A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Friday, December 19, 2014

It's Not A War - It's Freedom


Republican Whining Over Cuba Makes No Sense

(This image of Cuba is from the website cubaninsider.)

As expected, the congressional Republicans have gone ballistic over President Obama's effort to restore normal diplomatic relations with Cuba (and ask for an end to the embargo that has lasted for over 50 years). They have accused the president of everything from surrendering to supporting dictatorships -- and some are even trying to come up with some way to keep the failed American policy in effect.

Some want to vote to keep the embargo in effect (which they could do, since it would take an act of Congress to end it). Others want to refuse to fund the building of a U.S. embassy in Cuba, or block the appointment of an ambassador to that country. But they had better tread carefully on this issue, since polls show most Americans are tired of the failed Cuba policy this country has been following -- and the GOP doesn't need another issue where they are out-of-step with most Americans.

They should consider the following points before doing something really stupid:

* The policy, designed to force the Cuban government to fall, has been an abject failure.

* Most other countries in the world have established normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, and now ignore the U.S. embargo.

* Most nations in the Americas, especially the Latin American nations, no longer want to treat Cuba as a pariah, and this has caused a lack of respect for the U.S. among those countries.

* The United States already has full diplomatic relations (and no embargo) with many other dictatorial countries (Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Uganda, etc.) -- and a lot of those countries have a worse human rights record than Cuba does.

* Restoring diplomatic relations and ending the embargo would benefit both nations economically.

* The U.S. government would not stand for another country interfering in our internal politics, so it is wrong for us to try to do that with Cuba.

* Cuba poses no danger to the United States.

* Most Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba and ending the embargo.

I know it offends the extremist congressional Republicans to agree with the president about anything, but the president has just done what needed to be done a long time ago. They will not win any new political friends by opposing his action.


The Chase Is Over

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Two New Polls Show No Favorite Among GOP For 2016



I bring you the Washington Post / ABC News Poll and the Fox News Poll on presidential preferences for 2016 -- not because they reflect any change, but because I want to keep you abreast of the thinking for 2016. The truth is that the GOP race is still the same muddled mess it has been for months now.

Some may look at the charts above and conclude Mitt Romney has sprang into the lead (even though no one knows whether he would want to run again or not). I disagree. While Romney is slightly ahead of many others (with about 19% or 20% of current voter preference), but that is not a significant lead. That shows that currently about 80% (or four out of five Republicans) do not want Romney -- at least right now. The GOP race is still wide open, and any of the current candidates (or an unknown future candidate) could win the nomination.

The Fox News Poll also queried its respondents about the Democratic nomination, and there's no surprise there either. In spite of what some progressives want, it still looks like all Hillary Clinton needs to do to get the nomination is to ask for it.


Role Model ?

Political Cartoon is by Rob Rogers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Capitalists Are Hogging The Gains From Rising Productivity


The chart above (from the Global Wage Report 2014/2015) shows a stark reality of what is happening to worker wages -- not just in the United States, but in the developed world as a whole. The productivity of American workers continues to rise, but the benefits and gains from that rising productivity are no longer being shared with American workers -- which contributes greatly to the stagnation of worker wages (and actual reduction of wages once inflation is taken into account).

Here is how Professor Richard D. Wolff puts it in an article for Truthout:

In the developed countries, while real wages stagnated throughout the crisis since 2007, the productivity of workers continued to rise. That explains the deepening inequalities of income and wealth in those countries.

Productivity measures the quantity of goods and services that workers' labor provides to their bosses. The chart shows how labor productivity has kept rising (because of computers, more equipment, better training, speed-up of work etc.). The chart also shows how much less wages have risen. Wages are what capitalists pay workers for their labor.

There is thus a growing gap between what workers give capitalists (productivity) and what capitalists give workers (wages). That gap measures profits. They have grown the fastest of all. Major capitalist corporations gather those exploding profits into their hands. They pay their top executives huge salaries and bonuses, pay rich dividends and deliver huge capital gains to their shareholders. Those top executives and major shareholders are most of the super-rich who have taken so much of the nation's wealth.

There is much more in Professor Wolff's article, including at look at how the export of jobs from developed countries to undeveloped countries is seriously hurting worker wages. I urge you to read the entire article.

NOTE -- Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City. He also teaches classes regularly at the Brecht Forum in Manhattan.

The Winner

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Life


Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Biggest Thing Humans Have Done


Obama Shows Political Courage On Cuban Question



President Obama started his presidency looking weak. That is because he is by nature a person who believes in compromise and bipartisan governing. He tried very hard to govern in a bipartisan way, and get the Republicans to compromise for the good of this country. And this effort led to (in my opinion) weaker versions of both Wall Street reform and health care reform than should have been achieved.

But the Republicans were not interested in cooperation or compromise. They made it their goal to destroy his presidency, and have since tried to obstruct everything he has tried to do. And now with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, any remaining faint hope of bipartisanship has disappeared. It has become apparent that, if the final two years of the Obama presidency is to have any meaning, it is up to the president alone to stand fast against the GOP and make his own mark.

And that looks like exactly what he is planning to do. He started with his executive order exempting about 5 millions undocumented immigrants (who have family in this country) from being deported. It was a bold and politically courageous act, necessary because the Republicans refused to even consider immigration reform -- and he has stood fast in that decision in spite of the GOP howls of outrage.

Now he has taken another bold and politically courageous step. He has put this country on the path to normalizing relations with Cuba -- a move that is long overdue. The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Cuba for over 50 years, and has maintain an embargo against that tiny island nation for an equal length of time. The purpose of the breaking off of diplomatic relations, and the embargo, was to force Cuba into getting rid of Castro and establishing a government the U.S. approved of -- and those moves have been abysmal failures.

Most other nations have long since realized the folly of this, and they have ceased to cooperate with the embargo and normalized relations with Cuba -- leaving the United States to stand alone with this failed policy. The embargo should have been discontinued long ago, and relations with Cuba normalized -- but no president has had the courage to do that (fearing they would be labeled as a communist sympathizer).

But President Obama has acted. He has ordered that talks with Cuba begin over normalizing relations, and it looks like the two nations will have embassies in each others countries soon. And he has relaxed greatly the embargo, allowing more visits to that nation, more money to be sent there, and more business to be done there by American firms. The president has not gone all the way toward normalization (for instance tourism is still not permitted), but he has taken a bold step that will undoubtably lead to full normalization in the future.

This has led to more howls of outrage from the Republicans, but it seems the president is no longer worried about that. He now knows that bipartisanship and compromise are impossible as long as the Republican extremists control Congress, so he seems to have made up his mind to stand up for what's right in spite of Republican whining -- and to use his executive power to do that.

Will this refreshing display of political courage from the president continue? I believe it will, but we won't know for sure until we see if he is willing to use his veto power against the series of very bad bills the GOP Congress is sure to send him. So far, I'm liking this new strong President Obama.


The Hypocrite

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Congressional Approval Remains Incredibly Low


The Gallup Poll  has released its latest survey on public approval for Congress -- and it is a dismal one. The survey was done between December 8th and 11th of a random national sample of 805 adults, and has a margin of error of 4 points. It shows the congressional numbers are still in the toilet -- with only 15% of the public approving of Congress.

Why does such a low percentage of the public like Congress? A look at a different survey can answer that. It is the Rasmussen Poll (shown below) -- done on December 15th and 16th of a random national sample of 1,000 likely voters, with a 3 point margin of error. The American people are tired of the ideological games Congress has been playing.

A whopping 82% says they want their elected officials to compromise for the good of the country -- and that's certainly not what they've been getting from Congress (especially the Republicans, who've obstructed everything the president has tried to do -- even though he's repeatedly tried to get them on board for bipartisan solutions to the nation's problems).

I fully expect the congressional approval to remain low for the next couple of years. That's because the Republicans have already made it clear they have no more intention of compromising in the 114th Congress than they did in the 113th Congress. They seem to think the voters gave them a mandate to continue their ideological game-playing. I think they are in for a rude surprise in 2016 if they continue that.


If Torture Is OK . . .

Political Cartoon is by Jen Sorensen at jensorensen.com.

Since The GOP Likes A Sales Tax So Much . . .


The Republicans have made it very clear that they hate the income tax -- especially a progressive income tax that taxes the rich at a larger percentage than those who make less in income. While the progressive income tax (the idea that those who make the most from our society should owe the most in taxes back to that society) has always made sense to most people, but not to Republicans. They much prefer other kinds of taxes, more regressive taxes like the sales tax (which makes the poor, the working class, and the middle class pay a much larger percentage of their income in taxes than the rich).

Even now, the Republicans want to revise the tax code to allow the rich (who already pay less due to a lower capital gains tax rate) and the corporations to pay less in income taxes. They want to do this in spite of the fact that it is obvious that our government needs more revenue -- not less (and the rich and the corporations are already paying less in income taxes than at any time since World War II).

Personally, I think the opposite should be done. I think the rich should pay a small increase in tax percentage, and the corporations should lose the loopholes and subsidies that allow them to pay little or no income taxes. But that won't happen since the GOP controls Congress. So I suggest another idea -- one which should appeal to the GOP since they like sales taxes so much. We need to institute a new sales tax on the national level.

It is an idea that has been gaining popularity in the last few years. It is a sales tax of 0.5% on all stock transactions on Wall Street (commonly called a Robin Hood Tax). The tax would be tiny enough that it would have no effect on Wall Street and the business it does, but it would pour billions of dollars (maybe hundreds of billions) in badly needed new revenue for the government.

This seems fair to me. If the Republicans like a sales tax so much they are willing to impose it unfairly on the poor, working, and middle classes, then it should also be imposed on the purchases the rich hold so dear -- the stock trades that allow them to pay a smaller capital gains tax rate on income.

I doubt the GOP Congress will do this. It taxes the rich, and that's the group they are dedicated to save from having to pay taxes. The GOP doesn't mind taxes -- as long as the rich and corporations don't have to pay them. But it is still a good idea, and we should be pushing the idea so it can be accomplished as soon as Democrats regain power.

GOP Santa

Political Cartoon is by Tom Toles in the Washington Post.

Not Everyone Should Have A Gun


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Point Of Slogans


Two New Polls Have Hillary Clinton Looking Good



The charts above are from a new Monmouth University Poll done between December 10th and 14th of a random national sample of 1,008 adults. It has a margin of error of 5 points for Democrats and 4.9 points for Republicans.

I especially like this survey because the respondents were not given a choice between a list of candidates, but were just asked who their preference was for the 2016 nomination. That makes it a bit more likely that the person they named is actually their real preference.

But the results are not really that different from what numerous other polls have shown. Hillary Clinton is far ahead of any other possible Democratic candidate. And there is no real favorite among the numerous Republican possibilities (with no GOP candidate getting even 10% support.

The charts below were from another new presidential preference poll -- the McClatchy-Marist Poll that was done between December 3rd and 9th of a random national sample of 1,140 adults. The margin of error is 5.2 points for Republicans and 4.7 points for Democrats. In this survey, the respondents were asked to choose from a list of candidates, and that is probably why the numbers are a little bit larger.

But the results show the same thing. Hillary Clinton has a very large lead among Democrats, and there is still no real favorite among Republicans (with no one even getting to the 20% mark).

They also asked poll respondents to choose their preference between Clinton and some of the leading GOP candidates -- and Clinton lead them all by double-digits. It's still a long way until the primaries are held and/or the general election, but right now Hillary Clinton is looking golden.




Big Banks

Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Is An Apology Needed? - Absolutely Not!



Many people have been demonstrating against the police killings of far too many unarmed Black men (and children), and the police aren't happy about that (even though they know there is nothing they can do about it). But they are even more upset when it is a celebrity making the same statement as the demonstrators. Why? Because they think that celebrities (like star athletes) taking a stand on something can influence a lot of other people to do the same -- and they are probably right about that.

That's why the St. Louis Police Officer's Association (SLPOA) hit the roof when some St. Louis Rams players entered the stadium before a recent game with their arms up (imitating the pose of those demonstrating against the shooting of Michael Brown). The SLPOA demanded an apology from those players and the team. And they went even further by demanding the players be punished.

It's also why the union for Cleveland police officers is demanding an apology from Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins entered the stadium wearing a t-shirt demanding justice for 12 year-old Tamir Rice and John Crawford, both of whom were killed by police -- Rice because he was holding a toy gun in a public park.

Do the St. Louis and Cleveland police officers deserve an apology from these celebrities (i.e., NFL players)? In a word, NO! And both of these police organizations should be deeply ashamed of themselves for even asking for an apology.

They seem to have forgotten that they represent government employees, and any citizen has the right to criticize his/her government if he/she feels they are not living up to the hig standards they have sworn to uphold (and are indeed paid to uphold). In fact, this right is so important that our Founding Fathers wrote it into the Constitution (in the First Amendment). If any of these officers can't stand to be criticized when some of their fellow officers fail to uphold those high standards, then they should find another line of work outside of government service.

If an apology is needed, it is not from either the demonstrators or the celebrities offering their opinion. It should come from the police, who sprang to the defense of those killing unarmed Blacks and refuse to institute policies that would prevent those incidents from happening in the future.

Cruz Control

Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Columbus Dispatch.

Must We be The "Big Boss" For The Entire World ?


I made the chart above from a recent Rasmussen Poll -- taken on December 11th and 12th of a random national sample of 1,000 likely voters, with a margin of error of 3 points.

It's interesting because it shows that nearly half (48%) of the U.S. population believes the United States will no longer be the most powerful nation in the world by the end of this century, and another quarter of the population aren't sure. Only 27% believe this country will maintain its current powerful position by then.

I got the impression, perhaps mistakenly, that poll respondents (and the pollster) thought this would be a bad thing. And I guess for those who believe there must always be a most powerful nation -- a nation that bullies the rest of the world into going along with its wishes and policies -- it would be a bad thing. But does it have to be that way. Must the world always have a bully?

Why can't mankind progress to a point where all nations respect each other, and don't try to force other nations into complying with their own wishes? Wasn't that the dream that created the United Nations (before they screwed it up by giving veto power to the most powerful nations)? Civilization has progressed a lot since the invention of nations. Why can't we progress even further and create a world without nation bullies?

I guess you could call me an optimist, maybe even a dreamer, but I like to think that is possible.

Newest Bank Branch

Political Cartoon is by Matt Wuerker at Politico.com.

Secrecy Kills Freedom


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

From Democracy To Oligarchy


The "Balanced Budget Amendment" - The Stupid Republican Idea That Just Won't Die (And Is Not Needed)

(The image above was found at the website Bend OR Bust.)

In the last few days, the ugly specter of the "balanced budget amendment" has risen its nasty head again. This time its multi-billionaire David Koch (of the infamous and extremist Koch brothers), and John Kasich (who hopes to use the idea to give him a boost toward achieving the Republican presidential nomination).

These men (and many of their Republican cohorts) will tell you that the huge national debt is a danger, and that we are passing an undue burden on to our children. Neither of those is necessarily true. They think it is true because they don't want the rich (or the corporations) to have to pay their fair share of taxes, especially income taxes. They want to use a balanced budget amendment (or at least the idea of one) to cut all the social programs (the programs that help hurting Americans, keep our environment clean, and educate our children), while also cutting taxes for the rich and the corporations.

The truth is that just a small raising of taxes for the rich, and actually making the corporations pay some taxes (currently many of them don't pay anything at all), would eliminate our budget deficit and allow us to start paying down the national debt. All you have to do is look at the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton to see that. When he left office there was no budget deficit. There was a budget surplus. It was the Bush administration, by cutting taxes for the rich and starting to unnecessary and unpaid-for wars, that put the budget back in deficit and ballooned the national debt.

These men, and other Republicans, will also try to claim that the federal government is just like a state or a family -- both of which must live within their budget or go bankrupt. That is just not true. There are many differences, but perhaps the biggest is that neither states nor families have the ability to print money -- but the federal government does. The federal government could pay every penny of its debt tomorrow by simply printing up a bunch of new dollars.

We don't want them to do that, because it would have a negative effect on inflation -- but it could be done. A far more reasonable approach (and one that would work even better) would be to raise taxes on the rich by a small amount, get rid of loopholes and subsidies that let profitable corporations avoid paying any taxes, pass a real job creation program, make substantial and reasonable cuts to the bloated military budget, and put money back into the economy by fully funding social programs (which would create more jobs by increasing demand).

Another thing these fools will not tell you is that the United States government has ALWAYS had a national debt, from the administration of George Washington to the present -- and that has not kept this country from flourishing. In fact, it has helped the country to flourish. Sometimes that debt has been large and sometimes it has been small, but it has never gone away. That debt is neither inherently good or bad, but has allowed our government to respond to emergencies and keep our country (and its economy) on track.

And finally, they will try to convince you of one other lie -- that most of our national debt is owned by foreign countries, and this will mean we as a country, are now (or soon will be) owned by those other countries (like China). The truth is that most of the national debt of the United States is owned by Americans (and always has been).

There is no reason why the federal government should have to have a balanced budget, and writing that kind of requirement into our Constitution is stupid. The "balanced budget amendment" is just a con game being run on the American people. A con game that would allow Republicans to cut necessary programs without looking like the hard-hearted and mean-spirited politicians that they really are.

Well-Deserved Gift

Political Cartoon is by Stuart Carlson at carlsontoons.com.

Warren Makes It Very Clear - She's Not Running

There is an element in the Democratic Party that is more concerned with political ideology than in winning the 2016 election -- and keeping an extremist Republican from inhabiting the White House. And sadly, this element resides in the progressive wing of the party -- the wing that is strongest in supporting equality, justice, free speech, and true democracy.

These people are trying to pressure Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) into running for president against Hillary Clinton in 2016 (and one progressive organization, Move On, is wasting a million dollars in this effort -- money that could be put to better use electing House and Senate Democrats).

I am a proud progressive myself, and I love Elizabeth Warren. I think she is one of the finest politicians in this country. But I also believe the effort to "draft" Warren as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 is misguided and doomed to fail. Why? Two main reasons -- she supports Hillary Clinton, and she does not want to run for president in 2016.

Warren is not on the fence when it comes to who the Democratic candidate should be in 2016. She supports Hillary Clinton, and she has stated that publicly. In an April ABC News interview she said, "All of the women -- Democratic women I should say -- of the Senate urged Hillary Clinton to run, and I hope she does. Hillary is terrific."

And Warren has repeatedly emphasized the fact that she is not going to run for president in 2016 -- including at a Netroot Nations convention of progressives who were trying to get her to run. She made that clear again in a very recent interview with NPR. The interviewer asked her four times if she might possibly be a candidate in 2016, and she was unequivocal in her denial. Here is that part of the interview:

Sen. Warren, as you must know, that even as you were fighting over this in the Senate, there was a group called Ready for Warren that wants you to run for president, that released a letter signed by more than 300 people who describe themselves as former Obama campaign workers and staffers and aides. They want you to run. What do you say to them?
I'm, I'm not running for president. That's not what we're doing. We had a really important fight in the United States Congress just this past week. And I'm putting all my energy into that fight and to what happens after this.
Would you tell these independent groups, "Give it up!" You're just never going to run.
I told them, "I'm not running for president."
You're putting that in the present tense, though. Are you never going to run?
I am not running for president.
You're not putting a "never" on that.
I am not running for president. You want me to put an exclamation point at the end?
My progressive brothers and sisters need to stop this nonsensical "draft Warren" movement. She has made up her mind not to run -- and she is not a weak-minded person who can be pushed into doing what she doesn't want to do. She supports Clinton, and that's what we should all be doing. Anything else would just create an intra-party fight, which we simply cannot afford right now. That would only give the extremist Republicans a better chance in 2016.

Door To Justice

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

State Rep. Wants To Decriminalize Marijuana In Texas


As usual, the state of Texas is still trying to avoid establishing a more sensible position on marijuana. Even though several states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, many others have decriminalized the use and possession of the gentle herb, and a majority have legalized the medical use of marijuana -- Texas has not done any of those things (in spite of the overwhelming evidence that marijuana is NOT a dangerous or addictive drug).

State Representative Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would like to change that. He is poised to introduce a bill in the new legislature (which will meet in January) that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. It's not everything that needs to be done, but for a state fighting against entering the 21st Century, it would be a good step -- and as long as right-wing Republicans control Texas, progress (if it comes at all) will have to come in small steps.

Here is the announcement of Rep. Moody's proposed bill from the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP):

At a press conference held today and hosted by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, State Representative Joe Moody announced the details of his new bill to stop branding Texans as criminals for possessing up to an ounce of marijuana. Please urge your legislators to support this important reform, which would keep marijuana users out of jail while allowing law enforcement to focus on serious crimes. 

Many members of our coalition, including Texas District Court Judge John Delaney, the ACLU of Texas, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, and the Marijuana Policy Project, joined him for the big announcement.
Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” Rep. Moody said. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
More than 60% of Texas voters support limiting the punishment for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a fine of $100 with no possibility of jail time, according to a September 2013 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Now is the time to contact your state legislators. They cannot represent you if they don’t know about your support for this bill! Click here to send an email now. Then, spread the news to your friends and family, so that they, too, can speak out to support more humane and sensible marijuana policies.
Heather B. Fazio
Texas Political Director
Marijuana Policy Project 
 

No Indictments

Political Cartoon is by Kevin Siers in The Charlotte Observer.

GOP's State Death Panels


Monday, December 15, 2014

Some Obamacare Accomplishments


When Will It Be Enough To Act ?


It has not been quite two years since the tragedy in Newtown (Connecticut), and nothing has been done to address that kind of school violence. And since then, there have been another 95 school shootings. No other nation has this kind of problem. When is the United States going to act to prevent this nonsense?

I know some of you may be saying at this point that I am in favor of taking guns away from honest law-abiding Americans, but that is not true. I grew up in Texas, where gun ownership is commonplace and I have no problem with law-abiding and sensible people owning guns. And unlike some of my progressive brothers and sisters, I can read the Second Amendment and know it gives citizens the right to own firearms (whether they are in a militia or not).

But this right is not an absolute one. The Supreme Court has ruled that the government has the right to exclude some people from the right to own a gun -- especially those with a criminal record and those who are dangerously mentally ill. I ask my fellow Texans (and other Americans), do you really want convicted criminals and those deemed by medical officials to be dangerous to have easy access to firearms? Only a fool can answer that question with a "yes".

So why then are we not demanding our elected officials close the loopholes in the background check law for the purchase of firearms? About 40% of all the guns sold in this country are not subject to a background check, because they are purchased at gun shows, off the internet or through the mail, or bought from an individual. We need to plug these holes. No gun should be able to be purchased legally without a background check.

Some of you will undoubtably come back with the tired old "they'll just buy it illegally then" argument. Some will, but it is not as easy to purchase an illegal gun as many seem to think. It is much more expensive, and the severe penalties for doing it keep many from trying to buy or sell an illegal gun. The truth is that a thorough background check law, without loopholes, will keep guns out of the hands of many dangerous people.

Let me finish by saying that no one is trying to outlaw guns or take them away from law-abiding citizens -- not the president, not the Democrats, not anyone. But this doesn't mean we shouldn't have some reasonable laws to control the sale and possession of guns. That's just common sense.

Merry Cromnibus

Political Cartoon is by Rob Rogers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Sam Houston


The picture above is of Sam Houston -- hero of the Texas war for independence and the first president of the Republic of Texas. Houston also served as senator and governor after Texas became a state -- and was the only Southern governor to oppose secession from the United States (shortly before the Civil War).

This picture and 55 others from the early days of Texas can be seen at the website of the Beaumont Enterprise. It's some pretty interesting stuff for history buffs (like me).

A Cheney Christmas

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Green Party Says Torture Ended U.S. "Exceptionalism"


Many Americans like to think the United States is unique among nations -- a beacon of democracy, justice and human rights that gives it an exceptional place in the world. That may have been true at one time (although I doubt it, since we are still struggling to assure equal rights to our own citizens), but by using torture we have surely given up any claim to be exceptional. We are now just another of many nations that talk about human rights, but don't really respect those rights.

The following was written by Green Party Shadow Cabinet member Ajamu Baraka on December 10th:

It could be fortuitous or just another example of the utter contempt for international sensibilities that just a day before International Human Rights Day, the U.S. Senate released, its long suppressed report on the systematic violations of the human rights of hundreds of people it captured and tortured as part of its ‘war on terror’. However, in light of the behavior of the U.S. government since 9/11, I suspect that government officials did not consider the timing of the report. Especially since the limited summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the torture methods employed by the Bush Administration did not suggest an end to the impunity of government officials involved in the illegal program, but a continuation of it.  
The fact that top officials in the Obama Administration and the leadership of the democratically-controlled Senate were aware of the criminal acts being perpetrated, yet chose to prevent the release of the report and not prosecute officials responsible for those acts, demonstrates a bi-partisan cover-up and contempt for the law.
It is important to note that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is not a rogue operation. The actions it took were in response to directives from Bush officials to produce “actionable” intelligence, like the “intelligence” it was under pressure to produce to justify attacking Iraq. That is the role the CIA plays in service of the Executive Branch, the branch of the U.S. Government most responsible for advancing the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.
With that mandate, the Obama Administration was an active collaborator in a bi-partisan effort to cover up these crimes. We know this for this simple reason: although members of Congress and the Justice Department were in possession of evidence that human rights violations and transgressions of U.S. law had taken place, the only government officials who were prosecuted were those who brought information about governmental criminality to the attention of the public.   
The bi-partisan claim that national security trumps U.S. and international law and all standards of human decency was the rationale that drove the decision by the Obama Administration to close out investigations into criminal activity during the Bush period.
Waterboarding, anal rape with a feeding tube, beatings, sleep deprivation, mock executions – these acts were all carried out on people who were ‘disappeared’ from their communities, families and nations with no regard for rights and humanity. Yet attempts by victims and their families to secure accountability and reparations for their abuse were systematically blocked by officials in the Obama Administration on the grounds of ”national security.”
That is why the sanctimonious posturing by Democrat members of the Senate Committee who are pretending to be outraged by the findings of the report is particularly galling in light of the fact that the conspiracy to cover up these crimes involved both parties. And the crimes continue. The Obama Administration continues to contract out torture through the program of “extraordinary rendition” that is buttressed with state murder in the form of its drone kill program. The criteria for who lives and dies on Pres. Obama’s ‘Tuesday morning kill list’ remain a mystery – though  Attorney General Eric Holder ‘assures’ us that U.S. citizens are given their “due process” before the U.S. Government murders them. .
U.S. officials don’t operate from the same set of standards as other states. As Pres. Obama repeats, over and over again, the U.S. is “exceptional.” And indeed it appears so. Successive administrations have engaged in the most egregious human rights abuses imaginable - illegal wars that kill hundreds of thousands, torture, arming of terrorists, overthrowing of governments, incarcerating more of its citizens than any other state on earth – yet still claims to be the world’s leader of human rights.
Today, the entire country – and the world – is being confronted with the glaring evidence of the systematic violation of the human rights of working class and poor black, Latinos and whites by a brutal and militarized police apparatus in the U.S. and the extent of torture perpetrated by agents of the U.S. government, with the approval of its elected ‘leaders’. I hope that on this Human Rights Day, the people of the world finally reject once and for all the lie that is U.S. exceptionalism.