October 26, 2009

8 Reasons Fox Is Not a News Organization

When the White House claimed that Fox News wasn’t a news organization, and at best was an “arm of the Republican party,” I cheered. Anyone who’s watched Fox News at any time in the past several years knows full well that Fox News is anything but news and is essentially nothing more than a video version of many right-wing talk radio stations that claim to “say what everyone is thinking” and “not be a part of the liberal media” (you know, that liberal media that depends on things like facts and journalistic integrity) so the call won’t come as any surprise.

But some conservatives whined and complained that the White House was unfairly targeting Fox News, and in some cases accused them of trying to gag the news organization for trying to speak truth to power (you know, the same thing that every other news organization was stifled doing during the Bush Presidency). Now those of us in the reality-based community know that’s ludicrous, but Adele Stan, writing for AlterNet, has 8 great reasons why Fox News isn’t News at all:

Even before Barack Obama was elected to the presidency, Rupert Murdoch had declared war on him via the personalities of Fox News Channel, a subsidiary of Murdoch’s media conglomerate, News Corp.

Since Obama’s election, the cable channel’s hosts and paid analysts have launched a full frontal assault on the president, smearing his nominees, calling him a racist and suggesting that his administration was trying to persuade disabled veterans to off themselves.

Now the fearmongers at Fox are crying foul since the president and his aides declared Fox not to be a news organization. Earlier this month, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn called Fox an “arm” of the Republican Party. Obama went even further, suggesting this week that Fox “is operating basically as a talk-radio format,” and we know what that means: A format in which the most provocative opinions dominate the discourse and facts are optional.

Yet that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Setting Fox apart from the two other cable news networks is its ownership by a corporation whose CEO and major shareholder is a mogul with an ideological agenda — who operates his News Channel as a propaganda machine for his anti-government cause.

What follows is a primer on Rupert Murdoch and why you should be very wary when he moves in on your favorite media outlet, but let’s get to the reasons:

1. Glenn Beck, the community organizer
2. Fox’s alliance with the corporate-funded astroturf group Americans for Prosperity
3. On-air fundraising for Republican PACs
4. Bill O’Reilly, stalker of those whose opinions he doesn’t like
5. Sunday talk-show host who promotes Republican falsehoods
6. Fox News anchors, show hosts and pundits parrot GOP press releases, or just make up stuff
7. Fox News hosts urge viewers to join a particular political group
8. Glenn Beck, deranged inventor of paranoid conspiracies

Yes, I know Glenn Beck appears twice, but the full descriptions of each are more than worth reading.

[ 8 Reasons Fox Is Not a News Organization ]
Source: AlterNet

The Matthew Shepard Act Passes: Say Thank You to the People Behind It

On October 22nd, 2009, Congress finally passed the Matthew Shepard Act, after many long years, obstruction by Republicans, threats of veto by the Bush Administration, scare tactics from the religious and evangelical right-wing, and even personal threats against the families fighting to make equal protection against hate crimes against actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability under federal law a reality.

I’ve been one of those people looking on from the sidelines and adding my voice whenever possible, but the dream is now a reality, and President Obama has promised to sign the bill before the end of the month, making it federal law.

If you’d like to send a personal message to the Shepard family and the Byrd family, use the link from the Human Rights Campaign below, or visit the project page to learn more about the bill and its long struggle to get here at Love Conquers Hate.

[ Thank the Families Who Stood Against Hate ]
Source: The Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

The Case For Big Government

The beauty of the so-called “big government” is that it actually advocates for the people, and it’s accountable to the people, no matter what the far right and the “why should I pay taxes at all, much less for the common good when I could take the money and spend it on myself or shamelessly give it to the not-so-free market” libertarians claim. There is no other nation in the world that has seen or sees the prosperity that first world nations enjoy without having large federalized governments that see to the basic needs of the people, from the defense of the nation to the education of its children to the health and well being of its people.

And yet in America we have these roiling debates over how our government, which struggles with a huge population and a sprawling landmass, has trouble doing this and spends too much money doing it. Normally I would brush off the “too much money” squawkers – these people aren’t in favor of fiscal responsibility, they’re in favor of not paying taxes and cutting education budgets if it means they can afford a big-screen TV, but there’s a reason that the most prosperous, healthy, well lived, and well educated nations in the world are in many cases the most progressive socially, the ones with the highest citizen tax rates and the most just tax burdens (as in, the wealthiest pay more to the society they draw the most from in order to sustain their wealth), and the healthiest and happiest among us.

Writing for the Campaign for America’s Future, Jeff Madrick agrees:

America had been living a free-market myth for a generation until the credit crisis of 2008 and 2009 descended on the nation—and the world. One expression of that myth, found frequently on the editorial pages of the popular media, was that government does not grow economies, business does. In other words, government, don’t meddle where you’re not needed. Politicians are even easier to belittle than government itself.

I have spent much of my professional life making the opposite point. Government does indeed grow economies. It creates jobs and it produces prosperity. When politicians make correct decisions, they indeed make economies grow. There is no example of a major rich nation in the world whose government does not educate its children and teenagers; build its roads, bridges, superhighways, and airports; establish regulatory bodies to minimize financial busts; develop sanitation and water systems, and health care standards; support those who are temporarily unemployed; and provide a public pension to the elderly and a subsidy to the poor.

This is the call of big government. Label it proportional government if the words “big government” bother you. It is people getting together to do what they believe they must. And, yes, this is what good politicians do. Let’s call it like it is.

As economies grow larger, societies more populous, scientific and social knowledge deeper, and interconnections more complex, government grows as well—at least in societies that succeed. And when government works as it should, it is also typically the leading agent of change. As economies progress, societies learn more, and expectations rise, government’s main purpose is to manage, foster, and adapt to this change. It is a profound task.

Our own government has a history of managing and adapting, often radically, to change, looking ahead, not backward. It did so in the face of influential forces, fearing the future and aiming to protect established interests, which invariably opposed new obligations for government: financing the canals in the 1820s; building free primary schools starting in the 1830s and high schools in the late 1800s; developing government-built sanitation and water systems in the early 1900s that made the cities possible; creating a central bank to mitigate the disruption of boom-and-bust cycles and regulate unstable financial markets; enforcing labor rights such as hours worked, job safety, and a minimum wage; implementing vaccination programs and health research.

Madrick goes on to debunk the myths of why so-called “big government” is a bad thing in the rest of the piece, but this is the most poignant. For America to survive, it needs to retain, foster, and grow a strong large, representative government that’s accountable to the will of the people. Corporate boardrooms and companies wheeling in the “free market” are accountable to no one, and have even pressed legislation that wouldn’t even make them accountable to their own shareholders – the people contributing money to keep them afloat.

So who else can you trust, but the people whose names you put in the ballot box? And if you can’t trust them, don’t vote for them, and if you don’t know about them, learn. If after learning you still can’t trust any of them, it sounds like Mr. Smith needs to go to Washington, or at least speak to the point outside of the Capitol. Take responsibility, instead of whining and complaining and assuming someone’s taken it from you in the form of your tax dollars.

[ The Case for Big Government ]
Source: The Campaign for America’s Future

Insurance Company Tells Rape Victim Her Assault Would be a Pre-Existing Condition

We’ve been hearing more and more about these kinds of stories lately, and while I think that part of the reason they make headlines is because there’s an ongoing debate about health care in Congress, I’m also glad that such issues are coming to the forefront because there are more people who are being abused by health insurers that are seeing those insurers backtrack on their behaviors as a result of being publicly shamed.

Like this story for example:

Yet another deep, deep disconnect is on the issue of women–the people, their lives, their reproductive needs–being considered either irrelevant a la Senator “Who-Needs-Maternity-Care” Kyl of Arizona (home of the Sheriff who wanted female inmates to pay extra transportation costs to procure abortions) or in the form of Senator “You-Can’t-Pay-For-Your-Abortion-With-Your-Private-Insurance-Policy” Hatch (R-Utah), or the insurance companies and the Catholic Bishops for whom women’s health is a pre-existing condition or a condition of original sin.

Out of all of this is an increasing string of stories of individual women who’ve been denied insurance because their wombs, breasts, rapes (pick one) or simply their sex makes them a “pre-existing condition.”

Among the most recent examples is a woman who spoke at the launch of NWLC’s “Being A Woman Is Not A Pre-Existing Condition” campaign on October 20th, 2009.

Writing at Womenstake.org, Amanda Stone recounts the tale of the speaker, Chris Turner:

“Nope, we won’t take her.” This is what insurance companies in Florida said when asked whether they would provide insurance coverage to a hypothetical applicant who had survived rape. Let’s back up a few steps. First, who was asking the question? Second, why was the applicant’s history posed as a hypothetical? Third, what can we do to change this dire situation?

Turner is a health insurance agent from Tampa Florida, and a rape survivor who spoke of her survival story. She was the person, in Stone’s frame, who was asking the question.

As recounted by Stone:

In November 2002, [Chris Turner] was drugged and raped while on a business trip. She sought medical help from her physician, who put her on preventative anti-HIV medication, since there was no way of knowing whether the person who raped her used a condom. Following her assault, Chris was afraid to leave her house for some time. About a month after the assault, Chris gathered the courage to seek counseling to deal with her fears-counseling which continued for about a year. She took the steps she needed to take care of herself, and the steps she now encourages other rape survivors to take as a volunteer at a Florida organization called SOAR-Speaking Out About Rape. As a volunteer, she warns rape survivors about a harm which she faced-she tells them, “if you lose your insurance, you might not be able to get it back.” This is exactly what happened to Chris.

A few months following her rape, Chris needed to find new health insurance on the individual market.

Conservatives would argue that this was somehow her fault for a variety of reasons and find some way to blame her for her insurance company’s decision, or at best would claim that her attacker should be the one responsible for the medical costs she’s incurred (if they had some shred of decency), but I’d take things a step further than that even: that Turner shouldn’t be victimized again by an insurance company that sees her as a liability now that she needs medical care, and preventative care, at that.

It absolutely floors me that any medical organization that claims that “health care” is its business would see fit to treat someone this way – but, contrary to the assumptions and disconnections of the far right and their libertarian allies, this is the America we live in, where we’re too scared to see a doctor for preventative care, much less get sick, even if we do have quality health insurance, for fear of being abused, mistreated, and eventually given the boot, only to find out that we don’t have the right or the privilege of being so abused again – even if we need insurance to be.

[ Insurance Company Tells Rape Victim Her Assault Would be a Pre-Existing Condition ]
Source: RH Reality Check (via AlterNet)

Republicans Are Irrelevant to Health Care Reform

I would probably stretch this title out a bit to claim that not just Republicans are irrelevant to health reform, but Republicans and libertarians are irrelevant to health reform. The latter are the people who stare blankly at the price tag and then start wailing and gnashing their teeth at how much the whole thing will cost and the deficits and the debts and on and on without thinking about the cost savings that will arise from a more structured, less abusive system. The former on the other hand has no idea what they’re opposing as long as they can oppose it – it’s wasn’t their idea, they’re against it, and as long as they can drum up some talking points, even if they’re outright lies, they’re good to grab their flags out of the corner and start waving them and their guns (that you’ll only pry out of their cold, dead, hands, mind you) about.

But there’s a greater fear at play, says Scott Galindez, writing for TruthOut:

Democrats can cry foul all they want when the insurance industry threatens to raise rates, but if the final bill looks like the Finance Committee bill, higher premiums are inevitable.

Why? It is simple economics. Many of the reforms, such as covering people with pre-existing conditions, could cost the insurance companies more money. The insurance companies will say that if they have to insure people that are already sick, they will need more revenue. Without competition, the insurance companies will continue to fudge the numbers and control insurance costs.

Let’s face it, the Republican Party is afraid that they will be irrelevant for a long time if the Democrats deliver anything close to universal health care; the best case for them is a bill that has reforms, but doesn’t cut costs. They then get to say “we told you so” to the millions of Americans who will be angry because their premiums went up. They will be able to say “we told you so” to the young people who are forced to pay fines because they choose not to purchase a health care plan because they can’t afford one.

So in the end, the libertarians are just idiotically misguided, but the Republicans are actually afraid for their own futures. We’ve seen their party melt down in recent years to a seething mass of racist and hate-filled far-right-wingers who claim to speak for the whole, but the problem with someone who’s left without options is that they start to do drastic and crazy things to get back on top. And sometimes they work.

Crazy things like assuming the current health care status quo in this country is okay and nothing should be done to fix it – huddling up with their business buddies and claiming that it’s not that health care reform is bad, it’s that THIS health care is bad, and then sticking their fingers in their ears and whistling Dixie when asked for their proposals or alternatives.

I’m with Galindez on what he considers “the solution” to be:

It’s simple really, and most Democrats get it: provide real competition with a strong “Public Option.” The ideal plan would be to let everyone buy into Medicare. Since this is not in any of the five bills that passed committee, it will not happen.

The next best option is for the House to pass the strongest public option possible, and for the Senate to pass a bill that includes the public option that is in the HELP Committee bill. When they go to conference, let the House negotiators prevail and use the reconciliation route to get the conference report through the Senate.

Using this route will require no Republican support, and leave the “party of no” on the wrong side of history once again. It will benefit the American people and will be smart politics for the Democratic Party.

If they choose to be irrelevant, let them be. The rest of the country will march on without them.

[ Republicans Are Irrelevant to Health Care Reform ]
Source: TruthOut

October 19, 2009

The Chamber Of Commerce’s Jobs Deception Campaign

The US Chamber of Commerce – a body so corrupt and out of touch not only with the needs of the communities of whom their member businesses serve but the needs of those businesses themselves – has launched a public relations campaign designed to kill not only upcoming health care legislation but also climate and clean energy legislation that’s pending in the Senate. Some have even gone so far as to describe the campaign as “waging war on the White House.”

Between wanting to kill health care legislation that will reduce employer costs and thus save the businesses that are members of the chamber millions of dollars and result in happier, healthier employees and wanting to put climate change “on trial” a la Scopes in an attempt to disprove climate change with anecdotal evidence and peer pressure (since science isn’t on their side and sorry, but “reasonable doubt” doesn’t fly when you’re talking about scientific evidence), the chamber has seen members leaving its board and its membership lists left and right.

How out of touch is the chamber?

The Chamber’s campaign originally started out as an attack against financial regulation–until the Chamber found out how strongly U.S. taxpayers support reining in Big Banks and the financial industry’s widespread shady practices. So the Chamber conveniently changed the packaging to purportedly focus on jobs, which in fact the American people desperately need.
Look at who accompanied the Chamber suits while they were announcing their Orweillian-named “free enterprise campaign.” As Sam Stein reported here:

Many of the individuals featured on Wednesday are long-standing donors to Republican candidates and groups that have fought efforts to enhance regulation. And, in one case, the business leader appearing alongside [Thomas] Donohue to decry the interference of government in the market place received business through the benefit of government contracts.

Yet, while millions of America’s workers struggle to find jobs in an economy where there are more than six workers searching for every one job, the Chamber repeatedly opposed extending unemployment insurance. Can’t have government interference in the marketplace, after all. Or aid to jobless workers. The same workers the Chamber’s smoke-and-mirrors campaign is supposed to be all about.

The Chamber also is joining with Big Banks and financial giants to try and kill a proposed agency that would protect U.S. consumers from being preyed upon by unscrupulous banks, mortgage lenders and many of the same financial institutions that helped create our nation’s economic disaster. The Obama administration’s pr oposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which this week is being considered in the House Financial Services Committee, would regulate products such as credit cards and home loans, while ensuring the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission oversaw the $450 trillion “derivatives” market that sunk the world economy.

The Chamber is spending $2 million in attack ads, claiming that the new agency would hamstring even your local butcher from extending you credit for a week. It’s the same sorry effort at deception and outright lies that the health insurance industry now is trying to pull in the debate over health care reform. Tell enough lies and hope someone believes you.
As President Obama said in response to the Chamber’s distortion:

“We’ve made clear that only businesses that offer financial services would be affected by this agency. I don’t know how many of your butchers are offering financial services,” Obama said to laughter.

The Chamber is so twisted up in deception it seems unable to even provide accurate membership numbers. Writing in Mother Jones this week, David Corn points to a big discrepancy between the Chamber’s public membership numbers and reality.

In testimony before Congress, statements to the press, and on its website, the Chamber claims to represent “3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.” In reality, the number is probably closer to 200,000.

Not sure if the 200,000 includes Apple Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric and the other giant corporations that recently have pulled their membership from the Chamber because of its draconian stand on climate change.

Ah, now there’s the rub: the chamber has a vested interest in opposing legislation that’s beneficial to both its members and the nation as a whole that very well may make it more difficult for them to stand in front and represent their members as the only body that can influence positive change in their direction. Add to this the fact that they’ve always been a Republican-friendly organization and you have a body that will oppose even the most business-friendly and beneficial practices and policies if they don’t come from their preferred side of the aisle. Propose a change, and they roll out their usual scare tactic: “that’ll cost jobs,” when in reality it either won’t if they decide it doesn’t have to.

And what happens to the American people in the process? The same thing that always happens when you let boardrooms and CEOs determine public policy: they walk away with the big bucks and the American people are left in the gutter, jobless and living unemployment check to unemployment check until another CEO has a need for someone to make them richer.

[ The Chamber Of Commerce’s Jobs Deception Campaign ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future (and The Huffington Post)

October 12, 2009

LCROSS, “Bombing the Moon,” and the Anti-Science Progressive

Last week when NASA crashed part of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) into the moon, the Web buzzed with the headline “NASA bombed the moon! NASA bombed the moon!”

Out of their holes crawled the conspiracy theorists and anti-science, anti-tax, anti-everything conservatives, with the former claiming this was some massive plot to destabilize the moon’s orbit (impossible) or have some kind of impact on global warming (impossible) or something similarly nefarious and impossible, and the latter claiming that the $79 million spent on the probes and their instruments are a waste of tax dollars.

Unfortunately, along with the anti-everything conservatives this time came the anti-science progressives: the ones who believe that space exploration and all kinds of science are wastes of money when there are rivers to clean up and people starving here on Earth and people dying of thirst in Africa and so on and so forth, all of which ring with sense but are completely devoid of logic. I found this moronic post at AlterNet that really set me off (as it did a number of the commenters, who rightfully called out the author on having no scientific knowledge of the experiment or consideration of the science behind the experiment and simply knee-jerking against what she perceived based on her own ignorance to be a wasted cost.

The sad thing is that during the Bush Administration progressives clamored and cried for the restoration of science and scientific examination to its proper place in our society, that we should make educated decisions based on the experimentation and observation of those people who have been trained and are knowledgeable in their fields and peer reviewed data, not on gut feeling or anecdotal experience and personal desires.

So let’s break down some of the science around LCROSS.

First of all, “bomb the moon,” “blow up the moon,” etc are all idiotic, sensationalist ways to phrase the experiment – there were no explosives, there was no fireball or massive mushroom cloud or anything else that would be associated with a bomb or explosion.

The other fallacy is that the experiment was entirely designed to look for water on the moon, and that’s only partially true. The launch vehicle broke into two pieces: one impactor that was designed to plummet into the moon and kick up a cloud of debris (for the people who are concerned about how this affects the moon, they should think of a grain of sand flying into a volleyball as an appropriate analogy) through which the second probe would fly and collect data. That second probe would then send its data back to earth before impacting the surface itself. No boom, no cloud, nothing dramatic.

The experiment is almost exactly like Japan’s Kaguya probe that impacted the moon with nowhere near as much fuss back in June. LCROSS was designed to look not only for water in the Moon’s soil, but also to take a comprehensive analysis of the makeup of the moon’s soil. The cheapest and most efficient way to do this without landing a probe to drill and dig into the soil is to do something that would kick up a lot of that soil so you could churn up what’s underneath the dusty surface – and that’s exactly what LCROSS’s impactor was designed to do.

$79 million for a space probe with instruments on it as complex as LCROSS and that would teach us as much about our closest celestial neighbor is a bargain, and in line with some of the most cost-effective experiments NASA has done to date. Even if you took NASA’s entire budget and threw it at some other problem like the environment or poverty, you wouldn’t be able to effectively resolve those problems. We all know that throwing money at issues like drinking water and poverty aren’t exclusively the way to go about resolving them, but there’s more money to be recovered in administrative costs, cost overruns, corruption, and bloat in a number of already present projects around the globe than there is to try and cut science funding that’s actually beneficial to our communities, our planet, and our society.

I’m not going to go so far as to suggest that the search for water on the moon represents some massive boon to humanity or some huge benefit for future colonization plans although those are distinctly possible – the cost of bringing equipment to extract water from the moon’s surface is much lower than the cost of bringing enough water to support a human expedition to the moon – but more importantly this is the kind of scientific experiment that not only tells us more about the universe around us but helps us understand how our own world came to be.

It’s time we started marginalizing anti-science progressives the same way we marginalized anti-science conservatives during the Bush Administration and the Republican reign in Congress. It’s one thing to pervert science into justifying your political ideology, it’s another to claim science is a waste of money when it’s not directly influential to your personal chosen social issue. The latter is almost worse, and is just as despicable. We don’t hear the anti-science progressives complain when NASA launches experiments looking to collect data on climate change, and we don’t hear about the millions NIH spends on new vaccines and treatments because they can be directly tied to something that a number of those same progressives care about.

But when it comes to experiments in all branches of science that may not have a direct impact on today’s problems, even if they’ll yield future impact, these folks crawl out of their holes and complain about the costs. The anti-science progressives don’t realize they’re only a jump away from the anti-science conservatives who would rather the money be funneled into bombs and guns then exploration and discovery. Just like their counterparts who would rather see no money spent on things like space science, environmental science, and biology, these anti-science progressives let themselves be caught up in thinking that the government and thus the world should revolve around the cause they personally champion, ignoring the fact that any and every government, organization, or community is fully capable of focusing on more than one priority at one time, even if they themselves are not.

Making policy decisions based on your gut or some crystal worshipping, lofty gut feeling that we’re all one and all connected would be fine in an autocracy, but in a democracy where the people need evidence that their interests are being upheld, science plays a critical role in making sure that the things we do to our world aren’t harmful, the things we learn are meaningful, and the choices we make matter.

Why President Obama Deserves (and Simultaneously Doesn’t) the Nobel Peace Prize

I find myself in the difficult position of arguing that President Obama both deserves and doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize – I understand the argument that everyone has been making that the President hasn’t really accomplished as much as President that other Presidents did when they were given the prize; that Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Carter all got the prize years (and in poor Carter’s case, decades) after being in the office, and his accomplishments hardly compare to some of the epic challenges that historical figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. faced.

But all of that misses the point. The Nobel Prize isn’t a comparative thing, it’s not something you’re awarded when you reach a certain level that everyone else has already attained, and it’s not some kind of race that involves getting to a certain point before your accomplishments have been recognized. Additionally, the people crowing about whether or not he’s accomplished enough as President completely ignore his history, his story, his rise to fame and power, and everything he managed to do not just as President, but as candidate Obama, and as citizen Obama before that.

His campaign alone managed to energize and unify the American people unlike any other political activity in the past generation, his work prior as a lawyer, constitutional scholar, and community advocate, made a world of difference to his community. His work as State Senator and finally Senator in Congress was of immense value to his state and the people he served at home. I really don’t want to turn this piece into a blow-by-blow of Obama’s accomplishments and achievements, for that you can go read his Wikipedia entry, or pick up either of his books to read more about what he’s managed to accomplish over his time.

But here’s the point: not only has the man already managed to accomplish more than any politician has managed to do ever both at home and abroad in terms of unifying people around the world in the goal, hope, and desire for peace and justice, he’s managed to inspire people around the globe to activism in their communities and to support their dreams and goals for a better society, whether they agree with him or not. Never in a generation and never since a time of war have the nations of the world rallied to the side of the United States in the cause of peace and a brighter future for our global community.

I heard some excellent commentary on the news today from a very wise listener who pointed out that we don’t see anyone regularly challenge to whom the Physics prize is awarded or to whom the Economics prize is awarded, or to whom the Chemistry prize is awarded, or to whom the Literature prize is awarded, from their armchairs, as though they’re more qualified than the Swedish Academy. If people are so concerned with and believe so strongly that he didn’t deserve the prize, I think they should match wits against the academy. Oh, they won’t? Of course not – that would require having a spine to back up your assertions.

Obama has a hard road in making those dreams anything like reality and accomplishing any of those lofty, heavy-handed goals, but the fact that he’s made them look reasonable and possible, and the fact that he’s managed to align so many people in so many places in support of them is itself more than remarkable. If anything, he has been a unifying figure both abroad and at home, something that in and of itself given the state of the world before he took the stage, is deserving of accolades. That is an accomplishment worthy of praise.

30 GOP Senators Vote to Defend Gang Rape

The title isn’t hyperbole, and it’s not false. It’s absolutely true. 30 senators, mostly White, Republican, men, voted to protect corporations “rights” and financial interests rather than women from being gang raped. The measure passed regardless, and as much as the senators who voted this way can whine about how it was an amendment attached to a defense authorization bill (which frankly, I think it absolutely should have been because it dealt specifically with defense contractors and their legal accountability – if you’re going to authorize the money to pay for them, you should be able to make the rules that police them) but we all know that these men wouldn’t have voted for the bill even if it were stand-alone and made it through hours upon hours of committee and floor debate.

So then, here’s the scoop, lifted from MyDD.com:

It is stunning that 30 Republican members of the United States Senate would vote to protect a corporation, in this case Halliburton/KBR, over a woman who was gang raped. The details from Think Progress:

In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. She was detained in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.” (Jones was not an isolated case.) Jones was prevented from bringing charges in court against KBR because her employment contract stipulated that sexual assault allegations would only be heard in private arbitration.

Offering Ms. Jones legal relief was Senator Al Franken of Minnesota who offered an amendment to the 2010 Defense Appropriations bill that would withhold defense contracts from companies like KBR “if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.”

Seems simple enough. And yet, to GOP Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions of Alabama allowing victims of sexual assault a day in court is tantamount to a “political attack” at Halliburton. That 29 others, all men, chose to join him in opposing the Franken amendment is simply mind-boggling.

In the debate, Senator Sessions maintained that Franken’s amendment overreached into the private sector and suggested that it violated the due process clause of the Constitution.

To which, Senator Franken fired back quoting the Constitution. “Article 1 Section 8 of our Constitution gives Congress the right to spend money for the welfare of our citizens. Because of this, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, ‘Congress may attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds and has repeatedly employed that power to further broad policy objectives,'” Franken said. “That is why Congress could pass laws cutting off highway funds to states that didn’t raise their drinking age to 21. That’s why this whole bill [the Defense Appropriations bill] is full of limitations on contractors — what bonuses they can give and what kind of health care they can offer. The spending power is a broad power and my amendment is well within it.”

God I love it when Senator Franken quotes the Constitution. Not every Republican was so clueless. Ten voted for the Franken amendment including the GOP’s female contingent of Senators (Snowe, Collins, Hutchinson and Murkowski).

“We need to put assurances into the law that those kind of instances [the Jamie Leigh Jones case] are not capable of being repeated,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted in favor of Franken’s amendment. “I want to make sure that a woman, any individual who is a victim of a terrible act, knows that they have got protections.”

Murkowski said that she considered the arguments that Sessions made about the amendment being too expansive before she decided to vote for the legislation.

“I looked at it,” said Murkowski. “And, I tell you, you look at some of the things we do and you have to say, ‘OK, you have a specific instance we’re trying to address and does this go above and beyond?’ But when you have to err on the side of protecting an individual, I erred on the side of greater generosity, I guess.”

Republican Sen. George LeMieux of Florida echoed some of Murkowski’s sentiments.

“I can’t see in any circumstance that a woman who was a victim of sexual assault shouldn’t have her right to go to court,” LeMieux said. “So, that is why I voted for it.”

Although Franken chatted up LeMieux on the Senate floor before the vote, LeMieux said that he had already made his decision. But, LeMieux added, Franken’s talk didn’t hurt.

“I had decided to vote for it before I came here, but I was happy to hear his argument for it,” LeMieux said. “He did what a senator should do, which was he was working it. He was working for his amendment.” I’ll add, Al Franken is everything a United States Senator should be.

As for Jamie Leigh Jones, she was nothing but elated and thankful. “It means the world to me,” Jones said of the amendment’s passage. “It means that every tear shed to go public and repeat my story over and over again to make a difference for other women was worth it.”

And for the GOP, it is a new low.

Way to lay the constitutional smackdown, Franken. I mean wow – that’s amazing.

And because I didn’t want to let the list go by and get buried in the text of the article, let’s lay it out for you right here.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are the 30 men who voted against this amendment, who would rather a woman be gang raped and not be able to face her accusers or the company that allowed it to happen and protected the people involved, than at least let her have her day in court:

Here are those who vote to protect a corporation over a victim of rape:

Alexander (R-TN)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)

Remember them when you head to the polls.

[ 30 GOP Senators Vote to Defend Gang Rape ]
Source: MyDD.com

Republican Gomorrah: The Shattered GOP, Taken Over by Authoritarian Radicals, Is Incapable of Compromise

This one comes from the “we had to know this already” files, but just in case you didn’t know it was as bad as it is. Max Blumenthal was recently on NPR’s Fresh Air to discuss his book, called Republican Gomorrah, where he lays out the history of how the conservative right got to a position where even fiscal conservatives and people who expect good governance from their politicians can’t respect their side of the debate anymore:

Well, I would simply say that the Republican Party, over the last 20 years, has been subsumed by extreme elements, mainly by the Christian right, and the Republican Party at the same time has been the most dominant party for the last 30 years. So naturally, you know, the extreme rhetoric of the right-wing fringe is going to become mainstream if the major opposition party to the Democrats, who now control Congress and the White House, are echoing it, and Fox News is providing a megaphone for it.

So this is no surprise at all. What also needs to be noted is that many of the radio shows that are projecting this information and broadcasting it – these conspiracy theories about concentration camps for right-wing dissidents, about mass gun seizures, about death panels – are some of the most popular radio shows in the country. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is one of the top five radio hosts in the country. So is Michael Savage, who accused Obama of trying to indoctrinate an Obama youth corps with his speech encouraging public school students to study hard and stay in school – the same with Sean Hannity.

So all of the people who are introducing these conspiratorial theories about Barack Obama, suggesting that he’s either Hitler or Stalin or both, command enormous audiences and are therefore taken seriously by the mainstream media, which attempts, you know, this veneer of balance, of entertaining both sides.

But when one side is completely hysterical, conspiratorial and is leveling baseless attacks, should it be taken seriously? And what are the consequences of taking those attacks seriously in a democracy? I think those are questions that need to be raised. … Now, you went to a couple of gun shows in Reno, Nevada, and in Antioch, California, and you write that you came away with a portrait of a heavily armed, tightly organized movement incited by right-wing radio to a fever-pitched resentment of Obama and his allies in Congress.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently released a report saying that the militia movement, which had strengthened during the Clinton years, organizing against the powers of the federal government, faded out early in this decade with Republicans in power, but it’s on the rise again. The militia movement is on the rise again. Did you see evidence of that at the gun shows that you attended?

Blumenthal: Yeah, absolutely. I think there is a perception, especially within the media, that Barack Obama could avoid inciting the kind of opposition that President Clinton did by implementing a moderate to liberal agenda. And what I was able to witness at these gun shows earlier in the year, before the battle was brewing over health care and the government bailout, was an incipient extreme opposition to Barack Obama building within the Republican grassroots and on the far right.

And it stemmed from conspiracy theories spread by radio hosts who are not very well-known in the mainstream but are extremely popular, like Alex Jones, that President Obama had a plan to put right-wing dissidents in concentration camps under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. And when I spoke to people at gun shows, this conspiracy theory was really popular, the same with, you know, Obama’s supposed plan for mass gun seizures.

And so, people were buying as many guns as they could, including high-powered weaponry, like 50-caliber, semiautomatic rifles, which have been shown to be able to down aircraft, you know, sniper rifles that can be easily disassembled and put into a briefcase that’s concealable. I showed this in a video I did called “Gun Show Nation.”

And the crowd you see at gun shows, I mean, some people are just basic, apolitical gun enthusiasts, but it’s a very political gathering. There are Confederate flags. There are even Nazi flags being displayed throughout the conference because it brings in elements that are even considered extreme within the right-wing grassroots, like neo-Nazis.

And it’s a gathering place. Gun shows have become a gathering place for people who are the most extreme opponents of Barack Obama’s agenda, and they’re energized again by the battle over health care. And we’re seeing it across the board; it’s not just with the extreme, militia-oriented elements. We’re seeing it within the Christian right.

A recent poll showed that seven out of 10 white evangelicals are extremely opposed to Barack Obama’s proposed health-care reforms. And the Christian right is raising a lot of money, organizing against health care. So it’s across the board. The right is growing again. And those who pronounced the death of conservatism, or the death of the Christian right, were premature.

Gross: You know, you say at these gun shows, you know, in addition to there being conspiracy theories that Obama will put people who oppose him in concentration camps, which would be another Hitler comparison; there’s also a lot of people who are convinced that Obama plans to usher in a Marxist dictatorship.

Blumenthal: There are, and there are also a lot of people, possibly the majority of people I spoke to, who didn’t really seem to know the difference between fascism and communism. The goal is to paint Obama as a totalitarian, a secret communist, fascist, terrorist, Muslim, whatever they can do, a basic pastiche of right-wing hobgoblins, a multicolored pinata of every evildoer they want to smash in order to de-legitimize him and mobilize as much opposition as possible.

And as I discuss in my book, this began during the rallies after Sarah Palin was nominated as vice president. It began when Sarah Palin said — I’m slightly paraphrasing — that Barack Obama is not one of us. His America is not our America, and he’s palling around with terrorists.

And at that point, you began to hear cries from the crowd that Barack Obama is a traitor, that he is treasonous and so on. And the campaign didn’t end with Barack Obama’s inauguration. Those rallies didn’t end. They’ve extended into the health-care debate, into the debate over the government bailout and into every element of Barack Obama’s agenda. And the more time that goes on, the more extreme the rhetoric becomes and the more diffuse the opposition to Barack Obama becomes.

That, my friends, is epically frightening. And all the more reason why we each need to make sure we stand for what we believe in, before this fringe takes it away from us. It’s been said that historically it’s easier to organize an opposition against something than in support of something, but if there’s a time to prove that old adage wrong, it’s now.

Read the whole interview below.

[ Republican Gomorrah: The Shattered GOP, Taken Over by Authoritarian Radicals, Is Incapable of Compromise ]
Source: AlterNet

Listen to the interview and read a passage from Republican Gomorroah below:

[ A ‘Shattered’ Republican Party? ]
Source: Fresh Air, from WHYY – National Public Radio