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McCarthyFINALThey keep coming back. It may seem at times as if they've moved on, that the war of words has been won, that sanity will prevail and intellect will count for something once again. Not so fast, dreamers. There are still enough hard-headed right-wingers to gum up the legislative works, and they keep up their stream of insulting, stupid comments.

Last weekend Cruz, Santorum and Trump spoke at a conservative event in Ames, Iowa trying to drum up enthusiasm for what could be future presidential runs. Interestingly, whenever Cruz has been questioned about the fact that he wasn't born in this country, supporters are told that doesn't matter because his mother is a U.S. citizen - - my how things change over time. Not long ago the president's citizenship was questioned even though not only were there documents verifying his birthplace, and his mother was a citizen, something that is never mentioned in the meaningless debate that seems to have a life of its own.

And Cruz insists that the single most important task before conservatives is the repeal of 'Obamacare,' although it is a law about which most listeners have little or no understanding. Swept into oblivion are issues that require something more than a knee-jerk response dictated by members of the far-right voting bloc, and its cadre of simpering supporters who laugh at any deprecating reference to President Obama. Some years ago Joseph Welch, representing the army, confronted Joseph McCarthy during the infamous House Un-American activities hearings over McCarthy's attack on decorated military personnel. "Have you no sense of decency? At long last have you no sense of shame," he thundered. Today we are reminded of his angry words by similar assertions from Michele Bachmann and Allen West that there are large numbers of Communists in Congress.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 15 August 2013 07:49

Obama’s Faith-Based Diplomacy


AfghanistanFINALFrom its counterinsurgency strategy to Drone strikes, from paying off tribal leaders to training local security forces, from increasing troops to decreasing troops, the Obama Administration has tried almost every conceivable strategy to "successfully" end the war in Afghanistan.

Will the State Department's newly created faith-based office help turn the tide in Afghanistan and in other areas of violent conflict? Will it promote religious freedom for all, including minority religious groups? Will it treat non-believers with respect? Will it become a politicized money-pit for a chosen few religious organizations and institutions?

In its introduction to a wide-ranging discussion titled "Engaging religion at the Department of State," The Editors of the blog The Immanent Frame pointed out that while "There is great excitement in some quarters about the prospects for new partnerships .... this initiative also raises concerns regarding the intersection of religious freedom, religious establishment, and foreign policy."

Published in Guest Commentary


StopFriskFINALStopping crime before it happens is a great idea, but stopping young men for "walking while black" — touted by true believers as the same thing — is a game played by an occupying army.

The tactic is called stop-and-frisk. As practiced by many police departments, including New York's, it amounts to blatant racial profiling. Stop-and-frisk makes it impossible for young men of color to lead normal lives, to walk outside without fear of preemptive police harassment. The long-term hatred and tension it engenders does far more harm to a community than all the questionable good that proponents ascribe to it. Security based on racism is a sham.

So I join in the celebration of Judge Shira A. Scheindlin's ruling Monday in Manhattan's Federal District Court, declaring the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional. She accused the city of "checkpoint-style policing" in minority communities and wrote in her decision, according to the New York Times: "Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites."

That is, blacks will be stopped for carrying a wallet or cellphone in their pocket, because the bulge could be a gun. The same thing happens in Chicago, where I live, and throughout the country. A young man out walking changes direction; he's stopped and frisked. A young man parks his bike; he's stopped and frisked, accused of riding his bike on the sidewalk. A young man is wearing a hoodie...

Published in Guest Commentary


Cannabis PlantFINALToday, New York City Comptroller John Liu announced the release of a report calling for a system to tax and regulate marijuana for adult recreational use. The report, to be released tomorrow, comes two days after Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin condemned the city's police department's use of stop and frisk – which has resulted in 600,000 unlawful arrests for marijuana possession since 1997 – as racially-biased. That same day, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for Americans to rethink the "unintended consequences" of the war on drugs. Comptroller Liu's report details the problems associated with marijuana arrests in New York City -- including racial disparities and the impact of saddling young people with a permanent criminal arrest record -- and the overall financial costs of marijuana prohibition.

The report comes at a time when the federal government and states around the country are engaged in a significant review of drug policies generally and marijuana policies in particular. On Monday, Attorney General Holder noted that the war on drugs has resulted in "the decimation of certain communities, in particular of communities of color" and directed federal prosecutors to develop guidelines for some drug sentencing issues to be handled on the state or local level. Many states have already moved ahead with significant reforms to marijuana policy. Twenty states now permit the use of medical marijuana; fourteen states, including New York and, most recently, New Hampshire, have some kind of decriminalization law on the books; and voters in two states – Colorado and Washington – voted to end prohibition by taxing and regulating marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. By creating a regulatory regime, Colorado and Washington are bringing under the rule of law the production, sale and use of marijuana. Recent national surveys find that a majority of Americans now favor the legalization of marijuana.

Published in Guest Commentary


RangarokFINALAs many of my regular readers know, one of my favorite topics over time has been the contemporary Republican Party and where they are taking the country. I was about to do another one of my speculative columns on that subject when all of a sudden, there was North Carolina right in front of me.

Highly gerrymandered, it has full Republican control of the Executive and Legislative branches. Indeed, it is so highly gerrymandered that the early 19th century Massachusetts Governor, Elbridge Gerry, after whom the carving up of electoral districts into rather odd shapes to meet political needs was named, would likely be embarrassed to have his name associated with what has taken place down there. (Interestingly enough, Gov. Gerry, was one of only three delegates to the original Constitutional Convention who refused to sign the original document because it did not contain a Bill of Rights.) And so, they can just do it!

Thus, if you want to know what a Republican future would look like nationally, just cast your eyes on that state. For them, it's GOP heaven. For the rest of us, well...

This is some of what they are doing...

Published in Guest Commentary


Swaggart confessionFINALComing soon from Oxygen, the network that brings you "Bad Girls Club," "My Shopping Addiction," "Jersey Couture," and "Dance Your A** Off," is "Preachers of L.A.," and it might be the hottest new reality show to air this fall. Judging from the trailer, the show could just as well have been called "Preachers Driving Big Cars & Living in Big Houses," or "Pimped-out Preachers of La La Land."

"Preachers of L.A." is generating a huge amount of buzz. Since the program was announced, the Oxygen trailer has been viewed more than 475,000 times, its Facebook page has over 27,000 likes, and it has more than 950 Twitter followers, and garnered more than 13 million hits on Google.

It is also causing some in the evangelical community to express grave concerns about the show.

Some evangelicals are worried that the lavish lifestyles of the "Preachers of L.A." may lead to another round of Senate investigations of so-called prosperity preachers. Others are concerned that it will resurface memories of other tarnished preachers: the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart's dalliances with prostitutes; Jim and Tammy Bakker's bilking of its flock; Ted Haggard's drug and truthiness problems; Bishop Eddie Long's sexual shenanigans; and televangelist and faith-healer Benny Hinn's moral lapses.

Published in Guest Commentary


FrackingFINALRoyal Dutch Shell, which owns or leases about 900,000 acres in the Marcellus Shale, had a great idea.

It wanted to frack the Ukraine. But, there was opposition. So, Royal Dutch Shell decided to create a junket for some of the Ukrainians opposed to fracking to show them just how wonderful fracking is.

They were going to bring the Ukrainians to northeastern Pennsylvania, and give them an all-expenses-paid four day tour. The tour was to begin at the end of July. Other shale gas corporations have created press junkets, where they lay out a nice day or two of activities, complete with handouts, trinkets, meals, and lodging. Members of the establishment press often go on these junkets. Some take what they're told, rework it, and put it into print or on the air.

Now, the people of the Ukraine anti-fracking movement aren't idiots. They weren't just going to take whatever they were shown and told. So, they contacted the state's leading fractivists and anti-fracking organizations. They wanted to learn all the facts—not just what was spoon-fed to them. They were willing to talk to anti-fracking activists when there were no other scheduled activities.

Published in Guest Commentary


Rainbow flag and blue skiesAs is widely known, Russia now has a national law that bans the spreading of "information about non-traditional sexual behavior" to persons under 18. The law is based on legislation that was originally adopted in St. Petersburg under the sponsorship of its Mayor, one Vitaly Milonov. The law is based on the premises widely held by homophobes that a) homosexuality is an acquired characteristic, "chosen" by homosexuals, b) that a homosexual can therefore either "choose" to become heterosexual or be "cured" of the "sinful" trait (as it has been deemed by the Russian Orthodox Church, now a major Putin ally), and c) that homosexuals "recruit" non-homosexual children to become homosexual. The supposed basis of the law is thus that it deals only with such "recruitment."

Of course the real reason for the law is to enable the authorities to use the criminal sanction to combat the growing gay rights movement in Russia. This is not too many steps away from the criminalization of homosexuality itself. Further, it happens that homophobia appears to be widely spread among the Russian population and thus it becomes a good issue for politicians, from Milonov to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, to use for political purposes. The state-owned All Russian Center for Public Opinion found that 88% of respondents supported the new legislation, even though they had never seen such "homosexual propaganda." Indeed, even on a clear day it is difficult to see something that simply doesn't exist, except in the imaginations of homophobes.

Published in Guest Commentary


TaranisModelFINAL"Pakistani authorities have long denounced the strikes, out of concern that civilian deaths caused by drone strikes inflame the local population, bolster militant groups and violate Pakistan's sovereignty." – CNN, July 26

"Analysts said the administration was still grappling with the fact that drones remained the crucial instrument for going after terrorists in Yemen and Pakistan — yet speaking about them publicly could generate a backlash in those countries because of issues like civilian casualties." – New York Times, Aug. 2

Oh, the serious news! I read it with ever-fresh incredulity. It's written for gamers. It reduces us to gamers as it updates us on the latest bends and twists in the geopolitical scene. We're still playing War on Terror, the aim of which is to kill as many insurgents as possible; when they're all dead, we win (apparently). The trick is to avoid inflaming the locals, who then transition out of passive irrelevance and join the insurgency. They get inflamed when we kill civilians, such as their children.

This is the news: without moral depth or even curiosity. America is carrying out "targeted killings," over and over and over. The government has determined that doing so is necessary to keep us safe and that's all that matters. The mainstream media purvey the data to Spectator Nation, otherwise known as the American public, which goes on about its business. The disconnect seems almost total.

"But because the drone program remains classified, administration officials are loath to discuss it in any detail..."

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 02 August 2013 07:37

The Party of (Nutty) Ideas


StraitjacketFINALIt's not your imagination. The Republican Party really does seem to have taken leave of its senses.

The House GOP majority has decided that its final act before the summer recess will be to take its 40th vote to repeal all or part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. This time, Republicans will vote to prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from playing any role in implementing the law, which would effectively gut the measure — in some parallel universe.

Like all the previous votes to kill, squelch, strangle, kneecap or otherwise incapacitate Obamacare, this one has zero chance of success in the reality that we inhabit. The inelegantly named Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act of 2013 could never make it through the Senate. If somehow it did, President Obama would whip out the veto pen faster than you can say "preexisting conditions."

Amazingly, this pointless exercise in the House makes more sense than what Republicans are doing in the Senate. There, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his tea party-backed allies are threatening to shut down the whole government to strip Obamacare of all funding.

Published in Guest Commentary
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