Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Shock Doctrine Revisited...

Paul Krugman’s Friday NYTimes column, “Shock Doctrine, U.S.A.” is a MUST READ.  [Here] Krugman applies the thesis that Naomi Klein laid out in her best-selling The Shock Doctrine to the events that are happening in Madison, Wisconsin.  I’ve written about this important book before [Here] and am thrilled that Krugman is connecting the present events in Wisconsin with Klein’s description of similar historical events in Pinochet’s Chile, and elsewhere, including our involvement in Iraq.
Krugman reminds us of how driven by neoliberalism thinking our Iraqi adventure was.  He quotes our viceroy, Paul Bremer, as saying to a reporter from the Washington Post that one of his top-priorities was to “corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises” and to “wean people from the idea that the state supports everything.”   That was Bremer’s vision and we know how it turned out.  Our occupation and policies tore Iraqi society apart.  
In Krugman’s words, the neoliberal vision is the imposition of “...a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.” [Here]  And isn’t this exactly what is happening in Wisconsin under Gov. Walker?  Krugman points out that even more exists in Walker’s 144-page bill than simple union busting.  It lays out a program that is both undemocratic and dictatorial. 
The bill would allow governor appointees to slash health care coverage for low-income families without having to go thru the legislature.  Also, the Walker bill proposes that the state may sell or lease state-owned power plants without having to put out bids and may do so for any amount of money Walker thinks is fair.  (Can’t you imagine the Koch Brother’s industries rushing in and taking over?)  
Union-busting and privatization are dual goals for these folks, which they hope will spread across the country.  Another neoliberal goal is deregulation.  They wish to pull away regulators who are monitoring air quality, emissions, water quality, and so on.  In fact, hobble the EPA, the SEC, Consumer Affairs, meat and food inspectors and the like.  This is what “reducing the size of government” really means.  
Make no mistake.  The march toward the above goals has already begun.  With a tax code that gives tax breaks to the rich, we are fast approaching an America that Herbert Hoover would be comfortable in.  As Robert Reich has pointed out:  [Here]
Only the richest 5 percent of Americans are back in the stores because their stock portfolios have soared.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average has doubled from its crisis low.  Wall Street pay is up to record levels.  Total compensation and benefits at the 25 major Wall St firms had been $130 billion in 2007, before the crash; now it's close to $140 billion.
(It’s enraging to realize that the folks that created the world-wide crash are even richer than ever, isn’t it?)
The GOP is focused on union-busting because unions have been stalwart supporters of a humane social program with safety nets for the less well-to-do.  At the present time, organized labor is the single strongest and most organized force opposing the Randian corporatist vision of society.
Over the weekend as I struggled to find news of the nationwide protest that had been organized by Truthout, CNN chose to bury the story, but highlighted the two-year anniversary of the Tea Party!  [Here]
Digby at Hullabaloo points out that Fox News, on the other hand, is watching the Wisconsin events very carefully.  Fox is very anxious to frame the public narrative of the story with scary pictures of union members as rowdy hooligans.  Here’s a good example of a headline from Fox News that Mr. Murdock and Ailes hope everyone will remember: [Here]
Pro-Union Rallies Simmering With Violence and Hate Speech.
This is a totally untrue statement.  But when Fox News gets involved, truth flies out the window.  And just look who is suddenly afraid of hate-speech!  Didn't Murdock and Ailes and Beck and O'Reilly and Hannity invent it?

This is the pot calling the kettle black...


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bond v. U.S...

There are two cases wending up the judicial pipeline towards the Supreme Court and they both bear watching.  As we continue to see the deleterious  effects that Citizens United v. FEC has had on our democracy, we had best pay attention to the next hits to our government and society.  
One case [Here] has been described by Robert Barnes, a staff writer for the Washington Post, and will be of particular interest to the Tea-Partyers who seem obsessed with our Tenth Amendment.  The other case was discussed in Wednesday’s NYTimes by Linda Greenhouse [Here] and involves the Voting Rights Act which was renewed for another twenty five years in 2006.  The implications of this act being struck down is obvious.  More on this tomorrow.
First, the Tenth Amendment issue.  This is what the Tea-Partyers are currently using to fight what they call ObamaCare. [Here]
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
These are the so-called reserved powers, among which are the police powers that are “reserved” to the states.  And there beginneth our tale...
When Carol Anne Bond heard that her best friend, Myrlinda Haynes, was pregnant, she was thrilled, but the joy quickly turned to hatred and vengence when she discovered that the baby’s father was her husband, Clifford Bond.   Carol Bond was a trained microbiologist and set out (or so the story goes) to poison her ex-friend with a homemade blend of rare and toxic chemicals.
When Haynes could not get local police to act on her complaint, she asked the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia to investigate.  According to reporter Robert Barnes, Bond’s attorney has claimed that the Philadelphia attorneys tried his client under the anti-terrorist laws that were designed to put teeth in an international chemical-weapons treaty.
Bond claims that the feds had no right to indict her ---because the Tenth Amendment gives the states that power.  Not surprisingly, a whole host of rightwingers have rushed in to support this poisoner.  Among Bond’s defenders are Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum and the Cato Institute (co-founded by David Koch), and attorney generals from 6 states.
The issue is whether an individual has a right to sue in such cases (standing).  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled that individuals do not have a right to sue without the state joining them.  
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case last Tuesday.  WaPo’s reporter felt that the general impression left by the drift of the questions from the justices was that they felt a defendant should have the right to claim that the statute is unconstitutional.
The facts in the case are bizarre.  Haynes’s pregnancy apparently drove Bond into insane rage.  She threatened Haynes with repeated phone calls, was arrested in 2005 and was convicted of harrassment.  This didn’t deter Bond.  In a six-month period she tried to poison Haynes 24 times.  She bought poisonous substances and spread them on surfaces that Haynes was likely to touch--her car door, mailbox and front door.  Luckily for Haynes the chemicals were visible and she was able to escape serious injury and death.  
Haynes tried to get local law enforcement engaged but they were not interested.  Haynes did get her local mailman involved who brought in postal inspectors who caught Haynes on video spreading the chemicals.  The inspectors called in the feds.  
Bond was tried and sentenced to 6 years imprisonment, and five years supervised probation and fined.  (If she had been tried under the state’s aggravated-assault laws the penalty would have been 3 to 25 months.)
There are interesting questions of law in the case.  One of the more interesting questions is whether Bond has “standing.”  That is, does she have a right to sue under the Tenth Amendment or is it only a state that may sue under that Amendment.
This case, Bond v. U.S., will be closely watched.  There is more at stake here than an attempted murderess’s length of prison time.  Let's see if Scalia and Thomas open the door for the Tea Partyers to rush in.
By the way, I wonder who is paying for Bond’s extensive legal expenses?...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fascism, Folks???...

I stumbled across the following this morning: [Here]
As defined by its inventor, Benito Mussolini, fascism is ‘corporate control of the state.’  There are ways to beat around the Bush---Paul Krugman has recently written about ‘oligarchy’---but it's time to end all illusions and call what we now confront by its true name. 
The authors, Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, of  “Fighting the 5 Fascisms in Wisconsin and Ohio,” point out five basic realities.  The first reality is that trade unions and the trade union movement per se are basic to modern democracies.  (Hitler threw trade union leaders into concentration camps before jews and gypsies.) 
The second reality is the ever-widening disparity between rich and poor.  And yet the American people have elected the Republican party into power in our lower Congressional House even after they  supported a continuation of the Bush tax breaks for the rich.
The third reality, according to the authors, is that we have poured huge amounts of our resources into our military budget.  At the present time we spend more money on our military than the entire military budgets of the rest of the world.  At the same time, corporationists know that a frightened citizenry will welcome a strong military force and a strong leader so they have a stake in keeping its citizens edgy.
The fourth reality is that in order for fascism to acquire power, there must be corporate control of the media. For example look at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp’s huge empire and power in the English-speaking world.  His “commentators” like Glenn Beck daily "uncover" secret plots and schemes to take over America.  
The fifth reality is Citizens United v. FEC which has made possible the legal pouring of millions and millions of corporate dollars into mostly rightwing political campaigns.  
Fritrakis and Wasserman are pessimistic about what is ahead for democracy in this country.  They see no assured way back to a robust democracy.  [Here]
In the wake of Citizens United, with the courts, media, Congress and presidency firmly in corporate control, we see no easy road to victory for working people.
I understand their pessimism, but I do not believe that we need focus on the negative.  What has been interesting in Wisconsin is that young people have joined the protesters.  And as with all important and successful political movements, whether they happen in Madison, Wisconsin or Cairo, Egypt or Selma Alabama, the old might start off and lead, but it is the endurance of the legs, lungs and hearts of the young that will determine the ultimate success or failure of change.

Let's keep our eyes on the young...
And speaking of fascists:  As you might have heard, Gov. Walker was the victim of a prank phone call from someone purporting to be David Koch.  Of course, Walker took the call and talked quite openly with “David Koch.”  I found the YouTube fascinating.  Walker is confident, almost boastful.  He crows about the many tv interviews that he has had and discusses a trick plan he has devised to get the Democrats back to the Senate chamber in Madison.   The conversation sounds like the plot a young kid would spin off to an older man in a bar.  [Here]


Doesn't it make you very, very tired?...

Monday, February 21, 2011

George Lakoff Unmasks Conservatives...

George Lakoff is a linguist who has taught us a new way of looking at our political dialogue and discussion.  He has made us aware of the way we “frame” our arguments and made us sensitive to our opponents’ assumptions through the metaphors they use.  At times his analyses seem flatfooted and patronizing, but, as is true of Noam Chomsky, we ignore him at our peril. 
Lakoff has written a new fascinating essay, “What Conservatives Really Want,” that is being given wide distribution by Reader Supported News. a progressive email subscription service. [Here]  (He writes that the piece is “dedicated to the peaceful protestors in Wisconsin, February 19, 2011.”)
Lakoff lists some of the issues which are at stake today from women’s rights to collective bargaining, from public broadcasting to food safety and on and on.  However, Lakoff says that budget deficits are only a ruse.  He argues that: [Here]
The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.
...Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.”
Lakoff points out that the Conservative moral view is that of a strict father-dominated family.  The father decides everything, rules with an iron hand and physically disciplines his children.  It is only in this way that children learn the inner discipline and morality necessary to be materially successful.  The less prosperous folks in society demonstrate their lack of discipline (and low morality) by lack of riches.

I hope that this essay earns a wide audience.  It describes the Conservative’s lack of empathy and simple humanitarianism that saddens and enrages liberals and progressives.  I am sorry that Lakoff does not label this heartless conservatism as an updated form of Calvinism.  It certainly is pure neoliberalist thinking.  
(Speaking of which, I hope that we are prepared for the release on April 15th of the movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged Part I.)  We should also be prepared for the media frenzy around its release.  I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Alan Greenspan will walk the red carpet.  
Lakoff also warns Democrats that they should not use Republican language such as “entitlements” for earnings and reminds us that pensions are deferred payment for work performed.  
Words are important and Lakoff should give Democrats a new lexicon.  Look how the GOP has tried to eliminate the adjective “Democratic” from their vocabularies by using "Democrat" when referring to the opposition party.  Maybe it doesn't matter but it sounds jarring, ungrammatical and just plain wrong to my ear.

Perhaps we could be clever enough to frame language so that the entire GOP message sounds jarring, ungrammatical and just plain wrong.

It's certainly worth a try...    

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Koch Brothers Again...

Yesterday in my post about the unbelievable events in Wisconsin, I wondered whether we were all starting to smell a large corporate rat behind those events.  I’ve dug a little deeper and our original suspicions were right on the money--quite literally so.  And who are the puppet master(s)?  Yep, the Brothers Koch.  
To begin with, let’s start with the the Kochs and Governor Scott Walker. [Here]  In his recent gubernatorial campaign Walker was given $15,000. by the Koch brothers, the maximum direct cash donation allowed by law.   KochPAC gave $43,ooo to Walker.  The Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity, the astro-turf group whose support is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, was also thrown at Walker.  (You’ve probably seen that Tea Partyers have recently become an anti-protest presence in Madison, [Here] whipped up and organized, no doubt, by Koch surrogates.)  A virulent ad campaign that was mounted against Walker's Democratic candidate was extremely effective and underwritten by the Republican Governor’s Association which had received a million dollars from the Kochs.
Could we safely conclude that Governor Scott Walker is a dear, dear friend of the brothers Koch?  
And what about Koch Industries holdings in Wisconsin itself?  Alternet’s Adele Stan provides a summary for us: [Here]  
Although headquartered in Kansas, Koch Industries has at least 17 facilities and offices in Wisconsin ... and operates "nearly 4,000 miles of pipeline" through its Koch Pipeline Company, L.P.
...The conglomerate boasts 'four terminals and strategically located pipelines' through its Flint Hills Resources, LLC, which it describes as ‘a leading refining and chemicals company’ that markets ‘gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, ethanol, olefins, polymers and intermediate chemicals, as well as base oils and asphalt.’
The Kochs' Georgia Pacific paper and wood products division has six facilities in Wisconsin. Its C. Reiss Coal Company ‘is a leading supplier of coal used to generate power,’ according to the Koch Web site.  The company has locations in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan.
(Is it any wonder that the Koch brothers are leading climate change adversaries?)  Adele Stan goes on to call Wisconsin “Kochistan.”  
Digby at Hullabaloo added that she couldn’t find any tv commentary on morning news shows that even mentioned Gov. Walker’s tax cuts that created the fiscal problem.  The American public deserves more intelligent reporting and more responsible journalism.
Digby also passed along this CrooksandLiars video of the Nation's Chris Hayes and Naomi Klein, author of A Shock Doctrine, explaining the larger picture and goals of these neoliberal corporationists. [Here]  It's important viewing.
As I keep saying, dust off those marching shoes...  

Friday, February 18, 2011

As Wisconsin Goes, Will We?...

Things are certainly heating up in Wisconsin and from what I have read about those Wisconsin winters, the heat from union supporters must be a welcomed energy source.  It certainly warms my heart to see folks of all ages marching and yelling for the right of workers to organize.
What I don’t know is how Scott Walker managed to get elected with 52% of the vote.  His biography is not impressive.  Walker didn’t even finish college.  He attended Marquette University, but dropped out 36 credits short of graduation.  Wikipedia tells us that his grade point average was in the C’s.  They also quote this explanation for his leaving. [Here]
In the end, I figured I was in school to get a good job.  So once I had one, family became more important than getting a degree. 
I guess one doesn’t have to look much farther than this short statement to know that Scott Walker doesn’t have much respect for formal education--or much understanding of what learning is all about, either.  It’s not surprising that he is against teachers’ unions or teachers in any large group.
His political beliefs are in the same conservative, reactionary box as Bachman and Palin.  He’s pro-life, anti-abortion in all circumstances, even in the case of rape, incest and saving the life of the mother.  He also opposes state agencies providing birth control to under-18 teenagers without parental consent.  He’s for abstinence-only education in schools.   He believes that pharmacists should be allowed to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives if doing so runs contrary to their religious or moral beliefs.  (Scott Walker is the son of a Baptist minister.)  He’s also against stem cell research--of course.
That’s the man who is leading this reactionary outrage in Wisconsin.
The fact is that Governor Scott Walker created this so-called deficit crisis all by himself.  TPM has the story: [Here] [The emphasis is mine.]
...this broadside comes less than a month after the state's fiscal bureau -- the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office -- concluded that Wisconsin isn't even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.
‘Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond his control,’ says Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future -- a public interest think tank. ‘He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts... so he could rush through these other changes.’
So Walker cooked up the entire mess, just to do battle against the powerful (and Democratic) Teacher’s union and the right of collective bargaining.  
The Washington Post carried a story on Friday [Here] that said “President Obama thrust himself and his political operation this week into Wisconsin’s broiling budget battle...”  Doesn’t that sound encouraging!  I think we are going to have a battle in many states and we'll need all the help we can get.  Certainly what we are seeing in Wisconsin will spread to other states.  Union supporters are currently poised to protest in Columbus, Ohio.  The Post mentioned that union leaders have predicted that similar actions will probably also take place in Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 
Don’t you smell some very large, corporate Republican rats?  When will the Democratic base wake up?  As I’ve said before, dust off your marching shoes.  The snow is melting and it’s time for hitting back.  Rights are never completely won.  They must be redefined and fought for by each new generation.   
We’ve had a hard winter, but let liberal thinking and liberal values have a grand and loud rebirth this Spring.
It’s our turn at bat.  Are you ready?...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sexism, There AND Here...

First let us wish CBS reporter Lara Logan a speedy recovery from her assault in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.  
Logan, her film crew and security guards went into the huge triumphant and celebratory crowd immediately after Mubarak resigned.  She became separated from her group and was brutally attacked, beaten and repeatedly sexually assaulted until she was rescued by a group of Egyptian women and about 20 Egyptian soldiers. [Here]  She flew back home the next morning and is recovering in an American hospital.
If this incident wasn’t horrifying enough, some rightwing nuts have jumped in and added their ideological spin to the horrifying event.  Media Matters [Here] picked up the following sick post from a wingnut named Jim Hoft, whose blog is called Gateway Pundit [Here], a part of a rightwing group of blogs and articles.
What is Hoft’s spin?  Here is his headline and a bit of the copy. [Here]
After Sexual Assault & Beating... CBS Reporter Logan Learns That Political Correctness Is a Killer...
Lara Logan is lucky she’s alive.
Her liberal belief system almost got her killed on Friday. This talented reporter will never be the same. 
Why did this attractive blonde female reporter wander into Tahrir Square last Friday? Why would she think this was a good idea?...

I won’t go on, but aren’t you sick of blame-the-victim thinking?  How could this Jim Hoft have blamed Lara Logan’s sexual assault on “political correctness?”  Did he simply forget that she is a reporter and that going into Tahrir Square with a camera crew and a security guard has nothing to do with political correctness?  It’s called being a journalist and reporting a developing story.

 Isn’t it interesting that this man completely ignored the fact that this woman was doing a job--an important job.  However, Hoft’s mindset is the same as the thugs that assaulted Logan.  A woman is a sexual object first, last, and forever--all else that she might be is immaterial.
Mona Eltahawy, the fine Egyptian journalist and feminist, has written extensively about the sexism that runs deep in Egyptian culture.  Her personal history as a woman growing up in Egypt is filled with incidents of sexual harrassment, beginning when she was 4 years-old.  What I also found shocking were statistics that she quoted from a recent Egyptian survey.  [Here]
...it was no surprise to learn that 98 percent of foreign women visiting Egypt and 83 percent of native Egyptian women who were recently surveyed said that they, too, had been sexually harassed, and they have recounted a catalog of horrors similar to mine. What an awful time to be a woman in Egypt.
...the majority of the more than 2,000 Egyptian men and women that ECWR [Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights] surveyed, blamed women for bringing on the harassment because of the way they dressed.
Eltahawy places part of the blame on women themselves for accepting this role.  She believes that it is shame and a sense of personal humiliation that allows this extreme sexism to continue.  She points out that in Egypt there isn’t even a law against sexual harrassment and thus no taboo.
Mona Eltahawy is a brave woman to continue to fight on.  
And so is Lara Logan... 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Obama’s Budget?...

On Valentine’s Day, Paul Krugman’s blog, Conscience Of A Liberal, carried his summary of the president’s proposed budget.  (If I were Obama, this isn’t a valentine I would like to read any time soon.) [Here]
There was an old Washingtoon [comic strip] from the mid-1980s, in which Democrats meet to plan their new centrist strategy — which consists of tax cuts for the rich, reduced spending on the needy, and big defense budgets. “But how is this different from the Republicans?” asks one member of the group. “Compassion,” replies the leader. “We care about the victims of our policies.
That’s pretty much my initial reaction to what we know so far about the Obama budget. It’s much less awful than the Republican proposal [Here], but it moves in the same direction: listening to the administration, you’d think that discretionary spending, not health care, is at the heart of our long-run deficit problems — and you’d also think that the job of rescuing the economy was done, with unemployment still at 9 percent.
It could be worse — the GOP proposal is — but it’s hardly something to cheer about.
Now that the Obama budget has been released, the political games will begin.  

One of the first games, as Huffposts Sam Stein points out, [Here] is for the President to point out that this budget cuts will affect programs that had been an important part of his own life.  For example, Obama is proposing cutting in half the $700 million dollar block grant program, for which he worked before being elected to the Illinois Senate.  He is also proposing that graduate students begin owing interest on their student loans while they are studying.  (Obama made a big fuss about just paying off his student loans.)
  
Perhaps the cruelest Obama proposal is the one to cut $2.5 billion dollars from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.  This is money to heat and cool the homes of the poor.  You might have read that Sen. Kerry blew up at this proposal and wrote a letter of protest to the President, asking him to reconsider. [Here]  In view of what the current winter has been like, this is a particularly heartless proposal.

And dare I ask where are the belt-tightening proposals for the rich?
Yes, indeed!  The games have begun.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Name that Windbag...

Have we all been keeping an eye on the CPAC convention held in Washington over the week-end?  It certainly gave us an eye and an ear into Conservative (Reactionary) thinking, but mostly it gave us a chance to look at some of the 2012 GOP Presidential hopefuls, although Sarah Palin missed the entire event, claiming that she had a “schedule conflict.”  (I suspect CPAC didn’t offer her enough money.)
However, the event did give Shirley Sherrod a chance to serve Andrew Breitbart with legal papers for a lawsuit she has filed against him for that doctored, slanderous video he posted against her. [Here]  It’s splendid to know that she is fighting back.  I wonder if the papers were served before or after he delivered his rambling, sophomoric, sexist speech?
Even though it may be difficult to focus on events such as CPAC because of the outlandish ideas that are bounced around, it’s important to know what ideas are the latest to be peddled.  Robert Reich, via the readersupportednews.com, has prepared a quiz to test how closely we’ve paid attention: [Here]
QUIZ: Which of the 2012 presidential aspirants delivered the following words at the Conservative Political Action Convention, now underway in Washington?
We have seen tax-and-tax spend-and-spend reach a fantastic total greater than in all the previous 170 years of our Republic. 
Behind this plush curtain of tax and spend, three sinister spooks or ghosts are mixing poison for the American people. They are the shades of Mussolini, with his bureaucratic fascism; of Karl Marx, and his socialism; and of Lord Keynes, with his perpetual government spending, deficits, and inflation. And we added a new ideology of our own. That is government give-away programs.... 
If you want to see pure socialism mixed with give-away programs, take a look at socialized medicine.
Reich goes on to say that if we guessed it was Jim DeMint or Newt Gingrich we’d be wrong but forgiven because they speak very much like this.  Nor was it any of the other GOP windbags--Santorum, Perry, Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Barbour, Thune, Romney, or Mitch Daniels.  
The correct answer is Herbert Hoover, speaking to the Republican National Convention in Chicago in July, 1952.  (Hard to believe, but true.)
Hoover was President during the 1929 market crash and he didn’t learn a thing during the New Deal recovery, the war years and Truman’s administration.  After this  speech in Chicago, the Convention wisely paid no attention and nominated Dwight David Eisenhower who went on to win the election.  Once in office, Eisenhower went on to champion a huge highway construction program (40,000 miles of 4 and 6 lane highways), put federal money into math and science teaching programs and created the Federal Housing Authority.  
The economy boomed and the median income of the working class rose sharply.  (I’ve often wondered why the GOP never mentions Ike but swoons at the mere mention of the name of Ronald Reagan.)   
How did you do on Robert Reich’s quiz?...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Clarence Thomas in the News--again...

The NYTimes’s Supreme Court Correspondent, Adam Liptak, gave us an interesting heads-up in last Saturday paper. [Here]  When the Supreme Court returns from its winter recess right after President’s Day, it will hear arguments in two criminal cases, but we shall probably not hear a peep from Clarence Thomas, if he continues his stubborn, five-year non-participatory silence in such circumstances.  His continued silence is so unusual that it merited Liptak’s story on the front page of the Times.
Liptak, always a keen Court observer, wrote: [Here]
If he is true to form, Justice Thomas will spend the arguments as he always does: leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, rubbing his eyes, whispering to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, consulting papers and looking a little irritated and a little bored. He will ask no questions.
Thomas has given various reasons for his odd silence.  He has written about his embarrassment about the way he speaks.  When growing up, he was teased about his rural Georgia accent and thus never asked questions in college or law school.  He also has said that he is quiet in oral argument because it is more courteous to listen than to speak.  However, critics have pointed out that since his opinions can be contrary and “idiosyncratic,” attorneys should have a chance to engage him in discussion before being hit by a sweeping opinion from left field.
All of this simply adds to the general opinion that Thomas’s nomination and subsequent Senate confirmation were serious mistakes.
Complicating this already muddied picture of Thomas, is the ongoing complication of his wife Ginni’s very visible and very conservative lobbying career.  She ran a Tea Party organization and is currently the head of her own lobbying firm for which she has boasted to freshman GOP Congressmen and women of her insider “contacts.”  We must add to this starkly partisan picture, her highly publicized and ill-advised phone call to Anita Hill.  On top of all that, we now have the revelation that Clarence did not report his wife’s income of $686,589 on his Supreme Court’s financial disclosure forms from 2003 to 2007.  He wrote “none” and has since been allowed the highly unusual courtesy to “amend” the forms. [Here]  
Surely Thomas must have been aware that his wife was leaving for work every day.  (She was working then for the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank.)  Is $686,589 chump change for the Thomases, so that Clarence didn't notice?
There are many, many things wrong with Thomas’s career on the court, aren’t there?  We have not even discussed his attendance, with fellow conservative Justice Scalia, at a Koch brothers lavish Conservative strategy session at Aspen.  That alone should have raised a major hue and cry.  Both justices should have recused themselves from Citizens United v. FEC.  They knew that the case was in the court’s pipeline.  Barring that, Chief Justice Roberts should have raised the issue with them.  There is no evidence that that conversation ever took place.
Shouldn’t members of the Supreme Court be above reproach--like Caesar’s wife?
But maybe that doesn't apply to men?...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ladies, it’s time for marching...

Nancy Pelosi is trying to get our attention and it’s important that we listen--women in particular. In a conference call to reporters and progressive/liberal bloggers last Thursday afternoon, Pelosi said: [Here] [The emphasis is mine.]
They're advancing extreme legislation...It's dangerous to women's health, disrespects the judgment of American women -- I don't know if they even gave that a thought -- and it's the most comprehensive and radical assault on women's health in our lifetime. It's that bad.”
She was referring to three bills that have been introduced into the House.  The most well-reported is H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act, that was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R, NJ).  (Remember that name.)  Under the Hyde Amendment, current law already bars federal money from paying directly for abortions.  This proposal, however, would go further and would deny tax benefits to employers who offer their staff health insurance that includes abortion coverage.
A second bill, H.R. 217, has been introduced by Mike Pence (R, IN) and this is even worse.  This bill would deny federal family-funding under Title X to those groups that also offer abortion access.  If passed, this bill would cripple organizations such as Planned Parenthood.  Just last week we wrote about a despicable “sting” by a pro-life group on twelve Planned Parenthood sites in six different states.  [Here]  That was an attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood.  Some of the same "sting" folks had blackened the reputation of ACORN, causing it to fold.  (Why aren’t they in jail?)
The third bill, H.R. 358, was introduced by Joe Pitts (R, PA).  This one is a lulu.  This bill would allow hospitals to turn away women who need an abortion to save their lives.  This bill doesn’t even mandate the hospital to transfer the woman to another facility who would perform the procedure.  The current law reads that if a hospital which receives Medicare or Medicaid funding is unable to perform an abortion to save the life of the mother, they must transfer the patient to a facility who can.
One wonders how Smith, Pence and Pitts come up with these ideas.  Do they just call the Conference of Catholic bishops for ideas?  Of course, GOP conservatives just shrug their shoulders and say to their critics, as Steve King (R, IA) has said about the Pence Bill, employers should buy insurance without abortion coverage.  It will be cheaper and they’ll save their tax benefits.  Simple.  King should have added, "the women be damned."  
In view of the current conservative attack on Planned Parenthood, we must wonder if these conservative-reactionaries who are marching backwards into the Nineteenth Century, are now doing battle against contraception?
I have asked this question before but I ask it again: when are the young men and women who consider themselves feminists going to rise up against this assault on feminism?  Nancy Pelosi will be 70 in a month and I’m 10 years older than she.  Why are we the voices that are being raised?  I’d love to sit back and see the young women and men become angry about these issues.  
Why are our young women not taking to the streets?  It’s time that they did.  Maybe they should learn something about protests from the young Egyptians.
I’ll lend them my marching shoes...

Friday, February 11, 2011

No Thanks for the memories, Jon Kyle...

(Before we begin tonight’s post, our deepest congratulations to the people of Egypt for their successful protests and thousands of acts of individual courage.)   
Now, back to this country.  I am constantly amazed how often conservatives practice “Do as I say, not as I do.”  In fact, it should become the national GOP theme.  Do you think that they believe that folks are too dumb to notice or is it that they are the ones who are too dumb to notice?
There is a great example from our friends at Crooks and Liars.com. [Here]  
You know how the GOP is screaming about cutting costs, cutting social programs in general and entitlements in particular?  Well, get this.  Senator Jon Kyle (R, AZ) has just announced that he will not run for re-election in 2012, but would consider an invitation to run for the vice-presidency.  (I kid you not.  He actually said it.)  Kyle was minority whip and as such, waved the GOP “No” flag, and voted against Health Care, was against extension of unemployment benefits and generally agreed with the GOP’s tight-fisted, mean-spirited fiscal policies.
Crooks and Liars assume that Kyle will probably join the ranks of the very well-paid D.C. lobbyists.  They also point out this incredible situation: [Here
Speaking of money, having been in Congress (both the House and the Senate) for more than 25 years and at the ripe age of 68, Kyl qualifies for the very generous Congressional full pension and benefits for the balance of his life. Not including bonuses for his leadership position, Kyl's annual salary for being a Senator is $174,000, and his full pension is 80% of that or $139,200 annually. That means that the same man who refused to extend unemployment benfits to the 99ers, who wants to repeal health care reform in favor of "market solutions" and drastically cut services to those who can least afford it will be getting a nice little check of almost $12,000 every month [or $144,000 a year] from us taxpayers, thankyouverymuch. And that doesn't include whatever cushy job he gets at some K Street office.  
(One wonders if that "cushy job at some K Street office" has been offered and accepted yet?)  And this is one of the folks who would quickly and joyfully vote to cut or shave or slice my Social Security and Medicare!
Bye Bye, Jon.  Don’t bother to write... 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wael Ghonim, Egyptian Patriot...

The events in Egypt are overpowering, aren’t they?  Pictures of the enormous crowds of protestors that have amassed in Tahrir (Liberation) Square day after day for weeks speak volumes about pent up political and economic frustrations with the current Mubarak regime and its power structure.  We are now hearing that the unions are beginning to join this protest that appears to have been initiated by young people who have used the internet and Facebook to organize and ignite the anti-government protest.
While these actions were initially begun in Cairo, they quickly spread throughout Egypt.  We are now hearing of supportive, anti-Mubarak protests in Jordan and even in the United States. [Here]  And now, the demonstation in Egypt that seemed to be losing steam has gotten renewed vigor through a tv interview of a 30-year old Google executive/techie named Wael Ghonim.
Ghonim was one of the organizers of the movement and was the creator of the Facebook page “We are all Khalid Said.”  (Khalid Said was a young techie who is believed to have been brutally killed by police in Alexandria last year.)  Even many of Ghonim’s friends did not know that he was at the epicenter of the gathering storm of protest, although he worked night and day on his Facebook page.
On January 27th, Wael tweeted this ominous message: [Here]  
Pray for Egypt.  Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die.
He was right to worry.  Soon after he typed that message, he was arrested, blindfolded, interrogated and held in secret isolation for almost two weeks before he was released. 
Soon after being released from jail, he was interviewed on Dream TV, a satellite station, by a popular Egyptian newscaster, Mona el-Shazly.  The interview is extraordinary.  If you have not seen parts of this, I urge you to watch at least some of it.  [Here]  You can hear and see his commitment, his decency, his pride and love of his country and his yearning for democracy.  He is an impressive, very intelligent, articulate and committed young man.
At the end of the interview, Mona el-Shazly showed pictures of individual young men who had been killed in the uprising.  This was the final straw for Wael.  He put his head down in his hands and sobbed, only raising his head to say through his anguish: [Here
I want to say to every mother and every father that lost his child, I am sorry, but this is not our fault.  I swear to God, this is not our fault.  It is the fault of everyone who was holding on to power greedily and would not let it go.
He then got up from the interview and walked away.  Mona pulled the ear plug from her ear and with concern on her face, quickly followed him out, ending the extraordinary interview.  Ghonim has said again and again that he is not a hero, but the swelling crowds belie his assertion.  When both Ghonim and Mona appeared before a jammed Liberation Square the next day, they were greeted with a roaring chorus of approval.
This man is an Egyptian patriot.  Let us pray that Obama recognizes that fact.  Let us pray that we make it clear to the Egyptian people that we are on their side.  Let us also pray that we play our cards correctly.  
There will not be a second chance...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Greenspan or Simpson???...

I cannot decide who I find more deplorable--Alan “A Milk Cow With 310 Million Tits” Simpson or Alan “Deregulation” Greenspan.  Simpson would throw the elderly, the disabled, and the working poor under the bus and Greenspan is “shocked” that his (and Ayn Rand’s) theory about how global markets “self-regulate” is flawed.  (Aw, shucks!  But what’s a little flawed economic theory and an international economic recession among Masters Of The Universe?)  
Alan Greenspan has had an exceptional life beginning with his rather unexceptional birth in New York City.  I was surprised to learn [Here] that he is an accomplished clarinet and saxophone player and actually played with Stan Getz when they were in school together.  He studied at Julliard but dropped out to play in a jazz band and played a jazz sax in Woody Herman’s band. (!)  
He entered NYU after WWII and graduated in 1948, earning a B.S. in Economics summa cum laude and a M.A. in 1950.  He went to Columbia University but dropped out of its graduate economics program.   (He eventually earned his Ph.D. in economics from NYU in 1977.  It’s strange that he got his doctorate while he was chairing Ford’s Economic Council.  Hmm.)  
After Columbia, Greenspan began a 33-year stretch as chair and president of Townsend-Greenspan & Co., an economic consulting firm in NYC., interrupted by his above-mentioned appointment by Gerald Ford to chair his Council of Economic Advisers (1974-77).  
We should note here that prior to Ayn Rand’s death in 1982, Greenspan and Rand were close friends.  Some have suggested that Rand was Greenspan’s mentor.  He certainly was in Rand’s inner circle and wrote articles for her.  (Enter Objectivism in Greenspan’s economic philosophy.)  
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan appointed Greenspan Chairman of the Federal Reserve, succeeding Paul Volcker.  He was reappointed by Bush, Sr., Bill Clinton, and Bush, Jr., serving from 1987-2006, 19 years.  (!)  I think we can say that the buildup to our current economic collapse occurred during his watch.  As the NYTimes reported in October, 2008, during Henry Waxman’s questioning in a Congressional hearing, Greenspan admitted [Here]
I have found a flaw [in free market theory].  I don't know how significant or permanent it is, but I have been very distressed by that fact. 
I am certain that the millions of Americans who have lost their homes and/or their jobs are far more distressed than Alan Greenspan.  At least, though, he has expressed some dismay.  Our other Alan never appears to be bothered by the effects of the hot air that blows from his mouth.
Unlike Greenspan who found his own way into his profession, Simpson was born into a political family. [Here]  His father was elected governor of Wyoming and also served as its Senator.  Simpson was born, raised and educated in Wyoming.  His son, Colin, is currently involved in Wyoming’s political life, too.
Alan Simpson freely admits that he was a handful growing up.  (He was arrested for shooting out mailboxes when he was a teenager.)  He served for 18 years as a Senator from Wyoming, two of which were as Majority Whip.  He did not seek reelection in 1996, and taught for a while at Harvard’s Kennedy School, but soon returned to Wyoming where he practices law with his sons. 
We all know that Simpson currently serves as co-chair on President Obama’s Deficit Commission.  That position has thrust him back in the public spotlight, a place which brings out the Naughty Boy in him.  It’s a role he obviously revels in. 
Surprisingly, though, while Wilward Simpson, Alan’s father, voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, his son is made of very, very different stuff.  Who would guess that he an outspoken pro-choice advocate and a firm supporter of gay rights?  He also pressed for the repeal of DADT.  This is the same man who shoots his mouth off about milk tits and sparrow belches.   
Simpson obviously loves the spotlight that his outrageous comments create.  It’s a shame that his grandstanding gets in the way of some of his messages.  
Which Alan is the more obnoxious?  My vote is for Alan Greenspan.  His “flawed” market theory and his ignoring dissenting voices, such as Brooksley Born’s, have profoundly hurt people throughout the world.  This is more--much, much more-- than a “flawed” theory.  IT IS WRONG!  It I were Greenspan, I would hide from the press, but he doesn't.  He continues to be a proud member of the media punditry.
As for Alan Simpson, my advice is like that from the old woman who was kicked by a jackass.  
“Take it from whence it came.”...

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Cry For Democracy From Egypt...

I hope that now that Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday hoopla is behind us and his devotees have admitted that he is, in fact, dead, we can move on.  The Super Bowl is also behind us and we can hope for Spring.  No, not Spring Training!  Spring, the season when the earth warms up and the migrating birds and butterflies return.  (The human whimps who flee each year to warmer climates can stay where they are.)  
We can also focus on important matters.  A massive, popular revolution is transforming Egypt and the vibrations can be felt all through the Middle East and the entire moslem world.  There have been two extraordinary personal accounts [Here and Here] that gave me a glimpse into the proud world of Tahrir (Liberation) Square.  Huffpost has even posted an account of a wedding that was held there.  [Here]  Although the newly-weds’ parents could not be there, the couple received congratulations from all over the world.
One very moving personal account was written by two NYTimes reporters who were arrested and detained by the Egyptian authorities and then turned over to the feared and hated Egyptian secret police (the Mukhabarat).  While left all night in a cold cell with overhead fluorescent lights and hard orange plastic stools, the two reporters, Souad Mekhennet and Nicholas Kulish, heard the sounds from other cells where prisoners were interrogated and beaten.  As they wrote: [Here
Captivity was terrible. We felt powerless — uncertain about where and how long we would be held.  But the worst part had nothing to do with our treatment. It was seeing — and in particular hearing through the walls of this dreadful facility — the abuse of Egyptians at the hands of their own government.
For one day, we were trapped in the brutal maze where Egyptians are lost for months or even years. Our detainment threw into haunting relief the abuses of security services, the police, the secret police and the intelligence service, and explained why they were at the forefront of complaints made by the protesters.
I hope that other journalists who were held and saw some of the brutality of this secret police will begin to report their experiences.  It is to these brutes that our own government has sent some of our  prisoners who were detained in Guantánamo.  (Shame on all Americans who have not protested.)
Another extraordinary account by one of the protestors has been distributed by The Women’s Media Center.  The short essay was written by famed Nawal El Saadawi, feminist, physician, teacher, and writer.  Of course, she is there to bear witness to the popular revolution.  She writes:  [Here]
Now, almost age 80, I have lived to witness and participate in the Egyptian Revolution of 25 January 2011.
I am writing this Sunday morning 6 February 2011. For 12 days and nights now, millions of Egyptian women and men, Muslims and Christians, people of all ideologies and beliefs—the Egyptian people—have continued to unite under the banner of spontaneous popular revolution. They unite against the existing corrupt, tyrannical system, rotten from the head to the feet of the modern Pharaoh. His throne is sticky with the blood of the people, as his ruling party releases thugs to kill the young, and parliament’s deputies forge fake laws, while trading in land and women, drugs and bribes. 
[...]
This is like a dream.
I live with these young men and women day and night, watching as they form committees to take on the work of daily cleaning the field to the transfer of the injured to hospital, to the provision of food and medicines, to defending the field and responding to the regime’s lies in the media, to the nomination of names for the Transitional Government.
We are one people.  Everyone calls for the departure of Mubarak and his men in the Party and the government, calls for an end to the bloodshed like that last Wednesday, and an end to corruption, tyranny, and over 30 years of entrenched governance, and calls for a chance to speak the rest of our reality out loud to the world.
Let us hope that our government and its leadership can find the wisdom and the humanity to deal justly with the demand for democracy that appears to be coming from all parts of Egypt, not just from Liberation Square. 
Yes, let us hope...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Reagan, the Koch Brothers and a chicken...

I’m going to comment on a number of diverse and unusually interesting articles that appeared in the Sunday papers and online.  Why are they so unusual?  Perhaps it’s the influence of the extraordinary Egyptian revolution that we see unfolding before our eyes, thanks to tv, computers and brave journalists.  The events have forced us to pay attention to both the large geopolitical picture but we also feel ourselves captivated by the small details in Tahrir Square-- the person holding a rock against advancing thugs or the lines of arrested protestors being led away with their hands clasped over their heads.  
We are living in an extraordinary moment in history.  Meanwhile, life goes on here with a seemingly endless tribute to Ronald Reagan on the occasion of his 100 birthday or as FireDogLake put it, his 1,000 birthday.[Here]  (The tributes seem endless, don’t they?) 
There have been some interesting essays about Reagan’s administration and others speculating about Obama’s admiration of the man.  ThinkProgress ran an analysis of some themes in Reagan’s presidency in a piece titled, “10 Things Conservatives Don’t Want You To Know About Ronald Reagan.” [Here]
1. Reagan was a serial tax raiser...  [He raised taxes 7 times.]
2. Reagan nearly tripled the federal budget deficit...
3. Unemployment soared after Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts... 
4. Reagan grew the size of the federal government tremendously...
5. Reagan did little to fight a woman’s right to choose...
6. Reagan was a “bellicose peacenik”...
7. Reagan gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants...
8. Reagan illegally funneled weapons to Iran...
9. Reagan vetoed a comprehensive anti-Apartheid act...
10.Reagan helped create the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden...
(Everyone seems to have forgotten that the United States under Reagan funded and helped train Islamist mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan.  In fact, the GOP and many Democrats seem to have forgotten the real Ronald Reagan, if they ever knew him.)
Had enough of Ronald Reagan?  Let’s move on to greener fields--much greener fields.  Remember the billionaire Koch brothers?  Crooks and Liars, the splendid progressive blog, is continuing to report on their political influence.  (C&L has also posted an interview of The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer whose essay on the brothers first focused progressive and liberal eyes on them and their activities.)
C&L’s latest is titled “Money Can’t Buy Happiness--But It Can Buy The House Energy and Commerce Committee For The Right-Wing Koch Brothers." [Here]  We have written many times before about these men and their political activities but some of these facts stunned even me: [The emphasis is mine]
The billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch no longer sit outside Washington's political establishment, isolated by their uncompromising conservatism. Instead, they are now at the center of Republican power, a change most evident in the new makeup of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Wichita-based Koch Industries and its employees formed the largest single oil and gas donor to members of the panel, ahead of giants like Exxon Mobil, contributing $279,500 to 22 of the committee's 31 Republicans, and $32,000 to five Democrats.
Nine of the 12 new Republicans on the panel signed a pledge distributed by a Koch-founded advocacy group — Americans for Prosperity — to oppose the Obama administration's proposal to regulate greenhouse gases.  Of the six GOP freshman lawmakers on the panel, five benefited from the group's separate advertising and grass-roots activity during the 2010 campaign...
Perhaps the Kochs' most surprising and important ally on the committee is its new chairman, Rep. Fred Upton. The Republican from Michigan, who was once criticized by conservatives for his middle-of-the-road approach to environmental issues, is now leading the effort to rein in the EPA.
Upton received $20,000 in donations from Koch employees in 2010, making them among his top 10 donors in that cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics...
...Last week the chairman released a draft of a bill that would strip the EPA of its ability to curb carbon emissions...
We need not quote more, but until we deal directly with the effects of Citizens United v. FEC, there will be more and more stories like the one above and our democracy will operate like a banana republic.
The final piece was in the Home and Garden section of the NYTimes.  [Here]  It is the story of a chicken who was stolen from the front yard of a family living in Bedford-Stuyvesant.  Yes, she was returned, although her name is no longer Gertrude, but Kiki.
Go read the charming story.  It will take the taste of the Koch brothers away.
But what do we do about Scalia and Thomas?...