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StethoscopeIt takes chutzpah, or perhaps just an extraordinary lack of self-awareness, to argue vehemently that a program should never be implemented -- and then complain it isn't being implemented well enough.

But that seems to be the new Republican position: We want the Affordable Care Act, and we want it now.

Given that House Republicans have voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare, you'd think more of them would be cheering the "debacle" of a barely functioning website that keeps people from signing up. Instead, they demand to know who is responsible and insist that heads should roll.

The sense of urgency surrounding the program is palpable -- and largely artificial. The Obama administration royally screwed up the launch, no question about it. But there's time to get it right. Plenty of time.

The real deadline for creating a sleek, seamless, customer-friendly website allowing people to buy insurance through the federal exchanges isn't three weeks or even three months. It's three years and change -- the time President Obama has left in office.

Published in Guest Commentary


Billboard"To all of our atheist friends: Thank God you're wrong."

Move over, WeBuyUglyHouses.com and Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa. Here was religious faith on a billboard, refuting non-belief in letters three feet high. I was visiting Los Angeles, driving with a friend along La Cienega Boulevard, when this king-size ad for religious certainty smacked us in the eye.

Turns out that Answers in Genesis, an evangelical organization with money to spend, took the God debate to billboards this month in New York and Los Angeles. They were pushing back against a group called the American Atheists, who at Christmas time last year sponsored a billboard featuring images of Jesus and Santa Claus with the words: "Keep the Merry, dump the myth."

OMG, a billboard war about the existence of God. The whole thing agitates, for me, an endemic cultural despair that has little to do with the point of view of either organization. Well, we've reduced politics to an advertising game, not to mention health and love and pretty much everything else — that is to say, we've reduced all that was once sacred to commodities with price tags — so why not the whole God-vs.-science thing, i.e., reality? It's already been reduced to a survey question.

Published in Guest Commentary


KristallnachtThe watchdog group the Institute for Research & Education On Human Rights is reporting that the National Socialist Movement is planning a rally in the Kansas City area on November 9. According to IREHR, "Most of the chatter about the would-be rally place it in downtown Kansas City, Missouri; although the NSM leaflet advertising this event places it in Kansas City, Kansas."

Why has the NSM chosen to rally on November 9?

Kristallnacht – Night of Broken Glass

Seventy-five years ago, in the late evening and early morning hours of November 9–10, 1938, Adolph Hitler unleashed his Storm Troopers and gangs of Hitler Youth in cities throughout Germany, annexed Austria, and in areas of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia recently occupied by German troops. The violent anti-Jewish pogroms resulted in deaths, massive destruction and deportations. Those assaults on the Jewish community became known as Kristallnacht (literally translated as "Night of Crystal" and often referred to as "Night of Broken Glass").

Published in Guest Commentary


Government Shutdown RallyPride seems to come in different shapes and sizes these days. And standards vary according to wherever the political winds transport them. Ann Coulter said she was "so proud" of Republicans for shutting down the government and hoped more Republicans like Mike Lee and Ted Cruz would be elected in order that the right-wing goal of defeating the affordable care law could be realized. Host Sean Hannity agreed, of course, and it seemed that the nasty chorus of ultra-conservative views would continue as before to keep the country embroiled in endless partisan rhetoric.

She said it was a brilliant tactic deserving of praise, and she hoped more of the same would develop in the near future. Coulter and other wingers are fast talkers and sound at times almost rational. According to Cruz, "There is no Senator in this body, Republican or Democrat, who is more principled, who is more dedicated, who is more fearless and willing to fight for the principles that make this nation great than is Senator Mike Lee." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough said he admired Lee as well, even though he wasn't in favor of shutting the government down. What, in fact, was so admirable about costing the government billions of dollars while the country ground to a halt, and thousands of jobs were lost?

And where do the self-proclaimed 'values voters' fit in? Are they a special breed of super-patriots prepared to set an example for the rest of us to emulate? Do they have a secret code to discern moral parameters for people who are too dim to make those determinations for themselves? There are no adequate explanations for how such voters reached the values that influence their votes and send them into paroxysms of cheering and applause. One can only guess at the driving force that encourages enthusiasm of such magnitude - - perhaps it is just a great well of ignorance that rises up to engulf the empty surround that passes for thoughtful deliberation. Values voters, indeed; however did we reach a point where charlatans and hucksters deliver versions of our language that defy meaningful translation, and yet are celebrated among those for whom rational debate holds no appeal?

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 29 October 2013 06:51

Eugene Robinson | The Out-of-Control NSA


HURTLet's get this straight: The National Security Agency snooped on the cellphone conversations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel? Perhaps for as long as a decade? And President Obama didn't know a thing about it?

Either somebody's lying or Obama needs to acknowledge that the NSA, in its quest for omniscience beyond anything Orwell could have imagined, is simply out of control.

The White House has not denied news reports -- courtesy of disclosures by whistleblower Edward Snowden -- that the spy agency eavesdropped on Merkel's phone calls. Press secretary Jay Carney said that "the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor," which sure sounds like an admission that such "monitoring" took place in the past.

This is a problem. Merkel is the de facto leader of Europe, which makes her, from the U.S. point of view, perhaps the most important allied leader in the world. Moreover, she and Obama have not only mutual respect but also a genuine rapport -- or used to. Her government huffily demanded an explanation and said such spying "would be a serious breach of trust."

Published in Guest Commentary


DeepwaterSlickOn April 20th, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded off the Gulf of Mexico, claiming 11 lives, followed by an estimated 200 million gallons of oil that polluted the sea and shores with black poisonous tar for three months. The world’s worst oil catastrophe in history left the Gulf’s fishing and tourist industries in an extremely depressing situation. It’s not exactly accurate to claim that life on the Gulf is completely dead. The oil industry is booming.  But thanks primarily to British Petroleum’s and Halliburton’s decisions of gross negligence i.e. putting profits first over safety, the tourist and fishing industries are struggling to say the least, (read Dahr Jamail’s Gulf Ecosystem in Crisis) which is the reason BP was forced to set aside a relief fund of $20 billion dollars for victims of these Gulf businesses; some did well from the settlements, but many are in dire straits.  Moreover, BP is still sitting on most of that relief fund money.

Cleanup has been an ongoing nightmare. Scientists are now concerned about the possibility of restoration given the damage that was done to the fragile ecosystems, specifically the food chain that has been “dissolved” from harsh chemical pollutants: viz. the combination of oil and the potent toxic dispersant Corexit. Corexit is largely the culprit that has literally dissolved the food chain vital for regeneration of marine life.

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Tragically, the likelihood of recovery is slim to say the least due to the fact that the US government allowed BP to drop tons of the highly toxic dispersant, Corexit, over vast areas of the Gulf for long periods of time, areas that included sensitive oyster and clam estuaries. No other government in any other civilized country would have been that ignorant, that careless to allow an oil company to dump tons of toxic chemicals on top of millions of gallons of oil. It’s the equivalent of unloading truckloads of decomposing acid into the ocean. The consequences have been unspeakably horrifying and heartbreaking: thousands of dolphins have washed up on the shores, dead, with their eyes literally burned out of their sockets, eyeless shrimp, deformed fish with lesions, and above all else: no fish.

Published in Guest Commentary


FrackWellMonday morning, Oct. 21, 2013: Vera Scroggins, a retired real estate agent and nurse's aide, was in Common Pleas Court for Susquehanna County, Pa., to explain why a temporary injunction should not be issued against her.

Before her were four lawyers and several employees of Cabot Gas and Oil, who accused her of trespassing and causing irreparable harm to the company that had almost $1 billion in revenue in 2012. They didn't want her on their property they owned or leased in the Marcellus Shale.

Scroggins is an anti-fracking activist, someone who not only knows what is happening in the gas fields of northeastern Pennsylvania, but willingly devotes much of her day to helping others to see and understand the damage fracking causes. Since 2010, she had led visitors, government officials, and journalists on tours of the gas fields, to rigs and well pads, pipelines, compressor stations, and roads damaged by the heavy volume of truck traffic necessary to build and support the wells.

As part of her tours, she introduces the visitors to those affected by fracking, to the people of northeast Pennsylvania who have seen their air and water polluted, their health impacted. The visitors come from New York, which has a moratorium on fracking; from Pennsylvania, which doesn't; from surrounding states and from foreign countries, who want to see what fracking is, and what it does.

And now in a court room in Montrose, she was accused of trespassing and forced to defend herself.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 24 October 2013 07:31

Jim Hightower | Monsanto Buys a Food Prize


MonsantoProtestAs Lily Tomlin has noted, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

For example, imagine if a prestigious group announced that this year's "World Environmental Prize" is being awarded to BP, for its unique contribution to the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. No way, you say? Too absurd?

Right, but try this one: Imagine that an Iowa group announces that its "World Food Prize" will go to Monsanto for pushing its patented, pricey, genetically-tampered Frankenseeds on impoverished lands as an "answer" to global hunger. This would be so morally perverse that the "cyn" in cynical would be spelled s.i.n. Yet, it has actually happened.

Rather than encouraging sustainable farming and self-sufficiency in impoverished communities as a way to alleviate poverty and malnutrition around the world, this year's World Food Prize has been "won" by a profiteering, biotech, seed-and-chemical monopolist that's the freakish opposite of sustainability. Monsanto, which owns 90 percent of the world's genetically modified seeds, is globally infamous for bullying family farmers, bribing and corrupting governments, stiffing independent scientific inquiries into its hokum, running false ads and fraudulent PR campaigns, and going all out to keep consumers from knowing that the crops produced by its seeds contain alien, bioengineered DNA and have not been tested for long-term health and environmental problems.

Why would this avaricious outfit get any sort of award, much less one that can give it a false legitimacy as a corporate "savior" for the world's poor? Perhaps because Monsanto is a major funder of the World Food Prize. Indeed, the foundation that hands out the award is headquartered in downtown Des Moines in a historic building that recently got a spiffy remodeling, thanks to a $5 million donation from — you guessed it — Monsanto. The corporate honoree has also been a steady donor to the food prize foundation, giving some $400,000 to its promotion of industrial agribusiness in the last dozen years.

How cynical is that? Even Lily Tomlin wouldn't have imagined it.

Published in Guest Commentary


BullJ.P Morgan was recently socked in the wallet by financial regulators, who levied a fine of nearly a billion bucks against the Wall Street baron for massive illegalities.

Well, not a fine against John Pierpont Morgan, the man. This 19th century robber baron was born to a great banking fortune and, by hook and crook, leveraged it to become the "King of American Finance." During the Gilded Age, Morgan cornered U.S. financial markets, gained monopoly ownership of railroads, amassed a vast supply of the nation's gold and used his investment power to create U.S. Steel and take control of that market.

From his earliest days in high finance, Morgan was a hustler who often traded on the shady side. In the Civil War, for example, his family bought his way out of military duty, but he saw another way to serve. Himself, that is. Morgan bought defective rifles for $3.50 each and sold them to a general in the Union Army for $22 each. The rifles blew off soldiers' thumbs, but Morgan pleaded ignorance, and government investigators graciously absolved the young, wealthy, well-connected financier of any fault.

That seems to have set a pattern for his lifetime of antitrust violations, union busting and other over-the-edge profiteering practices. He drew numerous official charges — but of course, he never did any jail time.

Moving the clock forward, we come to JPMorgan Chase, today's financial powerhouse bearing J.P.'s name. The bank also inherited his pattern of committing multiple illegalities — and walking away scot-free.

Published in Guest Commentary


AtlantaPresident Obama's victory this week was as complete and devastating as Sherman's march through the South. But there is no early sign that the zealots of the anti-government far right have learned the lessons of their defeat -- which means that more battles lie ahead.

House Speaker John Boehner was not being honest Wednesday when he explained the GOP surrender by saying, "We fought the good fight; we just didn't win." This was not a good fight. Republicans picked an objective that was never realistic -- forcing Obama to nullify the Affordable Care Act, his biggest achievement -- and tactics that amounted to self-immolation.

Boehner knew from the start that the GOP would be blamed for shuttering the government and that he could never really allow the Treasury to default. So what on earth was the point?

Apologists say that Boehner had to go through with the shutdown and go down to the wire on the debt ceiling to show the hard-core tea-party members of his caucus that "we control one-half of one-third of the government," as the speaker has said -- that a slender House majority has limited power.

But come on, really? Can these people not count? Or do they have such blind faith in their own wisdom that they think they are divinely ordained to prevail, whatever the odds? That is the mindset of crusaders, not legislators.

Published in Guest Commentary
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