Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Welcome To Post-Legal America

Everyone knows that in the United States if you’re a robber caught breaking into someone’s house, you’ll be brought to trial, but if you’re caught breaking into someone else’s country, you’ll be free to take to the lecture circuit, write your memoirs, or become a university professor. -- Tom Engelhardt
I have written before about the Obama Adminstration's refusal to hold accountable those in the Bush Administration who authorized torture and how damaging it is to not have a true reckoning that confirms once and for all not just the immorality, but the illegality of torture.  (See, e.g., Pitfalls of Only Looking Forward, Tortured Logic.)  As I previously stated, "if we are to remain a nation of laws then when high government officials break the law or cynically bend the law to justify human rights violations there needs to be consequences."  (No Spain, No Gain.)  As Tom Engelhardt explains, in a great new piece on TomDispatch, which he kindly allows me to re-post here, by failing to bring wrongdoers to justice while instead prosecuting whistle blowers, we are indeed becoming a country that is no longer governed by the rule of law.

Dumb Question of the Twenty-first Century: Is It Legal? 

Post-Legal America and the National Security Complex

By Tom Engelhardt, originally posted at TomDispatch, on May 30, 2011.

Is the Libyan war legal?  Was Bin Laden’s killing legal?  Is it legal for the president of the United States to target an American citizen for assassination?  Were those “enhanced interrogation techniques” legal? These are all questions raised in recent weeks.  Each seems to call out for debate, for answers.  Or does it?
Now, you couldn’t call me a legal scholar.  I’ve never set foot inside a law school, and in 66 years only made it onto a single jury (dismissed before trial when the civil suit was settled out of court).  Still, I feel at least as capable as any constitutional law professor of answering such questions.

My answer is this: they are irrelevant.  Think of them as twentieth-century questions that don't begin to come to grips with twenty-first century American realities.  In fact, think of them, and the very idea of a nation based on the rule of law, as a reflection of nostalgia for, or sentimentality about, a long-lost republic.  At least in terms of what used to be called “foreign policy,” and more recently “national security,” the United States is now a post-legal society.  (And you could certainly include in this mix the too-big-to-jail financial and corporate elite.)

It’s easy enough to explain what I mean. If, in a country theoretically organized under the rule of law, wrongdoers are never brought to justice and nobody is held accountable for possibly serious crimes, then you don’t have to be a constitutional law professor to know that its citizens actually exist in a post-legal state.  If so, “Is it legal?” is the wrong question to be asking, even if we have yet to discover the right one.

The Truth About The American Economy

By Robert Reich, originally published on his website, May 30, 2011.

The U.S. economy continues to stagnate. It’s growing at the rate of 1.8 percent, which is barely growing at all. Consumer spending is down. Home prices are down. Jobs and wages are going nowhere.
It’s vital that we understand the truth about the American economy.

How did we go from the Great Depression to 30 years of Great Prosperity? And from there, to 30 years of stagnant incomes and widening inequality, culminating in the Great Recession? And from the Great Recession into such an anemic recovery?

The Great Prosperity

During three decades from 1947 to 1977, the nation implemented what might be called a basic bargain with American workers. Employers paid them enough to buy what they produced. Mass production and mass consumption proved perfect complements. Almost everyone who wanted a job could find one with good wages, or at least wages that were trending upward.

During these three decades everyone’s wages grew — not just those at or near the top.

Government enforced the basic bargain in several ways. It used Keynesian policy to achieve nearly full employment. It gave ordinary workers more bargaining power. It provided social insurance. And it expanded public investment. Consequently, the portion of total income that went to the middle class grew while the portion going to the top declined. But this was no zero-sum game. As the economy grew almost everyone came out ahead, including those at the top.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Throwing Like A Freak

Tim Lincecum aka The Freak
I have had the great joy of coaching my daughters' softball teams.  The girls -- 2nd and 3rd graders -- quickly learn how to hit, field and catch.  Every week they improve and begin to understand the intricacies of what is a pretty complex game.  The most difficult thing for them to grasp is how to throw the ball properly.  As a general rule, throwing just doesn't come as easily or as quickly as it does for boys.  Even after many, many weeks of practices and games, most of the girls still throw, well, in a way that is derisively referred to as "like a girl."  Why is this?

It isn't structural.  This is apparent from watching girls/women play high school or college softball -- they can throw well and hard.  As Jame Fallows pointed out in an article (Throwing Like A Girl) which he wrote fifteen years ago,"if you ask an orthopedist, an anatomist, or (especially) the coach of a women's softball team there is no structural reason why men and women should throw in different ways."

Fallows describes the "kinetic chain" involved in producing a "proper" baseball throw, whereby energy passes progressively from the larger and heavier parts of the body to the smaller, lighter parts:
A good throw uses six links of chain. The first two links involve the lower body, from feet to waist. The first motion of a throw (after the body has been rotated away from the target) is to rotate the legs and hips back in the direction of the throw, building up momentum as large muscles move body mass. Then those links stop—a pitcher stops turning his hips once they face the plate—and the momentum is transferred to the next link. This is the torso, from waist to shoulders, and since its mass is less than that of the legs, momentum makes it rotate faster than the hips and legs did. The torso stops when it is facing the plate, and the momentum is transferred to the next link—the upper arm. As the upper arm comes past the head, it stops moving forward, and the momentum goes into the final links—the forearm and wrist, which snap forward at tremendous speed.
In a more recent follow-up piece (Throwing Like A Tim Lincecum), Fallows points to this Red Bull-sponsored super slo-mo clip of the Giants' Tim Lincecum throwing the ball as a perfect illustration of how the kinetic chain works:

Fallows contends that throwing is not some innate skill but is an "intricate series of actions coordinated among muscle groups" that has to be learned.   And, for a combination of evolutionary and cultural reasons, boys often begin playing with balls practically from infancy, while most girls don't.  As Fallows asserts, boys generally figure out how to throw earlier with "hundreds of idle hours spent throwing balls, sticks, rocks, and so on in the playground or the back yard."   In addition, as Fallows points out, boys on the playground tend to be more competitive, "trying to throw a rock or ball or whatever farther than their friends," while girls tend to do this less often.

In our league, we teach a series of steps to get the girls to throw a ball, including turning perpendicular to the target ("skateboard"), putting both arms straight out with the glove hand pointing to the target ("scarecrow"), and holding the ball with elbow up high (like a "waitress").   By this method, the girls eventually learn to throw properly, although nobody throws like Lincecum.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #35

The Great Jazz Trio, Someday My Prince Will Come (2004).  I admit I was originally drawn to this album by the cover photo of what I believe is Fenway Park.  Turns out to be a wonderful album that breathes new life into some classic old tunes.  The Great Jazz Trio underwent several changes in personnel since its initial performances in the mid-1970s, when pianist Hank Jones teamed up with Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums for a gig at the Village Vanguard in New York.  The one mainstay has been Hank Jones, and on this 2004 date he is joined by his brother Elvin Jones on drums (for their last recording session together before Elvin's death) and Richard Davis on bass.  (Last week's post was about the third Jones brother, Thad Jones.)  As one critic put it: "the Jones brothers make sparks fly in this session of very familiar works."  These include gems such as Caravan, Softly As In a Morning Sunrise, The Shadow of Your Smile and the title track.  Another reviewer writes:  "The Great Jazz Trio has given us the best of three worlds. Elvin Jones provides remarkable drum set action with a variety of textures. Richard Davis adds bowed and pizzicato thrills that respect these time-honored melodies. And Hank Jones continues to preach the gospel of bebop candidly, with an unforgettable charm."

[Related posts:  Great Jazz Albums  #1 (Hank Mobley), #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons); #22 (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers); #23 (Red Garland); #24 (Ella Fitzgerald); #25 (Charlie Parker); #26 (Art Pepper); #27 (Bud Powell); #28 (John Hicks); #29 (Kenny Barron); #30 (Coleman Hawkins); #31 (Count Basie) #32 (Benny Carter w/ Ben Webster and Barney Bigard); #33 (Chet Baker); #34 (Thad  Jones)]

Saturday, May 28, 2011

America Past Time

I have always revered the All Star game.  When I was growing up, it meant seeing Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente in the same outfield.  I got to see my idol Tom Seaver dominate the best American League hitters, as he did for 3 scoreless innings in 1970.  Even though All Star selections have become somewhat of a popularity contest, I am still offended when deserving players are left off the All Star roster while lesser players make the squad -- either because of misguided fan voting or due to the rule that each team is required to have at least one participant.  What I find even more offensive, however, is the refusal of Major League Baseball to move this year's game out of Arizona despite the state's unduly harsh immigration policies, particularly given the key role of Latino players in today's game. (27% of Major League players are Latino.)  Threatened boycotts and petitions have thus far failed to have an impact on the decision.

Rebecca Albert, who has written the book Out of Left Field:  Jews in Black Baseball, has come up with an interesting idea to use the All Star ballot as a form of protest to vote for as many Latino players as possible, many of whom may boycott the game.  This has the potential of shining a bright light on Arizona's outrageous anti-immigration laws.  While some will argue this will unnecessarily politicize the game, it is Major League Baseball's insensitivity to the impact these laws have on so many people, including many who play, work in and enjoy baseball, that has created the issue.

A Reason To Vote Along Racial Lines

by Rebecca Albert, originally published at OUP Blog, on May 26, 2011.

Growing up as a baseball fan in the 1950s and 60s, I could not wait until the All-Star game rolled around every July. (Imagine my delight during the years when there was a second game in August!) Back then, fans didn’t choose the players, so I would eagerly anticipate the announcement of the teams in the newspapers. Then I would rummage through my baseball card collection to pull out the All-Stars and admire their accomplishments. Watching the game on television was thrilling to me, no matter the outcome. If I was in summer camp, my mother would dutifully send me the newspaper clippings and box scores. My parents were avid baseball fans, but this exhibition game meant nothing to them. I am not really sure why it appealed to me, then or now. Taking my son to the game when it took place in Philadelphia in 1996 was a peak moment. For me it is an annual ritual on my sacred calendar, a holy day to celebrate like the birthdays of family and friends, Thanksgiving, Passover.

When I began to do research on the roles Jews played in black baseball a few years ago, I was delighted to find out that the Negro Leagues had their own all-star game (called the East-West game and held in Chicago every year) that was the centerpiece of the black baseball season. From its inception in 1933 the East-West game provided an opportunity for all the men of African descent who could surely have been in the majors if not for the color line to showcase their talent in a very public way. This knowledge permitted me to justify my obsession with the All-Star game; now not only a guilty pleasure but also a potential vehicle for a political message.

Imagine my despair when I learned last year that the 2011 All-Star game would really be a vehicle for another kind of political message. Despite serious protests this year’s game will be taking place in Arizona, home of the infamous SB 1070, the bill that would permit law enforcement officials to request documentation from anyone who might appear to be an illegal immigrant. Almost one-third of those on major league rosters are now Latino. Doesn’t the baseball establishment understand that this Arizona law is demeaning to people of Latin American ancestry? Don’t they see the connections to the embarrassing color line that forced black Americans to be second class citizens in baseball for so many years? Why wouldn’t they want to move the game to another venue to support their players who could be subject to this humiliating (and possibly unconstitutional) law?

Immigration rights groups have called for a boycott, and I have signed their petitions, but the game is surely not being moved. How could I possibly observe my annual ritual this summer? While wondering whether I should even participate in the voting for the starting line-ups, it occurred to me that voting held the answer to my dilemma. What if, like the East-West game, all the starting players were from one racial/ethnic group, only in this case Latino? Wouldn’t that send a message to Arizona and Major League Baseball? So that’s what I intend to do with my 25 votes. And I encourage you to do the same.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Crazy-Making Discourse On Middle East Peace Efforts

The Onion's brilliant parody on the fate of a government official who had the temerity to criticize Israel, Government Official Who Makes Perfectly Valid Well-Reasoned Point Against Israel Forced To Resign, captures why it is so difficult to have any rational discourse on the Middle East peace process.

Politicians have long been fearful of antagonizing not only Israel but American Jewish voters.  Now, Republicans are skillfully exploiting this fear for partisan advantage, with the aid of cowering Democrats, by, as Greg Sargent states, "distort[ing] what’s actually happening in order to paint Obama as anti-Israel." 

After President Obama had the audacity to restate the long-established parameters for negotiating a Middle East peace agreement, that the 1967 borders would be the starting point for talks about land swaps, the hysteria inside the Beltway reached epic proportions.  As noted in a recent New York Times editorial:  While "pandering on Israel in the hopes of winning Jewish support is hardly a new phenomenon in American politics," Republicans, knowing full well that Obama was not calling on Israel to retreat to its 1967 borders, were being "unusually dishonest," while Democrats piled on out of fear that "Republicans will paint them as anti-Israel."

How else to explain the 29 standing ovations that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received when he addressed a joint session of Congress May 24th.  Unfortunately, as the Jewish Daily Forward notes, Netanyahu's "spirited defense of the status quo and his reluctance to offer a way back to the negotiating table," puts "American Jews in a difficult and uncomfortable situation."  By failing to give a speech to "move the process forward, safeguarding Israel’s security as he must, but also recognizing the cogent, entirely reasonable requests from the President of the United States," he is driving a wedge between Israeli and American interests.

The Republicans, as Rep. Howard Berman (Dem-CA) correctly points out, "in their never-ending quest to try and persuade Jews to shift their voting, have jumped on this to try to exacerbate that split."  That is to be expected.  What is discouraging is that the Democrats with very few exceptions, are helping them do so by refusing to stand up to the Republicans' manufactured outrage over the President's speech.  While, as Steve Benen says, there is "no point in even hoping Republicans will be responsible on this . . . congressional Democrats have to be more sensible — not for Obama’s sake, but for the sake of Israel’s future and that of the peace process."

The Search For War

By Norman Solomon, originally published at Huffington Post, May 26, 2011.

[Norman Solomon has been a true progressive voice on politics and the media.  He has written books, including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (2005), and for many years penned a nationally syndicated "Media Beat" column. He has also been a North Bay political activist, most recently as a leader of the region’s Green New Deal commission and the national Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.  Now he is running for Rep. Lynn Woolsey's Marin-Sonoma County seat in Congress.  Solomon, paraphrasing Paul Wellstone's famous comment about representing the democratic wing of the Democratic Party, says that he will represent the progressive wing of the Progressive Caucus.  He has already been endorsed by Blue America, and you can donate to his campaign by clicking the Blue America badge on the right panel of this blog.  You can also learn more about Norman and his campaign here.]

In times of war, U.S. presidents have often talked about yearning for peace. But the last decade has brought a gradual shift in the rhetorical zeitgeist while a tacit assumption has taken hold -- war must go on, one way or another.

"I am continuing and I am increasing the search for every possible path to peace," Lyndon Johnson said while escalating the Vietnam War. In early 1991, the first President Bush offered the public this convolution: "Even as planes of the multinational forces attack Iraq, I prefer to think of peace, not war." More than a decade later, George W. Bush told a joint session of Congress: "We seek peace. We strive for peace."

While absurdly hypocritical, such claims mouthed the idea that the USA need not be at war 24/7/365.

But these days, peace gets less oratorical juice. In this era, after all, the amorphous foe known as "terror" will never surrender.

There's an intractable enemy for you; beatable but never quite defeatable. Terrorists are bound to keep popping up somewhere.

A permanent war psychology has dug a groove alongside the permanent war economy. And so, we hear appreciably less about Washington's ostensible quest for peace.

The Republican Death Wish

By Robert Reich, originally published on his website, May 26, 2011.

Forty Senate Republicans have now joined their colleagues in the House to support Paul Ryan’s plan that would turn Medicare into vouchers that funnel money to private health insurers. They thumbed their nose at the special election in upstate New York earlier this week that delivered a victory to Democrat Kathy Hochul, who made the plan the focus of her upset victory.

So now it’s official. The 2012 campaign will be about the future of Medicare. (Yes, it will also be about jobs, but the Republicans haven’t come up with any credible ideas on that front, and the Democrats seem incapable of doing what needs to be done.)

This spells trouble for the GOP. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans — even a majority of Republican voters — want to preserve Medicare. They don’t want to turn it over to private insurers.

It would be one thing if Republicans had consistency on their side. At least then they could take the high road and claim their plan is a principled way to achieve the aims of Medicare through market-based mechanisms. (It isn’t, of course. It would end up squeezing seniors because it takes no account of the rising costs of health care.)

But they can’t even claim consistency. Remember, this was the same GOP that attacked the President’s health-reform plan in 2010 by warning it would lead to Medicare cuts.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Renewing The Patriot Act: Who Will Protect Us From Our Government

By John W. Whitehead, originally published on the Rutherford Institute's website on May 16, 2011

[John Whitehead is the founder and president of the Rutherford Institute.  The Rutherford Institute is notorious for backing Paula Jones' lawsuit against Bill Clinton and has roots in the Christian right.  It has been criticized for the selective nature of the civil liberties cases it litigates and for its underlying agenda.  That said, Whitehead is worth listening to when he passionately defends civil rights and civil liberties.  As the Patriot Act is expected to be extended this week, Whitehead's piece below is a good example.]

It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government. --Thomas Paine

Those who founded this country knew quite well that every citizen must remain vigilant or freedom would be lost. This is the true nature of a patriot--one who sounds the clarion call when the Constitution is under attack. If, on the other hand, the people become sheep-like, it will lead to a government of wolves. This is what we are faced with today as Congress marches in lockstep with the White House to renew the USA Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments--the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments--and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well. The Patriot Act also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience were considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.

The Patriot Act justified broader domestic surveillance, the logic being that if government agents knew more about each American, they could distinguish the terrorists from law-abiding citizens--no doubt an earnest impulse shared by small-town police and federal agents alike. According to Washington Post reporter Robert O'Harrow, Jr., this was a fantasy that had been brewing in the law enforcement world for a long time. And 9/11 provided the government with the perfect excuse for conducting far-reaching surveillance and collecting mountains of information on even the most law-abiding citizen.

Suddenly, for the first time in American history, federal agents and police officers were authorized to conduct black bag "sneak-and-peak" searches of homes and offices and confiscate your personal property without first notifying you of their intent or their presence. The law also granted the FBI the right to come to your place of employment, demand your personal records and question your supervisors and fellow employees, all without notifying you; allowed the government access to your medical records, school records and practically every personal record about you; and allowed the government to secretly demand to see records of books or magazines you've checked out in any public library and Internet sites you've visited (at least 545 libraries received such demands in the first year following passage of the Patriot Act).

The Power of Language

My former colleague, Arcelia Hurtado, is the Executive Director of Equal Rights AdvocatesIn the following piece, Arcelia writes about the belittling remarks made by California Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon about the new Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.  (Calderon, by the way is a Democrat, and Cantil-Sakauye is a conservative jurist appointed by former Gov. Schwarzenegger.)  Calderon referred to the Chief Justice as "attractive" in a debate over legislation to reduce her oversight of the California court system.  The significance of Calderon's verbalization of "an unconscious bias towards women based on outmoded stereotypes," Eva Paterson notes, is that it "enables others to freely express those same feelings."  Furthermore, as Arcelia points out, while some may want to dismiss Calderon's comments as merely insensitive, "the reality is that the trivialization of women results in actual discrimination and, in extreme and unfortunate cases, harassment that too often ends in violence."   

The Power of Language

By Arcelia Hurtado, originally published at Huffington Post, on May 25, 2011.

The majority leader of the California Assembly recently referred to the state's chief justice as "attractive" in a debate over legislation to reduce her oversight of the California court system.
Majority Leader Charles Calderon's remarks (D-Whittier) about Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye were inappropriate at best and worthy of the immediate protest by progressives, members of his own party and women's groups.

His comments, and the reaction to them, illustrate how power and language function in this country.

Calderon said that his bill to decentralize control of California courts was not motivated by Cantil-Sakauye's tenure as the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. "It isn't 'Is she nice?' 'Cause she is. 'Is she smart?' 'Cause she is.' 'Is she attractive?' 'Cause she is.' It isn't about that."

What is it about then? Putting aside the issue of whether the same remarks would have been made about a male chief justice, a ludicrous proposition, as pointed out by one commentator in the Los Angeles Times: (Imagine an Assemblywoman saying of a male chief justice, "My support for this judiciary bill has nothing to do with how nice or how smart he is. It isn't that he isn't handsome.")

The unconscious bias about women Calderon expressed hit a nerve. The same day, State Senator Noreen Evans fired off a letter demanding an apology calling his remarks "degrading" and "inappropriate." She underscored how his comments reinforced the stereotype of women who have value and are judged only due to their appearance instead of their intellect and accomplishments. Similar letters followed from the National Association of Women Judges and California Women Lawyers.

Genetic Trespass! GE Toxin Reaches Umbilical Cordblood

By Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, originally posted on PAN's website, May 25, 2011.

My mom hackles are up. GE toxins are turning up in umbilical cordblood and the blood of pregnant women, according to a study by independent Canadian doctors. And what might be the effect of these toxins on developing fetuses? No one really knows.

Let me tell you why this is big news.

All this time, Monsanto has based its assertion that crops engineered to contain the bacterial toxin, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), are harmless on an assumption that the toxin breaks down in the digestive system and so never enters the rest of the body.Regulators have been repeating this to us for over a generation. Now it turns out that the Bt toxin is not only surviving in our guts, but is making its way on into our bloodstreams — and if we’re pregnant, into the soon-to-be-babies in our bellies.

I've got two young boys whose umbilical cords I watched whither into belly buttons, and too many years to count with a microscope at the end of my gaze, so there's not one piece of this story that remains abstract for me.

The science

The Canadian team of doctors, based at University of Sherbrooke's Hospital Centre, explained their concerns:
This is the first study to highlight the presence of pesticides associated with genetically modified foods in maternal, foetal and non-pregnant women’s blood. [The Bt toxin was] clearly detectable and appears to cross the placenta to the foetus.
Their key finding: ninety-three percent of blood samples from pregnant women and eighty percent from umbilical cords tested positive for traces of the GE toxins.

Doctors believe the women ingested the toxins simply by eating a typical Canadian diet of products containing GE soy, corn and potatoes (think chips and just about any non-organic processed food), as well as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed GE grain. Don’t worry, says Monsanto, Bt is harmless. But upon inspection, their evidence shows only that the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bt has no known harmful health effects on humans. There have been no comparable studies on the effects of the engineered Bt toxin in plant tissue, which is inserted along with promoters that keep it expressing itself in plant cells — unlike the naturally occurring kind which degrades quickly in sunlight. It’s the engineered toxin that's turning up in pregnant women and their babies.

What we do have is evidence to suggest that there could be auto-immune, allergenicity, kidney and liver effects, and changes in the permeability of the gut membrane. UK newspapers (the Daily Mail, the Telegraph) have the story.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Palate Cleanser: Cotton Jones

Blood Red Sentimental Blues by Cotton Jones

Paul Ryan Still Doesn't Get It

By Robert Reich, originally posted on his website, May 25, 2011.

Republican House Budget chief Paul Ryan still doesn’t get it. He blames Tuesday’s upset victory of Democrat Kathy Hochul over Republican Jane Corwin to represent New York’s 26th congressional district on Democratic scare tactics.

Hochul had focused like a laser on the Republican plan to turn Medicare into vouchers that would funnel the money to private health insurers. Republicans didn’t exactly take it lying down. The National Republican Congressional Committee poured over $400,000 into the race, and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads provided Corwin an additional $700,000 of support. But the money didn’t work. Even in this traditionally Republican district – represented in the past by such GOP notables as Jack Kemp and William Miller, both of whom would become vice presidential candidates – Hochul’s message hit home.

Ryan calls it “demagoguery,” accusing Hochul and her fellow Democrats of trying to “scare seniors into thinking that their current benefits are being affected.”

Scare tactics? Seniors have every right to be scared. His plan would eviscerate Medicare by privatizing it with vouchers that would fall further and further behind the rising cost of health insurance. And Ryan and the Republicans offer no means of slowing rising health-care costs. To the contrary, they want to repeal every cost-containment measure enacted in last year’s health-reform legislation. The inevitable result: More and more seniors would be priced out of the market for health care.

The Ryan plan has put Republicans in a corner. Some, like Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and, briefly, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, are rejecting the plan altogether. Most, though, are holding on and holding their breath. After all, House Republicans approved it — and voters don’t especially like flip-floppers.
Senate Democrats will bring the Ryan plan for a vote Thursday in order to force Senate Republicans on the record. Watch closely.

Some GOP stalwarts say the Party must clarify its message – a sure sign of panic. Former Republican congressman Rick Lazio says the GOP “must do [a] better job explaining entitlements.”
It’s just possible the public knows exactly what entitlements are – and is getting a clear message about what Republicans are up to.

All this should give the White House and Democratic budget negotiators more confidence – and more bargaining leverage – to put tax cuts on the rich squarely on the table.

And, while they’re at it, turn Medicare into a “Medicare-for-all” system that forces doctors and hospitals to shift from costly tests, drugs, and procedures having little effect, to healthy outcomes.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, Supercapitalism, and his most recent book, Aftershock.  He writes a blog at www.robertreich.org.

R.I.P. Jason Williams

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On May 19, 2011, Alabama executed Jason Williams for the 1992 shooting deaths of Gerald Paravicini and his neighbors, Freddie, Linda and Bryant Barber.  The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) presented evidence in support of clemency which showed that "Williams was deeply remorseful for this tragic offense, which occurred when he was a 23-year-old with no criminal history who had ingested a large quantity of LSD and crack cocaine."  Williams' drug dependency began at an early age to cope with the extraordinarily brutal abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and then at the notorious Bethel Children’s Home in Mississippi.  Williams' drug addiction escalated when, at the age of 18, he learned that the woman he believed was his mother was his aunt who had taken him in after his mother had abandoned him.  The jury that sentenced Williams to death never knew of the abuse and trauma he suffered because his lawyers did not investigate and present it.  As EJI stated, "despite learning about the peaceful, hardworking, and respectful man Mr. Williams became in prison, the governor denied clemency, and Jason Williams was put to death."

Williams was executed with a new drug protocol that prison officials substituted and refused to disclose after their supply of lethal-injection drugs was confiscated by the DEA.  Williams is the 18th  person executed in the United States in 2011, the third in Alabama.

Libya: The Costs Of Stalemate

By Paul Rogers, originally posted at openDemocracy, May 19, 2011

The course of the war in Libya was set on 14 April 2011, when a joint statement from three western leaders (Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Nicolas Sarkozy) made it clear that the core aim of the NATO operation launched almost a month earlier was regime termination. The protection of civilians remained the formal objective enshrined in United Nations Security Resolution 1973, but the unequivocal view that Gaddafi had to go was revealing of the real intention of the most powerful combatant states (see “Libya: the view from the bunker”, 21 April 2011).

Since then, as the air-strike campaign begun in the late evening of 19 March reaches its two-month mark, the war has turned into a stalemate. On the ground, the anti-Gaddafi rebels make occasional progress (as in Misrata during the past week), but they do not pretend to any ability to unseat the regime.

As the conflict has developed NATO has intensified its air-assaults, with more focused targeting on core regime command-and-control sites in Tripoli. In the four weeks to 26 April, for example, Nato’s 3,981 air-sorties included 1,658 strike-sorties (see Tom Kington, “Managing Limited Assets”, Defense News, 2 May 2011). Yet the British armed-forces chief, General David Richards, acknowledges that the effort so far is insufficient: Nato must upgrade its operations even further to achieve its objectives in the war.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

California's Unusually Cruel Death Penalty

By Lovechilde, first published at Blogcritics on May 20, 2011.

San Quentin State Prison
Professor Bill Ong Hing, who served on the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice (CCFAJ), argued recently that California's death penalty should be abolished because of its intractable problems:
The death penalty is too costly, the possibility is high that a person who has been wrongfully convicted will be put to death, capital punishment inordinately affects communities of color, the imposition of the death penalty varies greatly from county to county within the same state, a low income defendant faces a troubling disadvantage when charged with a capital offense, the death penalty forecloses any possibility of healing and redemption, and the death qualification juror requirement inherently and unjustly biases the process against the defendant.
In addition to these inherent flaws, the death penalty serves no meaningful societal purpose because with extremely rare exceptions, death sentences are unlikely ever to be carried out.  Ronald George, former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, acknowledged this when he testified before CCFAJ and described California’s death penalty system as "dysfunctional."

As the CCFAJ report found, it is “plagued with excessive delay” in the appointment of post-conviction counsel and a “severe backlog” in the Court’s review of appeals and habeas petitions.  According to CCFAJ's 2008 report, “[t]he lapse of time from sentence of death to execution averages over two decades in California.”  This constitutes the longest delay of any death penalty state, and the duration of the delay continues to increase. With the largest death row in the country, currently about 720 inmates (including 16 women), CCFAJ reached a well-documented conclusion that common-sense already tells us:  “most California death sentences are actually sentences of lifetime incarceration.  The defendant will die in prison before he or she is ever executed.”  Indeed, “the backlog is now so severe that California would have to execute five prisoners per month for the next twelve years just to carry out the sentences of those currently on death row.”

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court held that unless a criminal sanction serves a legitimate “penological justification” it constitutes “gratuitous infliction of suffering” in violation of the Eighth Amendment.  (Gregg v. Georgia.)  The two societal purposes identified by the high court to justify the death penalty are retribution and deterrence.  These twin rationales are completely undermined, however, by California’s broken death penalty process, where the state’s death row is so large and executions are so infrequent that death sentences imposed today have no likelihood of being carried out.

Forever Young: Bob Dylan Turns 70

Bob Dylan, born on May 24, 1941, turns 70 years old today.  I agree with historian Sean Wilentz that Dylan is "the most important and influential songwriter" in the second half of the 20th Century, and perhaps the most influential artist.

Rolling Stone published lists of the greatest Dylan songs, and it is hard to argue with their top 10:  (1) Like a Rolling Stone; (2) A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall; (3) Tangled Up in Blue; (4) Just Like a Woman; (5) All Along the Watchtower; (6) I Shall Be Released; (7) It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding); (8) Mr. Tambourine Man; (9) Visions of Johanna; (10) Every Grain of Sand.  On the other hand, with so many incredible songs over so many years as Dylan constantly reinvented himself, countless other top ten lists could have been made that would have been hard to dispute.  So, rather than debate which are Dylan's best songs or albums, I thought it would be better to just savor the music.  Here's a playlist with some of some of my favorites, beginning with an extraordinary version of Dylan rehearsing If Not For You with George Harrison prior to the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, the movie and album which provided me with my first real exposure to Dylan.  Happy  Birthday!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Scandalous Behavior At IMF

The former French chief of the IMF, Dominique Strauss Kahn, who is alleged to have sexually assaulted a hotel worker from Guinea, provides the perfect metaphor for the IMF's treatment of the Third World.  As Rebecca Solnit puts it,  "what makes the sex scandal. . . so resonant is the way the alleged assailant and victim model larger relationships around the world, starting with the IMF’s assault on the poor."

Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite  
Some Thoughts on the IMF, Global Injustice, and a Stranger on a Train 

 By Rebecca Solnit, originally published at TomDispatch, May 22, 2011

How can I tell a story we already know too well? Her name was Africa. His was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted with a high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Côte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity.

Her name was Asia. His was Europe. Her name was silence. His was power. Her name was poverty. His was wealth. Her name was Her, but what was hers? His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he thought he could take her without asking and without consequences. It was a very old story, though its outcome had been changing a little in recent decades. And this time around the consequences are shaking a lot of foundations, all of which clearly needed shaking.

Who would ever write a fable as obvious, as heavy-handed as the story we’ve just been given? The extraordinarily powerful head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a global organization that has created mass poverty and economic injustice, allegedly assaulted a hotel maid, an immigrant from Africa, in a hotel’s luxury suite in New York City.

Worlds have collided. In an earlier era, her word would have been worthless against his and she might not have filed charges, or the police might not have followed through and yanked Dominique Strauss-Kahn off the plane to Paris at the last moment. But she did, and they did, and now he’s in custody, and the economy of Europe has been dealt a blow, and French politics have been upended, and that nation is reeling and soul-searching.

Why We Need To Rein In Government Contractors That Use Taxpayer Money For Political Advantage

By Robert Reich, originally posted on his website, May 19, 2011.

President Obama is mulling an executive order to force big government contractors to disclose details of their political spending. Big businesses are already telling their political patrons in Congress to oppose it – and the pressure is building.

The President should issue the executive order immediately. And he should go even further – banning all political activity by companies receiving more than half their revenues from the U.S. government.

Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest contractor, has already got more than $19 billion in federal contracts so far this year. But we know very little about Lockheed Martin’s political spending other than its Political Action Committee contributions. We don’t know how much money it gives to the Aerospace Industries Association to lobby for a bigger defense budget.

We don’t even know how much Lockheed is giving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to lobby against Obama’s proposed executive order requiring disclosure of its political activities.

Don’t we have a right to know? After all, you and I and other taxpayers are Lockheed’s biggest customer. As such, we’re financing some of its lobbying and political activities.

Sometimes Republicans Do Believe in Evolution

Senator Scott Brown (R-MA)

May 14, 2011 "The leaders will bring forward (Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's) budget, and I will vote for it, and it will fail"

May 17, 2001: "Brown declined, through a spokesman, to say if he backs Ryan’s proposed Medicare overhaul, or if he would vote for the Ryan budget plan."

May 23, 2001: "While I applaud Ryan for getting the conversation started, I cannot support his specific plan — and therefore will vote “no” on his budget."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Double Header

[Fair and Unbalanced contributor sasqi and her husband Paul are on a two-month road-trip stopping at several major- and minor-league ballparks.  This one by Paul is from Fenway.]

I. Bleachers

Boston for two days. Tigers lose to Red Sox 4-3, Chicago loses to Boston 15-5. That's seven games in a row the Red Sox have won. They've moved up to second in their division, 1/2 game behind Tampa Bay after an awful start that had the Red Sox nation howling about the apocalypse. We see Beckett v Verlander, and then Lester v Doug Davis. Beckett and Lester are off their game, but good enough: they get men out when they need to. Lester gives up 12 hits and 5 runs (not all earned), but the Cubs are awful. Soriano makes one of his classic Sorianos, letting a routine single bounce by his outstretched glove to the wall for a double. The Cubs leave 10 men on base in the first 7 innings. Maybe 10,000 Cubs fans are at the game, wearing regalia, cheering on their flatfooted warriors. The huge screen in Fenway's center field periodically declares the park "the most beautiful in baseball," and in the team store you can buy a green t-shirt that declares: "No ivy grows on our walls."

This is an historic event: the first time Chicago has played a game in Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series, 93 years ago. Fenway and Wrigley Field are the touchstones of old school ball: Fenway opened in 1911, Wrigley in 1914. Until 2004, both teams were the perennial almosts, victims it seemed of their own frustration as they struggled to win a World Series. Both are spendthrifts, though Boston seems to use its money more wisely. It's fun to be here, out in the bleachers surrounded by disappointed Cubs fans; fun to go back to our hotel and sit at the bar beside more Chicagoans, in town for this once-in-a-century event.

We sit in Section 41; in the next section over, one of the seats is painted bright red instead of green, and remains empty: a monument to Ted Williams' 502 foot home run on June 9, 1946. Boston bathes in nostalgia, from the slatted, flat-backed seats squeezed together in the grandstands to the between-innings videos on the screen; from honoring an old vet each night (Carlton Fisk last night) to singing "Sweet Caroline" in the 8th (fans wait to sing before streaming out). It's easy to be snide about all this luxuriating in the past. The Boston Nation identification drives me crazy when they assemble for a game at Oakland. But there's something sweet about sitting in the park, surrounded by fans who scream their appreciation for every out, every safe call. There's something to those remembrances, the old black and white films of Tris Speaker, Jimmie Foxx, Williams, Yastrzemski; color shots of Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens. I sit in these stands, some of the seats older than my long-dead father. I feel the kid in back of me banging my seat with his feet; I'm unable to find a place for my arms; I'm struggling to keep my knees from straying to left or right or into the back of the man in front of me; I'm twisting my head from side to side to see the batter. And I'm reveling in the energy of this dinosaur of a stadium that makes me feel a part of something older, deeper, more sustained than today's game. It's seductive, that pull to identify with this rewritten baseball past where all is glory, Green Monster style.

Great Jazz Albums (IMO) #34

Thad Jones.  The Magnificent Thad Jones (1956).  Trumpeter Thad Jones is best known for his key role in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, a very popular and influential big band in the 1960s and 1970s.  (He is also the brother of pianist Hank Jones and drummer Elvin Jones.)  Beginning in the mid-1950s, he was a soloist and arranger for Count Basie's Orchestra.  Thad Jones also thrived in a small group setting, and The Magnificent Thad Jones is aptly titled.  This hard bop album is magnificent.  With Barry Harris on piano, Billy Mitchell on sax, Percy Heath on bass and Max Roach on drums, the "quintet makes truly great jazz music together" and "firmly established Jones as one of the premier musicians and composers in modern jazz."  It includes original compositions as well as timeless classics such as April in Paris and I've Got  A Crush On You.  As one critic put it:  "The musicianship being at such a lofty plateau, so intelligently selected and executed, this CD is a must-have for every collection, and is generally regarded as the very best work of Jones, later big-band recordings with Mel Lewis notwithstanding."

[Related posts:  Great Jazz Albums  #1 (Hank Mobley), #2 (Horace Silver), #3 (Sonny Rollins), #4 (Sonny Clark), #5 (Dexter Gordon), #6 (Cannonball Adderley), #7 (Bill Evans), #8 (McCoy Tyner), #9 (Clifford Brown), #10 (Sinatra), #11 (Monk), #12 (Kenny Dorham), #13 (Coltrane), #14 (Duke Ellington), #15 (Miles Davis), #16 (Wayne Shorter), #17 (Dinah Washington); #18 (Sarah Vaughan); #19 (Stan Getz); #20 (Blue Mitchell); #21 (Gene Ammons); #22 (Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers); #23 (Red Garland); #24 (Ella Fitzgerald); #25 (Charlie Parker); #26 (Art Pepper); #27 (Bud Powell); #28 (John Hicks); #29 (Kenny Barron); #30 (Coleman Hawkins); #31 (Count Basie) #32 (Benny Carter w/ Ben Webster and Barney Bigard); #33 (Chet Baker)]

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day?

"Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Are Republicans Crossing the Lemming Line on Medicare?

by Fuzzyone

Part the reason that Republicans have been politically successful in recent years is that they have maintained party discipline. This has enabled them to block Democratic priorities, even when the Democrats had large majorities, especially since the Democrats did not show similar discipline.

But there is a line between being disciplined, and running lemming like over a cliff and Republicans may now be crossing the Lemming Line on Medicare. After a pretty much straight party line vote on the plan it seemed like at least some Republicans realized it might not be such a good idea and were starting to walk away from it. That the plan is a problem for Republicans seems clear both from polling and the effect it is having on a special election in upstate New York. Senate Republicans don't seem enthused either.

Given all this, you might think that the GOP would want to put some distance between themselves, and especially their Presidential candidates, and the Ryan plan. But when Newt Gingrich dissed Ryan on Meet the Press all hell broke loose. So it now seems clear that Republicans are going to have a tough time distancing themselves from Ryan.

Of course Democrats are going to do their best to take advantage, no matter how much silly crap about the Republicans not really trying to end Medicare the mainstream media spews. The way the Democrats can blow this is to cut Medicare themselves and thus once again blur the distinction between themselves and the Republicans. It appears that this is what at least the Gang of Six, now apparently defunct, had in mind.

That is the one thing Democrats need to avoid. They need to stand for defending programs that support the non-rich and let the Republicans chase one another off the cliff.

Bored To Death In Afghanistan (And Washington)

Mating Déjà Vu with a Mobius Strip in the Graveyard of Empire

By Tom Engelhardt, originally published at TomDispatch, May 19, 2011.

One day in October 2001, a pilot for Northwest Airlines refused to let Arshad Chowdhury, a 25-year-old American Muslim (“with a dark complexion”) who had once worked as an investment banker in the World Trade Center, board his plane at San Francisco National Airport.  According to Northwest’s gate agents, Chowdhury writes in the Washington Post, “he thought my name sounded suspicious” even though “airport security and the FBI verified that I posed no threat.”  He sued.

Now, skip nearly a decade.  It’s May 6, 2011, and two New York-based African-American imams, a father and son, attempting to take an American Airlines flight from New York to Charlotte to attend a conference on "prejudice against Muslims," were prevented from flying.  The same thing happened to two imams in Memphis “dressed in traditional long shirts and [with] beard,” heading for the same conference, when a pilot for Atlantic Southeast refused to fly with them aboard, even though they had been screened three times.

So how is the war in Afghanistan going almost 10 years later?  Or do you think that’s a non sequitur?

I don’t, and let me suggest two reasons why: first, boredom; second, the missing learning curve.
At home and abroad, whether judging by airline pilots or Washington’s war policy, Americans seem remarkably incapable of doing anything other than repeating the same self-defeating acts, as if they had never happened before.  Hence Afghanistan.  Almost 10 years after the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan and proclaimed victory, like imam-paralyzed airline pilots, we find ourselves in a state that might otherwise be achieved only if you mated déjà vu with a Mobius strip.

If you aren’t already bored to death, you should be.  Because, believe me, you’ve read it all before.  Take the last month of news from America’s second Afghan War.  If nobody told you otherwise, you could easily believe that almost every breaking Afghan story in the last four weeks came from some previous year of the war.

Farm Baby Farm (Organically)

Organic Farming = Energy Security

by Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, originally published at PAN's website, on

With gas prices well over $4/gallon, conversation with my neighbors frequently turns to the vulnerability of our fossil-fuel-based economy and to the future of our planet. The good news I can share today is that organic farms — besides being good for the soil, environment and our health — are proving to be much more energy efficient than conventional systems.
The latest evidence comes from Canada. York University recently completed a comprehensive analysis of 130 studies comparing energy use and global warming potential of the two farming approaches.
Researchers found that organic grain growers in Canada’s prairie region had 50% lower energy use than conventional growers, primarily from the elimination of chemical nitrogen fertilizer in their operations. Meanwhile, organic dairy farmers were 64% more energy efficient (and also emitted 29% less greenhouse gases) than conventional farmers.
These findings shake up the concept that ‘bigger’ is always better. Higher crop yields, bigger equipment, less genetic diversity, and more fertilizer and pesticides do not equal a more energy-efficient operation. - Rod MacRae, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University
One more reason to get serious about sustainability. So what's the next step? 

Incremental vs. Transformative Change

Connecting the dots for us, authors of the U.S. National Resource Council’s (NRC) 2010 report, Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century, have just published a succinct re-cap of their findings in the May 6 issue of Science.

Their main message is a wake-up call:
Achieving sustainable agricultural systems will require transformative changes in markets, policy, and science.
Incremental changes are good and necessary, they explain. These include specific practices and technologies that address shortcomings in mainstream conventional agriculture. However, the narrow, technological fix approach is “inadequate to address multiple sustainability concerns.”

What we also need is a “transformative approach that builds on an understanding of agriculture as a complex socioecological system.” This approach requires “whole system redesign”. Examples include organic farming, alternative (grass-fed) livestock production, mixed crop-livestock systems and perennial grains (see Green Land Blue Waters for a great example). As you can imagine, all this is music to my systems-thinking, agroecologist's brain!

These transformations are not so many utopian dreams, but rather firmly within our grasp. NRC’s scientists make the argument that as we already have many successful examples of these innovative systems on the ground, we should realize that the problem is not fundamentally technological or scientific. Rather, it is a problem of market structure, policy incentives, funding priorities and engagement by a well-informed public.
Luckily for us, transformative action is at hand if we want it. Now is the time to get involved in building a visionary 2012 Food and Farm Bill.

Take action >> If you haven't called your Senator yet this week, urging her/him to protect green payments to farmers who are conserving our soil, water and biodiversity, here’s your chance. The issue is live right now in Congress. Please call!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tit For Tat

Goodwin Liu
Remember when Republicans were adamant about ensuring that judicial nominees received an "up or down" vote?  In those days the Democrats had been using the filibuster effectively to thwart some of George W. Bush's more extreme judicial appointments.  As People for the American Way point out, Republicans, including twelve current Senators, argued back in 2005, that use of the filibuster in such circumstances was not just wrong, it was unconstitutional.  They threatened to employ the so-called "nuclear option," which would have changed the Senate rules to preclude filibusters for judicial nominees.  Of course, the Democrats blinked.  Seven Democrats joined seven Republicans to form the "Gang of Fourteen," and signed an agreement in which the Republicans in the gang would not vote for the nuclear option and the Democrats would not filibuster except in "extraordinary circumstances."  In practical terms, this meant that Bush was able appoint the conservatives he wanted to the bench and the Democratic minority, without the seven members of the gang, could not stop him.  Thus, five nominees who had originally been filibustered, and several other conservatives, became federal judges, and, perhaps most significantly, Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court was permitted an up-or-down vote.  He was confirmed by a vote of 58-42, with enough Senators voting against him to have successfully filibustered and prevented a vote on his confirmation.

That was then, this is now.  Goodwin Liu's nomination to sit on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was successfully filibustered today, with only one Republican voting to end debate on the nomination and allow an up or down vote.  As The New York Times wrote, in a editorial from the last time Liu's nomination was blocked, Liu, is an "exceptionally well-qualified law professor and legal scholar who would be the only Asian-American serving as an active judge on the Ninth Circuit," and that "his potential to fill a future Supreme Court vacancy seems to be the main thing fueling Republican opposition to his nomination."

Republicans cannot legitimately argue that Liu is unqualified.  By all accounts he has a brilliant legal mind.  He is a law professor at Berkeley, a Yale Law School graduate and a Rhodes Scholar.  The American Bar Association gave Liu its highest possible rating.  He also has been endorsed by liberals and conservative legal alike.  As Steve Benen notes, prominent conservatives  such as Richard Painter, White House ethics lawyer under Bush who worked on Roberts and Alito’s nomination, as well as Ken Starr urged his confirmation.

So, what the Republicans have seized on is Liu's strong yet truthful testimony opposing Justice Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court.   The Legal Times reports that Senators McCain, Isakson and Graham all cited Liu's 2006 testimony as a reason for blocking him.  Lindsay, one of the original Gang of 14, stated:  “When Mr. Liu came to the Judiciary Committee and said that, basically, Judge Alito’s philosophy judicially takes us back to the Jim Crow Era, that to me showed an ideological superiority or disdain for conservative ideology that made him in my view an ideologue.”

There you have it.  Republicans are refusing to allow Liu's nomination to receive an up or down vote because, as Adam Serwer puts it, "Liu was awful mean to Justice Samuel Alito."  Graham cited Liu's Alito testimony as providing the "extraordinary circumstances" to support a filibuster.  But what is truly extraordinary is how petty and unprincipled the Republicans are and how the Democrats will continue to do nothing about it.

Arab Spring Or Same Old Thing?

As President Obama gets set to make his first major speech on the Arab Spring, which will undoubtedly express U.S. support for democratic rule in the region, it is worth taking note of government policies that are antithetical to this goal, including the Pentagon’s ongoing arms deals with Middle Eastern dictators.  

Obama’s Reset: Arab Spring or Same Old Thing?
How the President and the Pentagon Prop Up Both Middle Eastern Despots and American Arms Dealers

By Nick Turse, originally published at TomDispatch, on May 17, 2001.

If you follow the words, one Middle East comes into view; if you follow the weapons, quite another.

This week, the words will take center stage.  On Thursday, according to administration officials, President Obama will “reset” American policy in the Middle East with a major address offering a comprehensive look at the Arab Spring, “a unified theory about the popular uprisings from Tunisia to Bahrain,” and possibly a new administration approach to the region.

In the meantime, all signs indicate that the Pentagon will quietly maintain antithetical policies, just as it has throughout the Obama years.  Barring an unprecedented and almost inconceivable policy shift, it will continue to broker lucrative deals to send weapons systems and military equipment to Arab despots.  Nothing indicates that it will be deterred from its course, whatever the president says, which means that Barack Obama’s reset rhetoric is unlikely to translate into meaningful policy change in the region.

For months now, the world has watched as protesters have taken to the streets across the Middle East to demand a greater say in their lives.  In Tunisia and Egypt, they toppled decades-old dictatorships.  In Bahrain and Yemen, they were shot down in the streets as they demanded democracy.  In the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, they called for reforms, free speech, and basic rights, and ended up bloodied and often in jail cells.  In Iraq, they protested a lack of food and jobs, and in response got bullets and beatings.

As the world watched, trained eyes couldn’t help noticing something startling about the tools of repression in those countries.  The armored personnel carriers, tanks, and helicopters used to intimidate or even kill peaceful protesters were often American models.