Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Revered Joseph Lowery, seen here speaking at President Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009, had some stinging words in response to the praise heaped on Ronald Reagan

Dear Editor:

Following is a proposed guest editorial in response to the full page of fantasy you printed about Ronald Reagan. I know you won't print it, but I hope this at least gets read by someone responsible for the editorial page, in the interest of truth.

James Finkelstein
Albany, Georgia

Reading your special editorial page with prominent Americans reminiscing about Ronald Reagan was a true lesson about our country's history. The lesson wasn't the one intended by Senator McCain, Speaker Boehner, Sarah Palin, or President Obama- it was the grand American tradition of rewriting our nation's history when the truth is far too embarrassing. Just as Southerners like to claim that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, or American history books tried to avoid mentioning the travesty of American concentration camps in which we interned innocent Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II, or in more recent times, we swept under the rung the torture regime instituted and presided over by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, we do our best to avoid the truth about Ronald Reagan and what his administration wrought from January 20, 1981, to January 20, 1989. But many Americans were adults during those years, and short of mass lobotomies, no sugar coated encomiums by the likes of Sarah Palin (does she even bother to read the ghost written editorials under her name, one wonders?) can change some of the searing images indelibly imprinted on our brains.

I had the pleasure of attending a lively and humorous speech by Reverend Joseph Lowery at Savannah State College in 2004, shortly after Reagan's funeral, where he wonderingly recounted some of the amazing false praise heaped on the late president. Reverend Lowery told the story of a woman at her husband's funeral, who, after hearing speaker after speaker spin fabulous tales of her husband's supposed kindness and generosity, finally exclaimed, "Open the casket, I want to see who's buried in there, because it sure ain't my husband!"

Here's a few memories of the Reagan era that your editorial page contributors overlooked:

June 7 1981. Israel bombs Iraq's nuclear reactor in Osirik just as Saddam Hussein is about to get a nuclear bomb making facility online. President Reagan is outraged that Israel used American F-16 and F-15 fighter jets on the raid and freezes military aid in the pipeline to Israel.

October 23, 1983. Reagan has put hundreds of U.S. Marines in harm's way near Beirut, Lebanon, with no clear mission or protocols on dealing with attacks. A suicide bomber explodes a truck bomb at the Marine barracks, killing almost 300 Marines. Reagan's response is to pull out the Marines and have a U.S. battleship fire 16 inch shells at an unpopulated mountainside in Lebanon. This retreat is followed shortly thereafter on October 25, 1983, by the unauthorized (by Congress) invasion of the island of Grenada in the Caribbean, accomplished with 19 dead U.S. servicemen, ostensibly to "rescue" American medical students.

December 20, 1983. Reagan sends special envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad, where Rumsfeld has an infamous photo taken while shaking hands with dictator and mass murderer Saddam Hussein. The Reagan Administration pledges to aid Iraq, provides secret satellite photos for battlefield intelligence, and looks the other way when Iraq violates international human rights conventions by using poison gas against Iranian soldiers on the battlefield and to commit mass murders of its own citizens.

1985-1986. members of Reagan's National Security Council, including Oliver North and Admiral John Poindexter, carry out a scheme to sell arms to Iranian government sponsors of Lebanese terrorists to obtain the release of United States citizens held for ransom. The money from the exchange is funneled to Nicaraguan contras at war with a democratically elected government (which later steps down after losing an election) in direct violation of U.S. law. Members of Reagan's team lie under oath to Congress about the fiasco of selling arms for the release of hostages- which they never figure out creates a constant cycle of more hostage taking. Those convicted or about to be prosecuted are later pardoned by Reagan shortly before he leaves office, including Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger. Oliver North gets off on one of those legal "technicalities" so despised by conservatives who claim to be tough on crime. In a televised speech to the nation in 1986, Reagan claims that he knew nothing of the law-breaking but takes responsibility, which marks him either as a liar or grossly incompetent for allowing his minions to fund a lucrative hostage taking industry in Lebanon while providing arms to an Iranian government completely hostile to the United States.

April 15, 1986. Reagan orders air strikes on Libya in an attempt to assassinate Muammar Khaddafi, succeeds only in killing Khaddafi's 15 month old daughter and several other civilians. A little more than two years later, December 21, 1988, Khaddafi takes his revenge, as members of Libya's intelligence agency plan and carry out the bombing of a Pan Am civilian jet, which goes down near Lockerbie, Scotland., killing 259 civilians.

1981. Reagan ushers in the era of "deregulation," claiming, as John Boehner proudly noted in his editorial, "Government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem." By 1988, Wall Street shenanigans and fraud are so over the top that the stock market crashes, ultimately costing U.S. taxpayers over $125 billion as the government has to bail out Savings and Loans institutions looted by people like Senator John McCain's political crony and contributor, Charles Keating. Keating, later convicted of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy, had paid several hundred thousand dollars in "contributions" to five senators-- including John McCain-- who were ultimately rebuked by the Senate ethics committee for trying to get federal investigators to lay off Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan, which collapses.

1981-1989. Reagan ushers in the era of "voodoo economics," as George H. W. Bush famously put it during the 1980 Republican primaries, by claiming that he can cut taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget. The result: an historic increase in the national debt-- over 300%-- during Reagan's presidency, from $907 billion when Reagan took over from Jimmy Carter, to $2.8 trillion when he left office. Later Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, admits that the Reagan promise to balance the budget with tax cuts was untenable.

One promise was kept by Ronald Reagan, though. When he took office, government may or may not have been the problem. But by the time he left, there was no doubt: his policy of tilting towards Iraq and provoking Iran, including the accidental shooting down of a civilian Iranian jetliner on July 3, 1988 in international waters over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 passengers, including 66 children, cemented Iran as an implacable foe of the United States for decades to come. His support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980's led to the use of poison gas on Iraq's citizens and ultimately to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait under Reagan's successor, George W. Bush, as Hussein mistakenly assumed that Bush would continue Reagan's policy of "hands off" Iraq's aggressive war to take over oil fields in the Persian Gulf.

Reagan put a man in charge of the U.S. Department of the Interior- James Watt- whose goals were to allow as much industrial plunder of American's natural resources as possible, with the least amount of revenue to U.S. taxpayers. Watt openly declared that protecting our nation's natural resources didn't matter, since the Second Coming of Jesus was imminent. Reagan put Ann Gorsuch, the "Ice Queen," in charge of the Environmental Protection Administration. She carried out the official Reagan philosophy of promoting business by dismantling or weakening U.S. laws and EPA regulations which kept our water, air, and soil free of pollutants and toxic chemicals.

In the area of civil rights-- protecting citizens from the abuses of government-- Reagan set his tone during the 1980 campaign for the presidency, which he kicked off with a speech extolling "States' rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the location seared into the nation's consciousness on June 21, 1964, by the brutal murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner- a black man and two Jews working on behalf of civil rights of black citizens. Reagan's verbal hostility towards Civil Rights went back to his opposition to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, which protected Americans of every race from discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and voting. Once elected, Reagan followed through by appointing judges who had an intense distaste for any laws, including parts of the Constitution, which favored the individual over the government, or which favored government over business. The man he appointed to head the Equal Employment Opportunity Administration was a black man who opposed everything the EEOC stood for and who strongly opposed affirmative action, even though his own admissions to college and law school and every job he obtained were the result of the very policy he opposed. His name was Clarence Thomas.

One other note in the interest of historical accuracy: the military buildup for which Ronald Reagan was later saluted was the continuation of the plan implemented by his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. The Cold War ended in the Fall of 1989, when George H. W. Bush was president, but the man most responsible for ending it was the the last Premier of the Soviet Union before it voluntarily dissolved in 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, who steered his nation out of Afghanistan in 1988 and towards the reality that it could no longer afford to waste its resources on useless weapons.

Monday, January 10, 2011


I like Tom Knighton's columns and typically look at them first on the editorial page of The Albany Journal. Tom disagrees with my post below on right wing rhetoric inciting threats and violence up to and including murder. The usual response of the right wing when caught in some abysmal behavior- usually corruption, but in this case, over the top comments akin to shouting "kill the *?!@##" when standing at the back of a potential lynch mob, is to say "yeah, but the other side does it, too." And the main stream media always buys it, in their heroic efforts to appear "fair and balanced," even when to do so make them wildly unbalanced and extremely unfair.

It's as if a reporter walks up to a man lying in a pool of blood in an alley, almost senseless, with a much larger man standing over him with a baseball bat in one hand and the victim's wallet in other hand, counting the crash and going through the credit cards. The reporter asks the guy on the ground, "so what happened?" They guy says, "he mugged me, dragged me here, then stole my wallet." The mugger turns and says- yeah but he's just as bad." Next day, story runs in paper: "Two men fight in alley."

Congresswoman Giffords and the six dead were victims of far worse than a mugging. Sarah Palin didn't put out a list of Democrats to target for defeat. She sent out a poster with rifle cross hairs over the Congresswoman's district in Arizona, along with 19 others similarly targeted, and she put the Congresswoman's name on the poster. That's a mind set far, far beyond the "we want to defeat our opponents because we disagree with their policy proposals."

The other examples I cited in my column were people who literally committed murder or attempted to commit murder, and who were inspired by a constant right wing attack machine which spews forth lies and hate. For example: the myth that President Obama was going to take away their guns didn't just incite the murders noted in the column; it also spawned an incredible run on guns and ammunition shortly after the 2008 election. Has any of that rhetoric been matched by reality, even in the slightest? Not for a moment. There hasn't been an overt public reaction to the anticipated future acts of a newly elected president to match this since the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

In response to Mr. Knighton's comment that I view events through ideological glasses- I don't. If I did, I would not be aware of and frequently criticize the spectacular shortcomings of the spineless crapweasels that Democrats have managed to elect to and put in charge of Congress and the White House.

But the recent violence inspiring rhetoric has come from particular sources. They are prominent nationally (unlike the obscure groups that Mr. Knighton claims are the left-wing equivalent), they are echoed by the highest national leadership (see the John Boehner quotes below which spawned death threats against a fellow Congressman), and they aren't shy about leaving public footprints- because there are no consequences, even when specific threats and acts of violence are linked to specific incitement. I doubt that Sarah Palin will be hauled on the carpet at FOX News or in the other media forums which publish her opinions (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today to name three- ironically, she could not name any of those papers- or any others, for that matter- in 2008 when Katie Couric asked her what newspapers were her sources of infomration) to defend her rifle target poster aimed at Congresswoman Giffords.

Mr. Knighton might want to explain why death threats against President Obama are exponentially higher than they were against his predecessor, even with the incredible antipathy inspired by Mr. Bush.

He might want to explain how the acts of murder of human beings (not someone throwing paint somewhere or spiking a tree) can be directly traced in many instances I cited in my column to specific rhetoric by specific nationally prominent Republicans and their right wing media attack machines on LImbaugh and Fox news.

Here's one more example, the Boehner quote and aftermath, not in my original column, quoted from Digby's blog (see end for link):

"Another Ohio Democrat, Steve Driehaus, clashed repeatedly with Boehner before losing his seat in the midterm elections. After Boehner suggested that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus "may be a dead man" and "can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati" because "the Catholics will run him out of town," Driehaus began receiving death threats, and a right-wing website published directions to his house. Driehaus says he approached Boehner on the floor and confronted him.

"I didn't think it was funny at all," Driehaus says. "I've got three little kids and a wife. I said to him, 'John, this is bullshit, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.'"

Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn't think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. "But it's not about what he intended — it's about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work."

Driehaus says Boehner was "taken aback" when confronted on the floor, but never actually said he was sorry: "He said something along the lines of, 'You know that's not what I meant.' But he didn't apologize." "


And the granddaddy of Republican hate speech was ignited by Newt Gingrich, who, in 1994, had his political action committee, GOPAC, issue a memorandum which Mr. Gingrich sent to aspiring Republican candidates. It was titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control."

Here are excerpts from the memo in which he provided sample adjectives that Republicans should utilize in describing their opponents- regardless of reality or truth:

"These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party... destructive... sick... pathetic... lie... betray... threaten... devour... bizarre... cheat... traitors...."

That memo defines the bright line difference between the modern day Republican Party and its origins under Lincoln. The national Republican Party has become the party of hate and divisiveness. Non-Christians, gays, immigrants, Muslims, liberals-- you name the group, and Republicans' campaigns have exploited and incited hatred and fear of them.

And the Democrats are spineless for failing to respond to these attacks.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

AND ANOTHER THING.... (from Digby)

The New Speaker's comments spawned death threats to an Ohio Democratic Congressman

"Another Ohio Democrat, Steve Driehaus, clashed repeatedly with Boehner before losing his seat in the midterm elections. After Boehner suggested that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus "may be a dead man" and "can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati" because "the Catholics will run him out of town," Driehaus began receiving death threats, and a right-wing website published directions to his house. Driehaus says he approached Boehner on the floor and confronted him.

"I didn't think it was funny at all," Driehaus says. "I've got three little kids and a wife. I said to him, 'John, this is bullshit, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.'"

Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn't think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. "But it's not about what he intended — it's about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work."

Driehaus says Boehner was "taken aback" when confronted on the floor, but never actually said he was sorry: "He said something along the lines of, 'You know that's not what I meant.' But he didn't apologize." "



2010 Congressional campaign poster from Sarah Palin's PAC. Look at the fourth name down on this Sarah Palin hit list, complete with a rifle target cross hair target hovering directly over Tucson, Arizona, where she listed Democrats to "target" in last year's election campaign. Yes, it is the same Democratic Congresswoman Giffords who was shot in the head in the rampage that killed, among others, a 9 year old child and a federal judge.

Query: if a nationally prominent Democrat had done what Sarah Palin did, and the result was mass murder and political assassination, what do you think the right wing media would be asking for right now? Criminal charges? Or would they be excusing her violence inspiring rhetoric as protected speech under the First Amendment and touting that person as presidential material for 2012?

Here's a brief look at the faces and rhetoric of a few of the instigators and perpetrators of modern American right wing terrorism:

April 19, 1995:

Timothy James McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people and injuring 450. It was the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

August 26, 2002:

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." Ann Coulter, FOX News contributor and guest opinionator.

April 5, 2005:

"And finally, I – I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news. And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in -- engage in violence. Certainly without any justification but a concern that I have that I wanted to share."

Texas Senator John Cornyn, after a Florida federal judge ruled against the position favored by Republicans in the Terry Schiavo end of life case.

July 27, 2008:

—Jim Adkisson shoots and kills two people at a progressive church in Knoxville, Tennessee, wounding two. Adkisson calls it “a symbolic killing” because he really “wanted to kill…every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book,” but was unable to gain access to them.

September 22, 2008:

Wayne Lapierre, NRA President

—The National Rifle Association launches its GunBanObama website, which predicts that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, “if elected…would be the most anti-gun president in American history.” The website is part of a $15 million NRA campaign to discredit Obama.

December 9, 2008:

FBI teams investigating the murder of white supremacist James Cumming, 29, a resident of Belfast, Maine, find supplies for a crude radiological dispersal device and other explosives in his home. Cumming's wife, who shot him to death after being abused by him repeatedly, explains, "His intentions were to construct a dirty bomb and take it to Washington to kill President Obama. He was planning to hide it in the undercarriage of our motor home."

April 4, 2009:

Neo-Nazi Richard Poplawski shoots and kills three police officers responding to a 911 call to his home in Pittsburgh. His friend Edward Perkovic tells reporters that Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on its way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.” Perkovic also commented that Poplawski carried out the shooting because “if anyone tried to take his firearms, he was gonna’ stand by what his forefathers told him to do.”

June 10, 2009:

James W. von Brunn, a convicted felon and a “hardcore Neo-Nazi,” walks into the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and shoots and kills a security guard. Von Brunn believed that Western civilization was going to be replaced with a “ONE WORLD ILLUMINATI GOVERNMENT” that would “confiscate private weapons” in order to accomplish its goals.

July 15, 2009:

Katherine Crabill, a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in the state’s 99th District makes headlines by calling on Americans to resist the course President Obama has set for the country. Appearing at a “Tea Party” rally, Crabill quotes a 1775 speech by Patrick Henry and then states, “We have a chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box. But that's the beauty of our Second Amendment right. I am glad for all of us who enjoy the use of firearms for hunting. But make no mistake. That was not the intent of the Founding Fathers. Our Second Amendment right was to guard against tyranny.”

2010 Republican/Tea Party Congressional candidate Catherine Crabill's Facebook page says that she likes:

* The Bible
* Being Conservative

Other Facebook comments by Ms. Crabill:

* I Bet Jesus Can Break The Record For Most Fans On Face-book!
* I hate it when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is President.

Feb 18, 2010

"A small plane crashed into a seven-story office building in Austin, Texas, and signs are now pointing to a deliberate act. CNN reports that the pilot—identified as Joseph Andrew Stack—set his house on fire, took off in his own plane from a local airport, and crashed it into the building at full throttle. The building houses IRS offices in the area that got hit, notes the Austin American-Statesman. Stack left behind an anti-IRS screed posted online, apparently written to be read after the crash."


Funny, when I note the racial and religious characteristics of modern American terrorists, for the first time I'm almost inclined to agree with the right wing commentators who are urging racial, religious, and ethnic profiling to protect Americans from terrorism. Not that I want to see conservative, Republican leaning, nutcase white Christians locked up in Guantanamo or water boarded until they confess. But they shouldn't be allowed to be around firearms or sharp objects.

Saturday, January 01, 2011


How the Rabid Right wants the American Public to view health care reform. A better picture would be a snapshot of the current system it is attempting to repair- a child awaiting a critical operation whose life won't be saved unless his parents can raise the cash

To anyone who has bought the big lie technique of labeling health care reform as some horrible curse inflicted on America, look at the actual nuts and bolts of some of the salutary effects of the legislation- i.e., closing the "donut hole" for seniors on Medicare who spend thousands on prescription drugs, allowing children to stay on parents' health insurance through age 26, ending discrimination against applicants with pre-existing conditions, stopping companies from capping life time benefits, forcing policy holders into bankruptcy, and so on. Why the Democratic Party was so stupid as not to campaign on this has confounded rational observers.


from Washington Monthly:


MAJOR HEALTH CARE REFORMS KICK IN TODAY.... When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law last March, there were legitimate concerned that many of its key provisions wouldn't take effect for years. That said, it's wrong to assume major advances aren't already happening.

Almost immediately after the legislation received President Obama's signature, new consumer protections and benefits kicked in -- young adults have been able to stay on their family health care plan through their 26th birthday; children with pre-existing conditions were no longer facing discrimination; and "rescission" practices were curtailed.

But as 2011 gets underway, even more worthwhile changes are taking effect, starting today.

The new year will bring important changes to U.S. health-insurance rules, as new provisions related to last year's massive health-care overhaul take effect.

The new rules are designed to help those caught in Medicare's "doughnut hole," offer seniors more preventative care, and limit how much of their customers' money health-insurance companies can keep for overhead and profit.

They all go into effect on Saturday.

These reforms may not appear especially sexy or high profile, but we're talking about some pretty important provisions. Seniors who've been stuck in prescription-drug "doughnut hole," will, for example, receive a 50% discount on the price of brand-name prescription drugs starting today. On a related note, seniors will also be eligible, starting today, for free "preventive services" screenings, including cancer tests like mammograms, and annual check-ups.

Of particular interest, on a systemic level, is the introduction of the new "medical loss ratio," which sounds more complicated than it is. This new rule forces private insurers to spend 80% to 85% of the money we pay them in premiums on paying for* actual medical care to its customers, rather than everything else (profit, marketing, executive salaries, overhead, etc.). In recent years, some insurance companies were spending as little as 50% of their premium dollars on their customers.

Americans almost certainly won't notice the shift resulting from the new medical loss ratio, but it's expected to make a pretty big difference, and it's one of the provisions that drew the loudest howls from the insurance companies and their congressional lackeys.

Taken together -- the reforms that took effect in 2010, coupled with the measures that kick in today -- we're talking about some major positive changes to the system. All of these reforms, by the way, tend to be pretty popular -- the larger concerns about the ACA notwithstanding -- but are nevertheless being targeted by congressional Republicans, who want to eliminate the benefits entirely.

Good luck with that, GOP.


(the following letter was sent- but not published- to USA Today after I was astonished to read a guest op-ed from "Sarah Palin", which I put in quotes because, as I pointed out in my riposte, it was obviously ghost written. She's pictured above with blood and guts from a defenseless animal she killed. I'm posting it here because apparently there are a few stalwarts out there who still check in to see what I've written- thanks Kevin & Brian- and I intend to get back to sending in opinion pieces for publication which I will occasionally post here

Dear Editor:

It was hard to decide whether to be more amused or alarmed at seeing an obviously ghost written guest editorial from Sarah Palin on the dangers of a nuclear armed Iran. Amused because USA Today could not have chosen a person more profoundly ignorant of foreign affairs than the former Alaska governor- who, when thrust into the national spotlight as a Vice Presidential candidate, whined about a "gotcha question" when CBS's Katie Couric asked her what newspapers she read. That "gotcha" question, and the total confusion it engendered as Ms. Palin floundered, unable to name a single newspaper, exemplified as nothing else the incredible mistake made by John McCain in selecting her for the Republican national ticket. (Presumably her list of zero has now expanded to include USA Today, but I would not bet money on it). Alarmed because her ignorance is dangerous when it affects public perceptions of Iran, a country that right wing radicals have been urging this country to bomb. It is a shame that USA Today gave Ms. Palin a forum in which to express her misstatements of fact (that Iran has missiles capable of targeting Israel that soon will be able to target the U.S., that it shields Al Qaida leaders) and her lack of consistency (she quotes Saudi officials who urged the U.S. to attack Iran without attributing the source for those quotes- Wikileaks, the same organization whom Ms. Palin and her fellow ideologues want prosecuted for leaking the information). Perhaps the only salutary use for Ms. Palin's article will be to have an interviewer question her to see if she can define any of the words appearing in it-- I look forward to hearing how she defines "Bushehr," the location of Iran's nuclear reactor. My guess is that she thinks it means a follower of George Bush.