Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why Limbaugh's Attacks on Pope Francis are an Assault on Christian Faith

by Nomad

Pope Francis Rush LimbaughWhen radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh castigated the Pope for being "Marxist," the hate radio DJ didn't mention that Pope Francis' statement on economic inequality was actually based on long-established Christian doctrine.

Those principles go back to the origins of religion. In criticizing the head of the Catholic faith, Limbaugh was attacking the very foundation of the Christian faith.

The other day, Rush Limbaugh passed his own judgement on Pope Francis' papal statement, entitled 'Evangelli Gaudium" (The Joy of Gospel). Limbaugh told his radio audience that the pope's words were straight-out Marxist. Shocking!
This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope... And to hear the pope regurgitating this stuff, I was profoundly disappointed. The idolatry of money, urging "politicians to 'attack the structural causes of inequality' and strive to provide work, health care and education to all citizens."
Limbaugh suggested that the Pope's remarks must have been written for him by a liberal. He also blasted the Pope's analysis on the so-called "trickle-down" economics.
So reading what the pope's written about this is really befuddling because he's totally wrong -- I mean, dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.
Here's another excerpt. "Pope Francis said that trickle-down policy..." We hear about trickle-down policies? "Pope Francis said that trickle-down policies have not proven to work."Oh, but they have.... Trickle-down is human nature! Trickle-down is exactly what happens when you engage in economic activity.... Trickle-down is the magic, and yet here's Pope Francis saying that "trickle-down policies have not been proven to work and they reflect a 'naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.'"
Promoting the magic of trickle-down economics, (even when the dismal effects are destroying the lives of millions of Americans) is not a very convincing counter argument. Trickle-down economics has surely had enough time to prove its validity and all it has shown is that the wealthy can protect their riches better than the rest of us.
Calling it human nature is hardly an excuse when most religions seek to reform nature of humans. Of course, uplifting the human spirit from the animal level isn't really something Limbaugh knows much about. Obviously.

Harvard Economist or university graduate ... or authority on Christian doctrine.. conservative talk show DJ Limbaugh has decided if it worked for him and all his friends, it's worked for the whole country. Never mind the people who got in the way.

Actually, some of the people who got in the way worked beside Limbaugh.  Clear Channel, Limbaugh's boss, laid off 1,850 workers -9% of its work force- in 2011.
Another trickle down success?

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Representation Project: A Look at Media Misogyny in 2013

by Nomad

Often advertising images become so much a part of our day to day life that we fail to actually notice how they subtly influence our perceptions. Whether we like it or not, sex sells but the toxic waste of that kind of advertising is the trashing of women. 

Ad Nauseum

But if negative imagery and stereotyping of women (and men, for that matter) originate in advertising, it certainly isn't limited to it. Eventually, the images become so pervasive that the messages become an accepted part of the culture. 
Inevitably, the print media and the airwaves slowly but surely become filled to the brim with garbage. 

In no time at all, we find ourselves watching (and then discussing ad nausea) clips of Miley Cyrus "tweaking" on Robin Thicke- basically what the French call "frottage." Her dancing partner, whose last CD was banned in some quarters for promoting a rape culture, not long ago joked in an interview, "What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I've never gotten to do that before." 
Talk about taking the subject seriously.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Compassionate Mob: When Anonymous Crowds Do Great Things

by Nomad

After reading the Laney Christmas story (h/t to zane), I admit I got a tad weepy- but in a good way. Yes yes, it's true: beneath this rhino-skin lies a sensitive jellyfish. 
Despite so much evidence to the contrary, I, like Anne Frank, want to have faith in the goodness of people. Yeah, I want to believe that people are good.

So sue me. I was born this way.

Strangers on a Subway
Last July, another story in the same vein went practically unnoticed.
When a woman slipped between a train and a station platform just north of Tokyo on Monday, about 40 commuters and railroad employees worked together to tilt the 32-ton subway car enough to one side so that she could be pulled to safety.
The Associated Press writes that the train car's suspension system "allows it to lean to either side, according to the Yomiuri newspaper, Japan's largest daily." The woman was not seriously injured and, the AP adds, "after just an eight-minute delay, the train went on its way."

There's no real reason why this story should have attracted very much attention, I suppose. 
Things like this happen all the time but they hardly ever get much airtime or ink. News networks, like CNN, generally prefer enthusiastic spokespeople and charismatic leaders to interview to help them package things up neatly.

This was another spontaneous act of a compassionate but faceless crowd. The empathetic mob, if you will. Such stories are, to use a cliche, heart-warming. Common at Christmas time. 

With so much evidence of our greedy, perfidious,  violent or  destructive urges, stories like these make us feel happy again to be a human. 
So it's worth taking a closer look I think.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Here are some fun pictures of Santa Claus that I thought you might enjoy. 
Warmest Wishes from Nomad

Nancy Regan and Mr. T
Santa Claus Surfing

Clearly Nancy didn’t  think 
Santa was limited to 
one color.
Contrary to
 popular belief, Santa Claus is no
 couch potato!

1890s Santa
Scary Vintage Santa       
The image of Santa has changed 
over the years, as this photo 
from the 1890s shows.
 But seriously,
would you trust your child 
with a Santa that 
looks like this ?
Even the donkey looks terrified.

Found this video for you all. 
It broke my heart to hear one man say that this humble back pack was the best gift he had ever gotten and this was the best day he had ever had. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Uganda: Where Your Tax Dollars Are Supporting Gay Apartheid

by Nomad

The African nation of Uganda has introduced some of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world. What role has your tax dollars played in supporting the one-man rule in there? How have US evangelists help to foment anti-gay hatred? 

Uganda, the self-designated "the Pearl of Africa" is by many analysts' reckoning, a failed state. Thirty three percent of the population do not have access to safe water and 52% of people are without sanitation. Infant mortality stands at 130 in 1,000, and 26,000 children under the age of five die every year die from diarrhoeal diseases. 
There's also the raging AIDS epidemic, which has reportedly killed somewhere between 52,000 - 81,000 and has orphaned around 1 million children.

Altogether a hard sell for the Ugandan Minister of Tourism.

But if one is looking for a bright side, then Uganda's human rights record isn't it. 
And there is no better proof that the African country is failing by how much its government respects the human rights of all its citizens.

Amnesty International, in its most recent report on Ugandan human rights record, cites abuses to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly as commonplace.  Despite investigations by the Uganda Human Rights Commission on accusations of torture by police, "no action was taken to hold law enforcement officials responsible for human rights violations to account, or to grant victims and their families an effective remedy."

The influential Foreign Policy (FP) magazine noted:
“From all appearances, the democratic opening in Uganda is closing and human rights are the collateral damage.
This is not at all shocking or unusual for Uganda. 
In 2011, a UN report heavily criticized President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's leader since 1986, and his government's human rights record is only one step up from a predecessor. Idi Amin.  The report highlighted the numerous problems, such as a plan to allow detention without charge for a period of six months, Museveni's  record of silencing the press, as well as excessive force used by the government against opposition protesters.

Furthermore, the UN report urged the government to  decriminalize homosexuality and legislate against torture. What was the response?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

One Day of Life: Death Rate Among America's Newborns Highest in the Industrialized World

Infant Mortality
by Nomad

More infants die on their birthdays in the US than any other industrialized nation in the world. But in a nation as wealthy as America, why should that happen? 

A comparison between Sweden -which has one of the lowest rates of one-day old deaths-and the state of Mississippi- which has the highest rate of infant mortality in the US- might provide some clues at reducing the death rate among American's youngest and most vulnerable victims.

“The United States has the highest first-day death rate in the industrialized world. An estimated 11,300 newborn babies die each year in the United States on the day they are born. This is 50 percent more first-day deaths than all other industrialized countries combined.”
More day-old babies die in the US than in 68 other countries, including Egypt, Turkey and Peru.
The study cited premature births as being one major cause. Globally, 35 percent of all newborns that die are pre-term. In the United States, this is also true.
“Many babies in the United States are born too early. The U.S. preterm birth rate (1 in 8 births) is one of the highest in the industrialized world (second only to Cyprus). In fact, 130 countries from all across the world have lower preterm birth rates than the United States,” the report reads.
The study suggests that politics and culture might play a role in the causes for the United States' poor record.

It's not all bad news but it's bad enough. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention the rate of deaths of first year infants has been in decline from 24,586 U.S. babies in 2010 to 23,910 in 2011. This has been achieved primarily through effective affordable health care. especially with access to health care to all women of childbearing age and and other specific prenatal initiatives.
*     *     *
More children die at birth in India than anywhere else, followed by Nigeria, Pakistan and China,  the report finds. Finland and Sweden have the lowest rates of newborn deaths in the world.
Certainly poverty might explain the contrast between India and Sweden. But that doesn't explain the differences between Sweden and the United States.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Obama's Dubious Legacy: Intimidation of Whistle-Blowers using the Espionage Act?

Obey- Uncle Samby Nomad

It's a sad fact of political reality. Candidates' views change once they enter into office and many of their noble aspirations seem to be left at the door once they take charge. It is related, no doubt, to practicalities of modern politics. Until one is actually in the hot seat, it is easy to be idealistic and pedantic. 

The Promise of Open-Sourced Government
Unfortunately, looking over Obama's record, it is hard not to be more than a little disappointed, with the president's own turnaround, especially in regards to his approach to whistle-blowers. One might have expected people like Cheney and all his cronies to go after "enemies of the state" with a sinister vindictiveness. (He was after all the closest Darth Vader ever got to being president.)
But Obama? This was the candidate that promised a change.

Back in November 2007, at a speech on the Google campus, Obama said what geeky Google-ites wanted to hear, that he would use technology to make government more accessible to the public. He would, he told the crowds as president he would insure that government information became more freely available.

And as a senator, Obama also pushed for and co-sponsored legislation in late 2007 that strenghten the Freedom of Information Act, initiated under Carter, and practically destroyed under Bush.
As outline in his campaign speeches, Obama planned to embrace cutting edge tech so that Americans could have access to administration records.
Among Obama’s proposals are the creation of internet databases for lobbying reports, ethics records and campaign finance filings as well as a “contracts and influence” database to track federal contractors’ spending and lobby efforts.
 What we got was Citizens United.
There will also be a readily available online database of corporate tax breaks, the posting of non-emergency legislation on the White House web site for public view and comment and cabinet-level town hall meetings on broadband.
I suppose, it is fair to ask, is open-sourced government even possible? It's never been tried but that's not to say, some aspects can't be applied.
In any case, such revolutionary solutions were certainly vote-catching after long and painful years in which, under the Bush/Cheney regime, politically-damaging information could easily be classified and never see the light of day.
As Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said at that time:
“The openness community will expect a complete repudiation of the Ashcroft doctrine.” 
The Ashcroft Doctrine allowed the Bush administration to withhold information requested through FOIA whenever legally possible. (Ironic, isn't it? that the link to Department of Justice web site explaining the Ashcroft doctrine leads nowhere? We can't see what it was so we can't compare it to what has replaced it.)

It didn't take long for Obama to go into secrecy mode soon after becoming president. It might have been dismissed as the usual campaign promises or of a politician biting off quite a bit more than he could chew regarding what he could actually do if elected.
However, things were worse than that. Change might have happened but it was not quite the change the voters had been promised.

Monday, December 16, 2013

HuffPo: House Republicans Attempt to De-Fund Defunct ACORN.. Again

by Nomad

Trying to decide the "dumbest" thing that the House of Representatives has done lately is a real challenge, But that mission appears to have certainly gotten a whole lot easier. Recently House Republicans decided to include a provision in spending bills which would forbid all requested government aid from being used for an organization that ceased to exist over three years ago.

Zach Carter, writing for Huffington Post, supplies the details of this legislative lunacy brought to you by the ever- impressive Texas Republicans. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) and Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) both sponsored bills which included a provision that not one cent of these government funds would go to the activist group known as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) "or its subsidiaries or successors."
  Rep. John Culberson

Rep. John Carter 
The bills, which have nothing to do with ACORN were introduced on May 28/29 and will be voted on this week.
The Culberson bill makes budget appropriations of $73.3 billion for military construction and for veteran affairs "to support the military and their families and to provide for the benefits and medical care for our nation’s veterans."
Similarly, the Carter bill which makes $38.9 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Homeland Security, carries the same prohibitions against ACORN.
If you happen to be a Tea Party person and are mathematically challenged you might want to know that between those bills, (whatever their merits), the requests total over $113 billion from the budget.
Call it a budget sequestration backtracking.
In any case, as Huffington Post noted, similar provisions in both bill declare that:
None of the funds made available in this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries or successors.
Has nobody informed either of them that Congress had already banned federal funding for ACORN back in the fall of 2009?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why The Proposed Ryan-Murray Budget Deal Renders the Tea Party Powerless

by Nomad

Here's a little Interesting news. Reuters is reporting today that:

Budget negotiators in the U.S. Congress have reached a two-year agreement aimed at avoiding a government shutdown on January 15 and setting federal government spending levels through October 1, 2015.
While it might seem like a step in the right direction, it is hard not to be a little cynical about the deal. Even as a first symbolic step toward a real bipartisan compromise, the fine print reveals some horrors for the unemployed. (I'll talk about that at a later date.) What's more interesting is the underlying motive for the Republican party to offer any deal at all.  

This budget deal,  hammered out by Washington Democrat Senator Patty Murray, and Republican Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, may be bipartisan but it is hard to see why anybody would claim it was progress. (One site actually hailed it as "a new era of cooperation." Where have these people been the last five years, I wonder!)
Congressional negotiators reached a modest budget agreement Tuesday to restore about $65 billion in automatic spending cuts from programs ranging from parks to the Pentagon, with votes expected in both houses by week's end.
Now, sixty-five billion might seem like a large figure to you and me but when it comes to government spending it is practically nothing. A superpower can spend that money much faster than you can blow your nose.

In fact, these were spending cuts to the budget which have now been restored. So count that as a step back from the reducing government spending. Shrinking big government, (except when it came to the military) has been the rallying cry of the Republicans since Reagan's day. 
Reducing government spending was supposed to be what the last budget bust-up in Washington was all about. Remember that shutdown thingy?

And that turned out to be a political disaster for Congress, but especially for the Republicans. So it is no surprise that somebody in the party would be happy to avoid a repeat of that disgrace next January. 
Apparently the leader of the House John Boehner-who, in the end, just wants to be loved, sent Pretty-boy Ryan into the thick of the negotiations. It was probably a wise but cynical move on his part.
Clearly the Tea Party will take one look at this and begin frothing at the mouth.

Delusions over Tea Time
Despite the damage done to the Republican party in October, threats of shutting down government -basically holding the government hostage-was the only weapon that the Tea Party minority had. This deal effectively takes that loaded pistol out of the hands of the petulant baby.
And this baby has a nasty disposition and has some old Republicans scared for their political lives.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Henry Wallace and The Last Progressive Party

Henry Wallace Quoteby Nomad

(image courtesy of

In the Midst of all These Riches

The quote on the right comes from Henry A. Wallace's book, “Democracy Reborn.”
Today the book is not so easy to find and Wallace's name means very little to most Americans.

Nevertheless, I think the man deserves a little attention because, when you look over his words and ideals, Wallace seems- in some ways- ahead of his time.

For example, he also wrote:
“Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion."
That sounds achingly familiar to the speeches made during the Occupy movement.

Henry Wallace was the 33rd Vice President of the United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was the closest he ever got to the White House. Before that, Wallace had served as Secretary of Agriculture during the dust bowl days which saw Americans desperately fighting for survival.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mandela and Reagan: The History and Truth that Right-Wing Republicans Would Rather Forget

by Nomad

The perception that the Republican Party is the a party of racists goes back many years. Along with other Republicans, President Reagan worked hard to defeat any anti-Apartheid legislation. 

Reagan's Veto

With the long-predicted death of Nelson Mandela, we can expect to hear a lot of swell things being said in memorial about this man's courage and humanism as he led his nation toward greater equality.
Both sides of the political spectrum are bound to say a lot of things in praise of Mandela and his work and life. In the next few days, you will hear about the evils of apartheid and how much better the world is without it.

However, there's another point that none of us should forget. When it came to apartheid, the Reagan Republicans were definitely on the wrong side of history.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Before PRISM: The Curious History of the US World-Wide Surveillance Network- Part Two

by Nomad

In Part One of this three-part series we examined one small aspect of the long history of illegal surveillance conducted by the US government on its own citizens.

Started back in 1945, Project SHAMROCK which involved the collecting of all telegraphic communication coming in and out of the US was by no means a small operation. It could never have existed without the kind assistance of the Western Union and its associates RCA and ITT.

Back in the 1970s, the Church Committee- which had investigated illegal snooping activity by the CIA and NSA- concluded that in its 30-year life, Shamrock constituted “the largest government interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken."

Like PRISM, Project SHAMROCK laid the groundwork for the same kind of shady collaboration between government and corporations to the cost of everybody's privacy.  

Findings by the Congressional committees would lead to the creation of new legislation called Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which sought to provide some kind of accountability, some kind of formal process.

As we shall see, by the end of the millennium, with the coming of technological advances like the Internet, those laws were becoming less and less effective.

The Temptations
Being able to listen to private conversations is, of course, a great temptation even under normal conditions. For a president faced with immense challenges any one of which hold the potential for catastrophic errors, the lust of more and more information must be addictive. During wartime or during a national or international emergency, that temptation becomes quite irresistible.

Author Bob Woodward in the book, Veil-The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987, recounts one instance in which timely surveillance (not of an enemy but of a key regional ally) provided key information that led to one of the America’s most astounding victories against terrorism.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Before PRISM: The Curious History of the US World-Wide Surveillance Network- Part One

by Nomad
Recently many people seemed altogether mortified, shocked and angry when whistle-blower Edward Snowden, former contract employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) supplied both the Washington Post and The Guardian details about two top- secret surveillance operations.

The Snowden evidence describes one operation which was an effort to collect data from Verizon about millions of phone calls. The other operation was called PRISM. In that operation, metadata was harvested from millions of Internet sites. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple were all apparently involved in the PRISM operation. 

Although both programs seem to have been overseen by Congress and a top-secret court, the extent of the operations came as a shock to a lot of people. 

One source describes PRISM like this:
“Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy.”
What PRISM does is to allow the NSA and the FBI to tap directly “into the central servers of nine leading U.S.Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.”
Who, the reporters and public asked, could have imagined that the United States government- for whatever reason- would engage in such violations of personal privacy? Conservative voters feel as though their worst fears about Big Government and about Barack Obama have been confirmed. Many stunned liberals are asking:Why would President Obama launch such an attack on our freedoms?

Perhaps the only truly shocking aspect of the recent whistle-blowing revelations is the fact that anybody should be shocked at all. People who have been paying attention should have known the extent of this type of surveillance.
Perhaps the only truly shocking aspect of the recent whistle-blowing revelations is the fact that anybody should be shocked at all. Everybody -those who were not sleeping-  should have known the extent of this type of surveillance. 

Much- but naturally not all- of the information about these operations had been made public a long ago. The American people (at those who were awake) were warned and chose to ignore the challenge to their civil liberties.. until now. 

The present anger – much of it unfairly directed at the Obama administration- comes a little late in the day. The evidence of these (and even more extensive and intrusive) electronic spying operations has been right under everybody's noses for over a decade. As we shall see in this report it is especially disingenuous for Republicans to bluster now.
The problem of the government’s covert spying on its own citizens began long before Obama, before Bush, Reagan or even before Nixon.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Amid Nationwide Protests, Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan Faces His Moment of Truth

Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Events in Turkey took an unexpected turn last week. It may be a bit premature but some are already calling the wave of civil unrest that erupted in every major city- and continue- as “The Turkish Spring.” 

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) suddenly found themselves the object of public scorn and open revolt. By Friday night and Saturday, demonstrations had begun to spread to every major city and even into small towns and villages. That included the more conservative regions thought to be AKP strongholds.
The most amazing thing of all was how quickly and to what extent things began to unravel.

The Park that Wouldn't Die
For a city with a 3000- year-old history, Istanbul’s Gezi Park -ground zero for this week’s protests -doesn’t have a great deal of historical value. The park, designed as “lungs of the city” was built as part of an earlier urban development plan back in 1939 and was constructed upon the ruins of the Ottoman Artillery Barracks (and before that, an Armenian cemetery.)

For many residents of the area, the park’s value had nothing to do with history. When it was decided that the park had to go in favor of an urban development scheme, they objected on purely environmental grounds, noting that the small park was one of the last remaining green areas in the neighborhood. In addition, they objected to how the decision was made- without any local input- to destroy a park in favor of a shopping mall.

Municipal leaders (all AKP members) and the local police so clumsily handled what had began as a peaceful protest that it unexpectedly led to something that few could have imagined- a national revolt against the ruling party.

After protesters were warned about continuing their camp to defend the park, early Thursday morning police marched in with tear gas and routed the group.
Under police protection, city workers immediately collected the tents and belongings and burned them. When heavy equipment was brought in to begin the park's destruction, the protesters returned to defend the park. This time with additional supporters. In response greater numbers of police, wearing full body armor, were sent in to seal off the area.
In fact, a judge had already issued a halt to the project until the matter could be settled. 

And that was that, so the Istanbul mayor thought, so the police commissioner of the city thought. However, by Friday afternoon, people from all over the city- some even crossing the Bosporus Bridge from the Asian side- marched into the downtown area to join the protesters.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

McCain’s Syrian Adventure: Should He Be Charged with Violations to the Logan Act?

Here’s an astounding bit of news from The Daily Beast.
McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator.

Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.
“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”
McCain’s unannounced visit- one conservative website called it “gutsy”- raises all sort of questions. Is it possible that the State Department could have given authorization for such a trip? 
It would surely have taken an approval by the executive branch. Think about it. A high-ranking official slipping across the border of one NATO country into another country in the midst of a bloody civil war? (Could there be grounds for another Issa investigation? Obama "scandals" are being sold to the gullible press at a dime a dozen nowadays.)
Reuters adds this:
The White House had no immediate comment.

A senior State Department official, in Paris with Kerry, confirmed that McCain did "cross into Syrian territory" but referred all questions to McCain's office. 
That suggests the trip was not authorized at all. The Secretary of State would surely have supplied further information if he had any. That implies that McCain took it upon himself to traipse into the messy conflict. A thumbing of the nose to the president, as it were. If true, then it raises some serious political and diplomatic questions.

Firstly there is the sticky question of legality. Did Senator McCain make it clear to the leaders of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army that he is in no way authorized to speak or to make promises or to negotiate on behalf of the United States? 
His statements have no more weight than, say, Angelina Jolie. The statement by General Idris doesn’t suggest that McCain made that clear.

There's another question. Did John McCain commit a felony by violating the Logan Act, which forbids anybody but the president (or anybody the president authorizes) to conduct foreign policy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

How ALEC, The Koch Brothers and the Tea Party Congress Tried to Destroy the Constitution

by Nomad

The issue of "state's rights" is not at all new. In fact, the debate goes back before the founding of the nation. However, when Tea Party House members drafted the Repeal Amendment, courtesy of Koch-funded ALEC, it threatened to unravel the union that holds the United States together. And despite George Washington's warning, they very nearly succeeded.

Back in 2010, after taking over the House of Representatives, the Tea Party faction of the GOP proposed a "states' rights" change in the Constitution. Sponsored by Utah's Rob Bishop, the proposal was called the Repeal Amendment. It was designed to give states the authority to veto federal laws and regulations. Under this proposed amendment, supporters aimed “to push back the federal government's encroachment on sovereign states rights." 

Any federal law, like healthcare, abortion or gun control laws and even civil rights legislation, would be up for a vote in state legislatures. The resolution read:
“Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed.”
The Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank and another 501(c)3 organization, supports the idea saying:
At present, the only way for states to contest a federal law or regulation is to bring a constitutional challenge in federal court or seek an amendment to the Constitution. A state repeal power provides a targeted way to reverse particular congressional acts and administrative regulations without relying on federal judges or permanently amending the text of the Constitution to correct a specific abuse.
Of course let’s not forget that the Cato Institute was co-founded by Charles Koch, co-owner of Koch Industries known for its financing of the Tea Party. So enthusiastic support for challenging the authority of the federal government shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

It is in fact a fundamental change to the balance of powers and not merely a corrective measure. In effect, it would invalidate the “united” part of the “United States” since state legislatures would have final say-so on the law of the land. The United States would, therefore, become about as united as say, the United Nations. 

In addition, the legislative branch in Congress would suddenly become irrelevant, since the eventual application of any congressional law would be subject to a vote in each state. The structure of the two houses of Congress prevents smaller less-populated states, most of which happen to be red states, from having undue influence or from dictating to the more populated states what national policy would look like. Under this proposed change, all that would change. 
The implications and the ensuing unnecessary complications are mind-boggling.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

IRS Scandal: Why Should Tea Party Groups Have Any Tax Exemptions?

The rules for tax exemptions for organizations are not well-understood. They tend to be complicated and, even then not well-enforced. Still, it is fair to ask, when it comes to tax exemption, what makes the Tea Party organizations so special?

It has been really hard to get my head around the recent “scandals” that have “plagued” Obama’s second term. Quotation marks are mandatory in this case since, as far as I can see, the scandals seem to be an imaginative invention manufactured by the Republican Congress and a mainstream media.
(To be sure, there are questions that should be asked to the president about, for example, the handling of such things as Gitmo, the legality of drones, press freedom and other things.)

The investigation of the Benghazi tragedy has dragged along becoming less and less productive and more and more embarrassing for the investigators. All of the rocks have been squeezed and much to their dismay, GOP congressmen have found not even a drop of blood.

However, the most ridiculous of these so-called scandals has been the accusation of the IRS targeting Tea Party tax-exempt organizations. (Daily Kos has called the whole affair a "Scandalnavian nothing-burger.")

Targeting Flaunters

As long-time readers of this blog may know, we have examined the possible violations of both Tea Party and Christian right-wing 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 organizations in the past. The abuse of their tax-exempt status has been openly flaunted. It was clear that something had to be done.

In the run-up to the election, religious organizations, in particular, seem to challenge the administration to take action. A careful reading of the tax codes demonstrates beyond much doubt that these organizations should have come under some kind of scrutiny at least.

And yet, somehow we find the entire argument re-framed as "targeting" and "profiling." Is it really wrong to target those who publicly flaunt the law?

When Leona ("Queen of Mean") Hemsley went on 60 minutes and proclaimed We don't pay taxesOnly the little people pay taxes” would anybody have accused the IRS of targeting super-wealthy hoteliers?
Most people felt she deserved what she got for thinking she was somehow untouchable. Today the Republican party has become the chosen defenders of anybody who would defy  the IRS and the Obama administration, in general. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On Tyranny and Treason: NRA's Second Amendment Solution

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After the smoke cleared, the outcome of the push for reforms of the gun control laws ended in disappointment for the president and advocates of stricter regulations. The National Rifle Association (NRA), in defiance of the public will, managed to corral just enough votes to thwart new legislation.

What was most striking (for outsiders) was the argument that citizens must have combat weapons in order to prevent their own government from becoming tyrannical.

Most scholars agree that when the second amendment was adopted, it was conceived as a defense against an invasion of foreign armies, most notably the King of England, not as a stand-by rebellion against federal authority.

"A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

To throw some light on the exact meaning of those words -and its pre-revolutionary origins- the Supreme Court in 1887 gave this constitutional interpretation:
Undoubtedly, the framers . . . had for a long time been absorbed in considering the arbitrary encroachments of the Crown on the liberty of the subject . . . .
This view is supported by the words, “necessary to the security of a free state”- or in other words, a nation independent of its imperial origins. A kind of last defense ad hoc  army against imperial invasion. 

"Sic semper tyrannis"

Wayne LaPierre, CEO and Executive Vice President of the NRA appeared before a Senate Judiciary Committee in the aftermath of the calamity at Newtown. From that meeting a source give us this interesting quote:
"Senator, I think without any doubt, if you look at why our Founding Fathers put it there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny."
But if LaPierre feels there’s a risk of tyranny today, let him say it clearly. Who has the power to subjugate the United States today? From where does he expect this tyranny to emerge? If he knows something about an approaching police state, it really is his patriotic duty to inform Congress.
He didn't reveal anything but he implies it clearly enough. The threat that Americans must be armed against is their own government. He certainly wasn’t talking about an Iranian invasion or a Neo-Soviet Russia, Communist China. This tyrant will be home-grown.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Roots of Right Wing Religious Extremism: The Winrod Legacy 2/2

In PART ONE of this series we looked at the career of Reverend Gerald Winrod, the anti-Semitic preacher from Kansas. Decade after decade, from his fiery attacks on Roosevelt's New Deal to his admiration of the Nazi state, to his crusades against Communists (if only because he saw it as a Jewish conspiracy), Winrod rode every current wave of right-wing radicalism.

Gordon Winrod
In this post, we will look at how the Winrod legacy was passed on to his son, Gordon Winrod, and led to an even more direct expression of violent extremism.

The Torch Passed to a New Generation

Reverend Dr. Gerald B. Winrod passed the torch to his son, Gordon Winrod, who carried on the family tradition of virulent antisemitism. For a time, his son maintained his father's works until finally leaving Kansas, to re-settle in the Missouri Ozarks.

While it is fair to say that Winrod had nowhere near the charisma of his father, his tracts against the Jews were quite a bit more explicit. The Jews, said Gordon Winrod, drank the "warm blood of Christians" and "controlled the money, the media and thus all politics and all government." There was no end, according to Winrod, to the misery they caused. 

In 1960, he began publishing the monthly "The Winrod Letter" which was not only filled with his current rants against the Jews, it offered a list of other anti-Semitic books and tapes that could be ordered from his church. (Click here for a partial sample of a 1997 newsletter.
Hating Jews had become a cottage industry for the Winrods.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Roots of Right Wing Religious Extremism: The Winrod Legacy 1/2

by Nomad

Most Americans have not heard of the name Winrod but decades ago, Reverend Gerald Winrod was at one time a charismatic voice of right-wing dissent, His anti-Semitic message spread through the Midwest by radio at a time when the Nazi party in Germany were rising to power. 
This two-part post traces his rise and fall and his ideological rebirth through his son, a man who took the message to the next level.

Of all the books of the Bible, the Book of Revelations holds a particular spell over right-wing Fundamentalists. I suppose there's a good reason. It is colorfully written and vague enough to mean nearly anything, depending on current events, the mood of the preacher and the target of the sermon. And for the more literal- minded Christians it instills a sense of imminent unalterable doom and fear. A proven motivator. 
In our times, we have heard suggestions that Obama is somehow related to the coming of the Anti-Christ, the devil-incarnate from the biblical prophecies. 
However, Obama is hardly unique in this regard. In fact evangelists have used the prophecies to point fingers at well-known leaders nearly from the time the book was included in the official canon of Scripture. 

In this post, I want to examine the biographical history of the nearly forgotten Reverend Gerald Burton Winrod. Winrod used this particular technique against the president and against the progressive movement in general.

Reverend Gerald Winrod vs. Franklin Roosevelt

In the 1930s, for Christian fundamentalists, all the signs of the end times were obvious. It was a time of great -almost unbearable- tension and apprehension. The rise of totalitarianism in Europe and a world-wide depression unlike anything anybody had ever seen were just two signs that of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies.

Matt Sutton, Professor of History at University of California, Santa Barbara, notes that in the 1930s, a few influential Christian leaders began to impose their own view on political events.
Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal quickly emerged as the object of their most intense domestic scrutiny. Fundamentalists sensed something sinister in the thirty-second president. His consolidation of power, his controversial policies, and his internationalist sensibilities seemed consistent with biblical descriptions of politics and international relations in the last days.
As a result, fundamentalists did not interpret the growth of the modern liberal state in the U.S. as a reasonable response to the growing global economic depression but instead viewed it in conjunction with Mussolini’s visions of empire and Hitler’s Antisemitism. In short, fundamentalists across the continent came to believe that New Deal liberalism was the means by which the U.S. would join the legions of the Antichrist.
One of the more notable preachers that took this view was Rev. Gerald Burton Winrod in Wichita, Kansas.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

West, Texas Explosion: The Price of Poor Regulation and Rick Perry's Budget Cuts?

Even though the first responders are even now searching through the devastation left after the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion yesterday, some factors that led to the disaster are beginning to become clear.

The plant had already been investigated by The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for its failure to obtain an air quality permit as a fertilizer mixing and storage facility. The company had, in fact, earlier been fined by the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to have a risk management plan that met federal standards. That $2,300 penalty was issued on August 14, 2006, according to EPA records.
In November, West Fertilizer Co. vowed to meet all standards expected for anhydrous ammonia storage tanks. The odorless gas would be stored in two 12,000 gallon permanent storage tanks.

In addition the company would conduct daily in-house inspections during normal business hours to ensure there are no" leaks of ammonia.
Despite previous complaints from neighbors of ammonia smells from the plant, West Fertilizer Company officials assured the TCEQ that “emissions from the tanks would not pose a danger.” However:
That assertion was based on expected routine emissions, not the possibility of a catastrophic failure.

As a permit condition, the TCEQ required the company to build a wall between the tanks and a public road to prevent passing vehicles from striking the tanks. The company complied and on Dec. 12, 2006, the agency’s executive director issued an operating permit for the tanks, which already existed.