Friday, January 29, 2010

So he got tough

(if you don't want to sit through the entire video above, the one below is much shorter and concise)

President Obama participated in a Q&A session at a retreat organized by Republicans from the House of Representatives where he finally not only stood up to the GOP, but rebuked their criticisms, exaggerations, and misconceptions. A growing consensus among the media is that Obama appeared to be a school teacher lecturing unruly students.

MSNBC's Luke Russert who covered the event for his network, reported that a Republican spokesperson and other aides confided that permitting the "cameras to roll like that" was a "mistake".

This is exactly what Democrats, the progressive base, and independents (including myself) have been demanding for a long time; that if you don't stand up and fight back, you will be perceived as a total wimp, the Republicans will eat you alive and try to destory you (as they nearly did with Clinton) and ultimately lose national support.

Obama's smackdown couldn't come at a more crucial time for him and his party, as the Republicans captured Edward Kennedy's old senate seat in Massachusetts recently, coupled with voter anger over Wall Street bonuses, back room deals related to the health care reform legislation, the dropping of the public option and expansion of Medicare, and a lack of substantial job growth.

Some of the highlights from Obama's Q&A session included his castigation of Indiana Representative Mike Pence, who labelled Obama's economic agenda "radical":

I am not an ideologue, I'm not. It doesn't make sense if somebody could tell me, 'You could do this cheaper and get increased results,' then I would say, 'Great.' The problem is, I couldn't find credible economists who could back up the claims that you just made.

Continuing with his economic policies, Obama chided Republicans for slamming the stimulus package but showing up at "the ribbon-cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities."

Obama set the record straight with the claim that the monthly deficit is higher now than Bush's annual deficit, by flat-out saying, "That's factually just not true. And you know it's not true", and derided the GOP for characterizing health care reform legislation as "some Bolshevik plot", which drew laughter of approval from the audience.

Those from the media who were in attendence not only enjoyed and appreciated the spectacle, but also called for further similar events. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic asked that these kinds of forums be held monthly. Chris Hayes from The Nation recommended that Obama should go before the progressive caucus. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein called it "the most compelling political television I've seen...maybe ever. And NBC's Chuck Todd said Obama "should hold Congressional 'town halls' more often. Public needs to see this if they'll ever trust Washington again." Dee Dee Myers, Bill Clinton's former press secrety added:

Most people thinking about this would have thought 'ooh Obama is going into the lion's de. But there was a great opportunity to jujitsu that. On one level it looked brave but on another he was the substitute teacher there, lecturing the audience. A lot of us have been waiting for that moment, a little more fight, a little more politics. He is in a political business and he has to pay attention to not just the substance but the politics.

Get tough, play hardball

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell spoke out on something many Democrats, liberals, progressives, socialists et al have been saying for a while now: that President Obama and the Democratic Party at large has been a party of wimps and cowards with no backbone, who lack the courage of their convictions. So it was refreshing to see someone as influential as Rendell doing so. I've always thought that Obama is too nice, too wishy-washy with the futile bipartisan efforts and might not have the right temperament to be president; that the Democrats need to grow a pair and steamroll their agenda through Congress, just like Bush and previous Republican Congress did.

Added Rendell: "The president has been reluctant to sort of roll up his sleeves and fight for the things we believe in because he's been trying hard for bipartisan results."

'Make Them Filibuster': Gov. Rendell Tells President Obama, Democrats, to Play 'Hardball'

January 25, 2010 7:36 AM
ABC News

Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania has some advice for his fellow Democrats skittish about health care reform in the wake of the Republican upset in that Massachusetts special election.

“My message to those Democrats is don’t be afraid,” Rendell told ABC News. “Listen, you got elected because you wanted to do something to change the quality of people’s lives -- here we have a chance to do something historic and if it means some of us are going to lose because of that so be it. At least you will have lost your office fighting for something and accomplishing something.”

He tells his fellow Democrats in Washington, DC, to “get that best bill as strong and as tight as you can then send it back to the Senate and let’s see if they (Republicans) are going to filibuster.”

“Make them filibuster,” he told ABC News in an interview for Good Morning America this morning. “Make them go before America people. Make the American people look at a modern day spectacle of what a filibuster would entail. I think it’s time to call their bluff. I think it is too easy to throw up your hands and say, ‘We don’t have 60 votes.’ Remember its 51 votes for passage, they have to filibuster. Make them filibuster.”

The feisty Pennsylvania governor says Democrats “haven’t done a very good job explaining what we’re doing. We haven’t done a good job on how well the stimulus is working, and we surely haven’t done a good job explaining what’s in the health care reform bill and what is at stake for the American people.”

He wants President Obama to be more combative Wednesday night in his State of the Union address. “I want him to issue a call to arms,” he says. “Look if we’re going down, we the Democrats are going to go down in the 2010 election, and I am not sure we are but if we are let’s go down fighting for something we believe in let’s go down doing something. To me, it is a moral outrage that 47 million Americans don’t have health care and thousands more are losing it every day. Let’s get it done, let’s fight for them.”

President Obama has “a rare opportunity on Wednesday night to lead, to be strong, be aggressive, to chart out a course that is good for America.” He added that “a lot of us are waiting for him to join the fray and lead the fight. I think he’s done a good job but we haven’t communicated well.”

He says “I think we main reason we lost in New Jersey, the main reason we lost in Massachusetts was because our people didn’t come out and vote. Our people didn’t come out to vote because they don’t see us doing anything. They don’t see the change everyone promised manifesting itself in any way. So let’s do stuff.

It is time to play a little bit of hardball,” he says.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why they oppose Ben Bernanke

Vermont's Independent Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders gave a passionate speech on the Senate floor today explaining why he opposes the nomination of Ben Bernanke for a second term as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. While Bernanke was confirmed later in the day, thirty senators opposed him, including Barbara Boxer, one of the few Democrats worth supporting in the United States Senate.

He's ready

In a clearly comedic yet corny video posted to Youtube, Adam Giambrone has all but declared his candidacy for Mayor of Toronto. Giambrone plays on the previous electoral phrases and props of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and current Toronto Mayor David Miller, while exercising in an attempt to show that he's got what it takes and the experience to lead.

I'm with Giambrone all the way. Like Miller who raised taxes, he had the guts to raise fares, due to the provincial and federal governments shafting the TTC (which Giambrone chairs) when it comes to the Toronto Transit Commission's operationg budget. Meanwhile, every other major city around the world with a major transit system receives funding from their state or provincial and national or federal governments. I just wish that more people out there could comprehend that, as opposed to being whiny, obnoxious, misinformed, reactionary, self-centred, angsty jackasses.

Hey Obama, why doesn't the US condemn Israeli human rights abuses?

President Obama was attending a town hall meeting earlier today in Tampa, Florida, when a student asked him about Israeli human rights abuses, as Obama emphasized America's support for human rights in last night's State of the Union address.

Her question immediately garnered reaction from several members of the audience:

Last night in your State of the Union address, you spoke of America's support for human rights. Then, why have we not condemned Israel and Egypt's human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people and yet we continue to support financially with billions of dollars coming from our tax dollars?

Obama of course completely dodged her question regarding human rights abuses by Israel or Egypt, and answered by discussing the region in a much more general framework. Although Obama did immediately tell the crowd to not drown out the student and to let the question stand, he said that he "makes no apologies" for the vigorous defence of Israel, while also stressing that the Palestinians have their rights too:

Israel is one of our strongest allies. It is a vibrant democracy. It shares links with us in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us, and I will never waver from, ensuring Israel's security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region. So I make no apologies for that. What is also true is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to because it is not good for our security and it is not good for Israel's security if you've got millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don't have an opportunity to get an education or get a job or what have you.

Obama continued his cop-out by explaining that the peace process could be hampered by "inflammatory" or "knee-jerk" language that could alienate Israel and the Palestinians from negotiating:

And so we are working to strengthen the ability of both parties to sit down across the table and begin serious negotiations. And I think that it's important when we're talking about this issue to make sure that we don't just knee-jerk, use language that is inflammatory or in some fashion discourages the possibility of negotiation. We've got to recognize that both the Palestinian people and Israelis have legitimate aspirations and they can be best served if the United States is helping them understand each other as opposed to demonizing each other.

Whatever. Sorry, but there's nothing "knee-jerk" or "inflammatory" about addressing reality (warning: extremely graphic images).

Art imitating life

What an appropriate time for Oliver Stone to conjure up a sequel to his critically acclaimed and award winning 1987 film Wall Street, with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The premise of Stone's sequel is that Gordon Gekko, portrayed by Michael Douglas, is released from federal prison twenty years after the first film, into a new world where deregulation, corruption, repulsive greed and financial abuse is rampant. Gekko however is not the villian, but is the film's protagonist, as he tries to warn Wall Street of the impending stock market and financial collapse.

Standing up for Wall Street

Republican Governor Bob McDonnell organized a well coordinated and presented gathering in Virginia's House of Delegates for his State of the Union Response, which included a website, a live webcast of his response, and also utilized a live twitter feed and other social media applications. was the site which carried McDonnell's response.

What's interesting though is that the website and the coordinated gathering in Virginia's House of Delegates was financed by McDonnell’s political action committee: Opportunity Virginia PAC; and thanks to the Virginia Public Access Project, the majority of the financial support McDonnell's political action committee received was from the financial sector.

So it really came as no surprise then that McDonnell opposed Obama’s proposed initiatives to regulate the banks and Wall Street, break up huge banks and enforce a tax on the banks, as Wall Street bankrolled his political campaign and essentially scripted his rebuttal.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn 1922-2010

Extremely depressing news hit tonight with the announcement of the passing of Howard Zinn. He died of a heart attack earlier today in Santa Monica, California, where he had been travelling. Zinn was 87 years old. The Boston University historian and political activist was an early opponent of American involvement in Vietnam, as well as the best-selling author of A People's History of the United States.

Zinn was a great American intellectual, patriot, historian and contributor to our popular culture.

One of his last interviews was with Bill Moyers on his PBS show in December 2009:

Elizabeth May at Saturday's protest in Ottawa

In my previous post I forgot to include Elizabeth May, the leader of the federal Green Party, who also addressed the thousands of protesters this past Saturday in Ottawa. May provided an extremely emotional speech while also ridiculing Harper's changing reasons for proroguing Parliament.

Saturday's protests

This past Saturday, January 23, rallies and protests were held in various cities and towns across the country in response to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue the House of Commons until March 3. If this was not undertaken, our MPs would already be back at work. Liberal leader and Leader of the Opposition Michael Ignatieff, and NDP Leader Jac Layton addressed thousands of protesters outside Parliament in Ottawa. The Prime Minister has claimed that delaying Parliament provides time to focus on the upcoming Olympic Games and for MPs to get back to their ridings, so they can obtain crucial feedback from their constituents. However many believe that Harper is just doing what he can to avoid questions, scrutiny and an inquiry regarding the government's knowledge of Canadian forces handing Afghan detainees over to the Afghan secret police, who then tortured and abused them. Placing detainees in the custody of those who would then torture them is an international war crime.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Public health insurance: Obama isn't the "change" guy

President Obama has proven himself to be a tool for both the private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Obama essentially went behind the backs of congressional Democrats and sold out reform, by cutting a deal with the pharmaceutical industry behind closed doors in the White House. He apparently cut the deal with Billy Tauzin and the deal all but looks to be a betrayal of promises made by Obama on the campaign trail, including that he would via the government curb drug costs to Medicare and negotiations would be open and transparent. For $80 billion in cuts and $150 million in supportive television commercials, the Obama Administration will protect the pharmaceutical industry from congressional efforts to utilize its bargaining powers to curb or lower drug costs.

Glenn Greenwald was spot on in his critique of Obama's health insurance industry and corporate leanings.

This is really sad because not only are Americans not likely to receive genuine health insurance reform, but America's two major parties are both tools for Wall Street and big industry/private health insurance lobbyists.

On December 18, Robert Kuttner and Matt Taibbi discussed the current state of the health care reform legilsation on Bill Moyers Journal, and Kuttner provided a perfect example of the difference between public health insurance and mandated private insurance:

Think about it, the difference between social insurance and an individual mandate is this. Social insurance everybody pays for it through their taxes, so you don't think of Social Security as a compulsory individual mandate. You think of it as a benefit, as a protection that your government provides. But an individual mandate is an order to you to go out and buy some product from some private profit-making company, that in the case of a lot of moderate income people, you can't afford to buy. And the shell game here is that the affordable policies are either very high deductibles and co-pays, so you can afford the monthly premiums but then when you get sick, you have to pay a small fortune out of pocket before the coverage kicks in. Or if the coverage is decent, the premiums are unaffordable. And so here's the government doing the bidding of the private industry coercing people to buy profit-making products that maybe they can't afford and they call it health reform.

Jolly old Rog continues to press the Palestinian issue

Weeks ago Pink Floyd's firebrand bassist and lyricist Roger Waters was featured on Democracy Now! (sorry Amy, the Floyd are best known for Dark Side of the Moon, not The Wall) addressed the Gaza Freedom March and the opposition it encountered. Waters was obviously perplexed at the Egyptian government's opposition to a peaceful demonstration of people from around the world uniting for a just cause, while addressing the squalor and dire straights that Palestinians find themselves in the Gaza Strip which the western world would not tolerate in its own backyard.

Waters is well known for his support of the Palestinian cause and criticisms of the Israeli government's and military's actions, particularly the building of a giant barrier or wall, which Israel contends is for security purposes.

Waters also narrated a recent documentary on Israel's security barrier entitled Walled Horizons: