Thursday, March 31, 2011

Latest from Gallup: Hillary Clinton out-polls Obama, Biden, and Gates

Hey, remember when Left-wing Dems joined forces with Karl  Rove in 08 to declare Hillary Clinton too polarizing to be elected president? Well, she won the popular vote in the 08 primary despite the evil alliance between the Obama camp, the DNC, and the liberal media, and just yesterday, a March 30, 2011 Gallup poll ranked her above Obama, Biden, and Defense Secretary Gates.

Gallup’s Lydia Saad reports the following poll results for the woman once labeled as too polarizing:

Clinton enjoys extraordinary popularity among women, and particularly women 50 and older. She also receives support from a solid majority of independents and 40% of Republicans.

Underscoring that views of Clinton and Obama are not one and the same, Clinton is seen in a favorable light by 45% of those who separately say they disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president. Naturally, she is also viewed favorably by 89% of those who approve of Obama's job performance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jon Stewart on Obama’s Libya speech: “America at not-war” (watch video)

Jon Stewart's Daily Show on "America at not-war" manages to take a poke at Obama and each president back to Eisenhower. It's worth watching to the end of Parts One and Two of the video below to see Stewart conclude, soaring rhetoric aside, OIL is the reason we're in Libya.

(I just updated this post at 9:17 a.m. to include Part 3 of the series.)

Part One:

Part Two:

Part 3

Monday, March 28, 2011

Coverage of Ferraro’s death offers a reminder of the JournoList tactics in 2008

Consider this: 

On the one hand it was acceptable in the 2008 Democratic primary for Jesse Jackson, Jr., national co-chair of Obama’s campaign in a sexist rant to accuse Hillary Clinton of using tears, etc., to win the New Hampshire Primary and for the PBS News Hour’s  liberal pundit Mark Shields to claim Clinton won due to her gender.

But on the other hand, Geraldine Ferraro, even after her death, continues to be smeared as a racist for simply stating a fact: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is.”

This week, the coverage of the first female vice-presidential candidate’s recent death by the AP, the online News Hour, Salon, and all across the web includes Ferraro’s quote cited above.

The media, of course, fails to mention that 08 was the era of the JournoList, that happy band of liberal journalists who, above all else, wanted Barack Obama to win the nomination. One of their strategies was to support the Obama camp’s efforts to label as racist anyone who dared say anything negative about their candidate.

Due in part to the success of their combined efforts in smearing Ferraro and both Clintons as racists, Obama won 90 percent of the African-American vote in the primary and in the general election. 

Not many Democratic party leaders or liberal pundits in 2008 or in the recent coverage of Ferraro's death have pointed out that the records of Ferraro and the Clintons on human rights are impeccable.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Medicare premium increase may swallow Social Security COLA next year

Are the nation’s elderly headed for a repeat of conditions in the Great Depression?          

Here’s the bad news for Social  Security recipients on fixed incomes who may have been hoping for a cost of living adjustment next year to help offset recent increases in daily living expenses, including essentials such as groceries, gas, and rent.

The AP’s Stephen Ohlemacher reports:

WASHINGTON — Millions of retired and disabled people in the United States had better brace for another year with no increase in Social Security payments.

The government is projecting a slight cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security benefits next year, the first increase since 2009. But for most beneficiaries, rising Medicare premiums threaten to wipe out any increase in payments, leaving them without a raise for a third straight year.

About 45 million people — one in seven in the country — receive both Medicare and Social Security. By law, beneficiaries have their Medicare Part B premiums, which cover doctor visits, deducted from their Social Security payments each month.

Read more:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro’s acceptance speech in 1984 (video)

Geraldine Ferraro died to today at the age of 75. Watch the video of her acceptance speech as Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984. Ferraro holds the distinction as the first female and first Italian-American vice-presidential candidate in our nation’s history.

Geraldine Ferraro died today, Saturday, March 26

It’s with sadness that I post the announcement of Geraldine Ferraro’s death today. I never met her personally, but during her candidacy as Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984, I was painfully aware of the misogynist and anti-Italian-American attacks she and her family endured from her opponents and our still mostly ignorant, regrettably uninformed, and biased media.

The Roll Call’s Christine Bellantoni reports:

The family said in a statement that she {Ferraro} died at Massachusetts General Hospital as a result of complications from a blood cancer that she had fought for 12 years.

"Geraldine Anne Ferraro Zaccaro was widely known as a leader, a fighter for justice, and a tireless advocate for those without a voice. To us, she was a wife, mother, grandmother and aunt, a woman devoted to and deeply loved by her family," her family said in a statement. "Her courage and generosity of spirit throughout her life waging battles big and small, public and personal, will never be forgotten and will be sorely missed."

The family will announce details about a funeral service and wake.

The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer: GE did not pay any U.S. taxes last year

An unemployment line. Photo courtesy of
I’ve been concerned lately about the media’s persistence in blaming the poor and the elderly for the nation’s current budget crisis. Seldom mentioned is the fact that Washington has repeatedly raided the Social Security fund to pay for two ongoing wars while simultaneously refusing to tax the rich or close tax loopholes for major corporations.

In his final column for the NY Times today, Bob Herbert addresses several of my concerns while citing statistics that apparently no longer have the power to shock us, e.g., “In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.”

Herbert writes:

Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family. 

There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.

Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.
The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.

This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences. 

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Finding a treasure from my family’s past on YouTube (watch video)

A little something personal and nostalgic to wrap up the week. From my perspective as a long-time progressive Minnesotan, I’m in the midst of writing a memoir about my childhood as a member of a displaced Appalachian family in conservative northwestern Ohio.

I recalled that my late mother’s favorite song was Can the Circle be Unbroken by “Mother” Maybelle Carter of the well-known Carter family singers. Imagine my delight when I discovered the original 1927 recording on YouTube. Needless to say my heart melted, and I felt reconnected to my mother as I listened to that old song. Enjoy:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Praise or blame for the Obama Administration’s decision to support the no-fly zone in Libya?

photo via Stray Dogs that Amble In, Part IV

Stray Yellar Dog and D.K. Jamaal address the likely response of the woman-hating element in the media to the possible outcome of Obama’s decision to join international forces in establishing a no-fly zone in Libya. 

SYD sums it up: "If All Goes Well in Libya It's To Obama's Credit, If We Get Mired in Another War... That's Hillary's (and Mac's) Fault."

In the meantime, Nick Kristoff at the NY Times applauds the initial success of the UN’s humanitarian intervention in Libya to prevent the ongoing slaughter of civilians.

Kristoff reports the gratitude of Libyans for the just-in-time intervention.

This may be a first for the Arab world: An American airman who bailed out over Libya was rescued from his hiding place in a sheep pen by villagers who hugged him, served him juice and thanked him effusively for bombing their country.

Even though some villagers were hit by American shrapnel, one gamely told an Associated Press reporter that he bore no grudges. Then, on Wednesday in Benghazi, the major city in eastern Libya whose streets would almost certainly be running with blood now if it weren’t for the American-led military intervention, residents held a “thank you rally.” They wanted to express gratitude to coalition forces for helping save their lives.

Read more:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor’s death marks the end of an era

Elizabeth Taylor’s death today, March 23, 2011, marks the end of an era in American popular culture.

The AP’s David Germain and Hillel Italie sum up Taylor’s life and times:

LOS ANGELES — Elizabeth Taylor, the violet-eyed film goddess whose sultry screen persona, stormy personal life and enduring fame and glamour made her one of the last of the old-fashioned movie stars and a template for the modern celebrity, died Wednesday at age 79.

She was surrounded by her four children when she died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized for about six weeks, said publicist Sally Morrison.

Read more:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

ABC’s interview with Hillary Clinton on Gaddafi’s options and the situation in Libya (watch video)

Watch ABC’s Diane  Sawyer interview Secretary of State Clinton on Gaddafi’s options and the situation in Libya.

Gov. Walker: Wisconsin has its own "Dubya" now

Gov. Walker

President George W. Bush
 You recall that George W. Bush’s middle name is Walker. That’s right - just like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s last name, a coincidence that may have inspired Ken Lonnquist’s rally song for Wisconsin protesters: We’ve got our own W now.
William Cronon, professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, doesn’t mention the affinities between Gov. Walker and the 43rd president in his op-ed in this morning’s NY Times.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy
Cronon reaches back further in history to effectively tie Walker’s style to that of the late Joseph McCarthy, the notorious Republican senator from Wisconsin who broke with the state’s bi-partisan progressive legacy. Cronon asks Gov. Walker the same question posed to McCarthy that ultimately brought the senator’s downfall: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Cronon writes:

NOW that a Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked a state law that would strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights, it’s worth stepping back to place these events in larger historical context. 

Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well. 

Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a “laboratory of democracy.” The state pioneered many social reforms: It was the first to introduce workers’ compensation, in 1911; unemployment insurance, in 1932; and public employee bargaining, in 1959. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blaming an 11-year-old girl for being gang raped - that’s the U.S., not the East Congo!

Marina DelVecchio’s post at the New Agenda on the Rape Culture and How it Betrays Women prompted a flashback to the days when I was a reporter for a community newspaper in rural southeastern Minn.

I was covering the monthly meeting of the county commissioners at the local courthouse that afternoon. The six male commissioners, all well to do farmers, were gathered around a conference table. I sat off to the side taking notes when the county social worker gave her report. She mentioned a recent increase in the level of sexual crimes against women in the area.

After the social worker left, I was the only other person present when the commissioners began grumbling amongst themselves, saying things like, “These women ask for it. Look how they’re dressed when they’re walkin’ down the street in town.”

At that point, I stepped out of my role as reporter and spoke as an advocate for women’s rights. I said, “You know, fellas, in those circumstances, you have a couple of options other than rape. You can go home and have sex with your wife; you can find someone else who is willing to have sex with you; or you can masturbate.”

The commissioners moved on to the next item on their agenda.

A rape culture indeed. DelVechio’s post, featuring the actions of the 18 males, ranging in age from 14-18 years, who gang raped the 11 year-old girl in Texas, reminds us yet again that the United States is still no safe haven for women and girls.

And as if the incident itself were not horrific enough, the national media continues to criminalize the female victims of sex crimes. DelVechio writes:

In the eyes of the world, the news coverage of our country, members of her own community, and perhaps even her friends all believe that she is “guilty of the crime/of having being forced (Rich 14-15). Not much has changed since Adrienne Rich wrote “Rape.” People continue to blame the victim, while finding reasons to excuse the suspects of their crime. They didn’t know she was 11. She said she was 17. She was willing to go “for a ride” with two of the suspects. She was always hanging out in the Quarter, dressing like she was 20. She didn’t fight. Didn’t fight back. Didn’t scratch, and scream, and try to flee the attack. No, she wouldn’t. She is a 6th grader. She found herself in the company of 18 males who warned her that if she didn’t take her clothes off, they would have her beaten. She is a 6th grader who found herself surrounded by male libido, machismo, violence, and their belief that they had a right to take her, rape her, use her little body up, pass it around, and then toss it aside as if it didn’t belong to a face, to a soul, to a human being who felt pain, fear, and panic. And above all that has been said about this case, this is what is most distressing, disheartening: that these high school boys and young men felt they had a right to do what they did, and that there would be no consequences. Their conceit, their sense of power is evident in the fact that they whipped our their cell phones and recorded themselves sexually assaulting a minor. No fear.

To read DelVechio’s post in its entirety, go here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How about a thunder snowstorm to mark the first day of spring?

Photo by V. Bergman

Temps in St. Paul are hovering just above freezing this morning, and rain is predicted; it may be the first day of spring, but this typical March weather invites a thunder snow storm. With that in mind, I’m reposting a column I wrote for my community newspaper a couple of years ago when I lived in Woodbury, Minn. 



The Month of March: behold the epic struggle 


It must have been early March some years ago in Ohio when a loud crash of thunder awakened me in the middle of the night.

My children were just toddlers then and moments later, I heard my daughter Jean scamper across the floor above me. My son Steve, the younger of the two, plodded after her.

Rushing upstairs to check on them, I stopped short near the top step; they stood side by side, gazing out the window in Jean’s room.

Suddenly, Jean turned around. In her bunny rabbit pajamas, her hands on her hips, she said, “Mom, you are ‘be-sturbing’ us.”

Apologizing, I joined them at the window. It was snowing — large, fluffy white flakes. Lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled in the distance.

March is the month when winter and spring customarily collide in their epic struggle. Even in Minnesota, spring usually wins.

Here in Woodbury, I watch the drama unfold again, hoping as always to see another thunder snowstorm.

My neighborhood is a small island of fields and woods, nearly surrounded by freeway traffic. Despite the sound effects, I enjoy the illusion of country living.

Having grown up in the country, I’ve long been attuned to seasonal changes in hours of daylight and darkness, weather patterns, and landscapes and skyscapes.

Beyond my windows, trees and bushes dance in the wind. Sometimes, three or four deer romp across the fields as if at play.

Birds dart and soar across a wide expanse of sky.

After an ice storm I once saw what appeared to be a large hawk clawing for a foothold on a slippery power line. He gave up in a huff, shook himself, and circled upward.

The simple pleasure of looking out the window whenever I choose to each day has been a big plus since my retirement from fulltime work.

For several years, I’d been confined in a building 40 hours a week where only the privileged few had desks near a window, and yes, I felt deprived.

Among other gifts, a glimpse of the natural world now and then offers continuity to distant times and places.

Fiery evening light in Woodbury transports me to Doheny State Beach in southern California, where I’ve watched Catalina Island rise from the sea, back lit by the setting sun.

Local sunlight occasionally fades into a golden glow across the otherwise bleak landscape near Amarillo, Texas where I spent five months in tech school, completing the second phase of basic training in the United States Air Force (WAF).

Once in awhile, I find myself standing again on the banks of the wide Mississippi near St. Louis where I’ve seen the sun both rise and set.

Returning home to Woodbury from my imaginary wanderings, I feel connected to family and friends.

Wherever we are in the present moment, the same earth turns beneath our feet, and familiar stars and planets keep us company on our cosmic journey.

And you can bet on it, if a loud crash of thunder awakens me in the middle of the night anytime soon, I’ll not roll over and go back to sleep.

Without turning on the lights, I’ll slip out to the kitchen to sit by the window and watch the fireworks.

I won’t be the least bit surprised if a couple of wide-eyed toddlers get there before me. I’ll try hard not to “be-sturb” them.

Al jazeera: International Forces strike Libya (watch video)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

In the Middle East: after the revolution, is the new boss the same as the old boss?

Lara Logan "moments before she was assaulted in Tahrir Square."

In considering what the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East might mean for women’s rights, Huffington Post blogger,  Dr. Peggy  Drexler, asks: “Is the new boss the same as the old boss?”

Just a little reminder: it was in Egypt’s Tahrir Square that CBS reporter Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by male rebels exulting in their new found freedom.

Drexler continues:

As protest rolls through the public squares of the Middle East one of more unusual sights is women standing shoulder to shoulder with men, risking their freedom and their lives.

They were there from Tunisia to Egypt to Iran to Libya. Said Egyptian author and activist Nawal El Saadaw of her days making history in Tahrir Square: "I felt for the first time that women were equal to men."

Somewhere between hope and belief, this season of freedom could also be a new day for the Middle East's women. There are good arguments that the revolutions would have never happened without women -- they were the slogan makers, the march organizers, the activists.

Revolutions, however, are unpredictable by nature -- especially when they collide with centuries of misogyny in a country that ranks 125th in the World Economic Forum's global gender gap rankings, where large majorities of women report being harassed and molested, where genital mutilation is still common, and where not one woman was named to the committee that is reforming the constitution. 

Will the women who risked all to bring down a government find that all they got for their bravery and sacrifice was a shuffling of oppressors? 

The early signs are not encouraging. 

Read more:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Judge slaps down anti-union bill in Wisconsin

A secret backroom deal by Republicans to strip state employees of their bargaining rights got slapped down today when a Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the bill from taking effect.

 The AP’s Jason Smathers reports:

Lawmakers had passed Gov. Scott Walker's measure last week, breaking a three-week stalemate caused by 14 Senate Democrats fleeing to Illinois. Demonstrations against the measure grew as large as 85,000 people. 

Dane County District Judge Maryann Sumi granted the order in response to a lawsuit filed by the district attorney alleging that Republican lawmakers violated the state's open meetings law by hastily convening a special committee before the Senate passed the bill. 

Sumi said her ruling would not prevent the Legislature from reconvening the committee with proper notice and passing the bill again. 

Libya announces immediate ceasefire

Col. Gaddafi
The BBC News Africa reports:

Libya's government has declared an immediate ceasefire after a UN Security Council resolution backed "all necessary measures" short of occupation to protect civilians in the country.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa said the ceasefire was intended to protect civilians.
Western powers had been discussing how to enforce the UN resolution. 

It was passed as troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi advanced on the rebel-held second city of Benghazi. 

Before the announcement of the ceasefire, heavy fighting between pro-Gaddafi forces and rebels was reported to be continuing.

Read more:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Washington: the Financial Services subcommittee’s inquisition of Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

After the financial meltdown that began under the Bush Administration, you’d think congressional leaders of whatever party affiliation would be embarrassed to publicly suggest that banks and mortgage companies could better serve consumers without oversight or regulation.

But that’s what Republicans were shamelessly selling Wednesday during a Financial  Services subcommittee’s inquisition of Elizabeth Warren. 

Never mind the ongoing exposure of  the financial sector's under-regulated culpability in triggering the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Zach Carter reports from the Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON -- In a hearing marked by openly hostile questioning from House Republicans, consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren made her highly anticipated first appearance before Congress as a member of the Obama administration, emphasizing the need for stronger oversight of big banks and small mortgage firms.

Warren, who is currently tasked with setting up the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, was subjected to two and a half hours of inquiry before a Financial Services subcommittee regarding her role at the emerging agency and the scope of its powers. In her testimony, she focused on the need for easily-understood consumer lending terms and stronger enforcement of predatory lending regulations.

"I don't care how big you are, I don't care who you your friends are, everybody follows the law," Warren said, adding later, "What this agency is about is making the prices clear, making the risks clear, making it easy to compare one product to another. The point is to get an informed consumer, because I believe that American families are good at making decisions when they have good information upfront."

Carter’s report continues:

Congressional Republicans attempted to portray Warren as the "unaccountable" head of a bureaucracy immune from oversight from Congress or federal agencies. Republicans are waging a two-front war on the CFPB, hoping to cut its funding and weigh down its rulemaking procedures by replacing its single director with a five-member board of directors.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hillary Clinton won’t serve a second term in Obama cabinet

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now reigns as the most popular politician in the United States; at the same time, the powerful stateswoman is also revered around the globe. At the recent DailyBeast/Newsweek Women in the World Summit, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand accurately described Clinton as "the greatest female role model of this generation."

And yet – and yet, CNN is reporting that Clinton just told Wolf Blitzer in “The Situation Room” that she would not serve a second term in the Obama cabinet, and she expressed no interest in serving as president or vice-president.

What’s going on here? It’s possible Clinton believes she can do more to fulfill her mission of empowering women around the globe unencumbered by official duties and a misogynist media in the U.S., always ready to undercut her efforts whenever possible. 

It's her call, and we'll continue to support whatever direction she chooses to take at this juncture in her life.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A heartwarming story of friendship as Gabrielle Giffords continues to heal

It’s hard to keep from tearing up when reading about the support friends of Gabrielle Giffords are providing for the Arizona congresswoman who remains hospitalized after a gunshot wound to the head several weeks ago. 

It’s especially moving to learn about acts of genuine friendship on Giffords’ behalf occurring in the political arena of Washington.

And when Debby Wasserman Schultz speaks of how important girlfriends were to her when she was recovering from breast cancer and her commitment to being there for Giffords, you have to cheer.

The AP’s Donna Cassata reports the heartwarming story of Giffords and her friends:

WASHINGTON — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' chair sits empty as she recovers from a gunshot wound to the head, yet three friends are ensuring she still has a presence in Congress.
At nearly every hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, carves out a few precious minutes from his time-limited turn quizzing military officials to ask a question on behalf of Giffords.

"She's a critical member of the committee – has been for the four years that she's been here," Smith said in a recent interview, just days after visiting Giffords at a Houston hospital. He confers with the Arizona Democrat's staff on questions that Giffords might ask about energy or the two major military installations in her district, the Army's Fort Huachuca and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

"I want to make sure her initiatives get in there," he said.

This Tuesday night, Smith will join Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in hosting a fundraiser for Giffords' 2012 campaign at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters building a few blocks from the Capitol. Members of the Democratic leadership also are pitching in.

"I've been protecting her flank politically," said Wasserman Schultz, who is intent on making sure Giffords has a hefty account for her next election.

Cassata continues:

Wasserman Schultz recalled her own health crisis – breast cancer at age 40 – and the importance of girlfriends. For Giffords, "I want to be there as a girlfriend," said the four-term Florida lawmaker.

Wasserman Schultz visited Giffords on March 5, four weeks after her last trip, and said she was amazed at the progress. She said Giffords is very responsive and talking, though "not conversationalist."

Gillibrand, a former House member elected in the same year as Giffords, was at her bedside when she opened her eyes for the first time days after the shooting.

Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from New York, gets it right on Afghanistan

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, (D) NY (photo from her website).

Remember when Caroline Kennedy, a devotee of Obama in ‘08, sought Gov. Patterson’s nomination to replace Hillary Clinton as senator from New York and how the left mourned when Kirsten Gillibrand got the nod?   

Keep in mind that Gillibrand won reelection in 2010 with 63 percent of the vote in a Republican year.

Today,  the left-leaning readers at the Huffington Post are applauding the junior senator, and some are even promoting her as presidential material. That’s in response to her recent demand for specifics from the Obama Administration on exiting from our 10-year war of choice in Afghanistan.

Amanda Terkel has the story at the Huffington Post:

 WASHINGTON -- While President Obama has said that U.S. combat forces will begin leaving Afghanistan in July 2011 and be fully out by 2014, the pace of that withdrawal is still up in the air. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is now pressing the administration for a clear redeployment plan so that the American public receives a degree of certainty regarding how much longer the war will last. Her announcement comes on the same day that Gen. David Petraeus will be testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Gillibrand is a member.

Gillibrand is calling for passage of the Safe and Responsible Redeployment of United States Combat Forces from Afghanistan Act, which would put Congress' backing behind the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces beginning on July 1. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and four other senators, would also require Obama to submit a plan to Congress by July 31 for the phased redeployment of U.S. combat forces, including a completion day.

“America cannot afford an endless war in Afghanistan,” Gillibrand said. “After nearly a decade at war, with still no equal commitment from the Karzai government, and after all the lives we’ve sacrificed and the billions we’ve spent on this war, it’s time to start bringing our troops home. It’s time to put the future and security of Afghanistan in the hands of its own leaders, and focus America’s national security on the emerging and more imminent threats from al Qaeda in other regions.”

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sen. Bernie Sanders wants the richest Americans to help fix the deficit

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent, VT

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, VT, has the solution to the deficit:

The rich are getting richer. The middle class and poor are getting poorer. What is the Republican solution to the deficit crisis? More tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Savage cuts in programs that are desperately needed by working families.

There is another approach, which is why I've just introduced legislation imposing a surtax on those households earning a million dollars or more and the elimination of tax loopholes which the big oil companies take advantage of.

Discrimination and violence against women rooted in world’s major religions

Image courtesy of Canadian Free Press.

Women’s history month is an especially good time for the followers of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity to awaken to the violence historically embedded in the teachings of the Abrahamic religious traditions that continues to influence the present day treatment of women and gays around the world.

In recent memory, a 13-year-old Somali girl who had been raped by three adult males was herself accused of adultery and publicly stoned to death. In Turkey last year, the father and grandfather of a 16-year-old girl buried the child alive for the crime of speaking to boys on the telephone.

And just days ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the rights of the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church to violate the privacy of grieving families of dead soldiers by parading around and shouting religiously imbued hate speech targeting gays.

In light of all the above, it was appropriate that on March 8, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, Phyllis Chesler’s speech to the Gender Fairness Committee of the New York City Supreme Court was titled: What are feminists doing about honor killing?

Chesler focuses on the honor killing of women within the Islamic tradition, but it’s important not to forget that violence against women in general is deeply rooted in all three of the Abrahamic traditions. 

Since religion is arguably the bedrock of culture, the complete elimination of publicly sanctioned discrimination and violence against women and gays won’t occur until the world’s major religions first clean up their acts.

In her opening remarks, Chesler notes:

When my Second Wave generation of feminists started out, Gender Fairness committees did not exist nor did as many women lawyers and judges or the number of feminist lawyers, both male and female, whom I see here today. As many of you know, my or should I say, our generation had the privilege of changing all that.

We also named and exposed the hidden epidemic of physical and sexual violence towards women and children.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The birth of a movement: Madison’s largest demonstration yet

Capitol Square overflows in largest Wisconsin labor solidarity demonstration yet (crowd estimated at 85,000 to 100,000).

The following post was contributed by Facebook friend, Kevin Shannon.

Yesterday was a great day for me. I not only got to spend the whole day with my son, but we spent the afternoon hours outdoors in 10 degree windchill with the warmest and nicest bunch (120,000 or so) of friendly people you may ever see gathered in one place. As a Minnesotan, I never thought I would say that about my neighboring state's cheeseheads, even if it were true! But, as we chanted along with everyone there yesterday, "We ARE Wisconsin." Yes we are, and that can apply to so many of us, anywhere....

After the early morning (okay, it wasn't as early as we had intended!) drive down the freeway, which included linking up with Todd Dahlstrom's car on I-90/94, we stumbled luckily onto an underground parking ramp which only was charging $3, and was right next to the Capitol. When we emerged into the light, we were in political activist heaven. Thousands of people were already marching around Capitol Square, with signs and costumes galore (mind you these are Midwesterners, in winter!, being expressive!!!). Not knowing where things would be happening, we fell into the stream of people and let it carry us around to the far diagonal corner, where just as we arrived about noon, Jim Hightower was being introduced. What a way to start!

Then a fabulous thing he finished his colorful (ahem!) remarks, the crowd first yelled out a cheer, but then rather politely (for a protest crowd) began to chant, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" Not just a few people, but all 30-40,000 who were already there! The amazing thing is, this was the "new normal" as, after each speaker or singer, this mass gratitude was loudly, but politely, expressed again and again. Even as the crowd grew to upwards of 100,000 people (a jam packed stadium full at a large university's football game...united in being polite and grateful! in unison!)

We looked for a place to be, and noticed that many of the swelling crowd were moving up onto the lawn on the hillside up to the Capitol. All the square feet of space in the streets and the sidewalks and the steps were now occupied. This is the situation which led to the trampling and muddying and ripping up (soft ground) of the Capitol Grounds sod, which I'm sure you will hear Gov. Walker say, tomorrow, is expected to cost between $75 and 100 million to replace. However, should Gov. Walker offer to step down in exchange, I'm quite certain that the $15-20,000?? project would be completed for free by any number of union workers....

I had along one of those fold out canvas chairs from my soccer-dad days, and we looked for a place where it wouldn't tip over backwards if I sat down from time to time. Parking at the base of a very large tree, we discovered that for most of the afternoon, we could actually see the heads of the speakers, up the hill near the top of the steps. As the crowd milled around and the inclined ground became more and more of a mudslide, we frequently directed the less capable to safer ways of descending to street level, than the slope to one side where several people found themselves enjoying a mud bath on their asses. This provided quite a bit of entertainment between speakers...

Here's what all this led up to: for the rest of the afternoon, we were swept along with the emotion and passion of over 100,000 amazingly fervent and yes raucous citizens, who were, yes, angry about the theft of their democracy and their civil rights by the Republicans in the state government....but nary a single incident of thuggery, violence, fighting, even arguing(!) was seen. Not one! Boring? NO WAY, I still have chills, not from the cold, but from remembering the energy and united force of the crowd's unity! But friendly respectful, GOOD PEOPLE?? Yes!!!

"THIS. is. what. de.moc..racy looks. like."  The chant was so incredibly, beautifully, openly, powerfully.....TRUE!
More than one speaker told all of us, this was now more than just a "protest" - this was the birth of a MOVEMENT. A movement of the people who have had enough. A movement for democracy fighting back against the insidious onslaught of plutocracy. A movement to guard the hard-won civil rights gained in past battles - now, right here and right now, in today's very-polite ("Thank You! Thank you!") but-make-no-mistake-deadly-serious war.

To all who were there, to all who see these words or any other story about yesterday, 3/12/11 in  Madison Wisconsin (well, except any story about it on Fox News)....make no mistake:


For peace or war, nuclear facilities pose worldwide safety threats

The horrific effects of the earthquake and resulting tsunami have literally shaken Japan to its core and as if that were not enough, the country is now struggling with a potential nuclear meltdown.  

The ongoing crisis in Japan raises questions pushed aside in recent decades in the rush to develop more and more nuclear reactors around the world – supposedly for peaceful purposes.

When was the last time you heard a debate over the disposal of hazardous waste or accident prevention measures at nuclear facilities? And has anyone in our country mentioned lately the possibility of a natural catastrophe that might unleash radioactive fallout?

Korea’s Airang News reminds us:   

In 1979, large amounts of nuclear reactor coolant escaped at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania, United States, resulting in the release of radioactive gases.The accident prompted the evacuation of roughly 140-thousand people, and although no leaks were reported outside the plant, 11 out of every 1,000 local residents has suffered from cancer since the accident.

Now consider this CBS report on the developing nuclear crisis in Japan:

Japanese officials were struggling Sunday with a growing nuclear crisis and the threat of multiple meltdowns, two days after the country's northeastern coast was savaged by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

A partial meltdown was already likely under way at one nuclear reactor, a top official said, and operators were frantically trying to keep temperatures down at the power plant's other units and prevent the disaster from growing even worse.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Sunday that a hydrogen explosion could occur at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, the reactor that could be melting down. That would follow a blast the day before in another unit at the same power plant, as operators attempted to prevent a meltdown by injecting sea water into it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arab League requests UN Security Council to implement no-fly zone in Libya

From the PBS NewsHour:

On Saturday, the 22-nation Arab League asked the U.N. Security Council to implement a no-fly zone in Libya to prevent Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces from more air attacks on the Libyan people.

Never noted for moving decisively, the League's swift action was surprising, as was the overwhelming vote. All but two League members -- Syria and Algeria-- backed the call. It had been foreshadowed by a statement last week from the Gulf states.

According to Arabic German Consulting’s website:

The Arab League, informal name of the League of Arab States, is a voluntary association of independent countries whose peoples are mainly Arabic speaking. Its stated purposes are to strengthen ties among the member states, coordinate their policies, and promote their common interests.

The Arab League was founded in Cairo in 1945 by Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan (Jordan, as of 1950), and Yemen.

Current members of the Arab League are as follows:

Algeria,Bahrain,Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Women-in-the World Summit (watch video)

When Hillary speaks, people listen, and women get it.

It’s not over in Wisconsin yet: rally songs and scenes from Madison

Knowing a couple of teachers makes the debacle that occurred in Madison Wednesday night feel even worse.  

 I just received an email with the photo on the left and links to the videos below from Katherine Bowie, Professor of Anthropology at UW-Madison.

The photo shows Katherine in the foreground staring back at a couple of state troopers. She had just crawled through a window in the capitol building, shortly after the senate vote that stripped teachers and other state employees of their bargaining rights. (A friend of Katherine's took the picture.)

But you can see and hear from the videos that it’s not over in Wisconsin yet, and as Katherine said, “On to the recall effort.”


Friday, March 11, 2011

The folklore of clocks and the myth of daylight savings time

What time is it, anyhow? Photo by Virginia Bergman

Several years ago, I arrived at church an hour late one Sunday morning because I’d forgotten about daylight savings time. 

Setting our clocks back and hour each fall and then forward an hour every spring has never made any sense to me, even though I grew up in rural America – country folks are said to benefit from the time changes more than others.

Consequently, I’m very appreciative of Howard Mansfield’s witty and informative March 10th op-ed in the NY Times on this topic titled Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?

Mansfield writes:

NOT long ago, clocks were thought to be dangerous. Folklore had it that two of them ticking in the same room could bring “sure death.” It’s easy to see how this belief arose. The clocks were almost certain to disagree, and in the space between two chimings of one hour, uncertainty crept in; the machines’ authority was undermined. We don’t like to be reminded that clock time is a convenient fiction. 

Daylight saving time, which begins on Sunday, is unsettling in the same way. Winding the clock forward in March and back in November is like biannually changing the measure of an inch. 

Gov. Walker’s victory a boon to Wisconsin Democrats and a boost to recall efforts

Republicans in the Wisconsin state assembly rammed through a bill on Thursday to cut bargaining rights for most government workers in the state. 

But here’s the good news: within 24 hours, the Democratic party in Wisconsin received donations from supporters totaling $360,000, and the recall effort of several Republican state senators is well underway.

Monica Davey and A. G. Sulzberger at the NY Times have the latest:

MADISON, Wis. — After nearly a month of angry demonstrations and procedural maneuvering in the State Capitol here, Gov. Scott Walker won his battle on Thursday to cut bargaining rights for most government workers in Wisconsin.

But his victory, after the State Assembly passed the bill, also carries risks for the state’s Republicans who swept into power last November. 

Democratic-leaning voters appeared energized by the battle over collective bargaining on a national stage. The fight has already spurred a list of potential recall elections for state lawmakers this spring. Protesters are planning more large demonstrations this weekend.
“From a policy perspective, this is terrible,” said Mike Tate, the leader of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. 

“But from a political perspective, he could not have handed us a bigger gift,” Mr. Tate said of the governor. 

In the last 24 hours, he added, the state party had received $360,000 in contributions and volunteers have streamed into offices where signatures were being collected for recall bids.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Protesters in Wisconsin shout: “Shame! Shame! Shame!” (see video)

The Associated Press reported minutes ago:

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin lawmakers voted Thursday to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from the state's public workers, ending a heated standoff over labor rights and delivering a key victory to Republicans who have targeted unions in efforts to slash government spending nationwide.

The state's Assembly passed Gov. Scott Walker's explosive proposal 53-42 without any Democratic support and four no votes from the GOP. Protesters in the gallery erupted into screams of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as Republican lawmakers filed out of the chamber and into the speaker's office.

The state's Senate used a procedural move to bypass missing Democrats and move the measure forward Wednesday night, meaning the plan that delivers one of the strongest blows to union power in years now requires only Walker's signature to take effect.

He says he'll sign the measure, which he introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall, as quickly as possible - which could be as early as Thursday.

Read more:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Phelps band and the dark side of religion

As noted in a previous post, the United States Supreme Court recently supported the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to harass grieving parents of sons and daughters who died in combat.

Making a mockery of the First Amendment, the Court’s decision legitimized the anti-gay hate speech spouted by Marjie J. Phelps and her father, Fred Phelps, leader and counsel for the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Phelps band is notorious for violating the privacy of suffering military families by parading around funeral sites with their brightly colored signs thanking God for dead soldiers and declaring that God hates fags.

Ignoring the fact that psychologists agree that a percentage of the population is born gay and are therefore God’s creations, Ms. Phelps and company continually project their own violent nature onto divinity. Quoted in the Huffington Post, Ms. Phelps said:

"Let me tell you what this church does: Shut up all that talk about infliction of emotional distress," Phelps said, in response to the claim by Albert Snyder, father of slain marine Matthew Snyder, which had provided the impetus for the lawsuit. "When you're standing there with your young child's body bits and pieces in a coffin, you've been dealt some emotional distress by the Lord your God."

 The Phelps band are not the first to accuse God of unspeakable crimes against humanity and all of nature – in the Abrahamic traditions the practice goes back to antiquity. One Sunday last April, I dropped in at a local Islamic Center for a monthly Muslim-Christian dialog. The topic for discussion that afternoon was “Sacrifice.”

From the Christian side came numerous Older Testament references to animal sacrifices, which the presenters indicated would eventually culminate in the crucifixion of Jesus as the Lamb of God to redeem humanity from the curse of original sin.

A Muslim presenter told stories of martyrdom in his tradition featuring the brutal deaths of a male slave and of a woman who refused to deny Mohammed’s message. According to the narrator, the woman’s accusers tied her legs to two camels that pulled her body apart.

Another Muslim contributed a tale of human sacrifice in which a man abandoned his wife and infant to die alone in the desert in obedience to what he believed was God’s will.

The following Monday morning, still overdosed by the previous afternoon’s exposure to violence in religion, I found no respite in the daily news.

The Associated Press reported: “A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.” (Men were given no responsibility for controlling their sexual impulses.)

The article noted that Iran is a nation prone to earthquakes.

So, I thought, along with Pat Robertson, a Christian, who blamed God for the recent devastation of Haiti, the Islamic cleric, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, also charges divinity with periodic mass murder to keep humankind in line, not to mention the collateral damage to other species.

The statements of Robertson and Sedighi confirm yet again that a literal understanding of horrific stories in ancient scripture continues to influence the judgment of religious leaders and laity.

A quick sampling of the charges against God in the Bible includes the following heinous crimes against humanity: mass murder (Gen. 6-9); infanticide (Ex. 12:12); and torture - consider the fires of hell where the unsaved are reportedly condemned for eternity (Rev. 20: 9-15).

It bears repeating: how we human beings understand ourselves in relationship to God informs how we understand ourselves in all of our relationships: to ourselves, to one another, and to the natural world.

It follows that the Phelps band, in its zealous hatred of gays and anyone else who might differ from them in one respect or another, would project onto God their desire to destroy those whom they’ve chosen to marginalize.

Some of us, taking our cues from the teachings of the non-violent Jesus, Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh and other widely respected religious leaders agree that in making decisions, both large and small, a loving God eschews violence and instead, invites us toward the path most beneficial for all of life.

Where does that leave the Phelps band? The religious leaders noted in the above paragraph urge us to cultivate compassion even for those who spew hatred toward others.  In the process, we are called to provide a buffer zone between Westboro Baptist and its targets. Hopefully, we can influence this misguided congregation and other haters to give up their perverted notions of religion and move toward fulfilling our covenant to love others as God first loved us.