Monday, July 27, 2009

Hitchens on Henry Louis Gates

Christopher Hitchens provides a highly intelligent analysis of the Henry Louis Gates fiasco, in his usual grand style. He convincingly argues that the issue is not race, but abuse of power. A must read for anyone who wants to understand what happened.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Time to Fight Back

An article from and linked on Yahoo News notes that President Obama is beginning to strike back at Republican intransigence against the stimulus and health care reform. He has begun issuing statements through the Democratic National Committee condemning the behavior of Republican leader Congressman Eric Cantor, and Cabinet Secretaries have called the governors of states such as Arizona with Republican representatives who oppose the stimulus, asking if they would like stimulus monies to be withheld.

My Gut Reaction: It's about frakking time.

Analysis: For too long, we have allowed the Republicans to indulge in rough politics without any real retaliation from the Democratic leadership. If what we are seeing is any indication, that's about to change.

If the Republicans want to bitch about stimulus spending, they should have the guts to forgo any benefits it may bring. It is hypocritical to take the public money if they think it is useful or harmful to the nation's long term interests. Let the Republican shirkers go without, while the rest reap the rewards.

Democrats used to be willing to play hard ball. As Molly Ivins once described, President Lyndon Johnson once had an issue getting the schools in a particular southern town to integrate. Furious, he called the governor of the state the town was in, and asked if his state wanted to keep its military bases. When the governor anxiously said it did, President Johnson said coldly: "Schools. Integration. Tomorrow."

And lo and behold, the schools were integrated the next day.

The moral of the story is the Democrats need to start polishing up their political guns. It's elephant hunting time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Organic Panic

On the Alternet website, food writer Ari LeVaux complains that the Silk soymilk company has switched its supplies from American organic farmers to Chinese farmers. LeVaux argues that this move harms American organic farmers, while risking imports of reduced quality.

My Gut Reaction: Oh, boo-hoo.

Analysis: LeVaux seems to believe that the Silk company is a charity rather than a business. He whines that the decision to switch to Chinese supplies was taken by Dean Foods-a "megacorporation." He forgets that the objective of any business, no matter of what size, is to make a profit, not to fund its friends and neighbors.

His misunderstanding of basic economics extends to consumers. He expresses consternation that they buy supermarket garlic from China rather than domestically produced garlic from farmers' markets. Maybe that is because the supermarket garlic is generally cheaper. In case you haven't noticed, we are in a recession. People don't have huge amounts of money to spend on organic food.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Houston, We Just Destroyed a Piece of History

According to NPR, NASA has admitted that it in all likelihood accidentally deleted the original magnetic tapes of the Apollo 11 landing and moonwalk. Apparently, they unwittingly used the tapes to record feeds from one of their numerous satellites.

My Gut Reaction: Somebody f###ed up.

Analysis: This, sadly, is part of the process of historical remembering. All too often, prime historical documents are lost through carelessness, stupidity, or simply bad luck.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Sotomayor Follies

Well, the Sotomayor hearings are pushing into their third day, with a rather circus-like atmosphere granted by the presence of anti-abortion fanatic Randall Terry, who has commissioned protestors to disrupt the hearings. He is ordering these actions despite the fact that Sotomayor has remained mum about her abortion views.

Judge Sotomayor herself is trying to keep her hand of cards as close as possible. As an article on Yahoo News notes, she is revealing as little of her views as possible to ensure the easiest possible route towards confirmation.

My Gut Reaction: This is all much ado about nothing for several reasons, not the least of which being the fact that the idea of an impartial Supreme Court Justice is fiction.

Analysis: We all know it. Virtually all the Supreme Court justices appointed over at least the past twenty years have been partisans of one political position or another. Hell, it goes beyond contemporary times. Throughout American history, Supreme Court justices have held partisan positions of one form or another, for good or for bad.

I support Judge Sotomayor because her views correlate with my partisan positions. (And don't get huffy, conservatives, we all know you support Justices Scalia and Thomas because of their partisan positions.) The trick isn't getting a so-called impartial justice; it's getting someone whose views roughly correspond with yours.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Viewing the World Through a Tinted Lens

Over the past week, I have been commenting on a blog called The Victim's Voice. The blog, maintained by Mr. Stephen M. Flatlow, who lost his daughter in a terrorist attack, is largely an apologia for Israel. The majority of the posts, at least that I've seen, focus on defending Israel against accusations of imperialism and racism.

Unfortunately, this defense at times translates into opposition to any sympathy for the Palestinian cause, no matter how measured. For example, the post which provoked my ire attacked a speech by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who praised the courage of Palestinian refugees who've endured in spite of conflict.

Flatlow contends that rather than praising the refugees, Ki-Moon should be attacking Muslim countries for not integrating the refugees into their own populations. Never mind the fact that the Palestinians as a whole seem to want to return to their original homes.

Flatlow's response to this point is that the Palestinians voluntarily left in order to allow Arab armies to attack Israel. Even if one ignores the general dictates of prudence, which suggest that one should flee an area if a military force is approaching, this ignores the evidence presented by Ilan Pappe, a Jewish Israeli historian, has uncovered evidence that Zionist leaders planned to expel Palestinians before the war started. One commenter on the blog, Shana Maydel (apparently a pseudonym, as shana maydel is a Yiddish phrase for "pretty girl") attempted to discredit Pappe as a bad historian, incidentally throwing in that he is a "Communist" and "anti-Zionist." Though if he was such a bad historian, one wonders why they felt the need to drive him out of the country.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Once Again, The Revolving Door

An article in today's Washington Post examines the phenomenon of former government and congressional employees going to work as lobbyists for health care companies in the upcoming health care debate. These new lobbyists include former employees of prominent senators such as Democrat Max Baucus and Republican Charles E. Grassley, as well as former lawmakers such as Dick Armey and Dick Gephardt, and are working for pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, as well as industry lobbying groups such as the American Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). The lobbyists claim that their contacts with lawmakers do not give them or those they represent any extra advantages, but public interest groups are not so sure.

My Gut Reaction: The lobbyists and congressmen may be sincere in their protestations of innocence, but this situation still makes me rather quesy.

Analysis: With all these lobbyists weighing in on health care reform, it seems the only ones not getting Congress's ear are the American people. Although the public is supposed to be represented by our elected officials, I have the suspicion we get far less attention than these corporate lobbyists. Although some may argue that hiring lobbyists is simply a form of free speech, to me, hiring a former government official to speak for you seems a lot like influence peddling.

The Schenley Park Tea Party

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on a July 4th "tea party" (herefore to be known as Hickapalooza) held in Schenley Park, near Carnegie Mellon University. The party was meant to protest all forms of government intervention, ranging from taxes on cigarettes to health care reform. Above all, the "party" sought to condemn the policies of President Obama, with at least one sign calling his election the "suicide" of America.

My Gut Reaction: If they think the country is on such a wrong course, why don't they f---ing leave? It's not like they'd be particularly missed.

Analysis: The article about Hickapalooza is a case study in right wing hysteria. Especially galling is the statement from one woman, a Czech immigrant who lived under Communism, that universal health care would turn the United States into a Communist country. Having experienced a Communist regime, the woman should have realized that if America had actually become a communist country, she and her comrades would never have been allowed to mount a protest. They would all have been rounded up by the secret police.

These people do not seem to recognize any viable role for the state, other than fighting wars and making certain they get to keep their guns. One actually wonders whether they would feel more comfortable in a country where government has effectively ceased to exist, such as Somalia.

If this is the best the conservatives have to offer, I think we can look forward to a full eight years of liberal rule.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Palin Scandal?

Tana Ganeva, writing on the Alternet website, provides a great deal of evidence to suggest that Sarah Palin, soon to be ex-governor of Alaska, may have resigned her post in order to escape one of several public scandals, ranging from things that cropped up during her vice-presidential campaign, to one or two new ones. Particularly of note are Gov. Palin's dealings with an Alaskan contractor, Spenard Building Supplies, which built one of Palin's houses and later the Wasilla Sports Complex.

My Gut Reaction: I told you so.

Analysis: Although some Palin supporters such as Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard, think her resignation may be a brilliant, if bizarre, political move, the amount of scandal murmurings in the background suggest that she's trying to get out of Dodge before all hell breaks loose.

The Spenard Building Supplies issue, which may become the subject of a federal investigation, is particularly intriguing. Unlike the other scandals that Ganeva writes about, which are frankly old news, this is a new issue, one that may evolve into a media frenzy, particularly with the number of Republican governors who have had problems recently.

Of course, it is too early in the game to be certain of anything. Given Gov. Palin's tendency toward political gaffes, it might just be another sign of incompetency on her part.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Breaking News: Palin Is Gone!!! has reported that Sarah Palin is planning to resign at the end of this month, apparently to prepare for a Presidential bid. The move comes as a surprise to members of her own party.

Analysis: Something seems fishy here. Why would she resign three years before the election? It could mean something bad is brewing in Alaska, and Gov. Palin wants to keep clear of it. Not necessarily something illegal, but perhaps a major budget crunch or some other major political development that she wants to steer clear of.

The coincidence of this development with a controversial Vanity Fair article denouncing Gov. Palin and drawing from interior GOP sources also seems rather interesting. I don't know what it is, but some sort of machination is going on here.

So Much for Free Expression

An article in The Progressive magazine, as well as a blog post on the Mondoweiss blog document the suppression of a Palestinian literary festival by the Israeli army. The Palestinian Festival of Literature, a celebration of Palestinian writing and arts, was deemed subversive by government officials.

My Gut Reaction: It's rather unwise to suppress literary festivals when you promote yourself to your allies as the only real democracy in the Middle East.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Some Disturbing Observations on Honduras

Greg Grandin of The Nation, in an article excerpted on the Upside Down World website, warns that the U. S. State Department may be considering exploiting the coup in Honduras to pressure President in Exile Manuel Zelaya to adopt policies that would serve American economic interests. As he notes, the State Department has refused to refer to what has happened in Honduras as a coup.

My Gut Reaction: We must not allow State Department bureaucrats to stand in the way of supporting genuine democracy.

Analysis: If what Grandin says is true, we may face a return to the corrupt dealings in Latin America and the Caribbean that I discussed in my previous post about Honduras. As Grandin notes, under the Clinton Administration, the restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency of Haiti was predicated upon the acceptance of IMF policies. There is evidence that the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be pursuing a similar course with Honduras.

An Insult to the First Amendment

Pittsburgh-area U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has done it again, trampling on other people's freedoms to advance her own moral agenda. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, Rob Zicari and Janet Romano, the heads of the now defunct Extreme Associates, a pornography production company, have both been sentenced to a year in prison after being prosecuted for five years by Buchanan.

Their company produced highly graphic, sadomasochistic pornography, known as "horror porn" which the U.S. Government under President George W. Bush deemed obscene. As an episode of the PBS television show Frontline documented, their videos could include subject matter such as rape.

My Gut Reaction: U.S. Attorney Buchanan is a Puritan throwback who should not have anywhere near the power she now has.

Analysis: In my opinion, the prosecution of Extreme Associates by Buchanan violates the spirit, if not necessarily the wording, of the First Amendment. Over a period of five years, spending who knows how much taxpayer money, she wore down Zicari and Romano, who are married, driving them out of their careers and ultimately their home for making films with consenting adults. When their resources ran out, they had no real choice other than to plead guilty.

That's right. No snuff films. No actual rape took place. No children were involved. All this for a fictional movie. This is unacceptable.

As an article published by the Pittsburgh City Paper demonstrates, Buchanan has a habit of pursuing cases that revolve around morality rather than the public safety. For instance, she pursued a drug paraphenalia case against Tommy Chong, and another obscenity case against an internet author whose work focused on child molestation.

Is this really the kind of person we want enforcing our laws? Someone whose main interest appears to be forcing her ideas of morality on the rest of the world. Is this what we think American justice should be like?

Some may point out that the majority of people would find the work of Extreme Associates disgusting and offensive. They would probably be right. I would probably find their videos difficult if not impossible to watch, as I personally find it uncomfortable to watch a female get hurt, even if I know it is simulated. But that is not the point.

Others may point out that Extreme Associates and its owners to a certain extent courted government prosecution by going on Frontline. Furthermore, after the charges were filed, Extreme Associates continued to sell the videos being targeted, labeling them as the "Federal Five." But that is also not the point.

The point is that the government should not be regulating the type of films people can produce when they involve consenting adults, and government officials certainly should not be pursuing filmmakers for periods of over half a decade. This is an abuse of government power, and sets a precedent that threatens the liberty of all.

What particularly makes this prosecution galling is that Extreme Associates, Zicari, and Romano were all based in California. Buchanan had a government agent based in Pennsylvania order a copy of one of the company's videos so that she could prosecute them herself. This is a practice known as forum shopping.

We need to stand up to such prosecutions, and label them as what they are-abuses of government power, and infringements on American liberty and the freedom of speech.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Don't Hold Back on Honduras

An article on Yahoo News describes the increasing isolation of the new military regime in Honduras, with the nation under threat of suspension from the Organization of American States (OAS)and the United States recognizing Manuel Zelaya as the legitimate ruler of the country. Zelaya intends to return to the country in three days, in spite of threats by coup leader Roberto Micheletti. (I refuse to refer to him as President.)

My Gut Reaction: President Obama, the United Nations, and the rest of Latin America should open ten cans of diplomatic whupass on Micheletti and his military backers. Sanctions, withdrawal of diplomatic recognition, freezing foreign assets, the works.

Analysis: The reaction to the Honduran coup marks a sea change in how America and the rest of the hemisphere reacts to military uprisings in Latin America. Gone are the days when the US government would endorse or even assist in the overthrow of leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Salvador Allende. By standing against this usurpation of democracy, President Obama shows that he takes the call to liberty seriously.

This is not only a matter of human rights and democracy; it is a prime opportunity to restore America's reputation in the world. It will go a long way to erase the memory of the 1973 coup in Chile, as well as the Bush Administration's endorsement of the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez. We may finally have a chance to restore our reputation in Latin America.