Saturday, January 31, 2009

Corporate Compensation

Security firms paid their top executives a total of $18.4 billion in bonuses last year, and finally we have a President who denounces such waste, fraud, and abuse (as Republicans would call it were it not corporate executives). With Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at his side, President Obama on Thursday said in part:

One point I want to make is that all of us are going to have responsibilities to get this economy moving again. And when I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers had given themselves $20 billion worth of bonuses -- the same amount of bonuses as they gave themselves in 2004 -- at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don't provide help that the entire system could come down on top of our heads --that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful.

And part of what we're going to need is for folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility. The American people understand that we've got a big hole that we've got to dig ourselves out of -- but they don't like the idea that people are digging a bigger hole even as they're being asked to fill it up.

This is great, but unfortunately talk is no substitute for action. The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration has finished drafting the central elements of its bailout/rescue plan, whose strategy probably will be announced in approximately one week. And

In finalizing the plan, officials have made a policy decision that could dismay lawmakers. The administration is likely to refrain from imposing tougher restrictions on executive compensation at most firms receiving government aid but instead retain looser requirements initially included in the Treasury's $700 billion rescue program, a source familiar with the deliberations said. Officials are concerned that harsh limits could discourage some firms from asking for aid.

Particularly excessive, but still indicative of corporate greed, is the example of Robert Nardelli, the chairman and chief executive of Home Depot and now chairman of Chrysler Corporation, about whom the Washington Post reported in January, 2007.

Home Depot's board of directors and Nardelli said they "mutually agreed" to the resignation, which took effect Tuesday. Under the terms of a separation agreement negotiated when he joined the company in 2000, Nardelli, 58, is to receive about $210 million in cash and stock options, including a $20 million severance payment and retirement benefits of $32 million....

Last year, he received more than $30 million in compensation and stock options. During his six years at the company, he earned about $125.57 million in annual salary, bonuses, stocks and other payments, according to Equilar, a compensation research firm in San Mateo, Calif.

It's hard to sympathize with the likes of Nardelli, who was under fire at Home Depot, then moved on to Chrysler, where he has requested a government bailout. Yet, if the Post's report is correct, the Administration worries that strict limits on compensation of corporate executives would unfairly discourage those captains of finance from demanding free money from American taxpayers. On this point at least, in what is truly an upset, President Obama appears to be wrong and the junior senator from Missouri correct. A partial transcript from the blog of a statewide radio news network in her state quotes Claire McCaskill (hardly a reliable liberal) as asserting (video below) on the floor of the Senate:

So here's what this bill's going to do. This is called the Chief Executive Officer Pay Act of 2009, and it's very simple. Going forward if you want taxpayers to help you survive, if you want the people at your financial institution to have a job tomorrow, then you're going to have to limit everyone's pay at your company to the same salary that the President of the United States makes. Now once they're off the public dole, once the taxpayers aren't footing the bill, then it's not as much our business what they get paid. But right now they're on the hook to us. And they owe us something other than a fancy waste basket and $50 million jet. They owe us some common sense. And if any of them think it's a hardship to take the salary of the President of the United States, I dare them to say so out loud right now. Because that's not going to instill confidence.

What is going to instill confidence for the men and women in these companies to realize that everyone in this country needs to tighten their belts. It's time for everyone to realize that we must have our financial institutions survive, but not with a culture that thinks it's ok to kick the taxpayer in the shins while they drink champagne and fly in fancy jets. It doesn't work. Not in the United States of America.

Bennett On Limbaugh

You have to give professional Republican Bill Bennett credit for standing up- sort of, almost- to the leader of the Republican Party. Rush Limbaugh infamously declared on his syndicated radio program on January 16, 2009

Why do I want more of it? I don't care what the Drive-By story is. I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it....

We're talking about my country, the United States of America, my nieces, my nephews, your kids, your grandkids. Why in the world do we want to saddle them with more liberalism and socialism? Why would I want to do that? So I can answer it, four words, "I hope he fails." And that would be the most outrageous thing anybody in this climate could say. Shows you just how far gone we are. Well, I know, I know. I am the last man standing.

I'm happy to be the last man standing. I'm honored to be the last man standing. Yeah, I'm the true maverick.

(Of course, we all know that the true maverick is John McCain. Or Sarah Palin. Or now Rush Limbaugh. Any Republican who wants to claim victimhood status.)

As "CNN Political Contributor," Bennett commented (according to The Associated Press) "The locution — `I want him to fail' — is not what you say the first week the man's been inaugurated...."

If you watch Bennett's appearance (video below), however, you might notice him remark also "....Anyway, the rhetoric could be improved.... It's rhetorical- if he's doing the wrong thing, you don't root for him. If he's doing the right thing, sure."

And how does one determine whether he (Obama) is "doing the right thing?" Why, if he does the proper conservative thing, of course! What the former Secretary of Education and "Drug Czar" could have said, obviously, would have been something like: "If he's doing the wrong thing, we'll try to steer him in the right direction; if he's doing the right thing, we'll applaud him. Still, we're not going to relinquish the right, our obligation to the American people, to call the President out if his policies look like they'll hurt the nation."

Bennett might have said that if he really viewed it that way. Instead, the problem he found wasn't what Limbaugh believes- it's that he had the bad manners to admit rooting against the President; a problem with "locution" or "rhetoric." This is especially (though not exclusively) bad form "the first week the man's been inaugurated."

This is, perhaps, the face of modern Republican "moderation" or "bipartisanship." Hopefully, the media won't be taken in, and the American public will see it for what it is.

Limbaugh's Party

Score one for the leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh (video below for illustration of his power). And give him credit for a rare burst of honesty when on January 16, 2009 he forthrightly confessed

I don't care what the Drive-By story is. I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it.

Call it the "good cop" to virtually the rest of the Repub Party playing the "bad cop." Examples abound, but this is a pretty good one. House Democratic staffers are contending the GOP alternative to President Obama's stimulus plan actually raises taxes on some Americans. In response, Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, sent to Greg Sargent an e-mail led by this curious sentence (for a description of this controversy,see Sargent's blog posting here.):

These are the type of untruths spread by House Democrats that continue to undermine President Obama’s desire to work together to provide real solutions to the challenges faced by hardworking Americans.

Isn't this statement coming from the party whose members voted unanimously against Mr. Obama's stimulus package? 177-0? Every member against Obama, none for? It's easy for Repubs to bash Democrats in Congress, always an institution unpopular with the American people, rather than the (now) immensely popular President. And thus the "biggest danger," as Mike Lux posts today in Open Left and The Huffington Post, is

the media, in their worship of bipartisanship, will really start hammering Congressional Democrats. Progressives need to be full tilt ahead in defending our Congressional Dem friends from this line of attack. And President Obama should not get in the triangulation trap, because what that delivered for Clinton was his own personal survival, but in every election while he was President, the Republicans won the majority in Congress, allowing him to get very little important done in his Presidency.

The GOP understands this. While Rush Limbaugh rants and raves and reassures the right-wing base, the bulk of the Republican Party will emphasize opposition to Pelosi, Reid, Congressional Democrats, Congress, liberalism, and the kitchen sink while downplaying direct criticism of President Obama.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The New GOP Leader

Chris Cillizza begins his post in the Washington Post, The Fix, with "The Republican National Committee elected Michael Steele as its first African American chairman today in Washington..."

No wonder. When as Maryland's lieutenant governor Steele ran as the Republican nominee for the United States Senate in 2006, he responded to a question about stem cell research by telling the Baltimore Jewish Council

Look, you of all folks know what happens when people decide they want to experiment on human beings, when they want to take your life and use it as a tool. I know that as well from my community and our experience with slavery.

Assailed for clearly linking stem cell research with the Holocaust, Steele issued a non-apology apology, stating "I offended members of the Jewish community and members of the Maryland community. It was a remark that was an improper inference, because I never specifically said Holocaust. . . . And it did not reflect my attitude and my belief, and I am really sorry about the whole thing." (Sorry I offended you because you misunderstood me.) But Democratic politician and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume recognized the race card when he saw it: "Any further comparison to equate slavery to stem cell research is a reach that I and others who are the descendants of slaves don't understand."

The remark probably was not out of character for the charismatic Steele. The Washington Post reported on September 24, 2006 of a rally of Democrats for Steele in Baltimore (a heavily Democratic city), where Steele supporters waved signs and gobbled up bumper stickers that said "Steele Democrat."

And the Post on November 7, 2006 described sample ballots distributed on election day by campaign volunteers (some of whom apparently thought the GOP candidates were Democrats) bused into Maryland from Philadelphia. They were "paid for in part by the Bob Ehrlich for Maryland Committee, as well as the Steele committee, as well as the Maryland GOP," according to a Repub spokeswoman, and

Under the heading "Democratic Sample Ballot," the fliers urge voters to select Ehrlich for governor and Steele, his lieutenant governor, for U.S. Senate, along with a largely Democratic slate of candidates for other statewide and local offices.

The Post reported on November 9:

The fliers included a "Democratic Sample Ballot" suggesting that voters back Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Senate candidate Michael S. Steele, both Republicans. Entitled "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats," it pictured three influential Democrats -- Wayne K. Curry, Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and Kweisi Mfume -- and said at the bottom, "These are OUR choices." Curry had endorsed Steele but not Ehrlich, and neither Johnson nor Mfume had endorsed either candidate.

So Steele, now chairman of the Republican National Committee, ran (unsuccessfully) for the United States Senate in solidly Democratic Maryland pretending he was a Democrat. Black, white, Hispanic, or Asian: Michael Steele is not a conservative, not a moderate, only a political cipher with little notion of integrity.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Never Too Late For The Truth

Michigan's John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, on January 6 introduced bill to create a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties. The text of H.R. 104 declares

There is established the National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties (hereinafter in this Act referred to as the `Commission') to investigate the broad range of policies of the Administration of President George W. Bush that were undertaken under claims of unreviewable war powers, including detention by the United States Armed Forces and the intelligence community, the use by the United States Armed Forces or the intelligence community of enhanced interrogation techniques or interrogation techniques not authorized by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, `ghosting' or other policies intended to conceal the fact that an individual has been captured or detained, extraordinary rendition, domestic warrantless electronic surveillance, and other policies that the Commission may determine to be relevant to its investigation (hereinafter in this Act referred to as `the activities').

Commonly referred to as a "truth commission," the idea has little support among Democrats or in the Third Estate, obsesessed with the allure of "bipartisanship." In Sunday's Chris Matthews Show, author/jounalist Bob Woodward, NBC correspondent Kelly O'Donnell, the WashingtonPost's Anne Kornblut, and Newseek's Howard Fineman all had roughly the same take (video below) on any effort to extract accountability from the disastrous Bush presidency (transcript here but dialogue reprinted from crooks and liars):

Matthews: How do you read that...what he just said?

Woodward: No. In other words he's not going to, he doesn't want investigations. I mean if, first of all in some of these things, it's so ambiguous and uh, he has got to get beyond the past. He does not want to create the feeling, which in a sense this week he did create by saying he's going to close Guantanamo, that the war on terror is over. It is not over. What he said is some of the tactics, namely torture and harsh interrogation tactics are gone but the war continues and if there is a, some sort of perpetual investigation of these things the message will be we're going soft and I tell you those in the intelligence world and the military and I think Obama himself doesn't want to send that message.

Matthews: Well let's talk about the Republicans on the Hill. What are they worried, aren't they trying to hold Eric Holder's feet to the fire and say "Promise you won't launch an investigation as our new Attorney General".

O'Donnell: Well one of the problems is if they do dig back into all of these things you do lose some of the Republicans support and President Obama's trying to reach out. You also reinforce what detractors of the Bush/Cheney years already think. So there's very little political upside. And so Eric Holder has been certainly tested and they definitely, Republicans definitely want to be able to feel like they can stick with their strong principle of defense without having to worry about digging back into some of those things.

Matthews: Yeah. Anne obviously the people on the left, the netroots people, John Conyers up on the Hill, they want action. They want some kind of at least an extra-legal kind of truth and reconciliation commission like you had in South Africa that doesn't prosecute but does investigate.

Kornblut: And yet we haven't heard any signal from Obama or the White House itself that they would authorize that, encourage it. Even something that would be as sort of as benign as a truth and reconciliation commission, every indication is they want to leave that to reporters, historians. They want to move on, you know the Hill can do what the Hill can do, but they're not behind it.

Matthews: Well why did we prosecute people at Abu Ghraib for abusing prisoners if we're not going to prosecute people who may have authorized that kind of treatment?

Fineman: It is an issue. But Obama has to run the country and he and the leaders of the Democratic Party on the Hill have said "It's not worth the cost". I mean I know that Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate wants no parts of this. Whatever John Conyers is going to do on the House side, he's going to do and you'll hear a lot of noise from him and maybe some investigations. But it's not going to be backed up by the Democratic leadership in Congress. It just isn't.


Woodward: Well who would you investigate and prosecute? I mean the people who did these interrogations and so forth believed with good reason they had authority from the President.

Matthews: They had orders.

Woodward: Now you know it's too late to impeach Bush. It's over.

Though I think the abuses at Abu Ghraib should be only a minor part of any investigation into the criminal behavior of the prior administration, Matthews deserves credit for asking, apparently rhetorically, "Well why did we prosecute people at Abu Ghraib for abusing prisoners if we're not going to prosecute people who may have authorized that kind of treatment?" At the time the case was closed, low-ranking members of the military bore the brunt of blame and punishment, leading a lawyer with the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union to comment "it could not be more clear that prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from policies and practices authorized by high-level officials, including military and cvilian leaders. Although the abuse was systemic and widespread, the accountability for it has been anything but."

Tar it as as a "perpetual investigation;" assure us that the leader, in the Senate or the Oval Office, wants "to move on," wanting "no part of this." Worse yet, dredge up a straw man: "it's too late to impeach Bush. It's over." (nothing to see here folks, just move on). It's really a variation of the theme of post-partisanship. But as Moulitsas wrote (albeit spurred by the stimulus bill) today on his dailykos:

Bottom line, there is nothing inherently good about "bipartisanship". The only thing that matters is whether a solution is good or not. Consider that two of Bush's biggest disasters -- his tax cuts and Iraq -- were "bipartisan" affairs. Getting votes from the opposite party doesn't make the underlying legislation any more likely to succeed. If anything, our nation would've been better served with more partisanship during those times....

Moulitsas added "There's one last negative byproduct of bipartisanship -- lack of accountability." As in the stimulus package, so it is with investigating the crowd that ran things the last eight years.

Quote Of The Week

"No question, the president is right. The next time it snows, we would like to invite him to help us make the decision. His involvement will make it much easier to explain to our students why they won't be able to spend the day sleeping and sledding."

Ellis Turner, Associate Head of School at Sidwell Friends (attended by the President's children), on January 28, responding to a crack made by Barack Obama that day about the closure of schools in the Washington area due to inclement weather
Sitting Down, Obama Does Stand-Up

Oh, this is wrong on so many levels.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Barack Obama, he of the Hawaii upbringing and psyche, quipped

My children's school was canceled today. Because of what? Some ice? . . . We're going to have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town.

Perhaps believing that people couldn't figure out what he was getting at, the President added "I'm saying that when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things."

While the schools (Sidwell Friends, one in the Washington suburbs and the other in D.C.) attended by his children closed, District of Columbia schools, faced with snow and freezing rain, actually had a delayed opening. Nonetheless, closing schools in the District seems only sensible, given that many of its residents are from southeastern states in which snowfall is a rarity. Additionally, the city averages only 15 inches of snow annually compared to 38 inches in Chicago, yet another reason residents of the District are, understandably, less prepared for snow than residents of the upper midwest.

Perhaps Obama thought his crack would be met with approving laughter from Americans who might believe that the District's schoolchildren are the pampered offspring of the affluent. Most of those youngsters, however, attend private schools, as do the Obama daughters; the District's schools are crowded with children of the poor and working class, largely minority.

Obama's fondness for snow, fortunately, didn't get in the way of his August or December (video below) vacation in Hawaii, where there typically is as much snow in August or March as in January: that would be none. Or, as the Associate Head of School at Sidwell Friends wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post, "I suppose Sidwell Friends could merge with Punahou, move our classrooms to Hawaii and never worry about the weather again."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Day In The Life Of The Stimulus Bill

Matt Drudge and other Republicans over the weekend found their cause celebre, the provision in the economic stimulus package that would have made it easier for states to expand coverage of contraceptives through their Medicaid program. Now the Wall Street Journal's "Washington Wire" has reported that Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and President Obama have agreed in a telephone call to cave- uh, er, drop the provision.

Under legislation promoted by President Nixon, in 1972 Congress mandated the federal government to reimburse states for 90% of the cost of providing family planning services to Medicaid recipients "to ensure that all current, past, and potential welfare recipients who desired contraceptive services would receive them." Currently, however, a state must obtain a waiver if it wants to use Medicaid money for family planning services. Twenty-six states (eight with a GOP governor) have obtained the waiver; under the proposal likely to be dropped, a waiver would be unnecessary.

On Sunday's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had committed the crime of pointing out that

the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those - one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.

But House Minority Leader John Boehner, with no hint of irony, referred to the proposed provision as "taxpayer funding for contraceptives and the abortion industry." That's right: Boehner says promoting contraceptive use increases the number of abortions. You know the cliche: you can't make this stuff up.

It's unfortunate that Henry Waxman and Barack Obama, if the report is true, are demonstrating little backbone. The measure could have been retained or slightly altered- and renamed, accurately, as The Abortion Prevention Amendment, reflecting a policy objective which apparently would have offended the "pro-life" John Boehner.
Climate Change

The anti-science crusaders of the Republican right are at it again. Matt Drudge is gloating that a winter storm watch has been declared for the District of Columbia for Wednesday, when Al Gore is due to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on global warming. A Repub legislator has told him via e-mail "I can't imagine the Democrats would want to showcase Mr. Gore and his new findings on global warming as a winter storm rages outside. And if the ice really piles up, it will not be safe to travel."

And don't leave Rush Limbaugh out. He mentioned (uncharacteristically, accurately) on Monday a recent survey taken by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press in which "Thirty of the American people list global warming as the top priority, and it's at the bottom of the list."

But it shouldn't be surprising that people are not exorcised about global warming, a long-term problem, in mid-winter. And Americans are bearing the brunt of our involvement in two wars; ongoing fear of a terrorist attack; growing numbers of people without health insurance; President Obama's stress on lobbying reform and the impact of private money on public policy; a financial crisis in which major companies are closing or announcing major layoffs; an increasing number of citizens falling into poverty; and an immigration policy and a (free, unfair) trade policy exacerbating the economic decline. All this is unsurprising after eight years of GOP rule characterized by incompetence, dishonest, and political extremism.

Still, the percentage of respondents in the Pew survey rating global warming a "top priority" disturbingly dropped five percentage points (from 35%) since the same survey taken a year earlier. It is probably due in part to the Repub spin machine, which exploits images of winter storms locally and generalizes to a global conclusion. Or as Salon's Alex Koppleman more clearly and colorfully explains,

focusing on a single anecdotal data point in this way is a really, really bad way to do science, or to make any sort of generalized observation at all. If you're playing Russian Roulette and on your first turn you happen not to die, this does not mean putting a loaded gun to your head and squeezing the trigger is a good idea. If you're visiting Seattle for a week and on your first day there it happens to be sunny, you should not throw out your raincoat and umbrella.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Article Of The Week

A former Air Force counterintelligence agent who later volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior investigator wrote under the pseudonym "Matthew Alexander" an article entitled "I'm Still Tortured by What I saw in Iraq" for washington in November.

When "Alexander" arrived in the Gulf in 2006, he found Army investigators were "nominally using the methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual (but) were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules- and often break them." He said that he "refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead," which emphasized "building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information." Though the methods have been listed in the Field Manual, the team applied them in "unique" ways by getting to know the enemies, negotiating with them, and adapting criminal investigative techniques, ultimately resulting in the capture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

"Alexander" argues that "torture and abuse" are "inconsistent with American principles" and "cost American lives." He writes "I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."

Maybe we need to remember that when we hear conservatives blather on about how George W. Bush allegedly kept us safe for eight years (or at least seven years and four months). Or about how President Bush supposedly dedicated himself to the "war on terror." Or how we needed to attack Iraq because of 9/11. Or how President Obama is, as Sean Hannity is claiming, disgraceful because he used the phrase "ongoing war against violence and terrorism" rather than "war on terrorism."

"Alexander" credits General Petraeus with helping "boost the so-called Anbar Awakening, in which tens of thousands of Sunnis turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and signed up with U.S. forces, cutting violence in the country dramatically." Nonetheless, the argument advanced by "Alexander" is yet more evidence that the decision by the Bush Administration to invade Iraq damaged the effort to combat terrorism that supporters of the ex-President unashamedly cite as possibly his greatest accomplishment.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the economic stimulus plan, developed jointly by House Democratic leaders and the White House, includes approximately $550 billion in new spending and $275 billion in tax breaks and

emphasizes stimulating economic demand with fast-acting tax breaks for workers and businesses, creating jobs through direct government spending on infrastructure and other projects, and investing in energy and the environment to promote long-term growth.

President Obama proposes direct government spending on infrastructure has ordered the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay closed. Why not combine the two proposals?
Answering critics, primarily Repubs, who charge that housing alleged terrorists in the continental United States is hazardous, Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, remarked on January 23 "There are thousands of dangerous prisoners being held securely behind bars in supermax prisons across the United States."

Except that the Department of Corrections reports that the maximum-security prisons in Murtha's economically depressed district are full, and the New York Times reports there is no "supermax" (whatever that is) facility there. Still

"We're looking for some jobs down here and Congressman Murtha has been exceptional with helping us with that," said Brad Geyer, a councilman in Connellsville, Pa., when asked about Guantanamo prisoners. "My constituents ... would probably err on the side of enjoying the possibility of some new jobs."

State Sen. J. Barry Stout, whose district overlaps Murtha's, said a new maximum-security facility would certainly have to be built to accommodate the prisoners. And he said a new prison is a reliable, 'round-the-clock employer.

"It could be constructed and operated in a safe manner, and it would have an economic impact in the region," Stout said. "You never shut a prison down."

New jobs. A prison to house the 245 detainees now in Cuba. And an opportunity to build a facility according to the strict, and possibly different, security specifications necessary to incarcerate terrorists/suspected terrorists safely. It may not be a perfect use of funds, but it surely beats how most of the money donated to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program have been spent.
Reaction to Guantanamo Bay Order

Now that President Obama has ordered the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay be closed within a year, all secret CIA prisons be shuttered, and declared "without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture,” the Republican long knives are out.

Senator Kit Bond, who has announced his retirement, has been the most entertaining. On Hardball on January 22, 2009 Bond remarked (video below) of the Guantanamo detainees:

Now, if you don't bring them back to the United States, if you release them, we know already, that's more than 60 of the people who have been released have been killing our troops, our Americans and civilians on the battlefield. If you really want to bring them back to the United States, people in Missouri and Kansas believe Gitmo is just fine. Folks in San Francisco want it closed. I'd suggest you put them in Alcatraz.

We know that some Repubs would like nothing more than setting a few hundred criminals loose on the streets of San Francisco, the most gay-friendly town in the U.S. A. Still, what a curious application of the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) concept! And Senator John Cornyn, Repub of Texas, apparently believes hey, what the heck, terrorists are a state's responsibility! He exclaims "clearly these are not the kind of people you would want to put in our city jails or our state prisons." Apparently, these guys are figuring that a terrorist, secured in a high-security prison, is going to break out, wait for the bus to take him to the bad part of town, score some drugs, catch a cab to the good part of town and break into a few homes. World Trade Center, anthrax, then burglary. Not surprising, I guess, that a guy who thinks Alcatraz is still up and running or that an Arab terrorist is going to be housed in your local neighborhood lockup don't realize that classic prisoners in high-security prisons are more skilled at breaking out of, and into, facilities and committing random acts of violence than are terrorists. As Representative Jack Murtha (D.-Pa.) noted on January 23, "There are thousands of dangerous prisoners being held securely behind bars in supermax prisons across the United States."

What will, or should, become of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay is up for debate, and study. Fortunately, the Executive Branch is now run by a team of professionals more interested in both national security and traditional American values than the crowd that had been running things.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Apparently, An Effective Speech

Ultimately- except in rare circumstances (see "Churchill, Winston")- a speech is just a speech, at least in predicting behavior. And too much has been made, positively and negatively, about Barack Obama's speech at his inauguration (video below). Once the address ended, President Obama would do what he believes is best for the country (as modified by political expediency, as with all politicians), irrespective of the (understandable) generalities and soaring rhetoric. And it was far from the most important speech from a man who probably: would never have been given consideration for a presidential nomination without a dramatic speech in front of a national political convention(video way below); would have been left in the dust without having given a prescient speech in 2002 about the issue which became the dominant one in the party's primaries; and might have been rejected by his party's voters- had he not delivered an impressive statement (video way, way below) about an issue (race) which in recent decades virtually no one wants seriously to discuss in public.

But it must have been a good speech. I know, because the mainland Chinese have admitted it. Today's newspapers bring an article in which Anita Chang of the Associated Press writes

China censored its translation of President Obama's inauguration speech, removing references to communism and dissent, and halted state TV's live broadcast of the address when Cold War-era animosities were mentioned.

One television official tried to downplay the cutaway as a normal break in programming, while an editor with the China Daily newspaper's Web site said staff who censored online versions of the speech likely did so because they were "duty-bound to protect the country's interests."

The news channel of state broadcaster China Central Television broadcast the speech live, but appeared caught off-guard by Obama's reference to how earlier generations of Americans had "faced down fascism and communism."

Though the broadcast ended with the reference to "communism," the official translations eliminated also Obama's comment "those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent- know that you are on the wrong side of history."

Using this criterion, it's hard to judge Barack Obama's address against those of prior presidents because the piece did not indicate whether this was the first time the world's largest totalitarian state, one embarked on an unprecedented military buildup, has censored the inaugural speech of an American president. But there are worse, and less valid, standards by which to judge the power and value of a Presidential address.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More Limbaugh Nonsense

Disingenuous as ever, Rush Limbaugh, the day after inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the U.S.A.. briefly returned to his theme of Democrats as racists. On a rant about statements of broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw praising the election of Mr. Obama, Limbaugh stated

You are no different today than in the 1960s, except Mr. Brokaw conveniently forgets that the rednecks and bigots he's talking about were Democrats: Bull Connor, J. William Fulbright. All these segregationists were of the party that Tom Brokaw salivates over today.

Forget that Tom Brokaw, obviously a fan of our new President, does not "salivate" over the Democratic Party and rarely, if ever, does. it is only Barack Obama about which Brokaw was commenting, and frequently has. The Democratic Party to which Limbaugh refers was a party of urban, northern liberals and conservative southerners.... was a party including conservative southerners. Now, decades later, white southerners vote Republican and the Republican Party has become an arguably regional party based in the southeast while the Democratic Party has developed a more national appeal. And the GOP does not win in the south because of non-whites. Even in 1964- over 40 years ago- the Repub Party had assumed the mantle of the white right-wing of the South, as Barry Goldwater won five southern states (including 87% in Mississippi), his native Arizona, and no other.

Democrat Lyndon Johnson's effort on behalf of civil rights helped seal the deal for his party in the South, reflected in his comment after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "we have lost the South for a generation" (insufficiently pessimistic as it was). The seeds were sown earlier, perhaps most poignantly when at the Democratic National Convention in 1948, Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey embarked on an (successful) effort to insert a civil rights plank in the party platform. The Dixiecrat Party was formed by segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina after Humphrey famously asserted

My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.

And where did Hubert Humphrey end up? As Vice-President to Lyndon Johnson and Democratic presidential nominee in 1968. And Strom Thurmond? As a Republican Senator until he retired in 2002 at the age of 100. One of his biggest supporters, we recall, was Repub Senator- and Minority Leader- Trent Lott, who, at Thurmond's birthday party in 2002 infamously declared

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.

The Democratic Party is in the midst of a modest comeback in the south, partly because of a slight moderation in the region's politics, but probably due more to the growing political power of blacks. Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh's invocation of the names Bull Connor and J. William Fulbright was completely in character. It was a part of his ongoing effort to tar the Democratic Party- and its voters, who nominated Barack Obama- with the brush of racism, in the only way Rush knows how- few facts, details, or context, but a lot of narrow-mindedness.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Post-Partisan, Already

He warned- uh, er, promised- us that he would rise above the petty political partisanship that has come to characterize "Washington." (His perspective, not mine.)

And Barack Obama has begun to deliver on that promise. Jonathan Martin of Politico reports in Obama Tries to Seduce Republicans (completely unnecessary though it is to quote the title):

Obama has had meetings with his former opponent John McCain, GOP congressional leaders and some of the country’s leading conservative commentators. He’s also honoring McCain and Colin Powell in high-profile pre-inaugural dinners, where Obama is expected to toast the Republicans.

Behind the scenes, Obama and his team are working just as hard, courting prominent Republicans and conservatives through frequent phone calls, e-mails and private sit-downs.

The selection of evangelical pastor Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation and Obama’s dinner with right-of-center writers at George F. Will’s home drew significant buzz. But the transition also has quietly reached out to other prominent figures atop the Southern Baptist Church, Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministry and the Jewish Orthodox Union.

This was one promise the nation would be better if left unfulfilled. Nobel Prize-winning Paul Krugman noted in his January 16 column in The New York Times that the President-elect recently stated "I don't believe that anybody is above the law (but) we need to look forward as opposed to loooking backwards."

The remark may have meant little, coming as it did before he even has been inaugurated, when the President-elect is no doubt loathe to sully the pageantry of January 20, 2009 with the principle of accountability to the American public for arguably criminal acts. But Krugman reminds us that Mr. Obama will that day swear to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constituiton of the United States," which should be honored "not only when it's convenient."

Krugman maintains that the abuse of power (and often of law) which characterized (yes, even more than the Iraq War, neo-conservatism, or disastrous economic policy) the Bush Administration goes far beyond torture and illegal wiretapping. He cites no-bid contracts which fueled the failed reconstruction of Iraq, the politically saturated hiring process at the Justice Department, environmental policy, and voting rights, though the list could be mercilessly long.

And if President Obama lets bygones be bygones, what can he expect? Here is Ken Blackwell, right-wing activist and former Ohio Secretary of State (in which he helped secure Ohio, and the Presidency, for George W. Bush), posting on the conservative blog

Possible problems with President-elect Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan must be thoroughly vetted. While only a few details are known, one overlooked issue is that it could create a major electoral advantage for Democrats at taxpayer expense. That would be unacceptable for what is being touted as a nonpartisan measure, and gives Republicans yet another reason to oppose it if not restructured.

But most federal employees, that are not political appointees, vote Democrat. Since Washington, DC is the seat of government, whenever new federal bureaucrats are created many live in Maryland and Virginia. In 2008, Virginia went Democrat for the first time since 1964, and Mr. Obama won it by 130,000 votes. Creating 600,000 new jobs
(a number Blackwell received from House Minority Leader Boehner, 360,00 more than projected by the Obama camp) might help cement Virginia in the Democrat column, making it harder for Republicans to retake the White House.

And let's not forget the most famous and most influential talk show host of them all, Rush Limbaugh, who boasted

We're talking about my country, the United States of America, my nieces, my nephews, your kids, your grandkids. Why in the world do we want to saddle them with more liberalism and socialism? Why would I want to do that? So I can answer it, four words, "I hope he fails." And that would be the most outrageous thing anybody in this climate could say. Shows you just how far gone we are. Well, I know, I know. I am the last man standing.

I'm happy to be the last man standing. I'm honored to be the last man standing. Yeah, I'm the true maverick. I can do more than four words. I could say I hope he fails and I could do a brief explanation of why....

Congressional Republicans may disregard the advice both of a man who wants the Republican Party to decide economic policy on a partisan basis and one who hopes the President of the United States of America fails. When pigs fly.

It was absolutely a coincidence- not an omen (the movie or otherwise)- that the post immediately prior to this, called Of Obama And Jesus (Or Paglia), was my 666th. And being neither superstitious nor in league with the devil, the post will stand on its own merits, whatever they may be.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Of Obama And Jesus (Or Paglia)

He says it's only custom: “I think the tradition is that they use all three names, and I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I'll do what everybody else does.” Barack Obama said that he will take the oath of office as "Barack Hussein Obama," which would be consistent with the choice of the gentlemen F. Roosevelt, Kennedy, and the last three presidents, each of whom used his middle name. However, as Mike Allen of Politico has noted, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald R. Ford, and Harry S. Truman (who famously had no middle name other than "S") took the oath using their middle name; James Earl Carter as "Jimmy Carter;" Ronald Wilson Reagan as "Ronald Reagan." (Lyndon Johnson, aboard Air Force One, went nameless.)

Whatever Mr. Obama's real motive, it is courageous. MSNBC liked citing the statistic that 13% of the American electorate, wary of someone named "Hussein," thought that Barack Obama is a Muslim, which at least one right-wing pundit tried to exploit. Fleeing from use of his middle name at such an extremely high-profile occasion as the inauguration would have been slightly cowardly; invoking it is decidedly bold.

But there is something else, in another (though still peripherally political) vein, that bears no resemblance to boldness, courage, or intellectual honesty. Camille Paglia in Salon expressed this comforting but factually unsupportable belief when she wrote:

Furthermore, as a literary critic, I hear a very distinct speaking voice in the sayings attributed to Jesus. This was a brilliant poet who was able to find simple, universal metaphors (a coin, a tree, a mustard seed) to convey spiritual truths to the masses. He was also a performing artist with startling improvisational gifts. Whether or not he himself thought he was the Messiah is unclear.

Here is the guy whom Ms. Paglia is not willing to concede believed he was the Messiah, maintaining even his divinity (all quotations from the John's Gospel, English Standard Version):

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I wil give for the life of the world is my flesh." (6:51)

"Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me....I am the one who bears witness aoout myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me." (8:16,18)

So Jesus said to them, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me." (8:28)

Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." (8:58)

"I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he wil be saved and will go in and out and find pasture...." (10:9)

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (14:6)

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser." (15:1)

Now, it's possible to claim that the Bible is malarkey- but how then would Ms. Paglia conclude Jesus "was a brilliant poet who was able to find simple, universal metaphors" and "a performing artist with startling improvisational gifts" (meaning, presumably, several miracles, a neat trick for a mere mortal)? No, as lovely a thought it is that Jesus Christ was a great person like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa, the valid options are far more discomfiting, as C.S. Lewis explained in 1952's "Mere Christianity":

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.
A Reversal on binLaden?!

Osama bin Laden has used the occasion- no, excuse- of the current Hamas-initiated conflict in the Middle East to release an audio tape blasting the United States and Israel. And Katie Couric of CBS News, in an interview conducted the same day the tape was released, used the occasion to ask President-elect Barack Obama "How important do you think it is, Mr. President-elect, to apprehend Osama bin Laden?"

Curiously, Obama replied (video below):

I think that we have to so weaken his infrastructure that, whether he is technically alive or not, he is so pinned down that he cannot function. My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him. But if we have so tightened the noose that he's in a cave somewhere and can't even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal of protecting America.

Curious because on October 12, in the second presidential debate between Obama and John McCain, Senator Obama responded to a question about pursuing terrorists across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan by responding, in part:

And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.

And those remarks did not appear to be mere campaign rhetoric when eight days after the election, reported

President-elect Barack Obama wants to renew the U.S. commitment to finding al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to his national security advisers. The Obama team believes the Bush administration has downplayed the importance of catching the FBI's most-wanted terrorist because it has not been able to find him.

And in his first televised interview since the election, Obama termed capturing binLaden "critical" (video way below).

Hopefully, Obama's most recent comment does not reflect a change of heart nor a strategy of arguing as President that bin Laden cannot communicate with his operatives (impossible to determine with certainty) and thus presents no threat. Nor does it brighten the day to consider the possibility that Obama's statement represents the opinion of his advisers that the famous Saudi national is unlikely to be caught. But unless he is merely trying to lower expectations (as he apparently has done repeatedly on the economy), President-elect Obama's reversal of his previous position on the need to apprehend the champion of all terrorists is a little disturbing.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rush, Fantasizing Again

Like almost all conservatives, Rush Limbaugh has an acute case of amnesia regarding Saint Ronald Reagan. On January 12 he rambled on:

I've got Ronaldus Magnus taking over for Jimmy Carter, which is where Obama might end up in four years, with all this massive unemployment, high interest rates, thermostats turned down to 67 degrees in the wintertime, 78 degrees in the summertime, Reagan came in, cut taxes across the board for everybody, spurred economic growth, unemployment went down, interest rates went down, the experts said it couldn't happen, but it did.

Life would be so much simpler if President Reagan were as Repubs remember him. But as Joshua Green noted in the January/February 2003 issue of The Washington Monthly

At the outset of his first term, Reagan's revolution appeared to have unstoppable momentum. His administration passed an historic tax cut based on dramatic cuts in marginal tax rates and began a massive defense buildup.... (But) One year after his massive tax cut, Reagan agreed to a tax increase to reduce the deficit that restored fully one-third of the previous year's reduction....

Faced with looming deficits, Reagan raised taxes again in 1983 with a gasoline tax and once more in 1984, this time by $50 billion over three years, mainly through closing tax loopholes for business. Despite the fact that such increases were anathema to conservatives--and probably cost Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, reelection--Reagan raised taxes a grand total of four times just between 1982-84.

This is not merely ancient, or insignificant, history. Repubs are fond of quoting Ronald Reagan saying "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" And Republicans don't only hate and ridicule government, they have a vested interest in proving that it doesn't work. As Hank Paulson and his $350 billion dollars (wherever they are) have shown.
Rush Limbaugh Fantasizing

Rush Limbaugh continues his campaign of cut and slash against the middle class. On his program on December 12, he stated (and this is not being taken out of context, nor was it advanced tongue-in-cheek):

So, clearly, something needs to happen in order restore confidence here, to create economic growth, which will filter through to all levels of the economy. And it seems to me, folks, that the simplest, the fastest, and the most direct way to do this is to bail out the rich.... So if we are going to save our economy, the bailout of the wealthy cannot wait. The rich need a bailout. The rich need further tax cuts. This is what is necessary. I would be willing to personally present this plan to President-elect Obama, because it has worked. I am confident.... ladies and gentlemen, I would be willing to present this plan personally to the president-elect 'cause it works....

Rush always has argued that the wealthy are really the deprived class in this country, facing discrimination at every turn. It is palpably untrue, of course, as this on-line editorial from USA Today on October 9 demonstrates. Here are four of the ways "Washington coddles rich:"

- subsidizing million-dollar subsidies:

To quiet the anger over the bailout package, Congress tried to limit compensation for executives at participating companies. Most "golden parachutes" were banned and tax deductions for compensation of more than $500,000 were removed. Good. But why on earth are taxpayers subsidizing pay over $500,000 in the first place?.... Although a 1993 law restricts pay deductibility to $1 million, companies have taken full advantage of a huge loophole that exempts "performance pay" from the cap.

- giving billionaires a tax break:

In 2007, the top 50 managers of hedge funds and private equity firms earned an average of $558 million, according to Alpha magazine.... (but) many of them paid a lower tax rate than middle-class Americans.

How can this be? Through a complex sleight of hand known as "carried interest," they pay just 15% by masquerading their income as capital gains.... (Partly as a resuly)in 1982, the average CEO made 42 times the salary of the lowest paid person at his or her company. Last year, he or she made 411 times the salary of the lowest paid employee.

- helping to finance McMansions:

the deduction for mortgage interest is allowed for homes worth up to $1 million, whereas capping it at value up to approximately a half million dollars (possibly to vary among regions) would be a boon to the Treasury and disadvantage largely wealthy homeowners.

- paying for executives' skyboxes:

(there is) full deductibility of business-related entertainment expenses. While this might seem trivial, it is catalyzing a sea change in American sports — the surging price of tickets as teams build expensive stadiums designed to maximize revenue from luxury boxes and premium seating.

Around the USA, perfectly good stadiums with reasonable pricing and great sight lines are being replaced by billion-dollar-plus palaces geared toward capturing the upscale market and taxpayer-subsidized "client entertainment."

There you have it: subsidizing performance pay of executives up to $1 million; millionaire managers of equity funds and hedge funds enjoying a 15% tax rate by labeling their income as "capital gains"; deduction for mortgage interest paid for million-dollar homes; deduction of 100% of business-related entertainment expenses, resulting in middle-income taxpayers subsidizing stadia and arenas which then are geared toward entertaining the wealthy.

And still Rush Limbaugh mesmerizes his audience, claiming

the only group of people that's taking and taking and taking and never giving anything back -- and, of course, we kept hearing about the phrase "gotta give something back," that's what makes you a great person. Well, the poor, I suggested, need to be paying more taxes so they had some skin in the game.

No reason, according to Rush Limbaugh, to spread the benefits of American society to the poor and the middle class, those he finds unworthy.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Move Left

This is fortuitous. The day after my post noting that the pharmaceutical industry has discovered that the American citizenry has turned (somewhat) left, we learn that the team behind FOX's "24" drama has figured it out. According to one comentator, "the producers are trying to adapt to a new political reality" and the United Kingdom's Telegraph explains

As the hero of the television action series, Bauer became a modern icon of rugged American values and a fictional flag waver for the Bush administration's determination to defeat terrorists.

The intelligence agent, played by Keifer Sutherland, has never been afraid to torture or shoot to kill while tackling villainous foreigners intent on waging war on the American homeland....

When the series returns for its seventh season on Sunday night, Bauer will mouth the views of Mr Obama, who has vowed to end "enhanced interrogation", also known as torture, and close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

And in an apparent bid to get in tune with the new president, the new season opens with Bauer facing a congressional investigation probing his use of torture and summary executions in previous series. "It's better that everything comes out in the open," Bauer says, echoing Democrat demands for greater transparency over US counter-terrorist tactics.

"We've done so many things in the name of protecting this country, we've created two worlds. Ours and the people's we've promised to protect. They deserve to hear the truth and decide how far they want to let us go."

The article focuses on the displeasure on the right, particularly of the out-manned (out-personed?) Hollywood right, that the program, previously imparting conservative values, now apparently is moving toward the center. Obviously, that would not be occurring because those responsible have had a sudden change of heart, but rather that they believe the market has. the entertainment industry is malleable and will throw principle overboard for profits every time. Here again it demonstrates the essential, underlying ethos of American conservatism, as noted by Thomas Frank: "Fundamentally amoral, capitalism is loyal to no people, no region, no heroes, really, once they have exhausted their usefulness..."
Left And Right

Characteristically a little behind the curve, I take note of the debate raging- approximately six weeks ago- in the mainstream media and the blogosphere about whether the U.S.A. is a "center-right" nation or something more liberal. Here is Tod Lindberg penning a piece, "The Center-Right Nation Exists Stage Left," on, notable only in part because the author was an informal foreign policy advisor to the McCain campaign. Presenting a different point of view is Newsweek's Evan Meacham, who argued otherwise in October, prior to the election (for those of you unaware that the election was held in November).

Of course, the answer depends on whether one is arguing about the political nature of the country traditionally or where the nation is now. For a demonstration of the leftward trend bucking classic American conservatism, consider:

Conceding that it has long been viewed as Republican-dominated, the industry's lobbying arm plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on an advertising blitz promoting Obama-style health coverage for every American. The first spot -- sponsored by the drug lobby, consumer and labor groups, and health providers -- will be unveiled today.

Beginning this month, drug companies also will voluntarily submit to a host of marketing restrictions in an attempt to preempt stricter regulations that lawmakers in both parties are pursuing.

"We had better self-police and stop doing the things that cause so much criticism, or we're going to get legislated and regulated by government," said W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, the Republican former congressman who runs the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade association. The changes, he said in an interview, are an effort to move away from the industry's "slash-and-burn kind of policy" in response to previous regulatory and legislative efforts.

It's not the Iraq war, Iran's nuclear intentions, yet another Mideast war, the threat posed by Pakistan to India or mainland China to the world- or the glamorous issues of sex, race, or guns- but there are few issues more important than health care policy. And on this at least, the returns are in- the people of the United States, at this moment in time, are decisively left-of-center.
Quote Of The Week

"No Child Left Behind" is firmly cemented as President Bush's failed education experiment."

-Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, on January 8,m 2009, responding to President Bush's visit to an elementary school in Philadelphia, Pa. to tout the educational program he foisted on the nation's parents, schoolchildren, and teachers
The Republican Media- No. 19

Two articles this week by the the Associated Press' White House correspondent Jennifer Loven reflected a bias, the first toward conservative ideology and the second toward the Republican Party.

On January 8 Loven, commenting on the President-elect's statement the previous day regarding entitlement programs, wrote that Obama plans next month in his initial budget message to indicate how his budget plan "extends to the ballooning and so-far unsolvable fiscal problem presented by the Social Security and Medicare programs."

That would not be "extends to the Social Security and Medicare programs" but rather "ballooning and so-far unsolvable fiscal problem" etc. That slant would still be a slant but at least an accurate one, were it not so far off the mark. But as the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, and the Social Security trustees themselves demonstrate, Social Security is not in "crisis" (and the problems with Medicare are most easily resolved by addressing the health care crisis).

And in a piece on January 9 about Barack Obama's comments at George Mason University in Virginia, Loven and David Espo of the AP write "Second-guessing came from the left and the right: While some Democrats said the proposed tax cuts were too small, Republicans warned against excessive new spending." Democrats merely "say," give their opinion; Republicans, however, "warn" us about what we are assured is "excessive" spending. Apparently, while Congress hasn't decided yet, the Associated Press has assured us the spending proposals are excessive.

The "liberal media?" Only if one is looking at it through a mirror.
Bush Is Right!

Sometimes President Bush is right- although as his administration thankfully draws to a close, let us remember that he was virtually always "right" and rarely correct.

But when Bush spoke at an elementary school yesterday in Philadelphia, he was accurate (though not exactly as he implies) when he boasted that the No Child Left Behind Act "forever changed America's school systems."

Here is one example, as The News Blog of The Council of Higher Education reported on February 14, 2008:

A recent study of the impact of Texas’ public-school accountability system, which served as a model for the federal No Child Left Behind Act, found that it directly contributed to lower graduation rates in the large urban districts examined by creating incentives for schools to welcome the early departure of academically troubled students.

The study, by researchers at Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin, found that the loss of growing numbers of students actually led to improvements in how public schools were rated by the state. That’s because most of the students who left schools were low-achieving — and a disproportionate share were black or Hispanic, or spoke English as a second language — which meant that their departure led to an increase in the schools’ average test scores and created the appearance that the school was closing the test-score gap between white and minority students.

As school personnel became increasingly focused on the potential positive or negative impact students would have on their institutions’ ratings, they took steps, such as holding back students, which helped raise test scores but also increased the likelihood the affected students would drop out, the study found.

The director of the Center for Education at Rice concluded "high stakes, test-based accountability" (the linchpin of the NCLB concept) "leads to avoidable losses of students." But, presumably, good test scores, always a greater priority for Governor Bush of Texas and President Bush of the United States.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Danger Lurking

The New York Times reports that at his press conference on Wednesday, President-elect Barack Obama said

that overhauling Social Security and Medicare would be “a central part” of his administration’s efforts to contain federal spending, signaling for the first time that he would wade into the thorny politics of entitlement programs....

Speaking at a news conference in Washington, he provided no details of his approach to rein in Social Security and Medicare.... But he said he would have more to say about the issue when he unveiled a budget next month.

As Tasini notes on dailykos, during his campaign for President, Senator Obama spoke of an alleged "crisis" in Social Security but also adamantly opposed privatization and supported requiring FICA payments on the portion of annual incomes above $200,000, a progressive and fairly bold position. It appears now, however, that Obama's worse angels have taken hold of him and he is mimicking the the spin of Establishment Washington and Establishment Media that extols "reform" of a system which brings in more than it pays out. (Some of the excess goes to sustain the deficit of the general budget.)

Dean Baker of The Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote in June, 2005 a Briefing Paper entitled "Things That Will Happen Before Social Security Faces a Shortfall." That, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office, would be in 2052, when the Social Security trust fund will be able to pay only 80% of scheduled benefits. These intervening challenges include:

- health care, which would see a per capita increase in annual spending of almost $5,000;

- prescription drugs, on which per capita spending would increase $1000 annually;

- housing (which already has occurred);

- the falling dollar, which would add 2.0 percentage points to the annual rate of inflation;

- the criminal justice system, wherein a jump in the number of individuals incarcerated would result in expenditures of an additional 3.1% of GDP;

- relationship of the U.S.A. to mainland China, whose economy probably will have grown to twice that of the United States and whose defense spending is likely to be four to six times as great;

- relationship of the U.S.A. to India, whose economy will grow to one-and-a-half times that of the U.S. with defense spending three times greater;

- animal and plant extinctions (tens of thousands); and

- climate change, the world temperature rising 1.0 to 4.0 degrees.

Admittedly, there could be a crisis in Social Security eventually, a few decades into the future. (But then, in the long run, we're all dead.) Before then, not only do we have more severe crises to face, but any "crisis" of Social Security and Medicare can be solved in a more progressive, humane, and practical manner than sabotaging two of the most popular and successful governmental programs ever.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Still Targeting Social Security

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard met with President Bush on January 2 and reported

On domestic policy, Bush was asked if he made progress in some areas for which he hasn't and probably won't get credit. Topping his list was his unsuccessful drive in 2005 to reform Social Security. Bush said his effort showed it's politically safe to campaign on changing Social Security and then actually seek to change it.

He also said it was important to have raised private investment accounts as an attractive option in reforming Social Security.

Three days later, Bush was interviewed by Cal Thomas and suggested that it would have been wiser politically to secure immigration/illegal immigration reform prior to tackling the politically difficult issue of Social Security, but again defended his effort to destroy- uh, er, reform- the program.

Partial privatization of Social Security, however, would be, at best, risky. As a study by the Center for American Progress Action Fund found

A person with a private Social Security account similar to what President George W. Bush proposed in 20054 that was invested in stocks retiring on October 1, 2008 after saving for 35 years (since 1973), would have seen a negative return on their account—an effective -0.6 percent net annual real rate of return—and lost $26,000 on the market.

And take a look at what happened in Italy when it recently privatized part of its social security system. notes

The global market meltdown has created losses for those who agreed to shift their contributions from a government severance payment plan to private funds meant to yield higher returns.

One of the inevitable problems with privatization of the system in the United States would be the inevitable disruption which would ensue when the market dips, resulting in a drop in benefits to recipients. In Italy,

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s administration is now considering ways to compensate as many as 1.2 million people who made the switch, giving up a fixed return for private plans linked to financial markets. It’s also letting people delay redemptions on retirement funds to avoid losses after Italy’s benchmark stock index fell 50 percent in 2008, destroying 300 billion euros ($423 billion) in wealth.

“The reform didn’t help anyone,” said Gabriele Fava, who heads the Fava & Associati law firm in Milan and writes about labor law. “Not the government, which was hoping everyone would make the switch to take the strain off its coffers, nor the workers who have not resolved the problem of needing a supplement to their social security pensions.”

Although the drive on the right here in the U.S.A. to chip away at Social Security took a blow on November 4, vigilance is necessary, as conservatives have resumed propagating the myth that all our problems have been caused by government, while all is well with American capitalism.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Rush And Rush On Race

In the 1980s, then-(Republican) Governor Tom Kean of New Jersey, in a bid to increase tourism, would go on television and proclaim "New Jersey and You: Perfect Together."

Similarly, there are what at first appear to be odd political couples, but hardly odd at second glance.

Take the Rushes- Bobby Rush and Rush Limbaugh. As Politico reported on December 30, U.S. Representative Bobby Rush of Chicago has argued that Roland Burris, selected by (arrested but not indicted) Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to replace Mr. Obama in the U.S. Senate, should be seated in part because he would be the "only black" in the upper chamber. Rush- the only individual ever to defeat Barack Obama (that for the U.S. House)- brazenly injected race into the issue, declaring "I would ask you not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointor."

The African-American Rush has been taken to task by what Repub pundits, talk show hosts, and politicians, unrestrained by a sense of reality, refer to as the "liberal media." But he is not the only Rush who has used the face-off between Senate Majority Leader (and the Democratic caucus) Harry Reid and Blagojevich/Burris to wallow in the muck of racial division and fear.

Rush Limbaugh, predictably, has gotten into the act (both figuratively and literally). On his syndicated radio program today, Limbaugh huffed

As I said earlier today, Mr. Burris, if Harry Reid will not seat you, go to Denny's. They will seat you if Harry Reid will not. Try this. Harry Reid calls Blagojevich, and Blagojevich then spills the beans, and Harry Reid is now calling Blagojevich a liar, so is Dick Durbin. Reid calls Blagojevich, says, (paraphrasing) "I don't want Burris, I don't want Jesse Jackson Jr. and I don't want Emil Jones," the godfather of Obama. They all happen to be black. This is a seat occupied by a black, Obama, although an inauthentic black, according to David Ehrenstein of the Los Angeles Times and others. And so Dingy Harry says, "I don't want these three guys." If a Republican called a governor and said, "Don't give me three people who are black," can you imagine? I want Tammy Duckworth or I want Lisa Madigan, I want a white woman in there, said Dingy Harry. And Dingy Harry made a ridiculous, humorous attempt to show that he's not racist on Meet the Press yesterday by saying, (paraphrasing) "Hey, I searched high and low to find a black woman to make a federal judge," and he lied about that.... This is Democrats denying a black man duly appointed by a sitting governor in the state of Illinois, a seat in the United States Senate. Once again it's Democrats engaging in blatant racism.

Leave aside- at least for now- 1)the cheap shot at Denny's Restaurant chain, which has implemented an aggressive affirmative action program as a settlement for their now-discarded practice of avoiding serving black patrons; 2) the "Dingy Harry" cheap shot, a characterization which presumably appeals to his "dittoheads," who proudly proclaim their disinterest in independent thought; and 3) the suggestion that if the GOP similarly showed what Limbaugh argues is disfavor toward a black, that it would be roundly condemned- yet another example of "us poor, put-upon Republicans" donning the cloak of victimhood.

Limbaugh has charged Democrats with "blatant racism" and Reid with basing on race his opposition to seating Burris. Is it even conceivable that it would have escaped Rush's attention that Reid might be thinking not race, but electability? That the Senate Majority Leader has an intense interest in maintaining for his party a majority in the chamber he heads? No, it is not conceivable.

Had Harry Reid agreed to lend his support to seating Mr. Burris, would Rush Limbaugh have commended him- or even neglected to criticize him? If Blagojevich not been under investigation and selected Jesse Jackson Jr. or Emil Jones to serve as Illinois' junior United States Senator, would Limbaugh have avoided the temptation of criticizing the nomination as that of an ultra-liberal from scandal-ridden Chicago politics? But with the Democratic majority in the United States Senate balking- thus far- at seating Roland Burris, Rush is given an opportunity to pose, however transparently, as an opponent of racism, even with no evidence for the charge.

Disingenuousness has always been the stock-in-trade of Rush Limbaugh, and it is only fitting that he and a former prominent Black Panther have now linked arms in the dishonest and divisive muck of race-baiting.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Value of Life

Glenn Greenwald of today attacks supporters of the Israeli military action in the Gaza strip, arguing

Those who giddily support not just civilian deaths in Gaza but every actual and proposed attack on Arab/Muslim countries -- from the war in Iraq to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to the proposed attacks on Iran and Syria and even continued escalation in Afghanistan -- are able to do so because they don't really see the Muslims they want to kill as being fully human.

Personally, I don't support the deaths of civilians, and even less "giddily" so. And the implication that the war in Iraq= Israeli invasion of Lebanon= proposed attack on Iran= proposed attack on Syria= continued escalation in Afghanistan is extraordinarily simplistic, and disappointing in someone like Greenwald usually advancing arguments well-reasoned.

Most significantly, however, is the implied charge that the most enthusiastic- and in Greenwald's view (though my words) blood-thirsty- supporters of the attack on Hamas are motivated by a refusal to recognize "the Muslims they want to kill as being fully human."

Consider this:

1985: Lebanaon releases three (3) Israeli soldiers in return for 1,150 prisoners;

1998: South Lebanese Army releases remains of one Israeli soldier in return for 65 prisoners and remains of 40 Hezbollah guerillas;

2004: Hezbollah releases one (1) Israeli businessman, one Israeli soldier, and the remains of three Israeli soldiers in return for 30 Lebanese prisoners, 400 Palestinians prisoners,and remains of 59 Lebanese militants and civilians

2008 (July): Hezbollah releases bodies of two (2) Israeli soldiers in return for one notorious terrorist, four other Lebanese prisoners, and the "bodies of 1999 combantants and infiltrators from Lebanon."

According to Wikipedia (in an entry made between the incidents of 2004 and 2008),

Over the last 30 years, Israel has released about 7,000 prisoners to secure freedom for 19 Israelis and to retrieve the bodies of eight others. A number of diplomatic efforts have been made to secure the release of Israeli IDF personnel following their capture by enemy forces.

I don't believe Muslim life is less than fully human, or less human than any other. Neither, obviously, does Greenwald, nor you. But if actions speak louder than words, here is the statement of the terrorist: in exchange for approximately 7,000 of ours, we'll turn over 27 of yours. A ratio of 7,000 to 27- approximately 259:1. And that is the dilemma of the Israelis, to whom a human life is a human life. To their adversaries- Arab terrorists, not Muslims nor Arab civilians- a human life is something less.


The husband-wife (or, rather, wife-husband) duo of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito nee Bomgardner flew an upside do...