Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sound Familiar? Finland Has Rising Gun Crime And Widespread Gun Ownership

The tragic gun rampage in a Finland mall must sound terribly familiar to Americans. We too have seen the results of gun carnage in public places:

A lone gunman killed four people in a rampage in a Finnish shopping mall and also murdered his former girlfriend before being found dead himself.

Ibrahim Shkupolli, 43, opened fire in the suburban Helsinki mall where his ex-partner reportedly worked, shooting dead three men and a woman before fleeing, Finnish detectives told a press conference on Thursday (local time).


This is one of several such recent rampages in Finland:

Police said they believed the incident, the latest in a series of shooting sprees which have sent shockwaves through the Nordic country, was triggered by a domestic dispute.

...The incident is the third major shooting in the past two years in Finland, where gun crime has become a major issue and gun ownership is widespread.

In November 2007, an 18-year-old went on a rampage at his school in Tuusula, killing seven pupils and a teacher before turning the gun on himself.

In September 2008, a 22-year-old trainee chef killed 10 people at a college before killing himself.


Take note of the words,"...where gun crime has become a major issue and gun ownership is widespread." We have the same situation in the U.S. Is this a coincidence, or is there a causal relationship between the rising rate of gun crimes, including massacres, and the number of guns in circulation? Now that "gun crime has become a major issue" in Finland, will they also follow us in legislating even more loosened restrictions on guns advocated by the NRA and adopted in much of America?

Photo: Gunman found dead after killing five others (Reuters)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Follow The Bribery: Health Insurance Industry Moves To Block Reform At State Level


The fact that there will neither be a public option nor a Medicare expansion does not satisfy the health insurance industry. Any reform to them is unacceptable. Naturally, they couch their objections in terms of "liberty" and "freedom"; in reality, it is all about legislation that cuts into their profits. Realizing that health care reform will be signed into law on the federal level, the industry is concentrating on blocking changes within the states, including Florida:

Like about a dozen other states, Florida is debating a proposed amendment to its state constitution that would try to block, at least symbolically, much of the proposed federal health care overhaul on the grounds that it tramples individual liberty.

If health care reform enables 30 million people to gain health insurance, will they feel that their "liberty" has been "trampled"? Just how much "liberty" do the uninsured feel they have? Do they feel at liberty to get sick? If so, why are nearly 45,000 annual deaths linked to a lack of health insurance, according to a Harvard University study, "Health Insurance and Mortality in U.S. Adults"?

Naturally, those proposing that states be allowed to "opt out" of health reform aren't just united by their concern for "freedom":

But what unites the proposal’s legislative backers is more than ideology. Its 42 co-sponsors, all Republicans, were almost all recipients of outsized campaign contributions from major health care interests, a total of about $765,000 in 2008, according to a new study by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan group based in Helena, Mont.

We're used to the words "campaign contributions." We don't use the more accurate term: "bribery." Without adequate campaign finance reform, politicians will continue to be blatantly paid off to serve the interests of their "contributors," not those, for example, who desperately need health care. As the fight moves to the state level, the health care debate continues to expose this essential corruption of our political system.

Cartoon: Tony Auth, Universal Press Syndicate

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Maddow: John Birch Society Gains Conservative Acceptance With Co-Sponsorship Of CPAC

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is, according to the Washington Post, "...the preeminent gathering of conservative activists." One of the co-sponsors of this year's conference in February is the John Birch Society. Rachel Maddow has reminded us that the group viewed President Eisenhower, a Republican, as a communist, referred to fluoride in drinking water as a communist plot, and called for the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren following the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision. Watch:



After the John Birch Society accused Maddow of making false accusations, she read from the group's statements:


The most important point is what this co-sponsorship says about the modern conservative movement. Maddow points out that in the 1960s, William F. Buckley, founder of the conservative National Review, and the coordinating committee of the Republican Party condemned the group. Now, Maddow states, "...the erstwhile mainstream conservative gathering known as CPAC" has "brought back" the John Birch Society "from 40 years of pariah status to a new starring role." Should we be surprised when we have the conspiracy theories of Glenn Beck, the McCarthyism of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and the outrageous accusations against the president by the tea party movement?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Ahmad Jamal Trio Performs "Poinciana"



Virtuoso jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal performs "Poinciana,"which became his signature tune following a live recording in 1958. This 2005 rendition is a delight due to Jamal's spacing and percussive technique, as well as his interplay with drummer Idris Muhammad and bassist James Cammack.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Majority Favors Democratic Over Republican Policies


According to a CNN poll, a majority of Americans favors Democratic over Republican policies:

Despite the bruising battle over their health care reform proposals, congressional Democrats have maintained an advantage over their Republican counterparts on one key measure, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday indicates that a bare majority of Americans, 51 percent, believe that the Democrats' policies are good for the country, with 46 percent saying that those policies would take the country in the wrong direction.

By contrast, 53 percent of people questioned in the poll say that the GOP's polices would move the nation in the wrong direction, with 42 percent saying Republican policies are good for the country.

Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) biggest drop in favorability ratings has occurred among independents, who were essential to his victory over Ned Lamont in the 2006 Connecticut senatorial race:

"Lieberman's biggest decline - a 14-point drop - came among independents," [CNN polling director Keating] Holland says. "Only Republicans continue to like Lieberman."

(Chart: h/t Yglesias)

Lieberman's Favorable Ratings Take A Dive


Recent polls indicate that Sen. Joe Lieberman did himself no favors in obstructing both a public option and Medicare Expansion, something he supported just three months ago. This trend is not surprising, give that Holy Joe's opposition to the public option was not popular in Connecticut. From The Hill:

Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-Conn.) favorable ratings have taken almost a 10-point drop in the past two weeks, a new poll found.

31 percent of people told a CNN poll conducted Dec. 16-20 that they had a favorable opinion of Lieberman, a key Senate centrist who'd opposed healthcare reform only until recently. Opinion toward Lieberman, though, was down from a 40 percent favorable rating in the same CNN poll conducted December 2-3 of this year.

Poll respondents' unfavorable opinion of Lieberman ticked upward over the same period. 34 percent of those polled said they now have an unfavorable opinion of Lieberman, compared to 28 percent who have an unfavorable opinion.

To donate to Moveon's campaign to defeat Lieberman when he comes up for re-election, click here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Disappointed Over Health Care Reform, Caller Takes Down Christmas Tree

Bunny from Kansas, a caller to C-SPAN, is so distraught about the Senate's health care vote that she has taken her Christmas tree down and "...would like to see every light in the nation go out, especially in the White House." Why? Because it causes divisiveness, for example between Bunny and her son, and it stands for "genocide on the seniors," a reference to the absurd "death panel" charge. She gives voice to the same misinformation that has driven the tea partiers and the Republican party since the summer. Listen:

Glenn Beck Recognized As "Misinformer Of The Year"

Media Matters choose well when they recognized Glenn Beck as Misinformer of the Year. From loony conspiracy charts, amply satirized elsewhere, to weepy histrionics to race baiting to McCarthyism to nonsensical warnings about incipient socialism and fascism, Beck justly wins the award because "No one in 2009 peddled more hate, stirred more groundless fears or spread more lies." At the end of the following video, even conservatives such as David Brooks, Ron Christie and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) criticize this buffoon:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse Condemns Obama Haters Among Reform Opponents

Back in July, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) stated about President Obama's top domestic priority, health care reform: "If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Fortunately, DeMint's wish has not come to pass. He did, however, reveal one of the prime reasons that Republicans have played an obstructionist role during the health care debate: to destroy the Obama presidency.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) forcefully condemned the groups who share DeMint's goal and who have propagated misinformation and slander about health care reform and the president:


Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: “They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militias and aryan support groups. It is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist." (h/t Liberaland)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Marriage Equality Recognized In Nation's Capital

Following disappointing defeats for marriage equality in New York and Maine, Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (left) signed a same-sex marriage bill. While the bill has to clear a congressional review period, Fenty was confident that the Democratic-controlled Congress will not stand in the way.

Speaking at the signing in All Souls Unitarian Church, which has embraced gay rights, Fenty emphasized that marriage equality has deep meaning to him given his interracial background:

"Marriage inequality is a civil rights, political, social, moral and religious issue in this country and many nations," Fenty said. "And as a I sign this act into law, the District, from this day forward, will set the tone for other jurisdictions to follow in creating an open and inclusive city."

In an unusually emotional speech for Fenty, the mayor said his parents moved from Buffalo to Washington in 1967 because they wanted to marry and their parents were furious about their interracial relationship.

"My parents know a little something about marriage equality," Fenty told about 150 activists and gay couples who crammed into the church.

Phil Fenty, who is black, and Jan Fenty, who is white, said they had not attended any other bill-signing ceremony in the three years their son has been mayor. But they had to be there Friday, they said, and they were proud that their son had embraced the lessons of equality he was taught as a boy.

Biden: "Why The Senate Should Vote Yes On Health Care"

Every progressive is disappointed that the Senate's health care bill does not include a public option or Medicare expansion. Howard Dean's original call to "kill the bill," however, was irresponsible. It has been torturous enough to get where we are–and now that we're there, the legislation, however imperfect, has the potential to help millions. Fortunately, Dean has softened his position, stating, "I would let this thing go to conference committee and let's see if we can fix it some more."

In a commentary, Vice President Joe Biden makes a convincing case as to why the Senate should pass the bill:

While it is not perfect, the bill pending in the Senate today is not just good enough — it is very good. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or drop coverage when people get sick. Charging exorbitant premiums based on sex, age or health status will be outlawed. Annual and lifetime caps on benefits will be history. Those who already have insurance will be able to keep it, and will gain peace of mind knowing they won’t be priced out of the market by skyrocketing premiums. And more than 30 million uninsured Americans will gain access to affordable health care coverage.

That is not all. President Obama and I know we have to put our fiscal house in order. This is why those who claim they oppose reform because they fear for our country’s fiscal stability should finally acknowledge what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office makes crystal clear: not only is the Senate bill paid for, it is this country’s single largest deficit-reduction measure in a dozen years.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Conservative Media Goes Into Overdrive In 2009

Media Matters has produced a survey of the conservative media in overdrive during 2009. From charges of "death panels" to climate change deniers to birthers to tea partiers to McCarthyism reborn, the drumbeat of hysteria and fear-mongering has been constant. The election of Barack Obama and the rise of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have led to a right wing nervous breakdown and a determination to destroy the Obama presidency. Leading the charge with misinformation has been Fox News, the Republican media outlet that parades as a news station. Watch:

Dylan Confounds Expectations Again With "Must Be Santa"

Bob Dylan has always confounded expectations, starting when he outraged folk purists by performing with a rock band at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1965. Still, I couldn't help but wonder exactly what he was doing when I heard on the radio his rendition of "Must Be Santa" from his new "Christmas in the Heart" album.

Dylan, after all, is one of the three greatest songwriters since the 1960s, the other two being Lennon and McCartney. He wrote "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are a-Changin'," "Like A Rolling Stone," "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Masters of War," among many other classics. Now he's singing "Must Be Santa"?

Dylan's rendition became all the more bizarre with the song's Fellini-like video. He's wearing a stringy wig and taking part in a rollicking party that turns into a brawl. View the festivities and see what you think:

Lieberman Socks

Moveon.org has produced an ad showing Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and fellow senators as sock puppets. Lieberman's colleagues scramble to meet his demands so that he will support a public option or a public option trigger or a Medicare expansion–all to no avail. Watch:



The skit refers to the fact that Holy Joe supported a Medicare expansion just three months ago, as well as his admitted love of attention:

Mr. Lieberman could not be happier. He is right where he wants to be — at the center of the political aisle, the center of the Democrats’ efforts to win 60 votes for their sweeping health care legislation. For the moment, he is at the center of everything — and he loves it.

“My wife said to me, ‘Why do you always end up being the point person here?’ ” he said, flashing a broad grin in an interview on Monday.

To donate to Moveon's campaign to defeat Lieberman when he comes up for re-election, click here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sen. Brownback Explains Entire Republican Stance: "I Don't Want Health Care"

During the Bush years, any Democratic reluctance to support military spending brought charges from Republicans that they were refusing to give our troops what they need. Suddenly, in order to hold up health care reform, the Republicans recently adopted the tactic of filibustering military spending:

Senate Republicans failed early Friday in their bid to filibuster a massive Pentagon bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an unusual move designed to delay President Obama's health-care legislation.

On a 63 to 33 vote, Democrats cleared a key hurdle that should allow them to approve the must-pass military spending bill Saturday and return to the health-care debate. After years of criticizing Democrats for not supporting the troops, just three Republicans supported the military funding.

...Democrats were furious at the filibuster attempt on Pentagon funds. "They are prepared to jeopardize funding for troops at war," Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said Thursday evening. "If Democrats did that, there would be cries of treason."

One wonders what now inspires the Republicans' total opposition to health care reform. The public option has been stripped away. The Medicare expansion proposal was dropped. The private heath insurance companies will have no public competition. Exactly how does the bill under consideration amount to a "government takeover" of health care?

The fact is that the Republicans are against all health care reform. Their constant call to "slow down" health care legislation–as if this agonizing process has been rushed–really amounts to a call to kill reform altogether. In this regard, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) (above) summed up the entire Republican stance on the issue as he joined colleagues in the filibuster. Here it is, in just five words:

"I don't want health care."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lieberman: The Prime Exemplar Of Political Corruption


My Anti-Lieberman Week continues with a look at his corruption and "forgetfulness." Regarding corruption, Holy Joe has been handsomely paid off by the insurance industry and has ensured that nothing competes with this private monopoly charging increasingly unaffordable rates:

The aim of [allowing people over 55 to buy Medicate plans], like the public option, is to provide more choice for consumers and more competition for the private insurance industry. And that industry, you will not be surprised to hear, has been very, very good to Mr. Lieberman.

...Mr. Lieberman has taken more than $1 million from the industry over his Senate career. In his 2006 re-election campaign, he ranked second in the Senate in contributions from the industry. He doesn’t seem to have forgotten that.

Then there's Lieberman's convenient forgetfulness. What was his response when asked about the support he expressed for Medicare expansion as recently as September?

This week, when there actually seemed to be a compromise on health care that did not focus on Mr. Lieberman, he announced that he would block the package if the Democrats included a terrible idea — allowing people between 55 and 65 to buy Medicare.

He presented this as a principled effort to keep down federal debt, but when a Times reporter asked about his 180-degree turn, he said he had forgotten taking his earlier position until the Democratic leadership reminded him about it over the weekend.

So that's it, then? "Umm...I forgot"? This from a senator who constantly states that he's driven by principle? Even if we accept this absurd proposition, why has he so quickly changed his mind? Perhaps he remembered again the $1 million from the health insurance industry.

The health care debate has exposed just how corrupt and broken our political system is. With most of the public and the majority of senators and members of Congress supportive of a public option, the will of the people will not be realized. Thanks to the filibuster, a few senators can thwart vital legislation. Thanks, too, to the lack of campaign finance reform, politicians can be bought off by health insurance lobbyists. Are those politicians going to turn around and vote to increase public financing of elections? Joe Lieberman, who has threatened to filibuster health reform for weeks and has had cash shoveled at him by the health insurance industry, is the prime exemplar of the corruption deeply embedded in our political culture.

(Click on the cartoon to enlarge.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Death Penalty: Inherently Barbaric


The New York Times makes excellent points in an editorial, "There Is No 'Humane' Execution." The editors considered the supposedly more "humane" method of execution, that of using one drug in the case of Kenneth Biros, instead of three, often criticized as painful, in the case of Romell Broom:

This is what passes for progress in the application of the death penalty: Kenneth Biros, a convicted murderer, was put to death in Ohio last week with one drug, instead of the more common three-drug cocktail. It took executioners 30 minutes to find a vein for the needle, compared with the two hours spent hunting for a vein on the last prisoner Ohio tried to kill, Romell Broom. Technicians tried about 18 times to get the needle into Mr. Broom’s arms and legs before they gave up trying to kill him. Mr. Biros was jabbed only a few times in each arm.

...The larger problem, however, is that changing a lethal-injection method is simply an attempt, as Justice Harry Blackmun put it, to “tinker with the machinery of death.” No matter how it is done, for the state to put someone to death is inherently barbaric.

There remains the inevitability that the death penalty will be imposed on the innocent–the ultimate argument against it:

It has also become clear — particularly since DNA evidence has become more common — how unreliable the system is. Since 1973, 139 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were innocent, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

An untold number of innocent people have also, quite likely, been put to death. Earlier this year, a fire expert hired by the state of Texas issued a report that cast tremendous doubt on whether a fatal fire — for which
Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 — was arson at all. Until his execution, Mr. Willingham protested his innocence.

So what is the humane answer to state-sponsored killing, otherwise known as the death penalty?

Earlier this year, New Mexico repealed its death penalty, joining 14 other states — and the District of Columbia — that do not allow it. That is the way to eliminate the inevitable problems with executions.

Lieberman Now Disagrees With The Medicare Expansion He Endorsed In September

I know I'm on an anti-Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) roll these days. I'm simply outraged by the way he keeps upping the ante against health care reform. Now he's not only against the public option, but he's also against the proposed alternative: expanding Medicare for uninsured people between the ages of 55 to 64.

The Plum Line has exposed the fact that Lieberman now disagrees with the very position he supported in September, when he endorsed a Medicare expansion. Watch Lieberman just three months ago:



Lieberman: “My proposals were to basically expand the existing successful public health insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid…

“When it came to Medicare I was very focused on a group — post 50, maybe more like post 55. People who have retired early, or unfortunately have been laid off early, who lose their health insurance and they’re too young to qualify for Medicare.

“What I was proposing was that they have an option to buy into Medicare early and again on the premise that that would be less expensive than the enormous cost. If you’re 55 or 60 and you’re without health insurance and you go in to try to buy it, because you’re older … you’re rated as a risk so you pay a lot of money.”


John McCain tweeted, "Joe Lieberman–standing up for his principles on health care is being viciously attacked by the liberal left...what a disgrace!" Some principles.

The problems Lieberman is causing now on an issue affecting millions show how consequential elections are, exemplified by his defeat of Ned Lamont in the 2006 Connecticut senatorial race. Al Gore, whom I like, did us no favor by selecting Lieberman as his running mate and boosting his career. So far, Gore's vice presidential choice has resulted in more negative repercussions for the country than John McCain's.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Filibuster Used To Stymie Health Care Reform–And Democracy


With a majority of Americans and senators supporting a public health insurance option, how is it that officials are discussing alternatives to replace it? The obstacle is the filibuster, which substitutes the requirement of a majority vote for a supermajority–a profoundly undemocratic tactic, as pointed out in a recent editorial in The Nation, "Filibustering the Public":

The healthcare debate highlights everything that's wrong with the filibuster. Polling shows that more than 75 percent of Americans favor a public option, yet it could be eliminated--not to gain majority support in the Senate but to gain supermajority support. That's absurd, and citizens know it. That's why tens of thousands have signed petitions circulated by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Florida Congressman Alan Grayson and Firedoglake demanding alteration of the filibuster rule.

The editors urge Senate majority leader Harry Reid and his colleagues to get rid of the filibuster:

No matter where the healthcare debate takes us, Reid and Senate Democrats should commit to getting rid of rules that stifle debate and prevent action, and they should eliminate the filibuster and implement majority rule. That, after all, is what democracy is supposed to look like.

There is a senator who, with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), once introduced legislation to weaken the power of the filibuster. In 1994, he said the following:

"[People] are fed up -- frustrated and fed up and angry about the way in which our government does not work, about the way in which we come down here and get into a lot of political games and seem to -- partisan tugs of war and forget why we're here, which is to serve the American people. And I think the filibuster has become not only in reality an obstacle to accomplishment here, but it also a symbol of a lot that ails Washington today."

These words were spoken by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who now threatens to filibuster any health care legislation containing a public option.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Grateful Dead Perform "Peggy-O"



Jerry Garcia leads the Grateful Dead in "Peggy-O" on June 26, 1994, in Las Vegas. The band started playing this traditional Scottish tune in the early 1970s. In "Folk Songs and Allusions to Folk Songs in the Repertoire of the Grateful Dead," Josephine McQuail writes, "All of the versions considered together suggest the story of a love affair between a travelling enemy soldier and a local girl which is thwarted by the girl's ambitious mother who wants a son-in-law with more money and a higher social status. Thus his declarations go from a promise of love...to threats against the locals' lives when he returns from his next march. But he dies, heartbroken because of love..." The vocals and guitar solo are pure Jerry, lyrical and heartfelt. Garcia's performance gains added poignancy by the fact that he was not in the best of health and passed away little more than a year later on August 9, 1995.

Colbert's Board Game "Afghandyland": "There's No Way To Win And No Way To Quit"


This chart above is not a plate of linguine or a Jackson Pollock. It is the military's counterinsurgency, or COIN, strategy for Afghanistan. Though it may seem daunting in terms of interpretation, one point is clear: we're not leaving there any time soon, as the administration acknowledged despite the president's initial talk of a pullout starting July 2011.

These convoluted strands inspired Steven Colbert's new board game, "Afghandyland," in which one is constantly instructed to "Go back to start" and in which "there's no way to win and no way to quit." Watch:

Connecticut Jewish Community At Odds With Lieberman On Public Option

Senator Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) opposition to a public health care option runs counter to the wishes of the citizens of Connecticut in general and to the state's Jewish community in particular, according to The Forward. From "A Senator at Odds With His Constituents–And Some Say, His Faith":

“Health care reform is the key moral issue facing the country right now,” said one of those critics, Rabbi Charles Arian of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Norwich, Conn. “I will be personally disappointed if it stops dead in its tracks because Senator Lieberman invokes a filibuster.”

Lieberman’s threat is being met with harsh criticism within the Jewish community in Connecticut, where public-opinion surveys show that strong general majorities support a government-sponsored insurance option.

Lieberman is viewed as living a contradiction: a man of faith obstructing the extension of health care for all:

Arian stressed that he does not expect Lieberman to represent the views of only the Jewish community — “just as I wouldn’t want a bishop to tell a Catholic congressman how to vote.” But he said it was Lieberman who has often “put himself out there” as representing religious values.

...Rabbi Ron Fish from Congregation Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in Norwalk, decided to write an open letter to the senator. “For him to say that the public option is weighing on his conscience is a misuse of the term ‘conscience,’” Fish said.

Seventy clergy from different faiths have signed Fish’s letter, which states that “anyone who argues that faith and religious tradition should direct our actions, such a person must stand for universal healthcare in America.” Fish and other co-signers joined some 500 other Connecticut residents for a November 15 prayer vigil outside Lieberman’s apartment building in Stamford. “Because he invokes his Jewish identity and Jewish values so frequently, we, as a community, should speak to what he is saying,” Fish said.

At an interfaith vigil for health care reform in Stamford High School on November 15th, Rabbi Fish questioned how Lieberman can claim to act out of conscience:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gore Rebuts Climate Change Deniers, Including Famed Alaskan Scholar

Sarah Palin trumpeted her foreign policy credentials based on the fact that she can see Russia from Alaska. She displayed her expertise on health care by informing us that voluntary end-of-life counseling equals "death panels." Now Palin has demonstrated her scholarship on climate change, criticizing in a Washington Post op-ed "the agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen."

Fortunately, Al Gore spoke to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC and discussed global warming based on empirical evidence that cannot be dismissed in Palin's terms as "natural, cyclical environmental trends." Watch:

Gore: Well, you know, the -- the global warming deniers persist in this air of unreality. After all, the entire north polar icecap, which has been there for most of the last 3 million years, is disappearing before our eyes. Forty percent is already gone. The rest is expected to go completely within the next decade. What do they think is causing this?

The mountain glaciers in every region of the world are melting, many of them at an accelerated rate, threatening drinking supplies -- drinking water supplies and agricultural water supplies. We have these record storms, drought, floods, fires, three deaths (ph) in the American West, climate refugees beginning now, expected to rise to the hundreds of millions unless we take action.

These effects are taking place all over the world exactly as predicted by the scientists, who have warned for years that, if we continue putting 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, the accumulation -- that's going to trap lots more heat, raise temperatures, and cause all of these consequences that are already beginning.

Mitchell: Well, one of the things that she has written recently on Facebook is that this is doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood that makes the public feel like owning an SUV is a sin against the planet.

Gore: Well, the scientific community has worked very intensively for 20 years within this international process, and they now say the evidence is unequivocal. A hundred and fifty years ago this year was the discovery that CO-2 traps heat. That is a -- a principle in physics. It's not a question of debate. It's like gravity; it exists. (h/t Crooks and Liars)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ad On Lieberman And The Public Option: "It's All About Joe"

Last November, Rachel Maddow said that the Democrats should strip Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) of his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Maddow contended that even if Democrats don't get their filibuster-proof 60 votes, they "...have lost Lieberman anyway." She was right.

Whether the Democrats manage to reach a new agreement to resolve the public health insurance option dispute, the fact remains that Lieberman played a major role in making it necessary for them to do so. Further, his stance does not reflect the state he claims to represent. But Lieberman only represents Lieberman. That's the point of the following ad produced by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. The narrator is John Mertens, former chairman of the Connecticut for Lieberman party who has broken away from him and is running in 2010 for the senate seat held by Christopher J. Dodd. Watch:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Eugene Robinson: Afghanistan Surge Reflects Flawed "Drain The Swamp" Approach

There's one point about al Qaeda in Afghanistan that the Obama administration isn't talking about: there aren't too many al Qaeda operatives there. In fact, U.S. intelligence officials state that there are only about 100 left. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and former CIA Pakistan station chief Bob Grenier had the following exchange at a Senate hearing:

Kerry: "So in terms of 'in Afghanistan,' they have been disrupted and dismantled and defeated. They're not in Afghanistan, correct?"
Grenier: "That's true."

So if al Qaeda was defeated in Afghanistan, why are 30,000 more U.S. troops going there? The line is that we don't want them to establish another safe haven there. Commentator Eugene Robinson (above) captures the flaw in an argument that seems to assume that al Qaeda has no other place to go:

...even if the surge works, why wouldn't al-Qaeda -- or some like-minded group -- simply set up shop in Somalia? Or in Yemen, another failing state? Or in some other wretched corner of the world where central government authority is weak and resentment of the West's dominant power is high?

...The problem is that al-Qaeda's murderous philosophy, which is the real enemy, has no physical base. It can erupt anywhere -- even, perhaps, on a heavily guarded U.S. Army post in the middle of Texas.

...In the end -- even if conditions in July 2011 are such that Obama can order a real withdrawal, not a token one -- the larger threat of terrorism will remain. The "drain the swamp" approach to fighting terrorism doesn't work if the virulence can simply infect the next swamp, and the next.

Frank Rich also cites the point that al Qaeda is not necessarily tied to Afghanistan and can go to the same countries that Robinson mentions:

...the notion that we are still fighting in Afghanistan because the 9/11 attacks originated there is based on the fallacy that our terrorist enemies are so stupid they have remained frozen in place since 2001. Most Americans know that they are no more static than we are. Obama acknowledged as much in citing such other Qaeda havens as Somalia (the site of a devastating insurgent suicide bombing on Thursday) and Yemen.

It is one thing to hit al Qaeda bases, training camps and operatives wherever they are, be it Afghanistan, Somalia or Yemen. To send thousands of troops to Afghanistan, however, is to ignore al Qaeda's tiny presence there and to deny the fact that they have options elsewhere.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hot Tuna At The Beacon Theater: Guitar Masters Just There To Play



I don't remember all the details, but Lenny Dykstra, an agressive ballplayer who played for the 1986 World Champion Mets, was once asked to help out with chores normally assigned to the batboy or batgirl. Dykstra said something to the effect of, "Hey, I'm here to play!" The same can be said for the Hot Tuna concert at New York's palatial Beacon Theater on Saturday night.

As she does so often, my wife put it wisely: "Anyone who wants a master class in the guitar should go see Hot Tuna." She reminded me of the Dykstra statement when she added, "It's all about the music. There's no b.s. No pyrotechnics." They were just there to play.

Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist, and Jack Casady, bassist, began Hot Tuna 40 years ago as an offshoot of the Jefferson Airplane. With roots in the blues, Hot Tuna are masters in both the acoustic and electric genres–and at the Beacon, they were at their most electrifying. They were joined by Barry Mitterhoff, mandolin player; G. E. Smith, guitarist and former musical director of "Saturday Night Live," and an outstanding drummer whose name I am trying to research. They played two solid hours of blues and Hot Tuna classics, from a blistering "Rock Me Baby" to a hypnotic "Good Shepherd."

I couldn't locate a video from last night's show, so enjoy the group's rendition above of "I Wish You Would" at the Beacon on November 27, 2004.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Greeting Peter And Paul–And Missing Mary



Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey's concert at the Capitol One Theater in Westbury, Long Island, on Friday night began with an acknowledgment that their performance cannot be the same following the death of Mary Travers on September 16th. Both stated, however, that Mary's spirit remained with them and the audience, and they asked the latter to fill in some of her parts. But can anyone fill the role she played as seen, for example, in the video above from 1965?

Peter and Paul have been performing for most of their lives as part of folk music's most legendary trio, and their comfort on stage is clear. They have the ability to make an audience feel as if they were sitting in a living room listening to them sing, schmooze and joke around. Of course, their fans greeted them as familiar friends going back to a time when two acoustic guitars accompanied by longtime bassist Dick Kniss were all the instrumentation needed for an enjoyable concert.

On the other hand, I found Peter's observations and banter to be excessive at times. Perhaps it's my curmudgeonly nature–the audience was obviously entertained–but I would have traded some of it for two or three more songs. Peter said that Mary sometimes played the part of a mother hen who kept the two boys from getting too rambunctious, so perhaps his behavior in her absence proved that point. On the other hand, Paul did present a meaningful talk on folk music's message of inclusiveness and the way it reflects the common experiences of all people.

The concert wasn't all talk, however, and it was wonderful to hear the two sing classics such as "Blowin' In The Wind" and "This Land Is Your Land." But my gaze kept wandering to the space between them that had been so long occupied by Mary. Especially on certain songs such as "Leaving On A Jet Plane," it was clear that Mary's wonderful voice, warmth and compassion are irreplaceable.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Air America Host Jack Rice Questions Obama's Afghanistan Timeline And Goals

Interviewed on the Ron Reagan Show, Air America host Jack Rice questioned the feasibility of President Obama's military buildup in Afghanistan of 30,000 troops, given both the timeline to start withdrawing troops by July 2011 and the surge's ambitious goals. Listen:


Reagan: Jack, this in the wake of course of President Obama's speech, in which he proposed a timeline: 30,000 troops in by next summer, but starting to withdraw by the summer after that, July of 2011. Is that kind of a timeline in any way realistic? Are we going to be able to accomplish so much basically in a year?

Rice: The idea that we could go in and somehow change the fundamental dynamic inside of Afghanistan by July of 2011–in other words, we're going to convince the Karzai government not to be criminal, not to be incompetent, not to be unethical. We're also going to convince all of the Taliban to somehow lay down their arms and we're going to convince the Afghan government to create an army that they have not been able to create in the past and create a police force that they haven't been able to create. Really? And we're going to do all of this by July 2011.

Administration officials are already stating that withdrawal goals are flexible. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress that July 2011 “will be the beginning of a process, an inflection point, if you will, of transition for Afghan forces as they begin to assume greater responsibility for security” and that the pace of the withdrawal would be determined by “conditions on the ground.”

Is such talk from Gates an acknowledgment of the lack of realism regarding the timeline? Does the statement also raise troubling questions about another possible American military quagmire?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gov. Paterson Following Defeat Of Marriage Equality Bill: "This Is A Civil Rights Issue"

According to a Marist College poll released Wednesday, 51 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing gay marriage, with 42 percent opposed. Regardless, a bill that would have established marriage equality went down to a disappointing defeat. Governor David Paterson (D) released an eloquent statement recognizing marriage equality as a civil rights issue and assuring supporters that the struggle will continue:

“It is always darkest before the dawn. The darkest day in the history of the American civil rights movement was in 1857 when the Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott, making slavery legal north of the 36th parallel. That was the darkest day for the abolitionists. But when we look back in history, we forget that this was only five years before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862.

“I understand the anger; I understand the frustration; I understand the feeling of betrayal; and I understand the profound disappointment of those who came to Albany today thinking they could get married tomorrow. But I am also here to tell you that we are not back to square one.

“Governors don’t come to the Senate floor after losing a vote. This one does, because this is a fight that is bigger than one legislative vote. This is a civil rights issue. Marriage equality is as important as the emancipation of any group from oppression and the granting of equal rights to any community.

“I believe in my heart that if people had voted their consciences today, we would be celebrating marriage equality tonight. That did not happen. As disappointed as we are today, let’s get up tomorrow and redouble our efforts. We are going to lay the foundation to make people feel comfortable to vote their conscience and not fear political backlash.

“Now we know who we have to talk to. We are going to quash the intimidation; we are going to alleviate the pressure; we are going to move this issue back to the floor of the Senate and we are going to have marriage equality in New York State and equal rights for everybody.”
(h/t Think Progress)

Israeli Rights Group: Record Number Of Palestinian East Jerusalem Residency Rights Revoked

According to the Israeli human rights group Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, Israel has stripped a record number of Palestinians of their residency rights in East Jerusalem:

In 2008, the Ministry of the Interior revoked the Israeli residency status of 4,577 residents of East Jerusalem – including 99 minors: The number of cases of revocation of residency in 2008 alone is equal to approximately one half the total number of cases of residency revocation between 1967 and 2007

The government stated that those living abroad lost such residency rights:

...according to the Israeli rights organisation Hamoked, if these Palestinians live abroad for seven years, or gain citizenship or residency elsewhere, they lose their Israeli residency.

...Hamoked executive director Dalia Kerstein said the phenomenon had "reached frightening dimensions."

...The figures come amid Palestinian fears that Israel is trying to increase its control over East Jerusalem and cut it off from the West Bank, through the building of the West Bank barrier, house demolitions and evictions.

These policies and the tensions they provoke were displayed recently in Sheik Jarrah:

Jewish nationalists and Palestinians clashed in an East Jerusalem neighborhood on Tuesday after the Israelis took over a house by court order in a predominantly Arab area. The confrontation further strained tensions in this contested city, where competing Israeli and Palestinian claims have become a sticking point in the Obama administration’s efforts to restart peace talks.

The house at the center of Tuesday’s flare-up is in Sheik Jarrah, a district just north of the Old City, where three Palestinian families have been evicted from other houses in the last year after losing a lengthy legal battle in the High Court and lower district and magistrates courts.

A Jewish association won its claim to historical ownership of the land in question, and has plans to build a large Jewish housing complex there.

One wonders if the regulation regarding the seven-year absence applies only to Jerusalem and to Palestinians. Further, does the necessity to prove historical ownership also apply to those living in West Bank settlements built, at least in part, on private Palestinian land, as contested by another Israeli rights group, Yesh Din? Most importantly, the Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state; continued Israeli development there makes a two-state solution impossible.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FDR's New Deal Makes A Strong Case For The Public Option

Adam Cohen, in "Roosevelt Understood the Power of a Public Option," makes a strong case for the ways in which FDR's New Deal programs met the basic needs of millions. They also kept private industry honest while not destroying it–despite criticism that echoes the rants about "socialism" today. Roosevelt's public power program parallels current calls for a public option, a government-run health insurance program:

When he ran for president in 1932, Roosevelt made public power a cornerstone of his campaign. In a speech in Portland, Ore., he explained that it could be a “birch rod in the cupboard,” which the citizenry could use to punish private power companies that were gouging the public or not providing good service. Critics accused Roosevelt of Bolshevism, but he was not deterred. Public power was no more radical, he said, than the public mail.

The public power program was similar to other programs initiated by FDR that serve the public to this day, despite reactionary rhetoric against government initiatives:

The whole New Deal was in a sense just a series of public options, some more optional than others, that offered government as an alternative to the often-flawed private market. The Farm Credit Administration and the Home Owners’ Loan Act used government funds to save farms and homes of Americans who would have been foreclosed on by private lenders. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation saved the private banking system by insuring savings accounts, which made the public willing to put money back in private banks. Social Security, all public and no option, rescued older Americans from living their final years in poverty.

The public option could perform the same function as programs that FDR championed:

A public option for health care could work much like the yardstick Roosevelt envisioned public power becoming. A publicly run health care program could compete with private insurance companies, which have a record of overcharging and underperforming.