Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Look Into The Not-So-Distant Past

Just to recap:

1.  321,000 jobs were added in November, the most in over 3 years and the 50th straight month of job growth.

2.  Approximately 5,000,000 undocumented immigrants were spared deportation by Presidential executive order, acting as Republicans refused to pass immigration reform legislation.

3.  China and the U.S. came to an historic climate agreement affecting carbon dioxide emissions.

4.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), we've reached historic lows in the percentage of uninsured Americans, ongoing web site enrollments are providing millions with affordable health insurance coverage, and more Republican governors are yielding to political pressure to expand Medicaid in their states (shhh - don't anybody call it Obamacare, though!).

5.  After pursuing a failed policy for over 50 years, the U.S. and Cuba are going to establish normal diplomatic relations.

6.  The authoritarian that makes rightwing Republicans plotzRussian President Vladimir "Vlad the Invader" Putin is watching the Russian ruble and economy implode due to falling oil prices and the bite of sanctions orchestrated by that weak (but tyrannical!) President Obama himself.

All of this is keeping the Republicans off-balance and very angry.  So, let's keep pushing on our economic issues (equal pay, raising the minimum wage, middle class relief, income inequality, etc.) and see if their tiny heads explode.

The North Korean Censors

The recent cyber hacking assault on Sony Pictures resulted in some red-faced executives whose e-mails were leaked, and some serious invasions of privacy involving personal information and scripts to upcoming films.  The hacking was in retaliation for Sony's film "The Interview," which centers around farcical attempts to assassinate North Korean boy dictator Kim Jong-Un, while it relentlessly mocks him and his dysfunctional tyranny.  Intelligence officials are pointing to the North Korean regime as responsible for the sophisticated cyber assault.

The situation became more serious when threats were made that movie theaters showing "The Interview" would face 9-11 style attacks.  That was enough for the five major theater chains to announce that they would not be showing the movie, which forced Sony to pull the film.  Sony's move has prompted accusations of "cowardice" and submission to blackmail.  How the U.S. will respond to this cyber attack (and terrorist threat) remains to be seen.  But it should remind anyone that needed reminding that the technology-dependent world we live in has become a little more vulnerable, thanks to the whim of the boy dictator.

(photo:  Getty Images)

Today's Cartoon - Apparently It's Who We Are

As we noted the other day, recent polls show that a majority of Americans are o.k. with the CIA's torture methods, erroneously believing those methods have resulted in important information being obtained.  To those of us who still believe that's not who we are as a nation, the polls came as a reminder that there's a very large pool of low-information, frightened people out there whose "lizard brain" responds to any threat or fear stimulus =cough= Fox "News" =cough=.  They've also been conditioned by t.v. and film portrayals to believe "this stuff works," and that the ends justify the means.  In fact, it only rots you from inside out.

(click to enlarge)

(Tom Toles, once great Washington Post Bezos Bugle)

A Tale Of Two Editorial Boards, Cont.

Once again, when vision and courage are displayed in the public arena, we have a stark example of a newspaper whose editorial board's reaction shows that it has gone seriously astray.  Concerning President Obama's decision yesterday to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba, the neo-cons at the once great Washington Post Bezos Bugle opt, once again, for a reactionary "analysis:"
The administration says its move will transform relations with Latin America, but that is naive. Countries that previously demanded an end to U.S. sanctions on Cuba will not now look to Havana for reforms; instead, they will press the Obama administration not to sanction Venezuela. Mr. Obama says normalizing relations will allow the United States to be more effective in promoting political change in Cuba. That is contrary to U.S. experience with Communist regimes such as Vietnam, where normalization has led to no improvements on human rights in two decades. Moreover, nothing in Mr. Obama’s record of lukewarm and inconstant support for democratic change across the globe can give Ms. S├ínchez and her fellow freedom fighters confidence in this promise. 
The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life. 
Note to the Bezos Bugle:  You need to know that when you're in sync with shallow-pool inhabitant Sen. Marco "Glug Glug" Rubio (Tea Party- Cuba Libre) and a shrinking number of octogenarian Batista-campers, you've bottomed out intellectually and morally.  In the Bugle's own reporting today, the normalization is getting universal, across-the-spectrum support from Latin American leaders. Seems like recognizing reality and moving forward is greeted more positively outside the editorial board room of the Bezos Bugle.  Normalization is also a policy that 66% of the American people  (including the vast majority of younger Cuban Americans) supported in a 2009 poll by the, er, once great Washington Post Bezos Bugle.   You might want to hit warp speed and catch up to your readers and the 21st Century.

On the other hand, here's what the Miami Herald editorial board had to say:
No one should doubt the historic significance of the president’s decision. It required political courage, representing the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. 
The president has made a bet whose ultimate outcome no one can know. “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach,” he said. All who yearn to see freedom in Cuba can only hope this gamble pays off.
Unlike the Bezos Bugle's crystal ball certainty that the change in policy will give the Cuban regime "a new lease on life," it seems to us that this courageous move (with the assistance, we continue to note, of Pope Francis I) was inevitable and necessary to improve the lives of millions of Cubans (and Americans) and to free America from its last ossified links to the Cold War.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Colbert Tackles "J.E.B." Bush's Announcement

When former Florida Governor and "smarter" Bush brother John Ellis (J.E.B.) Bush announced yesterday that he was actively exploring running for President in 2016, the punditocracy buzzed with excitement over the prospect that, YES!, a third Bush would run for the Presidency. Who says there's no aristocracy (or amnesia) in American politics?  J.E.B. said last year that he wouldn't think about a decision to run until this year, and then he'd "think about it really hard."  Well, Stephen Colbert weighed in on J.E.B.'s announcement:  "'Think really hard..' when was the last time you heard a Bush say that?"  Bwahahaha!

BONUS: If you want one, just one, reason to hope this "moderate" Bush never gets anywhere near the Oval Office, let this be that reason.

Troika Cartoons of the Day

(click to enlarge)

The delicious Schadenfreude at would-be czar Vlad the Invader's economic woes.

(from top:  Stuart Carlson, Tom Toles, and Darren Bell, via

U.S., Cuba To Resume Diplomatic Relations

In a process that was facilitated by Pope Francis I (a.k.a., The Real Deal), President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced simultaneously today that diplomatic relations between the two countries would be normalized:
The United States intends to open an official embassy in Cuba in the coming months, the White House announced Wednesday, part of a broader normalizing of diplomatic relations after the countries exchanged prisoners. 
In a conference call with reporters, a senior administration official called the developments "the most significant changes to our Cuba policy in more than 50 years." 
"What we are doing is beginning the normalization of relations of the United States and Cuba," the official said. "President Obama has long believed that engagement is a better tool than isolation and nowhere is that clear than in Cuba, where we have seen a policy of isolation fail for the last 50 years."
Easing of travel and banking restrictions (not to mention the import of Cuban cigars) are expected to follow normalization.  The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations and instituted a trade embargo on Cuba more than 55 years ago.  The trade embargo, which is in law, would have to be repealed by the Congress.

As one would expect, Cuban American "patriots" like Republican Sen. Marco "Glug Glug" Rubio are already denouncing the warming.  (We expect Cuban American via Calgary, Canada, Sen. "Tailgunner Ted" Cruz to have a similarly caliente reaction as soon as he can find a microphone and cameras.)

Bravo to all concerned for breaking this nonsensical deadlock that hasn't done one thing to advance freedom or economic well-being in Cuba for more than half a century.

BONUS:  Here's the Pope's statement about the normalization:
"The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their history."
BONUS II:  And happy birthday to Pope Francis, who is 78 today.  Everybody tango!

The Immoral Majority

We were struck by the results of the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll on CIA interrogations, which showed that a large majority of Americans (59% to 31%) approved of the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation methods torture.  A similar majority (53% to 31%) think those methods resulted in important information being obtained, contrary to all experience and evidence.

What's also striking is that a plurality think what the CIA did was torture (49% to 38%), yet a significant subset of those still approved of the CIA's methods. The poll confirms an earlier Pew Research Center poll that showed a similar willingness of a majority of Americans to let the CIA bring on the waterboards, coffin boxes and rectal infusions.

At this point, Americans have no moral authority - zero - to lecture other countries about human rights abuses, a point that was highlighted with bitter irony by the North Korean regime, which is now urging the U.N. Security Council to look into the CIA's methods.  (You recall the Council recently agreed to consider a resolution that would refer a U.N. report of North Korean human rights abuses to the International Criminal Court.)  Until Americans understand why torture is both morally and legally wrong and those responsible for it get punished, we need to dismount from our moral high horse.

That said, there were two letters in the once great Washington Post Bezos Bugle that express matters so well, we would like to share them:
When I was young, I read of cold medieval dungeons where prisoners were doused with cold water and left to shiver and die. How unimaginably barbaric, I thought. 
As a teenager I read of Soviet torture of those considered enemies of the state. How awful, I thought, if the Russian people knew what was being done in the name of public safety and preserving their way of life. How could an ordinary person feel anything but shame? How could anyone defend torture? 
I was glad to be living in the home of the brave. 
And here we are, all illusions gone. 
Robin White, Washington 
My first priority is not to be kept safe by any means necessary. I am extremely offended by proclamations that the American people want to be kept safe above all else. 
For many Americans, protecting and defending the Constitution and our principles of individual freedom and due process of law are the highest duty we expect from our public servants. I believe we became a nation of cowards the day Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush lost their heads after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 
We send our military off to die, but we are afraid to risk another attack because we failed to torture the right person? I’m willing to take that chance if it means we can hold our heads up again as Americans and stand for something other than expediency and saving Mr. Cheney’s reputation. 
Cathy Clary, Afton, Va.
What, other than the fear and loathing of others that has been pounded into their heads by the politically motivated Republican Party and its minions anxious to deflect attention from their pre-9/11 failure to protect the homeland,  has led this majority of Americans to allow torture -- torture! -- to be conducted in their name?  We need to come to terms with this as a people, and quickly.

Look Who's Turning 70 Mid-Week Song

Who would have thought that legendary Stones guitarist and composer Keith Richards would have survived to see his 70th birthday, which is tomorrow?  His drinking and drug abuse -- which he's apparently kicked -- and general wear and tear on his body of five decades of rock stardom almost ruined him.  He co-wrote a large number of the Stones' songs with Sir Mick Jagger (gotta smile at that one), among them some beautiful ballads, one of which we feature today:  "Back Street Girl".  It's a song about a woman who is the mistress of a callous man at a much higher social strata.  The use of harpsichord, vibraphone and accordion make this one of the more un-Stones-like songs.  Early happy birthday to an unlikely survivor.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Quotes Of The Day - Barney Frank Edition

The always insightful, never dull former Rep. Barney Frank has a lot to say in an interview with Reuters excerpted at Raw Story.  Here are a few lines that caught our eye (but it's a detailed, wide-ranging interview that merits a full read):

On President Obama:
I was worried when he said in 2008 he was going to be post-partisan. It gave me post-partisan depression.
On Sen. "Tailgunner Ted" Cruz's Presidential chances:
God is not that much of a Democrat for Ted Cruz to get nominated. 
On the public's complaining about Congress (but then don't get their asses to the polls):
It’s interesting that the institution the public values the least is the one in which they have the greatest input in selecting: Congress. 
Of course, there's much, much more from Frank about politics, the "cromnibus" appropriations bill that weakened one part of the Dodd-Frank reform act, the financial collapse of 2008, marriage equality, and the media (including an interesting critique of two of our favorites, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert - oh, well).

Look Who's Embracing "Obamacare"

A couple of right-wing Governors have decided to temporarily shelve the talk about "Obamacare" death panels and socialized medicine to join a number of other states in accepting expanded Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act.  The latest to sign up is Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam (R-Smell-the-Coffee), who has notified his Rethuglican legislators that he would seek expanded Medicaid funding in order to cover some 160,000 low-income Tennesseans.  Earlier this month, far-right Kansas Governor Sam "Clownback" Brownback decided to use revenues from a Medicaid drug rebate program under the Affordable Care Act to plug part of the enormous hole in the state's budget that was created by his reckless budget cuts starting three years ago that nearly bankrupted Kansas.

Better late than never, even if their compatriot vandals in Congress still want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and punish poor and working Americans getting affordable health insurance for the first time.

Another Torture Twofer

First, with the fall out from the Senate torture report, former Bush Administration officials involved in the torture policy implementation are nervous about travel abroad, where they could face arrest on criminal charges.  Foremost among those would be Dumbya himself, who has cancelled plans to attend a charity event in Geneva, Switzerland on February 12 because of the real possibility that he might be arrested and charged with war crimes.

Second, Jon Stewart demolished former (Vice) President and torture enthusiast Dick "The Dick" Cheney on the Daily Show last night, dissecting his shameful performance on Press the Meat.  Every sly deception, every cynical statement by The Dick is examined and shot down.  We have to agree with Stewart's conclusion:  thank goodness that Dumbya didn't die in office.  Let's send The Dick on a world tour, shall we?

Russia's Currency Nosedives

Financial panic is starting to spread in the Russian Federation as efforts by the Russian Central Bank have failed to halt the free-fall of the Russian ruble.  The rapid devaluation of the ruble has sent currency markets in Russia into a crisis, after the ruble fell 10 percent in value on Monday.  Despite the Central Bank's hike in interest rates late last night, the ruble's value fell to record lows today.

Worldwide oil price decreases and economic sanctions place on Putin's regime have combined to weaken the Russian economy, which relies extensively on oil and gas exports.  Whether next year will mark Putin's political demise remains to be seen, but his territorial ambitions and dreams of a greater Russia will almost certainly be severely curtailed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Torture's Act One?

We noted earlier today that unrepentant torture enthusiast former (Vice) President Dick "The Dick" Cheney went on the offensive (and was offensive) on the Sunday poo-flings, monstrously defending the torture program during the Dick and Dumbya administration, while twisting facts, lying, and engaging in clownish demagoguery over 9/11 -- which, remember, happened on his watch.  If you want a great read on the performance, check out Amy Davidson's piece in The New Yorker.  It doesn't spare The Dick, the CIA (past and present), and even President Obama.  She looks at the implications of the "legacy of torture" and writes:
"….the President, when it comes to torture, has preferred avoidance to accountability. Obama looks back in sorrow, and seems to think that everyone else does, too. But if this past week has proved anything, it’s that the legacy of torture is not quiet repentance but impunity. This President has told his agents not to torture, and [current CIA Director] Brennan says he can work with that, while the C.I.A. waits for instructions from the next one." (emphasis added)
There's little doubt in our minds that a President Cruz, President Christie or other Rethugs would gleefully revert to torture in "defending" the homeland, regardless that it's discredited as a means of obtaining information.  As for everyone else, who knows at this point without a reckoning for what's already happened?

BONUS:  Michael Tomasky has much the same view, and holds the mirror up to us all.

BONUS II:  As usual, Michael Borowitz manages to find humor in even the most sordid circumstances: Cheney To Lead Torture-Pride March.

Terrorist Siege Ends in Australia

A self-styled radical "sheik" held more than a dozen people hostage in a candy shop for roughly 17 hours in Sydney, Australia, before Australian police and security units stormed the shop and apparently killed the hostage-taker.  Police identified the hostage-taker as Iranian immigrant Man Haron Monis, who was facing charges of sexual assault and has a history of making threats against the families of Australian servicemen killed in Afghanistan.  There are preliminary reports that some of the hostages were injured or killed, either by Monis or friendly fire.

Authorities believe Monis was a supporter of ISIS, demanding its flag and to speak with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott while holding the hostages at gunpoint.  Australia has joined the U.S. and other countries in military strikes against ISIS in Iraq.