erik lundegaard

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Tuesday April 07, 2015

John Oliver Lets Edward Snowden Know He Ruined His Life for Nothing

This is what I wrote at the end of my review of “CitizenFour,” Laura Poitras's Oscar-winning documentary on Edward Snowden:

We visit Snowden briefly in Moscow, where he’s now living with his girlfriend. ... But the questions I’d like to ask Edward Snowden aren’t asked. What’s it like being so plugged in—as he was at the NSA—and then being completely unplugged, as he is now? Did he think the reaction of the world was commensurate with the problem as he saw it? I’d ask “The Insider” questions: Was it worth it? If he could go back, would he still come forward? Would he still blow the whistle?

Are we worth it?

On Sunday, John Oliver aired his interview with Edward Snowden on “Last Week Tonight,” and we got the following exchange:

Oliver in voiceover: While the risks were significant, Snowden himself has made it clear that he feels that the rewards have been worth it. 

Oliver to Snowden: You said yourself in your letter to Brazil, “I was motivated by a belief that the citizens of the world deserve to understand the world in which they live. My greatest fear was that no one would listen to my warning. Never have I been so glad to have been so wrong.” How did that feel?

Snowden: I was initially terrified that this was gonna be a three-day story and everyone was going to forget about it. But when I saw that everybody around the world said, “Whoa, this is a problem; we have to do something about this,” it felt like vindication. ... I think we're seeing something amazing, which is: If you ask the American people to make tough decisions, to confront tough issues, to think about hard problems, they'll actually surprise you. 

Then Oliver surprises Snowden by showing him footage in which New Yorkers are asked who Edward Snowden is. Many don't know. One woman thinks he “sold some information to people.” Others confuse him with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. 

Are we worth it? Snowden thought we were. Oliver traveled all the way to Moscow to disabuse him of that notion. It's worth watching, partly for that sad theater, but mostly for the questions raised throughout.

John Oliver and Edward Snowden

Are we worth it? Oliver releases crucial data to Snowden.

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Posted at 05:30 PM on Apr 07, 2015 in category Politics
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Monday March 30, 2015

'I Find the NRA to be Hard Work'

Earlier this year, Patricia and I watched the Frontline special, “Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA.” Here’s the trailer:

Actually, P only watched half of it. She didn’t need the rest. Neither did I, really. But it’s like when you’re on the losing team and you force yourself to watch the winning team celebrate on the field. To remind yourself.

The doc focuses on three shootings—Columbine in April 1999, Gabby Giffords in January 2011, Sandy Hook in December 2012—and how each renewed calls for gun control, and how after each the NRA emerged stronger. We all know how it goes by now: 1) People are killed by guns; 2) a majority of people say we need to do something about guns; 3) a minority of people buy more guns and strengthen their support for the NRA; 4) nothing happens. World without end.

It helps that the NRA has the entire history of Hollywood movies on its side. That’s why Wayne LaPierre’s line works. He says, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” and we think of Bruce Willis or Clint Eastwood or John Wayne or Tom Mix or William S. Hart. Cowboys without end.

Here are the NRA’s three basic arguments:

  1. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
  2. Gun control regulations only stop good guys from getting guns; bad guys will get them any way they can.
  3. Second Amendment, yo.

That third argument, well, an individual right to gun ownership is a relatively new concept. For more than 200 years, the U.S. Supreme Court read the Second Amendment as a collective right to gun ownership. Maybe someday we’ll all go back to that. But we need to shut down the first two arguments first.

How? Public safety won’t do it. If Sandy Hook didn’t change things, nothing will. We’ve stopped caring. Or we only care about other people’s kids in bits and pieces, while gun lovers care about their guns 24/7. Plus they reframe the debate. They make it about personal freedom. And they co-opt the safety argument. (See #2, above.)

So what's left? One option is to unman them.

What are high-powered magazine clips but weapons for people who can’t shoot straight? Just how many rounds do you need to hit your target? And how many weapons do you have to strap on to make yourself feel like a man? At all times, Open Carry movement? How sad is that? How sad is your need for strap-ons. What is the NRA but a lobbying organization. Who is Wayne LaPierre but a lobbyist with a French name. You don't think FOX News couldn't grind him to dust if he were on the other side? 

Or we can all just watch this Aussie comedian take them down. (Thanks for the link, Erika.) Love his matter-of-fact line, “I find the NRA to be hard work.” Yep.

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Posted at 07:29 AM on Mar 30, 2015 in category Politics
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Wednesday February 25, 2015

Obama's Veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline is the Third of His Presidency; What Does That Mean Historically?

Via, which should know:

President Reg. Pocket Total
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) 372  263  635
Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) 304  110  414
Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) 180  70  250
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) 73  108  181
Grover Cleveland (1893-1897) 42  128  170
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) 45  48  93
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) 42  40  82
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) 39  39  78
Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977) 48  18  66
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) 20  30  50
Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) 19  25  44
George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
29  15  44
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) 33  11  44
Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) 26  17  43
William McKinley (1897-1901) 36  42
William H. Taft (1909-1913) 30  39
Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) 21  16  37
William J. Clinton (1993-2001) 36  37
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) 13  18  31
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) 16  14  30
Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) 21  29
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) 12  21
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) 12  13
Andrew Jackson(1829-1837) 12
Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) 12
George W. Bush (2001-2009) 12  12
John Tyler (1841-1845) 10
Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) 9
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) 7
James Buchanan (1857-1861) 7
James Madison (1809-1817) 7
Warren G. Harding(1921-1923) 6
Barack H. Obama (2009-present) 3 3
James K. Polk (1845-1849) 3
George Washington (1789-1797) 2
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) 2
James Monroe (1817-1825) 1
Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) 1
James A. Garfield (1881) 0
John Adams (1797-1801) 0
John Q. Adams (1825-1829) 0
Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) 0
William H. Harrison (1841) 0
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) 0

May there be more. 

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Posted at 05:31 PM on Feb 25, 2015 in category Politics
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Wednesday January 21, 2015

The Best #SOTU Ever?

Patrica and I went to dinner last night for my birthday so I missed Pres. Obama's State of the Union address and didn't get to watch it until tonight. Holy crap, is that good. It's a thing of beauty. I don't even know what my favorite part was. This challenge to Congress on minimum wage maybe?

Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That's why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It's 2015. It's time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned. And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.

This subtle slam on the chest-beating of the Roger Aileses of the world?

Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin's aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters. That's how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

 This bit on global warming and the doofuses who want to ignore global warming?

2014 was the planet's warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn't make a trend, but this does — 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

 I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act. Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

 This admission and cause for optimism?

You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn't a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America — but a United States of America. I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home — a state of small towns, rich farmland, and one of the world's great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values.

Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn't delivered on this vision. How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever. It's held up as proof not just of my own flaws — of which there are many — but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.

I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong. I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long. 

This call for a new type of politics?

I know many of you well. There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn't what you signed up for — arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision. Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different.

I've said it before and I'll say it again and I'll keep saying it until I'm dead in my grave: My president.

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Posted at 08:52 PM on Jan 21, 2015 in category Politics
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Friday January 02, 2015

Mario Cuomo: 1932-2015

I heard the following exchange on NPR this morning following the death of Gov. Mario Cuomo last night. It's from a 2004 interview conducted by Steve Inskeep regarding Cuomo's book, “Why Lincoln Matters: Today More than Ever.” It's a nice, smart exchange in a grubby, stupid time. 

President Lincoln never professed to belong to an organized church of any kind. 
That’s absolutely accurate. If he was anything, he was a rationalist.

And even though he was not part of an organized religion, Lincoln did invoke God in his speeches, and used the language of the Bible in his speeches.
He used the language of the Bible over and over in his second inaugural—how religious his references are. That’s absolutely true. But he never talks about Jesus as the son of God. And he doesn’t talk about “God”; he talks about “Creator.” He waas clearly not a person who accepted any specific religious faith.

In the second inaugural, there’s the line about, “As God gives us to see the right.” I mean, there are references to God.
Yes, well, but he never makes an argument for God.

I just wonder if it says something about the electorate that politicians were addressing then and now? Something practical.
Well, let me ask a really grubby, political question—[chuckles] I’m better at this than you are, of course, because I lived that life for a long time: Would a politician stoop so low as to use religion to get close to voters?

Yeah. I hope I didn’t do it too much, because when I drop dead and I find out there is a God, and, indeed, He has a big book with everything noted. Of course, politicians do it. Did Lincoln do it for that reason? All I know is Lincoln was a master politician.

Gov. Cuomo, what do you think Lincoln would make of the presidential campaign we’re in right now?
He would say, “Thank God I didn’t have to raise that much money.”

The full exchange is here.

Sam Roberts has a good obit and appreciation in The New York Times. The New Yorker goes all out, with posts from Elizabeth Kolbert and Ken Auletta. Kolbert talks about Cuomo's dark broodiness, his moral gravity, and the irony of his time in office, in which the great construction project was prisons. “His great gift,” she writes, “was to make listeners feel that politics was a serious business and that civic life matters.”

My friend Jerry Grillo on Facebook:

I was proud that Mario Cuomo was my governor (back when I lived in New York) and wish him well on the backstage pass portion of his journey. As a photographer for the Suffolk County Democrats, I took his picture, and he gave me his autograph. He was a nice guy, a great leader, a decent human being, the son of immigrants who played minor league baseball here in Georgia one summer. Goodbye, Mr. Cuomo.

Also via Facebook, Robert Reich:

Mario Cuomo was one of the kindest and most dedicated politicians I ever knew, right up there with Teddy Kennedy and Paul Wellstone in my pantheon of the greats. Cuomo lived his values, and those values were almost always in the direction of social justice. I’ll never understand why he decided against running for president. He could have been elected—no one could give a speech as well—and he would have made a terrific leader for the nation.

Here's a blunt reading from Esquire's Charles P. Pierce.

I missed most of Cuomo's highlights, including the 1984 DNC speech that rocked the Dems and made Cuomo a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and possibly the presidency, if he so desired. Apparently he didn't so desire. At least not enough. He might've been the Robin Wright of politicians in this regard. I mostly know him from Ken Burns' 1994 “Baseball” documentary, in which we learn, among other things, that Cuomo had signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates for a bigger bonus than Mickey Mantle received from the New York Yankees.

A thoughtful man in thoughtless times. If there's anything to know, now he knows. Rest in peace. 

Mario Cuomo

A thoughtful man in thoughtless times.

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Posted at 07:38 AM on Jan 02, 2015 in category Politics
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