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Archive for October, 2010

Yes We’re Voting Tues. Nov. 2.
Not Voting = Not an Option.

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Dear readers: We promised recently we’d soon be getting off our donkey and rejoining the Organizing for America phone banks to help get out the vote for Tues. Nov. 2. Our cell phones are recharged and we’re back in action.

Here’s what you can do: Click the  Organizing for America web site (myBarackObama.com) and quickly find how you can make phone calls from home, or join a phone bank near you to call potential voters to urge them to come out on Tues. Nov. 2 (or vote early if their state allows) and vote Democratic. Folks, it’s kind of important. If you need information about voting, click RaiseYourVote.com. Forward this link.

“Enthusiasm gap”? Let’s not leave anything to chance.

Consider what can happen if you stay home: Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell won her Delaware GOP primary by about 2,500 votes. Democrat Scott Murphy of New York’s 20th congressional district won the 2009 special election by 401 votes. And, on a slightly more consequential level, in 2000 George W. Bush won the state of Florida (or did he?) by 537 votes. Please don’t think your vote doesn’t count. (If you want to be scared into voting Democratic, read this Halloween-worthy column by Paul Krugman, “Divided We Fail.”)

Now, we completely understand reasons for not wanting to pull that Dem. lever. We have been among the complainers, the pajama-clad bloggers of the “professional Left” who have, according to Joe Biden, “whined” about the Democrats not accomplishing more (not pushing harder against the GOP wall of opposition). But the V.P. has a point when he says “don’t compare us to the Almighty; compare us to the alternative.” We really don’t want to go there, America. We really don’t want the Rand Paul Stomp, as shown in this commercial produced by the Kentucky Democratic Party:

Significant Accomplishments in 2 Years

Despite unyielding opposition and a blizzard of disinformation from the Republican Noise Machine, the Obama administration and the Democrat-led Congress have staved off a collapse of the American financial system; passed a strong stimulus bill that created or saved some 3+ million jobs; passed a health care reform bill that will expand coverage to 30+ million and save some $1 trillion over the next 10 years; signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act that tripled the size of AmeriCorps; pushed for a $50 billion National Infrastructure Bank; appointed an exemplary administrator of FEMA (this is important) and other exceptional cabinet secretaries, and much more.

Sick and tired of being sick and tired?

We have a civic duty to help limit the damage that can and will be inflicted by radical Tea Party Republicans who think women have no right to choose, unemployment insurance is unconstitutional, Social Security and Medicare should be abolished and/or privatized, and worse. There are 111 GOP incumbents who want to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. And the forecast is for many more Republicans in Congress? These are not the remedies our nation needs right now. Although some of the concerns originally driving early members may have been sincere, the Tea Party as it is now is not a grassroots movement: it is corporate-sponsored, establishment-driven. Ask Dick Armey and the billionaire Koch brothers.

Now is the time for all good citizens to save their country from its darker impulses.

And when this election is over, please remain active. (We made the same plea in 2008.) Keep phoning and writing and organizing to keep the pressure on the elected Democrats to do the progressive thing: Have the courage to wind down the wars, invest more in America, generate jobs here at home, increase spending on infrastructure and clean energy, increase spending on health care and education and housing, protect Social Security and Medicare, and reduce the Defense budget. Raise taxes on the wealthy and the superwealthy, back to the Clinton-era or even Reagan-era rates. (Many Dems are afraid to push for this; let ’em know it’s popular.) Whatever it is you want, keep up the pressure on your elected officials. You know the conservatives aren’t sitting back waiting for their agenda to be enacted. Liberals, progressives, Democrats need to learn a thing or two from them (methods, that is, not policy).

That link again is Organizing for America (an outgrowth of the Obama-Biden 2008 campaign, now affiliated with the Democratic party). Please join us, and urge all your friends, family, and neighbors to vote Democratic. Thank you.



When Harry Met a Cover-Up:
Shearer Talks about “The Big Uneasy”

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

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[ cross-posted at Daily Kos ]

We sat down recently with Harry Shearer—that is, we sat down and e-mailed him some questions, and he sat down and wrote some thoughtful replies—to talk about his new film The Big Uneasy, which tells the real story of why New Orleans flooded in Hurricane Katrina. (Click here for the trailer.) Here’s a brief sample:

Q. You’ve said that in President Obama’s 3-hour “drive-through” appearance in New Orleans in October 2009, he used the phrase “natural disaster,” and that that is what prompted you to make this film. Is anyone learning that Katrina itself did not flood the city, but that the levees’ failure is what flooded the city?

Shearer: Very few, very slowly. People sometimes make reference to the levee failure in passing, as if it’s a natural result of a storm like Katrina. But there still seems to be quite low awareness of the conclusion of the two independent investigations that, absent a badly-designed and -built “protection system,” the worst Katrina would have inflicted on New Orleans would have been “wet ankles.”

Q. Had you thought of making a film on this subject before the president’s remarks triggered you? (Somewhere we saw a mention that the idea had occurred to you at the Rising Tide 4 conference, and that you posed the idea but nobody responded and so it was up to you?)

Shearer: No, I don’t recall giving serious thought to it, though I may have mentioned at RT that wresting back control of the narrative of the city’s near-destruction might have required somebody to do such a film. But I’d really not thought of myself as that somebody until I heard the President say something that he patently should have known was not true.

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Before we continue with the interview, we want to talk a bit about the film. You may not have seen it because it does not yet have a distributor. Harry is working on that. Thus far it has been shown in New Orleans at the Prytania Theater uptown (it premiered before the Rising Tide conference in late August near the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina), and it has run briefly in New York City and Los Angeles. We saw it twice at Manhattan’s IFC  Center (as shown) and want to do all we can to spread the word about this excellent project—particularly to people with connections to film distributors with a social and political conscience.

Leave It to a Jester to Tell the Truth

Harry Shearer is famous as a versatile humorist, writer, and “voice artist” for The Simpsons and as Derek Smalls, the bearded Ringo-like bass player in This Is Spinal Tap, so at first it may not seem that a movie about the flooding of New Orleans would be his natural subject matter. How funny can it be to explain the catastrophic engineering failure that led to the flooding of 80 percent of the city and hundreds of deaths (if not more)? Although The Big Uneasy won’t have audiences rolling in the aisles, this compelling and richly sourced new documentary does clarify the facts about the disaster-within-a-disaster. Misconceptions are corrected. Cover-ups are uncovered. Truths are told. Acts of professional courage are held up to the light.

Shearer’s comic talent is for real, but his seriousness is authentic, too, as anyone knows who has read his Huffington Post blog pieces over the past several years or listened to his weekly radio program Le Show (KCRW, Los Angeles). He explains in the opening reel that he is a part-time New Orleanian. Through his work with Levees.org (no relation) and his blogging and other efforts he has helped keep the spotlight on his adopted city’s predicament with a commitment and persistence that should earn him some kind of Honorary Full-Time Citizenship award. You’ll understand why when you see The Big Uneasy.

In a recent post on HuffPo Shearer acknowledged that it’s ironic that “a damn comedy actor” should be taking up the untold story:

. . . the story that the flooding was a man-made catastrophe that developed over four and a half decades under administrations of both parties, and the story from a whistleblower inside the Corps of Engineers that the “new, improved” system for protecting New Orleans may right now be fatally flawed. . . . given that lapse among the professional journalists, it was up to a damn comedy actor to piece together the material that’s been sitting there, on the public record, all this time . . .

A review in New York magazine by David Edelstein said it well:

By the end of The Big Uneasy, I came to appreciate [Shearer’s] self-effacement. He’s not a filmmaker or an investigative journalist. He’s not really in his element here. He just, finally, couldn’t stand by and hear “natural disaster” one more time without picking up a camera and, like his protagonists, doing his civic duty for the city he loves so deeply.

Get This: The Flooding Was Not a Natural Disaster

The Big Uneasy is a feature film–length documentary about how and why New Orleans was flooded during Hurricane Katrina. It happened not because Katrina was so overwhelming: although it had been a Category 5 storm in the Gulf, Katrina was only about a Category 1.5 hurricane when it blew past (not straight through) New Orleans, sparing the city the brunt of the storm. The city flooded because of engineering failures in the federally built levees and walls of outflow canals that gave way under pressure even before the storm’s winds did their worst. The film draws on engineers’ reports, postmortem studies, and never-before-seen amateur video footage to show the flooding was not a natural but a man-made disaster. It was not inevitable. Contrary to predictable official claims that the storm was simply overwhelming and the levees were never designed to hold a storm of such magnitude, the flooding resulted from inferior engineering—a point that Ivor van Heerden (right) of the LSU Hurricane Center began speaking out about very soon after the storm passed.

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10th Year of Afghan War Begins

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

America Slogs On, “Dead or Alive”

Briefly, sadly noted: Today, October 7, 2010, begins the tenth year of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. How’s that hunt for Osama bin Laden going? How’s that expansion into Pakistan going? How much taxpayer-supplied money has the U.S. spent on the war in Afghanistan? That we can answer: more than $352 billion (thanks to the National Priorities Project). How many dead? 1,321 U.S., 339 U.K., 472 other: total = 2,132 (per iCasualties.org). These are not statistics, but individual human lives lost forever.

What are they dying for? For how much longer? If “we’re fighting for freedom,” are we free to say “enough”? Free to withhold our taxes from the Pentagon? (Didn’t think so.)

Does “Operation Enduring Freedom” = War That Never Ends?

For the first year or so, we like most Americans agreed with the necessity of an invasion of Afghanistan because we trusted that the U.S. and allied forces actually intended to and would be able to capture bin Laden and crush al Qaeda (and not just drive them down to Pakistan). That was a long time ago. Readers can see our views on the whole damn thing in hard-hitting, award-winning posts like “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation” and “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire.” Other Afghan War pieces can be found here.

Lastly, let us quote again the revealing remarks by former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski that suggest what the U.S. is in for (note the count of 10 years), and the sobering observation by Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit:

“. . . the reality, secretly guarded until now, is . . . [that] . . . it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. . . . That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap. . . . The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter; interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris), January 15–21, 1998

“Notwithstanding the damage al Qaeda and the Taliban have suffered . . . bin Laden’s forces now have the United States where they have wanted it, on the ground in Afghanistan where Islamist insurgents can seek to reprise their 1980s’ victory over the Red Army [of the Soviet Union]. Al Qaeda now has the chance to prove bin Laden’s thesis that the United States cannot maintain long-term, casualty-producing military engagements . . .”

Michael Scheuer, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (2002)

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David Corn on Democrats, Zombies, and the Vampire Karl Rove

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Last night we had the pleasure of attending a real live Manhattan “liberal elite” salon hosted by Mother Jones magazine, moderated by MoJo’s publisher, Mr. Steve Katz, and featuring the magazine’s Washington bureau chief David Corn (also a blogger for PoliticsDaily.com, former Washington editor for The Nation, and author of The Lies of George W. Bush, Hubris [with Michael Isikoff], and other critically acclaimed books).

Corn spoke about the 2010 midterm election(s), what the Democrats are up against with the Tea Party Republicans, the likely outcomes of the 2010 election, and what impact it will have on the White House’s foreign and domestic policies, whether or not the GOP wins the House . . . and much more!

Readers of this blog will recall that Mother Jones was present at the 5th annual Rising Tide conference in New Orleans on August 28 in the form of (Ms.) Mac McClelland, a human rights reporter who covered the BP oil spill’s effects on Gulf Coast communities in Louisiana and elsewhere. As smart and attention-worthy as Mac is, we’re here to tell you there’s even more talent on the staff of this 30-year-old magazine of investigative journalism (the current issue’s cover story: “The BP Cover-Up”). A year’s subscription for this bimonthly is more than worth the $10.

The following account is based on hurriedly scrawled notes and is not intended to be a verbatim transcript of Mr. Corn’s remarks. To read his exact words, see his blog, his articles at Mother Jones, and read his books (listed below), all of which we highly recommend.

Backlash: The Tea Party Movement as a Political Science Experiment

Corn began by wondering aloud whether there would be a Tea Party as we know it today if John McCain had not chosen as his 2008 running mate an obscure but telegenic governor from the state of Alaska. Can you imagine Dick Armey as the “poster child” face of the Tea Party? Still, he said, there would in any case have been a backlash against a Democratic president, as there always is from the far right (JFK, Clinton . . .). Some of the recoil from the present administration results from the fact that the Democratic president is African-American, though Corn is not sure that race has as much to do with the backlash as the extremely distressed economic conditions.

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Talkin’ to You, Barack (and You, America)

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Yesterday’s piece “The Silence of the Dems” was originally meant to introduce some choice excerpts from a tough, hard-hitting post by our friend Pat at Hurricane Radio titled “Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November.” We do not concede that heavy losses are inevitable, but here’s why Dems are in such trouble. Be sure to read the piece in full—we’ve filed it under “Rants We Wish We’d Written”—but first, as a warm-up, here are some heavy punches. (Might this be a fitting post on the weekend Rahm Emanuel leaves the White House? You decide.)

“Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November”

You get elected with a mandate for change, and then proceed to make minor, incremental changes that your political opponents use to cast you as a communist. . . .

You withdraw, expecting blind support from your own side while leaving the debate to your political opponents, because you think if you are nice to them, they will stop acting like lunatics. You think that the American people will turn in disgust from their lunacy without you having to do anything, even though that flies in the face of every historical indication of American culture.

You allow revisions of the last 10 years of history to go unchallenged. . . .

On policy, you step back while the Pelosi/Reid situation in Congress gives us a politically disasterous, confusing and meekly submitted stimulus; a confusing health care plan that removes the majority of real progressive reform; Gitmo remains open, and the plan to actually bring the terrorists to trial has faltered; we double down in Afganistan without really doing what needs to be done to win that conflict; we leave 50,000 troops and a host of defense contractors in Iraq; some of the worst excesses of the drug war and the war on terror continue unabated. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, despite broad support for repeal, remains—even politically gamed to a defense spending bill.

Let me be clear—if I have to defend the Health Care Bill because it was originally a “conservative” idea, there’s a reason your supporters aren’t up for this go-round in November. Not a single one of your opponents voted for the bill, and yet it was their think tanks that proposed most of it. One of their Presidential candidates from the last go-round made something like this happen in Massachusetts with the help of their new Senator from Massachusetts. That was basically their bill, without disbanding Medicare and Medicaid to pay for it.

That means THEY got THEIR legislation passed while THEY were in the MINORITY and NOT A ONE OF THEM VOTED FOR IT.

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The Silence of the Dems

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Now, finally, the president’s out there on the stump doing what we wish he’d been doing for the past 16 months or so: drawing sharp, biting distinctions between Democrats and Republicans. Great timing, five weeks before election day. We pray it ain’t too late. It would have helped if the Senate Democrats had not timidly wimped away from forcing a vote on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and pushed the Republicans to show how much they care for the middle class. Their timidity explains the enthusiasm gap (but that’s no excuse for not voting against Republicans on Nov. 2).

Why Is Barack Obama All Alone?

But where are his fellow Democrats, now and for the past year and a half? Is the president alone because he spent more time courting the party that wants him to fail than organizing and training surrogates in his own party to help frame the message and control the national debate? We think so. We recall wondering with distress during the stimulus struggle in February 2009, “Where are the f—ing Democrats?!”

All week we’ve been wondering Where are the f—ing Senate Democrats?! It’s as though the camera hogs have turned into groundhogs, frightened of their shadows, leaving Obama to do all the heavy lifting on the American Recovery and Investment Plan, better known as The Stimulus.

All the work of promoting and defending the stimulus and health care reform and Wall Street reform seems to have been left to the president to handle by himself. This is inexcusable. Even on Dem-friendly MSNBC much of the air time goes to covering conservatives’ antics and rantings instead of Democrats’ and progressives’ positive messaging. (There are a few exceptions, such as Barney Frank, Alan Grayson, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Sherrod Brown, Howard Dean.)

Where Are the Donkeys That Kick Ass?

Democrats are said to be the majority party, yet they’re AWOL while Boehner and Cantor and other conservative big mouths have been shaking the leaves off the trees with their high-pitched elephant roars and hoof-poundings about out-of-control spending. Where are the donkeys that kick ass?

What drives us f—ing craaazy is that since Inauguration Day the Democrats have allowed the Republicans to control the national microphone as though the Dems are still scared shitless of the elephant’s hoof the way they were from 9/11/01 onward. As our friend Pat of Hurricane Radio says in a hot, lucid piece we wish we’d written, “You [Obama and the Dems] have to learn that there are political consequences for letting the other side control the debate.”

Get Out the Vote: No Staying Home on Nov. 2

Don’t get us wrong, we’re about to get our donkey back in gear by rejoining the Organizing for America phone banks to call the disillusioned pessimistics to please come back out and vote even if you don’t feel like it. Please, fellow Americans, check your local listings for OFA in your area and make phone calls as if your nation’s sanity depends on it—because it does. You can phone from home. Even if you’re mad at how things have gone down since January 20, 2009 (we are too), do not stay home on Election Day, but phone and e-mail friends and family to get out and vote for Democrats or at least against Republicans on Nov. 2.

Remember, voting for a candidate is only one step. Even after election day we have to keep after them. The White House and members of Congress—Democrats especially—have to be hit over the head repeatedly with bricks and frying pans before they’ll act on any issue not of immediate concern to their reelection or fund-raising. Sorry, but it’s the system we have. The conservatives never rest, and neither can progressives, liberals, protectors of the social safety net.