Sunday, January 30, 2011

The NRA Doesn't Want Inquiring Minds To Know

What is the connection between homicides and gun ownership or control? The NRA doesn't want inquiring minds to know, preferring to stymie research. Why is that? Won't the findings support their cause?

In the wake of the shootings in Tucson, the familiar questions inevitably resurfaced: Are communities where more people carry guns safer or less safe? Does the availability of high-capacity magazines increase deaths? Do more rigorous background checks make a difference?

The reality is that even these and other basic questions cannot be fully answered, because not enough research has been done. And there is a reason for that. Scientists in the field and former officials with the government agency that used to finance the great bulk of this research say the influence of the National Rife Association has all but choked off money for such work.

“We’ve been stopped from answering the basic questions,” said Mark Rosenberg, former director of the National Center for Injury Control and Prevention, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was for about a decade the leading source of financing for firearms research.

Chris Cox, the N.R.A.’s chief lobbyist, said his group had not tried to squelch genuine scientific inquiries, just politically slanted ones. “Our concern is not with legitimate medical science,” Mr. Cox said. “Our concern is they were promoting the idea that gun ownership was a disease that needed to be eradicated.”

...The dearth of money can be traced in large measure to a clash between public health scientists and the N.R.A. in the mid-1990s.

So the NRA doesn't want "politically slanted" inquiries. If a study found that communities should be armed to the teeth, would they consider that "slanted"? Liberaland pinpoints what's behind the NRA's objection to such studies:

When two sides are arguing about a question that could be resolved by empirical studies, here’s a clue to which one is right. The one that’s in favor of studying the issue! What was true of cigarette companies and the effects of tobacco in the 1960s and industrial polluters and the health impacts of pollution over the past few decades is true of the NRA and guns today. The side that resists getting answers is the side that is afraid of them.

Conservative Groups Again Withdraw From Conference Due To Gay Co-Sponsorship

Before the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC, a campaign was launched against the co-sponsorship of the gay conservative group GOProud, led by Jimmy LaSalvia (left). Now conservative groups are withdrawing before the 2011 event next month for the same reason. Why does GOProud again sponsor this conference when so many participants loathe its presence?

...some conservative pillars, including church-based groups like the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and Liberty University and others like the Heritage Foundation, are refusing to participate. They are angry that the gay organization, GOProud, has been given a seat at the planning table. These groups are implacable opponents of same-sex marriage, which they say GOProud implicitly endorses by saying that the question should be left to the states.

...A host of large and small church-based groups is boycotting the conference because of GOProud’s role. Its status was also cited by some secular groups, including the Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Center, when they dropped out this year.

...“GOProud is working to undermine one of our core values,” said Mathew D. Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law. Letting gay men and lesbians attend the conference is one thing, he said, “but they shouldn’t be allowed to be co-sponsors.”

...GOProud was founded by Christopher R. Barron, a public relations consultant, and Jimmy LaSalvia, now its executive director, to “give a voice to gay conservatives.”

...“The reason the boycotters applied a litmus test to us is because we were born gay,” he said.

Gay Rights Activist David Kato Killed In Uganda, Where U.S. Evangelicals Spread Hatred

David Kato, courageous campaigner for gay rights, was beaten to death in Uganda. Two years earlier, American evangelicals stoked hatred for gays in that country, where legislation may subject gays to the death penalty. The evangelicals deny a connection between their statements and the murder:

As the most outspoken gay rights advocate in Uganda, a country where homophobia is so severe that Parliament is considering a bill to execute gay people, Mr. Kato had received a stream of death threats, his friends said. A few months ago, a Ugandan newspaper ran an antigay diatribe with Mr. Kato’s picture on the front page under a banner urging, “Hang Them.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Kato was beaten to death with a hammer in his rough-and-tumble neighborhood. Police officials were quick to chalk up the motive to robbery, but members of the small and increasingly besieged gay community in Uganda suspect otherwise.

“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,” Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, said in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.”

Ms. Kalende was referring to visits in March 2009 by a group of American evangelicals, who held rallies and workshops in Uganda discussing how to turn gay people straight, how gay men sodomized teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” intended to “defeat the marriage-based society.”

The Americans involved said they had no intention of stoking a violent reaction. But the antigay bill was drafted shortly thereafter. Some of the Ugandan politicians and preachers who wrote it had attended those sessions and said that they had discussed the legislation with the Americans.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Counting Crows Covers "Big Yellow Taxi"

Counting Crows performs Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" live at the Pinkpop Festival in the Netherlands, 2003. The lyrics deliver a simple, wise message to appreciate what you have: "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone?"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Matthews Highlights Bachmann's Ignorance Of American History

Chris Matthews points out the ignorance of Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), a Tea Party favorite, regarding the history of slavery in America, the founding fathers and the Constitution. Tea Party Express leader Sal Russo tries to cover up for Bachmann, but Matthews has no patience for his evasions. Joan Walsh of Salon also responds to Bachmann's whitewashing of American history:

Walsh comments further in Salon:

Now, [Bachmann] didn't leave out the history of slavery; she just prettied it up: Slavery was a "scourge," she admitted, but "we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States."

No, actually, they didn't. We know many of the founders, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves; the founders only worked tirelessly to make sure slave states and non-slave states could get along in a union. For the next 80 years, time and again even anti-slavery American leaders had opportunities to choose between abolishing slavery and keeping the slave-holding states part of the Union -- and they chose the Union. It took the bloody Civil War to end slavery, three to four generations after the founders had left the national scene (six to eight by Bachmann's count), and we're still living with its legacy.

Illinois Legislature Sends Bill Outlawing Death Penalty To Gov. Quinn

While there are many valid arguments against the death penalty, the most compelling is the inevitability–not just possibility–of executing the innocent. Our legal system is not fool-proof; there are wrongful convictions. Once a conviction results in the execution of an innocent individual, there is no reversal. Based on this ultimate injustice, the Illinois State Legislature has banned the death penalty; the case for Governor Pat Quinn (left) to sign the bill (click here to sign a petition) was made in a New York Times editorial:

Eleven years after gross injustice compelled a moratorium on capital punishment in Illinois, the State Legislature has concluded that the only way to guard against execution of the innocent is to outlaw the death penalty. Gov. Pat Quinn, who has sent mixed signals in the past, should quickly sign the legislation into law.

Former Gov. George Ryan declared the moratorium in 2000 in the face of a running scandal of faulty trials that cost innocent inmates their lives...

Under prodding from outside investigators, the state has had to free 20 inmates from death row since 1987...

Fifteen inmates are now on death row under the open-ended moratorium as prosecutors continue to pursue capital punishment. Most recently, two condemned men convicted on the basis of confessions were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Governor Quinn said last fall that he supported the moratorium as well as capital punishment “applied carefully and fairly.” Illinois’s own experience has shown why that is not possible. Most modern nations, and 15 states in this country, have rightly abandoned the barbarism of state executions. The sanctity of human life and the honor of the state require Governor Quinn to lead Illinois beyond its wrenching history of wrongful death-row convictions.

"The Shock Doctrine": Klein Debunks Friedman

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein. 701 pp. Picador. $16.00 (paperback)

Naomi Klein's "No Logo" and "Fences and Windows," previously reviewed here, are essential to understanding anti-globalization protests. In "The Shock Doctrine," Klein considers the influence of free market theorist Milton Friedman, whom she accuses of pursuing "shock" economics or "disaster capitalism." Klein makes an analogy between the the application of shock on individuals and countries. She describes the CIA-backed studies of Dr. Ewan Cameron at McGill University's Allan Memorial Institute in the 1950s. Cameron believed that the way to cure supposedly disturbed individuals was to shock them to the point that their personality was wiped away, enabling one to influence this blank slate. What was done on an individual basis, Klein contends, has also been done to nations: "Where Cameron dreamed of returning the human mind to that pristine state, Friedman dreamed of...returning [societies] to a state of pure capitalism cleansed of all interrruptions–government regulations, trade barriers and entrenched interests."

Klein cites numerous examples in which coups d'etat, revolutions, environmental disasters or terrorist attacks result in a confused, insecure population. These are the optimal times to apply Friedman's recommendations. Among these changes are such ordinarily unpopular "reforms" as privatization, deregulation, cuts to social spending and union busting. Included among the examples in which Friedman's theories were applied to societies undergoing rapid change, often accompanied by brutal repression, are Chile under Pinochet; Russia under Yeltsin; Indonesia under Suharto; and Iraq under economic laws that primarily benefited U.S. contractors such as Halliburton, Bechtel and Parsons. Even countries moving toward freedom, such as South Africa and Poland, were hemmed in by loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, institutions that demanded Friedman-style reforms.

The effects of shock, according to Klein, can wear off, as seen in countries, especially Latin American, that come to demand more control over their own resources, resist dealing with the World Bank and IMF, and move away from laissez-faire policies. In "The Shock Doctrine," Klein has once again uncovered the reality behind contemporary conservative economic doctrine and practice on a global scale.

Short film by Naomi Klein and Alfonso Cuaron on "The Shock Doctrine":

Monday, January 24, 2011

Agha And Malley On The Israeli-Palestinian Impasse

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley’s essay “Who’s Afraid of the Palestinians?” in The New York Review of Books accounts for the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. For Israelis, the Palestinian threat is currently low; the conflict affects them more through international delegitimization. For the Palestinians, armed struggle and nonviolent options have not materially affected the situation on the ground. The authors’ analysis leads to their pessimism:

For seventeen years, the peace process has been fueled by illusions. Bilateral negotiations have cultivated the pretense that Israelis and Palestinians are equal parties when they are not. US involvement has fed Palestinian delusions and shielded Israel. The international community’s treatment of the PA as a quasi state has not brought Palestinians closer to statehood. It has deceived Palestinians about what to expect from the world and corrupted their politics. Throwing money at the Palestinians has not ended the occupation but made it more palatable: it has reduced Israeli costs and created a Palestinian culture of dependency, diverting Palestinian energy from addressing their predicament to financing it. The illusions helped perpetuate the status quo.

This probably is not what the world had in mind when Obama took office. It certainly is not what the Palestinians believed history had in store. But it won’t get any better anytime soon.

Outstanding Israeli historian Tom Segev shares this pessimism, contending that the two sides are currently too far apart and should focus on conflict management. Today’s leak of “The Palestine Papers” by The Guardian and Al Jazeera will strengthen the perception of Palestinian Authority weakness in negotiations with Israel. This perception will benefit only Hamas, which runs Gaza and has no interest in a negotiated settlement.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Right Wing Three-Headed Hydra Destroys World

The Huffington Post is running an "End of the World Sky Photoshop Competition" following reports of two suns being possible (though unlikely) before 2012. Readers are asked to follow "the theme of apocalyptic skies" and present their "vision of the end of the world." My favorite entry, contributed by "CapnSnazSnap," is  three-headed hydra of Palin, Beck and Limbaugh wreaking world-ending havoc.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sen. Lieberman Insists On Discredited Arguments For Iraq War

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) was a key player in the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and for that he deserves full praise. That being said, Lieberman's retirement announcement was welcome news. He alienated Democrats with his support for the war in Iraq, backing of the McCain candidacy and opposition to a health care public option and to an alternative Medicare expansion–something he supported just three months before turning against it.

In an interview, Lieberman said that he would again support the war in Iraq and presented reasons discredited years ago. Lieberman makes the contradictory points that "that the evidence is very clear that [Saddam Hussein] was developing weapons of mass destruction. Obviously we don't have evidence that he had a big program. But the most official and comprehensive report shows that's true." Even George Bush, in his book "Decision Points," admits that he was wrong about WMD. Lieberman also states that Saddam was "...beginning really tactically to support the terrorist movements that had attacked us on 9/11..."–a point refuted by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Iraq war. Ariana Huffington states, "Based on these completely unfounded assumptions, I sincerely hope for the sake of the country that you do not become secretary of defense." Lieberman then condescendingly calls her "sweetheart." Watch as Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks considers and refutes Lieberman's misrepresentations:

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Seal Performs A Civil Rights Anthem

Following my recommendation of the musical tribute to Dr. King and the civil rights movement on the podcast St. James Infirmary (Jan. 14 two-part show), let’s listen to Seal’s performance of “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The English singer’s stirring rendition does full justice to Sam Cooke’s classic civil rights anthem.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weiner Provides "Viewer's Guide" To Republican Health Debate Falsehoods

During the health reform repeal debate in the House, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) took the Republicans to task for continuing to peddle their favorite canards, including talk of “death panels,” a “government takeover” and “socialized medicine.” He also noted that the Republicans are promising future reforms already included in the very bill they seek to repeal. Weiner once again reminded the country that the Republicans are a “wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.”

WEINER: "You know, I want to just advise people watching at home playing that now-popular drinking game of you take a shot every time Republicans say something that's not true, please assign a designated driver; this is going to be be a long afternoon."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Limbaugh Mocks Chinese President's Speech

In case you needed reminding of Rush's immaturity and racism...

LIMBAUGH: Eh, never mind. We're not gonna gyp Fox. I wanted to gyp it because the -- well, the -- Hu Jintao, he was speaking, and they weren't translating.

They normally -- you have some translator every couple of words. But Hu Jintao was just going [mocking Chinese speech].

Nobody was translating. But that's the closest I can get. (h/t Media Matters)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Three Democrats Who Support Health Repeal Don't Belong In The Party

Three Democrats crossed party lines today to vote with House Republicans to repeal health care reform. Here they are to the left, top to bottom: Rep. Dan Boren (OK), Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC) and Rep. Mike Ross (AK). All other Democrats–189 in number–voted against repeal.

Health care reform will be remembered as the signature accomplishment of the Obama presidency. But it's more than that. Ensuring that every American citizen has affordable, comprehensive coverage has been a Democratic quest for decades.

We expect the Republicans to be a "wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry," in the words of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). We're not surprised when Rep. Diane Black, new Republican congresswoman from Tennessee, is opposed to mandating health insurance companies to cover children since it's bad for the insurance business (not exactly a ringing endorsement for the existence of private insurance). We shouldn't expect the same from Democrats.

Democratic voters who live in these representatives' districts should not support them. If they can't even uphold health care reform, how are they any different from the Republicans? Vote instead for a progressive third party candidate. Write in your cat if you must. But let's establish that there are some values that Democrats hold–values clearly not held by these three.

SNL: "Fox News Embraces Civility"

“Saturday Night Live” depicts a strained attempt at civility on the part of Fox hosts. Greta Van Susteren (Kristen Wiig), Sean Hannity (Bobby Moynihan), Michelle Malkin (Nasim Pedrad) and Glenn Beck (Jason Sudeikis) are baited by CNN’s James Carville (Bill Hader), the “Ragin’ Cajun":

WikiLeaks To Expose Financial Crimes

WikiLeaks is preparing to expose tax evasion and other financial crimes contained in two computer discs:

A former senior Swiss bank executive said on Monday that he had given the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, details of more than 2,000 prominent individuals and companies that he contends engaged in tax evasion and other possible criminal activity.

Rudolf M. Elmer, who ran the Caribbean operations of the Swiss bank Julius Baer for eight years until he was dismissed in 2002, refused to identify any of the individuals or companies, but he told reporters at a news conference that about 40 politicians and “pillars of society” were among them.

...Mr. Elmer, who previously provided documents from his former employer to national tax authorities including the Internal Revenue Service in the United States, said he had turned to WikiLeaks to “educate society” about what he considers an unfair system that serves the rich and aids those who seek to launder money.

...“The man in the street needs to know how this system works,” he said, referring to the offshore trusts that many “high net worth individuals” around the world use to evade taxes.

With his usual conciseness, Atrios of Eschaton comments on the expected response:

I'm sure the Very Serious People response to anti-rich people leaks to wikileaks will be the same as their response to leaks embarrassing powerful people in governments. It's just wrong to hold powerful people accountable for anything.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Sarah Palin Battle Hymn

"The Sarah Palin Battle Hymn" proclaims, “She’s not a Harvard lawyer, but she knew what the founders meant,” in reference to Palin’s statement about Obama: “We need a commander-in-chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.” Of course, many of the founding fathers knew what they meant due to their background as lawyers. Regardless, this singing duo figures that Palin knows just enough law to “throw ‘em all in jail.”

Clinton Embodies Contradictions Of Administration Opposition To WikiLeaks

Anger against ousted Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was in part fueled by WikiLeaks, which leaked diplomatic cables exposing his regime's corruption. The cables were displayed on a "TuniLeaks" site created by Tunisian activists associated with the independent blog (the core, in Arabic). The Tunisian government unsuccessfully tried to block access.

From that perspective, consider Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that WikiLeaks constitutes "...not just an attack on America–it's an attack on the international community." Yet in a recent address to Arab leaders, Clinton rightly criticized their closed political systems and corruption. Of course, it was WikiLeaks that enabled Tunisians to obtain information–normally blocked–about such corruption. The Obama administration is caught in a contradiction between its advocacy of openness and reform overseas and its desire to prosecute Julian Assange:

Foreign Policy magazine tagged the end of Mr. Ben Ali’s rule “the first WikiLeaks revolution,” and while that may be an overstatement, the cables’ role in what President Obama lauded Friday as “this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights” underscores the awkward dilemma the WikiLeaks cables have posed for the administration.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been pressing an “Internet Freedom” initiative, emphasizing the power of the Web to expose injustice and promote democracy. But at the same time, the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, including using subpoenas to try to obtain the private Internet activity, credit card numbers and bank account details of Mr. Assange and his associates.

Joining the administration in opposition to WikiLeaks are such paragons of freedom as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, president of Libya, and the Iranian government.

Despite Carnage, Poor Prospects For Gun Control

The military didn't want Jared Loughner to carry a firearm, and he was suspended from Pima Community College for his disruptive behavior. Despite this background, he was able to pass a federal background check and purchase a Glock 19 with an ammunition clip once restricted by federal law. And despite his killing six people, including 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, and wounding 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), a large gun show went on in Tucson and prospects for gun control are doubtful:

...gun rights advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Thursday that there was little chance the attack would produce significant new legislation or a change in a national culture that has long been accepting of guns. If anything, they said, lawmakers are less receptive than ever to new gun restrictions.

...lawmakers seeking even modest limits on gun rights seem almost resigned to failure. Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said in a telephone interview that since he proposed a bill this week that would outlaw having a firearm within 1,000 feet of a member of Congress, his office had received “100 calls an hour from people who think I am trying to take away their Second Amendment rights.”

“This kind of legislation is very difficult,” Mr. King said, noting there had been “no enthusiasm,” even among Democrats, for the renewal of the assault weapon ban of 1994 in 2004. “The fact is Congress has not done any gun legislation in years”...

...Erich Pratt, the director of communications for Gun Owners of America, said..., “These politicians need to remember that these rights aren’t given to us by them. They come from God. They are God-given rights. They can’t be infringed or limited in any way. What are they going to do: limit it two or three rounds. Having lots of ammunition is critical, especially if the police are not around and you need to be able to defend yourself against mobs.”

So what can be done when God Himself wants no limits placed on the purchase of a Glock?

Illustration: "Standing On Principle," R.J. Matson/Roll Call

Musical Tribute To Dr. King And Civil Rights Movement On “St. James Infirmary”

I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast “St. James Infirmary” on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The host, my good friend Dr. Michael Mand, has put together an exceptional tribute to Dr. King and the civil rights movement as interpreted through music. The show opens with an excerpt from Dr. King's stirring "I Have A Dream" speech and then explores civil rights themes through blues, folk, soul, gospel and show music. In addition to the historical context, one comes away with a renewed appreciation for the profound African-American influence on the nation’s music.

You’ll find “St. James Infirmary” by clicking here (it's also listed under "Multimedia" on this blog); for the Dr. King and civil rights tribute, listen to the first and second half of the January 14, 2011 show. Of course, I recommend that you listen to the show weekly; it’s available for regular downloading and features an eclectic, entertaining mix of music and insightful commentary.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oversight Chair Issa: Just Prosecute Assange As A Criminal Already

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee, recently called the Obama administration "one of the most corrupt" before conducting even one hearing. In another indication that he neither respects nor understands the judicial process, Issa called for the prosecution of Julian Assange while the administration casts about for a case to bring against the WikiLeaks founder. Issa seems to think that the Justice Department can simply browse through the leaked documents and concoct a charge:

Issa...was sharply critical of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., stopping short of calling for his resignation. He said the Justice Department has not properly investigated the publication of thousands of classified diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Issa said Holder should prosecute Assange as a criminal.

"I think [Holder] needs to realize that, for example, WikiLeaks, if the president says, 'I can't deal with this guy as a terrorist,' then he has to be able to deal with him as a criminal," Issa said on "Fox News Sunday." "Otherwise, the world is laughing at this paper tiger we've become."

Got it? If we can't just declare someone an "enemy combatant," as the Bush administration did, can't we at least declare him a criminal?

Consider The Plight Of Rich, Powerful Conservatives

Greg Sargent of The Plum Line asks us for a moment of contemplation and compassion:

How much longer will the rest of the world callously turn a blind eye to the epic suffering being endured by America's persecuted minority of conservative personalities with millions of dollars and worshipful national followings?

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: 10,000 Maniacs Rediscovered

When I last showcased 10,000 Maniacs in August 2009, I thought the alternative rock band had broken up following the departure of singer Natalie Merchant. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the group is still performing and has a web site and YouTube channel. What's more, they're fronted by Mary Ramsey, an impressive, strong lead vocalist in her own right and a violist. Above the band performs "Love Will Tear Us Apart" at the Scharmann Theatre, Jamestown, NY, January 16, 2010.

Israeli Veterans Group "Breaking The Silence" Collects Testimony About Occupation Service

David Shulman writes in the New York Review of Books about accounts collected in “Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies 2000-2010.” He cites the late Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who predicted that the occupation would brutalize Israeli society–and the publication provides direct, searing evidence of that. Breaking the Silence, Israeli veteran combatants who collect and expose such testimony, is publishing the book in Hebrew and English. It is also available online. From Shulman’s review:

...To read [the reports] is to see the profound moral corruption of the occupation in all its starkness. They show us ordinary, decent young soldiers, caught up in an impossible situation, sometimes trying desperately to make sense of that situation, but mostly following their orders without question. In a number of cases, those interviewed have clearly been psychologically and spiritually scarred by their participation in horrific events of which they had little understanding at the time.

…Particularly ominous is the far-reaching interpenetration of the army units and the Israeli settlers who...are said to give the soldiers their orders. The editors...describe the settlers’ special status: they are “not merely Israeli citizens entitled to practice they are also partners in the military rule of the Palestinians.” As a soldier says..., “You don’t want to get into a confrontation with a Jewish settlement. ...they are like your operations branch officer...”

...If there is still hope for Israel, it lies with those remnants of the peace camp that remain active and, in particular, with groups such as Breaking the Silence, who offer a taste of the bitter, but perhaps ultimately healing, truth.

Photo: IDF checkpoint, Breaking the Silence

Friday, January 14, 2011

CBO To Boehner: Republican Health Care Repeal Adds $145 Billion To Deficit

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (left) on the Republican bill (H.R. 2) to repeal health care reform. The letter states that repeal would increase the deficit by $145 billion over seven years:

As a result of changes in direct spending and revenues, CBO expects that enacting H.R. 2 would probably increase federal budget deficits over the 2012–2019 period by a total of roughly $145 billion, plus or minus the effects of technical and economic changes that CBO and JCT will include in the forthcoming estimate. That figure consists of the following two components:

• About $130 billion, representing the net reduction in deficits over the 2012–2019 period expected to result from the health care provisions of the enacted legislation (as estimated by CBO and JCT last March), plus

• About $15 billion, representing the reduction brought about by the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 in the estimated cost of subsidies to be provided through the insurance exchanges through 2019.

The Republicans rejected the CBO's numbers; Paul Krugman demolished their objections, which he termed "deliberate fraudulence." He also ridiculed the "sheer tackiness of the bill's title," the "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act," asking, "Have they, at long last, no sense of shame?"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Price We Pay For "Ludicrously Thin" Gun Control

A New York Times editorial, "An Assault on Everyone's Safety," criticizes the "ludicrously thin membrane that now passes for gun control in this country" and considers the oversized ammunition clip on the Glock 19 "fired by a disturbed man who should never have been able to purchase it legally." The editorial elaborates:

The gun itself was purchased by Mr. Loughner at a sporting goods store that followed the bare-minimum federal background check, which only flags felons, people found to be a danger to themselves or others, or those under a restraining order.

Mr. Loughner was rejected by the military for failing a drug test, and had five run-ins with the Pima Community College police before being suspended for disruptive activity. Why can’t Congress require a background check — without loopholes for gun shows or private sales — that would detect this sort of history? If the military didn’t want someone like Mr. Loughner to be given a firearm, neither should the public at large.

Until we have sane gun control laws, we are paying the price stated by the wise penguin speaking to an NRA type in the Tom Tomorrow cartoon below:

Barring some seismic realignment in this country, the gun control debate is all but settled--and your side won. The occasional horrific civilian massacre is just the price the rest of us have to pay. Over and over again, apparently.

Note: Click on the image to enlarge.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Palin: No Peace If She's Blamed For Encouraging Violence

Sarah Palin has been criticized for encouraging an atmosphere of political violence with her map showing crosshairs over Democratic congressional districts, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords', and her tweet,"Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" In an email to Glenn Beck, Palin shows no remorse; instead, she issues a warning:

Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence.

Palin's lesson: call me out for inciting terror and violence and you will reap more terror and violence. The same "logic" applies to Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle's talk of "Second Amendment remedies" and Rush Limbaugh's comparison of Obama with Hitler, and any other right-wing hate monger. The nation has been warned.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rep. Giffords Spoke Of "Consequences" To Palin's Crosshairs Map

Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), in a Tucson hospital after being shot on Saturday, spoke last March about Sarah Palin's crosshairs map targeting Democrats in 20 congressional districts, including Giffords'. She commented on MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown" about the consequences of violent rhetoric and images:

Rep. Giffords: For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that action.

Following the shooting, Arizona sheriff Clarence Dupnik also spoke of the "consequences" of the hate-filled rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh.

Arizona Sheriff Dupnik: Limbaugh's Vitriol "Not Without Consequences"

Arizona sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who is investigating the Tucson shootings, spoke of the link between Rush Limbaugh's hate talk and today's heated political climate, stating, "The vitriol affects the [unstable] personality that we are talking about." Other comments:

Dupnik: The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information, attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

What Does It Take For The Incitement To End?

At this writing, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), shot along with 18 others north of Tuscon, is in critical condition. Mother Jones states that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, "...appears to have posted YouTube videos...that rail against the government and talk of revolution and terrorism." A second suspect is being sought.

Ultimately, the shooter is responsible for these heinous acts–and no one currently knows who influenced him. Yet irresponsible commentators create an atmosphere that make it more likely for the unhinged to go on a rampage. Bryon Williams, an ex-felon who plotted against the Tides Foundation and the ACLU and was involved in a shootout, claimed that "the things [Glenn Beck] exposed blew my mind." Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle spoke about "Second Amendment remedies." Sarah Palin's "Take Back the 20" website, since taken down, featured a map with crosshairs over districts represented by Democrats, including Rep. Giffords:

Finally, there was Palin's tweet: "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD! Pls see my Facebook page."

Are today's horrendous events what it takes for this violent rhetoric to end?

Oversight Chair Issa Calls Administration "Corrupt"

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), new Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee, pronounced the Obama administration "one of the most corrupt" prior to any investigation. Issa then engaged in a torturous redefinition of "corrupt":

John King, CNN: But you have called them corrupt, sir. You just twice used the word "misused." That's a judgement on your part and you will have subpoena power, you can have hearings, you can call up the witnesses and we will see what the evidence shows in the weeks and months ahead. Was it wrong to use the word "corrupt," which you have used repeatedly when you have not yet had a hearing?

Rep. Issa: I think people misunderstand the meaning of the word corrupt, and obviously CNN does. Corrupt, or corrupted, or failure. It's no different than a disk drive that's giving you some bits that are wrong. I've never said it's illegal, I've never made any of the statements that are often said on CNN, uh, that imply wrongdoing of the President at a criminal level. (h/t Daily Kos)

Meanwhile, Politico reports that Issa asked big business to help him root out "corruption": "Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants the oil industry, drug manufacturers and other trade groups and companies to tell him which Obama administration regulations to target this year."

Judith Miller: Assange A "Bad Journalist" For Not Verifying Information

Judith Miller, former New York Times reporter, had the chutzpah to criticize WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for being a "bad journalist." Assange, according to Miller,"didn't care at all about attempting to verify the information that he was putting out or determine whether or not it hurt anyone."

Miller famously demonstrated her scrupulous journalism with her September 2002 New York Times article, since debunked, suggesting that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing weapons of mass destruction. She eventually excused herself for not verifying information, stating, "[M]y job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal."

Regarding whether Assange has "hurt anyone," note that Miller's article backed up the Bush administration narrative leading to the war in Iraq. Fittingly, Miller is now a contributing writer for the right-wing Newsmax and makes appearances on Fox. For more chutzpah, the clip above is from "Fox News Watch," which is "always on the lookout for biased reporting."

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Looking Back At Dylan

Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” was on his “Blonde On Blonde” double album (1966). This video preserves the original vocals while adding a funky horn section laid down by The Dap Kings. Dylanologists will recognize hallmarks from his career: walking through Greenwich Village with former girlfriend Suze Rotolo (author of "A Freewheelin' Time"), seen on the cover of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan" album (1963); the replacement of his scruffy image for the Carnaby Street mod look, which coincided with “Blonde On Blonde” and more personal, surreal lyrics; the uproar when Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, 1965; the "big brass bed" from the song "Lay Lady Lay"; the signs containing the lyrics of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965) from the opening scene of “Don’t Look Back” (1967), directed by D.A. Pennebaker; Dylan's motorcycle accident (1966), which forced him to stop touring and brought about a more subdued musical sound; and the current country-western image with the Dylan character looking toward the Manhattan Bridge as fireworks explode over the East River.

Fiery Progressive Grayson Jabs Both Parties

Florida Representative Alan Grayson, who departed Congress on Wednesday, consistently gave us a model of a fighting, progressive Democrat. Most famously, he presented the Republican health care plan on the House floor : "Don't get sick! And if you do get sick, die quickly!" Grayson didn't leave quietly; in an interview, he offered harsh judgments for both Republicans and Democrats:

...Mr. Grayson...faulted Democrats for failing to deliver for...labor unions and antiwar voters.

...he considers the political right to be intolerable. He called the Republicans “a hopeless sellout party that will never do anything constructive for ordinary people in this country.”

...He is annoyed with Democratic senators for waiting until now to challenge the procedural rules that, he said, allowed a determined group of Republicans to use filibusters to stymie much of the president’s agenda.

And he bemoaned what he said was President Obama’s reversal on a campaign pledge to let the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ex-Congressman Hall Warns Of Fascism Following Citizens United Decision

John Hall, former congressman (D-NY), gave a departing interview to the New York Observer in which he warned of fascism with the rising influence of corporate money in the political process, particularly after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. The ruling lifted all political campaign spending limits on the part of corporations, something Hall (a singer-songwriter who co-founded the band Orleans) sees as a direct threat to democracy:

Speaking about the Citizen's United decision, which allowed unregulated flow of cash into campaign coffers, Hall said, "I learned when I was in social studies class in school that corporate ownership or corporate control of government is called Fascism. So that's really the question— is that the destination if this court decision goes unchecked?"

..."The country was bought," he said. "The extremist, most recent two appointees to the Supreme Court [Alito and Roberts], who claimed in their confirmation hearings before the Senate that they would not be activist judges, made a very activist decision in that it overturned more than a century of precedent. And as a result there were millions of extra dollars thrown into this race."

The extra money floating around, he said, compounded the Democrats' weaknesses on the economy, unemployment and the mortgage crisis. And he said that for of the accomplishments of the lame duck Congress, their failure to pass the Disclose Act—which would have at least forced corporations to reveal who they were donating to—stood out a black mark on the session.

"We are talking about supposedly wholesome names like Revere America, American Crossroads, Americans for Apple Pie and Motherhood—if somebody hasn't trademarked that one I probably should. The fact is you can call it anything and the money could be coming from BP or Aramco or any corporation domestic or foreign," Congressman Hall said.

Columbia Journalism Faculty, Australian Editors Oppose Prosecution Of WikiLeaks, Assange

Twenty faculty members of the Columbia Journalism School wrote and signed a letter to President Obama and Attorney General Holder condemning any legal action against WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange (left) for publishing confidential diplomatic cables:

...while we hold varying opinions of Wikileaks' methods and decisions, we all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables Wikileaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment. Any prosecution of Wikileaks' staff for receiving, possessing or publishing classified materials will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity.

...The U.S. and the First Amendment continue to set a world standard for freedom of the press, encouraging journalists in many nations to take significant risks on behalf of transparency. Prosecution in the Wikileaks case would greatly damage American standing in free-press debates worldwide and would dishearten those journalists looking to this nation for inspiration.

In Assange's native Australia, newspaper editors and other media figures signed a letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard opposing prosecution in Australia or the U.S.:

...WikiLeaks, an organisation that aims to expose official secrets, is doing what the media have always done: bringing to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret.

...To prosecute a media organisation for publishing a leak would be unprecedented in the US, breaching the First Amendment protecting a free press. In Australia, it would seriously curtail Australian media organisations reporting on subjects the government decides are against its interests.

New GOP Rep. Against Mandated Health Insurance For Children

Diane Black, new Republican congresswoman from Tennessee, is opposed to mandating health insurance companies to cover children, since it's bad for business:

Rep. Black: There is a mandate there that insurance companies must insure children up to the age of 24, and what we have found is that there are a lot of insurance companies that are just saying we’re not going to be in this business any longer, because we know that we can’t survive if that’s what we’re going to do. And the second piece of that was to insure children regardless of their health care history, and as a result of that, I know several health care insurance agents in my district who have said we’re just dropping any insurance for children whatsoever.

Black's ignorance is clear. The law covers children up to 26, not 24–and "dropping insurance" is now illegal. Black regrets those humane provisions and wants to reinstate denial of coverage due to "pre-existing conditions." Recall Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who was opposed to the public option because it would be bad for private health insurance. For the Republicans, insurance profits outweigh the well-being of children. And what is insurance for if it only covers the healthy?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Herbert: Republicans' Mission Remains The Same

Bob Herbert hits a grand slam with his commentary, "Get Ready for a G.O.P. Rerun." To extend the baseball metaphor further, the Republican takeover of the House is "like deja vu all over again," in Yogi Berra's immortal words. Herbert recalls the recent disasters of Republican rule–and reminds us of the party's ultimate purpose: to maintain and even increase the advantages of the wealthy:

...The party that brought us the worst economy since the Great Depression, that led us into Iraq and the worst foreign policy disaster in American history, that would like to take a hammer to Social Security and a chisel to Medicare, is back in control of the House of Representatives with the expressed mission of undermining all things Obama.

...The mantra for...the newly empowered Republicans in the to cut spending and shrink government. But what’s really coming are patented G.O.P. efforts to spread misery beyond Mr. Obama and the Democrats to ordinary Americans struggling in what are still very difficult times.

It was ever thus. The fundamental mission of the G.O.P. is to shovel ever more money to those who are already rich. That’s why you got all that disgracefully phony rhetoric from Republicans about attacking budget deficits and embracing austerity while at the same time they were fighting like mad people to pile up the better part of a trillion dollars in new debt by extending the Bush tax cuts.

This is a party that has mastered the art of taking from the poor and the middle class and giving to the rich. We should at least be clear about this and stop being repeatedly hoodwinked — like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football — by G.O.P. claims of fiscal responsibility.

...We’ll see and hear a lot of populist foolishness from the Republicans as 2011 and 2012 unfold, but their underlying motivation is always the same. They are about making the rich richer...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mark Fiore: "The Year That Wasn't"

Political animator Mark Fiore surveys the non-issue issues of 2010: the hysteria over “socialized medicine” in a health care bill that didn’t even include a public option; the “ground zero mosque,” neither at ground zero nor a mosque; the brutal wars that ground on seemingly without public acknowledgment, and tax cuts for the wealthy that, despite Republican rhetoric, have nothing to do with creating jobs. Here’s to greater awareness in 2011!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Stock Market Booming Under Comrade Obama's Socialist Regime

In November, the Commerce Department reported that American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion–their best quarter ever. In another ironic departure from the Alaskan Misinformer's prediction of "socialism" under Obama, the stock market has been booming during his "anti-business" presidency. From Global Macro Monitor, which tracks markets and the global economy (click on the image to enlarge):

The stock market as measured by the S&P500 is up just about 50 percent since President Obama’s inauguration to today’s close [Dec. 31, 2010]. Only Eisenhower comes close, but not even in the same zip code.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Christie To Critics Of Disney Trip During Storm: "I Had A Great Five Days"

Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey defended his leaving for Disney World ahead of the fifth largest blizzard in state history. He called the criticism "carping" and "partisanship" and stated that he was in contact with officials who were following a plan to deal with the storm. Christie explained why he was at "the Happiest Place on Earth" while his state was buried in snow:

“I made a promise to my children…that I was going to take them to Disney World,” said Christie. “I was not going to look at my children and say we’re not going.”

...Christie called charges he “abandoned” the state nothing but silly politics, and said he had absolutely no regrets. “I had a great five days.”

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Preview Of The 112th Congress

Via Dangerous Minds, political satirist Paul Krassner envisions the scenario above for the 112th Congress. There are more stooges there than ever, especially in the Republican-controlled House, where the main goal will be to throw pies at the tremendous accomplishments of the 111th Congress.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Krugman On The GOP's New Voodoo Economics

Paul Krugman notes that the Republicans are past stating that tax cuts pay for themselves, especially when the Bush tax cuts were followed by historically slow economic growth. Pursuing the extension of Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, the Republicans pushed a new line: we don’t have to pay for tax cuts (see posts on Senators Mitch McConnell and David Vitter). They intend to legislate according to this new form of voodoo economics:

…2010 marked the emergence of a new, even more profound level of magical thinking: the belief that deficits created by tax cuts just don’t matter. For example, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona — who had denounced President Obama for running deficits — declared that “you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”

…As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the incoming House majority plans to make changes in the “pay-as-you-go” rules — rules that are supposed to enforce responsible budgeting — that effectively implement Mr. Kyl’s principle. Spending increases will have to be offset, but revenue losses from tax cuts won’t. Oh, and revenue increases, even if they come from the elimination of tax loopholes, won’t count either: any spending increase must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere; it can’t be paid for with additional taxes.

The Republicans combine tax cuts with no realistic plan to cut spending:

So if taxes don’t matter, does the incoming majority have a realistic plan to cut spending? Of course not. Republicans say that they want to cut $100 billion in spending, which is itself small change in a $3.6 trillion federal budget. But they also say that defense, Medicare and Social Security — all the big-ticket items — are off the table. So they’re talking about a 20 percent cut in what’s left, which includes things like running the judicial system and operating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; they have offered no specifics about where the cuts will fall.

"The King's Speech": Giving A Stutter The Royal Treatment

In the film "The King's Speech," we witness the Duke of York (Colin Firth), Albert Frederick Arthur George, with an occupational problem. He was a stutterer who was charged at times with giving speeches to the British population. His difficulty was exacerbated when his brother David (Guy Pearce), King Edward VIII, gave up his crown to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). Now the Duke would become King George VI–and have to present speeches to the entire British empire inspiring resolve as it went to war with Nazi Germany.

At the urging of his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the Duke seeks the aid of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist without a degree. Logue puts their relationship on an equal footing through calling Albert by his family name, “Bertie,” and insisting that their sessions take place in his shabby office. The unconventional Logue, who first relied on his intuitive methods treating shell-shocked WWI soldiers, becomes more than a speech therapist; he becomes a psychologist and friend, breaking down Albert’s reserve to uncover childhood events that led to his stuttering. This friendship humanizes the new king as he seeks to rise to the demands of history in this compelling film.