Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering Billy Taylor

Pianist, educator, composer and jazz advocate Billy Taylor passed away on Tuesday at 89. The New York Times recounted Taylor's achievements and the PBS New Hour paid tribute. Taylor wrote more than 300 compositions, including "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free," one of the unofficial anthems of the 1960's civil rights movement. Above, Taylor and Monty Alexander perform a moving rendition of the composition followed by an exchange of "amens."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tom Tomorrow: "2010: The Year In Crazy, Part II"

Tom Tomorrow's annual survey of right-wing lunacy continues. Part I is here. Click on the image to enlarge.

Williams Startles Fox Panel: Palin “Can’t Stand On The Intellectual Stage With Obama”

Discussing prospective Republican presidential candidates on “Fox News Sunday,” Juan Williams noted, “There is nobody out there except for Sarah Palin who could absolutely dominate the stage, and she can’t stand on the intellectual stage with Obama. “ This is a point so obvious as to be banal. On Planet Fox, however, it’s a startling comment, earning awkward laughs and “ooooohhhs” from the panel, along with Chris Wallace’s response that Williams will get “a lump of coal” for his observation. Watch:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kristof On Out-Of-Control Military Spending

Nicholas Kristof provides the facts on military spending, treated as sacrosanct by both parties:

• The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.
• The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?
• The intelligence community is so vast that more people have “top secret” clearance than live in Washington, D.C.
• The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.
• The U.S. military now has more people in its marching bands than the State Department has in its foreign service — and that’s preposterous.

Military power can backfire and is not the only way to protect the country:

After the first gulf war, the United States retained bases in Saudi Arabia on the assumption that they would enhance American security. Instead, they appear to have provoked fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden into attacking the U.S. In other words, hugely expensive bases undermined American security (and we later closed them anyway). Wouldn’t our money have been better spent helping American kids get a college education? the 21st century, our government can protect its citizens in many ways: financing research against disease, providing early childhood programs that reduce crime later, boosting support for community colleges, investing in diplomacy that prevents costly wars.

Hollingsworth Hound In “Starve The Beast”

In Ruben Bolling’s cartoon, rich Uncle Hollingsworth tells a bedtime story to his nephew Pendrick alluding to the expression that came to the fore under Reagan: “starve the beast”–the beast being government. To achieve this vision, Republican administrations have run up the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthy and unfunded wars–then claimed that we have to cut spending and shred the social safety net. Watch as Pendrick has a nightmare that tells him we haven't quite reached Reagan’s “Morning in America” (Click on the image to enlarge):

Monday, December 27, 2010

West Bank Settlement Building Complicates Future Negotiations

Following Israel’s ending its settlement construction freeze and the resultant Palestinian withdrawal from talks, West Bank settlement building is booming, complicating future negotiations:

Hagit Ofran, a settlement opponent who monitors their growth for Peace Now, said, “We can say firmly that this is the most active period in many years.” She said there were 2,000 housing units being built now and a total of 13,000 in the pipeline that did not require additional permits. In each of the past three years, about 3,000 units have been built.

…Settlement opponents…[say] that the larger the settler population, the more resources — water, roads, security — will be needed for them and the harder it will be to get Israelis to agree to a Palestinian state. Moreover, much of the new building is deep in the West Bank.

Thomas Friedman (above) refers to the possible dire consequences:

Hebrew University philosopher Moshe Halbertal [argues] that the window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing. Israel will end up permanently occupying the West Bank with its 2.5 million Palestinians. We will have a one-state solution. Israel will have inside its belly 2.5 million Palestinians without the rights of citizenship, along with 1.5 million Israeli Arabs. “Then the only question will be what will be the nature of this one state — it will either be apartheid or Lebanon,” said Halbertal. “We will be confronted by two horrors.”

In 2006, Jimmy Carter caused an uproar with his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Now Friedman, hardly anti-Israel, considers the same scenario. Friedman also criticizes PA President Abbas for not accepting a two-state deal from former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and waiting nine months during the freeze to enter talks. Still, if Israelis and Palestinians ever get their political houses in order, the settlement boom may make it impossible to negotiate a two-state solution.

NYT: Bank Of America's Barring WikiLeaks Raises Troubling Speech Issues

The Bank of America joined Visa, MasterCard and PayPal in refusing to process payments intended for WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange (left). While acknowledging that the Federal Reserve allows a bank to decline business with an "undesirable entity"–even one like WikiLeaks, neither convicted of, nor charged with, a crime–an editorial in the New York Times suggests that it's not that simple:

...a bank’s ability to block payments to a legal entity raises a troubling prospect. A handful of big banks could potentially bar any organization they disliked from the payments system, essentially cutting them off from the world economy.

The Bank of America could be a case in point, with implications for free speech and a free press:

...The decisions to bar the organization came after its founder, Julian Assange, said that next year it will release data revealing corruption in the financial industry. In 2009, Mr. Assange said that WikiLeaks had the hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

What would happen if a clutch of big banks decided that a particularly irksome blogger or other organization was “too risky”? What if they decided — one by one — to shut down financial access to a newspaper that was about to reveal irksome truths about their operations? This decision should not be left solely up to business-as-usual among the banks.

Sen. Coburn Reveals Priorities With 9/11 Health Bill And Bush Tax Cuts

Following the passage of the 9/11 Zadroga Health Bill to provide medical care for first responders, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a big critic of the original bill, was pleased that its cost was reduced from $7.4 to $4.3 billion.

Regarding the Bush tax cuts, Coburn was not as careful about expenses, stating, "I often hear from my colleagues on the other side we need to pay for the so-called Bush tax cuts. ...anyone who thinks we oughta pay for tax cuts, oughta have to put up a list of programs that we oughta eliminate to pay for them." So-called? Coburn sounds like Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and David Vitter (R-LA), who questioned whether we have to pay for tax cuts. (Amazing how these "deficit hawks" are ready to go $700 billion more in debt to pay for tax cuts for the rich over 10 years.) Media Matters refuted Coburn's logic:

Coburn is badly missing the point. Most Democrats don't want to extend tax cuts for the rich precisely because they don't want to cut vital programs to pay for it. There's no inconsistency there. Rather, the burden of offsetting the cost of tax cuts should fall on those who support them.

Examine, then, Coburn's–and the Republicans'–priorities. When it comes to caring for the heroes who rushed to ground zero, Coburn (who also fought extending unemployment benefits) and the GOP were ready to block the bill because they saw it as too expensive. But when it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy, a Republican goal, Coburn's argument to the Democrats is "If you think it has to be paid for, you figure out how to pay for it."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Administration Revives End-Of-Life Consultations Distorted By Palin As "Death Panels"

In an interview, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia (left), co-sponsor of the 2007 Medicare End-of-Life Planning Act, said that equating bills like his with euthanasia was "nuts." Research published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and the British Medical Journal supports end-of life medical consultations, as does the AARP. Regardless, Sarah Palin did what she could to scare people about "death panels." Fortunately, the Obama administration is reviving Medicare coverage of voluntary consultations with medical professionals to help patients decide on their end-of-life care:

The final version of the health care legislation, signed into law by President Obama in March, authorized Medicare coverage of yearly physical examinations, or wellness visits. The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.

...In a recent study of 3,700 people near the end of life, Dr. Maria J. Silveira of the University of Michigan found that many had “treatable, life-threatening conditions” but lacked decision-making capacity in their final days. With the new Medicare coverage, doctors can learn a patient’s wishes before a crisis occurs.

Sounds sensible, humane and empowering. Regardless, expect The Misinformer to start Tweeting about pulling the plug on grandma.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Santorum: Repeal Of DADT Part Of A Secularist Plot

According to Rick Santorum, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” "was not about men and women serving in the military" since “gays and lesbians can serve in the military right now.” Santorum sidesteps the fact that the issue was about gays being able to serve openly in the military. He also doesn't mention that gays were forced to lie and were subject to blackmail–and that 14,000 were thrown out since 1993. In his view, the repeal was part of a secularist plot, with “the left…trying to…put government in control of this country, and…move any people of faith and religion out of the public square, out of America, trying to transform what America's all about.”

The repeal also had nothing to do with human rights and equal justice for the gay men and women who volunteer to serve this country. Additionally, we’re a theocracy, with no separation of church and state–a western version of Iran.

How do these wingnuts get so crazy?

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The National Live At BAM

Ohio-raised and Brooklyn-based indie rock band The National, formed in 1999, perform "Slow Show" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, May 15, 2010.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Steve Brodner: The Lost Stories Of 2010

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Illustrator Steve Brodner focuses on issues that were consigned to oblivion in 2010, including global warming. While Brodner calls for “a wakeful 2011,” the Republicans intend to stay asleep on that issue. Under John Boehner, incoming speaker, the House Republicans will eliminate the Global Warming Committee whose purpose is to examine climate change and urge caps on carbon dioxide emissions. Who cares if the National Academy of Sciences in May called for an immediate reduction in greenhouse gases? The Republicans are more impressed with the opinions of the oil industry and the Tea Partiers. Regarding the latter group, one member based his climate change denial on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and on Scriptures: “I read my Bible. He made the earth for us to utilize.” Another stated, "Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it’s all just a money-control avenue. Some people say I’m extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”

Sarah Palin: Misinformer Of The Year

During the health care reform debate, Sarah Palin engaged in scaremongering about “death panels,” supposedly composed of government officials who would decide when seniors will die. In reality, the defeated bill would have enabled Medicare to cover optional consultations with medical professionals about end-of life choices. Republican Senator Johnny Isakson (GA), who sponsored similar legislation, called Palin's notion "nuts." Palin’s continuous peddling of lies, including violent rhetoric, has earned her Media Matters’ 2010 Glenn Beck Honorary Excellence in Misinformation Award.

Sen. Specter Criticizes Supreme Court, Right Wing In Final Speech

In his parting address, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), a former Republican, slammed the Roberts Supreme Court for its ruling in Citizens United, an outrageous act of conservative judicial activism that rejected all campaign spending limits. Specter also criticized right-wing extremism, stating "President Reagan's big tent has frequently been abandoned by the Republican Party."

Specter: "The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative. Ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony given under oath and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising - thus effectively undermining the basic Democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote. Chief Justice Roberts promised to just call balls and strikes–and then he moved the bases."

111th Congress Compiles Outstanding Record Despite Republican Obstructionism

In its lame duck session, the 111th Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell" and passed the New Start treaty and the Zadroga 9/11 Health BillBloomberg News and commentator E.J. Dionne point out that these bills are part of the monumental achievements of this Congress. Others accomplishments include the health care law, food safety rules, student loan reform, a financial consumer protection agency, financial regulatory reform and more listed in Nancy Pelosi's speaker's blog. This record also represents something of a rebound for Obama following the November elections. Indeed, John McCain's antics during the final "don't ask, don't tell" debate reminds us that we are fortunate that he was defeated by the presidential candidate who has no problem signing these bills.

In contrast, the incoming Republican House majority, as Dionne states,"is devoted less to a bold agenda of its own than to repealing, scaling back or derailing the accomplishments of the outgoing majority." The image above (h/t: Maddow blog) summarizes the GOP's goals during the lame duck session and the upcoming 112th Congress. Following the painful Bush tax cuts deal, President Obama and the Democrats will have to exercise determination in preventing the Republicans from reversing the progress of the 111th Congress.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tom Tomorrow: "2010: The Year In Crazy, Part I"

The highlights of wingnuttery for the first six months of 2010. Click on the image to enlarge.

Larry David: "Thanks For The Tax Cut!"

Larry David, co-creator of "Seinfeld" and creator of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," expresses his gratitude for the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy:

There is a God! It passed! The Bush tax cuts have been extended two years for the upper bracketeers, of which I am a proud member, thank you very much. I’m the last person in the world I’d want to be beside, but I am beside myself! This is a life changer, I tell you. A life changer!

...thanks to the great compromise, the first thing I’m going to do is get a flat-screen TV. Finally I can throw out the 20-inch Zenith with the rabbit ears, the one I inherited from my parents when they died. The reception is terrible and I’m getting tired of going out to bars every time I want to watch a game. Last month, the antenna broke and I tried to improvise one with a metal hanger and wound up cutting myself. Every time I see that scab, I say to myself, “If, God willing, those Bush tax cuts are restored, I’m going to buy a new TV.” Well, guess what? They have been!

It’s also going to be a boon for my health. After years of coveting them, I’ll finally be able to afford blueberries. Did you know they have a lot of antioxidants, which prevent cancer? Cancer! This tax cut just might save my life. Who said Republicans don’t support health care?...

...Life was good, and now it’s even better. Thank you, Republicans. And a special thank you to President Obama and the Democrats. I didn’t know you cared.

Pat Robertson Calls For The Decriminalization Of Pot

Pat Robertson is not in the habit of making sense. He has proclaimed that marriage equality is a plot to destroy the church and marriage, Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for legalized abortion and the earthquake in Haiti was caused by a pact with the devil. Yet the right-wing evangelist has criticized the legal, economic and social costs of anti-marijuana laws and called for the decriminalization of pot. Pat Robertson with a sensible–even progressive–position? Chalk it up to the season of miracles.

Bill Maher: Our Real Religion Is Greed

Viewing Oprah Winfrey’s “Favorite Things” program, in which the audience is driven to a frenzied rapture by 3D TVs and sweaters, Bill Maher concludes that our real religion is greed:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Boehner Weeps For The Rich And Powerful

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) continues his weeping ways. He teared up when the Republicans won the House, making him incoming Speaker. He cried on "60 Minutes," telling Leslie Stahl about his humble past and stating that what moves him is "making sure these kids have a shot at the American dream, like I did…" Boehner's tears for the underdogs he left behind, notes columnists Timothy Egan and Gail Collins, are belied by his support for economic and health care policies that thwart them. Animator Mark Fiore suggests that Boehner is really choking up for those who, judging by his record, really move him: the rich, the powerful and the corporate lobbyists:

Boehner's Sense Of Irony: Names Bachmann To Intelligence Committee

What possessed Representative John Boehner (R-OH), incoming Speaker of the House, to name Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) to the House Intelligence Committee? Committee members must keep their mouths shut about meetings, already rendering Bachmann a security risk. Then there's what Bachmann actually says. Boehner's associating the word intelligence with a politician incapable of making sense reveals a certain ironic sensibility on his part. Here's one among a number of Bachmann quotes:

“And what a bizarre time we’re in, Jan, when a judge will say to little children that you can’t say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it.” — Senator Michele Bachmann, appearing as guest on radio program “Prophetic Views Behind The News,” hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM, March 6, 2004

In August 2009, Keith Olbermann presented the "Best of Bachmann." With "Crazy" as the soundtrack, "Our Favorite Wingnut" sounds off on carbon dioxide's low risk, why Minnesotans should be armed and dangerous, young Obama supporters being shackled and chained, the census leading to internment camps and anti-American politicians:

SNL: Democrats Dream Of Better 2011 Headlines

"Saturday Night Live" presented the wishes for better headlines in 2011 among Democratic leaders, including President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. The Obama character's wish for a Palin presidential bid sounds good to me too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Injustice Prevails With Blocking Of Dream Act

We must condemn the Senate's blocking the Dream Act, which would have paved the way to citizenship to those who were brought to the U.S. as children, finished two years of college or military service and passed a criminal background check. Despite meeting these conditions, such young people are now still considered "illegals," including those shown above lamenting the bill's defeat.

Special shame belongs to the five Democrats who opposed the bill: Senators Max Baucus of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Jon Tester of Montana. Kudos to the Republicans who broke ranks and supported it: Robert Bennett of Utah, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who made a stirring stament:

“...I do not believe that children are to blame for the decision of their parents to enter or remain in the United States unlawfully. The reality is that many of these children regard America as the only country they ever knew. ...They have much to offer America if given the chance.”

On the other hand, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) made an absurd and disgraceful pronouncement:

“Leaders in Washington have not only tolerated lawlessness but, in fact, our policies have encouraged it. This bill is a law that at its fundamental core is a reward for illegal activity.”

We can't "reward" those "criminals" who were brought to America as kids, grew up here and attended college or served in the military, right?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Republicans Say, "Thank You Fox News"

While Media Matters identifies its Republican "tribute" to Fox News as a parody, the succession of Republican leaders heaping praise on Fox is real, including Bachmann, Palin, McCain and Cantor. More importantly, we hear testimony from Republicans as to the way Fox aids the party. Former governor of Pennsylvania Rick Santorum tells a beaming Neil Cavuto about the pre-Fox days: “We didn’t have Fox News.. We didn’t have the ability to get a message out.” Newt Gingrich recounts how the campaign of Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) took off: “…they saw him on Fox News and the next thing you know, they were sending him money.” Defeated Arizona senatorial candidate Sharron Angle repeatedly asks Fox viewers for contributions. Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) speaks about owner Rupert Murdoch’s $1 million donation to the Republican Governor’s Association. Watching the following, one can have no doubt that Fox, while parading as a news station, is the propaganda arm of the Republican party:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Stewart, Smith Outraged At Republican Block Of 9/11 Health Bill For First Responders

Jon Stewart expressed outrage at Republican senators who are blocking the 9/11 Health Bill or James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a New York City police detective who participated in ground zero rescue efforts and died in 2006 of breathing complications. Watch as Stewart criticizes "the party that turned 9/11 into a catchphrase" and wants to give the wealthy tax breaks that will cost $700 billion over a decade–yet is concerned about paying $7.4 billion to care for 9/11 first responders:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Worst Responders
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Stewart later spoke with four 9/11 first responders, who expressed disbelief that those who put their lives on the line for the country are being denied the urgent health care they need:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Stewart criticized Fox News for its lack of coverage; however, Shepherd Smith, who is an exception to the network's usual right-wing commentators, angrily spoke about this "national disgrace." Smith mentioned Stewart's commentary approvingly as he spoke to a sympathetic Chris Wallace:

McCain Throws Tantrum, Makes Absurd Statement During DADT Debate

The fact that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has anger issues has been noted by McCain himself and others. McCain's temper and his adamant opposition (satirized by Jon Stewart) to gays serving openly in the military led to his outrageous behavior prior to the Senate repeal of "don't ask, don't tell":

Saturday's debate on the repeal of the "don't-ask-don't-tell" policy was only half an hour old when the Arizona Republican burst onto the floor from the cloakroom, hiked up his pants and stalked over to his friend Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Ignoring Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who had the floor, McCain hectored the men noisily for a few moments, waving his arms for emphasis.

When McCain finally stormed off, Durbin shook his head in exasperation and Lieberman smiled. A minute later, McCain returned - he had apparently remembered another element of his grievance - and resumed his harangue.

Despite the fact that the majority of Americans favored repeal, McCain claimed that the vote was a "repudiation" of the will of the people. He presented an absurd closing argument connecting soldiers losing limbs with gays serving openly:

McCain: “Today’s a very sad day. The commandant of the United States Marine Corps says when your life hangs on the line, you don’t want anything distracting. . . . I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen and I’ll tell you why. You go up to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Marines are up there with no legs, none. You’ve got Marines at Walter Reed with no limbs.”

America Lives Up To Its Ideals By Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

America lived up to its ideals today as the Senate voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." That disastrous 17-year-old policy forced thousands of gay men and women to live a lie or be thrown out of the military due to sexual orientation.

Praise is due to President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, Defense Secretary Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Democrats and the eight Republicans who joined them. Though I'm no fan of his, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) must also be commended, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-MN), for encouraging Democrats to make one last effort. Lieberman rightfully said, "We righted a wrong. Today, we served justice."

There are, as always, those like Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) who stand on the wrong side of history, justice and equality. Government-enforced discrimination and treating gays as second-class citizens deserve to be swept aside. The military and the country were well served today.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Responding To Critical Study, Fox Attacks The Messenger

Responding to a study (pdf) at the University of Maryland finding that Fox News in particular misinforms its viewers, how did the network respond? Did it refute the methodology or conclusions? Did it cite other studies? Of course not. That would be responding to the substance of the argument, alien to a network whose role is to misinform. Instead, Fox held true to form, attacking the messenger, the University of Maryland. Here's Fox's argumentum ad hominem:

Asked for comment on the study, Fox News seemingly dismissed the findings. In a statement, Michael Clemente, who is the senior vice president of news editorial for the network, said: “The latest Princeton Review ranked the University of Maryland among the top schools for having ‘Students Who Study The Least’ and being the ‘Best Party School’ – given these fine academic distinctions, we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with.”

Mr. Clemente oversees every hour of objective news programming on Fox News, which is by far the nation’s most popular cable news channel.

For the record, the Princeton Review says the University of Maryland ranks among the “Best Northeastern Colleges.” It was No. 19 on the Review’s list of “Best Party Schools.”

In addition, U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Maryland as number 56 in the country. How could a study coming from such a lowly institution have any validity regarding the "fair and balanced" network?

Remembering Captain Beefheart

Rock musician and painter Don Van Vliet, also known as Captain Beefheart, passed away yesterday at 69. Both NPR and The New York Times noted that he evolved into an avant-garde musician rooted in the blues. The Times referred to Captain Beefheart's most famous album with his Magic Band, "Trout Mask Replica" (1969), as "A bolt-from-the-blue collection of precise, careening, surrealist songs with clashing meters, brightly imagistic poetry and raw blues shouting..." This mixture of the blues with the surreal is evident in the performance above of "Ice Cream for Crow."

Study: Exposure To Fox Increases Misinformation

World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy at the University of Maryland, did a study that found that voters were significantly misinformed on important issues during the November elections. Among the findings:

In most cases those who had greater levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation. There were, however, a number of cases where greater exposure to a particular news source increased misinformation on some issues.

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points). The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it--though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.

Alternet notes that other studies have confirmed Fox's status as a prime source of misinformation:

This study corroborates a previous PIPA study that focused on the Iraq war with similar results. And there was an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that demonstrated the break with reality on the part of Fox viewers with regard to health care. The body of evidence that Fox News is nothing but a propaganda machine dedicated to lies is growing by the day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bush Communications Director "Feels Pretty Good" About The Tax Cut "Trap"

Speaking to Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast, Dan Bartlett (left), Bush's former communications director, admits to the political and economic gamesmanship that surrounded the Bush tax cuts:

“We knew that, politically, once you get it into law, it becomes almost impossible to remove it. That’s not a bad legacy. The fact that we were able to lay the trap does feel pretty good, to tell you the truth.” moving up the expiration date by nine months, the Bush team saved $100 billion and made the bill’s deficit-busting impact appear smaller.

As an added bonus, the “sunset” provision, in Beltway-speak, was a political time bomb: At some point in the way distant future, Democrats could be accused of raising taxes if they tried to undo the Bush breaks and return to Clinton-era levels of taxation.

That Republican spin was adopted by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who stated, "This is existing tax policy. It’s been in place for ten years."

David Di Martino of The Hill expressed his outrage at Bartlett's smug satisfaction:

Bartlett feels pretty good. Isn’t that terrific? Here we are, dealing with the worst economy in decades, the worst deficits in history, crippling debt to competitors like China — all brought to America under President Bush’s brand of leadership and economic wisdom, and Bartlett feels pretty good about it. Heck, he’s bragging about it!

...For the millions of Americans who lost their jobs while Bartlett had his in the White House, I’m sure it’s comforting to know that they were part of the plan to “trap” President Obama and the Democrats with this economic calamity.

As a final insult to the economic injury inflicted upon America by Dan’s “trap,” the Republicans insist the only way out of the “trap” is deficit-exploding tax breaks for the richest 1.6 percent to the tune of $800 billion.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cartoonist Ruben Bolling: Julian Assange Meets Tough Journalists Gang In Jail

Cartoonist Ruben Bolling depicts Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, meeting prominent journalists in prison who also used leaked materials. Federal prosecutors trying to build a case against Assange are looking for evidence that he actively colluded with Private Bradley Manning, who leaked the government documents that WikiLeaks disseminated. In doing so, the government seems to be conceding that trying to convict an individual merely based on receiving and publishing leaked information raises troubling issues about a free press and investigative journalism:

By bringing a case against Mr. Assange as a conspirator to Private Manning’s leak, the government would not have to confront awkward questions about why it is not also prosecuting traditional news organizations or investigative journalists who also disclose information the government says should be kept secret — including The New York Times, which also published some documents originally obtained by WikiLeaks.

“I suspect there is a real desire on the part of the government to avoid pursuing the publication aspect if it can pursue the leak aspect,” said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia law professor and former federal prosecutor. “It would be so much neater and raise fewer constitutional issues.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SNL Parody: WikiLeaks Merges With "TMZ"

In this "Saturday Night Live" parody, Julian Assange (Bill Hader) merges WikiLeaks with the celebrity gossip show "TMZ." The sketch refers to recent WikiLeaks revelations: Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi's constant companion, a "senior Ukranian nurse, described as a voluptuous blonde"; the corruption of the Afghan government; and the United States' increased use of diplomats as spies overseas and at the U.N. Watch:

Republicans: Tax Cuts For Wealthy OK, Health Bill For 9/11 First Responders Too Expensive

Why did Republican senators, patriots all, block the 9/11 health bill?

Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and others who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke at the site of the World Trade Center attack in 2001.

...Republicans have been raising concerns about how to pay for the $7.4 billion measure...

Of course, the Republicans want to extend the Bush tax cuts permanently, at a cost of $700 billion over 10 years for the wealthiest Americans. In that case, they're not worried about paying for it. According to Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and David Vitter (R-LA), tax cuts are neither paid for nor add to the deficit.

Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY) argued that we have a moral responsibility toward the first responders at ground zero and predicted that the 9/11 health bill was one that “Republicans won’t leave this town without passing.” She doesn't know today's Republicans. They have their priorities.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Zakaria On Beck’s Claim That 10 Percent Of Muslims Are Terrorists

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria dismantles Glenn Beck’s contention that 10 percent of Muslims are terrorists. He does it not through a Beck-like rant, but through math and logic–rational processes outside the realm of Planet Fox. Zakaria must envy Beck in one way: Zakaria has to back up his statements, while Beck gets to spew whatever nonsense he wants to an information-challenged audience. Watch:

WikiLeaks Reveals Bush Administration Contradictions On Human Rights

Cables released by WikiLeaks expose the Bush administration's contradictory stance on human rights cases in China and Germany. The administration expressed concern about the persecution of Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo (left), recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia due to his imprisonment by China:

Dozens of leaked State Department cables made it apparent that American diplomats closely followed the travails of Mr. Liu and other activists and regularly pressed Chinese officials to honor international norms for basic freedoms, even as Washington muted its public position on Chinese behavior.

...As early as two weeks after Mr. Liu was first detained, President George W. Bush’s ambassador, Clark T. Randt Jr., “urged the Chinese government to release him and stop harassing peaceful dissidents,” a Dec. 29, 2008, cable stated.

When it came to its "War on Terror," the Bush administration's stance on human rights was quite different. Khaled el-Masri (left), a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was kidnapped and jailed due to mistaken identity. The CIA pressured the Germans not to press for the arrest of agents involved in el-Masri's "extraordinary rendition," the practice of sending suspected terrorists to countries that practice torture:

The cables indicated what was long suspected by German opposition leaders who led a parliamentary inquiry into the case: intense political pressure from Washington was the reason that Germany never pressed for the arrest and extradition of 13 operatives believed to be from the C.I.A. who were ultimately charged in indictments issued in Spain and in Munich.

...Mr. Masri was seized on Dec. 31, 2003, as he entered Macedonia while on vacation; border security guards confused him with an operative of Al Qaeda with a similar name. He says he was turned over to the C.I.A., which flew him to Afghanistan, where he says he was tortured, sodomized and injected with drugs. After five months, he was dropped on a roadside in Albania. No charges were brought against him.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fox Editor Directed Reporters To Use "Government Option," Not "Public Option"

Media Matters has revealed a leaked email in which a managing editor of Fox News directed network reporters to use language that casts a negative light on health care reform:

At the height of the health care reform debate last fall, Bill Sammon, Fox News' controversial Washington managing editor, sent a memo directing his network's journalists not to use the phrase "public option."

Instead, Sammon wrote, Fox's reporters should use "government option" and similar phrases -- wording that a top Republican pollster had recommended in order to turn public opinion against the Democrats' reform efforts.

Journalists on the network's flagship news program, Special Report with Bret Baier, appear to have followed Sammon's directive in reporting on health care reform that evening.

Watch as Fox's Bret Baier repeatedly interrupts NPR's Mara Liasson to clarify that the "public option" is "government run" or a "government option" (and note the latter wording on the screen below):

Liasson: We have experience with a triggered public option.
Baier: Should we say 'government option,' by the way?
Liasson: Government option, OK.
Baier: Everybody gets it.

Chart: Bush Tax Cuts Drive Record Deficit Projections

One chart that I posted here showed that the Bush tax cuts were followed by the slowest economic growth since WWII. The chart above, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, shows the trillions added to the deficit if the Republicans succeed in making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Taken together, the charts completely dismantle the myth that the GOP stands for sound economic policy. (h/t Americablog)

"Deficit Hawks" Who Back Bush Tax Cuts Fail Math

Cartoonist Adam Zyglis of the Buffalo News refers above to the fact that the U.S. students lag behind in math among industrialized countries. He depicts one failing math student, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who sees no disconnect between reducing the deficit and adding billions through continuing the Bush tax cuts–most wastefully by extending them to the rich. In fact, McConnell cannot conceive of the fact that tax cuts are paid for and add to the deficit. He's joined by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) who also "disagree[s] with the premise" that we must pay for tax cuts.

The Republicans are playing a neat trick, seeking to make the Bush tax cuts permanent while posing as deficit hawks. Paul Krugman correctly points out that there are no deficit hawks in Congress–and that those who claim the title do so for purely ideological reasons:

It’s a point barely worth making, but the tax cut deal demonstrates, for the umpteenth time, that self-proclaimed deficit hawks are frauds. We can’t afford unemployment benefits or public investment, the fake hawks say — but when it come to cutting taxes on the rich, money is literally no object.

It’s just possible, as Atrios says, that some journalists don’t understand this; if you do up-close-and-personal reporting, judging politicians by what they say and how they come across rather than by the content of their proposals, you might actually be snookered. But again: none of the people who claim about the deficit actually view it as anything more than a stick with which to beat down progressive ideas.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bush Tax Cut Extension Offers Most For The Rich

It’s perverse enough that the Bush tax cuts will be extended for millionaires and billionaires, increasing the national debt by billions for no reason at all. The cuts for the wealthy over the past decade have not stimulated economic growth. How could they when the wealthy save rather than spend their tax cuts? It’s all the worse when one realizes that the cuts offer more for the rich than any other economic group–and that those near the bottom are actually facing an increase:

...the tax benefits will flow most heavily to the highest earners, just as the original cuts did when they were passed in 2001 and 2003. At least a quarter of the tax savings will go to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.

...The wealthiest Americans will also reap tax savings from the proposal’s plan to keep the cap on dividend and capital gains taxes at 15 percent, well below the highest rates on ordinary income.

And negotiators have agreed that the estimated $900 billion cost of the cuts will simply be added to the deficit — not covered by reductions in spending or increases in other taxes. That is good news for hedge fund managers and private equity investors, who appear to have withstood an effort to get them to pay more by eliminating a quirk in the tax code that allows most of their income to be taxed at just 15 percent.

In fact, the only groups likely to face a tax increase are those near the bottom of the income scale — individuals who make less than $20,000 and families with earnings below $40,000.

“It’s going to look like the rich are getting richer again,” said Anne Mathias, an analyst for MF Global Inc.

...Although the $120 billion payroll tax reduction offers nearly twice the tax savings of the credit it replaces, it will nonetheless lead to higher tax bills for individuals with incomes below $20,000 and families that make less than $40,000. That is because their payroll tax savings are less than the $400 or $800 they will lose from the Making Work Pay credit.

John And Yoko On The Dick Cavett Show, Sept. 1971

In another remembrance of John Lennon 30 years after his death, here’s a clip from an interview of John and Yoko on the Dick Cavett Show, September 24, 1971. An audience member asked John how he wrote his songs. John recounted the evolution of his methods and sources of inspiration, providing insight into his musical genius.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Allman Brothers Live At The Beacon, 2003

This week's musical video is presented in celebration of my landing tickets to see the Allman Brothers at New York's Beacon Theater in March. Regardless of the band's southern roots, keyboardist Gregg Allman called the Beacon their "turf" and "haven." The Allman Brothers sold out the theater around 190 times over 20 years, a record unfortunately interrupted in 2009 by the booking of Cirque du Soleil. MSG Entertainment, which runs the theater, rightfully apologized for that arrangement and the two weeks of concerts will proceed. Enjoy the group's performance of "Dreams" at the Beacon in March 2003, featuring an absolutely mesmerizing guitar solo by Derek Trucks.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Report From Planet Fox: The Unemployed Have It Easy, The Rich Don't Exist

On Planet Fox, the unemployed are not desperate about their prospects. Speaking to Sean Hannity, Geri Willis of Fox Business asks, "Are people staying on [unemployment benefits] now because it's the easiest thing to do?" Yes, dreading that benefits may be cut off now or in the future sounds like an obvious lifestyle choice. Watch:

So the unemployed loafers are easy to spot–but when it comes to the rich, Hannity asks, "Who are these rich people?" Willis then states that the tax situation is "ridiculous." She continues, "We can't go on like this. We have to even the scales here." She's not referring to the millionaires and billionaires who will gain the most from the extension of the Bush tax cuts. No, those who have to "even the scales" are the poor, those spongers! (Actually, the taxes of those near the bottom of the income scale are going up.) Nicole Petallides of Fox Business then contributes to Hannity's "Rich? Who's rich?" theme: "Anybody I knew that was rich is not that rich anymore." Why? Because from her perspective on Planet Fox, "Taxes [are] going up." Watch:

Remembering John Lennon

I've never gotten over John Lennon's death. The gunning down of a man whose music brought so much joy to so many people has always seemed particularly senseless to me.

Certain considerations further emphasize the cruelty and absurdity of his murder: that the killer somehow fashioned himself a "Catcher in the Rye," protecting little children; that John was finally resolving many troubling issues and emerging as a loving family man; that his "Double Fantasy" album celebrating his family life was recently released; that John signed a copy of the album at his killer's request hours before he died; that he loved living in New York, especially enjoying everyday activities like going to the movies; that he was only 40; that he spoke out for peace.

I remember taking part in a memorial service right after Lennon's death at the Bandshell in Central Park. Thirty years later, many of us have left a part of ourselves there.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NYT: Obama "Should Have Fought Harder"

Following his deal with the Republicans, President Obama said at a press conference that he will "fight to end" the tax cuts for the rich. Not now, though. He was talking about 2012. As for now, the Republicans achieved their most important goal: shoveling more cash at their wealthy supporters, regardless of the fact that they are driving the country billions more into debt. The president punted on the tax issue and, in 2012, the Republicans will once again state that "now is not the time to raise taxes on anyone"–especially on millionaires and billionaires. They're using all that money to create jobs, right? In an editorial, the New York Times assessed the damage done by this deal and questioned the president's strategy:

...the country can’t afford to continue tax cuts for the rich indefinitely. And by kicking the issue down the road to 2012 — a presidential election year — it all but guarantees more craven politicking then.

...On a decidedly sour note, Mr. Obama also said he had agreed to cut estate taxes even more than in the last year of the Bush administration. That is not compromise. It is capitulation.

The Republicans gave up very little except for their unconscionable stance of holding up all other Congressional action until they ensured that the richest Americans keep their tax cuts.

...Until Monday night, both sides were silent on the fate of one of the biggest high-end tax cuts of all — the estate tax on multimillionaires and billionaires. Now Mr. Obama seems to have given in to largely Republican demands on it.

...All of this only validates the Republican strategy of obstruction, and invites more. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has never wavered in his stance that all Bush tax cuts should be extended. Mr. McConnell and the Republicans will undoubtedly now push to make the cuts permanent.

Mr. Obama said on Monday night that he still believed extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy was a bad idea. He predicted that it would be undone in two years when it becomes apparent to everyone that the country can’t afford it. The president needs to ask himself why he couldn’t make that case now — and how he plans to change his approach to governing so he doesn’t get trapped this way again.

Mr. Obama also said that “we cannot play politics at a time when the American people are looking for us to solve problems.” Unfortunately, the Republicans felt no such compunction. He should have fought harder.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Glenn Beck: Without Fox News, America Would Be "Doomed To A Marxist Hell"

"Après moi, le déluge," translated as "After me, the deluge," has been attributed to Louis XV. Glenn Beck has basically made the same statement. According to Beck, Fox News and right-wing talk radio hold back America from being “doomed to a Marxist hell” and from people who want "chaos" and an "uprising." Somehow this is also related in Beck's mind to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Don’t try to figure it out. Just listen to Beck and thank him for the fact that you haven’t been hauled off to a collective farm:

Bush Tax Cut Issue Brings Out Republican Hypocrisy, Democratic Timidity

Part of the agreement between President Obama and the Republicans is the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, an issue that brought out the worst in both political parties. Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri (left), pointed out that the Republicans have exposed themselves as full of pretense about cutting the deficit while fighting for an extension that will add billions to the national debt:

McCaskill called the Republican rhetoric of reducing the deficit “a joke,” given that they favor extending the tax cuts for upper-income Americans.

“I’m trying to figure out how anyone can keep a straight face and say they are for deficit reduction when they insist on a permanent tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, completely unpaid for,” McCaskill said. “If they think it is OK to raise taxes for the embattled middle class because they are going to pout if we don’t give more money to millionaires, it really is time for the people of America to take up pitchforks.”

It's refreshing to hear McCaskill speak so directly, unlike the rest of her party, including the president. After dithering for months about the tax cuts, the Democrats responded with timidity following the November elections–dithering and timidity being all too characteristic. How is it that the Republicans didn't show the same lack of confidence after their 2006 mid-term and 2008 presidential losses? The GOP stuck together and pursued their destructive policies. Contrast that with the Democrats:

With the economy teetering, Democrats had not brought the tax issue to the top of the legislative agenda. And by this fall, when Congressional leaders began contemplating bringing up the issue for votes, many Democrats were wary of being accused by campaign opponents of favoring a tax increase.

Some Democrats supported a temporary extension of the Bush-era tax rates at all levels, and it was quickly clear that Senate Democrats could not generate sufficient votes in favor of Mr. Obama’s plan — so the issue was put off until after the election.

The drubbing Democrats took in the elections, as Republicans won a majority in the House and picked up six seats in the Senate, further undermined the Democrats’ negotiating position. Republicans have since viewed an extension of the lower income tax rates as a foregone conclusion.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bush Tax Cuts For The Rich Cost $60 Billion A Year. What Else Could That Money Buy?

Now that an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest is a foregone conclusion, let's look at what else we could do with the $60 billion annual cost of continuing such cuts for incomes above $250,000. David Leonhardt of the New York Times provides the list:

• As much deficit reduction as the elimination of earmarks, President Obama’s proposed federal pay freeze, a 10 percent cut in the federal work force and a 50 percent cut in foreign aid — combined.

• A tripling of federal funding for medical research.

• Universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, with relatively small class sizes.

• A much larger troop surge in Afghanistan, raising spending by 60 percent from current levels.

• A national infrastructure program to repair and upgrade roads, bridges, mass transit, water systems and levees.

• A 15 percent cut in corporate taxes.

• Twice as much money for clean-energy research as suggested by a recent bipartisan plan.

Free college, including room and board, for about half of all full-time students, at both four- and two-year colleges.

• A $500 tax cut for all households.

(Illustration: Mike Keefe, The Denver Post)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hot Tuna Throws An Electrifying Birthday Party At The Beacon

Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist, and Jack Casady, bassist, began Hot Tuna in 1969 as an offshoot of the Jefferson Airplane. Last night at New York's Beacon Theater, they demonstrated their electrifying blend of blues and rock and celebrated Jorma's 70th birthday. Joining them were guest musicians Oteil Burbridge, Allman Brothers bassist; Steve Earle, singer-songwriter, and, most exciting for me, Bob Weir, Grateful Dead guitarist. Above, the band performs their classic "Been So Long." (Video: h/t stamp1220)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gaypocalypse Now: Stewart On McCain’s Endless Problems With DADT Repeal

Jon Stewart comments on Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) ever-shifting goalposts regarding the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy that bars gays from openly serving in the military. The defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the general who commands the Army in Europe–all are calling for repeal. The Pentagon released a study stating that repeal will not disrupt the military. The majority of those in uniform support ending the policy. Regardless, McCain still isn’t satisfied. Stewart compares him to the Black Knight from Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail,” who refuses to accept the evidence of his senses. Watch:

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