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Guest Commentary (5051)


President Obama was interviewed on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.  Every question that Steve Kroft asked was a "put down" question: You lost, you're defeated, the Republicans rule the roost...etc.  And to the question: What are you going to do? President Obama answered what every Democrat just loves to hear:  "I'm going to reach out to the Republicans to work on what we have in common."

Civility is one thing, but repeating the same mistakes is something else.  For two years, Obama allowed the Republicans to take control even when they weren't in control.  Now they're in control-and he sounds like he's still a Senator, trying to bargain with men who want him to lose.

You don't wade in the mud with your enemies calling for a truce.  You stay clear and turn to loyal friends to set the agenda.

I don't understand why the President doesn't reach out to real Democratic friends who are more than willing to help him solve some of the most difficult problems facing this country.  He needs to get over the "leftie" labels regarding respected Democratic representatives, and have a round table meeting with Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold, Barbara Boxer, Bobby Kennedy Jr., to name a few from a list of friends in favor of old cranky Republicans.  What does he want from these men who slander him at every turn? Hugs and kisses?

President Obama made the mistake of bringing in a Trojan horse to his cabinet, filling positions with men who support corporate/Wall Street benefits over Main street issues. For example, Obama begged Bush's Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to stay on because he was so "impressed" with him.  Robert Gates is pro war; he'd never say to the President: End this invasion, it's draining the country.

Had Obama been working with the Democrats mentioned above, health care, rebuilding America for jobs, ending the Iraq/Afghanistan disaster and environmental changes would have happened in a dynamically successful way.  But the President chose to hold hands with Republicans, "the Party of NO", who refused his hand on everything.

After the mid term election, Obama believes that he has to lean even more to the right to accomplish his goals.  At this point, I don't believe Obama even knows what the goals should be.  He could begin by realizing that Democrats have much better ideas than Republicans do.  The Republicans are 100% for the 1% billionaires.  That's it.  That's their agenda.

The President should work with loyal friends-not enemies that will stab him in the back, who will set traps for him at every step.   For example, why doesn't he say on the Bush taxes:  Here's what I'll do, everyone gets a tax break, except for Big Oil and Coal.  Let's start with the guys that get $64 billion dollars a year in profits.  Let's cut the freebies for them, the loopholes and the subsidies.  They can afford to put a few bucks in our little piggy bank for the rest of the country.

When the Republicans say that they want a smaller government, what they mean by that is they want a smaller piggy bank for working Americans, they want Big Oil, Coal, Medical Insurance, Big Pharma and Weapon Contractors to pay as little taxes as possible, and they don't want regulations.  They don't want government agencies to inspect our medication and food for safety.  They don't want our planes to be safe, they don't want our children's toys to be safe, they don't want regulations that would reduce pollution, they don't want offshore oil rigs to be safe, the BP three month, 5 million barrels of Gulf oil spill didn't make a single oil well safer.  And when it comes to working Americans, they turn to discretionary spending, Medicare and Social Security, as the first things to cut, and not the bloated defense budget.

Why doesn't the President make the case from this angle?  Why doesn't he ask Americans if they want all these things to be safe for their families? He could if he invited the right people to support him.   It's time for President Obama to understand that a line has been drawn.  This is war.  Stop wading in the mud with a truce flag.  We'll only sink deeper and deeper if he repeats that same mistake. Here's a simple suggestion for the President: Invite the good guys to the table; not the ones who can't wait to stab you in the back.


Yes, Barack Obama will win re-election in two years, even with the stunning setback he suffered in last Tuesday's Midterm.

Am I crazy or just whistling in the graveyard?  What about the historic tidal shift of Republicans winning back the House of Representatives?

Barack will win again?  Doesn't he need to reinvent himself?


When the Republicans promise to take us back to the past, they mean it, including such horrors as prison for debtors.

The headline for an article earlier this year in the Minneapolis Star Tribune says it all, "In Jail for Being in Debt." The article paints the dire picture of being poor and suddenly being arrested in your home: "You committed no crime, but an officer is knocking on your door. More Minnesotans are surprised to find themselves being locked up over debts."

"It's not a crime to owe money, and debtors' prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found."

The debtor laws vary from state to state, but the trend is not promising: "In Illinois and southwest Indiana, some judges jail debtors for missing court-ordered debt payments. In extreme cases, people stay in jail until they raise a minimum payment. In January, a judge sentenced a Kenney, Ill., man 'to indefinite incarceration' until he came up with $300 toward a lumber yard debt."

At the height of the dark days of industrial age exploitation in the 1800s in England, debtors' prisons were common. In fact, much of Charles Dickens' social consciousness is attributed to the imprisonment of his father for debt in the infamous Marshalsea jail in London.

Until recently, the abolition of abominable debtors' prisons in England was considered great social progress and a movement toward a more just society.

Now, the GOP is heralding a return to the wretched past, where owing a few bucks is a crime punishable by incarceration.

It's a dreadful, almost incomprehensible injustice that should have been locked up forever.


What an emotional week for San Francisco.

On Wednesday morning, the San Francisco Democratic elite - mayor Gavin Newsom, former mayor Willie Brown and Senator Dianne Feinstein -  proudly handed the World Series' winning Giants the key to the city at the end of their Victory Parade, attended by hundreds of thousands of fans, making it "one of the largest gatherings the city has seen in years," as the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The City nearly stopped, as fans ditched their jobs and schools to crowd Market Street to cheer the Giants' historic victory, its first since in over a half century.  And most of all, these fanatic fans endured the traffic and the crowds because these Giants embodied the outcast spirit of the City - they are "long-haired, farm-raised, mostly home-grown and organic," they are "eccentric," as the New York Times opined.


I just figured it out why voters put the GOP back in power: they are suffering from "Stockholm Syndrome," You know, that business where the kidnapped bond with their captors. Where the abused take back their abusers because they at least have "that" in common -- and preferring the devil they know to those trying to rescue them.

In some ways the two years of Democratic Party rule -- (oh, well, okay, not rule, but majority) -- served only as a way for the abusers to dig their claws more firmly into a majority of the electorate. It was classic abuser projection -- blaming the rescuers for the miserable conditions of the captives. Then they declared that, if voters made a run into their arms they ad no idea what the rescuers had in store for them. There was talk of "death panels," and "socialist re-education camps."

While some captives argued for a break, it was not enough.  Many more warned that their abusers, while certified pricks last time around, had promised they would change, if only we'd "give them one more chance." They even agreed to attend meetings of a new support group formed by a handful of captives. And so they showed up for tea and listened and nodded and laughed with them. Then they started bringing gifts, the best kind of gifts; money for refreshments and field trips. They even applauded those in the captives "pep squad," who dressed up in revolutionary era costumes and threatened armed insurrection -- not against the abusers but those "socialist" rescuers.

That's not sort of how it might have happened. That's how it happened. 


Thanks for caving to viewer pressure
Complaints must have been unrelieved.
It's nice to know that "indefinitely"
Is shorter than had once been believed.

Monday, 08 November 2010 06:02

Banner Day for Black Conservatives?


For the first time since 1996, two conservative African Americans will occupy seats in the House of Representatives at the same time. Black conservative writer and commentator Ron Miller claims that the election of Tim Scott and Allen West means that the GOP is finally establishing a "beachhead" in the black community.

It has been more than a decade since two African American conservatives - Gary Franks of Connecticut and J.C. Watts of Oklahoma -- served in the House of Representatives at the same time. Come January, two newly elected black conservatives, Tim Scott and Allen West, will head to Washington to take seats in the newly constituted Republican-controlled House.

For years, black conservatives have been searching for a foothold within the black community. While there have always been a handful of relatively high-profile African American conservatives -- religious leaders supportive of the Religious Right's social agenda, and a handful of well-paid  pundits and commentators espousing conservative economic principles -- there hasn't been any evidence that they've made any inroads with the black electorate. And, this year, despite the fact that fourteen black conservatives ran for Congress and two emerged victorious, pretty much nothing has changed, as, according to the New York Times, 91% of black voters voted for Democrats while 9% voted for Republicans.

On Tuesday, November 2, South Carolinian Tim Scott became the first African American Republican from the "Deep South" to be elected to Congress since Reconstruction, when he defeated Democrat Ben Frasier in the race to represent the state's First Congressional District - a seat held by republicans since 1987 -- a majority white (nearly 75%) district. According to Ron Miller, a black conservative writer and commentator, Scott's election was "an impressive victory" that proves that the tea party is not racist.

OneNewsNow, the news service of the Wildmon family's American Family Association, pointed out that in the Republican primary, Scott, an insurance company owner, "beat out two white candidates ... the son of late Senator Strom Thurmond and the son of former South Carolina Governor Carroll Campbell." Scott, who was endorsed by Sarah Palin and the tea party, will represent a district where white voters outnumber blacks three to one.

Two days after being elected, Scott declare d that "The first order of business for all of us I think is to take a look at the financial insanity that's been created by the Obama administration with overspending. We've gotta reign in that spending and the way that you do that is that you just create priorities so that we know what the federal government's priorities should be."


Lawrence O'Donnell, a stern political host on MSNBC, hit it right on the head when he recently remarked that some people are so fearful of being called liberals that they refer to themselves as progressives.  In making his remark, O'Donnell was implicitly taking on the conventional lingo at his network, where hosts over generalize and commonly refer to the left as "progressives."  Not satisfied to rest there, O'Donnell then surprised mainstream viewers by declaring "I am not a progressive.  I am a socialist. I live to the extreme left of you mere liberals."

I cannot recall the last time I heard anyone openly call themselves a socialist on the mainstream media, let alone a major network host.  Even more unlikely perhaps, O'Donnell chose to make his remarks on Morning Joe, a more conservative program than his own night show The Last Word.  Judging from his coverage of the mid-term elections, I would not have guessed that O'Donnell was a socialist.  Indeed, at various points throughout the evening the MSNBC host seemed to imply that the Democrats lost the election because they ran too far to the left.  From watching election coverage on MSNBC, I got the impression that O'Donnell was more conservative than his colleagues Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz.  Inside the Beltway commentators routinely make the claim that Democrats must run to the center in order to win elections, and O'Donnell seemed to be merely subscribing to the conventional logic.

Glenn Greenwald, who writes for Salon, must have gotten the same impression I had on election eve.  In a column he criticized O'Donnell's perspective, arguing that many Americans hold liberal views and would have turned out to vote this time round had the Democrats demonstrated real economic results through their policies.  Perhaps, the Salon column touched a nerve with O'Donnell: indeed the MSNBC host chose to clarify his leftist credentials while debating Greenwald himself on Morning Joe.

Whatever the particulars of the controversy between O'Donnell and Greenwald, the point is that the MSNBC host stressed his socialist politics on air, and proudly at that.  While such an announcement would hardly cause a stir in Western Europe or Scandinavia, it's highly unusual in the United States, and particularly in the U.S. mainstream media.  Why?  Jeff Cohen, a former TV host at MSNBC and the author of Cable News Confidential, argues that the left has been excluded from the media for historical reasons.  "It became clear to me that the exclusion was partly a legacy of McCarthyism --- a fear of the left, and of associating with the left," Cohen writes.  "Television was born in the era of Joe McCarthy, red-baiting and the blacklists."

Over the past two years Fox and the right have sought to tarnish Obama by claiming the White House is pursuing socialistic policies.  At times, it almost seems as if the GOP is trapped in a bizarre time warp as it seeks to taint the Obama administration with the same kind of red-baiting it employed against FDR in the 1930s.  I suspect that most Americans don't buy into this dated rhetoric, and, for now, O'Donnell probably doesn't run much of a risk by proclaiming his socialist credentials.  Yet, with the Republicans now on the ascendant the political winds could start to have a ripple effect upon the newsroom.

In recent years, MSNBC has served as a strong counterweight to Fox on cable TV.  Lest we forget, however, it wasn't so long ago that the network was a bastion of the right.  MSNBC only adopted the progressive moniker when it became chic and fashionable to do so --- at the height of the Iraq War and Bush's handling of the Katrina mess.  From 2002 to 2003, prior to MSNBC's tilt to the liberal left, Cohen was a senior producer at the network and an on air contributor.  Earlier, he had helped to found the liberal media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting or FAIR, so leaving for MSNBC was, in a sense, heading into the belly of the beast.  Initially, Cohen writes, he looked forward to his new gig at MSNBC, a network which "was supposed to be infested with liberals pushing their agendas and spinning the news."

"But," he writes, "I couldn't find them.  So I kept looking...and looking.  Eventually I found about seven of them --- including makeup artists, camera operators, archivists and interns."  Over at Fox, Cohen remarks, they used to complain about the Sandinista-lovers in the mainstream media.  But, he adds amusingly, "I had trouble finding folks who knew who the Sandinistas were."  In one hilarious passage, Cohen talks about looking for liberal bumper stickers in the MSNBC parking lot.  The only one in the entire lot belonged to him, a FAIR sticker that "illuminated the irony of my presence there: 'Don't Trust the Corporate Media.'"

What Cohen found during his days at MSNBC was a corporate culture terrified of offending the bosses at GE/NBC and pursuing independent journalism.  "These were imitators, not initiators," he writes.  "And Fox News was the industry leader."  When Cohen started to criticize the Bush team in advance of the Iraq war, presciently warning of a quagmire, he found that he was increasingly sidelined.  As the war approached, he found himself supplanted by military analysts and "weapons experts."  "I couldn't discuss the weather at MSNBC unless balanced by a hardcore rightist," he writes.  In late 2002, MSNBC terminated Cohen's debate segments and the lefty's short-lived pundit career came to an abrupt end.

Since that deplorable moment in its history, MSNBC has redeemed itself somewhat by hiring pundits like O'Donnell.  Yet, I found the TV host's comment that he lives "to the extreme left of mere liberals" a bit jarring.  I have not seen any self-identified socialists on his show, let alone other MSNBC programs.  Indeed, MSNBC is full of progressives, the very people O'Donnell frowns upon.  O'Donnell could easily remedy this by seeking out socialists and Marxists at the Brecht Forum in Greenwich Village, which is conveniently located near MSNBC studios in lower Manhattan.

But why stop there?  There are plenty of anarchists out there who might want to explain their philosophy to a wider audience.  If O'Donnell is serious and not just kidding around, then he should have other types of leftists on his show.  If he did so, then he would surely distinguish himself from other MSNBC pundits who rely far too often on liberal inside the Beltway types and snarky progressive bloggers.  Hopefully, before MSNBC shifts back to the mainstream or the right, the American public will hear some new voices on Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word.

Sunday, 07 November 2010 09:57

The Party of Organized Money


Thud goes hope. Whatever the causes of "voter dissatisfaction" and voter despair that gave the party of destruction so much power back, I sit in dread the next morning not so much of the results as of the phenomenon of openly purchased elections.

"The midterms have shattered spending records for a nonpresidential contest, providing a likely blueprint for the frenzy to come when the White House is up for grabs in two years."

So the Washington Post informed us on Tuesday. The exaggerated influence of corporate money in politics and government has always been a problem, but last January the Supreme Court threw open the floodgates, overturning all restrictions on corporate spending to influence election results. Its 5-4 ruling in the closely watched Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case advanced the spooky cause of "corporate personhood," giving Wall Street and the military-industrial complex the same free-speech rights as actual people, which means moneyed interests have a new way to game the system.

What we're witnessing in the United States, as democracy becomes an ever hollower shell, is the entrenchment of corporatocracy, which right now wraps itself in a Tea Party cloak, creating the illusion that it stands for something other than its own interests - and that voters are making some kind of reasoned statement to power, that the American little guy is speaking in a collective voice rather than being manipulated by outside forces via the enormous power of television advertising.

"The 5-4 decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission handed Republican strategists something they long sought, the ability to raise unlimited money from corporations," writes Dan Morain in The Sacramento Bee. Mostly this money, often from unknown sources operating in coy independence from the candidate that represents their interests, goes into negative advertising, whipping up the climate of fear and animosity that, far more than actual issues, characterizes American elections.


"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141). Cassius, a nobleman, is speaking ...

Alex Gibney's new film,"CLIENT #  The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer," shows how the former Governor's indictments and criticisms of many Wall Street firm's led to counter attacks and pushback from powerful people. It shows how he became targeted and exposes the role of the FBI, the Bush appointed US Attorney, rich players on Wall Street, corrupt politicians in Albany, a professional former Nixon boosting political provocateur/hit-man and Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. They all went after him with a vengeance. He was, in fact, outed by the dirty tricksters.

In the end, though, Spitzer blamed himself for his own arrogance and hubris. He says he brought himself down.

There is no doubt that Keith Olbermann had many pols and powercrats gunning for him for his outspoken commentaries and political impact.  He is a partisan, yes, but also a commentator who takes wacks at his own party. He pointed to the deep biases and superficiality in TV News. But then, he violated a firm rule governing TV journalists barring political donations to people they are covering. He apparently flouted his own contract although I am sure there is ambiguity there

In doing so, Keith put himself at risk and opened the door to being suspended.

A few years ago I wrote a magazine profile on Olbermann (who NBC blocked me from speaking to.)  It does show his history of confronting broadcasters and bosses. I admire his work, even as I find it sometimes pedantic and predictable, He  knew, or should have known, that he would be outed for a blatant transgression, and that does not excuse the others who do it, including his company and competitors.

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