Saturday, October 31, 2009

Jon Stewart Explains Fox's "Perpetual Revulsion Machine"

Media Matters recently released a document and video showing how Fox's news shows echo its right-wing opinion shows. This point was made by White House communications director Anita Dunn, who stated that Fox is a "wing of the Republican party," not a real news network. Fox News senior vice president responded, "It's astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming." Can one make such a distinction, though, in Fox's case? Jon Stewart explains the process through which Fox blends opinion and news to the point that they are indeed indistinguishable:

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Stewart: The pot has now been stirred on the opinion side of Fox. The journalists on the other side of the wall are starting to smell something delicious: 'Is that a story?' And thus release the news hounds... Yes, [the White House is] being accused by the guy whose show was on right before you… See, the Fox opinion guy’s outrage becomes the “some say” source for the news side. It’s a perpetual revulsion machine.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Tom Rush Expresses No Regrets

Tom Rush, among the influential singer-songwriters who shaped the folk music renaissance of the 1960s, started his career playing in Boston coffee houses while attending Harvard University. Here in San Diego he performs his original, classic song "No Regrets." Rush's haunting lyrics about the end of a romance belie the song's self-assured title.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Republicans Introduce Resolution Honoring Tea Party Marchers

Representative Tom Price (GA) recently introduced a resolution honoring "tea party" marchers who gathered in the capitol on September 12. He was joined by 75 Republican co-sponsors, including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (VA) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC), who shouted "You lie" as President Obama addressed Congress on health care–conduct applauded by the protesters. The resolution contains a wildly inflated crowd estimate of 1,700,000.

Price released a statement calling the event "a great step forward for the causes of freedom and limited government." He looked forward to "continued efforts" through which "these patriots will once again make accountability and responsibility core values in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

Watch as Max Blumenthal interviews those whom the Republicans want to honor: the "patriots" who compare the President to Hitler and Al Qaeda, who call him "the enemy within," and who state that his goal is to destroy the U.S.:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Soviet Quagmire In Afghanistan Offers Lessons For U.S.

Victor Sebestyen, author of "Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire," writes in "Transcripts of Defeat" about the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan:

...For years, the Soviets heavily bombarded towns and villages, killing thousands of civilians and making themselves even more loathed by Afghans. Whatever tactics the Soviets adopted the result was the same: renewed aggression from their opponents. The mujahideen, for example, laid down thousands of anti-tank mines to attack Russian troop convoys, much as the Taliban are now using homemade bombs to strike at American soldiers on patrol, as well as Afghan civilians.

“About 99 percent of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side,” [Commander of the Soviet Armed Forces] Marshal Akhromeyev told his superiors in November 1986. “The problem is that the next morning there is the same situation as if there had been no battle. The terrorists are again in the village where they were — or we thought they were — destroyed a day or so before.” Listen to a coalition spokesman now explaining the difficulties its forces are facing in tough terrain, and it would be hard to hear a difference.

Sebestyen points out lessons that the Soviets learned in Afghanistan and the Americans learned in Vietnam: a technologically advanced military can unleash massive firepower and win battle after battle against a guerrilla force–all the while losing the war. This is especially true in difficult terrain, whether mountains or jungle, that affords an insurgency places to attack and hide. As Marshall Akhromeyev stated, " occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.”

In his commentary, Sebestyen drew upon materials recently discovered by American and Russian cold war scholars, including Politburo papers on the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He stated that the documents "may provide the administration with some valuable counsel." Indeed, the Obama administration is well advised to consider the Soviet quagmire in Afghanistan, lest it become the American quagmire–or the American repeat of Vietnam.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sen. Joe Lieberman Rolls Political Hand Grenade At Public Option

Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who supposedly caucuses with the Democrats, stated that he will help the Republicans filibuster the public option:

Joe Lieberman has once again rolled a political hand grenade into the Democrats’ tent.

The Connecticut independent obliterated any illusion that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) can quickly ram through health care reform with a public option, telling reporters on Tuesday that he would join Republicans in a filibuster to prevent a vote on Reid’s plan if it isn’t changed first.

...“To put this government-created insurance company on top of everything else is just asking for trouble for the taxpayers, for the premium payers and for the national debt,” added Lieberman, whose state is headquarters to many of the nation’s biggest insurance companies.

Firedoglake points out the fallacy in Lieberman's argument:

...Lieberman’s justification on this is just nonsense – the public option would SAVE money for the government, to the tune of $100 billion dollars over 10 years according to the Congressional Budget Office. It also would cost nothing to the taxpayer, being financed by individual premiums.

Lieberman is singing a different tune from the one he sang in his 2006 campaign:

Lieberman, July 2006: What I’m saying to the people of Connecticut, I can do more for you and your families to get something done to make health care affordable, to get universal health insurance.

This is also not the first political hand grenade that Lieberman has rolled at an administration that has stood by him:

President Barack Obama and Reid personally intervened to keep members of the Democratic Caucus from punishing Lieberman for his 2008 transgressions by booting him out as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, a position the hawkish Lieberman cherishes. But that hasn’t kept him from siding with the GOP on the administration’s plans to shutter Guantanamo, the Iraq drawdown and, now, the public option.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Starts Early With Nightmare World Series

The baseball gods are taunting us Mets fans in a most diabolical way. The Yankees against the Phillies? Are they kidding? Can there be a more unfortunate World Series matchup? We're being treated to our crosstown rivals against our divisional rivals, both of whose fans are an obnoxious bunch.

Okay, I admit that my assessment of the fans is based on unscientific, anecdotal observations. I also admit that the Mets haven't provided much for me to write about on the blog. I already spend enough time here kvetching about the state of the nation or the world, so why add the Mets? I'm reminded of the time I pulled into the parking lot this summer at Citi Field, the Mets' new home (quite impressive, by the way), to attend a Paul McCartney concert. When I complained to the attendant about the $30 parking fee, she told me, "You'll see a better show here tonight than you ordinarily would." True enough.

Regardless, Yankees fans consider the Mets the lil' brother team of New York, and Phillies fans consider them choke artists. Whether there's any truth to these observations, do I need to hear them? So which team to root for? The fact is that if the Yankees win, I'll be directly subjected to their fans' bragging. Then there's my age-old resentment: the Yankees are the ultimate beneficiaries of the lack of a level playing field that taints baseball. Unlike all other major sports, baseball has no salary cap. It's no coincidence that baseball's richest team is also its most successful. What would you expect with a 2009 payroll of $208, 097, 414? That's higher than the GNP of many countries. What kind of record would the Yankees have without that unfair advantage? Nor am I impressed when Yankees fans talk about the team's home-grown talent. They can afford to keep their players. In baseball's case, Obama's comment about "spreading the wealth," if applied, would be to the betterment of the sport.

Then there's the question of character. What kind of character does it take to root for the team with the best record? Isn't it a greater testimony to one's intestinal fortitude to stick with the team more prone to misfortune?

For all these reasons, then, I'm rooting for the hated Phils as the lesser of two evils. Even if I'm choking as I say it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sen. Reid To Bring Public Option To Floor Debate

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that he will bring a bill to the Senate floor that will have a public health insurance option, and that states will have the choice not to take part in it. Here Reid makes his announcement:

Reid: As we’ve gone through this process, I’ve concluded, with the support of the White House and Senators Baucus and Dodd, that the best way forward is to include a public option with an opt-out provision for states.

...I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system. It will protect consumers, keep insurers honest and ensure competition and that’s why we intend to include it on the bill that will be submitted to the Senate for consideration.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that the Senate leadership prevailed upon the White House, which doubted that Reid could get the 60 votes needed to avoid a Republican filibuster. The administration's strategy was to pursue the "trigger" compromise of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-MN): if the insurance companies failed to reach certain benchmarks in a state, the public option would be triggered. Though Snowe expressed "disappointment" at the announcement, Reid expressed hope that she will be the lone Republican who "...sees the wisdom of supporting a health care bill."

We still have a long way to go–but Senators Reid, Pelosi and Schumer, along with Roland Burris (D-IL), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Bernie Sanders (IND-VT) are to be commended for insisting on the public option as a critical component of health care reform.

Where Is Obama's Leadership On The Public Option?

Is President Obama providing the leadership we need to pass a government-run public option for health care? Not according to Democratic and administration sources:

President Barack Obama is actively discouraging Senate Democrats in their effort to include a public insurance option with a state opt-out clause as part of health care reform. In its place, say multiple Democratic sources, Obama has indicated a preference for an alternative policy, favored by the insurance industry, which would see a public plan "triggered" into effect in the future by a failure of the industry to meet certain benchmarks.

...Administration officials say that Obama's preference for the trigger, which is backed by Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, is founded in a fear that Reid's public option couldn't get the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. More specifically, aides fear that a handful of conservative Democrats will not support a bill unless it has at least one Republican member's support.

Without the President's support, the failure to pass a public option may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have complained about the President's tepid leadership on the issue:

“I’ve not been very happy with the White House’s lukewarm support of the public option,” [Harkin] said, articulating a gripe liberals have been making for months.

“I would hope the president would speak out more forcefully in favor of the public option,” Brown said, adding “I expect he will.”

The Progressive Campaign Committee has taken out an ad in Maine, Senator Snowe's state, calling on Obama to step up to the plate on an issue critical to meaningful health care reform:

To sign a petition calling on President Obama to fight for the public option, click here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Guerilla Musical Disrupts Private Health Insurance Conference

The Billionaires for Wealthcare, which has done marvelous street theater satirically posing as "a grassroots network of health insurance CEOs, HMO lobbyists, talk show hosts and others profiting off our broken health care system," has struck again. They disrupted a speech by Bill McInturff, hired pollster for the private health insurance lobby and the force behind the infamous "Harry and Louise" ads that helped kill health reform plan in 1994.

As McInturff began his speech at a recent conference in Washington, DC, of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), whose aim is to kill health reform in 2009, the protesters sang a plea for the public option to the tune of "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie": "The option, the option, the public wants options/Without it, it's a corporate give-a-way!" Their voices were quite fine, too. Listen and enjoy:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Live Acoustic Grateful Dead, 1980

The Grateful Dead's versatility and improvisatory skills extended to their acoustic sets, in which lead guitarist Jerry Garcia reached back to his early 1960s roots in folk, bluegrass and old time music. Here the Dead perform a hypnotic "Birdsong" at Radio City Music Hall in 1980. Band lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the song as a tribute to Janis Joplin: "All I know is something like a bird within her sang/All I know she sang a little while and then flew on." In his performances, bassist Phil Lesh now sings the song as a posthumous tribute to Garcia: ""All I know is something like a bird within him sang..."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sen. Franken Educates Hudson Institute Rep. On Medical Bankruptcies

During a Senate Judiciary sub-committee hearing on medical bankruptcies, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) questioned Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the conservative Hudson Institute. Furchtgott-Roth contended that health care reform would increase bankruptcies. Franken made it clear that she was either being disingenuous or hadn't done her homework:

How is it that a representative from a think tank that supposedly studies health care economics doesn't know that there are no bankruptcies due to medical expenses in Switzerland, France and Germany? How can she contend that if we move toward a system that exists in those countries, we will experience more bankruptcies? The U.S. is the country where 60 percent of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills, according to a report compiled by researchers at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University, as published in the American Journal of Medicine.

Professor Uwe E. Reinhardt, professor of health economics at Princeton University, has researched health care in the U.S. in comparison to other countries, including his native Germany, a nation mentioned by Franken. In an interview, Reinhardt said, "I have not ever read of Germans going bankrupt over health care." No, that happens in the U.S., under the system defended with such lack of expertise by Diana Furchtgott-Roth.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

WWII Vet On Equality For Gays: "What Do You Think I Fought For In Omaha Beach?"

At a public meeting on Maine's Marriage Equality Bill on April 22, Philip Spooner, an 86-year-old World War II veteran, Republican and VFW chaplain, provided moving testimony on why his gay son should have equal rights:

Philip Spooner: "A woman at my polling place asked me, 'Do you believe in equality for gay and lesbian people?' I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me. Finally I asked her, 'What do you think I fought for in Omaha Beach?' I haven't seen much, so much blood and guts, so much suffering, much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality. These are the values that give America a great nation, one worth dying for."

On November 1, voting NO on Question 1 will uphold Maine's Marriage Equality Bill. To find out more, visit Protect Maine Equality.

Month After Month, Fox Is At War With The White House

Did the White House declare war against Fox News? Media Matters has already produced an outstanding document and video showing that the station's news shows echo the right-wing talking points of Beck, Hannity and O'Reilly. This echo chamber effect exposes the fact that Fox is not a news station; it is indeed a 24/7 political operation, a wing of the Republican party. Now Media Matters demonstrates that month after month, it is Fox that has declared war on the White House. Watch:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sen. Vitter Won't Comment On Official's Refusal To Marry Interracial Couple

Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, recently placed personal prejudice above his obligation to serve the entire public by refusing to marry an interracial couple. Now watch Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana slink away and refuse to comment when asked about the case:

Is Vitter afraid that, in 2009, the people of Louisiana will find it unacceptable to condemn this racial prejudice? Is he reflecting his own racism? Does Vitter, who was linked to a prostitution ring, feel that interracial marriage goes against his conservative "family values"? If you're curious, call the senator's office in Washington at 202-224-4623.

Fox News: A 24/7 Political Operation

Following White House communications director Anita Dunn's accurate statement that Fox News is "the communications arm of the Republican party" and not "a news network the way CNN is," Media Matters put together a document exploding the myth that while Fox's commentaries are politically oriented, their news shows are objective.

Media Matters also created a video showing how "Fox News' dayside programming unquestionably echos the tones, themes, and content of its evening programming. In fact, the parallels are so clear that the network's daytime anchors often seem to be taking direct marching orders from their colleagues like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity." Watch the echo chamber in action:

At the end of the video, Eric Burns, president of Media Matters, explains Fox's evolution–or devolution: "I think that what we have all thought of as a conservative news organization has really morphed itself this year into a 24/7 political operation with a very specific goal. And that is to destroy this presidency, and destroy any sort of progressive policy agenda that the American people voted for in November."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Majority Supports Public Option In Wash. Post-ABC News Poll

Are the Senate and the House listening? According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a clear majority of Americans supports a public health care option:

On the issue that has been perhaps the most pronounced flash point in the national debate, 57 percent of all Americans now favor a public insurance option, while 40 percent oppose it. Support has risen since mid-August, when a bare majority, 52 percent, said they favored it. (In a June Post-ABC poll, support was 62 percent.)

If a public plan were run by the states and available only to those who lack affordable private options, support for it jumps to 76 percent. Under those circumstances, even a majority of Republicans, 56 percent, would be in favor of it, about double their level of support without such a limitation.

Fifty-six percent of those polled back a provision mandating that all Americans buy insurance, either through their employers or on their own or through Medicare or Medicaid. That number rises to 71 percent if the government were to provide subsidies for many lower-income Americans to help them buy coverage. With those qualifiers, a majority of Republicans say they support the mandate.

Most of the country is for the public option, and the Democrats were put in power to effect change. It's time to pass legislation based on the health care needs of the public, not the profit interests of the health insurance companies.

Obama Administration To Respect States' Medical Marijuana Laws

While conservatives love to talk about states' rights and the oppressiveness of big government, the Bush administration conducted federal raids on medical marijuana distributors even when they complied with state laws.

In a welcome and sensible departure, the Obama administration will respect the laws of states that allow the dispensing of marijuana to relieve human suffering:

People who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it to them should not face federal prosecution, provided they act according to state law, the Justice Department said Monday in a directive with far-reaching political and legal implications.

In a memorandum to federal prosecutors in the 14 states that make some allowance for the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the department said that it was committed to the “efficient and rational use” of its resources and that prosecuting patients and distributors who are in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws did not meet that standard.

Graham Boyd, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project, hailed the move as "an enormous step in the right direction and, no doubt, a great relief to the thousands of Americans who benefit from the medical use of marijuana." He said that the policy will result in "a strong incentive to create regulated, safe and sensible means of getting marijuana to patients who need it."

Monday, October 19, 2009

"A Serious Man" Film Review: The Big Questions Go Unanswered

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), an earnest professor of physics, has his troubles. His wife Judith (Sari Lennick) wants to leave him for the touchy-feely, sanctimonious Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed). He's up for tenure, yet someone keeps sending the faculty committee letters questioning his character. His pot-smoking son (Aaron Wolff), nearing his bar mitzvah, and daughter (Jessica McManus), who wants a nose job, are at each other's throats. His mentally unstable brother Arthur (Richard Kind) has moved in and is working on an insane text charting the probabilities of the universe.

For good–or bad–measure, Larry is also the subject of a bribe attempt by a Korean student (David Kang) who is upset at his grade; he gets into an auto accident, and he is being harangued by a caller from the record-of-the-month club.

As Larry encounters his disasters in a bland suburb during the 1960s (suggested by both the son's pot habit and the Jefferson Airplane soundtrack), this modern-day Job starts to ask the big questions. What is the meaning of all these tribulations? What does God want from me? He seeks counsel from rabbis who present nonsensical parables. When one or two of Larry's difficulties start to resolve themselves, another one comes along.

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man" is both bleak and hilarious, reminding one of the fatalism of Woody Allen, especially his "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (1989), and, for that matter, the writings of Franz Kafka. Yet there are hints in the film that one is best off with an attitude of acceptance. It starts with a Zen-like quotation from the rabbi and scholar Rashi: "Accept with simplicity everything that happens to you." The father of the Korean student advises Larry to "Accept the mystery" of the moral paradox embodied by the fact that he and his son are ready both to bribe and sue him.

Whether this physics professor can simply accept it all is, like everything else, open to question. As the questions pile up and the answers are not forthcoming, the film also suggests that such acceptance would give way to a skepticism embodied in the Yiddish expression, "If prayer did any good, they'd be hiring men to pray."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Burston In Haaretz: Israel Should Have Cooperated With UN Goldstone Commission

The United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed a commission report, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, stating that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during the conflict in Gaza last winter. The council is trying to motivate both sides to conduct internal investigations, under the threat that the UN Security Council and International Court would take action should they not do so. The United States, which, along with Israel, has criticized the report as unfair to Israel, would probably veto the Security Council step.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Bradley Burston (above), addressed its shortcomings and strengths:

It's a tough slog, the hundreds of pages of the UN-sponsored report on allegations of war crimes in Gaza. The material is infuriating at times, the content inconsistent, the methodology slapdash. But for anyone who cares about the future of this place, and for anyone who has paid close attention to the hyperbole and factual errors of Israeli leaders in condemning it, the read is more than worthwhile - if only for the key element of its surprise ending: A marked degree of fairness.

It does not question the right of Israel - or, for that matter, the Palestinians - to self-defense, but it accuses both sides of having resorted to war crimes in the course of, or in the name of, defending themselves. The inquiry breaks new ground for the UN, and breaks sharply from its original mandate, in addressing Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians.

The UN resolution criticized Israel for not cooperating with the commission, a point to which Burston agrees:

Israel's decision not to cooperate with the Goldstone Mission, and, in many respects, to actively hamper its work, was calamitous. In revealing correspondence pointedly reproduced in the report, Justice Goldstone all but gets down on hands and knees to beg Israel to allow it to balance the report with on-site visits to rocket-torn Sderot, extensive direct testimony from victims of Qassam attacks, and first-person accounts and explanations of soldiers accused of violations of international law. Israel says no. Benjamin Netanyahu won't even go so far as to answer Goldstone's letter.

Now the report is out, alive and ticking, and Israel - in its desperation to deflect the monster, no matter the consequences - has already managed to hand it as a stick to Hamas, to beat and perhaps eventually defeat Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Palestinian Authority.

Produced under unrealistic constraints of time and evidence, the report is easy to critique but impossible to ignore. Befitting its subject matter, it is zealous, suspicious, and bleak, asking tough questions which both sides should long ago have asked themselves.

It is difficult indeed to imagine how Israel helped itself by not allowing the commission to visit Sderot, for example, and present its case regarding citizens who had been terrorized for years by Hamas rocket fire. Burston recommends that Israel conduct its own probe:

The bottom line, for Israelis, is simply this: Israel desperately needs a respected commission of inquiry of its own, to probe precisely the charges leveled by the Goldstone Mission. Israel owes its own citizens no less. It needs this, first and foremost, for the sake of its own future, and for the moral standards that it has explicitly set for itself. In fact, this is what Justice Goldstone is recommending that Israel do, specifically to avoid a summons to the Hague.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Pete Townshend And Lou Reed Live

I wish I'd been there. To see Pete Townshend and Lou Reed play together must have been a real treat. Their acoustic set in February 2007 at Joe's Pub in New York included several classics from Lou's days with The Velvet Underground. Here the two rock legends perform a driving rendition of "White Light/White Heat."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mock iPhone Ad Mocks Republicans

The blog "Waking Up Now" created this mock iPhone ad of Republicans in Congress. The ad declares that there's a GOP rep ready to spout every outrageous wingnut theory. Watch:

To view videos and case histories of Republicans spouting the specific falsehoods mentioned above, click here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rep. Shadegg: America's Getting "Soviet-Style Gulag Health Care"

Remember when Congressman Barney Frank was confronted by a member of the LaRouche group who called health care reform under President Obama "a Nazi policy"? This week, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), speaking to the House of Representatives, offered a different historical analogy to the same purpose:

Rep. Shadegg: You know, it occurs to me, and I’ll go through these other scandals very quickly, but what we’re really getting here is we’re not just getting single-payer care. We’re getting full on Russian gulag, Soviet-style gulag health care [...] It appeared in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. You can Google it. You can pick up the phone and call Kim Strassel. You can ask her about Soviet-style gulag health care in America, where powerful politicians protect their constituents. (h/t Think Progress)

Dissident Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn revealed the world of the gulags to Western readers. During Stalin's reign of terror, the gulags held as many as 20 million people. At least 1.5 million were killed in the camps. Apparently some feel free to liken periods of mass murder during the 20th century to the attempt to increase quality, affordable health care coverage for all Americans.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

White House Communications Dir.: Fox Is "A Wing Of The Republican Party"

Does Anita Dunn, White House communications director, read The Liberal Curmudgeon? I have consistently stated that Fox is the propaganda arm of the Republican party masquerading as a news station. Now listen to Dunn:

Dunn: The reality of it is that Fox News often operates as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party. And it’s not ideological. I mean, obviously there are many commentators who are conservative, liberal, centrist, and everybody understands that. What I think is fair to say about Fox is — and certainly the way we view it — is that it really is more of a wing of the Republican Party. [...]

They’re widely viewed as, you know, a part of the Republican Party — take their talking points, put them on the air, take their opposition research, put them on the air, and that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.

In another interview, Dunn demonstrated that the White House has an accurate perception of Fox: “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”

Dunn also stated that the Fox audience is beyond persuasion for the White House. During the election campaign, she said that the Obama camp withdrew its representatives from the station because "It was beyond diminishing returns. It was no returns." Not surprising when one considers that Dick Cheney required that the TV in a hotel suite should be tuned to Fox.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Guttmacher Institute: Bans Don't Reduce Abortion Rate

The Guttmacher Institute conducted a survey that found that abortion restrictions do not cut the abortion rate:

Restricting the availability of legal abortion does not appear to reduce the number of women trying to end unwanted pregnancies, a major report suggests.

The Guttmacher Institute's survey found abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in regions where it is legal and regions where it is highly restricted.

What makes the difference in the rate? Improved access to contraception (note the findings about the U.S. in relation to health insurance):

Western Europe is held up as an example of what access to contraceptive services can achieve, and the Netherlands - with just 10 abortions per 1,000 women compared to the world's 29 per 1,000 - is held up as the gold standard. Here, young people report using two forms of contraception as standard.

Even the UK, which has a relatively high rate, fares well in comparison to the US, where the number of abortions is among the highest in the developed world. The institute says this rate is in part explained by inconsistencies in insurance coverage of contraceptive supplies.

In much of eastern Europe, where abortion was treated as a form of birth control, abortion rates have dropped by 50% in the last decade as contraceptives have become more widely available.

In the developed world, restrictions on abortion prompt women to travel; in the developing world, they cause women to die:

Every year, an estimated 70,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortion - leaving nearly a quarter of a million children without a mother - and 5m develop complications.

In the developed world, legal restrictions did not stop abortion but just meant it was "exported", with Irish women for instance simply travelling to Europe, according to Guttmacher's director, Dr. Sharon Camp. In the developing world, it meant lives were put at risk.

"Too many women are maimed or killed each year because they lack legal abortion access," she said. "The gains we've seen are modest in relation to what we can achieve. Investing in family planning is essential - far too many women lack access to contraception, putting them at risk."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gay Rights Advocates March In DC For Inclusiveness And Equality

Unlike the teabaggers who marched in Washington, DC, on September 12, the gay rights advocates who demonstrated in the capitol on Sunday voiced their concerns but didn't make threats. There were no signs stating, "Unarmed This Time" or "Pushing Us...Find Out What Happens"; instead, they pressed a message of inclusiveness and equality.

Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq war veteran, put it eloquently: "I marched for many different things in the army; we fought for many things, but when there are people that are discriminated against in our country, it is our responsibility to step up for them." Watch:

The marchers represented a new generation questioning the pace of change under the Obama administration and at odds with those counseling a wait-and-see stance:

Known as Stonewall 2.0 or the Prop. 8 Generation (a reference to the galvanizing effect that the repeal of California’s same-sex marriage law had on many young people), these activists, in their 20s and 30s, are at odds with advocates urging patience as Mr. Obama grapples with other pieces of his domestic agenda like the health care overhaul and the economic recovery.

...The rally on Sunday and a black-tie gala on Saturday hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights advocacy group, made for a glaring dichotomy. Mr. Obama, who spoke at the dinner, had the crowd on its feet reiterating his pledge to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and declaring his commitment to gay rights as “unwavering.”

But at the rally, some gave the speech low marks for lacking anything new and failing to acknowledge several major issues confronting the movement. In the words of Billie Myers, a musician who spoke to an eager crowd of tens of thousands on the west lawn of the Capitol, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t like your speech.”

The president did not lay out a timetable to repeal the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, voice support for any of the battles going on at state levels to allow same-sex couples more recognition under the law nor mention the march.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Right Wing Hit List Extends From ACORN To SEIU

Having conducted a campaign against ACORN, the Republicans are now employing guilt-by-association against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Consider first the essay by Joe Conason (left), "In defense of ACORN," which offers a more balanced view than the right-wing smears:

Like so many conservative attacks, the crusade against ACORN has been highly exaggerated and even falsified to create a demonic image that bears little resemblance to the real organization...

...ACORN's troubles should be considered in the context of a history of honorable service to the dispossessed and impoverished. No doubt it was fun to dupe a few morons into providing tax advice to a "pimp and ho," but what ACORN actually does, every day, is
help struggling families with the Earned Income Tax Credit [and] help those same working families avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.

...Over the past several years, a handful of ACORN employees have admitted falsifying names and signatures on registration cards, in order to boost the pay they received. When ACORN officials discovered those cases, they informed the state authorities and turned in the miscreants. ...The proportion of fraud is infinitesimal. ...They had completed fewer than two dozen false registrations -- out of more than a million new voters registered by ACORN during that cycle.

ACORN has pledged to institute reforms, with the appointment of a distinguished outside panel to oversee that process.

Following the portrait painted by the likes of Beck and Limbaugh of ACORN as a criminal enterprise, the right is now turning on the Service Employees International Union:

...The state Republican organizations in Virginia and Kansas are urging various Democratic candidates to give back contributions they received from the service employees, insisting that the union is badly tarnished because it has given millions of dollars to Acorn and has been intertwined with that group in many ways.

...The Republicans are taking the offensive against one of the Democrats’ most powerful allies. The service employees are the nation’s most politically potent union, having spent more than $80 million in last year’s political campaigns, and the nation’s fastest growing, with nearly two million members, many of them janitors and health care workers.

Union officials say the Republicans are resorting to guilt through association, saying they have done nothing wrong. They say they have suspended all activities with Acorn pending the results of an investigative audit.

Do the Republicans want ACORN to register one million new voters? They know that economically disadvantaged registrants will not vote for the party working against their interests. Similarly, do the Republicans want SEIU to continue its political activism? SEIU is doubly offensive for its very existence as a labor union. The Republicans are resorting to a campaign of distortion in order to take out two groups that have long been in their cross hairs.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story": This Time, It's The System Itself

Having already taken on General Motors and the health insurance industry, Michael Moore steps it up a notch with "Capitalism: A Love Story." Instead of casting a critical view at a major industry, Moore focuses on the economic system itself, capitalism.

Moore revisits his hometown, Flint, Michigan, recalling his earlier "Roger and Me." The good life that he knew in the postwar boom was followed by plant closings. He surveys the growing desperation of the lower and middle classes and the mounting profits of the economic elite. Reagan's sunny disposition covered up tax cuts for the wealthy, growing deficits, and the decline in unions coupled with stagnating workers' wages. The deregulation of the past eight years under Bush closed with the collapse of the financial and housing industries, with ramifications that continue.

Moore employs his shtick of attempting to enter corporate headquarters to confront executives shielded by security guards. It's pointed and amusing, but somewhat familiar. More affecting are his dialogues with the exploited, such as those who are victimized by "dead peasant insurance," a practice whereby companies take out life insurance policies on employees and cash in when they die.

What is Moore's solution? He highlights two companies run as cooperatives, in which all make an investment and contribute their talents. While workers will most likely feel more of a stake in such a company, how can that be applied on a mass scale? Multinational firms, for example, are not about to convert into cooperatives. Moore also visits the workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, whose sit-in over severance and vacation pay ended in victory. Such an action, while giving the workers what they deserved, will not overturn the economic system. Moore also sees hope in the election of Barack Obama, though he is chagrined by the corporate interests that invested in his campaign and by Wall Street CEOs being bailed out at taxpayer expense while awarding themselves generous bonuses.

Are reforms of the system, such as deregulating the financial industry and campaigning for labor rights, the solution? In pronouncing, "Capitalism is an evil," it would seem that for Moore, the economic system is so rotten that nothing short of doing away with it is enough. If so, why vote?

Moore shows President Franklin Roosevelt speaking about a "Second Bill of Rights" which would encompass a decent home, adequate medical care, a good education and gainful employment. "Capitalism: A Love Story" shows how far we are from such ideals and accounts for the ways in which deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, jobs shipped overseas and privatized health care have not benefited the majority. While the solutions offered are hazy, the film powerfully exposes the injustices that desperately call for dialogue and reform.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Guardian Debunks Daily Telegraph On Ahamdinejad's "Jewish Roots"

A reader (thanks to H.G.) has alerted me to an article in The Guardian by Meir Javedanfar (left), Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst, that debunks the London Daily Telegraph's story that I excerpted yesterday on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's supposed Jewish roots. Javedanfar cites two scholarly sources:

"...the name Sabourjian is not a well-known Jewish name," stated [Professor David] Yeroshalmi, a scholar at Tel Aviv University's Center for Iranian Studies, [who] also went on to dispute the article's findings that the "-jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews. "This ending is in no way sufficient to judge whether someone has a Jewish background. Many Muslim surnames have the same ending," he stated.

Upon closer inspection, a completely different interpretation of "Sabourjian" emerges. According to Robert Tait, a Guardian correspondent who travelled to Ahmadinejad's native village in 2005, the name "derives from thread painter – sabor in Farsi – a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan province, where Aradan is situated." This is confirmed by Kasra Naji, who also wrote a biography of Ahmadinejad and met his family in his native village. Carpet weaving or colouring carpet threads are not professions associated with Jews in Iran.

...According to both Naji and Tait...The reason that Ahmadinejad's father changed his surname has more to do with the class struggle in Iran. When it became mandatory to adopt surnames, many people from rural areas chose names that represented their professions or that of their ancestors. This made them easily identifiable as townfolk. In many cases they changed their surnames upon moving to Tehran, in order to avoid snobbery and discrimination from residents of the capital.

Regardless of Ahmadinejad's religious background, blogger Mehdi Khazali was arrested just for raising the issue. That one fact says a great deal about the nature of the Iranian president's rule.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

London Daily Telegraph: Ahmadinejad's Roots Explain Attacks On Jewish World

What motivates Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his persistent, despicable Holocaust denial and calls to wipe Israel off the map? According to the London Daily Telegraph, the Iranian president is overcompensating for his hidden Jewish background:

A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots.

A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver.

The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.

The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior.

Experts last night suggested Mr. Ahmadinejad's track record for hate-filled attacks on Jews could be an overcompensation to hide his past.

Ali Nourizadeh, of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies, said: "This aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's background explains a lot about him.

..."By making anti-Israeli statements he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections. He feels vulnerable in a radical Shia society."

Like an investigation of the flawed Iranian presidential election, looking into Ahmadinejad's background is taboo:

...Mehdi Khazali, an internet blogger, who called for an investigation of Mr Ahmadinejad's roots was arrested this summer.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Conservatives Erupt In Glee After U.S. Loses Olympics Bid

When Rush Limbaugh expressed his desire for President Obama to fail, he was by extension hoping for America to fail. This linkage was demonstrated after the International Olympic Committee rejected the president's mission to hold the 2016 games in Chicago. As attendees of the Americans for Prosperity's "Defending the American Dream Summit" heard the news, they erupted in glee. They were particularly joyous that the country was eliminated by "the very first vote." Apparently they hate Obama so much that they cheer when the U.S. loses to another nation. Watch this demonstration of patriotism by the defenders of the American dream:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Rypdal/Vitous/Gurtu Live

Norwegian guitarist and composer Terje Rypdal turned from rock to jazz in the late 1960s. Here he's joined in a performance of "The Return of Per Ulv" by two other outstanding musicians, Miroslav Vitous on bass and Trilok Gurtu on percussion. Rypdal displays the dynamic fusion of jazz, rock and new age that characterizes his sound.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time To Bring Roman Polanski To Justice

The facts of the Roman Polanski case are simple enough. In 1977, a 43-year-old man gave a frightened 13-year-old girl alcohol and a Quaalude, and raped and sodomized her. He fled the country before his sentencing under a plea agreement that involved admitting to having had sex with a minor.

Questions are now being raised: Why now? Didn't the victim express forgiveness? Wasn't it a long time ago? Hasn't Polanski suffered enough? Political and entertainment celebrities are weighing in. Jack Lang, former French culture minister, called it a "judicial lynching." Polish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar called Polanski's arrest at a Zurich airport on an American-issued warrant a "provocation." Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Salman Rushdie, Woody Allen and Whoppi Goldberg are among the prominent cultural figures who support Polanski.

So let's call it the Polanski defense. If one rapes an underage girl and skips the country and decades go by and there are questions about the timing of the arrest and one is well-connected and has made acclaimed films–well, then, let's just forget about what French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levi called a "youthful error."

These defenses are all irrelevant. Polanski committed a serious crime and evaded justice. Not even the forgiveness of his victim, as understandable as it is that she wants to get on with her life, should stop the judicial proceedings. To drop the case would inspire the deepest cynicism about the law: charges against the rich, famous and influential are swept away.

It is distressing to see those who support human rights, including the rights of women and the powerless, line up for a child rapist. It's time for Roman Polanski to be brought to justice for the crime he confessed to decades ago.