative theme of personal responsibility, Rush Limbaugh claimed that Sanford was so despondent over the state of the country under Obama that he decided to chuck it all and just have a good time. Listen:

Obama, according to Limbaugh, is "trying to kill spirit" and filling the country with "frustrated Americans." Is that why the President has an approval rating of 63 percent, according to the latest New York Times/CBS poll? Limbaugh also refers to Sanford's being forced by a federal judge to accept stimulus money as one reason for his desperate flight to Argentina. So Sanford, upset about economic stimulus in South Carolina, sought personal stimulus in Buenos Aires.

One detail that Limbaugh neglected was the fact that Sanford visited the woman identified as "Maria" while on a taxpayer-financed trade mission to South America early last summer. That, of course, was before Obama was elected. Why was Sanford carrying on with his mistress when America's spirit was soaring under George W. Bush?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Obama's Logical Question: If Private Health Insurance Is The Best, Why Is A Public Plan A Threat?

At a press conference on Tuesday, President Obama made points well worth considering about fears that a public, government-run health plan would harm private insurance:

Obama: Now, the public plan, I think, is an important tool to discipline insurance companies. What we've said is, under our proposal, let's have a system, the same way that federal employees do, same way that members of Congress do, where we call it an exchange, but you can call it a marketplace, where, essentially, you've got a whole bunch of different plans... As one of those options, for us to be able to say, here's a public option that's not profit-driven, that can keep down administrative costs, and that provides you good, quality care for a reasonable price as one of the options for you to choose, I think that makes sense.

Question: Wouldn't that drive private insurance out of business?

Obama: Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care; if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical.

... just conceptually, the notion that all these insurance companies who say they're giving consumers the best possible deal, if they can't compete against a public plan as one option, with consumers making the decision what's the best deal, that defies logic, which is why I think you've seen in the polling data overwhelming support for a public plan. (h/t Ezra Klein)

Obama is addressing, in part, all of the Republicans, as well as some Democrats like Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who are motivated not by the millions without health insurance but by the millions that the health insurance industry pumps into political campaigns. The President targets a key contradiction: if private insurance provides the best coverage and meets the economic needs of consumers, why would anyone be attracted to a public option? 

At least Senator Nelson is candid: "At the end of the day, the public plan wins the game." That's why Nelson calls a public plan a "deal breaker." How can he support what he anticipates will be the more popular public plan when he received $608,709 from the insurance industry in 2007-2008? The Senator has his priorities.

If we're not going to have a universal, single payer system as it exists under every other Western democracy, at least we ought to have a public option. Perhaps then the private insurers would stop denying coverage for "pre-exising conditions." Isn't the point of competition to offer a better service than the competitor? In that way, a public plan can "discipline insurance companies."

Concern for the fate of private insurance is just one more illogical justification for not overhauling health care. In the following video, arguments against expanded coverage that seem nonsensical and heartless when posed by a public relations firm are accepted as part of the common discourse when they're repeated as right-wing talking points:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Another "Defender Of Marriage," Gov. Mark Sanford, Admits Extramarital Affair

Just days ago, Senator John Ensign of Nevada resigned from his leadership post with Senate Republicans for his extramarital affair. Now Governor Mark Sanford (left) of South Carolina, who had been missing for several days, resigned his chairmanship of the Republican Governor's Association for, yes, his extramarital affair:

[Sanford's] confession on Wednesday that he had been in Argentina with a woman not his wife — and not hiking the Appalachian Trial as his staff had said Monday — was another jolt of bad news for a party that has struggled to get off the ropes all year.

That it was the second such confession in little more than a week from a potential Republican presidential contender — Mr. Ensign had been exploring a run in 2012 as well — left party leaders dazed. They spent Wednesday alternating between gallows humor and yet another round of conversations about what the party stands for and who will give it its best shot to retake the White House.

What indeed does the Republican Party stand for? One similarity between Ensign and Sanford is in their "defense of marriage." Sanford is even opposed to gay civil unions, as he stated in On The Issues:

Q: Should South Carolina recognize civil unions between same-sex couples?
A: No.
Q: Should South Carolina restrict marriage to a union only between a man and a woman?
A: Yes.

So marriage is "defended" by yet another Republican who violates its vows–a group that also includes Newt Gingrich, Mark Foley, Larry Craig and David Vitter. Each one can remarry, and each one does not want a faithful gay couple to enjoy equal marriage rights in his state.

Perhaps, though, I should look at it from the perspective of Sanford and his colleagues who strayed. Gay marriage is now legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Could it be that the spreading, negative influence of gay marriage is causing these upstanding conservatives to act against their values? The following video, "It's All Because (The Gays Are Getting Married)" suggests as much. Watch:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stay, Neda, Don't Go

Following her slaying, Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, has come to symbolize the Iranian opposition's struggle against a brutal regime. Though Neda was not especially political, she believed in human rights and had attended an anti-government protest with her music instructor. Neda, a singer of pop music despite the fact that women are barred from singing publicly in Iran, and her instructor stepped out of a hot car after being stuck in traffic. A gun shot hit her, she fell to the ground, said "It burned me," and died.

The Iranian government instructed the family to bury her rapidly and did not permit family members to hold a memorial service. Basiji paramilitary forces dispersed mourners who congregated around Niloofar mosque. While the government has barred public displays of mourning for Neda, has it called for an investigation into this arbitrary, cruel murder?

CNN pieced together a portrait of Neda:

The second of three children, Neda lived with her parents in a middle-class neighborhood east of Tehran.

She was a happy, positive person. Though she studied philosophy and religion at the Azad Islamic University, she was more spiritual than religious. She also loved music...

Her demeanor was typically calm, even serene, but she had a quirky, playful sense of humor. ...She liked to travel, having visited Turkey three months ago with a tour group. And she believed in human rights, her friend said. That may have explained why she was at an anti-government demonstration in Tehran on Saturday afternoon.

Iranian voices speaking about Neda are especially poignant:

“I am so worried that all the sacrifices that we made in the past week, the blood that was spilled, would be wasted,” said one woman who came to mourn Ms. Agha-Soltan on Monday outside Niloofar mosque here. “I cry every time I see Neda’s face on TV.”

...Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition candidate for president in this month’s election, called her a martyr on his Web site. “A young girl, who did not have a weapon in her soft hands, or a grenade in her pocket, became a victim of thugs who are supported by a horrifying intelligence apparatus.”

...Her fiancé, Caspian Makan, contributed to a Persian Wikipedia entry. He said she never supported any particular presidential candidate. “She wanted freedom, freedom for everybody,” the entry read.

...A woman called Hana posted a comment on Mr. Karroubi’s Web site: “I am alive but my sister was killed. She wanted the wind to blow into her hair; she wanted to be free; she wanted to hold her head high up and say: I am Iranian. My sister died because there is no life left; my sister died because there is no end to tyranny.”

A poem gave voice to Neda's importance to the opposition movement's struggle for freedom. An excerpt:

Stay, Neda —
Look at this city
At the shaken foundations of palaces,
The height of Tehran’s maple trees,
They call us “dust,” and if so
Let us sully the air for the oppressor
Don’t go, Neda

Finally, a video of the last moments of Neda's life. Warning: this video is graphic.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Film Review: "Whatever Works"...Or Doesn't

Woody Allen's "Whatever Works" rapidly becomes implausible. A cranky, misanthropic, previously respectable physicist, Boris Yelnikoff (Larry David), is disenchanted with his beautiful and brainy wife. He leaves his well appointed Manhattan apartment for a dump downtown and takes up teaching chess to youngsters whom he berates. He finds a perky, small town Southern girl, a runaway named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), on his doorstep and takes her in. Despite his comments on her lack of intelligence, she falls in love with him and they get married.

How is it possible for a vivacious young woman to fall in love with a man who's not only old enough to be her grandfather, but who is also a constant kvetcher whom she serves as a caretaker and who comments frequently on her lack of intelligence? Boris pontificates on the familiar Allen themes of a meaningless, godless universe, but turns it up a few notches with rants on the world's pain and cruelty and the fact that most of his fellow humans are mindless "inchworms."

So besides the implausibility, there's the fact that the main character is completely unsympathetic. While Allen's main characters in such classics as "Annie Hall" and "Hannah and Her Sisters" were plagued by the same existential doubts, they did not couple this brooding with a tiresome disparagement of others. Despite some energetic performances and entertaining situations, the movie never shakes these basic narrative and character flaws. 

The plot gains a measure of realism, but is not completely saved, with Melody's evolving feelings towards Boris. Along the way her relationship with her divorced parents, Marietta (Patricia Clarkson), and John (Ed Begley Jr.), who have tracked their daughter down, evolve as well. Manhattan has an unexpected effect on their red state ways, and it's a matter of perspective whether Allen is dealing in cultural stereotypes or satire.

The film begins and ends with Boris's "whatever works" outlook: in an indifferent universe, why not "filch whatever happiness you can." The difference is that he's in a better state of mind espousing this outlook at the end. The ways in which he gets to this state are, again, a stretch. This is the same minimally redemptive philosophy that Allen's Mickey character reaches at the end of "Hannah and Her Sisters," but with more believability in that superior film. In "Whatever Works," it doesn't quite work.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bill Maher: "We Have A Center Right Party And A Crazy Party"

Bill Maher took on both major political parties in a recent commentary, stating, "We don't need a third party. We have a center right party and a crazy party. Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." 

Regarding the right, can there be any doubt that the Republican party is suffering a nervous breakdown with such leading voices as Limbaugh, BeckSteele, Palin, Cheney, Romney and McCain? Nevertheless, Maher is more critical of the Democrats for their timid reluctance to embrace a progressive agenda. Watch: 

Maher: Shouldn't there be one party that unambiguously supports cutting the military budget?  A party that is straight up in favor of gun control, gay marriage, higher taxes on the rich, universal health care, legalizing pot, and steep, direct taxing of polluters? These aren't radical ideas. A majority of Americans are either already for them, or would be if they were properly argued and defended, and what we need is an actual progressive party to represent the millions of Americans who aren't being served by the Democrats. Because, bottom line, Democrats are the new Republicans.

As Public Supports Gov't. Health Care, Republicans Continue Fear-Mongering

A recent poll shows overwhelming public support for a government-run health care system:

Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system and are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The poll found that most Americans would be willing to pay higher taxes so everyone could have health insurance and that they said the government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector.

...The national telephone survey, which was conducted from June 12 to 16, found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan — something like Medicare for those under 65 — that would compete for customers with private insurers. Twenty percent said they were opposed.

Despite these numbers, the Republicans continue to employ fear-mongering rhetoric, including "takeover," "rationing," "bureaucrat" and "socialism." Meanwhile, most Americans are subject to the decisions of health insurance bureaucrats. These bureaucrats–to use one of the GOP's terms of horror–decide which doctors are "in network" and "out of network." They don't allow treatment for new clients who commit the crime of having a "pre-existing condition." They have an economic incentive to deny treatment in general.

Newt Gingrich has made the absurd statement, "This administration would destroy the American health care system." Is he under the illusion that the American health care system is thriving and meeting the needs of the population? Despite the fact that 47 million have no coverage? And despite the fact that, according to a Harvard University study, half of all Americans who declare bankruptcy do so because of illness or medical bills? Are Canadians and Europeans clamoring to free themselves from "socialized" health care in exchange for our completely privatized system?

As the debate over health care legislation heats up, Republicans–along with Democrats such as Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska–will continue to express doubts over a public option that threatens the private insurers who fund their campaigns. Expect, too, more of the same rhetoric about the horrors that await us under a public health care system, as outlined in the following video:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fox News Mixes Family Values With Porn

A recent discussion between Bill O'Reilly and conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter about children's access to pornography on YouTube had one glitch. While these two cultural warriors lamented how easy it is for kids to watch inappropriate videos, the segment cut away several times to soft porn montages. Clearly, these images could be seen by any youngster who was watching O'Reilly's show:

O'Reilly's report followed Fox's practice of titillating its audience to boost ratings. Brave New Films has produced a video showing how the station known for its right-wing slant mixes in arousing images and subject matter, even in business reports and book reviews. Note that at one point, O'Reilly is conducting another interview when he states, "This is over the top. Roll the tape." Apparently part of O'Reilly's public service is to provide visual proof of offensive material. Remember when watching the following that while the voice-over comes from Brave New Films, the commentators and images are strictly from Fox News:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Bob Bogle Of The Ventures

Bob Bogle
, one of the founding members of The Ventures, died at 75 on Sunday, June 14. The Ventures were one of rock's most successful instrumental bands. They often reflected the surf guitar sound, evident in Bogle's twangy lead in their hit "Walk–Don't Run," performed above. The song sold 2 million copies in 1960, part of six Top 40 hits during that decade, including the theme for the TV show "Hawaii Five-O." The Ventures were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2008.

Sam Seder Reports On Palin Partisans' War On Jokes And Letterman

David Letterman recently made a joke about Sarah Palin's daughter being impregnated by New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, confusing younger daughter Willow, 14, with older daughter Bristol, 18. Palin took offense and Letterman apologized twice. The Alaska governor accepted Letterman's second apology; the fact that she didn't accept the first leads one to wonder whether, along with being offended, she didn't mind the publicity. Meanwhile, Letterman's ratings rose during the brouhaha.

I present this background to introduce a video in which Air America's Sam Seder conducted interviews at an anti-Letterman protest outside CBS studios. There were about 15 protesters and 35 media members; what the demonstrators lacked in numbers they made up in vehemence, insisting that Letterman's 30-year career be brought to an end. The always witty Seder elicits humorous and exasperated responses from the crowd, whose members reminded me of the participants at McCain-Palin rallies. Watch:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Courage Of Iran's Soccer Players

The images of hundreds of thousands marching in support of Mir Hussein Moussavi before the Iranian election certainly gave one the impression that the contest would be close. That's why the supposed landslide victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by 63 percent to 34 percent seems so absurd–and why a cross section of Iranian society, including some clerics, are asking, "Where is my vote?"

At least when George W. Bush stole the election in 2000, he was more subtle about it. The disenfranchisement of thousands of African-American and Jewish voters in Florida and the collusion of the Supreme Court in holding up Bush's "victory" without further recount was all it took. No need to claim an electoral gap of 29 percent.

Perhaps the most courageous of all of the Iranian protesters are the soccer players who wore green wristbands, symbolic of support for Moussavi, during a game in South Korea. These players, after all, can be immediately identified by the authorities. The rapidly evolving pace of events in Iran always carry the threat of a violent crackdown. Mohammadreza Habibi, senior prosecutor in the province of Isfahan, had a message for demonstrators: “We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution.”

Habibi is representative of the rise of religious fundamentalism, a cultural phenomenon not confined to Islam, that has swept across the world and wreaked so much havoc. Iran's wristband-wearing soccer players act in defiance of those who feel they have a divine mandate to kill (the same impulse felt by Scott Roeder, alleged murderer of George Tiller, the abortion doctor). The story of Ahmad Batebi, imprisoned and tortured for a decade after appearing on the cover of The Economist holding up a bloody shirt during July 1999 protests in Iran, indicates the danger and courage of simple, powerful gestures against authoritarian regimes. Such tremendous courage was exemplified by Iran's soccer players.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sen. John Ensign, "Marriage Defender," Resigns GOP Leadership Post Over Affair

Senator John Ensign (R) of Nevada (left), after admitting earlier in the week that he had an extramarital affair with an aide, has resigned from his Republican leadership post.

Ensign's affair has a certain ironic twist. The senator, after all, billed himself as a "defenders of marriage." The Christian Coalition gave him a 100% score for his "pro-family voting record." He supported efforts to amend the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman:

“Sadly, the effort to redefine marriage against the wishes of a majority of the people is, with help from activist judges, succeeding,” Ensign said. “In order to defend the institution of marriage, uphold the rights of individual states, and maintain the will of the people, I believe we are compelled to amend our country’s constitution.”

What Ensign doesn't understand is that equal protection under the law is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. If the majority deprives the minority of equal protection, such deprivation is indeed unconstitutional. His "defense" of marriage as exclusively heterosexual, along with his other arguments, is merely a smokescreen for the continued deprivation of equal marriage rights for gays.

Ensign is among other Republicans who have espoused "pro-family" positions, such as Newt Gingrich, who discussed divorce with his former wife Jackie as she recovered from cancer surgery; Mark Foley, who sent sexually explicit messages to teenage Capitol Hill pages; Larry Craig, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after soliciting sex in an airport men's room, and David Vitter, who was linked to a prostitution ring.

Ensign and these other "defenders of marriage" have the right to matrimony while a loyal gay couple does not. That's perverted.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Obama Resists McCain's Counterproductive Stance On Iranian Election

A contrast between the responses of John McCain and Barack Obama to election turmoil in Iran reminds us that, at least in the U.S., the better candidate won. McCain wants America to forget about dialogue and opt for sanctions and condemnation:

McCain: I hope that we will act and, by the way, Senator Lieberman has a proposal that we put sanctions on countries that sell gasoline to Iran. We ought to think about passing that legislation... Well, initial reports by, quote, administration officials, are that they say that they’re not going to change their policy of dialogue, et cetera, et cetera. I think they should be condemned, and it’s obvious that this was a rigged election and depriving the people of their democratic rights. We are for human rights all over the world.

Demonstrating more knowledge of history and international relations, President Obama is wary of displays of disapproval that are ultimately counterproductive:

Obama: It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections. … I do believe that something has happened in Iran where there is, there is a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures towards the international community that have taken place in the past, and that there are people that want to see greater openness and greater debate and want to see greater democracy. (h/t Think Progress)

Backing Obama's position, Senator Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana stated, "...our position is to allow the Iranians to work out their situation... For us to become heavily involved in the election at this point is to give the clergy an opportunity to have an enemy...and to use us, really, to retain their power." Former Bush Ambassador to Iran Nicholas Burns said, “President Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than to see a very aggressive series of statements by the United States that would try to put the U.S. in the center of this.”

Also supporting Obama's stance is Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council: “The framing that Ahmadinejad is presenting is one in which essentially the whole [opposition] is a Western media conspiracy...the administration is doing exactly the right thing. They’re not rushing in and they’re not playing favorites. They might prefer the democratic process to be respected, but that’s different than [supporting a] specific faction."

Romney: Election Fraud In Iran? Why, It's Obama's Fault

If the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turns out to be a fraud, as many Iranian supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi suspect, whose fault is it? Isn't it obvious? Obama's to blame. That's the conclusion of neocons Richard Perle and Frank Gaffney, whose expertise in foreign affairs was demonstrated by their advocacy for the war in Iraq.

This view is also put forth by former–and perhaps future–Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaking to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week":

Romney: The comments by the president last week, that there was a robust debate going on in Iran, was obviously entirely wrong-headed. What has occurred is the election is a fraud, the results are inaccurate, and you’re seeing a brutal repression of the people as they protest. … It’s very clear that the president’s policies of going around the world and apologizing for America aren’t working. … Look, just sweet talk and criticizing America is not going to enhance freedom in the world. (h/t Think Progress)

Stephanopoulos puts forth an alternative theory: perhaps the election victory of U.S.-backed, pro-Western forces over Hezbollah in Lebanon and the fervent support for Moussavi in Iran are related to Obama's reaching out to the Muslim world. Romney is evasive on these points:

Romney: I can't tell you what led to people running into the streets in Iran. I hope in fact that they're very anxious to see new leadership in that country. But I can tell you that the results are what I'm interested in. Is Iran still pursuing nuclear weaponry and there's no question about that.

Blaming Obama for election fraud in Iran represents pure pandering to the right wing. Here's a revelation for these conservative commentators: there are complex conditions in other countries that are not always related to what we say and do here in the United States. But if they want to contend that the election results that we dislike in Iran are Obama's fault, then they also have to state that the results that we favor in Lebanon are to Obama's credit. On that point, they're silent. And because they are, they're also intellectually dishonest.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Robertson Connects Protecting Gays To Sex With Ducks

Naturally, Pat Robertson finds the passage of a hate crimes bill providing federal protection to gay and transgendered Americans to be "controversial." He doesn't comprehend the common sense, humane approach of Representative Alcee Hastings (D) of Florida: "No person should live in fear of violence because of who they are." Robertson has his own, unique spin on the subject, shown at the end of the following video:

Roberston: Ladies and gentleman, just figure this. You've got somebody, he's really weird, and his sexual orientation is he likes to have sex with ducks. Is he protected under hate crimes? Is he protected if he likes to have sex with little boys? They haven't made that clear. It's sexual orientation which he said covers about 30 different pathologies. What are we going to do about that?

Well. I must admit that Robertson has mentioned an area of sexuality that I never knew about. He can, of course, read the bill and see if those who lust after ducks are protected. Somehow I doubt it, according to a description of the bill:

Victims of violence who are gay would enjoy new federal protections under a hate-crimes bill approved by the House... But it is by no means clear that the measure will become law, at least any time soon.

The vote was 249 to 175, with most Democrats voting in favor and most Republicans against. The bill, H.S. 1913, defines hate crimes as those motivated by prejudice and based on a victim’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

I also doubt that Robertson would support federal protections of gays under a hate crimes bill even if he found out that there are no provisions for duck rapists. What I don't doubt is that Robertson considers homosexuality among the "30 different pathologies."

In their music video, Riki "Garfunkel" Lindhome and Kate "Oates" Micucci respond to the connection Robertson made between gay rights and sex with ducks:

Michael Moore Teaser: "Save Our CEOs"

Michael Moore's new film, opening October 2, focuses on the economic meltdown and the forces responsible for it:

Wall Street robber barons are Moore's new on-screen enemy.

"The movie is not going to be an economics lesson; it's going to be more like a vampire movie," the filmmaker jokes. "Instead of the main characters feasting on the blood of their victims, they feast on the money. And they never seem to get enough of it."

In a surprise teaser shown in theaters in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, Moore asked audience members to "lend a hand" by contributing to "needy banks and corporations." Watch:

Volunteer ushers went through the aisles with "Save Our CEOs" collection cans. Some audience members actually contributed.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Rollin' And Tumblin' With Canned Heat And Cream

Enjoy two outstanding live performances of the blues standard "Rollin' and Tumblin,' " separated by almost four decades. First, Canned Heat at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, distinguished by Bob "The Bear" Hite's vocals, Alan "Blind Owl" Wilson's slide guitar and Larry "The Mole" Taylor's bass:

Now let's jump ahead 38 years to the reunion concert of Cream, rock's most influential power trio, in 2005 at the Royal Albert Hall, London. Jack Bruce took a break from the bass to show that his vocals and harmonica were as powerful as ever. He was backed up by band mates Eric Clapton on slide guitar and Ginger Baker on drums:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Conservatives Alarmed By Judicial Nominees' "Empathy"

When President Obama said that he wanted to nominate a Supreme Court justice who has empathy, that word alarmed Republicans. Senator Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, interviewed by George Stephanopoulos, said the following:

What does that mean? Usually that's a code word for an activist judge. But he also said that he's going to select judges on the basis of their personal politics, their personal feelings, their personal preferences. Now, you know, those are all code words for an activist judge, who is going to, you know, be partisan on the bench.

Senator Pat Leahy (D) of Vermont made it clear that the Supreme Court has its own conservative judicial activists, such as Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts, who consistently favor corporate over individual or employee interests:

We've had a very activist court. We had an activist court that made a decision that allowed employers to covertly discriminate against women so that women wouldn't get paid equally. We in the Congress reversed that with...the first law that President Obama signed into law. I think he wants to have somebody to treat people all the same, whether they're Republicans, or Democrat, men, women, or whatever they may be.

Leahy was referring to the Supreme Court's ruling against Lilly Ledbetter, who was paid less than male colleagues for doing the same work. The Court made it more difficult for workers to sue employers–a ruling reversed when President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

It's clear that conservatives have a problem not so much with "empathy" as with what they see as misplaced empathy. If a judge has empathy for the corporation, the wealthy, the employer, that's fine. If it's for the less well-off, the minority, the worker–well, that's problematic.

Melvin I. Urofsky, writing on "Brandeis and the 'Empathy' Issue" in The Forward, made an interesting comparison between Louis D. Brandeis (above left), the first Jew named to the Supreme Court, and Sonia Sotomayer, the first Hispanic nominee: both were viewed askance by conservatives for the objects of their empathy. Brandeis, nominated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, was criticized by the right wing, according to Brandeis biographer Urofsky:

...like the Republican opponents to Brandeis nearly a century ago...they are already pointing with horror to President Obama’s stated criterion of “empathy,” which they say is a thin mask for liberalism and judicial policy-making from the bench.

Although President Wilson did not use the word “empathy,” he clearly had something very similar in mind when he named Brandeis, one of his close advisors, to the Supreme Court. Over the previous decade, the Boston lawyer had made a reputation for himself as one of the country’s leading progressive reformers.

...His opponents saw this concern for the people as evidence of his “hatred” for business and property. “Where others were radical he was rabid,” ranted one newspaper, “where others were extreme he was super-extreme.” Brandeis, of course, was no radical; throughout his life he considered himself conservative but believed that in order to keep the best of our past, reforms were necessary to give workers decent wages, safe jobs and a chance to share in the American dream.

...Sotomayor clearly shares this outlook, and conservatives who see the courts as bulwarks against popular aspirations will oppose her. And as in the case of Brandeis, they will lose. Whether she will, once on the court, do great things, as he did, will not be known for many years. As citizens, we can only hope.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Right Wing Views Von Brunn As "Leftist"

A survey of the views of James W. von Brunn, alleged murderer of security guard Stephen T. Johns at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC:

...As an avowed white supremacist and anti-Semite, von Brunn was tracked by civil rights groups.

...Police said he had an 11-page document, which he characterized as an exposé of an "international bankers' conspiracy to rule all nations from one central seat of government." Court records said he intended to place them under citizens arrest and charge them with treason.

...von Brunn said that his goal was to "deport all Jews and blacks from the white nations" and that statistics on IQs of black and white Americans "proved that there is one race that is better than another." He also testified that "Jews were the greatest liars that have ever afflicted mankind."

Von Brunn is also part of the Obama "birther" movement, which is obsessed with whether the President is a citizen of the United States. They apparently can't accept the fact that Obama was born in Hawaii.

Are those the views of an individual on the left? Yes, according to spokespersons on the right. Rush Limbaugh, who ignores von Brunn's profile as cited above, cherry picks a few of his opinions and comes to a nonsensical conclusion:

Limbaugh: This guy's beliefs, this guy's hate stems from influence that you find on the left, not the right.

Similar views come from Harry Binswanger of the Ayn Rand Institute and Glenn Beck:

Binswanger: Standards have been knocked down by our universities who tell us truth is relative, there is no morality, it's all your culture or my culture. Well, this von Brunn's culture is a tribe of racist, anti-Jewish, anti-Negro, anti-immigrant, everything–and therefore he's a phenomenon of the left, because racism is a form of collectivism. The right wing is individualist, believes in individual rights, freedom, the dignity of each individual life. You know, Hitler was National Socialism, right? It's a leftist phenomenon.

Beck: How did it happen that you look at people who are Nazis and you say that those are right wing? It doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

Is Binswanger (whose use of the term "Negro" is archaic if not insulting) really suggesting that von Brunn was influenced by liberal professors? By Binswanger's "logic," the Ku Klux Klan, which engaged in group or "collective" acts of murderous racism, is also a leftist outfit. Of course, the use of "Socialism" in a title does not prove the ridiculous contention that Hitler was a leftist. As for Beck, trying to make sense of his views is a futile task; in April he stated that we're headed toward fascism, not socialism.

Eric Erickson of of the conservative Red State blog, cherry picking like Limbaugh, tweeted the following: "Holocaust shooter, like left wing bloggers, hates Bush, Israel, the war, Christians, capitalism. The list goes on and on."

So von Brunn, like Hitler, is a leftist, in the distorted fun-house mirror of the right wing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fox Reporters Reassess DHS Report On Right-Wing Extremism Following Recent Murders

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a report warning of a rise in right-wing extremist activity and recruitment. The report was criticized by conservatives such as Joe Scarborough and Pat Robertson, especially regarding its finding that some veterans may be susceptible to extremist groups.

The past two weeks have seen two murders allegedly by right-wing extremists: the shooting of Dr. George Tiller by Scott Roeder at a Kansas church and, on Wednesday, the murder of security guard Stephen T. Johns by James W. von Brunn at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Fox News' Shephard Smith and Catherine Herridge believe that the DHS report issued a warning that should be heeded:

Smith: Catherine, for the second time in as many weeks, a crime scene reminds me of a memo which you broke on the Fox Report from the government warning, look out for crazy extremists out there about to go do weirdness and here we are. 

Herridge: Well, this is an excellent report to bring up because I think we have to now see those two intelligence assessments that were released by Homeland Security earlier this year, one dealt with left-wing extremists, the other dealt with right-wing extremists, you have to see them in a somewhat different light. It would appear, and I emphasize appear, based the evidence that is available to us, that it does seem to be an act of an individual who had extremist views and if it is indeed von Brunn, someone who did have a military history and, as you remember, that was the element of the right-wing intelligence assessment which was so controversial and there was a lot of blowback on Homeland Security for that assessment.

In April, Herridge contradicted her colleagues at Fox who were critical of the DHS report. While Fox anchors and guests viewed it as an attack on conservatives by the Obama administration, Herridge said that the reports on both left- and right-wing extremists were requested by the Bush administration.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Domestic Terrorism Wins: Dr. George Tiller's Clinic To Close

Following the murder of Dr. George Tiller, allegedly by Scott Roeder, his family released a statement that his women's health clinic will close:

"The family of Dr. George Tiller announces that effective immediately, Women's Health Care Services, Inc., will be permanently closed. Notice is being given today to all concerned that the Tiller family is ceasing operation of the clinic and any involvement by family members in any other similar clinic.

"We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women's health care needs have been met because of his dedication and service. That is a legacy that will never die..."

Abortion rights advocates understood the decision, but were concerned about women who may need the services he provided:

Many of these advocates expressed empathy on Tuesday for the decision of the Tiller family, which had been the target of criticism, protest and attacks for more than 30 years, but they also said the loss of the clinic might prove devastating to families of those few women who learned late in pregnancy of catastrophic health issues.

“It is unacceptable that anti-abortion intimidation and violence has led to the closing of Dr. Tiller’s clinic,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Not only have we lost a fearless defender of women’s fundamental health and rights in Dr. Tiller’s murder, but the closing of his clinic leaves an immediate and immense void in the availability of abortion.”

Is the murder of Dr. Tiller in his church is a "pro-life," "religious" act? Can the closing of his clinic through murder be anything but a victory for domestic terrorism?

Crooks And Liars points out that the availability of abortion in general has been on the decline in the U.S.:

The bottom line is that they're winning. It is harder to get abortions than it was 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 25 years ago. Abortion access peaked in 1982 and has been declining ever since. Consider that the US population has increased by approximately 30% since 1982. At the same time the number of providers has dropped by over a third. ...It's harder to get an abortion than it has ever been since Roe vs. Wade, because there are just less doctors who perform abortions.

Ultimately, if the U.S. is stripped of abortion services, whether legally or though terrorism, desperate, poor women will entrust themselves to amateurs, resulting in dangerous, botched operations, as happens in Tanzania, where abortion is outlawed. Tanzania exemplifies the conclusions of a study conducted by the World Health Organization, which found that outlawing abortion affects the safety of the procedure, but not the rate. That is one reason why safe, medically provided abortion services is a critical women's health issue. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gingrich, Among God's Annointed, Declares, "We Are Surrounded By Paganism"

Newt Gingrich (left) and Mike Huckabee appeared at the Rock Church in Virginia Beach, site of the "Rediscovering God in America" event aimed at recapturing the influence of the religious right. They represented the continued quest to break down the walls between church and state and mix politics with theology. Presumably they would object to some of the theocratic ways of Iran, but this contradiction never seems to occur to them. Perhaps there's a simple equation: Islamic theocracy is bad, Christian theocracy is good. 

In any event, both ratcheted up the fundamentalist rhetoric, with Gingrich terming policies he disagrees with as "paganism":

"I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history," Gingrich said. "We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism."

They and other speakers warned about the continuing availability of abortion, the spread of gay rights, and attempts to remove religion from American public life and school history books.

So those who believe in women's right to choose, marriage equality, the separation of church and state, and public, secular education are "pagans." Personally, I had no idea that I practiced paganism. Or is paganism just a catch-all phrase for "immoral"?

Apparently having multiple affairs and divorces, as Gingrich has done, is not condemned as "pagan" practice. Nor is haggling with one's first wife in the hospital as she recovers from uterine cancer surgery.

As for Huckabee, he put forth the proposition that the United States is a superior nation because it has God on its side. What about other nations? Is God not on their side–or is God hedging, on their side with reservations? How does Huckabee presume to know God's political opinions?

Huckabee told the audience he was disturbed to hear President Barack Obama say during his speech in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday that one nation shouldn't be exalted over another.

"The notion that we are just one of many among equals is nonsense," Huckabee said. The United States is a "blessed" nation, he said, calling American revolutionaries' defeat of the British empire "a miracle from God's hand."

The same kind of miracle, he said, led California voters to approve Proposition 8, which overturned a state law legalizing same-sex marriages.

The notion of the superior spiritual status of certain nations can lead to a dangerous arrogance. It can also be used to justify one's own views, as when Huckabee asserts that God agrees with him on Proposition 8. If citizens in other states agree with gay marriage, can they also state that they're part of God's constituency and that a miracle led them to recognize gay rights? Regardless, Gingrich too espouses religious superiority:

"I am not a citizen of the world," said Gingrich, who was first elected to the U.S. House from Georgia in 1978 and served as speaker from 1995 to 1999. "I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator."

Isn't Gingrich a citizen of the United States because he was born here? Gingrich is supposedly one of the Republicans' big thinkers. Isn't he demonstrating the hackneyed thinking of every theocrat?

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Koko Taylor, Queen Of The Chicago Blues

Like her contemporaries Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, Koko Taylor, who died at 80 on June 3rd, migrated from the South to Chicago. Once there, she was part of a movement that transformed the rural, acoustic blues to an electric, aggressive urban sound. Bluesman Willie Dixon, impressed by her forceful, gutty voice, introduced her to Chess Records and wrote her signature song, "Wang Dang Doodle," performed above in 1967 with legendary harmonica player Little Walter. She gained international renown following her 1972 appearance at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, where it was discovered that no one belted out the blues like Koko Taylor.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bob Dylan: "Together Through Life"

The title of Bob Dylan's 33rd studio album, "Together Through Life," and the couple on the cover feverishly kissing in back of a car might give one the impression that the 10 songs present a warm tribute to love and romance. After one listen, such an impression appears, at the very least, ironic.

The collection acknowledges that love is what we all need–but it's something that usually doesn't last, causes lasting regret and is at most a temporary solace in a troubled world. As "Beyond Here Lies Nothin,' " the opening track, states, "Just as long as you stay with me/The whole world is my throne/Beyond here lies nothin'/Nothin' we can call our own."

As for regret, the songs, written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, often depict a narrator sifting through fragments of love gone wrong: "The sun is sinking low/I guess it's time to go/I feel a chilly breeze/In place of memories" ("Life Is Hard"); "I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain/The door has closed forevermore/If indeed there ever was a door" ("Forgetful Heart"); "...that moment might have come and gone/All I have and all I know/Is this dream of you which keeps me living on" (This Dream Of You").

On his web site, Dylan stated that he wanted a sound like that produced by the classic rock and blues studios of the 1950s, Chess and Sun records: "I like the mood of those records - the intensity. The sound is uncluttered. There’s power and suspense. The whole vibration feels like it could be coming from inside your mind. It’s alive. It’s right there. Kind of sticks in your head like a toothache." The album does indeed have that raw sound, and Dylan's voice, often wheezy and croaky in this latest effort, is fitting for a song like "My Wife's Home Town." Taking a main riff from Muddy Waters' "I Just Want To Make Love To You," the song presents a hard-bitten view of domestic life: "Keep on walking, don’t be hanging around/I’m tellin' you again that hell’s my wife’s home town." That song, along with "Jolene" and "Shake Shake Mama," make evident the influence of such blues giants as Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

Indeed, since "Time Out Of Mind" (1997), Dylan has been focusing on Americana: blues, early rock, country and old time ballads. This latest album not only continues in that direction, but it even adds a Tejano influence with the accordion of David Hidalgo from Los Lobos. The blues combines with a Tex-Mex drive in the closing track, "It's All Good," a song title as ironic as the album title. Here Dylan repeats the "It's All Good" refrain to a portrait of a troubled land: "People in the country, people on the land/Some of ‘em so sick, they can hardly stand/Everybody would move away, if they could/It’s hard to believe, but it’s all good." The chronicle of troubles in "Together Through Life" does not distract from the fact that Dylan's creativity and inventiveness are as strong as ever.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Just How "Socialist" Is The U.S. Under Obama And The Democrats?

On May 20, 2009, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution that concluded as follows:

RESOLVED, that we the members of the Republican National Committee call on the American people to urge the President, the Congress and the Democratic Party to remember what made our country great and to stop pushing our country towards socialism and governmental control.

Actually, this resolution was the "compromise" position. The RNC was originally going to recommend that Democratic Party rename itself the "Democrat Socialist Party." The Republicans must believe that these rhetorical games will revive their party and convince the American electorate that they have the answers to the nation's problems.

So just how "socialist" is the United States under Obama and the Democrats? Conor Clarke of the Atlantic composed the chart above based on information from the Federal Reserve's Flow of Funds Account. The chart's tiny 0.21%, amounting to $82.3 billion, represents nationalized American business assets such as General Motors. The nationalization in that case is temporary and represents an effort to bail out the once mighty auto giant and set it back on its feet.

The remaining 99.79% of the chart represents the portion of American business remaining in non-governmental, private hands, amounting to $39.2 trillion. If the Obama administration and the "Democrat Socialist Party" were determined to seize and nationalize every business and "push our country toward socialism and government control," they'd have an awfully daunting task ahead of them. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

American And Israeli Governments Divided Over Continued Settlement Building

One of the prerequisites for a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is the stopping of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Settlements dotting the area make a viable, contiguous Palestinian state impossible; they use up land and water resources that a fledgling state needs; they involve the expropriation of private Palestinian land, and they call for checkpoints to meet the settlements' security needs. 

The Bush administration had an agreement with the Israeli government regarding a certain amount of settlement building. The Obama administration, however, is maintaining a harder line, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

Senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet reiterated Sunday that the government has rejected a U.S. demand to halt all activity in West Bank settlements, despite strongly-worded demands from the Obama administration to do so.

...President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, have both made very public calls for Israel to institute a total freeze on construction in all West Bank settlements. Tensions between Washington and Jerusalem have been growing as a result.

...[Defense Ministry Chief of Staff Mike] Herzog spoke to [Obama Middle East envoy George] Mitchell and his staff about understandings reached by former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon with the Bush administration on allowing continued building in the large West Bank settlement blocs. He asked that a similar agreement be reached with the Obama government.

The New York Times reported on the extent of Israeli settlement building plans (map above left represents approved housing units according to an analysis by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din) and its justification under the term "natural growth"–a term with a certain ambiguity:

If Israel built all the housing units already approved in the nation’s overall master plan for settlements, it would almost double the number of settler homes in the West Bank, according to unpublished official data provided to The New York Times.

...Washington is standing firm against any additional settlement construction in the West Bank, including what Israel argues is necessary to accommodate what it terms “natural growth.”

...The settlers’ annual population growth, at 5.6 percent, far outstrips the Israeli average of 1.8 percent. But official data from the Central Bureau of Statistics of Israel shows that while about two-thirds of that is a “natural” increase, as defined by settler births in relation to deaths, one-third stems from migration. There is also a disproportionately high level of state-supported building in the settlements compared with most regions of Israel.

Despite the objections of the Israeli government, President Obama is being honest with America's closest Middle Eastern ally in stating that continued settlement building is an obstacle to peace and is actually against Israel's interests:

President Obama indicated on Monday that he would be more willing to criticize Israel than previous administrations have been, and he reiterated his call for a freeze of Israeli settlements.

“Part of being a good friend is being honest,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with NPR News. “And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests.

“We do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace,” he added. “I’ve said that a freeze on settlements is part of that.”