04/20/2011 archive

Deepwater Horizon: One Year Later

One year ago, there was this

Today there is still this:

A year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the surrounding environment and those who depend on it are still facing an uncertain future. Nearby islands have seen visible land loss, and tar balls still roll onto coastal beaches occasionally. Federal plans on recovery projects are far from finalized, and President Obama said yesterday that while “significant progress has been made,” the “job isn’t done.”

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day. Scroll down for the Gentlemen. (click on images to enlarge)

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Obama needs a budget to match his progressive ideals

For perhaps the first time since being sworn into office, President Obama has articulated, in eloquent terms, what it means to be a progressive. In his budget speech last week, he spoke of our obligation to the broader community to provide a basic level of security and dignity. Speaking of programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, he said what every good progressive believes: “We would not be a great country without those commitments.”

e fused a defense of progressive governance with a scathing critique of Paul Ryan’s cruel budget, which all but four Republican House members have now voted for. And he demanded that the rich finally pay their fair share, vowing to let the Bush tax cuts expire. It was a powerful speech, in many ways reassuring to progressives who have been demoralized by a president who appeared missing in action.

But rhetoric and policy are not the same thing. And in this case, as in far too many, the policy agenda the president has laid out is not worthy of, in his words, “the America we believe in.”

Pamela Merritt: The Anti-Choice Movement: A Dangerous Place for African American Women

A racist, anti-choice billboard has been placed in my city, in a neighborhood less than 20 minutes from my home. Yeah, it’s hard to put into words just how disgusted and insulted I am.

In 2010 I had the honor of participating in the founding of the Trust Black Women Partnership, when I was invited to a meeting of women of color in Atlanta Georgia.  Reproductive justice activists had recently defeated race-baiting anti-choice legislation that came on the heels of a billboard campaign that advertised “black children are an endangered species” and “the most dangerous place for an African-American baby is in the womb.”  The Trust Black Women Partnership is a long-term strategy to ensure that black women can mobilize wherever such campaigns appear in African American communities, and to generate deeper discussions about black women’s autonomy and human rights.  Instinct fueled me to action, since I knew my home state of Missouri was likely to see a similar campaign in the future.  So, I returned home and immediately reached out to the reproductive justice community to share what we learned from the Georgia campaign and to organize women of color in St. Louis city and Missouri.

Dahlia Lithwick: The Death of Roe v. Wade

Supporters and opponents of abortion seem to agree: It’s no longer the law of the land.

Supporters and opponents of abortion agree on nothing. One side says this is a conversation about fertilized eggs; the other says it’s about fetuses. One side says the debate is about personal autonomy; the other says it’s about murder. One side sees exceptions to abortion restrictions for reasons of maternal life or health as necessary to protect life; the other sees them as cunning “loopholes.”

Increasingly, however, there is a fundamental assumption both sides seem to share, even if they don’t say so, and it may well shape the future of abortion rights in America: Opponents and supporters of abortion appear to have taken the position that Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land.

Laura Flanders: Demonizing Taxes, Heightening Inequality

Yesterday was Tax Day in the US, and that’s almost universally greeted with groans and complaints. That tax word’s been so effectively demonized that it may be there’s no coming back. Is it time for a new word?

Some research by Duke University’s Dan Ariely suggests it might be.

Ariely’s study showed that Americans actually want a more equitable society-in fact, they think they have one.  When asked to identify their homeland from a list of nations described only by their level of equality–a majority of those polled picked Sweden, thinking it was the US. When asked to create their ideal society, Democrats, Republicans, men and women, the rich and the poor all created a distribution of wealth that is much more equal than the one we’ve got.

All that “social mobility, low inequality” stuff–Americans love it. They just don’t have it. In fact, social mobility here’s been shriveling, as the wealth gap’s been opening up.

Daphne Wysham: Obama’s Dirty Energy Fixation

As radioactivity levels continue to spike in Fukushima, Obama’s support for nuclear power is unwavering.

Just days after a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami unleashed a nuclear disaster in Fukushima, President Barack Obama signed a nuclear power cooperation agreement with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Like Japan, Chile is seismically active. It suffered the sixth-most powerful earthquake–8.8–ever recorded on a seismograph only last year.

The irony of peddling nukes in an earthquake zone after a devastating nuclear accident was apparently lost on Obama.

A few weeks later, he called for lowering the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, as well as aiming to reduce it by one-third by 2025. But in the course of doing so, he perpetuated some tired ideas about what’s possible with our energy matrix.

Donna Smith: Why Is a Trump Bankruptcy (or Two) OK?

Donald Trump has benefited from bankruptcy twice.  Donald Trump has grown his personal fortune following his two bankruptcies and now may run for President of the United States.  Clearly, the rules for Donald Trump in the aftermath of bankruptcy are not the same as for the rest of us.

And is this what we want in terms of leadership for the nation?  Someone who is smart enough to mow right over the realities the rest of us face when financial disaster looms?  Someone who bellies up on hundreds of millions is better than someone like me who goes broke for want of several thousand dollars following medical crisis?  My credit as a bankrupted person should be ruined forever and keep me from working some jobs or ever owning a home again while Donald Trump’s bankruptcies catapult him to the Presidency and great personal wealth and the building of Trump structures all over the country?

Ari Berman: Obama vs. Ryan: Who’s Winning the Deficit Debate?

Democratic strategists believe that House Republicans committed political suicide by voting to approve Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan last week. “When we win back the majority, people will look back at this vote as a defining one that secured the majority for Democrats,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel told Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent.

Obama skillfully framed Ryan’s budget during a major speech on the deficit earlier in the week, contrasting his vision of “shared sacrifice” with Ryan’s “deeply pessimistic” plan to gut the social safety net and redistribute income upwards. After a week of enjoying the limelight, the “bold” and “courageous” Mr. Ryan, an instant media darling, suddenly looked like something of a fool. Ryan complained that Obama had characterized his proposal as “basically it’s un-American.”

Ralph Nader: Waiting for the Spark

What could start a popular resurgence in this country against the abuses of concentrated, avaricious corporatism? Imagine the arrogance of passing on to already cheated working people and the jobless enormous corporate losses? This is achieved through government bailouts and tax escapes.

History teaches us that the spark usually is smaller than expected and of a nature that is wholly unpredictable or even unimaginable. But if the dry tinder is all around, as many deprivations and polls reveal, the spark, no matter how small, can turn into a raging inferno.

The Boston Tea Party lit up the American Revolution. Storming the hated Bastille (prison) by impoverished Parisians launched the French Revolution. More recently, in December 1997, an Israeli military vehicle rammed a civilian van in the West Bank killing seven occupants and igniting the first Intifada.

Mark Bittman: What’s Worse Than an Oil Spill?

A year ago, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, gushing nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before it was finally capped three months later. It was by most accounts a disaster. But when it comes to wrecking our oceans, the accidental BP spill was small compared with the damage we do with intent and ignorance.

I recently talked about this with two men who specialize in ocean affairs: Carl Safina, the author of “A Sea In Flames” and the president of the Blue Ocean Institute; and Ted Danson, (yes, that Ted Danson), who recently published Oceana (the book) and is a board member of Oceana, the conservation organization he helped found. As Safina said, “Many people believe the whole catastrophe is the oil we spill, but that gets diluted and eventually disarmed over time. In fact, the oil we don’t spill, the oil we collect, refine and use, produces CO2 and other gases that don’t get diluted.”


So much goes over Beltway Access Bloggers heads that it’s genuinely hard to determine if they are morons or liars (with moron being the more charitable choice).

I find that a fitting introduction to Greg Sargent’s current piece.

New Washington Post/ABC News polling released this morning is unequivocal: There is strong across the board support for Obama’s policy preferences on the deficit.

And yet, in what appears to be an emerging pattern, that support is not matched by general approval of Obama’s handling of fiscal matters.

The poll finds that 72 percent overall, and 68 percent of independents, support hiking taxes on those over $250,000. Even 54 percent of Republicans support this.

Meanwhile, 65 percent say Medicare should remain as it is today and should not be transformed into a voucher program. Only 34 percent favor changing the program.

A solid majority, 59 percent, also supports a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts to reduce the deficit – the Dem approach – versus only 36 percent who support only cuts.

But only 39 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the deficit, versus 58 percent who disapprove. That’s better, but only marginally so, than the GOP’s 33-64 spread on the same question. And more say the GOP is taking a stronger leadership role than Obama, 45-40. This matches yesterday’s McClatchy poll, which found the same disconnect.

Either voters don’t know what Obama’s proposals are; or they do, but the GOP’s success in creating generalized anxiety about Dem overspending continues to dominate; or perhaps all views of Obama are colored by unease about the economy. Whatever the cause, closing this disconnect – translating support for Obama’s policies into confidence in his economic and fiscal leadership – is perhaps Obama’s central political challenge.

Zing!  Obama’s central political challenge is that people know he’s a liar.  He should stop lying.

Update: (h/t Think Progress)

No Reason to Believe

Why would anyone believe ratings or projections by the S&P or Moody’s after their part in crashing the economy?  

Rather than assess risk accurately, two major rating agencies sold their top seals of approval to their investment bank clients, blessing products that the agencies themselves knew to be undeserving, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded in a report released Wednesday. By repeatedly debasing their standards, these agencies helped banks sell shoddy securities to unsuspecting investors, inflating the value of assets that turned out to be worth far less, the report has found.

The senate panel, led by Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), levels a two-part charge against the rating agencies: Not only did these companies help inflate a dangerous bubble, the report says, but they also bear responsibility for popping it, as their abrupt downgrades of mortgage-linked securities in 2007 helped set off the panic that caused markets around the world to collapse.

Wall St. wants more austerity and and their puppets in Congress will help them every step of the way. So why should anyone take this seriously? Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars reminds that “the banks liked the recession”

You’d think, considering the part played by Standard and Poors, Moody’s and Fitch in covering up these stinking piles of crap inadvertently rating mortgage derivatives as sound and crashing our economy, they would have the good grace to shut up and sit down.

But since nothing happened to hold accountable any of these craven clowns, what possible incentive do they have to tell the truth? And what reason do we have to believe them? After all, they’ve already displayed their willingness to sell their ratings to the highest bidder.

Let me remind you that bankers actually like the recession. They like the falling wages and the weak job market. The only thing that really worries them is inflation, and only because it raises wages and depresses the value of their holdings. Don’t trust anything that comes out of their mouths, or the feckless minions who sell their souls to them.

No reason to believe them now.

So it was all about the oil


Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq

By Paul Bignell, The Independent

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The minutes of a series of meetings between ministers and senior oil executives are at odds with the public denials of self-interest from oil companies and Western governments at the time.

The documents were not offered as evidence in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war. In March 2003, just before Britain went to war, Shell denounced reports that it had held talks with Downing Street about Iraqi oil as “highly inaccurate”. BP denied that it had any “strategic interest” in Iraq, while Tony Blair described “the oil conspiracy theory” as “the most absurd”.

The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”

The minister then promised to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on her lobbying efforts.

The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post regime change”. Its minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”

War Crimes

To initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.

Accessory After The Fact

An accessory after the fact is often not considered an accomplice but is treated as a separate offender. Such an offender is one who harbours, protects, or assists a person who has already committed an offense or is charged with committing an offense.

Encyclopedia Brittanica

(h/t emptywheel)

Elite Brilliance!

The DCCC’s Bad Ad Team

By: David Dayen

Tuesday April 19, 2011 12:59 pm

Why would you play this funny? Why give the message that old people are worthy of derision, essentially because they’re old? This looks like a really bad Super Bowl spot when the issue discussed is deadly serious. Republicans are claiming that the ad represents “scare tactics” but no, I could show you scare tactics. A closeup of a senior’s hand as she struggles in the last throes of life and then pulling out to reveal she’s laying on the middle of the sidewalk as white men in suits ignore her, that’s scare tactics. This looks like a GoDaddy ad.

Furthermore, it gets progressively worse. The lemonade stand shot is fine, but then you have the lawnmower riding played for laughs, with the jerk owner of the lawn telling the old man that he missed a spot. Still generally on point, but discordant; why is the focus on basically getting amusement out of the old man’s condition with the walker? And then there’s the strange third segment. When the bachelorettes come to the door, I have no idea what’s going on. The old guy is dressed like a firefighter, and given that the women are all screaming, it’s just as plausible at first glance that he’s moonlighting as a firefighter. Indeed that’s a concern in a world without Medicare; the elderly will extend their working days to keep a hold on their employer-provided health insurance. Only a few seconds later do you figure out that he’s a stripper, and are again told to laugh at the old man’s expense.

Even if this ad were funny, which it isn’t, the subject of the comedy is completely misplaced. Would an old person watching this and seeing people their age held up for ridicule have a better opinion of Democrats?

But, you might say, they got the facts out. It says right there that Republicans voted to end Medicare. Who cares? The narrative of the story is generally a light one, where old people have to work demeaning jobs and we derive pleasure from that spectacle.

Obviously, one ad isn’t going to change people’s views on the subject; it isn’t going to change much of anything. But it strikes me as a missed opportunity to clarify the record. An ad that said “Republicans voted to end Medicare” over and over for 30 seconds would do the job better and you wouldn’t have to hire a septuagenarian who’s comfortable in a feather boa. In fact, I know it does, because the DNC ran that ad back in 2009.

So in addition to having contributions go to save the most conservative Blue Dogs in the most conservative districts in their re-election efforts, DCCC donors just paid for this, where the party takes a winning issue and inexplicably lampoons it.

On This Day In History April 20

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

April 20 is the 110th day of the year (111th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 255 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1939, Billie Holiday records the first Civil Rights song “Strange Fruit”.

“Strange Fruit” was written by the teacher Abel Meeropol as a poem, it condemned American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Such lynchings had occurred chiefly in the South but also in all other regions of the United States. He set it to music and with his wife and the singer Laura Duncan, performed it as a protest song in New York venues, including Madison Square Garden.

The song has been covered by numerous artists, as well as inspiring novels, other poems and other creative works. In 1978 Holiday’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.

In the poem, Meeropol expressed his horror at lynchings, possibly after having seen Lawrence Beitler‘s photograph of the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. He published the poem in 1936 in The New York Teacher, a union magazine. Though Meeropol/Allan had often asked others (notably Earl Robinson) to set his poems to music, he set “Strange Fruit” to music himself. The piece gained a certain success as a protest song in and around New York. Meeropol, his wife, and black vocalist Laura Duncan performed it at Madison Square Garden. (Meeropol and his wife later adopted Robert and Michael, sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of espionage and executed by the United States.)

Barney Josephson, the founder of Cafe Society in Greenwich Village, New York’s first integrated nightclub, heard the song and introduced it to Billie Holiday. Other reports say that Robert Gordon, who was directing Billie Holiday’s show at Cafe Society, heard the song at Madison Square Garden and introduced it to her. Holiday first performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939. She said that singing it made her fearful of retaliation, but because its imagery reminded her of her father, she continued to sing it. She made the piece a regular part of her live performances. Because of the poignancy of the song, Josephson drew up some rules: Holiday would close with it; second, the waiters would stop all service in advance; the room would be in darkness except for a spotlight on Holiday’s face; and there would be no encore.

Holiday approached her recording label, Columbia, about the song, but the company feared reaction by record retailers in the South, as well as negative reaction from affiliates of its co-owned radio network, CBS. Even John Hammond, Holiday’s producer, refused. She turned to friend Milt Gabler, whose Commodore label produced alternative jazz. Holiday sang “Strange Fruit” for him a cappella, and moved him to tears. Columbia allowed Holiday a one-session release from her contract in order to record it. Frankie Newton’s eight-piece Cafe Society Band was used for the session. Because he was worried that the song was too short, Gabler asked pianist Sonny White to improvise an introduction. Consequently Holiday doesn’t start singing until after 70 seconds. Gabler worked out a special arrangement with Vocalion Records to record and distribute the song.

She recorded two major sessions at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. “Strange Fruit” was highly regarded. In time, it became Holiday’s biggest-selling record. Though the song became a staple of her live performances, Holiday’s accompanist Bobby Tucker recalled that Holiday would break down every time after she sang it

   Strange Fruit

   Southern trees bear strange fruit,

   Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

   Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,

   Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

   Pastoral scene of the gallant South,

   The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

   Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,

   Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!

   Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,

   For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

   For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop,

   Here is a strange and bitter crop.

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