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Tuesday, 15 October 2013 06:52

Eugene Robinson | Democrats Raise Their Ante


HoldemA crazy thing is happening in shuttered, dysfunctional Washington: Democrats are pushing back.

This phenomenon is so novel and disorienting that many Republicans in Congress, especially the tea party bullies, seem unable to grasp what's going on. They keep expecting President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to fold like a cheap suit because, well, such a thing has happened before. I guess it's understandable that the GOP might have forgotten the difference between bluffing and actually holding a winning hand.

Late last week, Reid began demanding that Republicans not only reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling but that they also make concessions on the draconian, irrational-by-design budget cuts known as sequestration. In political terms, he is demanding that the GOP pay a price for putting the country through all this needless drama.

Suddenly, Republicans who thought it was fine to hold the government and the economy hostage in order to nullify a duly enacted law -- the Affordable Care Act -- are shocked that Democrats would even suggest tampering with another duly enacted law: the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established the "sequester" cuts.

Was Reid moving the goal posts? Of course he was. That's what negotiators do when they have the upper hand.

Published in Guest Commentary


BallotBox1The Presidential election of 2000 was Karl Rove's first big play on the national stage. He won the election for Bush through a combination of luck (his opponent and the President he was trying to succeed didn't talk to each other much), skill (hiding the true nature of his candidate very well and also managing to get the media by and large to ignore his "military record"), Ralph Nader's 90,000 votes in Florida, threats of violence (which were carried out by a John Bolton-led team that prevented the Miami-Dade Board of Elections from proceeding with its recount, which if it had been done at that stage would have given the election to Gore), and of course a Supreme Court on which the majority was so tilted Republican that it actually said in their opinion, "our giving the election to Bush" cannot be regarded as setting any precedents.

But once getting his man into the White House, Rove went on to have delusions of grandeur that he could create a permanent Republican Majority, and he spoke about it openly. Not that he would be able to do simply by un-manipulated vote totals, of course. And so, in 2004, first he used the issues of religious determinism on gay marriage (the screen for homophobia) and abortion rights to get the necessary Religious Right voters to the polls.

Second, he set up a fairly sophisticated vote-count cheating system, especially in the key swing state of Ohio (in which the vote there, as well as other states, may well have been manipulated in 2000 as well).

Published in Guest Commentary


PrisonWallsAnyone who even tangentially follows the travesty that is America's criminal justice system knows that privately owned prison corporations are gaining a deeper foothold in our nation's prisons. The private prison industry lobbies politicians, donates to campaigns of pro-privatization candidates, supports the ongoing War on Drugs, and has helped to shape criminal justice policies like California's three-strikes law. High incarceration rates insure greater profits for the private prison industry.

A new report from In the Public Interest reveals that private prison companies, including two of the largest, the Corrections Corp. of America and Geo Group Inc., are forging deals with state and local governments that provide huge profits based on guaranteed high occupancy rates.

The report, titled "Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and 'Low-Crime Taxes' Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations," "documents the contracts exchanged between private prison companies and state and local governments that either guarantee prison occupancy rates (essentially creating inmate lockup quotas) or force taxpayers to pay for empty beds if the prison population decreases due to lower crime rates or other factors (essentially creating low-crime taxes)," AlterNet's April M. Short recently reported.

Published in Guest Commentary


MirrorIn an agony of stupidity, the government shuts down.

Only some of it shuts down, of course. The part that stays open is the part that's at war. "Those of you in uniform will remain on your normal duty status," the president said. "The threats to our national security have not changed, and we need you to be ready for any contingency. Ongoing military operations, like our efforts in Afghanistan, will continue."

As I once observed, there's no such thing as a relaxed nation. It can shut down what it does right, if clumsily, like feeding people, educating them and helping them through difficulty, but it will only shut down its predatory sense of identity in a state of total defeat by a bigger predator. Not letting that happen is its endless obsession.

This is the sly, primitive, irrational part of government: its reptile-brain function. That's still in full operation. We're continuing to raid, bomb and terrorize Fourth World countries and pointlessly harvest global metadata. We're still "completing our mission" in Afghanistan. We're just phasing out the government functions that have value. Perhaps what we should talk about is a rationality shutdown.

Published in Guest Commentary


BirtherIn 2010, Harold Camping, a founder, and at the time president of Family Stations, Inc., an Oakland, California-based religious broadcasting network, made his boldest proclamation ever: He prophesized that the Day of Judgment would be May 21, 2011, and the world would end on October 21 of that year. May 21 passed without The Rapture, and October 21 was a day like all days ... followed by October 22, 23, and so on and so on and doobie doobie doobie, as Sly and the Family Stone famously sang.

Now, along comes Larry Klayman -- the founder and former chairman of Judicial Watch who is now running a group call Freedom Watch --with his own End Times scenario. This time, however, the only target for Klayman's End Times is President Barack Obama.

Klayman is advocating a November 19, uprising that will jam the streets of Washington, D.C., and force the removal of Obama from the White House.

In a piece published at Renew America and titled "Obama's reckoning to come on November 19!: Klayman Calls for the Masses to Force Resignation of Convicted President," Klayman maintained that Obama was recently convicted by "a people's court of defrauding the American people and Floridians by proffering them with a fake birth certificate."

Published in Guest Commentary


RepublicanlogoBy Washington standards, the current government shutdown is an everyday disaster — of a kind we are gradually learning to expect whenever the Republican Party controls Congress. The impending breach of the nation's credit, however, when those same Republicans refuse to raise the debt limit to cover the funds they have spent, threatens a singular catastrophe: unpredictable, global, yet entirely avoidable.

The blame for this disgrace seems to be apportioned properly by most Americans, according to the latest polling data. But the future of the country and the world may well rest on whether voters understand the roots of this crisis — in a party controlled by an extremist faction that is violating every public value that party has supposedly espoused for 30 years and more.

Republicans used to tell us, often with a self-righteous air, that they were the true upholders of constitutional order, the rule of law, fiscal probity, personal responsibility, majority rights and market principles. In their unquenchable zeal to oppose President Obama and all his works, they have discarded every one of those ideals.

They have closed down the government, with all the costs and sorrows that has imposed on the American people, in order to save us all from the Affordable Care Act — a law duly passed under the Constitution and declared to be so by a majority of the Supreme Court, including its very conservative chief justice.

Published in Guest Commentary


CruzVVSTexas Senator Ted Cruz may not win any Mr. Congeniality award, but his recent 21-hour stint at the podium in the Senate trashing Obamacare and bashing fellow Republicans may help him win the hearts and minds of tea party supporters, the Religious Right, and a segment of libertarians. Could that be enough for him to win the GOP's presidential nomination in 2016?

Steve Deace is beginning to think so. "Come January 2017, if you see Ted Cruz taking the presidential oath of office, you'll largely have the Republican Party establishment that hates him to thank for it," Deace recently wrote at Conservative Action Alerts.

Deace, a radio talk show host, claimed that the "sophomoric and treacherous" behavior of GOP officials has essentially "helped elevate the junior Texas senator from 'wacko bird' beloved by the base to a force of nature capable of something no movement conservative has done since Ronald Reagan."

Whatever else one might say about Cruz, there is no mistaking his campaign against Obamacare for a charm offensive. And along the way, his citing of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's pre-World War Two capitulation to the Nazis, was aimed at calling out fellow Republicans for their unwillingness to fight Obamacare to the bitter end.

Published in Guest Commentary


ChristiansPersecutedWe've seen these disinformation and smear campaigns orchestrated by the Religious Right play out before: Religious Right organizations make an outrageous claim; in this case, a secret meeting aimed at attacking the religious freedom of Christian conservatives in the military, took place at the Pentagon April 23, 2013. This phony claim spreads like a virus through conservative networks. The story takes off at outlets like Breitbart.com, Fox News, WorldNetDaily and other right wing websites, blogs, e-mail newsletters and on twitter.

The target of this particular campaign is Michael L. "Mickey" Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Since its founding the MRFF has been dedicated to battling Christian fundamentalism in the military. For waging this battle, the Religious Right's has labeled Weinstein -- a registered Republican and former military prosecutor who served in the Ronald Reagan Administration -- an "anti-Christian extremist," "a religious bigot" and the "Field General of the Godless Armies of Satan."

Over the years, Weinstein has been swamped with hate mail.

Now, he is one of the Religious Right's premier public enemies.

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 07:30

Warm Enough for You?


ClimateSkeptics and deniers can make all the noise they want, but a landmark new report is unequivocal: There is a 95 percent chance that human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are changing the climate in ways that court disaster.

That's the bottom line from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which Monday released the latest of its comprehensive, every-six-years assessments of the scientific consensus about climate change. According to the IPCC, there is only a 1-in-20 chance that human activity is not causing dangerous warming.

You may like those betting odds. If so, let's get together for a friendly game of poker, and please don't forget to bring cash.

The squawking from naysayers has recently been all about a supposed "pause" in global warming. They say there has been no detectable warming in the past 15 years and claim that any temperature rise that scientists attribute to human activity is really part of some grand natural cycle -- probably nothing to worry about, and, in any event, nothing we can control.

One look at the data indicates that the skeptics' view is wishful thinking, at best. It is true that if you look at the period 1998-2013, there is very little warming. But that is because 1998 was an extreme outlier -- a sharp spike on the graph. That year was much warmer than the preceding or subsequent few years.

Published in Guest Commentary
Friday, 27 September 2013 07:12

Fessing Up to Our Imperial Footprint


JointcolorsIs America an empire or not? It is a loaded question because in the modern age, that word — empire — is not a moniker citizens proudly embrace in the way we might imagine the Ottomans or the Romans did during their reins. Instead, the word today evokes images of the Death Star. And so we shirk the term's implications and insinuations, much as President Obama did this week at the United Nations.

"The United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries," he declared in his speech to the General Assembly. "The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn't borne out by America's current policy."

The rhetoric sounds nice and it deftly portrays the United States as the sympathetic victim of an international conspiracy. The problem is that it glosses over how current U.S. policies do, in fact, create an imperial footprint.

This is most easy to see when it comes to our military. According to a 2010 report by the Pentagon, the United States has 662 overseas bases in 38 different countries. Additionally, the United States recently invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and helped invade Libya. It is also prosecuting undeclared wars in Yemen and Pakistan, while propping up dictators in most of the Middle East. Oh, and we are also the world's biggest exporter of weapons and spend more on our military than most of the world combined.

Published in Guest Commentary
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