Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
March 27, 2009
Minnesota is a state known for its many loons. And perhaps the most famous of all is Representative Michele Bachmann.
(See just a few examples of her inanity, insanity, and inexplicable idiocy here and here)
Bachmann, already something of a national embarrassment, went above and beyond the call of duty this week during an expansive radio interview. Apparently making polluters pay in order to build the clean energy economy is tantamount to tyranny and Bachmann, who refers to herself as a "foreign correspondent on enemy lines" wants her constituents to be "armed and dangerous" in order to fight President Obama's widely-supported plans on energy and global warming.
"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us 'having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,' and the people -- we the people -- are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States."
(Mind you, Bachmann is all for the current "energy tax" we have -- the one that sucks cash from your wallet in order to pad the pockets of Big Oil, Big Coal, and hostile foreign regimes around the world.)
And what are these so-called armaments she seeks to provide her constituents with? Two "boffo" talks by Chris Horner, an overblown blowhard global warming denier from one of the most notorious denialist operations of all time.
Not seen enough? Our friends at TPM have put together a little video of what they call the "Bachmann effect," or the "the face that launches a thousand dumbfounded looks," as Huffington Post called the Congresswoman.
Published: New York Times, March 28, 2009
LONDON — A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.
The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
Sanders: "There was a special place reserved in the Seventh Circle of Hell for sinners who charged people usurious interest rates."
by Bernie Sanders
Published on Thursday, March 26, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
The "Masters of the Universe" on Wall Street - through their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior - have plunged this country into a deep recession causing millions of Americans to lose their jobs, their homes, their savings and their hope for the future. In order to fully understand the cause of this fiasco, I have introduced legislation calling for a thorough investigation of the financial meltdown and the prosecution of those CEOs who broke the law. The culture of greed, fraud and excessive speculation must come to an end.
In the midst of this financial disaster, one of the great frustrations that I hear from my constituents is that while taxpayers are spending hundreds of billions bailing out major financial institutions, and while these big banks are getting near-zero interest rate loans from the Fed, these very same financial institutions are now charging Americans 20 percent or 30 percent interest rates on their credit cards. In fact, one-third of all credit card holders in this country are now paying interest rates above 20 percent and as high as 41 percent - more than double what they paid in interest in 1990. Recently, some major institutions such as Bank of America have informed responsible cardholders that their interest rates would be doubled to as high as 28 percent, without explaining why the increase was taking place.
Let's be clear. At a time when many Americans in the collapsing middle class use credit cards for groceries, gas and college expenses, what Wall Street and credit card companies are doing is not much different from what gangsters and loan sharks do when they make predatory loans. While the bankers wear three-piece suits and don't break the knee caps of those who can't pay back, they are still destroying people's lives.
The Bible has a term for this practice. It's called usury. And in The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri's epic poem, there was a special place reserved in the Seventh Circle of Hell for sinners who charged people usurious interest rates.
Today, we don't need the hellfire and pitch forks, we don't need the rivers of boiling blood, but we do need a national usury law. We need a national law because state laws no longer work. States used to protect consumers from predatory lenders, but strong state usury laws were obliterated by a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Justices allowed national banks to charge whatever interest rate they wanted if they moved to a state without an interest rate cap like South Dakota or Delaware.
That is why I have introduced legislation to require any lender in this country to cap all interest rates on consumer loans at 15 percent, including credit cards. Why did I select 15 percent as the appropriate rate to deal with the usury which is going on in this country? The reason is that 15 percent is the maximum that Congress imposed on credit union loans almost 30 years ago when it amended the Federal Credit Union Act. And that approach has worked! Under current law, credit unions are allowed to charge higher interest rates only if their regulator, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), determines that it is necessary to maintain the safety and soundness of these institutions. Right now, while most credit unions charge lower rates, the NCUA allows credit unions to charge an interest rate as high as 18 percent.
Unlike their counterparts at the big banks, credit unions are not lining up for hundreds of billions in bailouts. In fact, they're doing quite well. As Chris Collver, legislative and regulatory analyst for the California Credit Union League recently stated; "It hasn't been an issue. Credit unions are still able to thrive." In my view, if these rules have worked well for credit unions for decades they can work for all financial institutions.
In 1991 former Senator Al D'Amato offered an amendment to cap credit card interest rates at 14 percent. The amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 74-19, but never became law. Now is the time to return to that debate.
Incredible as it may seem, over the last decade the financial sector has invested more than $5 billion in political influence purchasing in Washington. This includes funding some 3,000 lobbyists and huge amounts in campaign contributions.
The American people are thoroughly disgusted with the behavior of Wall Street and they want their elected officials to respond to the greed of major financial institutions. A cap on interest rates would be a good start. Do we have the courage?
Bernie Sanders was elected by Vermont to the US Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history.
Burning coal spews carbon dioxide, among other pollutants, into the air. Still, we generate about half of our electricity in the United States with coal.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity says it believes "the robust utilization of coal -- America's most abundant energy resource -- is essential to providing affordable, reliable electricity for millions of U.S. consumers and a growing domestic economy. Further, ACCCE is committed to continued and enhanced U.S. leadership in developing and deploying new, advanced clean coal technologies that protect and improve the environment."
Monday, March 23, 2009
Beacon Press ($15)
The newly-released paperback edition reviewed by Bob Sommer in the current issue of Rain Taxi
The first edition of Bill Ayers’ Fugitive Days had about as untimely a release as a book by someone who participated in planting a bomb inside the Pentagon could have: September 10, 2001. The following morning, a feature article about Ayers appeared in the New York Times under the stark headline, “No Regrets for a Love of Explosives.” Ayers would soon refute the article, but few New Yorkers spent much time with the papers that morning. Whatever benefit of the doubt readers might have given this compelling memoir vaporized in the day’s events. The Times book review of Sept. 30, 2001, typified much of the commentary that followed: “In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people in Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, readers will find this playacting with violence very difficult to forgive.”
This is an extraordinary story told by a writer of exceptional skill, a tour through a world that few people know, rendered sensitively, candidly, and often with a self-deprecating wit that Ayers turns on himself and his group with surgical skill.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
About three dozen people gathered in Mill Creek Park as dusk fell, lining the street as a peaceful reminder that the war continues and Americans and Iraqis are still dying there.
As dusk gave way to darkness, we lit candles and shared in reading the names of every American soldier who had died in Iraq – 4,260 names, each one an individual and part of a family. My wife compared it to saying the rosary, which I haven’t done in many (many) years, but she was right. There was an almost mystical effect to it. One’s imagination raced as each name acquired personhood. Our son served in the Army and did tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, so we felt a special affinity for the families of these service men and women.
Here are some images from the event:
Bobby Wright, Jennifer Palmer, and Steve Sheridan.
Attorney and PeaceWorks board member Henry Stoever.
A digitally-challenged peace activist has trouble waving the peace sign.
Candlelight photo by Anne Pritchett
Topeka, Kan. “Blow, baby, blow!” That was Cathy Moore’s response to the Republican chorus, “Drill, baby, drill!” from last year’s national convention. Moore represented the Reno County Wind Energy Task Force at this year’s Clean Energy Day, March 19th.
The primary target for the gathering, which brought several hundred supporters of clean energy to the state capitol, was to prevent a bill from passing the legislature that would allow two new coal-fired plants to be built in western Kansas.
From a small stage on the front lawn of the Capitol Building, speakers assailed supporters of the bill and described the benefits of energy alternatives, primarily wind energy, which Kansas has in abundance. Representatives from groups as diverse as the United Auto Workers (Local 31), the United Steel Workers, faith groups, the American Lung Association, and a variety of conservation and environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, were here to support clean energy in Kansas.
Scott Allegruci of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy said, “This bill is really good energy policy, for Colorado and Texas utilities!” And he added, it’s “really good economic policy, for Wyoming coal!"
Don Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, said, “The stewardship of our land belongs to us all. It’s our responsibility. It’s your responsibility!”
Richard Mabion, who represented Building a Sustained Earth Community, pointed out that Kansas is both an urban and a rural state, and that Wyandotte County, where he lives, already has three power plants. “We can’t stop global warming without greening our cities.”
Following the rally, clean energy supporters met with House and Senate legislators to urge support for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’s veto of the bill that would approve new coal-fired plants in Kansas.
Susan Pavlakis puts her message up front.
Stephanie Cole of the Kanza Group of the Sierra Club and Margaret Thomas.
Scott Allegruci of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy.
Richard Mabion of Building a Sustained Earth Community.
Don Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union.
meet with Representative Dolores Furtado of Kansas District 19.
Friday, March 20, 2009
by Cynthia Hubert
Thursday, March 19, 2009
By Bob Sommer
Topeka, Kan. The object is to prevent more coal-burning plants from going up in Kansas. Governor Kathleen Sebelius is ready to veto yet another attempt by coal supporters in the legislature to push through approval for two such plants. Activists gathered today on the lawn in front of the Capitol Building to urge lawmakers to sustain her veto.
More to follow…
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
That’s my grandmother’s name up above, Hannah Driscoll, traced from an etching on the granite wall at Ellis Island. She and her sisters passed through there in the first decades of the 20th century. They left Ireland with food and clothing in shopping bags and cleaned hotel rooms in New York after they arrived. They were amazed at the skyscrapers and the clothes lines that hung over the alleys between apartment buildings. Hannah never returned to Ireland and never saw her parents again. My Irish heritage includes other relatives from other branches – and my ancestry also includes other nationalities, some German, some English (like many Americans, and President Obama, we’re mutts) – but I’ve always cherished her story for its simplicity: a life so harsh and difficult that no alternative remained. Her parents couldn’t support her. Courage may have been her last option. She was a teenage girl when she arrived here. She traveled alone: her older sister Mary had come ahead, and their youngest sister Nora would later follow. I imagine her in steerage on the ship; then pushed and crowded in the lines at the customs center, likely terrified at the prospect of being rejected for some unanticipated reason; and finally finding Mary in the crowd at the ferry dock. She came, so we’re here. St. Patrick’s Day is more an American holiday than an Irish one, a celebration of lineage, a bonding in a new and different place; it’s a holiday of triumph and salvation, a very earthly kind of salvation – Hannah and Mary and Nora’s house (if that’s even the right word for it) in Ireland had dirt floors. I’ve always told my children that every day is St. Patrick’s Day at our house. She came, so we’re here. Our lives are the measure of that triumph.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Possession seems to be nine-tenths of the law, even when you have $170 billion in government bailout money. American Internation Group got just that much and still plans to distribute some $165 million in bonuses to execs in the same division that brought the company to near financial ruin.
Venerable AIG, a component of the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average and a holding in many mutual funds, closed at fifty-cents a share on Friday – that’s point five zero dollars, a few cents more than the cost of a postage stamp. A year ago it traded a hundred times higher at $50.
This plan didn’t work for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, but AIG chairman Edward M. Liddy has the government’s (i.e. our!) money and told Geithner they’ll be handing it out as planned.
You think these execs will be buying AIG stock with it?
Friday, March 13, 2009
uncooked truth, beyond belief
March 13, 2009
Don't they know they lost?
By Josh Dorner
New Energy for America trumped Drill, Baby, Drill last November -- quite decisively in fact. Not that you'd know it from listening to some of the conservatives in Congress this week.
The first bit of ridiculousness came in response to President Obama's first budget. The budget includes money from his plans to make polluters pay for the global warming pollution they emit for the first time ever, using a cap-and-auction system that will make polluters buy 100 percent of the pollution permits they need. The money from the pollution auction is used to invest in the clean energy technologies that will create millions of new jobs, revitalize the economy, and end our dependence on oil. A huge tax cut and other elements of the program will protect consumers from any increase in energy prices. The president's plan also funds critical international climate programs, wildlife and habitat adaptation efforts, and will protect workers and vulnerable communities during the transition away from dirty energy.
Senator Judd "thanks, but no thanks" Gregg (R-NH), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, immediately joined other conservatives in denouncing the president's plan as a "national sales tax on energy" (that apparently being the scariest distortion they could come up with). No matter that, as mentioned above, the president's plan ensures that its polluters who pay -- not consumers.
I wonder what these same folks think of our current energy policy, which amounts to a tax that sucks money from our wallets in order to pad the pockets of Big Oil, Big Coal, and various hostile regimes around the world?
Later in the week, Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Senator David "air rage" Vitter took to the ever-friendly airwaves at Fox News to announce their latest attempt to repackage conservatives' old, tired dirty energy plans. The two announced their so-called "No Cost Stimulus" plan. The key elements of the plan are some oldies but baddies: more offshore drilling (a small portion of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico remains protected), drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the streamlining of the permitting process for nuclear power plants (which was already streamlined so much in the monstrosity that was the 2005 energy bill that it is already essentially impossible for groups like the Sierra Club to challenge the permits). The two claim this business as usual dirty energy approach will miraculously create 2 million jobs -- all for free!
Apparently, yesterday's Bush-Cheney energy policy is today's economic stimulus plan! Since, you know, that worked out really well for everyone the first time.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, 58 percent said they support President Obama's plans -- including 96 percent of liberals, 73 percent of moderates, and 55 percent of self-described independents.
In other news, John McCain got really mad during the confirmation hearing for the number two at the Department of Interior because the nominee once had the temerity to compare George W. Bush to America's patron saint, Ronald Reagan. The horror!
No, I don't know what these people are smoking either. But it must be pretty good seeing as how they haven't noticed their crushing defeats over the past two elections.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
“The gains in ‘bear’ funds have been eye-popping. Some funds soared nearly 80 percent last year, while others are up 39 percent this year alone.”
When everyone’s getting on board, here’s what you need to believe to make money – that there’s a bigger fool out there than you, who’s willing to pay a higher price than you’re about to pay (or in the case of bear funds, who’s willing to sell at a lower price than you - or your fund manager - just sold).
But on the upside, the more headlines like this that appear, the closer the market may be to forming a bottom.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Frank Rich’s column this morning is an elegant tribute to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and the current resurgence of interest in the play.
“Once again,” he writes, “its astringent distillation of life and death in the fictional early-20th-century town of Grover’s Corners, N.H., is desperately needed to help strip away ‘layers and layers of nonsense’ so Americans can remember who we are — and how lost we got in the boom before our bust.”
I can count myself among the legions of high school veterans of the play. Our production took place in times of similar uncertainty, performed before three wonderfully receptive audiences over the course of a weekend. Beyond the auditorium, Vietnam raged and anger seethed. A guy at the clothing store where I worked part-time was convinced a race war was about to erupt.
I played Dr. Gibbs, who I understand now, though I didn’t then, was remarkably a-political in his compassion and (I did get this) almost self-deprecating in his humility. What the audience and cast and crew shared that weekend in this muted, understated tragedy was perhaps a couple of hours of meditating on what mattered most to us, of facing our own humanity – our mortality and the question of how we would conduct ourselves in the brief time of our lives. Our, as Rich points out, is an operative word in the play's title. These are shared sensibilities, a communal experience, not just of theater but of life.
It was a high school production, but its dimensions felt as large as a Greek tragedy, and still do. Our director, Joe Towers, now deceased, deserves much of the credit for raising the level of what we did beyond its obvious limitations. But Wilder’s script spoke to something that allowed the audience to forget that I was a seventeen-year-old speaking the lines of a middle-aged man, and that age, the hard chairs of a high school auditorium, and all of the limitations of a small budget and very-amateur performers were not barriers to sharing the universal sense of wonder at being alive that the play invokes.
I’d love to hear from visitors who also participated in a production of Our Town. If you’d like to contribute a post with your story, e-mail: email@example.com (pasted into the e-mail). Or just hit the Comments link below.*
Friday, March 6, 2009
By Bob Sommer
"The whole townhouse rose up a foot or two, shattering bricks and splintering wooden beams, and then was transformed into dust and rubble, shuddering in a deep pit in which a ruptured gas main burst into flame.”
–from Flying Close to the Sun, by Cathy Wilkerson
It remains one of the iconic images of the Vietnam era, at the vortex of the maelstrom of upheavals that marked the transformation of antiwar and civil rights protests into something more sinister.
On March 6, 1970, a bomb was accidentally detonated in the basement of a townhouse on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village. Three people died – Diana Oughton, Terry Robbins, and Ted Gold – and two survived – Cathy Wilkerson, whose father owned the house, and Kathy Boudin. All were members of the Weatherman organization, which had recently split with SDS.
Wilkerson was upstairs, ironing, trying to put the house back in order before her father returned from a trip abroad, when the bomb exploded. She vividly describes that moment in her memoir, Flying Close to the Sun:
… I was bearing down on the wrinkles on the white sheet covering the ironing board when a shock wave shot through the house. A loud rumble followed, growing in intensity. Under the thin burnt orange carpeting, my bare feet felt the old, wood floor vibrating with escalating intensity…. I began to sink down, my feet still planted on the thin carpet as it stretched and slid across widening, disjointed gaps.
Wilkerson and Boudin escaped as dust and chaos engulfed them and more explosions followed, and then they disappeared into the underground, finally going separate ways, not to be heard from again until years later.
Romanticizing this event is as inappropriate as dismissing it as a tragic case of criminal mischief. The confluence of ideals and misguided zealotry that led to this moment are impossible to separate from the political atmosphere of the time. Absent the destructive course charted by the administration, which by 1970 the majority of American wanted to change, it’s difficult to imagine how the Weatherman organization could have evolved to this point, or come to exist at all.
Wilkerson writes of the “degenerative zealotry” that resulted in this tragedy.
In his memoir, Fugitive Days, Bill Ayers, one of Weatherman’s leaders and Diana Oughton's lover, similarly recalls the fugue of extremism of that time:
Ideology became an appealing alternative in so many ways … ideology soaked itself in confidence. I didn’t know yet how domesticating and cruel and stupid ideology could become, or the inevitable dependency it would foster in all of us.
With the townhouse explosion, the reality of “bringing the war home” took on a new dimension, which subsequently calcified within Weatherman in a renewed determination, and some would argue, greater discipline. Weatherman was responsible for about a dozen of the 5,000 or more bombings that took place over the next year and half.
Bernadine Dohrn, another of Weatherman’s leaders, described how she perceived the organization’s subsequent actions in a 1995 interview:
They involved property and were not meant to harm anybody. They were symbolic and done so that everyone would instantly recognize what was being said. It was ‘armed propaganda.’ Sure, it was violent, and it’s hard to justify twenty years later, but it was extremely restrained and a highly appropriate response to the level of violence being rained nationally and internationally.
Ayers offers further context, describing a different kind of terrorism, often neglected even in discussions of American casualties during the Vietnam War:
Three million Vietnamese lives were extinguished. Dig up Florida and throw it into the ocean. Annihilate Chicago or London or Bonn. Three million—each with a mother and a father, a distinct name, a mind and a body and a spirit….Bodies torn apart, blown away, smudged out, lost forever. Their names obliterated.
How would it all end? Carl Oglesby, a former SDS president and friend to many in the Weatherman organization, though no particular sympathizer to their tactics, calls the Watergate scandal a “miracle,” for one is only left to wonder how much worse things might have gotten if the Nixon administration hadn’t tripped over its own lies.
Endless war. A recalcitrant and corrupt administration refusing to change course – despite the will of the people and growing evidence against any prospect of success in its foreign military intervention. The government treating political dissent as if it were treason and mounting counter-intelligence actions against its own citizens.
It all sounds too familiar.
The legacy of the townhouse explosion may be that it is a cautionary tale of the consequences of unchecked power. However misguided the intentions and tactics of the war’s most extreme opponents may have been, their opposition to the war and to the injustices of civil rights still put them squarely on the right side of history.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Seven newly released memos from the Bush Justice Department reveal a concerted strategy to cloak the President with power to override the Constitution. The memos provide “legal” rationales for the President to suspend freedom of speech and press; order warrantless searches and seizures, including wiretaps of U.S. citizens; lock up U.S. citizens indefinitely in the United States without criminal charges; send suspected terrorists to other countries where they will likely be tortured; and unilaterally abrogate treaties. According to the reasoning in the memos, Congress has no role to check and balance the executive. That is the definition of a police state.
Read the rest of the article here.
Monday, March 2, 2009
I attended Rep. Jerry Nadler's event at the Tribeca Cinema last night which featured a lively discussion about progressive issues.
Moderator Joel Silverman asked about Senator Leahy's proposed Truth Commission.
Baratunde Thurston of Jack & Jill Politics said it's not about vengeance, it's about setting standards.
Nadler said "we have no choice, we must prosecute." And of course Nadler is in a position to do something about it, since he chairs the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.
Nadler announced he is preparing a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for a Special Prosecutor. The letter will resemble those he sent to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who simply ignored Nadler's letter, and then to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who replied but dodged all of Nadler's issues.
Nadler pointed out that Holder declared waterboarding is torture, and that Dick Cheney said on TV that he authorized waterboarding. Nadler said the Convention Against Torture, which was signed by Ronald Reagan, obligates the United States to investigate and prosecute torturers.
Nadler's argument is identical to that made by Jonathan Turley, Glenn Greenwald, and many others.