Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Thomas Sowell Equates BP Escrow Fund With "Tyranny"

In an article endorsed by Sarah Palin, columnist Thomas Sowell (left) asked, "Is U.S. Now On Slippery Slope To Tyranny?" Joining other conservatives who feel BP's pain, Sowell argues, "Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere."

Obama, however, was using the bully pulpit, as presidents have traditionally done, to make a moral case for the good of the nation. As David E. Sanger of The New York Times writes, "[The White House] conceded that Mr. Obama had no legal basis to force BP to create the $20 billion fund; they said he was making a moral argument, and used the jawboning power of the presidential pulpit to push the company."

By now it's clear, though, that this president can do nothing right in the eyes of his right-wing critics. Regarding the gulf, he's either too passive or, in the case of the $20 billion fund established to handle claims of individuals and businesses affected by the spill, guilty of an aggressive "shakedown."

Sowell's most inflammatory point, though, is related to "tyranny." He states that under Obama, "American democracy is being dismantled," though "few people seem to be concerned..." The situation, according to Sowell, is similar to Hitler's taking power in the 1930s, when "he deliberately sought to activate people who did not normally pay much attention to politics."

Meanwhile, those whose livelihoods have been wrecked by BP are looking for compensation from the fund. They certainly are not entertaining absurd ideas that it will pave the way to Naziism. Watch:

Melissa Harris-Lacewell On Right-Wing Curricula In Texas And Arizona

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton University, commented on Grit TV about efforts in Arizona andTexas to indoctrinate students into right-wing ideology. She finds hope in the fact that such efforts may fail since the diversity that young people now encounter does not reflect the fear and division promoted by social conservatives. Listen:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Patti Smith, The Godmother Of Punk

After posting this week about Patti Smith's commencement address at Pratt Institute, I decided also to share of her cover of "Gloria" on the Jools Holland Show in 2007. The song opened her first album, "Horses," and from the first line Smith signaled her iconoclastic stance with the line, "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine." As the "Godmother of Punk," Smith combined Beat Generation- and French Symbolist-influenced lyrics with a raw, garage band sound. She explained, "I seriously worried that I was seeing the decline of rock and roll. My design was to shake things up, to motivate people and bring a different type of work ethic back to rock and roll.” Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture in 2005 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

Rubio: OK, We'll Keep Popular Parts Of Health Care Reform

Marco Rubio, Florida senatorial candidate and Tea Party favorite, started a petition to repeal President Obama's health care reform right after it passed. He issued a blanket condemnation:

"Earlier this year, I pledged to support legislation to repeal any federal health care takeover that eventually passed. I reiterate my strong support for repealing it when I get to Washington and offering alternative reforms to make health care more accessible and affordable.

Now Rubio is more nuanced in his views, according to the conservative National Review:

...Rubio...mentioned that there are two parts within the Obamacare legislation that he doesn’t want repealed. The first is the ban on insurance companies denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and the second is that he thinks that children up to age 26 should be allowed to “buy into” their parents’ coverage.

It's no coincidence that Rubio suddenly supports the parts of the bill that "people like."

Arizona Governor Brewer: "Strong Information" That Most Illegals Smuggle Drugs

Without offering proof, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona (R) has stated that most illegal immigrants are involved in drug smuggling:

Brewer said the motivation of "a lot" of the illegal immigrants is to enter the United States to look for work, but that drug rings press them into duty as drug "mules."

"I believe today, under the circumstances that we're facing, that the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming into the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels and they are bringing drugs in," Brewer said.

"There's strong information to us that they come as illegal people wanting to come to work. Then they are accosted and they become subjects of the drug cartel," she said.

Despite Brewer's assurance of "strong information," critics called Brewer's comments racist and uninformed:

"Unless Gov. Brewer can provide hard data to substantiate her claim that most undocumented people crossing into Arizona are 'drug mules,' she must retract such an outrageous statement," said Oscar Martinez, a University of Arizona history professor whose teaching and research focuses on border issues. "If she has no data and is just mouthing off for political reasons, as I believe she is doing, then she must apologize to the people of Arizona for lying to them so blatantly."

Sen. Jesus Ramon Valdes, a member of the Mexican Senate's northern border affairs commission, called Brewer's comments racist and irresponsible.

"Traditionally, migrants have always been needy, humble people who in good faith go looking for a way to better the lives of their families," Ramon Valdes said.

...T.J. Bonner, president of the union that represents border agents, said some illegal border-crossers carry drugs but most don't. People with drugs face much stiffer penalties for entering the U.S. illegally, and very few immigrants looking for work want to risk the consequences, Bonner said.

While Criticizing Federal Response To Spill, Jindal Holds Back National Guard

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) has repeatedly criticized the Federal government for supposedly not providing enough resources to combat the gulf oil spill. CBS has learned, however, that Jindal has used only a small number of National Guard troops at his disposal:

Gov. Bobby Jindal's message has been loud and clear, using language such as "We will only be winning this war when we're actually deploying every resource," "They (the federal government) can provide more resources" and "It's clear the resources needed to protect our coast are still not here."

But nearly two months after the governor requested - and the Department of Defense approved the use of 6,000 Louisiana National Guard troops - only a fraction - 1,053 - have actually been deployed by Jindal to fight the spill.

Jindal offered an excuse that was refuted:

"Actually we asked the White House to approve the initial 6,000," Jindal said. "What they came back and said is the Coast Guard and BP had to authorize individual tasks."

But Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander in charge of the government's response to the spill, said Jindal is just flat wrong.

"There is nothing standing in the governor's way from utilizing more National Guard troops," Allen said.

Watch the CBS report:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Patti Smith At Pratt 2010 Commencement: "Take Care Of Your Damn Teeth"

Patti Smith, the "Godmother of Punk," spoke at the commencement ceremony for the class of 2010 at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Part of her speech was about taking care of the practical side of life as a basis for fulfilling dreams–exemplified by taking care of one's teeth:

My greatest urge is to speak to you of dental care. My generation had a rough go dentally. Our dentists were the Army dentists who came back from World War II and believed that the dental office was a battleground. You have a better chance at dental health. And I say this because you want at night to be pacing the floor because your fuse is burning inside of you, because you want to do your work, because you want to finish that canvas, because you want to help your fellow man. You don’t want to be pacing because you need a damn root canal. So, floss. Use salt and baking soda. Take care of your damn teeth.

Two longtime subscribers to this blog are dental professionals, and I'm sure they agree. Anyway, the entire speech is wonderful–and not too long. Listen:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Brooklyn Museum: Andy Warhol: The Last Decade

Andy Warhol is popularly associated with his famous pop art works of the 1960s: the silkscreened Marilyn Monroes and Campbell's soup cans, and the Brillo boxes. The artist who said that pop is all about "liking things" focused on images that evoked commercialism, mass media and materialism. In his deadpan style, Warhol didn't so much offer commentary as reflect American culture.

The Brooklyn Museum's exhibit, "Andy Warhol: The Last Decade,"surprises viewers with the expanding repertoire of Warhol's art before his death at 58 in 1987. There's a sense of vulnerability absent from the earlier, aloof feel of his earlier work. "Self-Portrait (Strangulation)," 1978, reflects the sense of mortality that never left Warhol following the attempt upon his life by acquaintance Valerie Solanis in 1968 (click on any image to enlarge):

To produce "Oxidation Painting (in 12 parts)," 1978, Warhol and his assistants urinated on metallic copper paints, certainly a novel departure from the movement that preceded pop, abstract expressionism:

"Yarn" (1983) resembles the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock–except for the fact that Warhol used his traditional medium of silkscreening:

"Rorschach," 1984, resembling the inkblots used to examine psychological associations, are enigmatic patterns:

"The Last Supper," 1986, was part of a series that reflected Warhol's little known practice of Catholicism:

“Andy Warhol: The Last Decade” continues through Sept. 12 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, at Prospect Park; (718) 638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Poll: Majority Of Palestinians Support Peace With Israel

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that, according to a poll conducted by a Norwegian foundation, the majority of Palestinians want peace with Israel and favor a nonviolent struggle for independence:

The majority of Palestinians support a peace agreement with Israel and believe that the Palestinian Authority should use non-violent means to achieve their political goals, a new Fafo poll revealed.

Fafo, a Norwegian based international multidisciplinary research foundation, found that 73 percent of Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza were in favor of peace negotiations with Israel, but stressed that a settlement freeze should be a precondition to talks.

More positive results: a majority are against continued rocket attacks and favor Fatah over the rejectionist Hamas:

The poll also revealed a rise in Palestinian support for halting rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel, rising from 53 percent in favor of a halt in 2009 to 61 percent in 2010.

Most Palestinians who agreed to answer the poll said they had more confidence in the Fatah leadership, headed by Mahmoud Abbas [above], than that of Hamas, and revealed that support of Hamas in Gaza was relatively lower than it was in 2008.

...The poll, which has been conducted in the PA for the past three years, found that after the Gaza War in December 2008, support for the Hamas party surged, but has gradually dropped since.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Steve Brodner Decorates Rep. Barton's Spewing Of Shame

Steve Brodner, one of the sharpest contemporary satirical illustrators, set to work with his marker to decorate Rep. Joe Barton's (R-TX) apology to BP chief executive Tony Hayward. Brodner reminds us of the oil that continues to gush in the gulf as Barton spews his "shame." The artist also depicts the love Barton feels for BP, part of the oil and gas industry that has given him $1.4 million since the 1990 election cycle.

Rep. Joe Barton Apology To BP Commemorative T-Shirt

T-shirt commemorates Representative Joe Barton's apology to BP chief executive Tony Hayward. The GOP and BP brand names are tastefully and appropriately combined. Inscription: "I apologize" to BP - Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) 6/17/2010.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The Band Goes Up On Cripple Creek

"The Last Waltz" is one of the greatest rock concert films and the name of the performance signifying the end of The Band's touring career. Appropriately, one of the lines in this rousing performance of "Up On Cripple Creek"is "this living off the road is getting pretty old." Held at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in 1976, "The Last Waltz" included Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell and other luminaries. The Band, who were noted for their unique blend of roots music, including early rock, blues, country and soul, and who also backed up Dylan, were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

British PM Cameron Apologizes For Bloody Sunday

Following the issuing of a 5,000 page judicial inquiry, British Prime Minister David Cameron has apologized for the killings 38 years ago in Northern Ireland known as "Bloody Sunday":

Prime Minister David Cameron offered an extraordinary apology on Tuesday for the 1972 killings of 14 unarmed demonstrators by British soldiers in Northern Ireland, saying that a long-awaited judicial inquiry had left no doubt that the “Bloody Sunday” shootings were “both unjustified and unjustifiable.”

“What happened should never, ever have happened,” Mr. Cameron said in a House of Commons statement. “The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day, and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government — and indeed our country — I am deeply sorry.”

Still at issue is the prosecution of the military involved:

While the inquiry seemed to settle the issue of responsibility for the killings, the government in London will still have to tackle the difficult question of whether any of the soldiers involved, or their commanders, should be exposed to the possibility of criminal prosecution, or be granted an indemnity, as the opposition Labour Party’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, urged in the Commons in her response to Mr. Cameron’s remarks.

What isn't at issue is, as the Prime Minister stated, the unjustifiable nature of the killings–and the destructive effect they had on "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland:

The outburst of violence that followed effectively ended a nonviolent campaign for civil rights and led to three decades of sectarian strife that claimed more than 3,600 lives. Within weeks of the shootings, another Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath, suspended the Parliament in Belfast and imposed direct British rule, which lasted until the 1998 Good Friday peace pact ushered in the new era of power-sharing in Belfast.

...In effect, the prime minister endorsed almost every contention that the victims’ families had made over the decades: that the British commander should not have ordered the troops to open fire; that the army fired the first shots; that no warning was given before the army fusillade began; that “none of the casualties” were carrying a firearm; and that some soldiers had “knowingly put forward false accounts” of their actions.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rep. Joe Barton And Republican Colleagues Feel BP's Pain

Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) is filled with shame about the oil spill–shame, that is, for what he sees as the mistreatment of BP. He actually apologized to BP chief executive Tony Hayward. He also termed President Obama's call for a $20 billion escrow fund to handle claims of individuals and businesses affected by the spill a "shakedown." Watch:

Barton: I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown — in this case a $20 billion shakedown.

The oil and gas industry has been quite generous to Barton, giving him $1.4 million since the 1990 election cycle. If the Republicans regain control of the House, Barton would be the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Some Republicans were mortified by the comments of Barton, who apologized for his apology. What the Republicans are really upset about is Barton's candor and the negative PR repercussions.

Barton, after all, isn't the only Republican who feels BP's pain. Consider others mentioned in the video. Governor Haley Barbour (MS) is worried "that this idea of making them make a huge escrow fund is going to make it less likely that they’ll pay for everything." Representative Michele Bachmann (MN) called the escrow account a "redistribution of wealth" and "one more gateway for government control." Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey "questioned whether Obama was misusing his authority in persuading BP to set up the fund." Rep. Tom Price (GA) called the escrow account a "Chicago-style political shakedown." The real shakedown, states the Center for Responsive Politics, is politicians' pursuit of oil and gas industry contributions.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Limbaugh The Compassionate: Hungry Children Should "Dumpster Dive"

AOL News reports that a record number of children–more than 16 million–are facing a summer of hunger:

While classes were in session, they relied on free or discount cafeteria meals subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But they will not be reached by the patchwork summer food programs financed by the USDA, which feed fewer than one in five of the total number of kids poor enough to qualify.

The children caught in the gap will likely spend the next few months cadging leftovers from neighbors, chowing down on cheap junk, lining up with their families at food banks that are already overmatched or simply learning to live with a constant headache, growling stomach and chronic fatigue. When school rolls around again in the fall, they will be less healthy and less ready to learn than their peers.

Naturally, Rush Limbaugh suggests that the hungry youngsters may benefit from a "diet"–and that if they're still hungry, there's always dumpster diving. Listen:

Then, a companion story from AOL News: "Record Number of US Kids Facing Summer of Hunger." "With the sc-rewl year ending in communities across America, more than 16 million children face a summer of hunger." Now, Michelle Obama told us they're all so fat and out of shape and overweight that a summer off from government eating might be just the ticket.

...There's another place if none of these options work to find food; there's always the neighborhood dumpster. Now, you might find competition with homeless people there, but there are videos that have been produced to show you how to healthfully dine and how to dumpster dive and survive until school kicks back up in August. Can you imagine the benefit we would provide people?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tea Party Candidate Barber: "Gather Your Armies"

Tea-party affiliated Rick Barber, who came in second in a Republican primary for Alabama's second Congressional district yet managed to force a runoff against establishment candidate Martha Roby, has released an ad revealing his extremism. After stating that he'd impeach the president, Barber tells the spirits of Benjamin Franklin, Sam Adams and George Washington that we're living in tyranny because the IRS enforces progressive taxation and because of health care reform. At Barber finishes his rant, "Washington" states, "Gather your armies," implying that it's time for armed rebellion against the U.S. government. Watch this blatantly treasonous appeal:

David Weigel of the Washington Post notes the historical inaccuracy of using "Washington" as part of Barber's anti-tax appeal:

He appeals to Washington as the owner of a distillery who "knows how tough it is to run a small business without a tyrannical government on your back." But President Washington presided over, and approved, the first tax levied by the federal government -- the 1791 whiskey tax. When the tax met resistance, he approved the assembling of militias to enforce the law and mobilization of agents to collect the revenue. So the Barber daydream of Washington angrily ordering a "gathering of armies" to oppose a tax is... well, entertaining, I guess.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Otis Redding Tries A Little Tenderness

Otis Redding displayed his renowned passion and intensity during a performance of "Try A Little Tenderness" on a European tour in 1967. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, Redding was an iconic force in soul music. Donald "Duck" Dunn, bassist, stated, “Otis would come in, and he’d just bring everybody up. You wanted to play with Otis. He brought out the best in you.” Following Redding's tragic death at age 26 in a plane crash on December 10, 1967, his greatest hit, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," was released in 1968.

Why Do Some People Call GOP Senatorial Candidate Sharron Angle Wacky?

Supporters of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) were gleeful about the upset victory of Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle (left) in the Nevada Republican primary. Now, the incumbent's record will not be the only issue; the challenger's views will also provoke scrutiny. Consider the following:

• Angle "wants to abolish the Education Department and repeal the 16th Amendment that established the federal income tax. She has said Social Security and Medicare are 'broken and bankrupt' and should be privatized." A position statement of Angle's referred to "the Social Security system" being "transitioned out."
• Angle feels that alcohol should be illegal, stating,“I would tell you that I have the same feelings about legalizing marijuana... I feel the same about legalizing alcohol. The effect on society is so great that I’m just not a real proponent of legalizing any drug or encouraging any drug abuse."
• Angle is against fluoridation of the water supply, believing that fluoride could contain dangerous substances despite denials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Angle proposed a bill that would require doctors to tell women about the link between breast cancer and abortion, despite the denials of such a link by the American Cancer Society.
• Angle suggested that Yucca Mountain be open to nuclear waste followed by "invit[ing] scientists to do research and development in a secure test site environment, as well as mentoring students who would come to UNR and UNLV to study under these great minds."
• Angle supported a prison drug rehabilitation program involving prisoners taking saunas and massages, based on a Church of Scientology idea.
• Angle believes that it is unacceptable for two parents to work: "...in a traditional home one parent stays home with the children and the other provides the financial support... That is the acceptable and right thing to do. If we begin to expand that, not only do we dilute the resources that are available, we begin to dilute things like health care, retirement, all the things offered to families that help them be a family."

According to The Plum Line, Reid's strategy will be to use Angle's words to paint her as "a complete whack job." That may annoy Angle, who stated in an interview, "I'm tired of some people calling me wacky."

Friday, June 11, 2010

BP Execs Spill Coffee, Disaster Follows

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre shows us what happens when BP executives spill coffee at a meeting. They're completely unprepared and it's a disaster. Watch:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Skelton Defends "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" To Prevent Discussing Gays

Why should thousands of gays have to live a lie through "don't ask, don't tell" in order to serve in the military? Apparently one reason is because Rep. Ike Skelton (left) doesn't want to talk about gays, and he doesn't want anyone else to, either:

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday said he thinks the military should keep its ban on openly gay service members in part because he doesn't want to open a national discussion about homosexuality.

Rep. Ike Skelton, a conservative Missouri Democrat, said he thinks the debate in Congress over the proposed repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law might force families to explain homosexuality to their children.

"What do mommies and daddies say to their 7-year-old child?" Skelton asked reporters during a media breakfast.

Skelton is among 26 House Democrats who joined 168 Republicans in opposing the overturning of the policy. Adding to the absurdity of Skelton's views is the unfortunate fact of his chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee. In addition, he isn't responding to concerns of his constituency, but to his own discomfort with the very existence of gays:

Skelton told reporters that no one in his district has raised the issue with him, but he says he still doesn't think the discussion is family-friendly enough.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BP Station Signs Tell Customers They're "Responsible For Spills"

Reports have surfaced that many whose livelihoods were ruined by the Gulf Coast oil spill are having difficulties getting their claims paid by BP. Regardless, BP has the chutzpah to place the following signs in its gas stations (top, Ohio station, The Maddow Blog; bottom, Virginia station, NYT Dot Earth):

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spilled Oil To Remain For Decades

Contrary to BP's claims, the spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico will befoul the ecosystem for a long time:

BP, in a series of newspaper advertisements about the Deepwater Horizon disaster, says it is “working around the clock to contain and collect most of the leak” and it will “take full responsibility for cleaning up the spill.”

But if past catastrophes are guides, the cleanup by BP workers will capture only a fraction of the crude belched up by the broken well. Much of the oil will be taken care of by nature; the rest is likely to stay with us for decades.

In Alaskan coastal zones fouled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989, scientists discovered oil, scarcely changed, 16 years later. In some areas, its composition had not altered much from the toxic clumps and goo that had formed just weeks after the spill.

Contrary to early expectations, oil still oozes from Alaska’s beaches, toxins intact, and is expected to remain — perhaps even for centuries.

One of the ways the spill remains is through assimilation into the food chain:

Oil and toxins concentrate in filtering animals like mussels, oysters and clams and are then ingested by their predators. The long-term effects of this are not fully understood, but oil ingestion is known to damage animals’ immune systems and organs and cause behavioral changes that affect the ability to find food or avoid predators.

In view of this long term devastation, how can anyone still justify offshore drilling?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Poses Ongoing Threat To Wildlife

The photo above, taken by AP photographer Charlie Riedel, has become the iconic image of the Gulf Oil spill. This bird on the Louisiana coast is so mired in oil that we don't even know what species it is:

Robert Longhitano, a photographer in Philadelphia, [stated], "...the...photo...shook me to the core. I literally had to fight back the tears. It's truly an iconic image. In my mind, it's as if this spill took something beautiful and turned it into a monster."

The Gulf Oil spill poses both an immediate and ongoing threat to wildlife:

The number of birds found alive and coated in oil throughout in five Gulf Coast states has nearly doubled to 177, with 156 of them picked up in Louisiana. But 547 birds have been found dead, 73 of them oil-soaked. It is not known whether the others died as a result of the oil, but experts said that's possible.

Wildlife experts fear that the population of Louisiana's brown pelicans, which only recently bounced back from near extinction, could once again be destabilized. "It made me sick seeing those two oiled birds,” Dantzker said. “I was incredibly sad.” The group called a bird hot-line to report the two dying pelicans. In less than an hour, a boat arrived.

...It’s not only the birds that are falling prey to the oil. Oil has been seen on the fins and tails of bottlenose dolphins as they slowly swim through the polluted waters off the bay side of Grand Terre Island. They swam behind a boom stretched 100 yards from shore, but it provides little protection. A female and her calf surfaced together while several others could be swimming in the area.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How's That Drill-Baby-Drill Thing Working Out For Ya?

This video shows Sarah Palin, along with Michael Steele and John McCain, reciting "Drill, Baby, Drill" to ecstatic Republican crowds while, in the larger screen, we witness the disastrous results of this message in the Gulf of Mexico.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Leonard Cohen Dances To The End Of Love

Leonard Cohen, singer-songwriter, poet and novelist, started off in the folk mode in the Sixties and Seventies but gradually moved toward the European-style art song, calling his work the "European blues." In May 1993 on the Jools Holland Show, Cohen and ensemble performed "Dance Me to the End of Love," a song that features the composers' renowned passion and lyricism.

O'Reilly Equates Gays With Al Qaeda

Bill O'Reilly reviewed a new McDonald's commercial airing in France that shows a young man talking to his boyfriend. The tag line, "Come as you are," signals that the food chain welcomes gay customers. Nathalie Legarlantezec, the brand director of McDonald's France, stated, "We wanted to take a look at how French society is today. We're very comfortable with the topic of homosexuality; there is obviously no problem with homosexuality in France today".

In a discussion with Fox News anchor Jane Skinner, O'Reilly argues that the ad will never run in the U.S. If he is correct, that is unfortunate. O'Reilly then makes a startling statement. Watch:

O’Reilly: Alright, so look, they want to make a political statement selling burgers. They’re entitled to it. It will never run in the USA. They’ll never do that.

Skinner: Part of an overreaching campaign called come as you are, which you saw at the end there. So they show people in different walks of life. This happens to be their gay friendly ad.

O’Reilly: OK. Do they have an al Qaeda ad, you know, come as you are? You know?

Skinner: And how do you know it’s not coming to the States?

O’Reilly: I don’t know.

Skinner: Never say never.

O’Reilly: No. That would not — I guarantee you that will not run here.

From gay-friendly to al Qaeda-friendly. That's a natural progression, right? Think of the terror caused by the very prospect of gay marriage.

O'Reilly's comment was condemned by LGBT groups. OReilly, who likens himself to a culture warrior, has a track record of anti-gay comments.

Israeli Writers Oz And Grossman On The Misuse Of Force

For renowned Israeli writers Amos Oz and David Grossman, the commando raid on the flotilla was symptomatic of the misuse of force as a supposed answer to the country's conflicts. Oz (left), one of the founders of Peace Now, commented in "Israeli Force, Adrift on the Sea":

Even if Israel seizes 100 more ships on their way to Gaza, even if Israel sends in troops to occupy the Gaza Strip 100 more times, no matter how often Israel deploys its military, police and covert power, force cannot solve the problem that we are not alone in this land, and the Palestinians are not alone in this land. We are not alone in Jerusalem and the Palestinians are not alone in Jerusalem. Until Israelis and Palestinians recognize the logical consequences of this simple fact, we will all live in a permanent state of siege — Gaza under an Israeli siege, Israel under an international and Arab siege.

I do not discount the importance of force. Woe to the country that discounts the efficacy of force. Without it Israel would not be able to survive a single day. But we cannot allow ourselves to forget for even a moment that force is effective only as a preventative — to prevent the destruction and conquest of Israel, to protect our lives and freedom. Every attempt to use force not as a preventive measure, not in self-defense, but instead as a means of smashing problems and squashing ideas, will lead to more disasters, just like the one we brought on ourselves in international waters, opposite Gaza’s shores.

Grossman (left), who lost his son Uri in the second Lebanon war, famously refused to shake then prime minister Ehud Olmert's hand upon receiving a prize for his literature. For Grossman, the recent mayhem was part of a tragic cycle described in "A Puppet on a String":

No explanation can justify or whitewash the crime that was committed here, and no excuse can explain away the stupid actions of the government and the army. Israel did not send it soldiers to kill civilians in cold blood; indeed, this is the last thing it wanted. And yet, a small Turkish organization, fanatical in its religious views and radically hostile to Israel, recruited to its cause several hundred seekers of peace and justice, and managed to lure Israel into a trap, precisely because it knew how Israel would react, knew how Israel is destined and compelled, like a puppet on a string, to react the way it did.

...I would like to believe that the shock of yesterday’s frantic actions will lead to a re-evaluation of the whole idea of the closure, at last freeing the Palestinians from their suffering, and cleansing Israel of its moral stain. But our experience in this tragic region teaches that the opposite will occur: the mechanisms of violent response, the cycles of vengeance and hatred, yesterday began a new round, whose magnitude cannot yet be foreseen.

I highly recommend the work of these two writers, both of whom deserve the Nobel Prize for their literature and peace activism. For Oz, start with his astonishingly detailed autobiography, "A Tale of Love and Darkness," set in the war-torn Jerusalem of the forties and fifties. For Grossman, pick up his "Death as a Way of Life: From Oslo To The Geneva Agreement," a searing collection of reflections on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Start reading one of these books this weekend.

Friday, June 4, 2010

George W. Bush Admits Waterboarding, Would Do It Again

George W. Bush offhandedly admitted that his administration waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Muhammed:

"Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," the former president told a business audience in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "I'd do it again to save lives."

Waterboarding is a simulated drowning technique that the Obama administration has said is torture. Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and is the most senior al-Qaida operative in US custody.

Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003. This self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 claimed that he lied to the C.I.A. Retired Brigadier General David R. Irvine, former strategic intelligence officer, stated that waterboarding is "unequivocably torture" and refuted Bush's contention that he "saved lives" with it. In fact, Irvine stated, waterboarding endangered American lives, including our troops:

"As a nation, we have historically prosecuted it as such, going back to the time of the Spanish-American War," Irvine said. "Moreover, it cannot be demonstrated that any use of waterboarding by U.S. personnel in recent years has saved a single American life."

..."When he decided to do it the first time, he launched the nation down a disastrous road, and we will continue to pay dearly for the damage his decision has caused.

"We are seen by the rest of the world as having abandoned our commitment to international law. We have forfeited enormous amounts of moral leadership as the world's sole remaining superpower. And it puts American troops in greater danger -- and unnecessary danger."

James P. Cullen, retired brigadier general, agrees:

"This is not the last war we're going to fight," Cullen said. "Americans not yet born are going to be prisoners of war in those conflicts. And our enemies are going to be able to point back to President Bush and Vice President Cheney saying that waterboarding is OK.

"It's just shocking to me how [Bush] can be so flip about something that is so serious," Cullen said.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Haaretz Commentators Question Flotilla Raid

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is filled with grim commentary about the deadly confrontation on the flotilla headed toward Gaza. While acknowledging that there were those on the Mavi Marmara who were far from non-violent activists, the writers question the wisdom of commandos raiding a ship filled with civilians over a matter that does not pose an existential threat. Continuing the theme noted here yesterday, Ari Shavit found bitter parallels with the story of the Exodus ship:

Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Moshe Ya'alon are supposed to know history. They are supposed to know there was no greater mistake than that of the British with regard to the illegal immigrant ship Exodus in the summer of 1947. The brutality employed by the British Mandate against a ferry loaded with Jewish refugees turned the regime into an object of revile. It lost what is now called international legitimacy. British rule over the country ended just 10 months after the Exodus fiasco.

The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara was no Exodus. It carried not Holocaust survivors but provocateurs, many of them extremists. But a series of baseless decisions on the part of the prime minister and the ministers of defense and of strategic affairs turned the Marmara into a Palestinian Exodus. With a single foolish move, the Israeli cabinet cast the Muslim Brotherhood in the role of the victim and the Israel Navy as the villain and simultaneously opened European, Turkish, Arab, Palestinian and internal Israeli fronts. In so doing, Israel is serving Hamas' interests better than Hamas itself has ever done.

In its editorial, Haaretz stated that disaster was inevitable:

When a regular, well-armed, well-trained army goes to war against a "freedom flotilla" of civilian vessels laden with civilians, food and medication, the outcome is foretold - and it doesn't matter whether the confrontation achieved its goal and prevented the flotilla from reaching Gaza. The violent confrontation, whether caused by poor military planning or poor execution, resulted from flawed policy, wars of prestige, and from a profound misunderstanding of the confrontation's meanings and repercussions.

Yossi Sarid questioned the purpose of the confrontation:

Had we simply let the flotilla reach Gaza - an option that was proposed - a cry of victory would indeed have erupted from the other side, but it would have died out in a day or two. But the Israel of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak, of ministers Moshe Ya'alon and Benny Begin, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Eli Yishai and even Dan Meridor, is vying with Hamas and Hezbollah over who can produce the most resounding demonstrations of strength - which amount to nothing but humiliating evidence of weakness.

Gideon Levy not only questioned the confrontation, but the very blockade of Gaza:

...What was it for? Why were our soldiers thrown into this trap of pipes and ball bearings? What did we get out of it?

...Yesterday's fiasco could and should have been prevented. This flotilla should have been allowed to pass and the blockade should be brought to an end.

This should have happened a long time ago. In four years Hamas has not weakened and [captured Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit was not released. There was not even a sign of a gain.

Photo: Israelis in Tel Aviv demonstrate against the raid on the flotilla (h/t Guardian)