Saturday, July 31, 2010

GOP Filibusters Landrieu Bill That Would Have Aided Small Business

Following their defeat of a bill that would have provided health care for 9/11 first responders, the Republicans have filibustered a bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Mary I. Landrieu of Louisiana (left), that would have aided small business–despite their traditional pose as the party of small business. The Republicans are again trying to deny the Democrats any victories before the November elections and are objecting to the bill on procedural grounds:

Senate Republicans on Thursday rejected a bill to aid small businesses with expanded loan programs and tax breaks, in a procedural blockade that underscored how fiercely determined the party’s leaders are to deny Democrats any further legislative accomplishments ahead of November’s midterm elections.

...Republican leaders filibustered after fighting for days with Democrats over the number of amendments they would be able to offer. A last-ditch offer by Democrats to allow three was refused by the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

...Ms. Landrieu harshly criticized Mr. McConnell for blocking the measure, and warned that some businesses might fail.

“Our businesses have picked up enough weight; they can’t handle that weight,” she said in a floor speech. “And if we don’t give them some help now, today, many of them aren’t going to be here — I want the senator from Kentucky to know — when we show up in September.”

The bill would create a $30 billion lending program within the Treasury Department, to be administered through local banks. It would also provide more than $12 billion in tax breaks, and would expand or enhance existing lending programs.

Among the amendments the Republicans wanted to add were those that would predominantly benefit the wealthiest, including repealing the estate tax and extending the Bush tax cuts.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Rep. Weiner Explodes At Republicans For Defeating 9/11 Responders Health Bill

Kudos to Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) for his outburst at Republicans who actually voted against the 9/11 Zadroga Health and Compensation Act. The bill's purpose was to provide up to $7.4 billion to care for 9/11 first responders, many of whom have respiratory problems. The Republicans played politics with the popular bill to the detriment of those who risked their health at ground zero:

Ahead of elections, parties tend to slowly abandon actual achievement in favor of forcing the opposition to take a “poison pill” – forcing a vote that might prove to be embarrassing, and thus good campaign fodder.

In this case, Republicans decided earlier this week to introduce an amendment to the Zadroga Act that would prevent any first responders who were illegal immigrants from collecting the health benefits.

There had been no serious discussion previously about whether any 9/11 responders were illegal immigrants. But getting Democrats to vote in favor of benefits for any potential illegal immigrants would anger voters in conservative districts. Voting against it would anger Hispanics – a key Democratic constituency.

Republicans wanted to set up a lose-lose situation for Democrats.

The Democrats employed a procedure to prevent any new amendments; as a result, the bill needed a two-thirds majority. Only 12 Republicans voted for it, and the bill fell short by 35 votes. Weiner was justly apoplectic in responding to Republicans who defeated the bill as a matter of "procedure." He stated, "It's Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes." Watch:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

DNC Unveils The Republican Tea Party Contract On America

Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine joined party members of Congress (left) at a press conference to unveil "The Republican Tea Party Contract On America." Kaine introduced the contract (one can also listen to the conference):

“We’re here to offer a helpful suggestion. Republicans and their Tea Party supporters can take a break from the town halls and relax because we have distilled their agenda for the American people into a handy ten point blue print for how they would govern that we are calling the ‘Republican Tea Party Contract on America.’ This wasn’t hard to come up with so were a little bit at a loss as to why this has been difficult for Republican leaders. We literally have just listened to what their leaders and candidates have been saying – people who have been increasingly influenced by the Tea Party.”

Reading the Republican Tea Party Contract On America, one realizes that the Republicans and the Tea Party converge on major agenda items: repealing health reform, privatizing social security, extending the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy, repealing financial reform, protecting BP and more. The DNC produced an ad outlining these points of unity:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brave New Films Quotes Military On Afghanistan: "We're F*#!ing Losing This Thing"

"The Runaway General" by Michael Hastings, which appeared in Rolling Stone, is associated with General Stanley A. McChrystal's critical comments about the president and his staff. Shortly after the article appeared, Obama fired McChrystal, who was the top Afghanistan war commander. McChrystal then resigned.

The 92,000 American military documents from January 2004 to December 2009, revealed by Wikileaks, depict a war more troubled than that presented by the administration and the military. In Hasting's article, McChrystal's inner circle, who believed they were talking off the record, themselves presented a grim view of the war. In the following video, Brave New Films contends that the McChrystal affair distracted the media from the article's real story, those very comments on the war by those prosecuting it. Watch:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Leaked Documents Reveal Grim Picture Of War In Afghanistan

Not since the 1971 Pentagon Papers, which detailed how the government misled the public about Vietnam, have leaked documents caused such an uproar. Wikileaks, which leaks documents online to invite scrutiny of government and corporate actions, has released 92,000 American military reports from January 2004 to December 2009 on the war in Afghanistan. They were revealed in The GuardianDer Spiegel and The New York Times. The latter stated that they depict a deeply troubled operation at variance with the view presented by the Obama administration and the military:

A six-year archive of classified military documents made public on Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.

...The secret documents...are a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year.

The documents...illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001.

...the documents sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.

The material comes to light as Congress and the public grow increasingly skeptical of the deepening involvement in Afghanistan and its chances for success as next year’s deadline to begin withdrawing troops looms.

The administration protested that the documents reflect a time before the president's increased troop deployment:

“On Dec. 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on Al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” said Gen. James L. Jones, White House national security adviser, in a statement released Sunday.

The administration's statement that there's a new strategy in Afghanistan is belied by the lack of progress this year in this longest war in American history.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Krugman: Republicans Are "Addicted To Bush"

In his column "Addicted to Bush," Paul Krugman states that the Republicans want to bring back the policies of George W. Bush. The problem is that those policies have an actual record of failure:

...the only problem Republicans ever had with George W. Bush was his low approval rating. They always loved his policies and his governing style — and they want them back. In recent weeks, G.O.P. leaders have come out for a complete return to the Bush agenda, including tax breaks for the rich and financial deregulation. They’ve even resurrected the plan to cut future Social Security benefits.

But they have a problem: how can they embrace President Bush’s policies, given his record? After all, Mr. Bush’s two signature initiatives were tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq; both, in the eyes of the public, were abject failures. Tax cuts never yielded the promised prosperity, but along with other policies — especially the unfunded war in Iraq — they converted a budget surplus into a persistent deficit. Meanwhile, the W.M.D. we invaded Iraq to eliminate turned out not to exist, and by 2008 a majority of the public believed not just that the invasion was a mistake but that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into war. What’s a Republican to do?

You know the answer. There’s now a concerted effort under way to rehabilitate Mr. Bush’s image on at least three fronts: the economy, the deficit and the war.

Krugman warns months before the November elections that Republican gains will only strengthen their advocacy of failed Bush policies:

...Republicans aren’t trying to rescue George W. Bush’s reputation for sentimental reasons; they’re trying to clear the way for a return to Bush policies. And this carries a message for anyone hoping that the next time Republicans are in power, they’ll behave differently. If you believe that they’ve learned something — say, about fiscal prudence or the importance of effective regulation — you’re kidding yourself. You might as well face it: they’re addicted to Bush.

Fox News Had A "Mediagasm" Over False Sherrod Story

The Huffington Post produced a video showing how Fox News had a "mediagasm" over the story of Shirley Sherrod, a black woman who worked for the USDA and was falsely depicted as racist by a conservative blogger's edited video. In a March 27 speech to the NAACP, Sherrod focused on overcoming personal prejudice; the video presented her as still harboring prejudice. One Fox commentator after another vehemently condemned Sherrod, not bothering to examine the entire speech. Only after the truth came out did Glenn Beck admit that "context matters." Watch:

Fox's Shepard Smith condemned his own station and stated why his program did not cover the story:

We here at Studio B did not run the video and did not reference the story in any way for many reasons, among them: we didn't know who shot it, we didn't know when it was shot, we didn't know the context of the statement, and because of the history of the videos on the site where it was posted, in short we do not and did not trust the source.

Not running with a story before one fully investigates every aspect of it. Imagine that. Shepard Smith is the exception, not the rule, at Fox.

Israeli Author David Grossman Condemns Settlement Of East Jerusalem

The eviction of Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has prompted weekly demonstrations on the part of Israeli peace activists and Palestinians:

The circumstances of the Palestinians’ removal and the old ghosts it stirred have managed to arouse even Israel’s long-dormant peace camp. About 2,500 Israelis and Palestinians attended a demonstration here on Saturday night. Young Israeli and foreign activists have rallied around the cause. Increasingly, veteran members of Israel’s leftist establishment are also appearing at the weekly vigils held in Sheikh Jarrah every Friday afternoon.

“We are here to shout,” said David Grossman, a prominent Israeli author and peace advocate, while attending a vigil near the disputed houses on a recent Friday in the pouring rain. The settlers, he said, are doing everything they can to preclude any future deal for a Palestinian state.

Grossman, who lost his son Uri in the second Lebanon war, famously refused to shake then prime minister Ehud Olmert's hand upon receiving a literary award. Among his works are "The Yellow Wind" and "Death as a Way of Life," searing essays on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Grossman spoke about the situation in Sheikh Jarrah and the corrosive effects of occupation, which he termed "...a kind of carnivorous plant that is slowly devouring us":

The following video shows one demonstration at the beginning of the year that started in West Jerusalem and ended in Sheikh Jarrah:

Critics of the settlement of East Jerusalem state that it places Israel in a tenuous position:

...reclaiming properties owned by Jews before 1948 in these areas, critics argue, invites counterclaims from Palestinian refugees who lost property in what is now Israel and undermines Israel’s rejection of their demand for a right of return.

...[Professor of Jewish law and philosophy Moshe] Halbertal said he supported Israel’s policy against the right of return for Palestinian refugees — a position meant to ensure a Jewish majority in the Israeli state. But when it comes to Sheikh Jarrah, he added, Israel cannot have it both ways.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Tuli Kupferberg's "Morning, Morning"

Last week, my tribute to Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs included "Kill for Peace," one of their satirical anti-war songs. Part two of my remembrance of Tuli centers around his song "Morning, Morning" (1966), more haunting and poignant than the characteristically outrageous Fugs fare. Like his composition"Nothing, Nothing," this song, which was covered by Richie Havens, has its roots in Jewish melodies. The creator of the video, Japeter2000 on YouTube, movingly captures the ambiance of the 1960s counterculture on New York's Lower East Side with which The Fugs were associated. Watch:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Maddow Places Fox’s Major Stories In Context Of Racial Fear Mongering

Rachel Maddow placed Fox News within the context of racial fear mongering, starting with an overview of decades past. From segregationist Democrats George Wallace and Lester Maddox in the 1960s to the Republican Southern Strategy in the 1970s, the strategy was to convince whites that blacks are a threat. This is the current message of Limbaugh and Beck on Fox. Watch part 1:

In part two, Maddow connects four major trumped-up Fox stories: Van Jones, ACORN, the New Black Panther Party and Shirley Sherrod. She explains the common theme and succinctly defines Fox: “Targeting white voters to feel afraid of black people…as if they’re a threat to what white people have. …This is a political strategy advanced not by a news organization but by political activists who use a cable channel as a political outlet.” Watch part 2:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shirley Sherrod: Fox News Is Unprofessional, Racist

In apologizing to Shirley Sherrod, who worked for the USDA and was falsely depicted as racist by a conservative blogger's edited video, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stated, "Members of this administration, members of the media, members of different political factions on both sides of this have all made determinations and judgments without a full set of facts."

Exactly which media outlet in particular played up the story and didn't check its veracity? Read Sherrod's account in an interview with Media Matters. There's no surprise here:

[Sherrod]...said Fox News never checked the facts with her before posting a story and the video clip. "Not before they reported it," she said of Fox's negligence. "They have called me today and initially I had said yes (to an interview), but I thought about it and I did not think they intended to be fair in their reporting. They are going to say what they want to say regardless of what I say."

She said Fox showed no professionalism in continuing to bother her for an interview, but failing to correct their coverage. "I think they should but they won't. They intended exactly what they did. They were looking for the result they got yesterday," she said of Fox. "I am just a pawn. I was just here. They are after a bigger thing, they would love to take us back to where we were many years ago. Back to where black people were looking down, not looking white folks in the face, not being able to compete for a job out there and not be a whole person."

Still, Fox continued to push for an interview with her, Sherrod said. "It was unbelievable. I am refusing to be on there. They have been calling me and calling me. I have refused to do an interview because they are biased," she explained. "I don't think Fox News does it fairly. It is worse so now. I have sat and listened to the way they cover the news even before this administration and I saw what was going on."

Sherrod said this situation has worsened her view of racism in media coverage. "I think it is race. You think we have come a long way in terms of race relations in this country, but we keep going backwards," she said. "We have become more racist. This was their doing, Breitbart put that together misrepresenting what I was saying and Fox carried it."

Shirley Sherrod Receives Apology From White House, Agriculture Department

Shirley Sherrod, who was falsely depicted as racist in a conservative blogger's edited video and fired from her job in the Agriculture Department, received an apology from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The latter offered her another position. The administration, the media and the NAACP at first castigated Sherrod without heeding the full story:

[Vilsack] was far from alone in vowing to learn from the episode that began when Andrew Breitbart, a conservative activist and blogger, posted to his site the video from a March 27 speech Sherrod gave at an NAACP event. By the time it played out two days later, it had vividly revealed how Washington's political culture is driven by impulse and self-interest -- often instead of judgment.

"Members of this administration, members of the media, members of different political factions on both sides of this have all made determinations and judgments without a full set of facts," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing, which CNN broadcast on a split screen with a live shot of Sherrod watching from its studio.

In the snippet of video on Breitbart's Web site, Sherrod, who is black, admitted to having been reluctant to help a white farmer who sought her aid 24 years before, when she was working for a nonprofit agency established to help black farmers.

What the clip did not show was the larger point Sherrod had made, one that was the opposite of the perception it created. From that episode, she told the NAACP audience, she had recognized her own prejudice, moved beyond it to an understanding that "there is no difference between us," and ultimately had helped the white farmer save his land.

In the reaction that followed the posting of the video, Sherrod not only was fired from her USDA post but was denounced by the Obama administration, the media and even the civil rights organization whose local chapter had invited her to speak.

Sherrod mounted her own defense in a series of appearances on CNN, and the farmer, Roger Spooner, and his family backed her up. But not until the NAACP released a video of the full speech Tuesday night did it become clear how misleading the excerpt was.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Siding, Roofing And "Secular Socialism"

What's the connection between siding, roofing and "secular socialism"? Watch and see if you get it:

There's no connection, just like there's no sense to the conservative theme that America is sliding into "secular socialism." It's as logical as the diagrams on Glenn Beck's blackboard. Then again, it's Beck's audience to whom this self-proclaimed member of the religious right appeals.

Meanwhile, Terrell's claim of religious piety is contradicted by a report that the company took advantage of a blind woman, refused to pay after losing lawsuits, and spoke in rude, racist terms to a potential customer.

Rep. Grayson Chastises GOP For Stance On Unemployment Insurance Extension

Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) made a characteristically fiery statement on the unemployment insurance extension. Fortunately, the bill passed in the Senate, with the House expected to pass it as well. That's despite the Republicans' concern about the deficit–a concern that was dormant during the Bush years and does not extend to their desire to continue the Bush tax cuts, which mostly benefited the wealthy.

Grayson chastised the Republicans for blocking the bill for months and "trying to revive the America of desperate straits and cheap labor." He reminded them that the unemployed can't sell stock, artwork or yachts. Listen:

Following Grayson's comments, conservative media critic Dan Gainor tweeted an offer of "$100 to first Rep. who punches smary [sic] idiot Alan Grayson in the nose." The feisty Grayson responded, "I think he's overlooking something important: I punch back."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Remembering Tuli Kupferberg Of The Fugs

In 1964, Tuli Kupferberg (left), who passed away on Monday, and his friend Ed Sanders formed The Fugs, a Lower East Side underground band whose songs were bawdy, literary and political. The group's name was taken from a euphemism used in "The Naked and the Dead" by Norman Mailer. A poet and cartoonist, Kupferberg was also a scholar of the counterculture, as is evident in a 1997 interview. The Fugs played at many benefits and peace rallies during the sixties; Kupferberg referred to them as "the U.S.O. of the left."Among their politically satirical songs is "Kill for Peace":

What If The Tea Party Were Black?

Last April, anti-racism writer and activist Tim Wise (left) wrote a scathing article, "Imagine: Protest, Insurgency and the Workings of White Privilege." He asked readers to imagine what the response would be if black people, rather than white, were the main actors participating in Tea Party-style rallies, threatening to engage in armed conflict and making vitriolic, personal attacks on the president.

Pittsburgh rapper Jasiri X, inspired by Wise's article, imagined the scenario depicted in the essay, set down lyrics and released the following video:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Argentina Approves Marriage Equality

Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, in defiance of those who seem to be mixing up democracy with theocracy:

After nearly 15 hours of debate, the Senate voted 33 to 27 in favor of the measure, which was sponsored by the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. For weeks, she waged a bitter war of words with the Roman Catholic Church over the issue, saying that it would be a “terrible distortion of democracy” to deny gay couples the right to wed and that it was time for religious leaders to recognize how much more liberal and less discriminatory the nation’s social mores had become.

In its race to derail the change, the church organized large protests involving tens of thousands of opponents of the measure, with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, calling the bill a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”

Argentina has become part of a positive trend in Latin America:

Argentina’s new law will give gay people the same marital rights as heterosexuals, including adoption and inheritance rights, and reflects the broadening legal recognition of same-sex relationships across Latin America.

Last year, Mexico City became the first jurisdiction in the region to legalize gay marriages. The conservative federal government has challenged that move in the Supreme Court, but weddings have continued and the city has married more than 270 couples.

Three other countries in the region — Uruguay, Colombia and Ecuador — have recognized civil unions for same-sex couples in recent years, as have various cities and states.

Now it's time for the United States to respect the Constitution's equal protection clause by making gay marriage the law of the land. Recently, a U.S. judge in Boston ruled that a federal gay marriage ban is unconstitutional according to that clause.

Nicholas D. Kristof On Israeli And Palestinian Human Rights Activists

Following his articles on inequities between Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages and on Israel's counterproductive blockade of Gaza, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote about inspiring Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists. "In Israel, the Noble vs. The Ugly" focuses on one Israeli rabbi:

I watched the ugly side of Israel collide with its more noble version, as Rabbi Ascherman and I visited a rural area in the northern West Bank where Jewish settlers have taken over land that Palestinian farmers say is theirs.

“If we try to enter our land, settlers will be waiting, and we will be beaten,” said Muhammad Moqbel, a 71-year-old Palestinian from the village of Qaryout who pointed to fields that he said had been stolen by settlers. Last year, he said, he was hospitalized with a broken rib after settlers attacked while he was picking his own olives.

Rabbis for Human Rights has helped Palestinians recover some land through lawsuits in Israeli courts. And Rabbi Ascherman and other Jewish activists escort such farmers to protect them. The settlers still attack, but soldiers are more likely to intervene when it is rabbis being clubbed.

"Waiting for Gandhi" cites a Palestinian activist who promotes non-violent civil disobedience:

So far there is no Palestinian version of Martin Luther King Jr. But one candidate might be Ayed Morrar. A balding, mild-mannered activist, he was the mastermind behind the most successful initiative so far: nonviolent demonstrations a half-dozen years ago in the West Bank village of Budrus against Israel’s construction of a security fence there. More than many other Palestinians, he has a shrewd sense of public relations.

“With nonviolent struggle, we can win the media battle,” Mr. Morrar told me, speaking in English. “They always used to say that Palestinians are killers. With nonviolence, we can show that we are victims, that we are not against Jews but are against occupation.”

Mr. Morrar spent six years in Israeli prisons but seems devoid of bitterness. He says that Israel has a right to protect itself by building a fence — but on its own land, not on the West Bank.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

No Evidence Of Tea Party Racism? Here's The Evidence

The NAACP passed a resolution condemning "racist elements" within the Tea Party movement. NAACP president Benjamin Jealous called upon the Tea Party to "expel the bigots and racists in your ranks." In response, Mark Williams, national spokesman for the Tea Party Express, called the NAACP "professional race baiters" who belong on "the trash heap of history...with all the other vile racist groups..." Tea Party activists Alex Poulter of the Kansas City area and Phillip Dennis of the Dallas area see no evidence of racism in their movement.

Think Progress has put together a video demonstrating that there is indeed racism in the Tea Party movement:

TEA PARTY ACTIVIST 1: He’s too black to be President.

TEA PARTY ACTIVIST 2: I’m a proud racist, I’m white.

TEA PARTY ACTIVIST 3: Afro-Leninism! Coming to you on a silver platter, Barack Hussein Obama!

TEA PARTY ACTIVIST 4: Go home wetbacks!


Krugman Compares Economy Under Clinton And Bush, Finds That Facts Have A Liberal Bias

Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona and Senate Minority Whip, insists that extended unemployment benefits, which his party has been filibustering, be paid for through tax increases or spending cuts. What about renewing the Bush tax cuts, a Republican goal that mostly benefits the wealthy? Those need not be paid for, according to the GOP. Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offers a novel explanation:

...there's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue, because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject."

The Bush tax cuts increased revenue? Paul Krugman compares the Clinton and Bush years and finds that McConnell is not entitled to his own facts:

We’ve now been through two two-term administrations, one of which raised taxes, the other of which cut them. Which looks like it presided over a more vibrant economy?

And who in their right mind would describe the Bush economy as “vibrant”, anyway? Even during the peak of the housing bubble, it never achieved the kind of job growth that was routine in the Clinton years.

Oh, and as for revenue: we have a growing economy, which means that revenue tends, other things equal, to rise over time. But here’s what real federal revenue looked like since 1992:

Rapid, steady growth in the Clinton years; much less thereafter, even if you stop the clock just before the housing bubble burst.

In short, the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves has no empirical support. And yet the GOP leadership — which claims to be oh so worried about the deficit — is willing to stake America’s solvency on its belief that tax cuts are free.

Update: Also, for those readers who complain that I’m too partisan, that I should admit that there are two sides to the issues, this is a prime example of my problem. How am I supposed to pretend that these are serious people? The facts really do have a well-known liberal bias.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Price Of Algerian Independence: "A Savage War Of Peace"

A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 by Alistair Horne. 608 pp. New York Review Books. $19.95 (paperback)

The Algerian war of independence against France must be considered among the most brutal conflicts of the 20th century. The French citizens who lived in Algeria, known as pied noirs, numbered one million to eight million Muslim subjects. Like all imperial ventures, there was a great disparity between the political power, economic opportunities, educational attainment and land resources of the colonialists as compared to the indigenous subjects. Half-hearted attempts at reform were discouraged by the pied noir lobby. Eventually an all-out war was waged by the Algerian independence forces, the FLN.

A Savage War of Peace documents just how savage the war was between the FLN and the French military. It involved terrorist bombing campaigns between the FLN and the French ultras, known as the OAS; indiscriminate massacres and reprisals; internecine warfare; the killing of collaborators, and bombings in Paris itself, including by the OAS. The French use of torture not only demoralized the torturer but resulted in false information–issues with which we’re all too familiar since the Bush administration.

The most fascinating portrait in the book is that of President Charles de Gaulle, brought back to power to resolve the Algerian conflict. At first, the pied noirs thought that de Gaulle was on their side; quickly, however, many noticed the ambiguity of his pronouncements. One forms the conclusion that he wanted to liberate France from the economic and military costs of the Algerian millstone. In response, four French generals tried to mount a coup in Algeria, ultimately unsuccessful, on behalf of Algerie Francaise. De Gaulle did initially try to advocate an “association” between the two countries, but the FLN was adamant in its aims and distrustful of France from the start. As the chaos continued, de Gaulle and his negotiators conceded point after point. The OAS terror campaigns backfired, making it impossible for any pied noirs to remain in Algeria, and they were sent back to France, where many suffered from the dislocation. Following the withdrawal, France itself enjoyed an economic boom. Algeria realized its independence and an impressive amount of development, along with periods of political and economic chaos and bloodshed. Unlike India after independence from Great Britain, Algeria certainly did not become a democracy.

Similar to the war in Vietnam, the Algerian war demonstrated that a Western power can prevail militarily yet ultimately be defeated by persistent, determined guerrilla warfare. Horne makes the lessons clear in this illuminating, often harrowing work:

There was the failure of a materially mighty Western power to combat a civil insurrection… ...the instrument of torture, as well as being fundamentally wicked in itself, was proved to be a boomerang weapon. There was the failure of the West to comprehend Third World aspirations; and the failure of the moderates to prevail against the extremist minority on either side…

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Save Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, Iranian Mother, From Death By Stoning Or Other Means

Following an international outcry, Iran's judiciary has temporarily halted the death by stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani after she was found guilty of adultery. Ashtiani still faces the threat of execution by stoning or other means at any moment. I urge you to read the summary of her case from the site and click the link below to sign the petition for Ashtiani's freedom:

An Iranian woman faces death after having been tortured for alleged adultery.

In 2006 Ashtiani was convicted of having an ‘illicit relationship’ and received 99 lashes. Since this time the 43 year old has been in jail where she recanted the confession she made under the duress of the lashing.

Just recently she was dragged before a court and retried. Again she was convicted and this time, despite the punishment she has already endured, sentenced to be stoned to death. This barbaric practice involves wrapping a woman tightly from head to toe in white cloth, burying her up to her shoulders in sand, and pelting her to death with large stones.

Yesterday late in the afternoon Iran’s government denied reports that Ashtiani will be executed by stoning, though her death sentence may still be carried out by some other method, likely hanging.

Knowledgeable Iranian human rights activists, including Amnesty International, question the veracity of this statement and remain deeply concerned about Ashtiani’s fate.

WE must not let Ashtiani become another victim of the debasing, inhuman treatment of women that has become the daily reality in Iran. Make your voice count and encourage others to do the same.

Take action against the practice of stoning; take action against abuse of women, sign this petition.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Gift That Keeps On Giving: Michael Steele's Greatest Hits

The Huffington Post put together a video of Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele's greatest hits over the past year, from his fracas with Rush Limbaugh to his critique of the war in Afghanistan, both of which were followed by denials on his part. Steele's gaffes have repeatedly resulted in conservatives calling for his resignation, yet he remains in his position, and fortunately so. In dividing the Republican base and distracting them from their antagonism for President Obama, Steele is indeed, as he puts it, "the gift that keeps on giving"–for the Democrats. Watch:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Tom Waits Live At The Last Ditch Attempt Saloon

Critic Daniel Durchholz described Tom Waits' voice as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car." This description covers Waits' persona and musical subjects: the down-and-out characters and seedy settings, leavened with quirky humor and Beat poetry. In the song "Warm Beer and Cold Women," performed in Denmark in 1976, Waits sets the scene with lovelorn lyrics that take place in "the last ditch attempt saloon." Waits' musical styles encompass ballads, blues, jazz and the avant-garde, and compositions such as "Ol' 55," "Jersey Girl" and "Downtown Train" make him one of the most widely covered contemporary songwriters.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Federal District Judge Declares Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Federal District Judge Joseph L. Tauro (left), in answer to two legal challenges in Massachusetts, ruled that the 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, based on its upending of the federal government's precedent of allowing state control over marriage laws (read the judge's decision here). DOMA defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. The judge spoke in behalf of the rulings of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

"This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status," Tauro wrote. "The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state."

Judge Tauro also ruled that DOMA violates the Constitution's equal protection clause:

"Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification the Constitution clearly will not permit," Tauro wrote.

Supporters and opponents of gay marriage issued statements:

“Today the court simply affirmed that our country won’t tolerate second-class marriages,” said Mary Bonauto, a lawyer from the [Boston-based group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders] who argued successfully in the 2003 Supreme Judicial Court case that first legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. “This ruling will make a real difference for countless families in Massachusetts.”

...Opponents of same-sex marriage condemned the ruling. Kris Mineau, president of Massachusetts Family Institute called it “another blatant example of a judge playing legislator.”

“Same-sex marriage activists have tried time and time again to win public approval of their agenda, and they have failed each time,” Mineau said in a statement. “This is why their strategy is to force same-sex ‘marriage’ through judicial fiat, as they did here in Massachusetts and other states.”

Mineau refers to the referendums, such as California's Proposition 8, that rescinded gay marriage rights. Such referendums should not be held, as they unjustifiably allow the majority to decide whether to grant civil rights and equal protection to the minority. The courts have an obligation to uphold such protections.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fareed Zakaria Questions Rationale For War In Afghanistan

Following CIA director Leon Panetta's statement that there are about 50 to 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Newsweek asked pointed questions regarding the rationale for the war there:

"If Al Qaeda is down to 100 men there at the most," Zakaria asked, "why are we fighting a major war?"

Zakaria noted that the war is costing the U.S. a fortune in both blood and treasure. "Last month alone there were more than 100 NATO troops killed in Afghanistan.," the CNN host said. "That's more than one allied death for each living Al Qaeda member in the country in just one month.

"The latest estimates are that the war in Afghanistan will cost more than $100 billion in 2010 alone. That's a billion dollars for every member of Al Qaeda thought to be living in Afghanistan in one year."

To critics who suggest that we need to continue fighting the war against the Taliban because they are allied with Al Qaeda, Zakaria countered that "this would be like fighting Italy in World War II after Hitler's regime had collapsed and Berlin was in flames just because Italy had been allied with Germany."

"Why are we investing so much time, energy, and effort when Al Qaeda is so weak?" Zakaria concluded. "Is there a more cost-effective way to keep Al Qaeda on the ropes than fight a major land and air war in Afghanistan? I hope someone in Washington is thinking about this and not simply saying we're going to stay the course because, well, we must stay the course."

Watch Zakaria's commentary:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bob Herbert On The Quagmire Of Afghanistan

What is the difference between columnist Bob Herbert questioning the war in Afghanistan and RNC chair Michael Steele doing so? Herbert doesn't contradict his previous statements and doesn't need to send out a representative to say that he didn't say what he said. In his column "Worse Than a Nightmare," Herbert writes about the dilemma posed by a counterinsurgency strategy that tries to avoid civilian casualties yet also increases the risk to troops:

What is true is that we aren’t even fighting as hard as we can right now. The counterinsurgency crowd doesn’t want to whack the enemy too hard because of an understandable fear that too many civilian casualties will undermine the “hearts and minds” and nation-building components of the strategy. Among the downsides of this battlefield caution is a disturbing unwillingness to give our own combat troops the supportive airstrikes and artillery cover that they feel is needed.

In an article this week, The Times quoted a U.S. Army sergeant in southern Afghanistan who was unhappy with the real-world effects of counterinsurgency. “I wish we had generals who remembered what it was like when they were down in a platoon,” he said. “Either they never have been in real fighting, or they forgot what it’s like.”

Beyond the strategy is a 10-year war of questionable ends, huge costs and indiscernible progress:

We’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly a decade already. It’s one of the most corrupt places on the planet and the epicenter of global opium production. Our ostensible ally, President Hamid Karzai, is convinced that the U.S. cannot prevail in the war and is in hot pursuit of his own deal with the enemy Taliban. The American public gave up on the war long ago, and it is not at all clear that President Obama’s heart is really in it.

For us to even consider several more years of fighting and dying in Afghanistan — at a cost of heaven knows how many more billions of American taxpayer dollars — is demented.

...We are sinking more and more deeply into the fetid quagmire of Afghanistan and neither the president nor General Petraeus nor anyone else has the slightest clue about how to get out. The counterinsurgency zealots in the military want more troops sent to Afghanistan, and they want the president to completely scrap his already shaky July 2011 timetable for the beginning of a withdrawal.

We’re like a compulsive gambler plunging ever more deeply into debt in order to wager on a rigged game. There is no victory to be had in Afghanistan, only grief. We’re bulldozing Detroit while at the same time trying to establish model metropolises in Kabul and Kandahar. We’re spending endless billions on this wretched war but can’t extend the unemployment benefits of Americans suffering from the wretched economy here at home.

Abbas Presents Mitchell With Proposals For Peace With Israel

Does Israel have a Palestinian partner for peace? The answer is yes, judging by written proposals Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has presented to U.S. special envoy George Mitchell. The proposals include borders and Jerusalem, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

Abbas is said to have proposed the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, but with a land swap encompassing 2.3 percent, which would leave larger settlement blocs such as Gush Etzion, Pisgat Ze'ev and Modi'in Ilit in Israel's hands, along with a swathe of land overlooking Ben-Gurion International Airport.

In return, the Palestinians would get land bordering the southern West Bank in addition to land for a passageway between the West Bank and Gaza.

The report also said Abbas presented a softened stance on East Jerusalem, which would become the future capital of the Palestinian state. Abbas reportedly proposed that Israel would retain control over the Old City's Jewish Quarter and Western Wall, while the rest of East Jerusalem would be open to worshippers of all religions.

Palestinian sources told Al-Hayat that Netanyahu has only responded to Mitchell by saying that he wants face-to-face talks with Abbas. The Palestinians have been wary of direct negotiations, fearing that Netanyahu wants to bring them to the table in order to decrease international pressure on Israel with no intention of signing a deal.

The report also quoted Palestinian sources close to Abbas, who say the Palestinian leader expects more effective U.S. participation in peace talks, with some saying Abbas wants the Obama administration to impose a settlement if negotiations fail.

Nicholas D. Kristof On The West Bank And Gaza

Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof visited the West Bank and Gaza and composed two insightful columns. In "The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence," he noted, in the company of Israeli human rights activists, the inequities between Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages:

On one side of a barbed-wire fence here in the southern Hebron hills is the Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir, where Palestinians live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren’t allowed to connect to the electrical grid, and Israel won’t permit them to build homes, barns for their animals or even toilets. When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations.

On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish settlement of Karmel, a lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb. It has lush gardens, kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes. It also has a gleaming, electrified poultry barn that it runs as a business.

Elad Orian, an Israeli human rights activist, nodded toward the poultry barn and noted: “Those chickens get more electricity and water than all the Palestinians around here.”

In "Burrowing Through a Blockade," Kristof focuses on the counterproductive nature of Israel's blockade of Gaza, which has strengthened Hamas and weakened Palestinian moderates:

...Some 4,000 businesses have closed in Gaza, according to Omar Shaban, an economist here. He warns that the business community, which preached moderation and peace and had close ties to Israel, has been nearly destroyed. Its place in society has been taken over, he said, by tunnel operators — who benefit from instability and may be tempted to lob missiles at Israel if peace threatens to break out.

...“When people lose their jobs, they hate Israel all the more,” [factory owner Mohammed] Telbani said. “They don’t blame Hamas. They blame Israel.”

Sari Bashi, the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization that monitors Gaza, says that the siege has probably strengthened Hamas. Partly that’s because Hamas taxes goods smuggled in tunnels and partly because it has become a more important source of jobs and welfare with the collapse of private businesses.

It’s crucial, Ms. Bashi said, that the relaxation of the siege empower businesses by allowing them to bring in raw materials and then export finished goods. Otherwise, she warned, the blockade will simply continue “killing the moderates.”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Gallup: Tea Partiers Are Rebranded Conservative Republicans

The Tea Party movement is commonly depicted as a new political force dissenting from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Other than the tri-cornered hats, teabags and provocative signs, is this true? According to a recent Gallup poll, the Tea Party movement is just a rebranding of conservative Republicanism. From the Gallup study, "Tea Party Supporters Overlap Republican Base":

There is significant overlap between Americans who identify as supporters of the Tea Party movement and those who identify as conservative Republicans. Their similar ideological makeup and views suggest that the Tea Party movement is more a rebranding of core Republicanism than a new or distinct entity on the American political scene.

Gallup concludes by asking whether the movement is the "Same Cup of Tea?":

The Tea Party movement has received considerable news coverage this year, in large part because it appears to represent a new and potentially powerful force on the American political scene. Whether Tea Party supporters are a voting segment that is unique and distinct from the more traditional Republican conservative base, however, appears questionable. There is significant overlap between Tea Party supporters and conservative Republicans, both groups are highly enthusiastic about voting, and both are heavily skewed toward Republican candidates -- although the latter somewhat more so than the former.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Sonny Rollins Crosses The Bridge

In 1959, Sonny Rollins took a sabbatical to improve his tenor saxophone playing, practicing for three years on the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. When he returned, Rollins recorded his album "The Bridge"; above is a 1963 performance of the title track with the classic lineup of Jim Hall, guitar; Bob Cranshaw, bass, and Ben Riley, drums. Hearing it, I see the endless flow of traffic changing lanes, honking, streaming back and forth over the East River that separates the two boroughs. Rollins' most famous album is "Saxophone Colossus," a title that fits the intensity and inventiveness of his improvisations. In his 2005 profile of Rollins in The New Yorker, Stanley Crouch wrote:

Over and over, decade after decade, from the late seventies through the eighties and nineties, there he is, Sonny Rollins, the saxophone colossus, playing somewhere in the world, some afternoon or some eight o'clock somewhere, pursuing the combination of emotion, memory, thought, and aesthetic design with a command that allows him to achieve spontaneous grandiloquence. With its brass body, its pearl-button keys, its mouthpiece, and its cane reed, the horn becomes the vessel for the epic of Rollins' talent and the undimmed power and lore of his jazz ancestors.

RNC Chair Steele: Afghanistan Is "A War of Obama's Choosing"

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is confused about the origin of the war in Afghanistan. He stated the following at a Republican fundraiser in Connecticut:

Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. [...]

It was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan. Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right, because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan.
 (h/t Think Progress) Listen:

Steele's contention that Afghanistan is "a war of Obama's choosing" is contradicted by the fact that it was started in 2001 by George W. Bush. In addition, while Steele asked valid questions about the viability of the military mission, actually voicing the concerns of many liberals, he spoke against his party's position. As a result, commentator William Kristol, blogger Erick Erickson of and other conservatives called for Steele's resignation. The Democratic National Committee also criticized Steele, stating, "It's simply unconscionable that Michael Steele would undermine the morale of our troops when what they need is our support and encouragement."

Steele also contradicted his past position. In December, he stated that he supported the war and criticized the president's prosecution of it: "If the president remains committed to this crucial fight, Republicans - and the American people - will stand with him. But sending mixed signals by outlining the exit before these troops even get on the ground undermines their ability to succeed."

Following the GOP uproar over Steele's comments, RNC spokesperson Doug Heye wrote in an email to Political Hotsheet, "... "nowhere did Steele say or suggest that (a) we shouldn't be there, (b) we can't win or (c) he didn't support the surge."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Roberts Supreme Court Continues Its Conservative Judicial Activism

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts (left) has a consistent record of conservative judicial activism, as an analysis by Adam Liptak of the New York Times makes clear:

The centerpiece of the last term was, of course, the 5-to-4 decision in Citizens United, allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections...

...The Citizens United decision contained not a trace of minimalism, and it showed great solicitude to the interests of corporations.

“They’re fearless,” Lisa S. Blatt, who served in the solicitor general’s office for 13 years before joining Arnold & Porter last year, said of the justices in the majority. “This is a business court. Now it’s the era of the corporation and the interests of business.”

...The court continued its push to broaden Second Amendment Rights, ruling on Monday that the amendment’s protections apply to state and local gun control laws as well as to federal law. [The NYT had an excellent editorial, "The Court: Ignoring the Reality of Guns."]

And the justices further limited the rights of criminal defendants. Last term, the court narrowed earlier decisions barring the use of evidence obtained through police misconduct.

Elana Kagan, President Obama's nominee, though not a conservative, will probably shift the court incrementally to the right, since she is not as liberal as the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. The most disturbing part of Liptak's analysis is the following:

That trend, lawyers and legal scholars said, may well threaten recent legislation overhauling financial regulations and the health care system when challenges to them reach the court.

No major piece of legislation under Obama, then, is necessarily settled given the current Supreme Court. This court, in fact, makes it imperative that Obama be reelected. Reversing the court's rightward drift, which would only continue under a Republican administration, is the most important domestic consideration of the next six years.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fox And Friends Defends Joe Barton And Feels BP's Pain

Is anyone surprised that the defense of Rep. Joe Barton's (R-TX) apology to BP chief executive Tony Hayward and of BP itself should come from "Fox and Friends"? First, there's Steve Doocy practically spitting out the word "attacked" in describing Vice President Biden's response to Barton's absurd description of a "shakedown." Barton employed that term in reference to the $20 billion escrow fund that President Obama insisted upon to handle claims of individuals and businesses affected by the spill. Of course, to Fox's Stuart Varney, it's all part of a plot to nationalize BP and carry forward Obama's nefarious "socialist agenda." Watch: