31 October 2009

Lieberman's latest stunt: Says he will campaign for Republicans in 2010

How much more of Joe Lieberman's traitorous misbehavior will the Senate Democrats put up with and still let him caucus with them and maintain his committee chairmanships?

It was bad enough that Lieberman campaigned for John McCain (and against Barack Obama) for president last year. But this week he's really been on a roll.

As I wrote on Thursday, he indicated that he would support the probable Republican filibuster of the health care reform bill.

But that apparently wasn't enough active rebellion for the spoiled brat. So yesterday he said that he'll probably campaign for some Republicans in next year's midterm Congressional elections.

Some TV talking heads have speculated that the Democrats put up with his nonsense because they need Lieberman more than he needs the Democrats.

But what the hell do they need him for?

He may be the potential 60th vote, but what good is that when he votes with the Republicans most of the time anyway?

It's as if the Senate Dems all have battered wife syndrome.

30 October 2009

Blue Dogs and Republicans have no good argument against the public option

Those in Congress who oppose a public health care option can't really say out loud that it's because they're beholden to the moneyed special interests who are threatened by a public plan. And so they try to tell us that they oppose it because it would cost too much. They want to appear not as corporate shills but as fiscally responsible elected officials with the people's best interests in mind.

Don't fall for it.

First of all, their fiscal argument holds no water. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the combined House bill introduced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week "would result in a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $104 billion over the 2010–2019 period. In the subsequent decade, the collective effect of its provisions would probably be slight reductions in federal budget deficits."

See that? It would actually lead to reductions in the budget deficits!

Second, a public option is what the people want. Don't believe House Minority Leader John Boehner, who yesterday said this about the House bill: "The American people have spoken. Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats have ignored them. Through the month of August, the American people let Members of Congress from both parties know that they didn't want a government takeover of health care. That hasn't changed."

Boehner is, of course, referring to the tea party crowd and the frightened town hall crazies who were programmed like robots by Fox News to make a lot of noise against health care reform.

The truth is that a majority of Americans want a public health care option. The polls have reinforced this time and time again.

But, of course, Washington is famous for not letting facts get in the way of the politicians' selfish agendas.

29 October 2009

Joe Lieberman: Just like a Republican

Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has done it again. The former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate (with Al Gore in 2000) has once again shown his appreciation for the party that gave him such an honor nine years ago by spitting on us. This week he indicated that he would support the probable Republican filibuster of the health care reform bill. He obviously cares more about the insurance companies than the sick people those companies are ripping off. Just like a Republican.

And this kind of thing is nothing new.

Lieberman switched his party affiliation from Dem to Independent in 2006, when Ned Lamont beat him in the 2006 Democratic primary in Connecticut. Instead of accepting the message that the Dems of his state were tired of his support for George W. Bush's misguided policies, he spitefully ran instead as an Independent. And, unfortunately, he won.

And he continued voting with Bush most of the time. Just like a Republican.

And last year he campaigned for John McCain for President, not Obama. Just like a Republican.

Are the people of Connecticut feeling any buyer's remorse yet?

And what about the Senate Democratic leadership? How much longer will the Senate Dems put up with Lieberman's nonsense and let him retain his positions as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee? Those chairmanships are usually reserved for senior members of the current majority party, not Independent turncoats.

It's obvious that Lieberman has more in common these days with the Republicans than with the Democrats. And it's about time people realized this and stopped coddling him. Like a spoiled child, coddling him can only serve to embolden him.

28 October 2009

Good news from Washington, bad news from Texas, and a long fight ahead

First the good news:

Today, October 28th, President Obama will sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The U.S. Senate passed this legislation last week, after the House passed it earlier this month. This measure expands the 1969 federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Some members of Matthew's family with be there at the signing. I'm sure it will be a bittersweet moment for the family, and I applaud their bravery and resolve in working so hard to get this legislation passed in Matthew's name.

Now the bad news:

Last evening, the state of Texas executed yet another man who may have been innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. Reginald Blanton was killed by lethal injection just after 6:00 pm Texas time on Tuesday.

For details about this case and the evidence as to Blanton's innocence, see my October 25th blog post here.

Lessons learned:

While we should celebrate our small but significant victories for progress, like the Matthew Shepard Act, we must not rest on our laurels. There is much more work to do, in Texas and beyond.

Frankly, I would like nothing more than to have no more injustices to write about. But, as long as human beings live together in society, I fear that conflicts and injustices are unavoidable. But we don't have to put up with them in silence. We can make a difference. So stay tuned, dear reader. We've got our work cut out for us.

27 October 2009

In defense of dithering

Former Vice President Dick Cheney (emphasis on "Vice") recently criticized President Obama for allegedly "dithering" on Afghanistan, since Obama did not immediately jump to send additional troops there when General McChrystal asked for them.

I, however, contend that there is something to be said for dithering. Sending more troops into harm's way should not be an easy decision made quickly without a lot of thought -- particularly when it's not a defensive move but rather more of an offensive one. After all, with al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan and now in western Pakistan and in cells around the world, Afghanistan itself presents no real threat to U.S. homeland security right now. Any purpose we could possibly serve by staying there -- or, worse, escalating our presence there -- would likely accomplish little more than to assuage our guilt per the Pottery Barn rule of war -- we broke it, we bought it.

So please dither, Mr. President. Dither all you need to.

After all, Bush and Cheney should have done a lot more dithering back in 2003, before deflecting our attention and our troops away from Afghanistan and into Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, had no weapons of mass destruction, and posed no threat to the U.S.

And what did their oh-so-quick-and-decisive action get us? 4,351 dead U.S. troops as of this writing, plus 31,536 wounded, plus countless dead and wounded civilian Iraqi men, women, and children, plus almost a trillion wasted dollars from our treasury.

And all because they refused to dither long enough to consider all the consequences of their bloodlust, their oil thirst, and the easy war profiteering of their corporate bedpartners (hi, Halliburton).

Or maybe they just never really cared.

Thank you, President Obama, for dithering on Afghanistan. Take your time. Too many lives hang in the balance.

26 October 2009

It's an option, stupid

Republicans and others who oppose a public health care option say they do not want the government "interfering" with their health care. And that is fine -- for them. With a public option in place, those people can ignore it, and they can continue to spend their money on traditional health "insurance" from for-profit corporations, allowing those companies instead to be the ones to interfere with their health care. That is why it is called an option. You do not have to subscribe to the public option if you do not want to. Option = choice. (No, relax, it is not that kind of choice.)

But those people do not speak for me, and they do not speak for the 57 percent of congressional constituents who told a recent Washington Post/ABC poll that they want a public option.

Another right-wing argument is that the competition from a government-run system could put the for-profit "insurance" corporations out of business. This argument is equally faulty for a couple of reasons:

First of all, aren't Republicans traditionally the biggest cheerleaders for free competition in the marketplace? Now, suddenly, they are afraid of some honest competition (emphasis on "honest")?

Second, just as the public school system has not put private schools out of business, and just as FedEx and UPS aren't threatened by the U.S. Postal Service, a public health insurance option does not mean that CIGNA, Aetna, and Blue Cross will necessarily disappear. If those who oppose the public option will instead stick with the private insurers that they care so much about (option, remember?), those private insurers will continue to have clients and will survive to whatever extent the marketplace determines is merited. Again, it's free enterprise, folks -- and may the best option win (emphasis on "option" and on "best").

Still another argument -- a biggie for the greedy right -- concerns the price of implementing and maintaining a public health care program. Apparently, we can afford to spend hundreds of billions of dollars -- nearing a trillion -- on unnecessary and poorly managed wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we can't spend money here at home to keep Americans healthy and alive. Go figure.

The truth is that it will cost us much more in the long run -- in dollars (a trillion), new businesses, jobs, and human lives -- if we continue to have no public option, as calculated by contributor Devilstower at the Daily Kos website a while back.

So, all things considered, it appears that there is no good argument -- logically or rationally speaking -- to oppose the public option.

But, of course, logic and reason (let alone compassion) are not what makes Washington tick.

25 October 2009

Will Texas execute another innocent man?

Recently we learned that Texas executed an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, in 2004.

Now it appears that they might repeat this kind of injustice on Tuesday, October 27 -- Reginald Blanton's scheduled execution date. Blanton was convicted of fatally shooting his friend, Carlos Garza, and then stealing $79 worth of jewelry from Garza's home, where the murder took place.

According to Randi Jones of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP), "Reginald's case exemplifies serious prosecutorial misconduct. They systematically excluded African Americans from the jury pool."

Jones also noted that there is no physical evidence linking Blanton to the crime, and that Blanton was forced to rely on an incompetant public defender who failed to present evidence of innocence at the original trial.

As if that's not enough to establish reasonable doubt, Blanton's MySpace page provides some additional reasons why we should be very, very concerned:

• The initial suspect could not be found.

• The only two witnesses were forced to sign statements against Blanton, under threats of being charged with the crime.

• And the shoe print on the victim's kicked-in apartment door did not match the shoes Blanton wore the day of the crime.

This looks to me like a truckful of reasonable doubt. And there is no excuse to execute someone when there is reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

24 October 2009

Joining the army for the health care

It used to be that young people would join the U.S. military for the paycheck, or to see the world, or for the educational benefits. And that's all fine and good (except, of course, during the times when they might be sent off to fight an unnecessary and senseless war).

But now some young people are joining the military for another reason: for the health care benefits.

Ironically, they are volunteering for a potentially dangerous (and potentially deadly) job so that they and their families won't have to die from an untreated illness or injury.

That's a heck of a price to pay.

And what does it say about our society when people have to go to such extremes in order to "survive"?

23 October 2009

Good news: Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill is on its way to the President's desk

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act by a margin of 68 to 29. This measure expands the 1969 federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

It passed in the House earlier this month, so all it needs now is President Obama's signature, which he has already promised.

Upon the Senate's passage of the bill yesterday, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement:
"We're in the home stretch. This critical piece of legislation is on its way to the President's desk for his signature. We look forward to President Obama signing it into law - our nation's first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence. We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country.”
If only erasing hate were really this easy.

But this is a good step forward.

22 October 2009

New bill seeks to end discrimination against gay adoption

Hooray for U.S. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA)! Last week he introduced the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R. 3827). This bill is intended to "prohibit discrimination in adoption or foster care placements based on the sexual orientation, gender identification, or marital status of any prospective adoptive or foster parent."

From a practical perspective, as the Washington Blade reports, this bill "would restrict federal funds for states that discriminate in adoption or foster programs on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity."

In other words, hit them in the pocketbook, since compassion, logic, and reason don't seem to hold much sway with governments these days.

As an adoptee, I urge all members of Congress to support this measure.

I was adopted all those decades ago by a heterosexual couple, and it wasn't a pretty picture. It was such an abusive environment, in fact, that I have been out of contact with them since 1989, in order to preserve whatever is left of my sanity. I would have had a much healthier upbringing if I had been raised by people who were more like any of several wonderful, smart, loving gay people I know.

Sexual orientation has no bearing on one's parenting abilities.

Think about it: Which would be better for a child -- being raised by Melissa Etheridge and her partner, or being raised by Britney Spears and Kevin Federline?

That, I believe, is a no-brainer.

21 October 2009

Get ready for October 24: International Day of Climate Action

Saturday, October 24, will be the first-ever International Day of Climate Action. On that day, concerned individuals and groups around the world will take action to demand that our leaders get moving to address climate change.

More than 3,000 events are being planned, mostly focusing on the theme "350", which represents the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere (which we have already exceeded, by the way).

According to Grist.org, "Events will include everything from major rallies at iconic spots like the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu, to underwater scuba-assisted protests, to mountain climbers hanging '350' banners and churches ringing their bells 350 times."

More info is available at 350.org. There you can find an event near you, or organize an event yourself.

Climate change is too big a problem to ignore any longer. Let's all take to the streets on Saturday and let the world leaders know that we want some real action now!

20 October 2009

They're giving away Palin's book, practically free

I don't usually like to write blog posts that might sound catty, but in this case I cannot resist. We're talking about Sarah Palin, after all -- rapist of the earth ("drill, baby, drill"). And I came across a little piece of info that I thought was interesting.

BuzzFlash.com recently reported that Palin's upcoming book Going Rogue, list price $28.99, is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com for only $9.00!

As BuzzFlash pointed out, not many books get a whopping discount like this before they are even released. Those kinds of prices are usually reserved for the surplus leftovers when they eventually hit the bargain bin.

And it's not just Amazon. BuzzFlash reports that the "right-wing rag site" Newsmax is offering Going Rogue free with a $9.00 subscription!

And it's working. As of this writing, the book ranks #5 on Amazon's bestseller list.

I shall not waste my money.

19 October 2009

Wall Street lobbies for more of the same

Some people never learn.

The current financial crisis is at least partly the result of deregulation over the past few decades.

It seems like Washington trusted the bankers to regulate themselves to do what's best for everyone. They apparently didn't consider that greed isn't so easy to self-regulate.

And so here we are.

And there is President Obama, calling for new regulations to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again.

And there are the bankers, ferociously lobbying to undermine Obama's attempts to implement new and revised regulations.

Even after the banks went belly-up, and even after we bailed them out with our tax dollars, they still want to have free reign. They proved that they could not be trusted before, but they want us to trust them now. It reminds me of the old "Peanuts" cartoons, where Lucy would pull the football away just as Charlie Brown was about to kick it. He kept on giving her more chances, and each time she sabotaged the play as always.

So do we have a Congress full of Charlie Browns who will trust banker Lucy one more time?

Time will tell, but recent history suggests that our elected representatives are much too easily bought and sold -- and not by the taxpayers. And, sadly, most of the true fighters in Congress are not sitting on the Democratic side of the aisle.

18 October 2009

Shooting the movie messenger - because he's fat

I was discussing movies recently with an acquaintance whose political views are unknown to me. I mentioned that the last movie I saw was "Capitalism: A Love Story" by Michael Moore, and I recommended it very highly. I mentioned the fact that even some conservatives are recommending it (just in case she leans to the right).

Her response: "I don't watch Michael Moore's movies."

Me: "Why not?"

Her: "Because he's fat."

I can understand people not wanting to see his movies because they disagree in general with his political viewpoints. Those are the people who prefer to shut out the uncomfortable truths that he exposes.

But avoiding his movies because of his size? In a country where 67 percent of adults are overweight or obese? That seems suspicious to me.

I asked her if she avoids movies featuring other overweight stars, like John Goodman, James Gandolfini, Kevin Smith, or Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Her response: "No, that's different."

What's different? I couldn't get a straight answer to that, either.

Is it different perhaps because those other guys are playing fictional characters, while Michael Moore is very, very real in the narrative role that he plays in his films?

And that leads me to believe that the issue really is a political one, and too uncomfortably so to admit (perhaps even to herself). After all, unfortunately, a lot of people don't do a lot of deep, honest, critical thinking when it comes to their political viewpoints. Instead they just react instinctively based on dogma.

It's been said that ad hominem attacks (like weight) are the last refuge of those defending an untenable position. And that would include those who feel cornered by their own closed minds.

It is sad. Even sadder is the fact that people like this sometimes vote.

17 October 2009

Louisiana JP refuses marriage license to interracial couple

If you are one of the folks who want to believe that the election of an African-American president of the United States suggests that we have entered a post-racial America, think again.

If the blatant racism we've seen at the tea parties doesn't convince you otherwise, how about this:

Last week, Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Louisiana, refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. He said he did it "for the children", indicating that it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long and that the children suffer as a result.

This has got my blood boiling.

First of all, it is not a JP's job to predict which marriages might last and which ones might not. I have several friends in interracial marriages that have lasted much longer than either of my white-white marriages, and which are still going strong. And their children are some of the most beautiful, happy, and well-adjusted children I know. Meanwhile, there are a lot of all-white broken families out there. In other words, race is beside the point.

Second, if Bardwell would take the trouble to learn the law that it's his job to support, he would find that interracial marriage is legal in Louisiana, and has been for decades. And, as Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman has pointed out, he would find that this kind of discrimination is illegal today as well as tragic.

I hope that that this case will be taken to court. Bardwell must be held accountable for his despicable act of prejudicial discrimination, lest it be seen as acceptable. At the very least, his license should be revoked. At best, he should apologize and resign.

After all, this is 2009, not 1959 -- isn't it?

16 October 2009

Lieberman to champion DADT repeal?

Senator Joe Lieberman is certainly not one of my favorite politicians. He and I do not see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, plus he just rubs me the wrong way, so to speak. But if there is a chance that he will use his power and influence to support a good cause, then I have to hold my nose and support him in those particular efforts, rare though they might be.

And this may be one of those rare occasions.

Apparently the White House has been talking with Lieberman about strategies for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT). Lieberman sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has always opposed DADT. He also has some friends -- and influence -- on the Republican side of the aisle. So, all things considered, he seems like a logical choice to help champion that effort in the Senate, despite the fact that he is Joe Lieberman.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is already taking an active role in the effort, and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Armed Services Committee, also supports repeal. But it's going to take a lot of hard work to make it happen.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as the saying goes. I wish Lieberman and his colleagues the best of luck in this effort, and I will support them in every way I can to get a repeal of DADT passed through the Senate. (I expect that it will easily pass in the House, but I'll be working on that as well.)

But I still don't like Lieberman. ;-)

15 October 2009

Fox and Dobbs: Perfect together

A recent New York Times article suggested that Fox News may be courting CNN's Lou Dobbs. And I think that is wonderful. It's a match made in heaven. After all, Dobbs has been using his CNN show to propagate the birther conspiracy theories, incite fear and hatred of brown-skinned people, and other nonsense of the sort that the Fox News audience just loves. Since CNN's management doesn't seem to have the guts to stand up to Dobbs, it's best to let him move on to crazier pastures.

Sadly, however, that solution does nothing to change the fact that CNN has been putting up with Dobbs's nonsense, at great risk to the network's desired reputation for being "the most trusted name in news."

I have a real problem with that.

So, if not for Christiane Amanpour, I probably wouldn't watch CNN at all anymore.

14 October 2009

A new low: Senate Republicans voted in favor of loophole for rapists

Senator Al Franken took no time at all to prove that he is more than just a comedian. When he was finally sworn in to his Senate seat, he hit the ground running.

One of his noteworthy actions in his short tenure was his amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill. As Think Progress described it, Franken's amendment "would withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR 'if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.'"

This stems from the case of Jamie Lee Jones, a former employee of Dick Cheney's Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was brutally gang-raped by her co-workers and then thrown into a shipping container, where she suffered for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed. Her assailants warned her that if she sought medical treatment, she would lose her job.

To add insult to injury, Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR due to a mandatory arbitration clause in her employment contract. And these arbitration situations so often seem biased towards corporate interests.

So Franken's amendment seems like a good way to hold employees accountable for felonies like the one that those KBR guys committed against Ms. Jones, right?

Fortunately, the majority thought so, as the amendment passed on October 6 by a vote of 68-30. But apparently 30 senators, all Republicans, disagreed. Believe it or not, they voted to defend the existing loophole through which it's so hard to hold workplace rapists accountable.

And, ironically, most of them call themselves "Christian".

Go figure.

Remember their names when they are next up for reelection:

Alexander (R-TN)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

(Yes, it's that McCain. Be grateful for last November's presidential election results.)

13 October 2009

Limbaugh should stay out of football

I am not a sports fan, but I am a huge fan of basic human dignity. And so I address a sports-related issue that crosses into my comfort zone -- or, rather, my discomfort zone.

The media are reporting that right-wing windbag Rush Limbaugh might purchase the St. Louis Rams football team.

This, needless to say, has a lot of NFL players up in arms. After all, many of the players are black, and Limbaugh has made it clear, time and time again, that he is racist.

Perhaps Limbaugh's most infamous foot-swallowing episode involved his all-too-candid, racially charged tirade some years ago against Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb:
"Sorry to say this, I don't think [Donovan McNabb]'s been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
Regardless of McNabb's skill set (which, from what I hear is much more considerable than Rush would suggest), Limbaugh's comment was decidedly racist.

And consider some of Limbaugh's other racist remarks over the past few years:
"Why should blacks be heard? They're 12% of the population.
Who the hell cares?"
"Take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
Imagine being an African-American football player, and suddenly this person owns your team. Suddenly this person owns your career.

For the sake of the players, I hope that any plans that Limbaugh has for buying that football team will fall flat. If not, we may just see the first all-white NFL team in decades.

12 October 2009

October 12: A strange triple holiday

Today is Columbus Day in the U.S. As I've written before, I will not be celebrating Columbus Day. Christopher Columbus is overrated, and the legends that we have learned about him tend to stretch the truth, at best.

Columbus did not really originate the theory that the earth is round. Such had been known since ancient times.

Columbus did not really discover America. Other Europeans had reached North America hundreds of years before Columbus wandered into the West Indies.

And, once Columbus got here, he enslaved the Native Americans and forced them to convert to Christianity, while helping himself to the new world's gold and other precious resources.

And that brings me to the other two holidays that some are celebrating today: Canadian Thanksgiving and Indigenous People's Day. I find it all very ironic.

Just as the later European "settlers" followed in Columbus's footsteps with their Native American genocide in what is now the United States, the indigenous tribes of Canada suffered a similar fate. As in the U.S., many Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to Eurocentric boarding schools, where they were forced to assimilate into the new European-style culture. Some scholars believe that Canada can be tried in international court for genocide for their treatment of the native peoples.

So what do they have to be grateful for on this Thanksgiving Day? About the same thing the American "Indians" of the U.S. will have to be grateful for on November 26: Not much.

Way to go, white man.

11 October 2009

The Republicans and the Taliban: More alike than Rush will admit

Just when ACORN needed a break from all the hysterical right-wing finger pointing, along came the perfect diversion: President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. And so a new feeding frenzy began.

Erick Erickson of Redstate.com wrote: "I did not realize the Nobel Peace Price had an affirmative action quota."

Glenn Beck chimed in with his usual kind of absurdity: "The Nobel Peace Prize should be turned down by Barack Obama and given to [...] the tea party goers and the 9-12 Project."

But the reaction that most caught my attention came from Republican Party chief Rush Limbaugh: "Folks, do you realize something has happened here that we all agree with the Taliban and Iran about and that is he doesn't deserve the award. Now that's hilarious, that I'm on the same side of something that the Taliban, and that we all are on the same side as the Taliban."

And Limbaugh's words led me to realize that the Republican Party of today has more in common with the Taliban than just a belief that Obama doesn't deserve the Nobel Prize. In fact, the two groups share more views than Limbaugh would probably want to admit.

For starters, the Republicans and the Taliban both think women need to be kept in their place. The Taliban do this by threatening women who would venture outside the home, and throwing acid on girls who dare to go to school. Fortunately, the Republicans don't have quite that much physical power over us, so they just make noise about it:

On Good Morning America in 2007, Glenn Beck showed his sexist colors during a rant about Hillary Clinton (who dares to pursue -- and achieve -- political power despite her gender): "She had that tone of voice, where she just sounds like [covers his ears]. I can't listen to it 'cause it sounds like -- it sounds like my wife saying, 'Take out the garbage.'" (Nice to see that he thinks so highly of his own wife.)

Ann Coulter, herself a woman, shared her views on the TV show Politically Incorrect in 2001: "I think [women] should [...] not [be allowed to] vote."

And, as a woman caller explained to Rush Limbaugh himself, on why he's unpopular with women: "The first time I listened to your show you were criticizing a liberal woman's blog, and at the end said something to the effect of, 'Well, at the end of the day she's a babe so it doesn't really matter anyways.'"

This was not at all surprising, given some of Limbaugh's other comments about women. One of my favorites: "Some of these babes, I'm telling you, like the sexual harassment crowd. They're out there protesting what they actually wish would happen to them sometimes."

Misogyny aside, the Republicans and the Taliban also share a desire for theocracy. The Taliban did so by instituting Sharia law. The Republican approach is slightly more subtle, via the increased influence of the Religious Right on our government and politics. And they cleverly have an alarming number of Americans convinced this was established as a "Christian nation", even though our Founding Fathers had quite the opposite intention. (See Thomas Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, in which Jefferson defends the concept of a "wall of separation between Church & State.")

Finally, the Republicans and the Taliban both want Obama to fail, and, by extension, want America to fail. For the Taliban, it's jihad. Coming from the Republicans, I would call it treason.

10 October 2009

What happened to the Democratic Party?

Roosevelt was able to get the New Deal passed through Congress despite significant Republican opposition.

Johnson was able to get the Civil Rights Act passed despite similar challenges.

So then why are Obama and the Democrats in Congress having such a hard time passing a public health care option? After all, a majority of Americans favor such a choice! And didn't we elect them to represent us?

Isn't Rahm Emanuel supposed to be Obama's bulldog, working behind the scenes to convince Congress -- especially more "moderate" Dems -- to support Obama's agenda, which includes (or at least used to include) a public health care option?

When did the Democratic Party suddenly lose its spine? And how? And why?

Do the special interests really hold so much power that our elected representatives would rather risk the wrath of the voters than inconvenience the corporations?

Is this what the Democratic party now stands for?

And, if so, then are they really any different than the Republicans?

Unfortunately, these questions are merely rhetorical.

09 October 2009

Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

This morning I awoke to the news that President Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

This caught me by surprise, because Obama has been in the White House for less than a year. And has he really done much yet to achieve peace in the world?

But, of course, the Nobel Peace Prize is about more than just ending the wars that your predecessor created. And Obama really has made some high-profile efforts to "strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation."

Shortly after taking office in January, Obama issued an executive order calling for closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay and requiring that all our prisoners be treated humanely in compliance with the Geneva Conventions.

In April, he promised to work towards "a world without nuclear weapons."

In June, he delivered an address to the Muslim world in which he called for an end to the divisions between the Muslim world and the western world, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian mess, and a unified approach to more effectively fight violent extremism.

And, most recently at the United Nations General Assembly and the G20, he spoke of the need for international cooperation in order to defeat terrorism, fight global warming, fight HIV/AIDS, handle Ahmadinejad, and address other challenges and crises in the world.

And when compared with the cowboy-style foreign policy of his predecessor, the contrast makes Obama's diplomatic style seem even more impressive.

Congratulations, Mr. President. Keep up the good work. I'll be watching and writing.

08 October 2009

Beware: Some breast cancer merchandise funds animal cruelty

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is the time of year when we see companies going wild with pink merchandise to raise awareness and raise money for breast cancer research.

I know some breast cancer survivors, and I appreciate the hard work that so many companies and individuals put into the annual fundraising. But this year I learned that some of that money funds cruel and counterproductive animal experimentation.

The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explains:
Many charities, such as the American Cancer Society, the National Foundation for Cancer Research, and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, fund useless animal tests that drain money from relevant, effective, life-saving projects.

Humans and animals both feel pain, fear, joy, and love, but there are many physiological differences among rats, rabbits, dogs, cats, pigs, and people, and meaningful scientific conclusions cannot be drawn about one species by studying another.

Former National Cancer Institute director Dr. Richard Klausner has stated that "the history of cancer research has been the history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades, and it simply didn't work in humans."
So, ethical issues aside, Dr. Klausner makes a very good point here from a simple, practical perspective.

The solution? According to PETA, "Compassionate, modern charities, such as the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, American Breast Cancer Foundation, The Cancer Project, and The Breast Cancer Fund, know that non-animal methods are the best way to combat cancer."

So those are some organizations that you can feel good about supporting.

To make guilt-free giving even easier, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine provides a search tool on its website through which you can find out which charities have (and have not) won their Humane Charity Seal of Approval. Then support only those charities that have earned the Seal.

It's bad enough that breast cancer patients have to suffer with the disease. There is no need to make animals suffer too, especially when animal testing has proven ineffective. It is simply a senseless and cruel waste of money -- a no-win situation all around.

07 October 2009

An unhappy anniversary

Today, October 7, 2009, marks the eighth anniversary George W. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan.

The cost so far for this unwinnable war and occupation?

As of this writing:

More than $228 billion of our U.S. tax dollars;

869 U.S. military fatalities (that's warspeak for dead American troops);

• and countless innocent civilian men, women, and children.

All this while Osama bin Laden runs free and the Taliban continue terrorizing the Afghan countryside.

Please take some time today for a moment of silence in honor of all the victims of this mishandled war, and then tell President Obama that we need a sensible exit strategy now. Enough is enough!

06 October 2009

Supreme Court drama in the works

The new 2009-10 U.S. Supreme Court term officially began yesterday, and they've got some interesting cases on the docket:

McDonald v. Chicago could overrule a state's right to regulate firearms.

Salazar v. Buono will test the wall of separation between Church and State.

Citizens United v. FEC will decide on the constitutionality of limiting corporate spending on political campaigns.

Then there's Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. As they describe it over at thinkprogress.org, "[this case] concerns the power of Congress to create 'independent agencies' whose members cannot be fired at the whim of the president. Should the Court gut Congress'[s] power to create such agencies, the next Karl Rove could pressure the FCC to fine the Rachel Maddow Show while ignoring the antics of Glenn Beck, and he could strongarm the FEC into manipulating elections to benefit a future president's party."

And these cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm worried about Roberts. I'm worried about Alito. I'm worried about Thomas. I'm worried about Scalia. I'm sure that there are a lot of 5-4 decisions on the way, and I'm probably not going to like all of them. But it will be an interesting time for sure.

Stay tuned for updates as this term progresses.

05 October 2009

Texas executes innocent man; governor impedes investigation

We recently learned that the State of Texas probably executed an innocent man.

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for an alleged arson that claimed the lives of his three daughters in 1991. However, a recent forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

This travesty of justice led reporter David Grann to write an excellent in-depth article about the case, which appeared in the September 7th edition of New Yorker and can be found online here.

So now a reasonable person might assume that Texas would learn a lesson from this mistake, further investigate what went wrong and how, and implement safeguards to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

Unfortunately, that reasonable person might be wrong.

Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry abruptly removed three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission -- including the commission's chairman -- just two days before they were to meet to review the evidence that Willingham was innocent. The new chairman -- a prosecutor who has now replaced a defense attorney on the commission -- canceled the hearing for the time being.

Perry, who maintains that Willingham was guilty, defended the move by saying that "[t]hose individuals' terms were up, so we replaced them."

Nevertheless, I contend that the abruptness of their dismissal appears a bit suspicious. And apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so:
"This looks an awful lot like a governor who's interfering with a science commission because the science demonstrated that we've executed an innocent person."
-- Keith Hampton, Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association

"On Friday, the Commission was supposed to consider the expert's report, which strongly indicates that the arson evidence underlying Willingham's conviction and execution was completely unreliable and would raise serious concerns that Texas has executed this innocent person. Rather than let this important hearing go forward and the report be heard, the Governor fires the independent Chairman and two other members of this Commission. It's like Nixon firing Archibald Cox to avoid turning over the Watergate tapes."
-- Barry Scheck, Co-Director, The Innocence Project
And others are speculating that the move may have been engineered in order to delay the commission's findings which might present a challenge to Governor Perry's upcoming reelection bid.

It appears to me that the burden of proof is now on Governor Perry to ensure that the investigation will proceed in a timely and unbiased manner, and that concrete steps will be taken to reduce the likelihood that other Texas death row prisoners will be executed for crimes they did not commit.

04 October 2009

Beck and Limbaugh vs. America

The hypocrisy and the irony are so extreme as to be absurd. Still, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and the like are apparently taken seriously enough by their employers, the public, and an adequate number of advertisers that they still have jobs.

And they may have just outdone themselves.

The watchdog group Media Matters for America describes the latest episode as follows:
Conservative media figures have celebrated the International Olympic Committee's elimination of Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics and used the event to bash President Obama, who flew to Copenhagen to lobby IOC members on behalf of Chicago's bid. For instance, Glenn Beck called the news that Chicago's bid had failed "so sweet," Rush Limbaugh declared himself "happy" and "gleeful" with the results, and Matt Drudge proclaimed: "World rejects Obama."
These are the same people who called us unpatriotic if we dared to question the Bush administration's policies of unprovoked war of aggression, torture, and warrantless spying on Americans.

Now they are celebrating the fact that the IOC did not choose Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, and they are suggesting that it is Obama's fault. Never mind the fact that Rio was a shoo-in. Never mind that there is more to life and politics than sporting games. They act as though Obama just lost World War III.

That said, do they not realize that it wasn't Obama who lost the bid, but rather the city of Chicago and the U.S. as a nation? Do they not realize that, in celebrating this loss to our nation, their attitude is extremely unpatriotic? As Media Matters, described it, they are "rooting against America".

In going this far, will they finally have exposed themselves as the hypocritical, unpatriotic pied pipers of mindless, knee-jerk hate that they seem to have become?

Or are the sheep and the media overlords so brainwashed and intellectually lazy that it just won't matter?

Sadly, I suspect the latter. The dumbing down of America is now more complete.

03 October 2009

"Jobless recovery" is an oxymoron

According to the Associated Press, "Most economists say the recession is probably over."

At the same time, the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in September, and is expected to hit 10.5 next year.

The media keep talking about a "jobless recovery". I, however, see the phrase as an oxymoron.

Even if the stock market were to return to its pre-recession levels, that would be fine for the investor class, but those fat cats make up only a tiny percentage of the population. Are they the only ones who really matter when labeling the situation a "recovery"?

What about the rest of us, with one in 10 of us unemployed, and millions more underemployed?

Layoffs are still happening. Home foreclosures are still happening. The national poverty rate is climbing. And food banks are struggling to keep up.

As long as the richest percent or two are the only ones experiencing any kind of "recovery", it is not fair to use that term to describe our overall economy.

And those who do so must clearly be part of that upper percent or two. Or employed by (or brainwashed by) those who are. And they clearly do not care whether the new Tiny Tim -- a middle-class version -- has a Christmas this year.

02 October 2009

Good news, bad news on sex ed funding

First, the good news: On September 29, the Senate Finance Committee approved a $75 million funding stream for comprehensive (i.e., responsible) sex education. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SEICUS), "$50 million [...] would be geared to evidence-based, medically accurate, age-appropriate programs to educate adolescents about both abstinence and contraception in order to prevent unintended teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. The remaining funds would be for innovative programs as well as research and evaluation."

The amendment passed by a margin of 14-9, with moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (ME) joining all committee Democrats in voting in favor.

Next, the bad news: They also passed an amendment that reinstates funding for the failed Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program which expired on June 30, 2009. This amendment will provide $50 million per year through 2014 to extend the program. It passed by a shameful 12-11 vote count, with Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln (AR) and Kent Conrad (ND) joining all committee Republicans in voting in favor.

According to SEICUS, "Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding had been refused by nearly half of the states both because of the restrictive nature of the program and the fact that overwhelming evidence has proven these programs to be ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars."

Kudos to those states that have refused that misguided funding, but the fact remains that the money still goes somewhere. Some states are more than happy to grab it, often to the exclusion of the more comprehensive options.

The problem is that abstinence-only education is both impractical and downright dangerous. While most people who choose to abstain from sex until marriage surely have the best of intentions, history and statistics have shown that, all too often, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Peer pressure, a couple of beers, or just plain old raging hormones can cloud the judgment of even the most strong-willed proponents of abstinence. Just ask Bristol Palin.

A 2004 report by Advocates for Youth, a program that fosters decision-making responsibility in young people, confirmed that these abstinence-only programs have had no long-term success in delaying sexual initiation or reducing sexual risk-taking behaviors.

When abstinence is broken, people need to be prepared to protect themselves against infection and unwanted pregnancy. Instead, the abstinence-only approach leaves them ignorant and ill-prepared to deal with the physical and emotional consequences of sexual activity.

By pandering to the religious right with this kind of legislation, the Senate Finance Committee is, in effect, trying to impose an extreme set of moral beliefs onto the rest of us who may or may not agree. That strikes me as unconstitutional.

A list of Senate Finance Committee members can be found at finance.senate.gov. Check it out and keep these two votes in mind when they run for reelection.

01 October 2009

Remember Iraq?

It recently occurred to me that we don't hear much anymore from the mainstream media about the situation in Iraq.

Shortly after President Obama took office, he promised that "our combat mission in Iraq will end" by August 31, 2010, and that all U.S. troops will be removed from Iraq by the end of 2011.

That's all fine, but how many Americans will lose their lives in the meantime?

And for what?

While the number of U.S. casualties in Iraq has declined significantly in 2009, we must not lose sight of the fact that casualties are still occurring. And each and every casualty is one casualty too many. Each and every casualty is a father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, cousin, neighbor, or beloved friend, who will never again be able to hear their loved ones' voices, hold their hands, or hug them.

And then there are the countless Iraqi civilians who are still dying via military mistakes. "Collateral damage", we call it. But these casualties are more than abstract statistics. They, too, are people. They, too, are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, neighbors, and beloved friends, who will never again be able to hear their loved ones' voices, hold their hands, or hug them.

That, to me, seems like a rather apt description of hell.

Worse, it's a hell of our own making.

And for what?