Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ingmar Bergman tribute

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A clip from the Swedish director's 1966 avant-garde masterpiece, "Persona":

Threats In The Blogosphere: How Credible Are Michelle Malkin's Claims?

By MARC McDONALD

Possibly more than any other writer on the Web, right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin constantly refers to all the hate mail and threats she receives. In the eyes of her followers, this has enhanced her reputation and made her into a sort of right-wing hero for the truth, in her ongoing battle against liberals.

There's only one problem. Malkin isn't exactly the most reliable and trustworthy writer online. Frankly, I don't trust anything she writes.

The latest round of Malkin's claims of hate speech and threats began recently when Fox News' Bill O'Reilly compared the liberal Daily Kos to the Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan.

O'Reilly based his tirade on a tiny, cherry-picked handful of anonymous comments left on Daily Kos (a site with millions of daily visitors, all of whom are free to post comments).

Blogger Glenn Greenwald, among others, responded to O'Reilly's lunacy, pointing out that if you go to the site of Malkin (a frequent guest host on O'Reilly's program) you'll encounter loads of vile hate speech in her comments section. In Malkin's case, however, this really shouldn't be surprising. After all, as Greenwald notes, Malkin once wrote a book "defending the ethnicity-based imprisonment of innocent American citizens in internment camps."

In response to Greenwald's charges, Malkin has fallen back on a tactic that she's used before: she trots out the claim that she herself has been the victim of all kinds of terrible, violent hate speech and threats.

As she wrote in a July 26 piece:

"If you're going to get into it, the qualitative difference between blog comments on liberal blogs and my blogs is Grand Canyon-wide."

I really don't believe anything that Malkin writes and frankly I have doubts about her claims of getting inundated with hate speech and threats.

Am I saying that Malkin and other right-wing bloggers basically make up anonymous comments to try to make liberals look bad?

Well, not necessarily. But I wouldn't put it past any right-wing site. And I simply don't believe that liberals are posting hate speech, or violent threats, on right-wing sites.

The fact is, we liberals don't do hate speech. We don't do racism. In fact, we're not big on threats or violence in general.

Hell, we're from the party of Jimmy Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, for God's sake. It's hard to imagine George W. Bush ever winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

I know a lot of liberal Democrats. And I know a lot of conservative Republicans.

And frankly, in countless conversations I've had over the years, I've never heard a liberal make any kind of serious threat of violence against anyone, period. Violence is not our thing, after all.

I mean, we're not the ones who adore and cherish guns. We're not the ones who always throw a hissy fit when our paranoid little brains become convinced that the government is going to kick in our doors and take away our precious firearms. We're not the ones who demand the right to completely unrestricted access to guns (so that we can violently overthrow the U.S. government if we ever decide that we disagree with it).

Frankly, we're not big on guns, period. We'd rather solve our differences with reason and logic and rational debate.

I'm not sure where all these violent, hate-spewing bigots are coming from who supposedly post comments on Malkin's site. But if these are genuine comments, they're definitely not being posted by liberals.

By contrast, the right-wing hate-spewing comments that Greenwald references in his article sound EXACTLY like the sort of stuff I've been hearing FIRST-HAND from numerous self-described Republicans over the years. And in my conversations with fellow liberals over the years, I can tell I'm not alone.

I have heard, on numerous occasions, self-described Republicans advocating violence again Democratic politicians and liberals in general. I've heard them advocate violence against African-Americans. I've heard them say that America ought to "nuke the shit" out of the Middle East. And I heard them laugh during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, making comments like "Who cares? It was just a bunch of f*cking n*ggers who drowned."

And on and on and on.

These are comments from self-described, George W. Bush-supporting Republicans that I've heard first-hand over the years. And I'm not alone. I've heard other progressives describe similar accounts of hate speech and violence-tinged rhetoric that they're heard first-hand from Republicans.

We're not talking about anonymous comments on a Web site here. We're talking about people we've listened to in person, first-hand---be it someone we encountered in the line at the supermarket, or our crazy right-wing uncle who spewed his venom during Thanksgiving dinner.

Over the years, I've had many discussions with liberals on every topic under the sun. And I have to say: I don't believe I've ever heard a liberal seriously advocate violence against anybody.

I've known a lot of bigots over the years. I've known a lot of people who threatened to use violence. And I've known a lot of racists.

True, not all of them were Republicans. But many were. And NOT ONE of them was a liberal Democrat.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fox News Attacks Liberal Blogs

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As Fox News' Bill O'Reilly said, "This is vicious, hateful stuff"



Oh, and while we're on the topic of "vicious, hateful" speech:

"Oh, you're one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How's that? Why don't you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it."

Right-wing radio talkshow host Michael Savage
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"We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Right-wing commentator Ann Coulter
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The debate over Bill Clinton should be about "whether to impeach or assassinate."

Ann Coulter
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"I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it."

Right-wing CNN commentator Glenn Beck
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"I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron."

Right-wing commentator Michael Graham (speaking about Hillary Clinton).
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"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this (the 9/11 terror attacks) happen.'"

Right-wing pastor Jerry Falwell
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Oh, and one other note: the comments above were all made by famous, celebrity right-wingers, many of whom frequent Fox News. By contrast, the inflammatory blog content that Fox News focuses on are anonymous comments posted on liberal blogs.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Quote of the Day: Martin Niemoller

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First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.


---Quote from German Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892--1984).

Make sure that history doesn't repeat itself---Sign the pledge to drive out the Bush regime.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Why Low Congress Approval Rating Isn't Good News For GOP

By MARC McDONALD

Lately, the Republicans have been gloating over the fact that the Democratically led Congress has a low approval rating.

But if you stop and think about it, the GOP really has little reason to celebrate.

First of all, as Gallup has pointed out, Congress' approval ratings have been consistently low for decades---with only two exceptions: the Watergate era and in 1986 (when Congress' approval rating was at 40 percent). Indeed, the mainstream media has been irresponsible in its lack of context for failing to mention this fact in reporting on Congress' recent low approval numbers.

The fact is, pollsters have long noted that the American public has a dim view of Congress as a whole (but they often have a much higher opinion of their own local lawmakers).

It's important to remember the reason that Congress has a low approval rating these days.

Is it because the public disapproves of the lawmakers' efforts in the Congress to raise minimum wage and other Democratic legislative initiatives?

Nope, that's not the reason. In fact, polls have consistently shown that the public supports raising the minimum wage.

In fact, as Michael Moore pointed out in his book, Dude, Where's My Country? the majority of the American public agrees with the Democrats on most of the top domestic issues of our time. These range from keeping abortion legal to promoting civil rights to protecting the environment to stronger controls on firearms. Indeed, polls consistently show that a majority of the American public is further to the left than most Democratic politicians on many issues, such as health care. For example, 80 percent of Americans believe that health insurance should be provided equally to everyone in the nation.

The bottom line is that, if the Republicans take a good, hard look at the reason why Americans are fed up with this Congress, it's actually bad news for the GOP, not the Democrats.

The reality is, Americans are sick and tired of the war in Iraq--and they're fed up with the stumbling efforts in Congress to bring an end to this fiasco.

And try as they may to distance themselves from George W. Bush, the Republicans are going to have a difficult time distancing themselves from the Iraq War. After all, the overwhelming majority of the remaining Iraq War supporters in this country are Republicans.

The bottom line is that Congress' current low approval ratings has nothing to do with the public turning away from the sort of progressive policies that Democrats favor. And it has everything to do with the extreme unpopularity of a war that will always be associated with GOP politicians, whether they like it or not.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Media Ignored Previous Larry Flynt Bombshell; Will It Cover His New Revelations?

By MARC McDONALD

Love him or hate him, you've gotta admit, Larry Flynt is one smart man. Like a lot of us, he's sick and tired of Republican hypocrisy. And he knows that the mainstream media is pathologically incapable of ignoring a story that involves sex.

One gets the feeling, though, that the mainstream media just wishes Flynt would go away. There are already indications that the MSM isn't prepared to investigate Flynt's sex scandal leads. For example, on July 10, as Media Matters reported, neither NBC Nightly News and CBS Evening News reported on the disclosure that Sen. David Vitter's (R-LA) phone number was among the phone records of alleged "D.C. Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

The Vitter case has gotten heavy play in the progressive blogosphere. But it remains to be seen if the MSM will investigate this story and give it the coverage it deserves.

In any case, this isn't the first time that the MSM has downplayed or ignored bombshells that resulted from Flynt's investigative efforts.

For example, in 2000, Flynt tried to encourage the media to examine a bombshell story that, in 1971, George W. Bush got his then-girlfriend, a woman named Robin Lowman (now Robin Garner) pregnant and then arranged for her to have an abortion. (Note that in 1971, abortions were illegal in Texas).

But, predictably, Flynt got nowhere. The same mainstream media that gave us 18 months of around-the-clock, saturation coverage of the Monica Lewinsky story, refused to touch the Bush/abortion story.

It's downright eerie and Orwellian, the way the Bush/abortion story has been consistently ignored and even covered up by our nation's media. Few Americans have even heard of this story to this day.

One interesting episode on CNN a few years back neatly sums the media's approach to this story. On November 7, 2000, Flynt briefly spoke about the Bush/abortion case during an appearance on CNN's "Crossfire." Bizarrely, CNN later deleted Flynt's comments from the show's official transcripts, in an unprecedented move that indicates that the media in this country have received orders from their corporate owners to not touch this story.

Flynt was later interviewed on the Bernie Ward radio talk show on KGO radio in San Francisco, where he mentioned the CNN transcript issue and then lambasted the media:

"The mainstream media is scared to death of this story. They won't even check out the facts that I already have, much less ask Bush the question."

The mainstream media snoozed through this story during the 2000 election. And I suppose there's little reason that the media will look into it now.

It's true: the Bush/abortion story was never confirmed. But the lack of confirmation on a story never stopped the MSM from giving widespread coverage to stories when they involved Bill Clinton. Recall how in March 1998, the MSM gave saturation coverage to the Paula Jones case. (Time magazine even put the story on its cover).

It remains to be seen if the MSM will investigate Flynt's latest bombshell story. But on the basis of the MSM's track record in the Bush era, the odds are not good.

In fact, since Bush first took office, the nation's media has fallen into an eerie slumber. From GannonGate to PlameGate to the Downing Street memos, the media has snoozed through one major GOP scandal after another.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Poll: Bush Approval Rating Slumps To 25 Percent

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Just how unpopular is George W. Bush these days? A new poll by American Research Group has Bush's approval rating at 25 percent. In the poll, 71 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's job performance and 73 percent disapprove of the way he's handling the economy.

This latter information probably comes as a surprise to the Wall Street crowd and the inside-the-Beltway pundits who have been busy trumpeting the Dow's recent rise as evidence that America's economy is supposedly in stellar shape these days. Actually, I suppose it is in great shape for the mega-wealthy class of people who've seen their incomes explode into the stratosphere under Bush.
The new poll numbers represent the highest level of disapproval and lowest level of approval for the Bush presidency recorded in monthly surveys by the American Research Group.
See the full American Research Group results here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bush Enjoys World-Class Health Care Even As He Fights To Gut Children's Health Program

By MARC McDONALD

I always find it fascinating how the likes of George W. Bush and other GOP politicians constantly speak out against government-run health care, even as they get to enjoy world-class government-run health care themselves.

When you're the U.S. president, you get the best health-care treatment in the world. And it's all paid for by the taxpayers.

Unlike the rest of us, Bush doesn't have to worry about how he's going to pay for his health care. He doesn't have to haggle with greedy HMOs. He doesn't have to spend sleepless nights, worrying about what will happen if he or a member of his family has a catastrophic health-care crisis. He doesn't have to wait in line to get treatment.

In fact, Bush doesn't even need to lift a finger to see a doctor. All he's got to do is give the word, and a world-class physician will come to see him in the White House, any time he wants, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

In other words, Bush is living in a different universe than the rest of us.

Despite the lavish government-run medical care Bush receives, he's quite confident that the best health-care solution for the rest of us is that offered by stingy, corrupt HMOs. In reality, of course, HMOs don't give a damn about the health care of their clients. They're only concerned with maximizing their quarterly profits.

And even as Bush enjoys state-of-the-art, world-class government-run health care, he's working to gut a successful program that offers health care to children in America.

As The New York Times reported, Bush has threatened to veto any substantial increase in spending for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a joint federal-state effort that has substantially reduced the number of uninsured children in the country.

As the Times noted, the program now gets $5 billion a year in federal money to match state contributions, and the Bush administration has proposed a meager increase of $5 billion spread over the next five years. The Times reported that "that would not even be enough to cover all of the 6.6 million children who were enrolled at some time during the last year. Hundreds of thousands of children would likely fall off the rolls. And there would be no help for some eight to nine million children who now have no health coverage at all."

At first glance, Bush's proposed $5 billion might sound like a lot of money. But the fact is, Pentagon blows through that much money every couple of weeks in Bush's illegal, immoral war in Iraq. And that doesn't include the many billions of dollars that have vanished and remain completely unaccounted for in Iraq.

Bush is following in the proud Republican tradition of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. He fights a highly successful program offering health care to children to save a few billion dollars. And then he turns around and lavishes billions of dollars on his failed, reckless war in Iraq (not to mention the billions in corporate welfare for the likes of Halliburton).

Bush also serves up a hefty dose of Republican hypocrisy. He fights the State Children's Health Insurance Program, because it's a government-run program. But then he shamelessly enjoys the benefits of the world-class, government-run health care that he and his family receives. In fact, for all of Bush's advocacy of private-sector solutions for health-care, I don't recall him ever once proposing that health-care for politicians be handed over to the HMO sharks.

Monday, July 16, 2007

They Don't Make First Ladies Like They Used To

By MARC McDONALD

"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"
---Barbara Bush, March 18, 2003, just before the start of the Iraq War.

Reflecting on the passing of Lady Bird Johnson takes me back to an era when our nation had first ladies we could be proud of. For that matter, we had a nation we could be proud of. Seems like a million years ago.

Lady Bird was a champion of environmentalism (a word that is utterly alien to the current White House). She was an advocate of many other noble causes as well. As former President Carter noted, "Many people's lives are better today because she championed with enthusiasm civil rights and programs for children and the poor."

By contrast, Laura Bush, the current first lady, simply seems to be out of touch with the American people, much like her husband.

We saw this repeatedly during the Hurricane Katrina crisis when Laura repeatedly showed herself to be incapable of even correctly pronouncing the word "Katrina." Indeed, during that disaster, she appeared to be as out of touch with ordinary people as Barbara Bush. Recall how the latter made one insensitive, idiotic comment after another when speaking about the victims of the disaster.

"Almost everyone I've talked to says, 'We're gonna move to Houston.' What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas," Barbara Bush said.

As Bill Maher noted at the time, the problem with the pampered, sheltered aristocratic class of people like the Bushes is that they're often racist without even realizing it.

Speaking of living a pampered, sheltered life, that sums up Laura Bush's life perfectly. Just like her husband, she has seen time and time again as her wealth and connections got her out of crises that'd be much more serious if they happened to ordinary folks like you or me.

Take her 1963 car crash, in which she ran a stop sign in broad daylight and smashed into another car, killing its occupant, a young man named Michael Dutton Douglas. She never faced the slightest legal repercussions for this event and no charges were ever filed.

The accident never received any attention from the mainstream media and has been pretty much covered up over the years (just like Laura Bush's habit of smoking).

One wonders, though, if this had happened to Hillary Clinton instead. I get the feeling that the mainstream media would have jumped all over the story. And everyone in America would be constantly reminded of it on a daily basis by hate-wing radio.

Instead, the image projected by the MSM of Laura Bush has been carefully sanitized. It's an image that is only occasionally punctured when Laura opens her mouth and reminds us that she's as out of touch as her bumbling husband. She doesn't seem to be very well informed about the real world---but that doesn't keep her from speaking about topics like the disastrous Iraq War.

As she told Larry King in a February interview: "Many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everybody."

(In fact, as Think Progress noted at the time, the number of daily insurgent and militia attacks in Iraq has skyrocketed to nearly 200 a day).

Of course, if you take a look at Laura Bush's activities in the White House, you'll find that she, like a lot of first ladies, has championed various causes over the years. If you take a close look at them, you'll find that she's no Eleanor Roosevelt.

Take Laura Bush's support of the National Anthem Project, for example. This program aims "to revive America's patriotism." The program has been criticized as promoting a corporate agenda in public schools (complete with company logos that are blatant advertising).

My biggest problem with National Anthem Project is its idea of "patriotism" as some mindless, jingoistic, flag-waving behavior that wouldn't be out of place on Fox News. True patriotism doesn't need to be promoted by the government, or any organization, for that matter.

True patriotism is cultivated when our government does the right thing. That hasn't been the case under George W. Bush. Indeed, many Americans, far from feeling patriotic these days, are ashamed at what our nation has become.

Lady Bird was of an era when things were much different. Although it's difficult to fathom today, once upon a time, America was actually respected and admired by much of the world. When we spoke about human rights, our words carried serious weight. But in today's era of Iraq and Gitmo, any lectures we now offer the world on human rights are met with derision and ridicule.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Previous Boasts Of Success Against Al-Qaeda Come Back To Haunt GOP

By MARC McDONALD

For years, George W. Bush and the GOP have been boasting that America is winning the fight against Al-Qaeda.

Now that cocky claim has come back to haunt Bush and the Republicans. The Associated Press has reported that U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded al-Qaeda has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since 9/11.

You'd think that Bush would have learned a lesson in humility after his 2003 PR stunt fiasco when he strutted in his flightsuit across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln beneath the "Mission Accomplished" banner. I mean, here we are four bloody years later, and no end in sight in Iraq's civil war.

And now Bush's boast that America is winning in the fight against al-Qaeda has been completely debunked by the new report by U.S. intelligence analysts.

This latest revelation makes a mockery of the cocky claims that we've been hearing from Bush and his supporters over the years. For example, on Sept. 7, 2006, Bush boasted in a speech to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation that "America is safer and America is winning the War on Terror."

Bush hasn't been the only right-winger to make such ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims since 2001. Take Fox News regular Richard Miniter, whose silly book, Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror, was the toast of the conservative media in 2004.

Miniter created an even bigger splash in the right-wing world in 2005 with his book, Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush is Winning the War on Terror. The book breathlessly detailed such bombshells as "the Bush administration’s secret plan to hit Al-Qaeda before Sept. 11, 2001."

I guess the accepted story about Bush taking month-long leisurely vacations at his Crawford ranch and ignoring critical PDBs was nothing more than a Liberal Media Falsehood.

Anyway, for those taking notes, let's review a couple of facts:

1. George W. Bush and right-wing nutcases like Miniter have been arrogantly boasting for years that America is "winning" in its fight against Al-Qaeda.

2. U.S. intelligence analysts now believe Al-Qaeda has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since 9/11.

Don't expect this latest development to change many minds in the diehard wingnut camp. After all, we're talking about Kool-Aid drinkers who still believe to this day that Saddam was behind 9/11. I'd imagine the right-wing blogs are already gearing up to attack the "liberal" Associated Press for reporting this story in the first place.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Real Culprit For the Iraq War Fiasco: American Hubris

By MARC McDONALD

Who should we blame for the Iraq War fiasco?

George W. Bush? Dick Cheney? The NeoCons in general?

Personally, I think we ought to blame the arrogance of the American nation for this fiasco.

After all, many Americans, both rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats, are some of the most arrogant people on the face of the earth.

It's an arrogance that is the result of many factors. For one thing, it stems from the fact that U.S. is widely perceived to be the world's leading economic power. And the fact that Americans regard our nation to be nothing less than God's gift to the world: a nation with the world's best political system, the best justice system, the best economic system---in fact, the best overall system of any nation.

With this sort of arrogance rampant amongst Americans, it shouldn't really be any surprise that we as a nation believe that the rest of the world hungers to live the way we do. We believe that the rest of the world these days not only seeks to model their nations after America---but that they are actively working to do so.

Such hubris led most Americans to believe that Iraqis would greet us as liberators. Such arrogance led most of us to believe that the Iraqis would shower our troops with flowers---and then busy themselves with the task of re-making their society along the lines of an American-style Jeffersonian democracy.

We were astonished when this did not in fact happen. Psychologically, we as a people simply couldn't fathom why the Iraqi people wouldn't eagerly remake their nation in our image. We were stunned when the Iraqis began a ferocious insurgency against our occupation and began killing our troops with IEDs and suicide bombers. We were even more stunned when opinion polls consistently showed that an astonishing number of ordinary Iraqis supported these attacks on U.S. troops.

It's interesting to note that Iraq has a culture that was already ancient when Christ was born. And yet for all the turmoil, war, and strife that that nation has endured over the years, there was never a recorded instance of a suicide bomber until 2003, when America invaded Iraq. For all its faults, Saddam's regime never faced a single suicide bomb. Nor did Saddam's convoys ever face a roadside bomb.

America's arrogance has resulted in disasters for our nation (and for the world at large) before. After all, it was arrogance that led the U.S. into its previous disastrous war in Vietnam. We were convinced then that the Vietnamese were eager to embrace U.S.-style capitalism (when in fact, the Communists enjoyed widespread support among the peasants in the countryside).

It is our arrogance as a nation that will almost certainly lead us into future wars.

Many Americans have a tough time comprehending that the rest of the world simply doesn't wish to live the way we do. To be sure, there may be specific aspects of our society, here and there, that other nations admire. But the rest of the world simply doesn't want to emulate our nation as a whole.

A big part of the reason we can't comprehend why the world doesn't wish to live like us is rooted in Americans' complete and total ignorance about the rest of the world. It's a state of affairs that has arisen in large part because of America's abysmal education system and our lousy corporate media.

Few Americans speak a second language. And even fewer seem to fathom that the rest of the world simply doesn't think the way that we do. Instead of accepting this basic fact of life, Americans instead tend to criticize other nations for not doing things the way we do (because, after all, we reason, the American Way is, of course the best way to get things done).

Americans never stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, other nations don't worship the American Way and have no intention of copying us.

A good example of this is the American corporate media's constant slamming of Europe's economic system these days. As a result of the U.S. media's misinformation campaign about Europe, most Americans these days are under the impression that Europe is an economic basket case, struggling with "sky-high" taxes, an "over-regulated" economic system, "out-of-control" labor unions, and "excessive" workers' rights that threaten to destroy Europe's economic competitiveness.

What's worse is that the American media would have us believe that Europeans are busy these days "deregulating" their economies and working to re-make their nations along American lines, with less regulation, weaker unions, longer working hours, etc.

It might come as a surprise to most Americans that Europe, in fact, has no intention of copying America's concept of capitalism. In fact, Europe long ago took a good, hard look at America's brutal, dog-eat-dog economic system and rejected it.

In fact, many Europeans resent the U.S. lecturing them about economics. They wonder how Americans can proclaim their nation to be the "world's most competitive" economy, when in fact the U.S. economy doesn't make much these days that the rest of the world wants to buy. (Hence, America's titanic trade deficits, the largest in world history).

Do the Europeans really need any lessons in economics from America? Through European eyes, the U.S. economy seems to be a giant Ponzi scheme: an economic system that needs trillions of dollars in foreign capital just to stay afloat.

All of this raises the question: does any nation really want to emulate the American system these days? After all, the U.S. has the worst education system in the industrialized world. We have the world's largest prison population. We have a currency that is in danger of meltdown, because of our out-of-control deficits. We have a population that is the most economically polarized in the First World. We have a crumbling infrastructure. We have 47 million people who have no health-care coverage.

Last, but not least, we have a political system that has been thoroughly corrupted by money. People in other nations look at our political system these days not with admiration, but with bafflement. They wonder how Americans can tolerate a system that produces travesties like the 2000 election, when the "losing" candidate got 549,000 more votes than George W. Bush. They also wonder how Americans can tolerate a political system that is so obviously rigged to benefit the rich, at the expense of the poor and middle class.

In George W. Bush's simplistic, black-and-white view of the Middle East, the people were hungering for American-style democracy. I'd suspect most Americans believed the same, particularly in the heady days leading up to the U.S. 2003 invasion, when Americans went through one of their periodic outbursts of jingoistic flag-waving.

Four bloody years later, we've come to learn that maybe, we never really understood Iraq, after all. In the end, we invited the current disaster, with our nation's complete ignorance of other cultures and our arrogant delusion that the people of the Middle East were eager to remake their societies along American lines.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The President Who Cried Wolf

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Hey, kids! It's story time. Today's story is, "The President Who Cried Wolf," a tale about the Lewis "Scooter" Libby case, read by Steve Tatham at The Ointment Have a great Fourth of July everyone.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Bush Wasn't Known For Mercy Before Libby Case

By MARC McDONALD

George W. Bush has shown us a side we never knew he had in extending mercy to former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Bush spared Libby from a 2 1/2-year prison term, calling his sentence "excessive."

Perhaps Bush is following the advice of Jesus, who once said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." After all, Bush once declared that Jesus was his favorite philosopher.

Yeah, right.

The fact is, if you look at Bush's political career, you'll find a man who has never cared much for mercy. Indeed, you find a cold, callous person who never blinked as people were sentenced to harsh prison terms and given the death penalty under his watch.

Take the case of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War. Serving as Texas governor at the time, Bush ignored an international outcry for granting clemency for Tucker, who'd become a born-again Christian while in prison (and who, the prison warden testified, had become a model prisoner who had been reformed). Bush ignored all pleas for mercy from everyone from Pope John Paul II to the United Nations to the World Council of Churches.

Indeed, according to an account by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, Bush showed shocking callousness in the case. Carlson described how, during an interview, Bush smirked and pursed his lips and said "Please don't kill me," as he mocked Tucker's pleas for clemency.

In fact, Bush was never a man known for mercy in death penalty cases. In his five years as governor, Texas executed 152 prisoners, by far the highest total for any state and more than any other governor in modern American history.

A number of commentators argued that Bush routinely failed to give serious consideration to clemency requests in death penalty cases. Among these critics was Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun and leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.

As CommonDreams.org pointed out Bush presided over a death penalty cases that was noted for "notorious examples of unfairness," noting cases in which lawyers were under the influence of cocaine during the trial, drunk, or even asleep.

CommonDreams.org quotes a report by The Chicago Tribune on the 152 death cases that occurred in Texas while Bush was governor:

In one-third of those cases, the report showed, the lawyer who represented the death penalty defendant at trial or on appeal had been or was later disbarred or otherwise sanctioned. In 40 cases the lawyers presented no evidence at all or only one witness at the sentencing phase of the trial.

Of course, there's a big difference between the vast majority of defendants in these death penalty cases and Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Most of those executed in Texas were poor people from destitute backgrounds. Many were minorities.

By contrast, Libby is more like Bush himself: male, white, wealthy and from a prosperous, pampered, silver-spoon background.

Monday, July 02, 2007

How To Beat The GOP Theocrat Thugs At Their Own Game

By MARC McDONALD

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." -- Sinclair Lewis

Let's face it, the very real threat of America turning into a full-blown GOP-led theocracy is not going away any time soon.

Republican candidates have long found that wrapping themselves in the Bible and the flag is a potent combination that continues to resonate powerfully with millions of voters. All you need to succeed with this approach is to be shameless and cynical (two characteristics the GOP has in abundance).

If the likes of George W. Bush have it their way, the wall separating church and state will be eventually demolished and our nation will become a theocracy. Bush has already done incalculable damage to the church/state barrier with his appointments of radical right-wing judges. And make no mistake: there will be more extreme far-right evangelical GOP candidates like Bush in the future.

Like the guns nuts in the NRA, the extremist GOP theocrats and their followers are a minority in America. But they're a minority that has clout far beyond their numbers. Like the NRA, they're noisy, outspoken, well-organized and ferociously committed to getting their way, at any cost.

One reason the GOP theocrat thugs' message is so powerful is that they're good at convincing people that they are representing "true" Christian, biblical beliefs.

After all, it's pretty hard to argue with the Bible, the word of God (at least when the GOP theocrats are framing the argument).

If we progressives want to beat the threat posed by the GOP theocrat thugs, we need to embrace the Bible ourselves. We need to prevent these GOP extremists from monopolizing the Bible to advance their own agenda.

As it turns out, there is a great deal of content in the Bible that progressive-friendly (and subsequently radioactive to the Republicans).

Take the Bible verse, Mark 10:21. This is a verse that describes what happens when a wealthy man approaches Christ and asks him what he must do to "inherit eternal life."

Christ responds, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."

Hmmmm, this sounds an awful lot like progressive income redistribution. It certainly doesn't sound like the usual "screw the poor, they're entirely to blame for their own woes" screeds that we hear from the Republicans.

Note that in Mark 10:21, Christ does not say that one must sell one's possessions and give to the poor in order simply to be a "good Christian." Instead, he says we must do this if we want to go to heaven, period.

This is one of those Bible verses you'll never, ever hear Republicans talk about (along with Christ's words in Mark 10:25: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.")

Instead, Republicans are always busy digging deep into the Old Testament (which, incidentally, Christ said his own words replaced) and finding obscure verses to support their views on issues like homosexuality. Never mind the fact that the Old Testament is FULL of bizarre stories and teachings that I'm not sure that anyone today really fathoms. I mean, how about the verse that says that a man who has damaged testicles may not enter a temple to worship? (Deuteronomy 23:1)

Christ spent a lot of his ministry speaking harshly of the wealthy. In fact, he only had kind words for two groups of people: children and the poor (two groups, incidentally, that have always fared poorly under GOP administrations). It's a far cry from the glorification of the wealthy that the GOP has indulged in for decades.

In fact, a big part of the problem I've always had with the Christian religion is not the teachings of Christ (most of which I wholeheartedly agree with). It's self-styled "Christians" themselves.

At least here in the U.S., Christianity has been twisted, perverted and distorted by Bible-thumping fundamentalists, who ironically seem to be completely ignorant of the Bible's contents.

I've never understood why the Republicans, of all people, have long been identified as the party somehow closest to "Christian" values and morals. I'm not sure which Bible these people are referring to. A great deal of what animates them seems to consist of issues that aren't even mentioned once in the Scriptures (abortion, for example).

If we progressives want to counter the threat posed by the GOP theocrat bullies, we need to start claiming the Bible for ourselves. After all, there's plenty of evidence to bolster our claim that Christ himself was a progressive.

For more information on the safeguarding of the separation of church and state and religious liberty, check out First Freedom First.