Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ohmygosh, Doonesbury's Zonker Harris a Teabagger? Why not? Naomi Wolf's signed on


[Don't forget to click on all the strips to enlarge]

"[A]s I was told by Fritz Stern, a scholar of fascism who has written about the origins of Nazism, 'In Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented.' It is the yearning that we now see, and it is dangerous. If we do not immediately reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration."
-- Chris Hedges, in an almost-important essay,

by Ken

So President Obama is now a "Drill, baby, drill" guy. And Zonker's a Teabagger.

Chris Hedges posted the above-noted piece on TruthDig Monday, by coincidence the very same day that Zonker Harris made initial contact with the Teabaggers. (For the benefit of non-Doonesbury folk, the two-time Grand National Tanning Champion's website bio begins: "Few young Americans have so thoroughly savored the joys of college -- which he once referred to as 'the best nine years of my life' -- as Californian-American Zonker Harris.") I think Hedges is a serious writer, with a lot of on-the-ground journalistic observation (and he was a good journalist, for the record) to back up his theorizing. This piece begins:
The language of violence always presages violence. I watched it in war after war from Latin America to the Balkans. The impoverishment of a working class and the snuffing out of hope and opportunity always produce angry mobs ready to kill and be killed. A bankrupt, liberal elite, which proves ineffectual against the rich and the criminal, always gets swept aside, in times of economic collapse, before thugs and demagogues emerge to play to the passions of the crowd. I have seen this drama. I know each act. I know how it ends. I have heard it in other tongues in other lands. I recognize the same stock characters, the buffoons, charlatans and fools, the same confused crowds and the same impotent and despised liberal class that deserves the hatred it engenders.

“We are ruled not by two parties but one party,” Cynthia McKinney, who ran for president on the Green Party ticket, told me. “It is the party of money and war. Our country has been hijacked. And we have to take the country away from those who have hijacked it. The only question now is whose revolution gets funded.”

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die.

Hedges offers as an example Yugoslavia, arguing: "The Balkan war was not caused by ancient ethnic hatreds. It was caused by the economic collapse of Yugoslavia. The petty criminals and goons who took power harnessed the anger and despair of the unemployed and the desperate."

Good stuff, no? I'm glad the piece has also been posted on AlterNet, which is actually where I saw it. It's also on AlterNet that Justine Sharrock posted a provocative interview with trendy left-wing sage Naomi Wolf: "Naomi Wolf Thinks the Tea Parties Help Fight Fascism -- Is She Onto Something or in Fantasy Land?" Sharrock posted her interview on Tuesday, which again by coincidence is the day that Zonker ran into a slight glitch establishing his against-the-man credentials with the Teabaggers:


Naomi Wolf is best known in political circles for her 2007 book The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,in which she argued that the Bush regime had made great progress in advancing the U.S. along the "ten steps" to fascism.
She followed it up in 2008 with Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries,a manifesto on the loss of our liberties.

Sharrock notes in the introduction to her interview:
Now, under President Obama, Wolf's book is providing ammunition for the Tea Partiers, Patriots, Ron Paul supporters and Oath Keepers, who also warn of impending tyrannical government. Even when the book first came out pre-Obama, Alex Jones, Michael Savage and Fox News invited her on their shows, and agreed with her.

It’s not just her message. She speaks their language, referring to the Founding Fathers and American Revolution as models, admitting to a profound sense of fear, warning of tyranny, fascism, Nazism and martial law. When Glenn Beck warns of these things we laugh. When Wolf draws those same connections, we listen.

Sharrock asks if Wolf realized that her book "is being lauded within the Tea Party and patriot movements.
Since I wrote Give Me Liberty, I have had a new audience that looks different than the average Smith girl. There is a giant libertarian component. I have had a lot of dialogue with the Ron Paul community. There are [Tea Partiers] writing to me on my Facebook page, but I figured they were self-selective libertarians and not arch conservatives. I am utterly stunned that I have a following in the patriot movement and I wasn’t aware that specific Tea Partiers were reading it. They haven’t invited me to speak. They invited Sarah Palin.

Wolf was invited to speak to a Ron Paul rally last summer,
and I loved it. I met a lot of people I respected, a lot of “ordinary” people, as in not privileged. They were stepping up to the plate, when my own liberal privileged fellow demographic habituates were lying around whining. It was a wake-up call to the libertarians that there’s a progressive who cares so much about the same issues. Their views of liberals are just as distorted as ours are of conservatives.

And thank goodness she set them straight about that! She also knows why "the sides don't understand each other":
Frankly, liberals are out of the habit of communicating with anyone outside their own in cohort. We have a cultural problem with self-righteousness and elitism. Liberals roll their eyes about going on "Oprah" to reach a mass audience by using language that anyone can understand even if you majored in semiotics at Yale. We look down on people we don’t agree with. It doesn’t serve us well.

Wolf has written that some of the Teabagger ideas are "ahead of their time." She provides for-instances:
I used to think “End the Fed people” were crackpots. The media paints them as deranged. But it turned out we had good reason to have more oversight. Or take their platform about states’ rights. Demographically, I’m a hippie from San Francisco and I’m not culturally inclined to be sympathetic to states' rights. My cultural heritage is FDR and Medicare and federal government solutions. But if you think through the analysis, strengthening state rights is a good corrective of the aggregation of an over-reaching federal power. Take California’s challenge of the Patriot Act or states like Vermont leading the way with addressing the corruption of the voting system. It’s a good example of the Tea Party thinking out of the box on how to address a problem.

Are you ready to scream yet? Is this apparently intelligent person really so deluded as to imagine that the right-wing (or Libertarian) hostility to the Fed or passion for states' rights has anything in common with what the vision of America she claims to believe in? Sharrock, an excellent interviewer, pursues this issue, asking, "How do you feel about your books bolstering a fight for policies you don’t agree with?"
If people are taking my book seriously and organizing, getting into office, caring about the constitution, and not waiting for someone else to lead them, I think, God bless them. All of us should be doing that. The left should be doing that. There is always the risk in advocating for democracy that the first people to wake up might not be your team, but that is a risk worth taking. I would rather have citizens I don’t agree with organized and active than an oligarchy of people that I agree with.


Which bring us back to Chris Hedges. As you'll recall, he's really concerned with the threat of imminent violence. Late in his piece, he writes:
When someone like [Sarah] Palin posts a map with cross hairs on the districts of Democrats, when she says “Don’t Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD!” there are desperate people cleaning their weapons who listen. When Christian fascists stand in the pulpits of megachurches and denounce Barack Obama as the Antichrist, there are messianic believers who listen. When a Republican lawmaker shouts “baby killer” at Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, there are violent extremists who see the mission of saving the unborn as a sacred duty. They have little left to lose. We made sure of that. And the violence they inflict is an expression of the violence they endure.

These movements are not yet full-blown fascist movements. They do not openly call for the extermination of ethnic or religious groups. They do not openly advocate violence. But, as I was told by Fritz Stern, a scholar of fascism who has written about the origins of Nazism, “In Germany there was a yearning for fascism before fascism was invented.” It is the yearning that we now see, and it is dangerous. If we do not immediately reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration.

Left unchecked, the hatred for radical Islam will transform itself into a hatred for Muslims. The hatred for undocumented workers will become a hatred for Mexicans and Central Americans. The hatred for those not defined by this largely white movement as American patriots will become a hatred for African-Americans. The hatred for liberals will morph into a hatred for all democratic institutions, from universities to government agencies to the press. Our continued impotence and cowardice, our refusal to articulate this anger and stand up in open defiance to the Democrats and the Republicans, will see us swept aside for an age of terror and blood.

Well, okay, I don't think any of us would disagree. The only thing is, Hedges seems to think he's sounding a brand-new alarm, that he's the first to warn that we could be on a path that leads to fascism. Actually, by my count he is . . . um, let's see, carry the one . . . just about the last to warn that we're on a path to fascism. He has helpfully added Fritz Stern's idea of a "yearning for fascism" that precedes the real thing; I think that's something to think about. But I describe his piece as "almost-important" because for all its smug self-assurance it doesn't seem to me really to advance the discussion.

Listen again: "If we do not immediately reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration." Um, Chris, do you have any, you know, ideas about how that might be done? Perhaps that's so obvious that it didn't need to be explained, unlike all this other stuff that you explain very eloquently but that really many of us kind of worked out for ourselves.

If Hedges had started the piece by saying, "I don't have a damned clue how we might do it, but if we do not immediately reincorporate the unemployed and the poor back into the economy, giving them jobs and relief from crippling debt, then the nascent racism and violence that are leaping up around the edges of American society will become a full-blown conflagration," I would at least feel that we have something to talk about.

The Teabaggers have grievances. Yeah, I get it. By and large, they don't have a clue what has actually happened to them, or what can be done about it. They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. Not exactly a blueprint for change we can believe in.

Now, however, it appears that the Teabaggers have Zonker. As if they weren't confused enough!

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North Carolina Democratic Candidate Nancy Shakir Makes The Case For Opposing The Afghan Occupation And Escalation


When many of us contributed to electing Larry Kissell to the house from North Carolina's 8th CD, we were convinced we were voting for someone who opposed wars of aggression, foreign occupations and the dishonest budgetary procedures, "supplementals," the Bush used to pursue wars without paying for them. But last June when the House voted on Obama's war supplemental, Kissell was not among the 32 Democrats who has the guts to stand up and say no. He went along with the crowd-- and didn't stand up and say "no" until it came to helping ordinary American families with protections against predatory banksters and with healthcare reform.

Over the last few days we've looked at why North Carolina Democrats have grown disenchanted enough with Kissell to start flocking to the primary campaign of an outspoken Democratic activist, Nancy Shakir, who's offering a far more family-friendly vision of what America should look like. Last December, writing in the Fayetteville Observer, Nancy explained why she opposes Obama's troop escalation agenda and continued occupation of Afghanistan. She shows a great deal more insight into it than Kissell:
Like most Americans, I have close relatives who have served, were casualties or retired from the military. I support our troops, their families and my family. My mantra is "Love the warrior; hate the war." But I am opposed to President Obama's proposal for troop escalation in Afghanistan for some of the following reasons.

...In Gen. David Petraeus's counterinsurgency doctrine, the accepted ratio of soldiers to natives is 20 to 25 per thousand. The current ratio is 1 to 430. Afghanistan today is a country of about 33 million. Even if we discount the population to the target group of Pashtuns, we must deal with 15 or so million people. So, when he and Gen. Stanley McChrystal ask for 40,000 more troops, it must be viewed as a first step only.

As the generals did in Vietnam, they will have to ask for another increment and then another, moving toward the supposedly winning number of between 600,000 and 1.3 million. Thus, over 10 years, a figure often cited, pretty soon we'll be talking real money. The overall cost to our economy has not yet been summed up, but by comparing it to the Iraq war, it will probably amount to upwards of $6 trillion over a 10-year period.

Then there are the casualties: So far we have lost about a thousand in Afghanistan - or about 20 percent as many as in Iraq. Although casualties can be counted, the number of seriously wounded keeps growing because many of the effects of exposure to modern weapons do not show up until later.

About one in four soldiers have reported "acute stress, depression or anxiety." In Iraq, at least 100,000 of the 1.5 million soldiers who served there suffered severe psychological damage and about 300,000 have reported post-traumatic stress disorder and a similar number have suffered brain injuries. These veterans, sometimes referred to as the "walking wounded," will be unable to fully contribute to American society, and also will require care for many years to come.

It has been estimated that dealing with a brain-injured soldier over his remaining life will cost about $5 million. Cancer from exposure to depleted uranium is only now coming into full effect. Exposure is then passed on to the offspring of those who served, resulting in birth defects.

About 40 percent of the soldiers who served in the 1991 Gulf war-- which lasted only 100 hours-- are receiving disability payments. Inevitably, more "boots on the ground" will lead to more beds in hospitals.

What of our own casualties at home: unemployment, foreclosure, growing "food insecurity," homelessness, despair resulting in suicide and homicide?

The initial Soviet war in Afghanistan began in 1979. The final troop withdrawal ended on Feb. 15, 1989. The Russian army fought a bloody, brutal campaign, using every trick or tool of counterinsurgency, killing a million Afghanis and turning about 5 million into refugees. But after a decade during which they lost 15,000 soldiers and almost bankrupted the Soviet Union, they gave up and left. Gen. McChrystal says it may take him a decade or more to "win." But what is winning? Even Gen. Petraeus has said, "You cannot kill your way out of an insurgency."

Removing Afghanistan as a threat requires rebuilding that whole country. Unfortunately, that is a 20-year project at best, and we can't afford it. So our political leadership needs to insist on a strategy that will get the most security for less money and less presence.

We don't have the surplus we had when we started the war on terrorism after 9/11-- and we desperately need nation-building at home... We need to reduce our footprint in Afghanistan and not dig in deeper. We do not have the Afghan partners, the domestic support, the financial resources or the national interests to justify an enlarged and prolonged nation-building effort in Afghanistan. We cannot afford intercontinental warfare to rebuild Afghanistan. It doesn't take much thought to realize, as most Americans do, that if any rebuilding should go on, it needs to be here at home-- rebuilding America's economy, its infrastructure, its educational system and its healthcare system.

If you'd like to help Nancy replace the faithless Kissell, please click over to the Blue America Sending A Message page and contribute what you can afford. Her grassroots campaign can really use some help.

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Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway Live At C&L Today-- Bellowing Teabaggers Downstairs


I've been noticing a disturbing trend in the Kentucky contest for the Senate seat that McConnell forced Jim Bunning to give up. Whenever you line up the candidates on the issues, you find 3 nearly lockstep conservatives against one progressive. The lockstep conservatives are McConnell's Republican Machine handpicked candidate, his boy Trey Grayson; the John Birch Society/teabagger candidate, Rand Paul; and a worse-than-Blanche DINO, Dan Mongiardo who thinks the way to the Democratic nomination is to agree with the Republicans... on everything. And then there's Kentucky's principled Attorney General, Jack Conway, who's made a name for himself standing up for ordinary Kentucky families against the special interests which tend to dominate Kentucky politics. Take a look at this simple grid comparing how the four candidates stand on some of the issues.

clicking on it makes it legible

The other day I got Jack on the phone and asked him to come by Crooks and Liars today to talk with the Blue America community about his primary race and his probable November run against Rand Paul. He'll join us this afternoon at 5pm (ET/2pm PT) at C&L. Yesterday we posted a thumbnail rundown on the race here. Tomorrow Rand Paul and a mob of anger-stoked teabaggers have announced their intention to march on Jack's office to demand that he join the right-wing Attorneys General trying to overturn healthcare reform, just as conservative Republicans went crying to the courts to try to kill Social Security when progressives passed that. Problem for little Rand and his band of kooks is that Jack not only supported the healthcare legislation, he's already thinking of ways to perfect the bill and is one of the first Senate candidates I've spoken with who is excited about the Alan-- not Trey-- Grayson approach to cost controls by offering a Medicare-for-all solution to any American citizen who chooses to buy in.

He turned the frivolous law suit-crazed anti-healthcare fanatics down flat, saying that what they're asking for is "a Republican Party gimmick" that "makes for good Tea Party politics but is based on questionable legal principles." Unfortunately, his anti-Choice/anti-gay Democratic opponent, Mongiardo, is on the same page as the Republicans! He seems to be getting his campaign slogans from the same place as Trey Grayson, straight from Mitch McConnell's office. They're all talking about trashing the healthcare bill and "starting over," a pure GOP talking point.

Let's repair to the comments section at C&L at 2pm and meet Jack Conway, a man we're hoping will be one of several red to blue pickups in the Senate this November, and not just red to blue, but, far more important, reactionary to progressive.

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Everyday Should Be Connie Saltonstall Day


Today is the infamous "end of the quarter" for congressional filings. "OMG!" candidates will tell you. "It's now or never!" If only! Tomorrow is even more important-- the first day of the even more crucial next quarter. Screw the DCCC desperate e-mails trying to get you to donate money on behalf of healthcare and Wall Street reform only to see them channel virtually all of it to understandably unpopular conservative Blue Dogs and other faux Dems who have brazenly voted against healthcare reform and against bankster reform, from Larry Kissell (NC), Bobby Bright (AL), Walt Minnick (ID), John Adler (NJ), and Suzanne Kosmas (FL), to John Barrow (GA), Travis Childers (MS), and Glenn Nye (VA). And then there's Bart Stupak. North Michigan conservative Bart Stupak has become a cartoon character villain for progressives nationally, primarily because he was willing-- even eager-- to work with Republicans to tank healthcare reform if he couldn't use it as a vehicle to impinge on women's right to choice and privacy based on a bizarre set of cult-like "religious convictions" he shares with some of the most dangerous far right elements in the country.

As you may know, Blue America has a page dedicated to sending Democrats a message and contributing to Connie Saltonstall's primary campaign against Stupak is a music it is very healthy for Inside-the-Beltway Democrats of all stripes to hear. This morning I spoke with Connie and asked her if she'd do a guest post about why her race is more important than ever, even though pressure from Democrats forced Stupak to eventually vote for the healthcare reform bill. This is how she put it:
We all know by now that Bart Stupak finally gave in, dropped the ‘Stupak Amendment,’ and voted for the healthcare bill. While I applaud his vote, it does not change my determination defeat him in the Michigan primary on August 3rd.

Representative Stupak’s reluctant support of healthcare reform came at a very high cost.

Mr. Stupak’s dogmatic insistence on inserting his own religious views into the legislative debate and threatening to deprive his constituents of needed healthcare reform eroded people’s trust in him. Throughout the debate there was the sense that our Congressman let us down and that sense has not disappeared with the change in his vote. For me and so many of his constituents, he crossed the line with his grandstanding.

My campaign is about getting past the kind of political obstruction that marred the healthcare debate. I look forward to working in Congress to represent the Democratic values of the First District-- affordable, accessible healthcare for all, healthcare that allows women the opportunity to make responsible life decisions for themselves and their families, protecting our Great Lakes and other precious natural resources, and fighting to put people in our district, so hard hit by this recession, back to work.

Since announcing my candidacy I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the enthusiasm, support and outreach for my campaign, both nationally and locally. People from all over the district are calling daily offering to donate and do anything they can to help. Political pundits like to say that someone from the lower peninsula cannot win in Michigan’s First District. I don’t believe that. I have heard from people all the way from Gogebic County in the Northwest of our district to Bay County in the southeast of our district. We are all Michiganders and our commonalties are far more important than our differences. I am here to give the people of Michigan’s First District a choice!

And Blue America wants to help her do just that. Please consider helping Connie, not because this is the last day of the quarter, but because we just have to save the Democratic Party and our country from characters like Bart Stupak.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rachel Maddow's Got More On The Right-Wing Hutaree Militia


April 19 is the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and these militia goons are going to celebrate it by marching on Washington, armed. They're not just violent, ignorant, delusional malcontents and domestic terrorists-- heavily armed ones-- but they are also a lifestyle... for the whole family. (And, by the way, Oklahomans celebrate the bombing of their own state by becoming and more and more crackpot reactionary, electing people like Inhofe, Coburn, Fallon, Cole, Sullivan and Boren.

Our pal Dave Neiwert, author of The Eliminationists joined Rachel tonight and helped put right-wing anti-government domestic terrorism into context.

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General Sheehan demonstrates the fine art of apologizing when all you're really sorry for is getting caught


Retired Marine Gen. John Sheehan, testifying
before the Senate Armed Services Committee

by Ken

You remember Marine Gen. John Sheehan, right? He's the clod who in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee two weeks ago on Don't Ask, Don't Tell blamed the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica on the "socializing" of the Dutch army -- meaning allowing openly gay soldiers and unionization. In view of the latest development, it's important to be clear about what exactly he did or didn't say. Here is the start of Philippe Naughton's March 19 report in the Times of London:
A retired American general has blamed the UN's historic failure to protect the Bosnian "safe haven" of Srebrenica on the fact that there were openly gay soldiers in the Dutch peacekeeping battalion assigned to it.

The comments from former Marine Corps General John Sheehan prompted outrage in the Netherlands, where the humiliation in July 1995 of 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers and the subsequent massacre by Serb forces of 8,000 Muslim men and boys remains a subject of acute national sensitivity.

General Sheehan, one of two Nato "supreme commanders" at the time of the massacre, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee against a proposal to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the US military.

He told the senators how the Armed Forces of various European countries had lost their combat focus after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and turned to peacekeeping because "they did not believe the Germans were going to attack again or the Soviets were coming back".

The general said that Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and other nations all took the decision that there was no longer a need for an active combat capability in the military.

"They declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military -- that includes the unionisation of their militaries, it includes open homosexuality. That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war," he said.

"The case in point that I’m referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs: the battalion was under-strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone poles, marched the Muslims off, and executed them.

"That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II."

Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat, chairman of the committee, was incredulous. He asked General Sheehan: "Did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?"

"Yes, they did. They included that as part of the problem," he replied.

"That there were gay soldiers?" the senator asked.

"That the combination was the liberalisation of the military; a net effect was basically social engineering."

Okay, there's already a bit of weaseling there at the end, when Senator Levin was trying to make sure that General Sheehan actually was saying what he had just said.

The good news is that the general's "testimony" indeed caused an uproar, more in Europe than in the U.S., not surprisingly, but even here this turned heads in a way that it wouldn't have ten or even five years ago. Enough of an uproar that the general has been forced to do some damage control, in the form of a letter dated yesterday to his Dutch counterpart, retired Marine Gen. Henk van den Breemen. It begins with a paragraph that actually sounds like an apology -- for possibly misrecollecting what General van den Breemen may have said in their conversations, and especially for dragging him into the current mess:
Thank you for our much appreciated conversations of the past week. During the mid-1990s, you and I discussed a broad range of issues and policies that reflected the social, political and financial pressures under which NATO Alliance members struggled. I am sorry that my recent public recollection of those discussions of 15 years ago inaccurately reflected your thinking on some specific social issues in the military. It is also regrettable that I allowed you to be pulled into a public debate. As a fellow Marine, I have the deepest respect for you personally and professionally. NATO and the Netherlands were well served by your leadership.

So far, not so bad. But now there's a somewhat more opaque paragraph, which ironically begins, "To be clear":
To be clear, the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of the individual soldiers. The corporals and sergeants executed their orders based on the priorities of the political authorities. Unfortunately, the rules of engagement were developed by a political system with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military. As we know, the consequences of those compromises were devastating.

And that's it. General Sheehan writes, "I wish you the very best during this Easter season," and signs off.

When I glanced quickly at the letter, I thought General Sheehan was apologizing to General van den Breemen for misrepresenting comments made in their conversations in the '90s, and was explaining that all those conflicting political priorities and that ambivalent understanding of how to use the military, all of that had just slipped his mind during his original testimony. 

Then I read it a little more carefully, and it occurred to me that just possibly what he's saying is that those political "compromises," that "ambivalent understanding of how to use the military," which led to such "devastating consequences" -- what all that is, is the very "socializing" of the Dutch military he was whining about in the first place. You know, with the inclusion of gays, as Senator Levin had made certain he was testifying, and unionizing of the army, all of which added up, you'll recall, to "a force that was ill-equipped to go to war."

In other words, it just may be that, even as General Sheehan is apologizing to General van den Breemen for misrecollecting the exact words of their conversations, what he's actually saying is: "What I said before." Only without actually saying it, 'cause you get jumped on if you dare to tell God's honest truth about, you know, those people, and I don't mean people who join unions.

Here's how my colleague Jim Burroway summarized his reading of the letter at Box Turtle Bulltetin:
This is a climbdown from Sheehan’s placing blame on individual gay soldiers in Srebrenica, but it is not a complete disavowal of Sheehan’s position. In this letter, he now shifts his blame to “a political system with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military.” This echoes accusations hurled by opponents to DADT that allowing soldiers to serve with honesty and integrity — two core values of all branches of the armed services — somehow represents a political meddling in the conduct of military affairs. (I would also hasten to add that civilian control of the military is also a core value insisted upon by our founding fathers and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.) So while media outlets and DADT repeal advocates may celebrate over this climb-down, I have a feeling that Sheehan’s position hasn’t changed one bit.

I have a feeling that Jim's feeling is exactly right. It seems clear that General van den Breemen isn't satisfied, because the letter was clearly released at his end. However, even if you accept that General Sheehan has genuinely changed his position in some substantive way, there remains the rather important question of General Sheehan's committee testimony, assuming his testimony had any importance. My colleague Chris Geidner reports at Metro Weekly:
The letter to Breemen, however, did not alter the testimony given by Sheehan. In a response from the Senate Armed Services Committee, a spokesman told Metro Weekly via e-mail, ''We have not received any communication from Gen. Sheehan, at least not yet.''


Am I the only one who's coming to think of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as just the next in succession to the line of odious Bush regime press secretaries? Does the guy ever actually answer a question? And is it my imagination that there's a tone of mockery, or even scorn, when talking about anyone who isn't in lockstep agreement with an administration policy from the left?

A colleague provides this transcription of an exchange at today's press briefing:
Q: Over successive weeks, Congressman Barney Frank has asked the White House to clarify whether it would like to see legislative action taken this year on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  He’s said that direction from the White House has been muddled, and then at one point said that you guys were actually sort of ducking whether or not you wanted to see legislation action taken on repeal.  Would the President like to see that law --

ROBERT GIBBS:  Well, Carol, I would just say this. I don’t think what Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates have enunciated on this appears muddled to anyone. I don’t -- there is a process that’s in place to move forward on the President’s commitment to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

I don’t -- Admiral Mullen is the first chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sit up in front of Congress and say that the law ought to be repealed -- not somebody who is retired, not somebody who is long past their commitment of serving their country, but somebody who sat up there and said that. And Secretary Gates and the commission at the Pentagon have taken some important steps.

We’re following that process.  We’ll see where the legislative road takes us as we continue to build support to keep the commitment that the President has made.

Well, excuse me, Mr. Press Secretary, but this still seems to me kind of muddled as to what the president actually wants to happen and what he might be prepared to do to make it happen. And you may have noticed that you didn't address Congressman Frank's unanswered question at all.

The one thing that's kind of new is the cavalier dismissal of all the high-ranking former military offices who have come out for DADT repeal. Granted, it could be viewed that you are speaking of the potential impact on the process of testimony from the sitting chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but you'll forgive me if the reference to "not somebody who is retired, not somebody who is long past their commitment of serving their country" sounds sneering if not outright contemptuous of a lot of distinguished retired officers who probably don't think of themselves as "long past their commitment of serving their country."

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Is Sexual Dysfunction An Integral Part Of Conservatism?


When I mentioned the other day that easy and unaccountable sexual access to children is a perk of the Roman Catholic priesthood, the last thing in the world I was trying to imply was that most Mexican priests are child molesters. I have no way of knowing how many are and how many aren't. And I meant the comment to apply to all Roman Catholic priests everywhere, not just in Mexico where far right fanatic and pedophile Papal favorite Rev. Marcial Maciel was from. Sexual access to children has always been a perk to Catholic priesthood and fact that the Legion of Christ was a favored cult within the organization, bringing in billions of dollars in loot, wasn't slowed down one bit just because they were, clearly, an organized international pedophile ring.

Today there's a tempest in a teapot scandal here in America-- not over the deaf boys who were systematically raped by a Wisconsin priest and the typical Vatican cover-up (and complicity)-- but because the clownish head of the Republican National Committee was using Party funds to party with. An RNC spokesperson confirmed that Michael Steele is being investigated for using donors' contributions "at a bondage-themed club that features topless female dancers imitating lesbian sex." As typical of conservative politicians as this is, it is nothing compared to the scandals rocking the conservative theologians who run Roman Catholic Church, Inc. worldwide.

An Irish-Catholic friend extremely concerned about the predator priests scandals that have been unfolding in Ireland asked me to take a look at a post by Father Tim at Irish Central. Before I got to it, I saw a story about how a 15 year old boy may be headed to prison for having consensual sex with his 14 year old girlfriend. Priests who rape 8 year old boys, on the other hand, get transferred to another parish... at worst. Priests like Father Tim, the non-twisted ones-- may even be in a majority in the Church, but I don't hear much outcry to dump Ratzinger or prosecute him.
A great deal of the rage and shock felt by the public about the Catholic Church's self-inflicted child sex abuse scandal centers on a simple question: WHY didn't those in authority DO SOMETHING right away when they heard about THE PROBLEM?

Of course, many of those in authority DID do something right away: They either ignored it, blamed the victims and swore them to silence after wrenching, blame-switching interrogations, or transferred the offending priest to another parish or even another country where he was free to renew his evil acts. A few sought to send the priest, or the victims, or all of them, to a Church psychiatrist (a responsibility I know well) -- hopefully to both sort out the truth, arrive at a just solution consistent with canon and civil law, and to help begin the process of emotional and spiritual healing needed by all.

Sadly but honestly though, this latter path was the exception rather than the rule. And an even less-followed path was simply calling the police, although in Ireland particularly, the Church had built itself a very high pedestal from which to "rule" its flock -- which the police were part of. They were not in the business of arresting priests on the word of a couple of young, probably "misbehaving" boys.

I am sure it will not shock you to hear that the Church has a BIG problem with sex. In fact, the pedophile scandal has probably forced the Vatican to use the word "sex" more often in the past couple of months than it has in the past couple of centuries. There is little in the Gospels to help it offer the Faithful a very clear "What would Jesus have done?" about anything relating to sex -- much less, sex crimes. And they haven't gotten very far with just "Be fruitful and multiply" and the strong implication that sex is for having children (and, oh yes, expressing love).

People have asked me if I really believe that every conservative is sick and if conservatism tends to make people unable to deal with the real world. Well, not every conservative is sexually dysfunctional; after all, every rule has an exception. But last night I was reminded once again what the conservative mindset leads to when I watched a program, The Longest Night, about Austrian conservative Josef Fritzl who started raping his daughter when she was eleven, eventually drugged her and dragged her down to a soundproof cellar he constructed and kept her down there, as a sex slave, for 24 years, fathering seven children by her.
Authorities say Fritzl imprisoned and repeatedly raped his daughter, Elisabeth, for 24 years in a cramped and windowless dungeon he built beneath the family's home in the western town of Amstetten. Investigators say DNA tests show he fathered her six surviving children.

Another child died in infancy, and that prompted the murder charge. Prosecutors contend the baby boy might have survived if Fritzl had arranged for medical care [Fritzl pled guilty to murder, was sentenced to life in prison and is now planning to demand a retrial.]

In her opening statement, prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser accused Fritzl of repeatedly raping his daughter in front of the children. Burkheiser said Fritzl didn't talk to his daughter during her first few years in captivity and that he simply came down to the cellar to rape her.

"Josef Fritzl used his daughter like his property," Burkheiser said, adding that for her first delivery he gave her an unsterilized blanket to wrap up the infant and a book of childbirth instructions-- but only because Elisabeth urged him to.

She alleged that Fritzl once punished the young woman by shutting off electricity to the dungeon, and forced her to spend the first part of her captivity in a tiny space that didn't even have a shower or warm water.

"The worst was ... there was no daylight," Burkheiser said, adding it was also "incredibly humid" in the cramped space and the air was moldy and stale... Defense lawyer Rudolf Mayer appealed to the jury to be objective and insisted Fritzl was "not a monster," saying his client even brought a Christmas tree down to his captives, whom he considered a second family.

Am I saying that this is the other side of people like Paul Ryan and Jim DeMint? Absolutely. Just watch:

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Don't Be Deceived By New Jersey Democrat Ed Potosnak's Good Looks-- He's a Proud Nerd With An Agenda To Make America A Better Place


Friends of mine on the House Financial Services Committee have warned me that New Jersey Republican Leonard Lance is so startlingly corrupt that if half of his shenanigans ever came out he'd be a dead duck, especially in a swing district like New Jersey's 7th (an oddly shaped swatch of northern NJ from Hunterdon County on the Pennsylvania border clear across the state to Union County); Obama took the district in 2008, although Bush won in 2000 and 2004. Lance won the seat with 50% of the vote. So far he's used his perch at Financial Services to feather his nest with $329,206 from the very interests he's charged with protecting the public from. He's widely considered to be the most corrupt freshman on the committee.

A few days ago I called Ed Potosnak, the progressive Democrat challenging him this year. While Lance has been in lockstep opposition to solutions for New Jerseyans, Ed’s experience as a teacher and small business owner is a perfect fit for the district. From health care reform to consumer protections, Lance has opposed innovative federal responses to help NJ families. Ed’s real world background means he does not carry the political baggage and financial connections of a career politician like Lance.
As a high school science teacher, he prepared students for an increasingly complex and technological world by helping them become effective problem solvers and critical thinkers. "Becoming a congressman seems to be a very natural step for me," he told me. "Everything I have done has pointed me in the direction of public service."
I hope you will help the residents of New Jersey's 7th elect Potosnak, an openly gay man and a common sense progressive. I enjoyed my chat with Ed and in light of Republican attacks on public education and the fact that he was a teacher himself, I asked him to do a guest post explaining why he thinks his concerns with reforming education policy make a compelling case for electing him to Congress. He did-- in spades:

Innovation, Competitiveness, and National Security; Congress Needs More Nerds

-by Ed Potosnak

Our nation is at a critical juncture. As our economy struggles to recover from the tailspin that resulted from an unregulated financial binge, we are simultaneously being challenged to stay ahead-- dare I say, keep up-- with other nations in an increasingly competitive global economy. We can no longer rest on the successes of the past to ensure prosperity for the future; we must take an aggressive approach to catalyzing innovation through strategic investments in physical, technological, and human capital. It is a matter of national and economic security that we step up our efforts to maintain our leadership and unleash American ingenuity at every level. 

We must recognize:
1. Innovation is the Key to Economic Growth
2. Strategic Investments Can Promote Innovation
3. Today’s Education Will Shape the Future

Innovation is the Key to Economic Growth
I was born and raised in New Jersey, home to many of the nation’s most innovative institutions and companies. I live in a region known as the “Medicine Chest.” My state’s technology, pharmacology, biotechnology, and manufacturing industries are leaders in their fields. I have seen how companies can thrive in an ever-changing world, simultaneously improving our quality of life while adapting to new markets.  

As a technophile and science nerd I may be biased, but I believe America’s economic stability depends on how seriously we respond to the challenges presented by an increasingly technological global economy. I majored in Chemistry at Rutgers University, taught science in a local high school, and worked as an Einstein Fellow in Washington, D.C. for Congressman Mike Honda (D-Silicon Valley). These experiences, as well as my passion for science and technology, have enabled me to discover how targeted government policies can spur innovation, promote competition, and ensure that U.S. companies are able to remain internationally competitive.

The innovative spirit in the U.S. has never been stronger. Unfortunately too many of our recent innovations have been detrimental to many Americans and utterly devastating to the economy. Motivated by unreasonably large short-term rewards, financial companies created riskier ways to securitize debt and maximize leverage to the point that they put all of our finances at risk. We need innovation, but we also need to focus on those best positioned to bring about long-term economic growth and stability.

There is no doubt businesses today operate in an increasingly competitive environment. Relaxed import and export policies and the growth of the internet  have led companies to expand rapidly to deliver goods and services worldwide. While we might still have our favorite ice cream shop when on vacation, many businesses operate virtually or across vast distances.

Some wax nostalgic about the simplicity of America’s past; the old West, one-room schoolhouses, steam engines, and doctors that make house calls.  These thoughts fill us with a sense of security and comfort. But this is not our future. Industries and energy sources upon which we have long relied are on the decline. New technologies are completely eclipsing their predecessors. We need to look at emerging fields and emerging markets, and lead the way.

Strategic Investments Can Promote Innovation

Freedom of thought, a commitment to progress, a highly skilled workforce, and capital for research and development are the keys to success in high tech fields, and for our nation’s economic recovery.

The Wright Brothers built the first Airplanes with their own hands in a bicycle shop with minimal resources. Conversely, the first functional nuclear reactors were developed over decades with millions of dollars of public investment and a concerted national effort. We may still see inventions emerging from garages in the suburbs, but it is more likely that the solutions to energy independence, and other future technological advances will require exotic materials, complex supply chains, and sophisticated research and development.

An important role the federal government can play in stimulating innovation is increasing opportunities for businesses to partner with the government to solve challenges. Our current energy crisis provides a prime opportunity for companies to come together with government agencies such as NASA and the Department of Energy in public-private partnerships to pool resources and data, thereby accelerating the discovery process. The human genome project and the internet are prime examples of how the government can stimulate innovation and partner with industry to solve a question or problem, while bringing about a social benefit and creating brand new economic opportunities.

Today’s Education Will Shape the Future

More aggressive steps need to be taken to ensure America comes out on top; chief among them is improving our K-12 education and investing in the creation of new knowledge.

Keeping America competitive will require a significant commitment from our leaders in Washington and in our statehouses, to ensure we cultivate and support our innovators each step of the way from pre-kindergarten to post-doc and unleash their entrepreneurial spirit.

It is critical we inspire our students currently in our classrooms to become our future innovators, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Sadly, U.S. students rank twenty-first in science and twenty-fifth in math, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This is not acceptable-- we must not settle for mediocre, we need to ensure America moves to the top of the list.

Too many students are being lost in our K-12 system, either dropping out or becoming disinterested in science and mathematics. Among those who pursue further studies in STEM we see an underrepresentation of women and minorities graduating college with STEM degrees. The next generation of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are lost right from under our noses.

Education is the key to our future. We need to address our ailing school system to ensure each child receives a world-class education, regardless of his or her zip code. Steps we can take right now to improve education include providing qualified teachers in every classroom, supporting struggling schools, rewarding schools for improving, holding schools accountable with measures aligned with what we value as a nation such as critical thinking and problem solving, and evaluating student growth over time.

Our current economic conditions offer a unique opportunity to produce new and innovative technologies, create jobs, and create new markets. Producing clean energy, enhancing our national security, improving healthcare, and protecting our environment provide vast opportunities to strengthen America's position as the leader in technological innovation and scientific discovery.

Making innovation a top priority for our nation will ensure America’s economic stability. Strategic investments to spur innovation coupled with significant education reform are the key to making sure America can lead in the twenty-first-century global economy.

I entered teaching to help my students learn the tools they need to have a successful future. Today, I am running for Congress to deliver on that same commitment to ensure America’s economic future is stable and prosperous.

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Jack Conway Has Been An Extraordinary Attorney General-- And He's Just The Guy To Turn Back The Teabaggers Behind Rand Paul


Kentucky isn't some hopeless red state like Utah or Mississippi-- not by a long shot. Sure, it's the home of two of the worst obstructionist carbuncles in the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning but this is also a state that has elected an outstanding governor, Steve Beshear, and one of America's best Attorneys General, Jack Conway, not to mention a real tribune of the people in the form of Congressman John Yarmuth (who beat Bush rubber stamp Anne Northup twice, 51-48% in 2006 and 59-41% in 2008, when Obama won that district decisively, 56-43%). No, Kentucky is a real swing state and it offers an excellent opportunity for real change this year.

McConnell, worried that the increasingly hysterical and senile Bunning would have no chance to win, forced him out of his re-election bid by cutting off all funding and replacing him as the standard bearer for the Republican Party Machine with colorless, dull McConnell stooge Trey Grayson. Recognizing a chance to strike a blow against GOP corruption, the teabaggers got behind Ron Paul's off-kilter son, Rand, who is now heavily favored to beat the McConnell candidate. Many Republicans are worried because it is widely felt that although Paul can surely win the Republican primary, he will have almost no chance of winning in November when it isn't only Republicans voting, especially if he faces a real Democrat like the aforementioned Kentucky A.G., Jack Conway. Democrats and Independents are unlikely to vote for a certifiable crackpot and Establishment Republicans would rather sit this one out than vote for someone with ideas as kooky and dangerous as Paul's.

Thursday Rand Paul and the teabaggers are demonstrating in front of Conway's Frankfort office, demanding he sue the federal government to stop... healthcare reform. They're wasting their time with this April Fool's prank since Conway is the only candidate to be campaigning on healthcare reform. In fact, not only did he state unequivocally that he would have voted for the bill-- despite having reservations about some of the provisions-- but he is already making plans to work to make healthcare more affordable for more working families along the lines of the Alan-- not Trey-- Grayson Medicare buy-in legislation wending its way through the Congress. Conway was one of the first A.G.s anywhere in America to denounce the preposterous lawsuit pointing out that it "makes for good Tea Party politics but is based on questionable legal principles."

His campaign was quick to point out that he is a firm supporter of the healthcare legislation, calling it "a rare opportunity to stop insurance company abuses, lower costs for businesses and individuals, and provide affordable coverage for up to 900,000 Kentuckians who are uninsured. While far from perfect, it expands coverage for uninsured Americans, stops insurance companies from discriminating against individuals with pre-existing conditions and helps small businesses."

The conservative Democrat running against Conway in the May 18th primary, Dan Mongiardo seems to be getting his talking points from the same place as Trey Grayson: Mitch McConnell's office. He's campaigning against healthcare reform and he's virulently anti-Choice and anti-gay (although there have always been rumors that he's "anti-gay" for the exact same reason Miss McConnell is).

Here are a bunch of wealthy old Republican men demanding that Jack Conway join their circus-- and his response. Give it a look and you'll see why we're excited about seeing a decisive, forward-looking Democrat win the primary and then vanquish the teabagger candidate for Senate. Please consider contributing to Conway's campaign at the DWT ActBlue page. He'll be a live guest at Crooks and Liars on Wednesday afternoon at 5pm (ET).

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Republican Elected Leaders Say There Are No Differences Between Teabaggers And Themselves


Tonight Rachel Maddow began her MSNBC show with a riveting-- even horrifying-- look at right-wing opposition to our country. The Republicans thought they could ride the tiger and they thought that being the party of the teabaggers would be a better image for them than just the party of the special interests, the party of "no," the party of corruption and the party of obstruction. It's turned out to a catastrophe for them-- one they've earned. Here's the party of Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and, sadly, poor old John McCain:

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Saving Grace returns tonight with what are billed as "final episodes"


The final-season premiere of Saving Grace takes place tonight at 10pm ET/PT, 9pm CT.

"Grace is a woman of extremes, and it's been written for me to go to extremes."
-- Holly Hunter, about her Saving Grace character

by Ken

I can't begin to explain why I've remained devoted to Saving Grace through its remarkable run. Obviously Holly Hunter's fearless, fascinating portrayal of Oklahoma City police detective Grace Hanadarko stands front and center. In the course of the video interview montage, she says she's never going to have a job like this again, and I can't imagine a character like Grace being imagined either in film or more conventional network TV. But she's backed up here by awfully good teams of writers and actors, who compel a lot of attention.

There's Grace's large roster of siblings, perhaps most importantly the sister who doesn't appear, because she was killed in the Murrah Building bombing, which looms large in the show's consciousness, as it apparently does in that of its creator, Nancy Miller. (I was startled to find that Saving Grace has apparently been featured on DWT before, and wondered if I'd written about it without remembering. Hey, there's a lot of stuff I've done that I don't remember these days. But no, it turns out that it was Howie reporting on an NPR interview he'd heard with Nancy Miller last August, in which " she mentioned that she couldn't understand how God could let Timothy McVeigh drive up to the Alfred Murrah Federal Building with a truckful of explosives and blow the place up.")

There's Grace's detective-squad colleagues, including Ham (Kenneth Johnson). with whom she's carried on such a torrid affair and the even-better-looking Butch (Bailey Chase), and including lab technician Rhetta (Laura San Giacomo), Grace's childhood friend. And of course there's her angel, Earl (Leon Rippy), and a strange assortment of charcters who come into Grace's life by virtue of having an angel trying to "save" her.

If you haven't watched the show before, it's still worth giving it a shot at this late date, even though you'll be playing catchup figuring out how it works. But these days it's safe to say that the earlier episodes aren't going to die. Between DVD and the insatiable need for cable programming, you'll always be able to catch up with what you've missed. One thing I can assure you: It's not like anything you've watched before.

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There's No Racism Left In Georgia, Right? Those Days Are Long Gone In The Heart Of The New South


As you probably know, Blue America officially endorsed Regina Thomas Saturday and started raising money for her primary campaign against conservative Blue Dog John Barrow. Regina has a distinguished record as a state legislator and a tireless fighter for ordinary Georgia families. Her signature issues are education, health care and keeping the playing field level for small businesses and regular folks who can't buy influence from government. Her opponent is a weak and vain little man with a distinct lack of principles and no empathy for the people he's supposedly representing. So I was shocked when I saw some of the push back against our endorsement.

Barrow's camp has basically pushed the nonsense that "she can't win in the general," implying that an African-American can't win in a Deep South district. McCain may be a very flawed candidate but he's a hundred times the statesman John Barrow will ever be and Barack Obama kept his total in GA-12 down to 45%, his worst Georgia showing outside the Atlanta Metro Area. Are the Barrow people suggesting the district has gotten more racist since then? Yesterday the Savannah Morning News mentioned the Blue America endorsement and I browsed through the comments.

I was astounded a reputable newspaper-- the biggest one in the district-- would even publish the kind of racist trash that passed for comments. I suppose in some quarters this kind of blatant, primitive and vicious bigotry is taken seriously instead of taken down. I'm not talking about earnest-- if misguided-- conservative comments like "Any attempt to legislate 'social justice' is of itself unjust because it takes from some to give to others, legalized robbery." That may be a sad commentary on our education system and the prevalence of reactionary propaganda on the radio, but it isn't what I mean by "racist." And I'm not even calling the coordinated efforts by the Barrow camp to equate Regina with Cynthia McKinney and to claim she will be a "puppet" for Obama, "Racist." This however is another story:
Isn't she a member of that ethnic group that walks around their entire life with one hand out and the other pointing a finger?

Read it again. Make you want to vomit? This is the kind of filthy, vile person Regina has to contend with in an attempt to serve her neighbors and her community as a legislator. Please think about it and imagine how this kind of rhetoric has been used by conservative agents of divisiveness against the Irish, the Jews, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, Latinos, Catholics, immigrants, women in general and then, please think about helping Regina out-- even if only with $5 and $10-- via ActBlue. It's an easy process and you should be finished by the time this song is over:

There's another video I want to suggest as well: this one from C-Span this morning. The conservative or Bircher or KKK nut or teabagger or whatever he is says he's a North Carolina Republican. I guess this is how people like Virginia Foxx, Richard Burr and Patrick McHenry get elected. As you can hear, he's accusing C-Span of taking too many phone calls from African-Americans identifying themselves as Republicans. "You have black folks calling in on the Republican line, independents. And you have so many of 'em I can't believe this is just an accident. If you keep on with the way you've been programming, you should change your name from C-Span to black-span," he said. "I know they have an opinion but I wish that they would be honest and call in on the right line... Everyone one of 'em thinks that Obama is Jesus Christ and they don't like when anybody criticizes him." You know, there still are a few black Republicans. In fact the head of the RNC is probably exactly what this C-Span caller has in mind, although he doesn't realize it. I hate when decent folks get tarred with the same brush that should be used to describe conservatives!

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Florida Democrats Pass The Popcorn As Crist And Rubio Work To Make Themselves Unelectable


In their first face-to-face debate, yesterday, hosted by Chris Wallace, Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio tore each other apart for the entertainment of the GOP-TV viewers. Rubio spoke strictly to the fanatical teabaggers who have propelled his candidacy and Crist, the far savvier politician, reached out to all Florida voters. Rubio screeched for the entire debate how people want a senator in Washington who will oppose President Obama, painting himself into a far right extreme corner-- and not in Alabama or Idaho, but in a state that Obama carried 51-48% and where two entrenched Republican congressmen from "safe" districts were booted out by voters. Meanwhile, Crist appealed to sane and rational Floridians by saying he would have been the 4th GOP vote for the stimulus package.

Fox wheeled out Jeb Bush via video to bolster the badly faltering Rubio, who came across as a rookie and someone with something dark and insidious to hide. And Crist kept on attacking Rubio's ethics and the growing perception that he's a lowlife lobbyist and a two-bit slimy crook. Even before yesterday's donnybrook, former Bush aide David Frum warned that Florida Republicans are headed straight for a bloodbath.
The battle in Florida pits Gov. Charlie Crist against former Speaker of the Florida House Marco Rubio. Both men claim to be conservative, pro-life, tax cutters. On the issues, they would seem to agree far more than they disagree.

But on one issue they have disagreed passionately: President Obama's fiscal stimulus. Squeezed by his state's desperate fiscal condition, Crist endorsed and campaigned for the Obama stimulus. Inspired by his conservative ideology, Rubio opposed stimulus... With revenues collapsing in 2008-2009, every Republican governor in the country eventually accepted federal funds. (The two most vociferous objectors-- Alaska's Sarah Palin and South Carolina's Mark Sanford-- were either physically or mentally checking out of their jobs.)

Are all these Republican leaders, including such outstanding figures as Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, now disqualified for future races? But if every governor accepted stimulus dollars, few states were as hard hit by the 2008 economic crisis as Florida. State revenues collapsed by 11.5 percent between 2008 and 2009. Constitutionally obliged to balance the budget, Crist raised fees and cigarette taxes ]-- and still faced a huge budget gap.

...The final Obama plan granted Florida more than $15 billion over three years. That money averted radical cuts to schools and Medicaid. It saved the state from furloughing employees and raising taxes even higher. It has paid for emergency employment on roads and water projects. It has extended unemployment benefits for 700,000 Floridians and put an extra $25 per week in their relief packets.

Marco Rubio has fiercely denounced Crist's support for the Obama stimulus. His campaign ads show images of Crist and Obama side by side and damn the stimulus as "trillions in reckless spending" and a "terrible threat to a fragile economy."

Rubio's last term in the Florida House ended in January 2009, so he did not share responsibility for the state's fiscal crisis. But when asked by reporters what he would have done differently, Rubio has suggested that he would have refused the federal stimulus dollars and instead cut up to $6 billion out of the $65 billion state budget. When asked where precisely he would have found those savings, Rubio demurred: "I don't have the budget in front of me."

These answers have gained Rubio little traction among voters in Florida, where he trails Crist badly in all demographic categories. Rubio even trails Crist by 10 points among Hispanics, despite his Cuban ancestry and fluent Spanish.

But Rubio's message of uncompromising, unremitting opposition to President Obama has won him an enthusiastic following among conservatives nationwide.

And there's plenty of passion and plenty of cash there. Rubio is getting lots of both. Rubio's base is the teabagger string pullers and manipulators, from South Carolina arch obstructionist Jim DeMint, who he says is his model as a senator, to fellow-lobbyist and profiteer wingnut Dick Armey. Immediately after the debate, Rubio propaganda machine cranked up and spit out a victory claim (and fundraising letter):

This morning’s debate was a clear victory for Marco Rubio as he showed why he is the only candidate in this Senate race that can be trusted to go to Washington, stand up to the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Meek agenda and offer a clear alternative. On the other hand, because Charlie Crist had no vision, record or conservative principles to promote, he did what politicians do-- distort and attack...
Now it's time to stand with the ONLY conservative in this race we can trust to stand up to the dangerous liberal agenda happening in Washington right now. We need you to stand with Marco today by contributing to his campaign. And share this highlight from the debate with your friends. Tell them why you are supporting Marco.

As a PS they offered a vapid, pro forma quote from DeMint himself: "Like many Republicans across the country, I watched today’s debate with great interest. With every passing day, my support for Marco Rubio grows stronger and more enthusiastic. Today’s debate showed exactly why more and more Republicans are excited by the conservative renewal that’s building in Florida because of Marco’s candidacy.”

This morning's Tampa Tribune covered the debate by pointing out it was "so negative it worried some Republicans about the future of the race and drew a rebuke from state party Chairman John Thrasher."
Crist lodged so many charges against Rubio during the debate that Rubio couldn't answer them all, starting with Crist's first speech in the debate.

"I view public service as a calling, something that you do to try to help other people," he said. "Speaker Rubio views public service as a way to enhance his own personal enrichment."

Crist sought to portray the campaign as being about "trust." He called Rubio untrustworthy, citing newspaper investigations about alleged personal use of Rubio's state party credit card and money raised by independent political committees Rubio set up as state House speaker to help elect Republicans to the House. Crist called that a "$600,000 slush fund."

"Ostensibly, it was supposed to help other candidates," Crist said. "All it helped was Rubio Incorporated. You know, family members got hired, they spent money on the minivan: He got a $135 haircut or whatever it was."

Crist suggested that Rubio was delaying releasing tax returns because he's "doctoring the books."


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What Happened To Larry Kissell?


-by Diane Frederick, North Carolina Democratic activist

The night John Kerry lost the election in 2004; I was one of the progressives who woke up stunned and deeply dejected. Soon after I vowed to do everything in my power to help elect a Democratic majority, with an eye towards progressive Democrats I could support in North Carolina. My progressive friends shared a desire to work for Democratic majorities that would support our goals and objectives including ending the Iraq occupation and shifting the focus to problems at home. We needed to provide healthcare for all; address climate change; and level the playing field for working and middle class families who were losing ground at alarming rates under Bush policies. Enter Larry Kissell.

In late 2005, progressive activists in Charlotte were making the rounds at candidate forums; there were several Democrats running in the primary. Robin Hayes was a “moderate” Republican, who had held this seat for several terms in North Carolina’s 8th congressional district. The 8th district has a majority of Democratic voters, and Democrats were confident that they could take back the 8th. The DCCC was promoting a “conservative” Democrat as the frontrunner; someone in the group discovered Larry, and invited him to come out and speak to local progressives. Larry told us what we wanted to hear. He was for bringing troops home from Iraq, healthcare for all, support for working people, immigrant rights, etc. That was what we needed to get on board Larry’s campaign and volunteer to help. Progressives began helping Kissell, and others took notice. We knocked doors, made calls, and worked polls for Larry… and he won the primary! Democratic activists in the district mobilized and volunteered in large numbers to fuel Kissell’s grassroots campaign. Kissell’s campaign lost to Hayes in 2006 by 327 votes; a disappointment that was somewhat tempered by the Democratic majorities we won in 2006.

In 2008, Democratic activists and progressives were more fired up then ever! Volunteers spent countless hours calling, knocking doors, and donating to Kissell’s campaign in the 8th district. Larry campaigned as a populist who would go to Washington to represent working people. With the help of President Obama’s win in NC, Kissell was propelled into office and progressive rejoiced! We had finally taken back the 8th District; Kissell would be there to help the President implement the change we voted for! Healthcare for all! Action on climate change! Representation for the working class! Hooray! ...Or not.

When Kissell got to Congress, he surprised us by voting against the cram down bill which would have helped judges restructure mortgages and keep people in their homes. Larry’s responded by saying it was “unfair” to help people who took out loans they couldn’t afford when other were “doing the right thing” and paying their mortgages. Kissell’s vote against Cap and Trade was even more worrisome; he responded that it would cost jobs in the district; ignoring the potential for green manufacturing in a district devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs.

When the debate shifted to healthcare, local activists expected Kissell to support healthcare reform. Sure he had voted against cram down and cap and trade, and was promoting the repeal of the estate tax, but surely he would stick with the Democrats on this key initiative. We began mobilizing through MoveOn, OFA, and HCAN, calling Democrats and urging them to contact their congressman and support healthcare reform. Alarms began going off when callers to his office were told that he had not taken a position on healthcare reform. More calls were mobilized, and protesters showed up at Kissell offices to encourage his support of the bill. Letters were written to Kissell’s office and local newspapers, petition signatures were collected and sent to Kissell. While other Democrats were holding town hall meetings to promote healthcare reform, Larry avoided the issue and refused to take a position. As the first vote neared in the house, progressive and Democratic activists were pressing Larry for to support healthcare. A few weeks prior to the vote, Kissell and staffers told several groups of Democrats that he would be supporting the President on healthcare; activists breathed a sigh of relief. Then, on the Thursday before the vote Larry put out a statement saying he would be voting "no" on the healthcare reform bill. We mobilized once more; calling his office, reaching out to everyone who had been influential in his election. We called, emailed, lobbied; Kissell wouldn’t take anyone’s direct calls. Staffers announced that Kissell was voting "no" to protect seniors, embracing false Republican talking points to justify his no vote. Despite Kissell’s no vote, the House passed the healthcare bill by an extremely close margin. After the Senate passed their version, and the Democrats lost the Senate seat to Scott Brown, the House was poised to vote once again on the final healthcare bill. Activists in the district once gain targeted Kissell; calling, pleading, and visiting his office. Thousands of pro-healthcare calls were placed to Kissell’s office and promptly ignored. Pro-reform letters and calls were discarded; Larry Kissell was a no show at local events. Constituents around the district watched with frustration as Larry cast his final no vote against the healthcare bill even as we celebrated the historic passage of healthcare reform.

Progressives and rank and file Democrats are outraged and angry. Kissell’s no vote on healthcare left many people feeling let down and deceived. Democratic and progressive voters, key grassroots supporters and donors are being ignored, their concerns left unanswered and their wished ignored.  Voting against the best interest of voters is not what we elected Larry Kissell to do. We don’t need just any Democrat in that seat; we need a proud Democratic progressive who will support our agenda. Nancy Shakir is that progressive, and that is why we are working to elect Nancy Shakir as the Democratic candidate in the 8th district in 2010 and send Kissell home.

As a progressive in North Carolina reflecting on the last year’s fight over healthcare, there is one more point I’d like to note. Activists like me pushed long and hard for a more progressive healthcare bill; we strongly supported single payer, and then the public option. Although Republicans stayed in lock step opposition to even the moderate healthcare bill that finally passed, it was Blue Dog and conservative Democrats like Larry Kissell who really prevented a more progressive healthcare bill from being considered. Blue Dogs undermined our efforts at every turn. As one fellow activist said to me last summer; it’s not supposed to be this hard! Having to fight our own at every step was almost more discouraging than fighting the Republican party of no. We need proud Democrats who will fight hard for our issues, and explain how progressive policies will positively impact the lives of their constituents. Please contribute to Nancy Shakir's primary campaign here.

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