Saturday: Sailboats at Sunset

Escaping Dystopia 2011...

Morning, news junkies.

Chris Hedges ushered in 2011 by calling it a brave new dystopia. For a brief moment in time, the Egyptian and Wisconsin protests provided a glimmer of “there’s something happening here,” but then we were returned to our regularly scheduled dystopic nightmare. I don’t know about you, but lately I’m finding that the actual headlines these days sound more satirical than the ones in the Onion. They leave me either wanting to lolsob…or just sob. So, on that note…

Above, to the right… from National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel:

This photo of sailboats at sunset has us yearning for the sea, which makes it an Editors’ Pick for week one of our 2011 Traveler Photo Contest in the category of Outdoor Scenes. The photographer Ken Michael Jon Taarup writes, “Boracay has never ceased to amaze many people from all over the world. With its white crystal sand, pristine blue waters, and beautiful sunsets, this place still tops the list of the most visited and beautiful resorts in the Philippines.”

That’s so you have something calming to visualize while you read my Saturday picks.

Alright, grab your morning cuppa if you haven’t already, and read on.

Let’s just get the biggest distraction out of the way first…

Tornado aftermath: Pictures say a 1000 words

“Depressing women’s history news of the week”

Being pro-choice means understanding that self-determination for women regarding sex, sexuality, reproduction and motherhood is a fundamental precursor to womens’ ability to achieve their own educational, economic and familial aspirations, a fundamental precursor to the health and well-being of individuals and families, and a core condition of the long-term stability and health of society. It therefore also means understanding the profound connections for women–supported by more than ample evidence–between economic and educational status and unfettered access to comprehensive sexual health education, contraception, family planning services, and abortion care.

The War on Unions… now brought to you by Dems in MA?

The bill will take a month before coming to the state Senate, but the overwhelming vote in the House, and [Gov.] Patrick’s kinder, gentler rights-stripping plan, make it look like something’s going to happen in Massachusetts. Time to get out in the streets in another blue state.

“I’ve played at hundreds of protests and demonstrations, and this was really unique,” he said. “It was every segment of society. It was radical students and cops on the same side, and I’d never seen that before.”

Hillaryland

  • The otherwise serious and reliable Laura Rozen overreacted a bit to Hillary taking a few days of Easter R&R time off with her family. There’s a reason Hill was dubbed the “Energizer Secretary.” The woman works non-stop. She has a personal life that she’s entitled to attend to and/or just recharge every few years or so.

Click to view HQ. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

When Bushies fight… Get out your popcorn

First of all, I didn’t have modest experience in management. Managing Stanford University is not so easy. But I don’t know what Don was trying to say, and it really doesn’t matter. Don can be a grumpy guy. We all know that.

As always, Black Agenda Report tells it like it is…

  • This is an instant classic! Please read and disseminate. Bruce A. Dixon’s Top Ten Answers To Excuses For Obama’s Betrayals and Failures. Note Number 9 — it’s for all the Obamaphiles who won’t accept that Obama is the third Bush-Cheney term. And, to quote a snippet from Numero Uno (Re: “It’s our fault the Obama presidency hasn’t kept its commitments. We need to ‘make him do it.’”):

You cannot make a US president do what he fundamentally doesn’t want to. Michelle Obama is nice to look at, but she is no Eleanor Roosevelt. Franklin Roosevelt used to publicly bask in the hatred of wealthy banksters. Barack Obama’s dream is mostly not to piss off rich people.

  • For more on the atrocities of Bush-Cheney III, give BAR’s April 25th podcast a listen. In the first segment BAR’s Glen Ford interviews Labor Notes editor Mark Brenner, who sees no growth and no jobs on the horizon and says:

“Absolute disaster for working folks. If we follow the Ryan plan or if we follow the Obama plan, none of it spells good news for the rest of us.”

  • In another segment, Clarence Thomas, former Local 10 union secretary-treasury, says what one needs to understand is that this is not simply an attack on public sector workers, it is also an attack on public services.” Thomas says the goal is to put labor back where it was before the New Deal, noting that it is a corporate and rightwing agenda in which “the Democratic party is complicit.”

The ongoing crackdown on dissidents: Syria, China

In response to the brutality of the crackdown, President Barack Obama signed an executive order today instituting sanctions against the Syrian intelligence agency and two of Assad’s brothers, a White House official confirmed. Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council voted in Geneva today to condemn the Syrian crackdown.

“The [Executive Order] is a watershed,” Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Envoy. “This is the first time an Assad has been designated by the [U.S. government], and the first time the USG has issued an EO on human rights in Syria. Until a few months ago Human Rights was a distant fifth on our list of issues with Syria. Now it’s emerged as the center of our policy.”

Ms. Cheng was arrested on what was supposed to have been her wedding day last fall for sending a single sarcastic Twitter message that included the words “charge, angry youth.” The government, lacking a sense of humor, sentenced her to a year in labor camp.

Timeout: Art break

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Tuesday Reads

Good morning, political junkies!! Let’s get right to the news.

President Obama gave a speech last night in which he made a pretty good case (IMO) for U.S. limited intervention in Libya. He stated that there were not going to be American boots on the ground and that the U.S. is essentially finished with its part of the operation–it will be up to the UK, France, and Italy to police the no-fly zone and to the Libyan people to depose Gaddafi and decide what comes next.

Surprisingly, Obama was a bit more animated than usual–actually emphasizing points with his voice and at times appearing almost passionate. At least the speech didn’t start to put me to sleep until the last several minutes.

Obama indicated that the U.S. will continue to support efforts to set up a functioning government in Libya, but that will be a non-military effort. If he stands strong with that, I think he’s finally done something I agree with and can support.

Obama also argued that just because we can’t intervene in every conflict doesn’t mean that we should never intervene at all. We have to choose our battles, and in the case of Libya we had a dictator who was using his military–and his air power to kill his own citizens indiscriminately. If he had managed to attack Benghazi he might have murdered hundreds of thousands of people.

Furthermore, Libyans had asked for our help, and our action was supported by other Arab countries and by the Arab League. For once the U.S. was doing something that most Arabs wanted us to do. If we had not acted, we would have seen an atrocity take place, and that would have encouraged dictators in other Arab countries to crack down violently on protesters.

Here is the full text of the speech, if you are interested. I do think Obama went on too long after making the case for Libya. The speech would have been much better if he had done that and then wrapped it up.

I must say, I do not understand the criticisms of this Libya policy that I’m seeing in the progosphere, and from some people here at Sky Dancing. Maybe I’m nuts, but I think the U.S. finally had a chance to do something good with its massive military power and at the same time we get some good PR in a part of the world that has long hated us–with justification because we have enabled most of the tyrants in the region. I’m glad Hillary was able to convince her boss to do the right thing.

I want to call attention to some very knowledgeable people who agree with my assessment–and we do appear to be in the minority.

Thomas Ricks was on Monday’s edition of NPR’s Talk of the Nation. He said that he was struck by how many people either aren’t listening to what Obama, Clinton, and Gates are saying or they are discounting it out of hand.

Ricks said that these three are saying that the U.S. goals in Libya have already been achieved. The rebel forces are knocking on the door of Tripoli, thanks to the no-fly zone and some strategic bombing by the coalition countries. As Obama said last night, it is now up to Libyans to decide what to do with Gaddafi. We aren’t going to try to take him out.

Here’s what Ricks wrote on his blog after his appearance on Meet the Press with Gates and Clinton:

I was on Meet the Press yesterday, following Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates. I was struck at how frequently they emphasized the short-term, limited nature of the U.S. action in Libya, and how they used the past tense to discuss it:

Gates: “I think that the no fly zone aspect of the mission has been accomplished.”

Clinton: “I think we’ve prevented a great humanitarian disaster.”

Gates: “we see our commitment of resources actually beginning to — to decline.”

Gates: “in terms of the military commitment, the president has put some very strict limitations in terms of what we are prepared to do.”

Gates: “I don’t think it’s [Libya] a vital interest for the United States. But we clearly have interests there. And it’s a part of the region, which is a vital interest for the United States.”

I also was struck at how much more assertive Clinton seemed than Gates. A friend of mine calls this “State’s War.”

Ricks also blogged about his take on Obama’s speech: Obama on Libya: Watch out, Saudi Arabia

What we saw in the NDU speech was a logical defense of what the president has ordered the military to do and an exposition of what the limits of the action will be. The cost of inaction threatened to be greater than the cost of action, but now we have done our part. Next role for the U.S. military is best supporting actor, providing electronic jammers, combat search and rescue, logistics and intelligence. That was all necessary, and pretty much as expected.

But I was most struck by the last few minutes of the speech, when Obama sought to put the Libyan intervention in the context of the regional Arab uprising. He firmly embraced the forces of change, saying that history is on their side, not on the side of the oppressors. In doing so he deftly evoked two moments in our own history-first, explicitly, the American Revolution, and second, more slyly, abolitionism, with a reference to “the North Star,” which happened to be the name of Frederick Douglass’s newspaper. If you think that was unintentional, read this.

Hmmm…I totally missed that. Follow me below the fold…

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: 100 Years Ago Today

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. The AFL-CIO blog has an excellent post up to commemorate this tragic anniversary. Here is a bit of it, but I suggest you read the whole thing if you can find the time.

When word got out two weeks ago that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had ordered the windows of the state Capitol building bolted shut during the ongoing protests against his attacks on public employees, it was a chilling reminder of a similar action by the employers of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.

Nearly 100 years ago to the day of Walker’s order—which he rescinded after public outrage—146 workers, mostly young immigrant girls, jumped to their deaths from the 10-story building, unable to escape a fire because factory foremen had locked all the doors. The owners, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, worried the workers would steal from the company.

Hyman Meshel worked on the eighth floor. When the rescue crew found Meshel, who was still alive,

the flesh of the palms of his hands had been torn from the bones by his sliding down the steel cable in the elevator, and his knuckles and forearms were full of glass splinters from beating his way through the glass door of the elevator shaft.

Thirty dead bodies clogged the elevator shaft. All were young girls. Among the many victims, the New York Times reported the day after the disaster, were two girls:

charred beyond all hope of recognition, and found in the smoking ruins with their arms clasped around each other’s necks….

In Greenwich Village, relatives of victims marched in a procession to honor those who died so tragically–as well as those who managed to survive

Rosie Weiner, one of 146 victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, was only 19 when she died.

“She jumped from the ninth floor window. According to reports, she was holding her friend Tessie Wisner’s hand,” said Suzanne Pred-Bass, Weiner’s great-niece.

Pred-Bass was one of hundreds marching in a procession from Union Square to the scene of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Another of her great-aunts, Rosie’s 17-year-old sister Katie, somehow survived that day 100 years ago.

“She grabbed the cable, really so courageously, of the last elevator to leave the ninth floor and saved herself. It was really remarkable,” said Pred-Bass.

Annie Springsock, then 17 years old, also survived. Her granddaughter, Eileen Nevitt, came from California to pay tribute to her and the historical impact of the fire.

Today, as we watch Republicans do everything in their power to destroy unions, remove safety regulations, and cut off funding for regulators, we need to remember what happened on that awful day 100 years ago. We can’t give up the fight. We must stand together against these politicians and their war on workers.

This is an open thread.


Thursday Reads

R.I.P, Liz Taylor

Good Morning!!

I’ve got a potpourri of news items for you this morning. I realize I’ve been focusing too heavily on stories from the Middle East and Africa. I’ve just so gotten fascinated with all the rebellions going on. Anyway, this post will be dedicated to stories about events in the U.S.

Yesterday we lost the last great movie star, Elizabeth Taylor. She had been in the hospital for weeks with congestive heart failure. Today she died, at 79. From The New York Times:

By the time Elizabeth Taylor left this mortal coil at 79, she had cheated death with a long line of infirmities that had repeatedly put her in the hospital — and on front pages across the world — and in 1961 left her with a tracheotomy scar on a neck more accustomed to diamonds. The tracheotomy was the result of a bout with pneumonia that left her gasping for air and it returned her to the big, bountiful, hungry life that was one of her greatest roles. It was a minor incision (later, she had surgery to remove the scar), but it’s easy to think of it as some kind of war wound for a life lived so magnificently.

Unlike Marilyn, Liz survived. And it was that survival as much as the movies and fights with the studios, the melodramas and men (so many melodramas, so many men!) that helped separate Ms. Taylor from many other old-Hollywood stars. She rocketed into the stratosphere in the 1950s, the era of the bombshell and the Bomb, when most of the top female box-office draws were blond, pneumatic and classifiable by type: good-time gals (Betty Grable), professional virgins (Doris Day), ice queens (Grace Kelly). Marilyn Monroe was the sacrificial sex goddess with the invitational mouth. Born six years before Ms. Taylor, she entered the movies a poor little girl ready to give it her all, and did.

Ms. Taylor, by contrast, was sui generis, a child star turned ingénue and jet-setting supernova, famous for her loves (Eddie & Liz, Liz & Dick) and finally for just being Liz. “I don’t remember ever not being famous,” she said. For her, fame was part of the job, neither a blessing (though the jewels were nice) nor a curse. Perhaps that’s why she never looked defeated, unlike those who wilt under the spotlight. In film after film she appears extraordinarily at ease: to the camera born. She’s as natural in “National Velvet,” the 1944 hit that made her a star at 12, as she is two decades later roaring through “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” proving once again that beauty and talent are not mutually exclusive, even in Hollywood.

I’m sure Liz would not be surprised to learn that the Westboro Baptist Church will picket her funeral. She was close friends with many gay men in Hollywood–Rock Hudson, James Dean, Montgomery Clift among them–and she worked tirelessly for AIDS causes. Meanwhile the pastor and members of the Westboro Baptist Church are mean-spirited, soulless haters.

There’s a nice tribute to Taylor at The Independent UK by Julie Burchill: Farewell then, Liz. You knew your beauty was a fuel worth burning

With the death of Elizabeth Taylor, the last of the Hollywood greats is finally gone. True to form – never a lady, barely ever a girl – this tough broad supreme battled on against ill-health for decades after her contemporaries overdosed on barbiturates, booze and self-loathing. And at a time when professional beauties seem terrified to show any sign of ageing lest they be shunted into character cameos in favour of some fresher flesh, Taylor was fascinating for being far less interested in leaving a good-looking corpse than in wringing every drop of the juice from every inch of the ride.

If that sounds a somewhat lewd metaphor, all the better. Married eight times, she was the anti-Marilyn; rather than combine a child’s face with an adult body and be prey to all the weirdos who might be attracted to such a pervy paradox, Taylor was a woman of the world from the get-go. Child stars are notorious for spending a couple of years on the ugly step while the studios wait for them to outgrow adolescent awkwardness, but she went straight from hugging Lassie to snogging Montgomery Clift, it seemed.

To see the teenage Taylor draw Clift towards her in the masterpiece A Place In The Sun (from the book of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy) with the words “Tell Mama – tell Mama all” is to witness one of the most extraordinary portrayals of lust ever created. And it didn’t stop when the cameras did; years later, according to her housekeeper, Marilyn Monroe would become obsessed with the apparently gay Montgomery Clift and repeatedly complain; “Liz Taylor has the Oscar, she has children, she even has Monty – she has everything!”

From being denounced by the Vatican in the Sixties as “an erotic vagrant” (I think they meant it as an insult, but it sounds gorgeous to me) to being hailed by the director of the UCLA Aids Institute as the “the Joan of Arc of Aids activism”, Taylor lived her life according to her own rules – more Wife of Bath than untouchable ideal of feminine perfection. Looking at the insipid contemporary film-star likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, for whom eating half a cupcake seems a walk on the wild side, this cursing, drinking, swashbuckling goddess is a reminder of when hell-raisers didn’t automatically have to be as mad, bad and sad as Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson.

Here’s a nice video tribute I found on YouTube:

Now for the rest of the news, which as usual isn’t very good. The Republicans are trying to increase poverty by attacking food stamps and worker’s rights at the same time! They want to cut of food stamps for an entire family if one member goes on strike.

…[A] group of House Republicans is launching a new stealth attack against union workers. GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (OH), Tim Scott (SC), Scott Garrett (NJ), Dan Burton (IN), and Louie Gohmert (TX) have introduced H.R. 1135, which states that it is designed to “provide information on total spending on means-tested welfare programs, to provide additional work requirements, and to provide an overall spending limit on means-tested welfare programs.”

Much of the bill is based upon verifying that those who receive food stamps benefits are meeting the federal requirements for doing so. However, one section buried deep within the bill adds a startling new requirement. The bill, if passed, would actually cut off all food stamp benefits to any family where one adult member is engaging in a strike against an employer:

The bill also includes a provision that would exempt households from losing eligibility, “if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such family unit shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household.”

At FDL, Phoenix Woman dissects the latest media attacks on Social Security.

Ho-hum. Another day, another set of Peterson patsies explaining yet again why Grandma must starve so that their billionaire bosses and their buddies can keep their twenty-odd homes in the Hamptons and Hobe Sound:

Writing today on the op-ed page of The Washington Post, Robert Pozen makes the casethat liberals should support changes to Social Security. Mr. Pozen is a Democrat , though not necessarily a liberal one; he is a financial executive who served on President George W. Bush’s Social Security commission and in Mitt Romney’s administration in Massachusetts. But his argument is worth considering, whether you’re liberal or conservative.

So what’s the argument that the Pozen part of the Leonhardt-Pozen Legion of Doom tag team’s presenting? It’s their old favorite, the “Social Security is less progressive than it seems” bit of twaddle. How old is it? Why, it even comes pre-debunked, that’s how old it is.

To learn more, click on the link above.

I highly recommend reading this piece by Jeff Kaye, who has been researching and writing about torture for years now. He and Jason Leopold have been working together on a series at Truthout.

As part of a new investigative story, Truthout has published documents written by the former psychologist for SERE, and later CIA contract interrogator for the Bush torture program, Bruce Jessen. Before going to work for the CIA with his former SERE partner, psychologist James Mitchell, Jessen authored a 2002 “draft exploitation plan” for military use, based on his experiences as a SERE instructor. The newly-discovered documents, provided to Truthout by former SERE Air Force Captain Michael Kearns, were written back in 1989 when Jessen was transferred from his clinical role elsewhere in SERE to help staff a new survival training course for Special Mission Units undertaking dangerous assignments for Special Operations forces abroad.

Jason Leopold and I co-authored the new story, which includes a video interview with Captain Kearns, who helped hire Jessen back in 1989 for his new SERE role helping put together the class titled SV-91. The documents include notes for a portion of that class, known as “Psychological Aspects of Detention.” The other document is a paper by Jessen, “Psychological Advances in Training to Survive Captivity, Interrogation and Torture,” which was prepared for a symposium at that time: “Advances in Clinical Psychological Support of National Security Affairs, Operational Problems in the Behavioral Sciences Course.”

Jessen’s notes, in particular, demonstrate that this course material, which was “reverse-engineered” to provide a blueprint for the interrogation and detention policies of the Bush administration — some of which remain in use today — emphasized not just the ways to coercively interrogate an individual for intelligence purposes, but to “exploit” the detainee for a number of uses.

From Catherine Rampell at the NYT Economix blog: More Americans Dropping Out of the Labor Force. Apparently the drop in participation is not just due to the economic crisis. According to Rampell, more women are choosing not to work than in the past, and the the pending retirements of baby boomers are big contributors to the phenomenon.

This piece at The Daily Beast is a few days old, but still worth reading: Obama’s War on Schools

Over the past year, I have traveled the nation speaking to nearly 100,000 educators, parents, and school-board members. No matter the city, state, or region, those who know schools best are frightened for the future of public education. They see no one in a position of leadership who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.

They feel keenly betrayed by President Obama. Most voted for him, hoping he would reverse the ruinous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of George W. Bush. But Obama has not sought to turn back NCLB. His own approach, called Race to the Top, is even more punitive than NCLB. And though over the past week the president has repeatedly called on Congress to amend the law, his proposed reforms are largely cosmetic and would leave the worst aspects of NCLB intact.

Read it and weep.

From CNN: Suspect in attempted bombing at MLK Day parade pleads not guilty

Kevin Harpham, 36, of Colville, Washington, made the plea during an arraignment hearing in federal court in Spokane. Harpham faces trial on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and for possessing an unregistered explosive device.

Federal authorities arrested Harpham March 9, nearly two months after the January 17 discovery of a backpack containing a bomb along the Martin Luther King Day parade route in Spokane. The explosive device was found and disabled before the event began.

Officials called it an incident “of domestic terrorism” that could have resulted in “mass casualties,” had the bomb gone off.

I haven’t been following the Barry Bonds trial, but I was really angry when I read this: Witness says he knew of Bonds’ steroid use in 1999

Honestly, baseball should strike Bonds’ hitting records. It’s disgrace that he gets credit for passing Hank Aaron in home runs. Anyone who saw Bonds when he was younger had to know he was using steroids to get so big.

Poor Bart Stupak is afraid because of all the hate he got for voting for Obama’s health care bill.

After suffering through a “living hell” during negotiations on the healthcare law, former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) finds it hard, a year later, to distance himself from his pivotal role.

“I guess I’m the face of healthcare,” Stupak told The Hill in an interview this week. “It goes with the territory.”

Last March, Stupak became the object of a flood of threats and obscene messages, left at his office and his home, as he helped hammer out a deal between anti-abortion-rights Democrats and the White House that was instrumental in passing healthcare reform through the House by a single-digit-margin.

Cry me a river, Bart.


That’s about all I’ve got for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


Indiana Democrats Flee to IL and KY to Avoid Voting on Right to Work Law

Indiana House with Empty Democratic Seats

Yes, folks, it’s going viral! Indiana House Democrats have emulated Wisconsin Democratic Senators and leave the state rather than vote on a draconian anti-union bill.

Seats on one side of the Indiana House were nearly empty today as House Democrats departed the the state rather than vote on anti-union legislation.

A source tells The Indianapolis Star that Democrats are headed to Illinois, though it was possible some also might go to Kentucky. They need to go to a state with a Democratic governor to avoid being taken into police custody and returned to Indiana.

The House came into session twice this morning, with only three of the 40 Democrats present. Those were needed to make a motion, and a seconding motion, for any procedural steps Democrats would want to take to ensure Republicans don’t do anything official without quorum.

With only 58 legislators present, there was no quorum present to do business. The House needs 67 of its members to be present.

Indiana Government Mitch Daniels, who has completely unrealistic presidential aspirations tried to laugh off the Democrats’ strategy.

downplayed the boycott and the labor protests and laughed off suggestions that he might send the state police to pick up Democrats, some of whom left the state to escape their jurisdiction.

[….]

The right-to-work bill would prohibit Hoosier companies from entering into contracts requiring employees either to join a union or pay union dues or fees.

The bill would have a dramatic impact on teachers.

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