Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Standing up with Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom

Margot Wallstrom (Courtesy of the Spectator)
Courtesy of abecardoso.blogspot.com
I feel outrage every time I glance at the picture on the right that I first posted with an article on the savagery Saudi Arabia inflicts on its female population. It's good to know that at least one foreign leader has the courage to speak out against this horrendous example of violence against women. Nick Cohen at the UK's Spectator reports the courageous and principled stand of Sweden's foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom:

If the cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ were sincere, the western world would be convulsed with worry and anger about the Wallström affair. It has all the ingredients for a clash-of-civilisations confrontation.
A few weeks ago Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, denounced the subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia. As the theocratic kingdom prevents women from travelling, conducting official business or marrying without the permission of male guardians, and as girls can be forced into child marriages where they are effectively raped by old men, she was telling no more than the truth. Wallström went on to condemn the Saudi courts for ordering that Raif Badawi receive ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech. These were ‘mediaeval methods’, she said, and a ‘cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression’. And once again, who can argue with that?

The backlash followed the pattern set by Rushdie, the Danish cartoons and Hebdo. Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador and stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, accused Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards’ — standards so rich and varied, apparently, they include the flogging of bloggers and encouragement of paedophiles. Meanwhile, the Gulf Co-operation Council condemned her ‘unaccept-able interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’, and I wouldn’t bet against anti-Swedish riots following soon.

Yet there is no ‘Wallström affair’. Outside Sweden, the western media has barely covered the story, and Sweden’s EU allies have shown no inclination whatsoever to support her. A small Scandinavian nation faces sanctions, accusations of Islamophobia and maybe worse to come, and everyone stays silent. As so often, the scandal is that there isn’t a scandal.

Read more:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Not in my name, President Obama!

Photo in the Public Domain
November 2003 – Hooded detainee with wires attached to hands and genitalia stands on a box; the detainee was told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box. Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick, at right, clips his fingernails.

I still recall the shock I felt the day I first realized U.S. officials were subjecting their detainees to extremes of torture. And today I'm even more shocked to realize that our 08 peace candidate, President Barack Obama, has chosen to avert his eyes to these horrific practices and yes, people, they were conducted in our name.

Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch explains:

Dear Virginia,

I need your help right away.

Painful stress positions, “rectal rehydration,” waterboarding, days of continuous sleep deprivation faced by detainees—often chained, naked, or diapered—in their cells.

There is no longer any doubt: US officials carried out brutal acts of torture in the name of the American people—in your name. The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee Report on the CIA’s use of torture confirms it.

A vital question remains: will officials who authorized, oversaw, or covered it up be held to account?

That’s why I’m asking you to stand with us now. Sign our petition to President Obama and demand a criminal investigation into the illegal use of torture by US officials.

Authoritarian regimes and extremist groups carry out torture across the globe to intimidate and control their enemies.

So did senior officials under the Bush administration after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Yet today, President Obama is choosing to treat torture committed by US officials as an unfortunate policy decision, rather than a serious crime.

Demand that justice is finally served. Sign the petition right now.

Although President Obama’s decision to end the use of torture during his administration was the right choice, it’s an easily reversible one. Without the investigation and prosecution of US officials, Obama is sending the message that a future administration—with future justifications—can consider torture to be a viable option.

Tell Obama that torture is not an option, and to immediately call for the investigation and prosecution of all those responsible.

Torture techniques did not yield any actionable intelligence for the US that it could not have obtained through lawful means.

More importantly, torture undermines our core principles and fundamental human dignity.

Torture should never be tolerated. Period. Help us urge Obama to take action. Sign the petition today.

We need you now more than ever. Stand with us and tell President Obama that he can’t turn away from torture.

Sign the petition right now.

Thank you,

Kenneth Roth Kenneth Roth Signature

Kenneth Roth
  Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Thursday, March 19, 2015

CNN poll: Hillary Haters foiled again!

Nothing like the will of the people to foil the virulent Hillary Haters and their contrived

Washington (CNN)Hillary Clinton continues to be a dominant force heading into the 2016 presidential election, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. The former secretary of state maintains a broad lead over the field of potential Democratic challengers she could face in a nomination contest and sizable advantages over the leading contenders from the Republican side in general election match-ups.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tops the possible field for the Republican Party's nomination race, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson all in a tight cluster.

Poll: Double-digit lead for Hillary vs. GOP 01:35

But none of the top candidates in this field gets within 10 points of Hillary Clinton in a series of hypothetical general election matchups. 

Rand Paul comes closest, with 43% saying they'd be more likely to back him while 54% choose Clinton. The two candidates who currently top the GOP field, Bush and Walker, match up equally against Clinton, with each carrying 40% to her 55%. Huckabee gets 41% to Clinton's 55% and Carson has 40% to Clinton's 56%.

In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton holds a nearly 50-point lead over Vice President Joe Biden, her closest competitor in the field, 62% to 15%. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren rounds out the top three on the Democratic side with 10%. No other potential candidate tops 5%.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Economically, Minnesota wins; Wisconsin loses

MN Gov. Mark Dayton (via Huffigton Post).
A couple of years ago, I posted about the political turmoil in the sister states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  As a progressive Minnesotan who voted for Gov. Mark Dayton, it's satisfying today to read Randi Weingarten's article titled A Tale of Two States. Weingarten describes the current contrast between Minnesota's prosperous economy, thriving under Dayton's leadership, and Wisconsin's growing deficit under the leadership of the union-busting Scott Walker.

Weingarten writes:

It's a tale of two states.

They sit side by side, each taking in the views of Lake Superior. Their economies both grew from foundations in manufacturing, farming and mining, and they each boast a strong history of organized labor. And in 2010, still reeling from the recession, they elected new governors.
Those two governors took these two states -- Minnesota and Wisconsin -- down two very different paths. Today, Minnesota's unemployment rate is 3.6 percent -- far below the nationwide rate of 5.7 percent - while Wisconsin's job growth has been among the worst in the region and its income growth has been among the worst in the nation.

Since his election, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton turned his state's budget deficit into a projected surplus of nearly $2 billion. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has swollen his state's budget deficit to a projected $2 billion. Meanwhile, Dayton has boosted the minimum wage, invested in public education and supported workers' rights. (And Minnesota has the most union members of any state in the Midwest.)
Trickle-down economics doesn't work and frankly, it never has. If we want to restore a healthy middle class, we need a different approach.
And Walker? He has slashed funding to public schools, and is dismantling the state's public university system. On March 9, he signed a bill that makes Wisconsin the 25th so-called right to work state, which, research shows, contrary to the hype, drives down wages and destroys good jobs. Why? All in an effort to eviscerate Wisconsin's labor unions.

Read more:

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Our unreformed sexist media still threatened by Hillary

Kathleen Reardon, blogging at the Huffington Post (how did Reardon get a pro-Hillary post published there?!), calls out the media for "poisoning Hillary's well again." She is of course referencing the media's sexist diatribes unleashed against Hillary in 2008. Reardon, professor emerita of USC, writes:

For women around the world, and the U.S. in particular, Hillary Clinton was much more than a presidential candidate for the 2008 election. On the surface, it appears that she suffered a significant loss. But if we look historically at her campaign and how close she came to winning her party's nomination, we see the forging of an important path.
In her own words:
You can be so proud, that from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories; unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee; unremarkable to think that a woman can be president of the United States - and that is truly remarkable, my friends.
Clinton once said that she was a Senator because of women and men who traveled in 1848 to Seneca Falls, N.Y. to participate in the first convention of women's rights in U.S. history. As Clinton explained, "My mother was born before women could vote. My daughter got to vote for her mother for president."

A few paragraphs later, Reardon jumps to present media coverage of a potential Clinton run in 2016:

One of CNN's commentators and a committed Clinton detractor during the 2008 election campaign, Gloria Borger, recently wrote that Democrats have no choice but to defend Hillary Clinton on issues like the email question because she is "their putative nominee." She quoted an unnamed, supposed "Democratic strategist" to "support" the view that Democrats are stuck with Clinton - like it or not.
Referring to Clinton as "Bigfoot Hillary," Borger proposed that there is no one of substance in the Democratic field (dismissing three impressive potential contenders). Borger concludes that should Clinton stumble, the party is in big trouble. Referring to the email matter, she added:
Those Democrats who want to defend her say there's a problem -- they're not quite sure what they're defending, because they're not sure exactly what happened, or why. In other words, the wagons are circled, but the surrogates are left outside.
This is the level of journalism to which we've become accustomed -- baseless sniping at selected candidates. Who are these Democrats? How does Borger know they're unsure? Whose wagons are circled? How about some expert testimony from named sources?

Read more:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Maddow nails the "stupidity and nonsense" of media's email coverage

Courtesy of jamesfetzer.blogspot.com
 Andrea Mitchell's interview with Rachel Maddow at MSNBC yesterday, March 11, 2015, is so worth watching if only to hear Maddow describe the media coverage of Hillary's emails as "stupidity and nonsense."

Catherine Taibi at the Huffington Post reports:

Rachel Maddow said that the media buzz surrounding Hillary Clinton this week has felt more like "real nonsense" than real news. 

“The media noise, and static, and nonsense around her is so loud, it’s very hard to have effective reporting that people might actually care about, about what she’d be like as a national leader,” Maddow said Wednesday.

Read more:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Federal gunmen kill 19 Idaho wolves

It's sickening. Thanks to communications over time with Jamie Rappaport Clark at Defenders of Wildlife and my friend Mary Lundeberg at Nature Connections, I feel a kinship with wolves and other wildlife, and it's nearly as painful to learn of a massacre of wolves as it is to read of the latest ISIS beheadings of members of my own species.

Here's the latest from Jamie:

Dear Virginia,
We’ve just learned that federal gunmen have aerially shot 19 wolves in remote Northern Idaho at the request of the state.

The killings took place on U.S. national forest land in order to artificially boost elk numbers to benefit sport hunters and outfitters.

This is a travesty pure and simple.

Please help us stop the killing with an urgent donation to Defenders of Wildlife.

Defenders will take whatever action is necessary to stop this tragedy.

Defenders is the only national organization with staff on the ground in Idaho who not only worked to help restore wolves, but who are actively working at the statehouse and state wildlife commission to testify against actions threatening wolves.

Are you as angry as I am that the federal government is hiring out its employees to Idaho to kill wolves from the air?

Please help with a generous donation to protect wolves and other vulnerable wildlife!

The federal wildlife kill-for-hire agency, ironically called “Wildlife Services”, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Idaho to carry out the state’s relentless wolf killing agenda. That this latest killing took place on federal public lands only compounds the outrage.

And while the federal government spent millions of dollars helping to restore and recover wolves in the Northern Rockies, it is now helping Idaho slaughter wolves to boost elk populations, causing the situation for wolves to grow more dire.

The number of breeding pairs of wolves surviving in the Idaho wild has been plummeting ever since the state was given back control over wolves.  In 2011, there were 40 breeding pairs in the state, but by the end of 2014, estimates projected that number as having declined by 45% to 62%. Based on these plummeting numbers of breeding pairs, the future of Idaho’s wolves is increasingly grim.

If you love wolves as much as I do, you’ll want to do everything possible to protect them from these appalling attacks by federal gunmen.

Your support matters more than ever. Can I count on you to help?
Thanks for standing with us to protect wolves and other imperiled wildlife.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildli

Monday, March 9, 2015

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell zaps email "scandal"

Secretary of State Clinton (state.gov)
Colin Powell, 2005 (Wikipedia)
D.K. Jamaal has the story:

Former Sec. of State Colin Powell, a Bush administration Republican and former Republican presidential hopeful, all but destroyed the Hillary Clinton private email "scandal" today, telling ABC's This Week that not only did he too use private email because State Department systems were so outdated, unlike Hillary Clinton who turned over 55,000+ pages of her emails, Powell retained and turned over none of his emails:

 STEPHANOPOULOS: But I do want to ask you one final question on this Hillary Clinton e-mail controversy..You were one of the first secretaries, I believe, to set up a personal e-mail account. And you pushed to modernize the State Department’s system. Based on your experience, what do you make of these revelations this week and what would you recommend that she do now?
POWELL: I can’t speak to Mrs. Clinton and what she should do now. That would be inappropriate...What I did when I entered the State Department, I found an antiquated system that had to be modernized and modernized quickly. So we put in place new systems, bought 44,000 computers and put a new Internet capable computer on every single desk in every embassy, every office in the State Department. And then I connected it with software. But in order to change the culture, to change the brainware, as I call it, I started using it in order to get everybody to use it, so we could be a 21st century institution and not a 19th century. But I retained none of those e-mails and we are working with the State Department to see if there’s anything else they want to discuss with me about those e-mails.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So they’ve asked you to turn them over, but you don’t have them, is that it?
 POWELL: I don’t have any — I don’t have any to turn over. I did not keep a cache of them. I did not print them off. I do not have thousands of pages somewhere in my personal files.

Read more:


Saturday, March 7, 2015

"Big Coal and Big Oil are dead men walking"

Public domain image.
 Juan Cole's Informed Comment usually has something worthwhile (and startling) to say about contemporary issues of importance. And Cole doesn't pull any punches. In today's column, he takes on Big Coal and Big Oil:

What is the actual value of the oil, gas and coal fields owned by big energy corporations, which gives them their stock price and allows them to be counted as assets for borrowing purposes?

The real value of those hydrocarbon resources is zero.

Or actually it is much less than zero, since there are likely to be a lot of liability lawsuits and insurance claims for severe environmental and property damage. Coal, oil and gas are now where the cigarette companies were in 1990, on the verge of getting hit with massive penalties. Big Coal and Big Oil are dead men walking.

The only thing that stops the entire world economy, including that of the United States, from collapsing is that investors continue to pretend that what I just said is not true. Because of this pretense, some people will go on making a lot of money with hydrocarbon investments in the short and perhaps even the medium term. Much investment and assignment of value is a matter of confidence.

But the confidence is misplaced. If you are still fairly young and you or your pension fund bought a lot of petroleum or gas or coal stocks in hopes of retiring on them, think again. You will lose your shirt.

Read More:

Friday, March 6, 2015

Hillary haters never let the facts get in the way of a good story

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
David Brock knows how to throw cold water on the scandal mongering Hillary haters of whatever political stripe:

(CNN)How do Republicans try to breathe new life into an old scandal? We've seen it time and time again. Here's how it works:

Step One: Republicans, with nothing in their arsenal to use against Hillary Clinton, selectively leak to reporters a "scandalous" tidbit -- often one that has been previously reported.

Step Two: The new media bites.

Step Three: The media hyperventilates and suffocates the airwaves with repetition of the same story.

Step Four: Upon further examination, the story falls apart.

This is exactly how the latest media hype, this time over Hillary Clinton's use of emails at the State Department, has played out. And it presents yet another chapter in the Benghazi hoax.
The New York Times story about Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account at the State Department is a perfect example of "gotcha" journalism, where reporters will take any bait the Republicans give them without proper vetting. The New York Times has a history of this. (Whitewater, anyone?)

The Times story suggests Secretary Clinton broke federal rules in relation to her email. But the Times' main source for this allegation says Clinton violated no laws. 

Yes, Clinton used a private email account to communicate while she was secretary of state. But so did secretaries of state before her. According to the State Department spokesman Marie Harf, John Kerry is the first secretary of state ever to rely primarily on official State Department email.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Shabby reporting at the NY Times on SoS Clinton

SoS Clinton and Australia's PM Kevin Rudd. Courtesy of Wiki.
The NY Times doesn't have a spotless record on its investigative reporting. I still recall its published apology for its coverage of the US invasion of Iraq. Most recently the Times has been called out for its attempt to muddy Hillary Clinton's reputation at the State Department by accusing her of breaking a rule that wasn't put into effect until after she left office. Wonder when the Times will apologize for this shabby reporting?

 Igor Bobic at the Huffington Post writes:

The Daily Beast and Media Matters on Tuesday pushed back against a New York Times report that suggested former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have violated federal law by using a private email address for her official government communication.

The Times on Monday reported that Clinton "did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act." The existence of Clinton's private email address was first reported by Gawker in 2013.

Critics accused Clinton of failing to uphold her commitment to transparency by choosing which personal emails to turn over to the State Department for public record, as well as putting potential high value information at risk to hacking by foreign agents. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Clinton's potential rival in the race for president in 2016, immediately called on her to submit unclassified emails to public record.

A report by Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast, however, cast a heavy dose of skepticism over the Times' reporting on the regulation that required officials to preserve email communications. A State Department official told Tomasky that employees were told in October 2014 that personal email should generally not be used for government business, but if it is, communications must be forwarded to a government account in order to be appropriately preserved. Clinton left the Department prior to that, in February of 2013, however.

"So if these new regulations went into effect after she left State, then what rule did she violate, exactly? And, if this is true, why did the Times not share this rather crucial piece of information with its readers? No one could possibly argue that this fact isn’t germane to the story. It’s absolutely central to it. Why would the Times leave it out?" wrote Tomasky.

Read more:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Celebrating the gift of empathy

Jeff Nelson, courtesy of  Coffeehouse Contemplative.
A perfect Sunday morning read: The Gift, by Jeff Nelson. The gift of which he speaks is empathy, and as I read his post my own empathy welled up for Jeff, and tears came to my eyes:

One of my father's most treasured memories of when I was maybe 3 years old was a moment when he was seated as his desk, the burdens of the world weighing heavily on his shoulders, and I climbed into his lap and just cuddled with him. I apparently sensed what he needed, and I provided it as best as a toddler knew how to do.

I'm glad for that story, and I've mostly been glad for this gift that I've apparently been given. I don't really brag about it, because I don't think it's something brag-worthy. It's not only the nature of the gift, you understand. It's also that I haven't always been proud of it, or wanted it.

I was the kid on the playground who got upset when watching two classmates fight. I was the sensitive guy in high school who was the safe confidant for those around him. I was the guy basically holding pastoral counseling sessions in his dorm room in college, because I was always the good listener, the dependable one who'd be there for others in a pinch, the one who'd defer to other's stated desires at the expense of his own.

A guy like me can get taken advantage of fairly easily. I can point back to many instances over the years when my needs took a backseat to those of others. But people saw this as a commendable thing. They'd even offer compliments and reassurances to that effect. At times, there's a fine line between sincere appreciation and ass-kissing, but I took it as a reaffirmation that I'd been given something. A gift. The type of gift that a good pastor needs.

This is what I was told over and over. "You're such a great listener." "You're always there when I need something." "Finally, someone I can trust."

Read more: