Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Excessive, Yet Inadequate, Coverage

That the incident between Houston Texan running back Ryan Moats and Dallas, Texas patrolman Robert Powell has attracted enormous media attention in the midst of an economic meltdown could have been expected. We have: misbehavior by law enforcement; an NFL player; a fatality; audio and, most importantly, video.

But the coverage does represent the worse in the mainstream media. The insensitive and inappropriate behavior by the police officer is either: a singular event, uncharacteristic of the Dallas Police Department and police departments throughout the 50 states and the District of Columbia; or endemic. If it is the former, coverage has been grossly excessive, leading millions of people to believe unfairly and unjustifiably that police everywhere brutalize innocent citizens. And if it is the latter, it would behoove a media outlet, somewhere, to conduct an investigation to determine how common throughout America this approach to traffic stops is, the impact upon the community, and whether minorities are targeted or whites also routinely fall victim.. There is little reason, at least as of now, to claim racial discrimination or profiling; but given that the election of the first minority President was to have ushered in a period in which race could now be discussed openly in our country, the silence is telling.
Opposing Conservative Views

Maybe Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are stealing each scripts from each other. In an article published on Sunday in The New York Times, the increasingly popular Beck says the U.S.A. is “on the road to socialism.” Limbaugh, of course, can barely let an hour, let alone a show, pass without accusing President Obama of the never-defined "socialism." Yesterday, offended by the firing of CEO Rich Wagoner by the President, Rush asked "Is Hugo Chavez able to possess this man and go out and make speeches?" and exclaimed

This would have been a tipping point, I think. He would say the country that we've always known is over. He would probably say, "Son, capitalism, as we've known it, is over. The line has been crossed."

Unfortunately, someone forgot to inform a former Republican presidential aspirant of Barack Obama's resemblance to Karl Marx.

I think a lot of people expected the president just to cave, write a check, and just hope for the better," Romney said Tuesday morning on CNN. "I think he's expressing some backbone on this....

That's something I think he should have said months ago. There were a number of us who said bankruptcy or a bankruptcy-like process was something that was needed to get GM and Chrysler on their feet again."

Romney hasn't gone liberal or populist. When he authored this op-ed in The New York Times in November, 2008, the former Massachusetts governor (expressing views he still holds) advocated "new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers." The United Auto Workers, recognizing the sorry state of the domestic auto industry, has been negotiating benefits downward for several years now; and retraction of pension payments and health care for workers already retired represents a promise not kept. Still, it is interesting to hear a member of the Republican right who, apparently unlike most of the conservative talk show hosts, does not offer a demonization of others as his only contribution to the issue. And to find that neo-liberals and conservatives can find common ground in blaming workers.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Flight Of Fantasy

When Barack Obama assumed the presidency, he had waiting for him the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, an unpopular war, and a growing terrorist threat in the Persian Gulf. He has made big decisions and avoided others. And yet this is what obsesses Rush Limbaugh:

The best way to understand Obama, and I can't say this enough, he really believes that it's his job to return the nation's wealth to its rightful, quote, unquote, rightful owners. And that means that he believes the people who have wealth have stolen it from those who have no wealth. It's been unfairly achieved and accrued, and it's his job to take it and redistribute it. And that's what he means by sacrifice. When he talks about sacrifice, he's talking about raising your taxes, taking away your assets, and giving them to other people he thinks you stole them from who are thus more deserving.

This is what Limbaugh repeats, explicitly and otherwise, every day. Obama wants to raise everyone's taxes, steal from the rich and redistribute it to the undeserving poor and middle class. So imagine my surprise when the Wall Street Journal reported Monday

In his address Monday morning, Mr. Obama laid blame for GM and Chrysler's financial ills largely at the feet of the management teams at those companies. That said, he called on hourly workers and retirees at the companies to be ready to accept more sacrifice if they hoped to keep their employers afloat.

"It will require unions and workers who have already made extraordinarily painful concessions to do more," Mr. Obama said, adding that all stakeholders will need to provide givebacks. "Only then can we ask American taxpayers, who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money, to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry."

Now you may like the idea of the President of the United States demanding productive, middle-class employees give up some of their pay, health benefits, or pension while AIG and Merrill Lynch executives get to keep their bonuses for running their businesses into the ground, followed by a bailout by the American taxpayer. (And if so, you're right there with Rush.) But requiring yet more givebacks by unions and workers is a funny way of redistributing income away from the wealthy and, given Mr. Obama's stated concern here for the taxpayer, it's hardly a guy who wants to "raise your taxes."

Put aside Limbaugh's partisanship, fanaticism, ethnic bigotry, anti-Americanism, and sexism. On second thought, don't.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Crime Proposal- no. 2

In defending his proposal for a commission to study the criminal justice system in the U.S.A., Senator Jim Webb (D.-Va.) on the Senate floor emphasized

We have 5% of the world's population; we have 25% of the world's known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world's greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.

Not quite. There may be "something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice." While Senator Webb is concerned about the lack of treatment of mentally ill inmates, the "sharp increase" of individuals incarcerated for drug offenses, and the preponderance of blacks in (federal) prison, many Americans believe judges hand out weak sentences, inmates are coddled, and the death penalty should be more widely applied.

But the rate of incarceration in the United States, which Webb notes is far greater than in the world as a whole, does not suggest that we may "have the most evil people on earth" nor does it alone prove that our approach is radically misguided. Nor does the fact that African-Americans, as the Senator points out, are only approximately 12% of our population but "end up being 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of those sentenced to prison by the numbers that have been provided by us."

Without using the "r" word, Webb appears to assume that racial bigotry accounts for the disproportionate number of black Americans in penal institutions. This is disappointing- and rather curious- for a man whose Wikipedia entry indicates wrote an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal in 2006 which

addressed what Webb feels is a growing economic inequality in the United States, touching on what he feels are overly permissive immigration policies, extravagant executive compensation, the detrimental effects of free trade and globalization, iniquitous tax cuts, and speedily rising health care costs, and attacking the "elites" who he says perpetuate the aforementioned woes for their personal economic gain.

In the same article, the newly-elected senator wrote

The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century.... If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest.

It's unfortunate that Webb's critical emphasis on the poverty endured by many white Americans has obscured the reality that black Americans more often are plagued with lower incomes, more substandard housing, inadequate education and health care, dysfunctional family structure, and thus, not surprisingly (though Webb claims otherwise in his Senate remarks), a higher rate of usage of hard drugs. And if the"growing income inequality in the United States might "bring a period of political unrest," it clearly is a factor in the incidence of crime. Were the Senator willing to press for a study of the bifurcation of American society rather than repeating the tired bromides about the faults of the justice system, he would be demonstrating the courage which otherwise have characterized his public career.
Crime Proposal- no. 1

Jim Webb has been a combat veteran of Vietnam, Marine Corps infantry officer, and Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan. Now a United States Senator from Virginia, Webb points out that he is not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And it shows.

The Virginia Democrat has co-sponsored with Senator Arlen Specter (R.- Pa.) the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, which would create a commission which, according to Webb's website (redundant?) "an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation's entire criminal justice system and offering concrete recommendations for reform. "

In his speech (pdf) on the Senate floor introducing the legislation, Webb clearly was exorcised because the United States is

5% of the world's population; we have 25% of the world's known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world's greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world....

The elephant in the bedroom in many discussions on the criminal justice system is the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200%.

There are two major problems with the proposal for a commission, aside from the impulse of Washington politicians to propose a commission, task force, or a committee at the cliched drop of a hat. Here is but one: Webb's speech is all about the United States as a nation, not as a collection of fifty states in a federal system. Statistics which can be directly compared are hard to come by; but in 2005, there were 1,189,900 men and women serving time in state prisons. As of the end of 2007- by which time even more individuals were in a facility after having been sentenced- there were 1,532,817 individuals in either a state or a federal prison.

Obviously, there are far more persons incarcerated in state facilities in the U.S.A. than in federal prisons. And the variation in state laws plays a role in differential rates of incarceration. For example, in 2005, Maine incarcerated 1867 people per 100,000 residents, while the corresponding number in Virginia (Mr. Webb's state) was 3214 individuals.

Admittedly, one of the factors spurring a high rate of imprisonment in the United States is the penalty for personal use of marijuana, which varies significantly between states. And if the thirst for liberalization of those laws on the federal level rested on the President most of the left supported, those hopes may now be considered dashed. Meanwhile, consideration for reform of the criminal justice system should be undertaken by those states, likely including Virginia, exhibiting the draconian laws and sentencing practices which appall Senators Webb and, presumably, Specter.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Palin On Campaign Prayer

Sarah Palin, March, 2009 in Anchorage, Alaska (from Politico):

So I'm looking around for somebody to pray with, I just need maybe a little help, maybe a little extra," she said. "And the McCain campaign, love 'em, you know, they're a lot of people around me, but nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray." As the crowd laughed, Palin grinned and said she meant no disrespect to the McCain campaign. She said she ultimately prayed with her daughter Piper.

Jesus Christ, (approximately) 2041 A.D. in Galilee (from New American Standard Bible):

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees insecret will repay you.

So here is a suggestion for the Governor: try praying alone- or in a church (it could be a welcome change).

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Proud To Be Victims

Speaking before the National Republican Congressional Committee on March 24, 2009 Loiuisiana Governor Bobby Jindal asked the question "do you want the President to fail" and answered

Make no mistake: Anything other than an immediate and compliant, 'Why no sir, I don't want the president to fail,' is treated as some sort of act of treason, civil disobedience or political obstructionism. This is political correctness run amok.

Amazingly, in the very same speech Jindal claimed

We are loyal to the United States, but we don't have to be loyal to every policy. We can't allow policies like those of European socialism.

Somebody needs to explain to the hapless Mr. Jindal that the "political correctness" he proudly derides originated with opposition to things European, as this explanation (from The Myth of Political Correctness) of literature in the American university indicates. Or as a Sean O'Grady explained in Analysis: The Truth About Political Correctness- In Black And White

Yet whatever its philosophical and linguistic roots, by the 1980s it had become a rallying point for those who wanted to liberate academia from the Dwems – dead white European males – such as Shakespeare or Chaucer, and to open up the literary canon to minority groups. Or, in the words of the Stanford University student chant, "Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture's got to go."

No one can say for certain where or when "political correctness" orginated, but clearly there was a connection with the animus toward Western- European- culture. Yet the ill-informed Bobby Jindal, speaking to his ill-informed conservative (is there any other?) audience, goes for the low-hanging fruit, the easy target, of blaming European culture (when unavailable, just say "the French" over and over) and, simultaneously, the boogeyman of "political correctness."

Further, as CNN reports, Jindal boasted he would "not be brow beaten on this, and I will not kowtow to their correctness."

Yet again, the conservative as victim. In What's The Matter With Kansas, Thomas Frank observes "all claims on the right... advance from victimhood" and conservatism

....is the doctrine of the oppressed majority. Conservatism does not defend some established order of things. It accuses; it rants; it points out hypocrisies and gleefully pounces on contradictions. While liberals use their control of the airwaves, newspapers, and schools to persecute average Americans- to riducule the pious, flatter the shiftless, and indoctrinate the kids with all sorts of permissive nonsense- the Republicans are the party of the disrespected, the downtrodden, the forgotten. They are always the underdog, always in rebellion against a haughty establishment, always rising up from below.

Hatred of Europeans and posing as a victim. As always, the GOP remains the master of political correctness.
The "Mob"

This isn't about Rush Limbaugh. Not primarily, anyway. Sure, on his program on March 24, 2009, Limbaugh thus portrayed a group of citizens:

That doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. None of this is all raw emotion. You can give people the facts left and right about the size of the bonus. In fact, it's even worse than that. You can say, "Yeah, $165 million in bonuses versus 700..." What is the other number that's being passed around? What was it, two or three billion for something or other. Anyway, 165 million sounds larger than two or three billion, because 165 sounds bigger than two or three or even eight or even ten. So you have a bunch of ignoramuses in this country whose emotions are being played, and they're being ginned up and they're joining these protests and so forth. Nobody is going to do anything to stop it.

Limbaugh regularly demonstrates contempt for his fellow Americans, as when on March 17 he breathlessly exclaimed "A lynch mob is expanding: the peasants with their pitchforks surrounding the corporate headquarters of AIG, demanding heads." Were it only the man who (in)famously has wished ill on his President working for the country, it would be of little significance.

But Rush is merely the most extreme example of an attitude that has infected the mainstream media. Interviewed by Contessa Brewer this afternoon, CNBC host Melissa Francis, commenting on the appearance of AIG executive Edward Liddy before the House Financial Services Committee, emphasized the "dangers of mob rule." Although Jon Stewart helped expose (video below) CNBC's on-air personalities as shills for Wall Street, Brewer's remark- notably on the most liberal of the three 24-hour cable news networks- that a 'mob' "leaves no room for dialogue" reflected the meme developing from the mainstream media: if you're protesting bonuses for Wall Street executives, you're part of an ignorant, populist mob. And it's a reminder that, whichever way the bulk of the media might go on cultural issues or international relations, on economic issues there is a predictable direction: right.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Republican Media- No. 22

It's one thing for the promo for the radio program of right-wing Republican host Sean Hannity to play the fear card and proclaim "The radicals have taken over. Hold on to your wallet. Your taxes are ready to go sky high." Hannity makes no claim to objectivity and is entitled to be an ill-informed partisan extremist.

But the "fair and balanced" network? Who would think its newscasters would be biased?

On Sunday's Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Christina Romer, chairperson of the White House Council of Economic Advisors

And finally, before you came to Washington, you and your husband were experts, leading experts, on business cycles and the recession. You have written that monetary policy alone, what the Fed does in lowering interest rates and pumping money into the economy, is enough to end recessions. You don't need big government spending programs.

And you've also written that tax increases can reduce growth. So my question is, given all of that, what's a nice girl like you doing in the Obama White House?

Sure, tax increases can reduce growth.... which could be why President Obama proposes to reduce, rather than increase, income taxes for the vast majority of Americans. As he promised during the campaign, Obama seeks to cut income taxes for single filers making under $200,000 per year and families earning under $250,000 annually. According to an Associated Press report of an anaysis by Deloitte Tax LLP, a family making $35,000($15,233 below the 1997 median) a year would get a payment of $4,100, an increase of $1,200. And most working couples will receive a tax credit of up to $800 for 2009 and 2010, which the budget proposal would make permanent for families earning up to $195,000 and single filers making up to $95,000.

So unless Wallace was referring solely to individuals pulling down over $200,000 per year (and he was not), what is this about tax increases? Carrying water for the GOP is what it's all about, as well as the classic Repub taunt that Democrats are all about "tax and spend." There is a lot of spending by the Obama White House and Congress to pull us out of a deep recession but the "tax increases," except for the wealthy, are a figment of a deceptive, partisan attack.
Who He Is

You may have not thought it possible. Maybe you would have thought anyone experienced in communicating with the public would have the common sense, if not to believe it, at least to acknowledge that our nation needs more and better: a) engineers, to help bring about critical technological improvement, in development and application of alternative energy sources and otherwise; b)scientists, to find cures for diseases which contribute to life expectancy in the U.S.A., which lags behind that in approximately 30 countries; c)doctors, to apply those cures to patients, to have more time to counsel and comfort ill and healthy patients, and to have the knowledge and patience to apply principles of prevention to prevent disease; and teachers, to encourage students in pursuit of those critical careers, and to provide a sufficient pool of educators to stock schools in poor, underserved towns and cities across the nation so that even these children have a chance in society.

So what does Rush Limbaugh, supporter of taxpayer-paid bonuses for AIG executives, believe- and is brazen enough to admit he believes- is an occupation we should steer young people into? Check this out- extraordinary even for the standards of the de facto Republican party chairman:

OBAMA: We need young people instead of the, you know, a smart kid coming out of school, instead of wanting to be an investment banker, we need them to decide they want to be an engineer, want to be a scientist, they want to be a doctor or a teacher, and if we're rewarding those kinds of things that actually contribute to making things and -- and making people's lives better, that's going to put our economy on solid footing, we won't have this bubble and bust economy that we've gotten so caught up in for the last several years.

RUSH: Now, this is part of his existence. His wife said the same thing in Zanesville, Ohio, back during the campaign: Don't be a lawyer, don't be an investment banker, stay as a nurse or what have you. So here is the president of the United States on The Tonight Show, which, you know, the audience of that show, what would you want to guess the average IQ of the audience of The Tonight Show is? "Don't be an investment banker," do not do that, you will destroy America. It's none of his damn business what you want to do with your life! It's none of his business! Unless he's paying your education, unless he's your father, and even then, it's your life, and you can do with it what you want. Of all the occupations, "Don't be an investment banker." Why? Who's he targeting?

You read that right- an investment banker! What this nation needs is not more engineers, scientists, doctors, or teachers, but investment bankers!

Now, it's fine to be an investment banker or to take up any legal vocation or occupation. President Obama is not blocking admission to the field of investment banking, even though there is no dearth of investment bankers in the United States. Nor was the prevailing economic catastrophe caused by a lack of financial wizards, for whom personal assets in the millions were insufficient, and who belong to a field with individuals willing to gamble with the money of their fellow Americans (whom they clearly never thought of in that context) to assume even more capital and power.

It's a reminder that Limbaugh, back when cellular phones were generally limited to the wealthy and drug pushers, would proudly ask his engineer to push calls from people with cell phones to the top of the list because they were likely wealthy Republicans (though now that we know of Rush's fondness for Oxycontin, maybe it was the other group he was favoring). And it's more evidence to us, that beyond those items which characterize many radio talk-show hosts- the right-wing politics, extreme partisanship, and and deft ability to avoid detail or facts- what Rush Limbaugh is all about is elitism.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Here's.... Barack!

It hurts to write this, but Rush Limbaugh got it right, sort of. Criticizing on Friday's (3/20/09) program President Obama's decision to go on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Limbaugh contended

What I really fear is that we have a culture in this country now that thinks this is what a president ought to do. I think we have a culture in this country that thinks that is cool, that finally the president is just like a real guy going on all these television shows like every other celebrity does, like every other pop culture icon does. So whereas you and I of a certain age and a certain generation have certain expectations and standards about what is presidential, it's changed with a lot of people. A lot of people think this is really neat and a lot of people think this is real cool. They don't care what Obama says. The fact that he went on the program shows that he's also a new president. He's in touch with us. He goes places that we watch....

Limbaugh is right about this- but as Lawrence O'Donnell (at approximately 2:00 of the video) implied on Friday's (3/20/09) Hardball (video below), this all began with Richard Nixon on Rowan and Martin's Laugh In in October, 1968, when he exclaimed (video way below) "Sock it to me." Prior to Nixon's appearance shortly before he was elected President of the United States, U.S. Presidents and those who would aspire to the office consistently displayed dignity. (And candidate Humphrey, classy to the end, declined an invitation to appear on the program.) When Matthews referred to Nixon- whom a young Patrick J. Buchanan served as speechwriter- Buchanan remarked that he had opposed his boss' appearance.

The ironic, thing, of course, is that Barack H. Obama was not elected President because voters related to him, believed he was "in touch with us," or even liked him. Rather, he was viewed as an extraordinarily intelligent, eloquent, and able individual- having risen to the brink (as of then) of the presidency after overcoming a difficult upbringing and minority status in a nation which had elected only white males to the office. In a time of economic turmoil, Obama was the picture of calm. Now, though still calm, Obama is something else, or so he appears-"blase," to Buchanan.

Buchanan concedes that it's not a "lack of respect for the office" but "too much familiarity." There is a reason, as Buchanan (who argues that Obama "is bringing himself down to the level of campaigner again") understands, that politicians do this sort of thing. It humanizes them, insinuating into voters the idea, the feeling, that the candidate (or office holder) is one of them, not a member of the elite who doesn't understand their problems. But as Buchanan (and Matthews, who nevertheless appreciated Obama's appearance) understand, President Obama's style probably doesn't suit the gravity of the moment.

Palin "Shocked"

Nearly everyone is familiar with this banter (video below) from the Thursday (3/19/09) episode of the Tonight Show:

MR. LENO: Now, are they going to put a basketball –- I imagine the bowling alley has been just burned and closed down.

MR. OBAMA: No, no. I have been practicing all –- (laughter.)

MR. LENO: Really? Really?

MR. OBAMA: I bowled a 129. (Laughter and applause.)

MR. LENO: No, that's very good. Yes. That's very good, Mr. President.

MR. OBAMA: It's like -- it was like Special Olympics, or something. (Laughter.)

MR. LENO: No, that's very good.

MR. OBAMA: No, listen, I'm making progress on the bowling, yes.

Reaction from some Repub heavyweights was swift. Republican Party chairman Rush Limbaugh, forgetting (we hope) his attack on Parkinson's victim Michael J Fox (video of Fox's response way below), criticized President Obama's decision to appear on Leno's show and argued

Now, the fact that he can make this joke about Special Olympics people, there's no question that's something very mean to say, and it's not the first time. He made a joke about Nancy Reagan and seances. I'm telling you, this man is angry and he has a chip on his shoulder, and his wife does, too. They are some angry people. They're really angry.

Sarah Palin, Republican vice-presidential nominee, one of the two leading candidates for her party's presidential nomination in 2012 and mother of a son afflicted with Down Syndrome, took the opportunity to comment

I was shocked to learn of the comment made by President Obama about Special Olympics. This was a degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world....

These athletes overcome more challenges, discrimination and adversity than most of us ever will. By the way, these athletes can outperform many of us and we should be proud of them. I hope President Obama’s comments do not reflect how he truly feels about the special needs community.

Oops! It seems that Governor Palin has decided to reject 31% of the stimulus money afforded the State of Alaska under terms of the jobs bill passed by Congress in February. The Anchorage Daily News reports today:

The biggest single chunk of money that Palin is turning down is about $170 million for education, including money that would go for programs to help economically disadvantaged and special needs students. Anchorage School Superintendent Carol Comeau said she is "shocked and very disappointed" that Palin would reject the schools money. She said it could be used for job preservation, teacher training, and helping kids who need it.

Ms. Comeau need not be "shocked." Linking action to rhetoric has never been Governor Earmark's strong point. Still, one might hope that Sarah Palin would have some sense of integrity. Or not.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Responsibility, Or So Claimed

Maybe Barack Obama has more in common with former President Ronald Reagan than the incumbent's supporters and opponents realize.

Responding to controversy over the Iran-Contra scandal, President Reagan (link to video below) stated "there is no doubt mistakes were made... about activities taken without my knowledge." Later, he would claim "as personally distasteful as I find secret bank accounts and deiverted funds, as the Navy would say, 'this happened on my watch.'"

Not "I made a mistake" but "mistakes were made" and even "without my knowledge." And these things he finds "personally distasteful," acknowledging only the very obvious: they "happened on my watch."

Yesterday, President Obama channeled Reagan- and to be honest, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of politicians (and others, including pro football coaches) in the intervening years. Responding to the outrage over bonuses given to executives of American Internation Group, Obama noted "ultimately, I'm responsible." However, it was tough to determine what Obama was accepting responsibility for, given his invocation of victimhood ("held hostage"):

Now, what we're trying to do is get ourselves in a position where we make sure that going forward we're not held hostage to all these bad decisions that were made by these huge institutions in the past.

And there has been nothing wrong with his Administration's response: "I have complete confidence in Tim Geithner and my entire economic team."

Later in the day, speaking at a town hall meeting in southern California, Obama emphasized his refusal to take blame for the bonus fiasco as he stated "listen, I'll take responsibility. I'm the president" (for those unsure who was elected last November 4) and continuing

So for everybody in Washington who’s busy trying to figure out and blame somebody else, just go ahead and talk to me, because it’s my job to make sure we fix these messes even if I don’t make them.

Translation: as long as there are these people ("everybody") looking for somebody to blame, I'll step up and be the big man (or at least they can "talk to me"), even though "I don't make them" ("these messes"). A little like Ronald Reagan's "activities taken without my knowledge"- and insufficient explanation of his administration's level of involvement in approving the bonuses for executives of a company run into the ground.

Ronald Reagan Admits Arms For Hostage Deal With Iran

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Grassley And Suicide

The mainstream media is all atwitter about the recommendation of Senator Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa) that corporate executives of the American Insurance Group commit suicide. Speaking to an Iowa radio audience on March 16, Grassley remarked

Obviously, maybe they ought to be removed. But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.

On one level this is not only silly but lacking in real courage. It's reminiscent of the reaction of some people when a guy gets arrested for allegedly committing a serious sexually-oriented violent offense, such as rape or abuse of a child. Enraged, individuals suggest that the criminal justice system, or some unnamed vigilante, impose ruthless frontier justice, possibly of a sexual nature (use your imagination) upon the accused perpetrator. (Perhaps I listen to too much to talk radio.) The suggestion is not only crude but also worthless because we simply don't do that sort of thing, which would take cruel and unusual to a whole new level, in this country. Still, it allows the speaker to vent his/her frustration harmlessly, aware that the suggestion is beyond the pale and never would be effectuated.

Grassley's opinion is similar. In the United States of America, individuals do not take a deep bow and they do not commit suicide because they've gamed the system, exploited capitalism, and did their best to bankrupt the country. (Cyrus Vance took one for the team when he was serving as Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, but even he did not take his own life.)

Still, Chuck Grassley is a Republican (a conservative one, at that) and to be fair, we have to lower the bar a bit for those fellows. And it is at least a little bold for the Senator to say something which predictably incurred the criticism of his party's boss, Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh today stated of the Iowan "Did you hear that? He wants the AIG bonus recipients to go commit suicide. Now, I know, he said later, 'We're just talking about honor here.' Honor?" Then, of course, Rush went on to criticize Democrats who are responsible for racism, World War II, the Great Depression, and the Crucifixion.

There are better ways than suicide to handle the disgraceful bonuses paid out by AIG for executives who apparently have failed so miserably. Representative Carolyn Mahoney of New York, not surprisingly a Democrat, plans to introduce a bill to impose a 100% tax on (as she put it in a letter to her colleagues) "any bonus compensation that is not directly related to a commission for any recipient of TARP funds where the United States government is the majority owner of the company."

But give Charles Grassley some credit. Unlike Rush Limbaugh (and a few others in his party), Grassley does not believe corporate executives who run roughshod over the American people and American taxpayers should be put up for sainthood.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Senator Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.) was interviewed shortly after 1:00 p.m. this afternoon by Mrs. Alan Greenspan on MSNBC about, primarily, the bonuses American International Group has given to many of its executives. There has been a confident, almost blithe assumption on the part of some government officials (such as chairman of the White House Economic Council, Larry Summers) and that the government cannot recoup any part of the bonuses- a contract is a contract, period.

Many of us who are not lawyers suspected this is an overly simplistic, even fatuous, argument. And so, we now know, does Specter, former District Attorney of Philadelphia and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. While acknowledging it as an extreme example, he likened it to a contract for distribution of marijuana- hardly enforceable, as he emphasized. (A contract signed for proceeds of a winning, illegal bet, I would expect, also would not be enforceable.) Although Specter did not note it, contracts also are open to interpretation, and the letter from Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Edward M. Liddy (any relation to G. Gordon?) to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner did nothing to dispel the notion that AIG was not contractually obligated to pay the bonuses. At the very least, the Justice Department could file suit to try to recoup the bonuses. As Specter concluded, "stop all the talk; go to court; they're unenforceable."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Steele And GOP Priorities

First, it was over whether the three GOP senators who voted for the stimulus package might be denied campaign funds by the national party. On February 3, Michael Steele stated "Oh, yes, I'm always open to everything, baby, absolutely." The next day, he backtracked, saying "it's totally up to the state parties."

Then it was Rush Limbaugh. On March 1, Steele pointed out on the since-cancelled D.L. Hughley show on CNN, "Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. His whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it's incendiary. Yes, it's ugly" (video below). After Limbaugh blasted him on his program two days later, Steele waited almost an hour to grovel (in a statement) "I respect Rush Limbaugh, he is a national conservative leader, and in no way do I want to diminish his voice....To the extent that my remarks helped the Democrats in Washington to take the focus, even for one minute, off of their irresponsible expansion of government, I truly apologize."

Then we learned that a few days earlier (March 24) in an interview with Lisa DePaulo of GQ Magazine, the head of the Republican National Committee argued of homosexuality that one cannot "turn it off and on like a water tap" and that he approved of such relationships up to marriage:

I have been, um, supportive of a lot of my friends who are gay in some of the core things that they believe are important to them. You know, the ability to be able to share in the information of your partner, to have the ability to—particularly in times of crisis—to manage their affairs and to help them through that as others—you know, as family members or others—would be able to do. I just draw the line at the gay marriage. And that’s not antigay, no. Heck no! It’s just that, you know, from my faith tradition and upbringing, I believe that marriage—that institution, the sanctity of it—is reserved for a man and a woman.

That same day, however, Steele assured syndicated conservative radio talk-show host Mike Gallagher that he finds civil unions as distasteful as gay marriage:

GALLAGHER: Is this a time when Republicans ought to consider some sort of alternative to redefining marriage and maybe in the road, down the road to civil unions. Do you favor civil unions?

STEELE: No, no no. What would we do that for? What are you, crazy? No. Why would we backslide on a core, founding value of this country? I mean this isn't something that you just kind of like, "Oh well, today I feel, you know, loosey-goosey on marriage." [...]

GALLAGHER: So no room even for a conversation about civil unions in your mind?

STEELE: What's the difference?

In the same interview with GQ, Mr. Steele, asked whether he believes "women have the right to choose an abortion," responded "Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice." Promptly recognizing a tactical error, Steele issued a statment which included "I am pro-life, always have been, always will be.... In my view Roe vs. Wade was wrongly decided and should be repealed."

If the chairman of the Republican National Committee seems a little confused, it's with good reason. On Hardball on March 13, the usually insightful Eugene Robinson remarked "I think fundamentally he‘s a moderate Republican. And those are the views that he is expressing. But he doesn‘t have a moderate party that he‘s supposed to lead. It‘s a very conservative party."

But here Robinson, and others who also suspect that Steele made his initial, later retracted or "clarified," remarked because he is a "moderate Republican," are wrong. When a Repub suggests a liberal or moderate position on abortion or gay rights (apparently, gun control and some other cultural issues are completely off limits), he or she is exalted in the mainstream media as a "moderate."

Whether Steele actually is a "moderate" is difficult to detemine. What is clear, however, is that he is a man without firm attachment to any view on policy- someone far more opportunistic than principled. Michael Steele has veered from GOP orthodoxy on support for experienced incumbents, gay rights and abortion, and attacked powerful Republican Rush Limbaugh. But as of this writing, he is still chairman of the party. Suppose, instead, Steele had made comments similar to these rather obvious and moderate comments:

- Congress should give due consideration to passing the Employee Free Choice Act because it would lead to higher wages, which have been stagnating in our country;
- The rush to deregulate the financial market helped spur the economic crisis we have today;
- Greed in the private sector has contributed significantly to our economic collapse;
- The Social Security system is relatively stable and the party should attempt to strengthen it rather than weaken it with a privatization scheme, reducing benefits, or increasing the retirement age;
- Given the increasing debt caused by the stimulus package, increasing taxes modestly on the wealthy is reasonable.

If he had made any of these statements- with or without retraction or apology- instead of those he did make,M Michael Steele would be out of his position as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Not today. Yesterday.

Friday, March 13, 2009


The Center for American Progress on March 11 posted on its website an "Interactive Quiz: How Progressive Are You?" On each question, there is a continuum of responses from 0 to 10 with 10 sometimes being the most progressive/liberal and sometimes the most conservative. Overall, the quiz is very impressive with numerous questions clear, unambiguous, and accurately separating liberals from conservatives. From my perspective, they include eighteen questions: numbers 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 19, 23, 16, 27, 28, 29, 32, 34, 35, and 36.

Far fewer were the poorly worded or misleading questions. They include the following:

16. Healthy economic growth requires eliminating budget deficits, which discourage private investment and raise interest rates.

Most progressives/liberals believe that is the case most of the time, and advocated lowering the budget deficit especially during the Reagan and Bush 41 regimes when the deficit ballooned because the president was intent on lowering taxes on the wealthy, thereby exploding the debt. A corollary benefit to conservative Republicans: it forced responsible liberal Democrats, concerned about the impact on economic growth of a buorgeoning debt, to rethink their commitment to using government to assist the least fortunate. However, given a severe recession, as the nation is undergoing now, most progressives/liberals recognize that in the absence of private spending, public (government) spending is necessary to jump start the economy. As would responsible conservative Republicans, if they could be found.

17. African Americans and other minority groups still lack the same opportunities as whites in our country.

Even most conservatives would agree with this. However, they would would find that such practices as affirmative action have the effect of mitigating, if not negating, this discrepancy. And as to "other minority groups:" how would one evaluate the impact of affirmative action in California's public university system upon the Asian-American community, disproportionately represented therein?

21. Our country has gone too far in mixing politics and religion and forcing religious values on people.

I'm not sure what "our country" refers to: government? religious leaders? the American people? And in what sense are religious values being "forced" on people?

24. The primary responsibility of corporations is to produce profits and returns for their shareholders, not to improve society.

I have to find that guy or gal who believes that a corporation not only should improve society, but be willing to operate at a loss to do so.

31. Cultural institutions, the arts, and public broadcasting play an important role in our society and should receive government support.

Certainly, there are conservatives, especially right-brained ones, who are hostile to public broadcasting but love the arts and support more government funding for them. And there are individuals who strongly support public broadcasting but have major doubts about the wisom of taxpayers subsidizing the arts. Like me.

33. Changes in the traditional American family have harmed our society.

What changes? And harmed- or helped- in what way? There has been a wide array of changes to American society. Respondents, I presume, are supposed to react to question #33 on the basis of their gut instinct. But haven't some of the changes- such as the growing involvement of women in the workforce- also had an (positive, negative) economic impact on American society? This is a big, big question with a lot of ramifications.

37. America has taken too large a role in solving the world's problems and should focus more at home.

If the first thought is Iraq, progressives/liberals generally will say yes; conservatives, no. But if the thought is humanitarian assistance (and maybe foreign aid in general), the responses would be reversed. And most progressives/(#27) liberals, as another question (#27) suggests, are gratified that our nation now has a president interested in the world, its needs, and its sentiments.

38. Religious faith should focus more on promoting tolerance, social justice, and peace in society, and less on opposing abortion or gay rights.

Sure, most liberals would leap to support this proposition, and most conservatives would strongly oppose it. Still, there are those who believe that the major focus of religious faith should be on the relationship between god and man and other traditional aspects of religious beliefs.

And my own favorite question? #9, "rich people like to believe they have made it on their own, but in reality society has contributed greatly to their wealth." Coursing through the programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and other conservative talk show hosts is the theme that all wealthy individuals have gotten there completely by their own skill and hard work, with government (and consumers) either having played no role or actually impeding them. It's hard to determine whether these ideologues are extraordinarily naive or attempting to con their audiences, but one of the few benefits of the current economic crisis is that increasingly more people are seeing through this brazen distortion of reality.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama Speaking On Education

Yesterday, President Obama addressed the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on improving education in the U.S.A.

The good news; this was a superior speech to any which would have been given by the likes of John McCain, Sarah Palin, John Boehner, or Rush Limbaugh. The bad news: that's an awfully low bar to surmount.

After the obligatory pander of "Si se puede" ("yes, we can"- what?) and standard, well-meaning rhetoric, Obama declared "I think you'd all agree that the time for finger-pointing is over."

At which time the President resumed a speech focused on finger-pointing. Offering no evidence, Obama claimed "from the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents, it's the person standing at the front of the classroom." (Translation: I'm not one of those old-time liberals who believe we have to address the matter of poverty.) He argues "if a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances but still does not improve, there's no excuse for that person to continue teaching. I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences."

Ironic that a President who preaches accountability and accepting consequences would advocate the promulgation of charter schools, which take public money and are spared some regulations which apply to public schools. He contended:

But right now, there are many caps on how many charter schools are allowed in some states, no matter how well they're preparing our students. That isn't good for our children, our economy, or our country. Of course, any expansion of charter schools must not result in the spread of mediocrity, but in the advancement of excellence. And that will require states adopting both a rigorous selection and review process to ensure that a charter school's autonomy is coupled with greater accountability –- as well as a strategy, like the one in Chicago, to close charter schools that are not working. Provided this greater accountability, I call on states to reform their charter rules, and lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools, wherever such caps are in place.

The money is not inexhaustible. Public funds allocated for charter schools- or for merit pay, which the President also endorsed- are funds not allocated for public education and its related expenses, such as school construction, school lunch programs, after-school programs, or more teachers to improve the student-teacher ratio.

And now this fantasy, so shopworn it's almost a cliche:

Now, even as we foster innovation in where our children are learning, let's also foster innovation in when our children are learning. We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day. That calendar may have once made sense, but today it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children -- listen to this -- our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea -- every year. That's no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy. That's why I'm calling for us not only to expand effective after-school programs, but to rethink the school day to incorporate more time -– whether during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it. (Applause.)

No matter how many Presidents or members of America's elite class push the idea, the time spent by American youngsters in school is not going to increase, and for at least two obvious reasons:

1) Young people (aside for children) do things outside of school- athletics and other school activities, and work. If Obama wanted to demonstrate the courage he claims (disingenuously intoning "Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas"), he would criticize the increasing obsession in American society and schools with athletics at the expense of academics- but video (below) of the President playing basketball is so much more entertaining and manly.

2) Expense. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that at least 46 states have faced or are facing budget shortfalls in this and/or the coming fiscal year. Unlike the federal government, at least 37 states must balance their (operating) budget annually. And do it they must, without printing money or borrowing from mainland China. Raising taxes can be injurious to the political health of a governor or a state legislator.

And the standard criticism of the adults:

No government policy will make any difference unless we also hold ourselves more accountable as parents -- because government, no matter how wise or efficient, cannot turn off the TV or put away the video games. Teachers, no matter how dedicated or effective, cannot make sure your child leaves for school on time and does their homework when they get back at night. These are things only a parent can do. These are things that our parents must do.

This is always a safe ploy. Many parents, hearing such criticism, assume the academic or policymaker is talking about some other kid's parents- certainly not themselves. President Obama might instead have acknowledged (other than in the insufficient, patronizing manner he attempted) the awesome odds against many parents-especially single-parents, and especially in a careening economy.

At Open Left yesterday, Chris Bowers made these and other points, more eloquently. And he noted, in an insightful rush of political incorrectness:

I don't entirely understand why talk of making teachers work harder, making their profession more competitive, and making their job secure is so common in America. We don't talk about making the lives of other people who work in public service, such as soldiers and first responders--or even health care workers--in such a foreboding way.

It is risky in polite society not to mention that soldiers, police, and firefighters have uniquely dangerous and difficult jobs. They are spoken of as first responders and protectors of the nation- not as dreaded government workers or as individuals with singular responsibilities to the public, standards to which we hold teachers. And never, never would we suggest that they are failing a whole class of Americans- as we do of teachers in their obligation to students. It is a stunning double standard.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Steele, Assault Weapons, Mexico

In April, 2008, ABC News' Brian Ross and Esposito found

U.S. gun stores and gun shows are the source of more than 90 percent of the weapons being used by Mexico's ruthless drug cartels, according to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials.

"It's a war going on in Mexico, and these types of firearms are the weapons of war for them," said Bill Newell, the special agent in charge of the Phoenix field division of the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has primary law enforcement jurisdiction for investigating gun trafficking to Mexico.

"It's virtually impossible to buy a firearm in Mexico as a private citizen, so this country is where they come," said Newell.

But U.S. efforts to stop the smuggling of tens of thousands of guns to Mexico, including high-powered assault weapons, have been hampered by lenient American gun laws and the Bush administration's failure to give priority to anti-gun smuggling efforts....

U.S. and Mexican officials say they have traced most of the thousands of high-powered weapons seized from the drug cartels to gun dealers in Texas, California and Arizona.

And the problem is only getting worse. On January 15, 2009, Shannon O'Neil, a Douglas Dillon fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations who blogs at www.LatIntelligence.com, noted

There are about 6,650 Federal Firearms Licensees in this area, and the border is 2,000 mile long, meaning that there are 3.3 gun shops per mile (I said 3 per mile in the article). If we include all the shops in border states (not just near the border), the number rises to 9,161 locations....

The U.S. government recognizes that U.S.-purchased weapons are fueling Mexico’s violence. In fact, ATF acting director Michael Sullivan said last year that investigators have traced 90 to 95 percent of weapons seized in Mexico to the United States.

Currently, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms assigns approximately 200 agents to monitor the licensed gun dealerships along the Mexican border. By contrast to the ease with which military-style weapons can be purchased in the U.S.A., "Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and they cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons," according to The New York Times.

And the cartels are moving much of their operations northward. With its growing Hispanic population and access to major highways and population centers, Atlanta, Georgia now is a major storage center for marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines smuggled in from Mexico. They then are moved to distribution operations in methamphetamine, Carolinas, Tennessee, the Mid-Atlantic, New York and New England, reports USA Today.

So what in the name of pandering to the NRA and Rush Limbaugh is Michael Steele sending this e-mail message to right-wing supporters, including one from something called the St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner?:

The Obama Administration has revealed its intention to reinstate the so-called "assault" gun ban -- Step One of their plan to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

Having already taken advantage of our country's current economic woes to speed the largest, most pork-laden spending spree in history through the Democrat-controlled Congress, the Obama team is again using fear tactics to impose bad policy.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced his desire to once again deny law abiding Americans their 2nd Amendment rights, using the ongoing violence in Mexico as justification.

Perhaps Michael Steele should be asked why he condones the distribution of over 500 metric tons of cocaine, 15,500 metric tons of marijuana, 18 metric tons of heroin, and a still unknown amount of methamphetamines which make their way through Mexico into the United States. Or why he condones the proliferation of high-powered weapons along the Mexican border. Or why he condones murder and rape on American soil in the name of a distorted interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Republican Media- No. 21

This really shouldn't count, inasmuch as it comes, on March 8, from Fox News. But here it is from Chris Wallace, quickly sticking in a false statement at the very end of his interview on Fox News Sunday with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine:

Governor, we have to leave it there. I do want to point out, though, just as a — as a point of information, that Rush Limbaugh says — and I think if you read what he says, he wasn't saying I want the president to fail. He was saying I want his policies, his agenda, to fail, and that he disagreed with them and thought they were bad for America. But fair enough.
Thank you so much, Governor, for talking with us. Always a pleasure. Please come back, sir.

So let's review Limbaugh:

January 16, 2009 (on his radio program):

Liberalism is what's gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. 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....

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.

January 19, 2009 (on his radio program):

They say everybody wants him to succeed. Why's that? Did everybody want Bush or Clinton or Reagan to succeed? Can somebody go back in American history and tell me when we had a president that everybody wanted to succeed? I'm not even sure every American wanted George Washington to succeed. There are a lot of people that were not quite happy about the way that was all going down....

"Well, everybody wants him to succeed." Well, no.

(taped) January 19, 2009 (intervied by Sean Hannity for Fox News Channel)

So I shamelessly say, "No! I want him to fail." If his agenda is a far-left collectivism -- some people say socialism -- as a conservative heartfelt, deeply, why would I want socialism to succeed?
February 13, 2009 (on his radio program):

Of course I want this to fail. Of course I want Obama to fail. And after this stimulus bill package passes, I want it to fail.
"So I can answer it in four words. 'I want him to fail.'"
"'Well, everybody wants him to succeed.' Well, no."
"So, I shamelessly say: 'I want him to fail.'"
"Of course I want Obama to fail."

On at least four occasions, Rush Limbaugh went beyond saying that he thought Obama's policies would fail and/or he wanted them to fail. He said that he wanted President Obama to fail. Even somebody on GOP TV should be able to figure that one out.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Private Market At Work

Over at Open Left, blogger Paul Rosenberg the last few days has been obsessed with the apparent "pragmatism" of President Obama, who has been enticed by market-based solutions to our enormous, and growing, economic crises. If, however, one is to be obsessed by anything political, there is no better subject than the inadequacy of the neoliberal philosophy in confronting such challenges as education, energy, health care, and the availability of credit.

Rosenberg admittedly was inspired by Obama's Timid Liberalism, an enormously insightful article appearing in Salon on March 6 in which Michael Lind explains

Once upon a time in the United States, public goods -- from retirement security and energy research to public roads -- were provided by the government and paid for by taxes. As late as the Nixon administration, the provision of public goods by government was considered perfectly compatible with a robust market economy by so-called Modern Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon as well as New Deal Democrats like Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson. In the intervening 40 years, however, free-market fundamentalists of the Chicago School have managed to change the debate, redefining "socialism" to mean not only public ownership of the means of production, but also public provision of public goods.

Rather than fight back, most Democrats in the last generation adapted to this hostile conservative political climate by jettisoning New Deal "big government" liberalism for "market-friendly" neoliberalism. Neoliberals shared the right's enthusiasm for deregulating industries that New Deal Democrats had regulated in the public interest. Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy supported the deregulation of trucking and airlines, while Bill Clinton presided over the dismantling of the New Deal era's banking regulations and declared: "The era of big government is over." Neoliberals and conservatives agreed that public goods should be provided by private, for-profit or nonprofit entities, rather than government agencies. If private corporations or universities had no motivation to provide public goods, well, then, they would be bribed with tax credits or other government subsidies.

Neoliberals are liberals in one sense -- they fret about unequal outcomes. But rather than help middle- and low-income Americans by regulating the prices of privately provided public goods, as the crude and direct New Dealers would have done, neoliberal Democrats have argued for allowing the "market" (translation: the publicly subsidized entities) to set prices and then promised to provide tax subsidies or grants to help middle- and low-income Americans pay for the expensive, privately provided public goods.

Lind decries the Obama approach to health care, credit, and education, which assumes "the best way to provide a public good is not necessarily to pour subsidies on middlemen, and then bail them out with more subsidies when they fail at their public function." And so we come to the curious case of criminal justice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where government subsidies have made the administration of justice quite lucrative for private entities.

Two juvenile court justices, Mark A. Ciavarella and Michael T. Conahan, in Luzerne County, Pa. have pled guilty to sending upwards of 2,500 youth between 2003 and 2008 to secure detention facilities from which they received $2.6 million in kickbacks. The judges, who had helped the private detention centers obtain more than $30 million in contracts with the county, have agreed to spend 87 months in federal prison.

Unfortunately, this comes a little late for the likes of Charlie Balasavage, notwithstanding the civil lawsuit now filed on behalf of his and 69 other families. Reportedly, 15-year-old Charlie in the summer of 2006 bought for $60 a scooter from his relative. One day police appeared at the Balasavage's doorstep and told him the scooter had been stolen. Charlie explained the purchase, as did his parents that night- at which time all three individuals were arrested. (Police later decided to charge only Charlie.)

In January 2007 the young man, now 16 years old, appeared without counsel before Judge Ciavarella who, without asking for an explanation or asking about guilt or innocence, sentenced adjudicated the defendant guilty and placed him at the Youth Services Agency, also known as Camp Adams. There, Charlie met with a psychologist (who, as luck would have it is Judge Conahan's brother-in-law), who decided that the youngster had several problems, among them an antisocial disorder, anxiety, and depression. And, via the state, charged the family $250.

When he encountered trouble sleeping, Charlie was placed on Seroquel, a mood stabilizer. A few months later, he was sent to a substance abuse program in northeast Pennsylvania, where he excelled at school.

Then it was back to his public high school, which would not accept the credits Charlie had earned at the treatment program. He began to spiral downward, overwhelmed in school, infant niece killed in automobile accident, using drugs, violating probation, Judge Ciavarella placing him in one facility after another.

With the budget cutting prevalent in the traditional media over the past twenty-five years, the decline in investigative reporting has been precipitous. And with it, the conventional wisdom that the private market, often with government subsidies, can provide public goods more efficiently than government has largely gone unchallenged. Establishment in Pennsylvania of the nexus between the judiciary and private interests, serving the interests of neither defendant nor the public, is but one example of this dangerous mindset.
Culturally Conservative, Electorally Valuable

The Wall Street Journal reports on the disappointment of Tony Perkins:

Many party activists hunger for direct confrontation. This past week, Tony Perkins, who heads the Family Research Council, excoriated Republicans for not resisting Kathleen Sebelius, the nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, who supports abortion rights. "If Republicans won't take a stand now, when will they?" Mr. Perkins demanded in an online newsletter.

The answer? when they're in campaign mode. Or as Thomas Frank put it in What's the Matter with Kansas?

Old-fashioned values may count when conservatives appear on the stump, but once conservatives are in office the only old-fashioned situation they care to revive is an economic regimen of low wages and lax regulations....

Values may "matter most" to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won. This is a basic earmark of the phenomenon, absolutely consistent across its decades-long history. Abortion is never halted. Affirmative action is never abolished. The culture industry is never forced to clean up its act.

Social (cultural) conservatives. The far right. The Christian right. Christian conservatives. Though not synonymous, all different terms to describe the wing of the Repub Party whose raison d'etre is to preserve what it believes are traditional american values, as applied to guns, race, and especially, sex (abortion, gay rights, Hollywood). Nevertheless, these voters have become the base of a party which considers them a mere spoke in their electoral machine. Frank colorfully laments of his home state, not unlike the country as a whole:

The state watches impotently as its culture, beamed in from the coasts, becomes coarser and more offensive by the year. Kansas aches for revenge. Kansas gloats when celebrities say stupid things; it cheers when movie stars go to jail. and when two female rock stars exchange a lascivious kiss on national TV, Kansas goes haywire. Kansas screams for the head of the liberal elite. Kansas comes running to the polling place. And Kansas cuts those rock stars' taxes.

The Democratic Party, with its increasing dominance by corporate interests (see: Democratic Leadership Council; Blue Dog Caucus; New Democrat Coalition), has offered little alternative to such voters; Frank observes "we can say that liberalism lost places like Shawnee and Wichita with as much accuracy as we can point out that conservatism won them over." Still, we can hope that Perkins and others so ideologically inclined eventually will recognize that the party in which they've placed their faith reserves its concern with their interests to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Article Of The Week

Jodi Jacobson, Acting Senior Political Editor for RH Reality Check, is described on that organization's website as having "degrees in economics and environmental science and many years of practical and professional experience in public health."

And a heck of a blogger. In a post of March 3 entitled "Hypocrisy Has No Term Limit: Vitter Attacks Title X and Planned Parenthood in Omnibus," Jacobson criticizes the opponents of the Title X Family Planning Program, which according to the Office of Population Affairs of the Office of Public Health and Science of the Department of Human Affairs

was enacted in 1970 as Title X of the Public Health Service Act. Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. The Title X program is designed to provide access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to all who want and need them. By law, priority is given to persons from low-income families.

Hypocrite though Vitter might be, Jacobson properly professes little concern about his sex life, but is justifiably exorcised about the amendment, which would prohibit Title X funding for Planned Parenthood, which the Louisiana Senator has introduced to the omnibus spending bill. Planned Parenthood is one of the largest providers of Title X services, but such funds are prohibited by law to be used in programs in which abortion is a method of family planning. Meanwhile, family planning services, according to a Guttmacher Institute report released in 2/09, prevent 1.94 million unintended pregnancies each year, pregnancies that would otherwise result in 860,000 unintended births, 810,000 abortions and 270,000 miscarriages.

So why would a (politically) conservative, pro-life Republican oppose funding a program which provides health care services for pregnant women and contraception to reduce unintended pregnancies and, therefore, abortion? Jacobson argues that the far right is committed to "denying women (and men) access to basic contraceptive methods, to services for sexually transmitted disease prevention, detection and cure and... ironically, to healthy pregnancy services."

She may be too generous. Though violative of the law of parsimony/Occam's Razor, this is another possibility: Vitter and his allies may welcome (silently) an increase in the abortion rate. After divvying up individuals solidly in the pro-life or the pro-choice camp, there remain many Americans who are ambivalent about abortion rights. These people are likely to lean in the pro-choice direction, preferring individual freedom over government intervention, as long as the abortion rate appears relatively low; however, once it appears high, indignation rises, and the interest in maintaining a woman's right to choose is superceded by a concern over human life (or its potential).

Restricting the effectiveness of Planned Parenthood by denying it federal funding would reduce the access of men and women to contraceptive services, resulting in a rise in abortion and increasing support in the populace for restrictive abortion laws. And with priority under Title X given to low-income persons, more poor people especially would resort to abortion, hence fueling the resentment of the lower class that is central to right-wing philosophy. And a bonus: Title X, a government program, will have proven less effective- and the failure of the public sector generally delights a Republican Party whose raison d'etre is opposition to government.

This may seem overly Machiavellian but, as Jacobson points out, when a political party's ideas have brought the nation to the edge of economic collapse, diversion may be the best strategy.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Good Things

While self-destructive leaders of the Republican Party are groveling before party chairman (as opposed to RNC chairman) Rush Limbaugh, other positive developments have emerged in Washington.

Two of these are noted today by Glenn Greenwald on his blog. U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D.-N.J.), from whose congressional district the anthrax letters of 2001 were mailed, has, according to a press release

introduced the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act of 2009, legislation that would establish a Congressional commission to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks and the federal government’s response to and investigation of the attacks. . . .

The Federal Bureau of Investigation implicated research scientist Bruce Ivins, who shortly thereafter committed suicide. However, doubt on the Bureau's conclusion has been cast by several researchers, including microbiologist Gerry Andrews, bioweapons expert Dr. Meryl Nass, and Dr. Alan Pearson, Director of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Control Program at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. And given the impact of the anthrax scare on creating the hysteria over the threat of attack from foreign-bred terrorists, a full investigation of the FBI's investigation is critical.

Greenwald and Jane Hamsher of firedoglake last week created Accountability Now PAC, whose press release on February 25 indicated it plans

to use primaries to hold incumbents to account for voting with corporate interests instead of their constituents. The new PAC is a grassroots effort devoted to compelling real accountability in Washington by closing the gap between citizens and their elected representatives in Washington, DC....

"Accountability Now PAC will recruit, coordinate, and support primary challenges against vulnerable Congressional incumbents who have become more responsive to corporate America than to their constituents,” said Accountability Now’s new Executive Director, Jeff Hauser. “

And a couple of weeks ago, 23 Democratic members of the U.S. House formed the Populist Caucus. Headed by Bruce Braley of Iowa, whose website pledges the organization is "devoted solely to addressing middle class economic issues," which are:

1)Creating Good Jobs and a Secure Retirement: Creating and retaining good-paying jobs in America, providing fair wages, proper benefits, a level playing field at the negotiating table, and ensuring American workers have secure, solvent retirement plans;

2)Cutting Taxes for the Middle Class: Cutting taxes for the middle class and establishing an equitable tax structure;

3)Affordable Healthcare: Providing affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans;

4)Quality, Affordable Education: Ensuring quality primary education for all American children, and affordable college education for all who want it;

5)Fair Trade: Defending American competitiveness by fighting for fair trade principles;

6)Protecting Consumers: Protecting consumers, so that Americans can have faith in the safety and effectiveness of the products they purchase.

It's an excellent agenda, hopefully providing a counterweight to the Blue Dog Caucus and the New Democrat Coalition, two representatives of the euphemistically-termed "moderate" wing of the Democratic Party, sympathetic to corporate interests and hostile to middle-class interests.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Donohue, Sebelius- And JFK

I had thought John F. Kennedy settled all of this, for Presidents and others of the Executive Branch, on September 12, 1960:

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept (sic) instructions on public policy from.... (any) ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials....

I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or anyother subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views- in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates.

Apparently, William A. Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, disagrees, if his attack on the appointment of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius by President Obama to head the Department of Health and Human Services is any indication. Which it is, as revealed by this exchange (video below) from the March 1 edition of the CBS Evening News, reported by Media Matters:

PINKSTON: She is not without controversy. Sebelius, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, has received harsh criticism from anti-abortion groups.

DONOHUE: She is the champion of abortion rights right through term, and for Obama to choose somebody who has sown such division within the Catholic community to head HHS really is an insult to Catholics.

PINKSTON: But Governor Sebelius has at least two powerful GOP allies. Both U.S. senators from Kansas -- Republicans -- endorse her appointment and complimented President Obama for sending a Kansan to the White House. Randall Pinkston, CBS News, New York.

Never one to retract, or even modulate, divisive and idiotic rhetoric, Donohue reiterated his stance the following day on a pro-life website, writing

Catholics do not expect that abortion-rights presidents will go out of their way to choose pro-life Catholics to be in their administration. But they also don’t expect them to go out of their way to offend them. Obama has done just that. As I said last night on the CBS Evening News, ‘She is the champion of abortion rights right through term, and for Obama to choose somebody who sews such division within the Catholic community to head HHS really is an insult to Catholics.’ Indeed, she has been publicly criticized by the last three archbishops of Kansas for her radical views on abortion.

Leave aside Donohue's history of bombastic and thoughtless rhetoric; his stereotypical implication that all Roman Catholics oppose abortion rights (rather unlikely if a pro-choice opinion is able to engender the "division" he says it does); and his assumption that all Roman Catholics who do oppose abortion rights would believe that an HHS Secretary's abortion views, in a country with an uneviable health care system and a President who has declared his dedication to reform of that system, would trump that official's views on health care and qualifications to lead a drive to reform. (And, especially, ignore a run-on sentence.)

No, Donohue is most exorcised by the support of a Catholic appointee for a woman's right to choose an abortion- otherwise, he would not have contended that the nominee "has sown such division in the Catholic community." And his diatribe runs counter to the remarks of the first (and only) Roman Catholic president in our history, who asserted that he would make his decision on "whatever issue may come before me" .... "on the basis of what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest." It is a rebuke, undeserved and unjustified, to a Presidential candidate who declared "I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic." Fortunately, the religion of Kathleen Sebelius appears to be far less important to most Roman Catholics (and non-Catholics) than to Mr. Donohue.

Kathleen Sebelius, as John Kennedy and the vast majority of Roman Catholics understand, is a candidate for a cabinet position- not the Roman Catholic candidate for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Why This Comment?

Who's he talking about? Joe Scarborough wisely and very courageously asserts .... Again, a good question to ask about what he said in a...