Sunday, May 31, 2009

Quote Of The Week

I think there's no question that supply-demand fundamentals are not reflected in the current (oil) price.... I think this underscores the need to increase oversight of these markets."

-Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at the Public Citizen watchdog group, reflecting on the role of speculation upon the sharp rise in oil prices

There is a bright side to almost everything, even recession.

Demand for energy, especially for oil, generally drops during an economic downturn and this one has been no exception. David R. Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on May 24 that Americans used 2.7 per cent less gasoline in the previous four weeks than in the corresponding period in 2008. Prices for a barrel of oil sold on the New York Mercantile Exchange briefly dropped to below $34 in December and January and demand, reported McClatchy newspapers on May 23, has fallen to a 10-year low while inventories are at their highest levels in almost twenty years.

And yet.... as of May 20, crude oil prices had risen more than 70 per cent since mid- January with the average price of regular gasoline at the pump costing $2.33, 28 cents a gallon more than a month earlier. And in the past eleven days, they've gone higher. The oil companies are doing their share at keeping prices up, operating refineries at below 85 per cent of capacity while "an estimated 100 million barrels worldwide are sitting in tanker ships, which companies have been using as floating storage bins." But oil companies are not the major culprits, as McClatchy explained:

This time, Wall Street speculators — some of them recipients of billions of dollars in taxpayers’ bailout money — may be to blame.

Big Wall Street banks such as Goldman Sachs & Co., Morgan Stanley and others are able to sidestep the regulations that limit investments in commodities such as oil, and they’re investing on behalf of pension funds, endowments, hedge funds and other big institutional investors, in part as a hedge against rising inflation.

These investors now far outnumber big fuel consumers such as airlines and trucking companies, which try to protect themselves against price swings. The big investors are betting that the economy eventually will rebound, that the Obama administration’s spending policies and Federal Reserve actions will trigger inflation and that oil prices will rise.

“They’re buying because they think it will diversify their portfolio, and they think it will diversify their portfolio against inflation, and maybe they think the economy will turn around,” said Michael Masters, a hedge-fund manager who testified before Congress last year about the consequences of what are called exchange-traded funds.

Oil contracts are traded mostly in U.S. dollars, and inflation would erode the value of oil earnings, stocks or any other asset denominated in U.S. currency. Many investors are pouring money into oil futures — contracts for future deliveries of oil at specified prices — in the belief that oil prices will rise as inflation erodes the dollar’s value.

This has not gone unnoticed in the halls of Congress. Noting the impact of speculation on energy prices, Representative Bart Stupak (D.-Mich.) observes

We are in the middle of a recession, supply is at a 20-year-high, demand is at a 10-year low, yet oil prices are up 70 percent since the beginning of the year. This cannot be explained by simple supply and demand.

And so he has inserted into the climate bill wending its way through Congress

provisions that would ban some types of oil trades and regulate others that don't take place on a formal market. Limits on the number of oil contracts a speculator can hold would be extended to cover those trades as well as trading on electronic exchanges and overseas markets.

We now are six days beyond the observance of Memorial Day and one day beyond the traditional Memorial Day and have given thanks for the freedom in this land and the sacrifices which have helped safeguard it. Let us be thankful also that there are a few legislators who recognize our need to be protected from the greed and machinations of corporations which have fed at the trough of the American taxpayer and are only too willing to fuel an inflationary spiral they're betting on.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Considering Sotomayor

It really is a good article Joe Conason wrote, posted in on May 29, 2009. He notes that Republicans are some now attacking President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, for allegedly being the beneficiary of affirmative action. It's odd, or hypocritical, that they are doing so in light of the avid support Repubs gave the nomination to the Supreme Court of Clarence Thomas. Thomas was an undistinguished judge on the U.S. District Court of Appeals, whose selection had little to do with merit:

Every account of those deliberations indicates that Bush and his aides went through a list of potential African-American nominees to the high court -- and rejected politically moderate judges with better qualifications than Thomas, such as Amalya Kearse. They picked him because they had to fill a "black seat" on the court, and because he was prepared to enforce their ideology on the court.

Conason notes that contrary to its righteous indignation over the selection of someone who has acknowledged the role that her background, cultural and otherwise, has played in shaping her as an individual

the right can never bring its corrosive racial skepticism to bear on Thomas, a man who had proven his willingness to parrot reactionary bromides. He is the single most prominent beneficiary of the quest for diversity in American history, but he is their diversity candidate -- and thus deserved elevation, if not as a distinguished jurist, then because he had suffered discrimination as a conservative.

But here it gets sticky. Like most of us on the left, Conason is unable, unwilling, or ideologically undisposed to follow his argument to its logical conclusion, instead arguing

In his memoir, Thomas recalls the innocent delight of old friends and family, who "saw my nomination as an affirmation of the American dream: a poor black child from the segregated South had grown up to become a Supreme Court justice. Who could be against that?" The same question can be turned around now -- with considerably greater justification.

If Thomas is indeed as mediocre- to be gentle, diplomatic, and probably generous- a justice as Conason and most liberals/progressives believe, certainly one should question the wisdom of obsessing over issue(s) of empathy, life experiences, culture, or whatever those on the left or the right are calling it. Thomas was indeed "a poor black child from the segregated South" who had much to overcome- and was elevated to the highest court in the land because of a perceived "black seat" on the Court and, well, the need of the GOP to prove to Americans of good will that it was not the "racist" party.

Sonia Sotomayor probably will be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice- heck, even Rush Limbaugh believes she will- and may become a great judge. Just not for the reasons that the right seems to believe she is a danger to the Republic, roughly the same reasons that the left is generally pleased with her selection. It would not be because Sonia Sotomayor is Puerto Rican (or "Newyorkrican," as she proudly puts it), or female, or grew up, without a father, in a housing project in the Bronx, or so 'down to earth' that she plays cards, and eats lunch, with her lowly staff. It would be because of extraordinary understanding of the law, impressive scholarship, a sharp legal mind, strong powers of persuasion, a solid judicial temperament, and other traditional factors characteristic of a good judge, if not a blockbuster movie-of-the-week.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Empathy And Activism

It all started when President Obama, commenting on his quest for a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter, explained

I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch summed up the reaction of conservative Republicans when he charged "Those are all code words for an activist judge who is going to . . . be partisan on the bench."

Once Judge Sonia Sotomayor was nominated by President Obama, a line from a speech she gave at the law school of the Univeristy of California-Berkeley in 2001 caused an uproar. With a little context added, Judge Sotomayor stated

Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

And a remark Judge Sotomayor made at a panel discussion at Duke University in February of 2005, this about the role of circuit court judges, also elicited controversy. She noted (video below):

The Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don't make law. I know…I know. (some laughs) I'm not promoting it. I'm not advocating it. I'm…you know. OK. (more laughs)

Having said that, the Court of Appeals is where, before the Supreme Court makes the final decision, the law is percolating. It's interpretation. It's application.

The Repub long knives came out. Wendy Long (once a clerk for Clarence Thomas), counsel for the Judicial Confirmation Network, contended the Judge's "body of work.... appears to be a view of the courts as engines of soical and political change- in short, wrought out of a devotion to judicial activism." Mitt Romney decried her alleged "expansive view of the role of the judiciary." And Republican Party chief Rush Limbaugh, who accused the nominee of being a "reverse racist," claimed "We have Sonia Sotomayor who thinks that the court is where policy is made." Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer argues "if nothing else, it (i.e., conservatism) stands unequivocally against justice as empathy." And so on.

Now it appears that empathy is a pretty widespread emotion among judges. When promoting Clarence Thomas as his Supreme Court nominee, President George H.W. Bush referred to the judge as "a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor." When he appeared in January, 2005 before the Senate Judiciary Committee after his nomination to the Supreme Court, Judge Samuel Alito responded (slightly more than halfway through the transcript) to a question from Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Ok.) by maintaining (video way below):

Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."

When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.

Greg Sargent has learned that soon after she was appointed to the Supreme Court, in March 1982 Sandra Day O'Connor opined

I think that I bring to the court differences in background that are more germane than my gender.

My experience as a legislator gives me a different perspective. Also, I bring to the court the perspective of a woman primarily in a sense that I am female, just as I am white, a college graduate, etc.

Yes, I will bring the understanding of a woman to the court, but I doubt that that alone will affect my decisions,” she said. “I think the important fact about my appointment is not that I will decide cases as a woman, but that I am a woman who will get to decide cases.

And if the Repub right is only a recent convert to the battle against empathy, it appears to be downright wrong about the role of judges. quotes a conservative law professor as commenting that Sotomayor's remark "seems to be nothing more than an observation that, as a practical matter, many policy disputes are resolved in the federal courts of appeals. This is an indisputably true observation." And another law professor maintains "the circuit courts play by far the greatest legal policymaking role in the United States judicial system," greater, apparently, than state courts which, Justice Scalia has written, "possess the power to “make” common law, but they have the immense power to shape the States’ constitutions as well. See, e.g., Baker v. State, 170 Vt. 194, 744 A. 2d 864 (1999)." Further, as Paul Gewirtz and Chad Golder have argued, striking down a law enacted by Congress is arguably the best criterion for determining how "activist" a judge is- and typically, the more conservative, Republican Supreme Court justices have done so more than the liberal, Democratic justices.

Obviously, the GOP is in a bind trying to determine its response to this nomination. Continuing to attack Sotomayor as a "racist" a la Limbaugh and Gingrich risks alienating the Hispanic community and its voters, not only in the short term but for a longer period. But criticizing the nominee as an "activist" judge (an illegitimate argument at that) without bringing into play the issue of "empathy" and, inevitably, ethnicity, may be walking a tightrope too precarious for even the Flying Wallendas.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Making Law, Interpreting Law

While in President Bush's Office of Legal Counsel, John Yoo wrote the (in)famous memorandum (part one, in pdf, here; part two, in pdf, here) outlining the legal justification for the use of torture. In his blog at the American Enterprise Institute, the attorney yesterday criticized Judge- and Obama Supreme Court nominee- Sonia Sotomayor in part because:

Conservatives should defend the Supreme Court as a place where cases are decided by a faithful application of the Constitution, not personal politics, backgrounds, and feelings. Republican senators will have to conduct thorough questioning in the confirmation hearings to make sure that she will not be a results-oriented voter, voting her emotions and politics rather than the law.

This is the same John Yoo who stated at a debate in April at Chapman University in Orange County, Florida

Was it worth it? We haven't had an attack in more than seven years. Fifty percent of the information that we have on al-Qaida and its workings came from interrogation.

Although Yoo ignores the false leads (leading to diversion of scarce resources) torture brings, as well as the considerable information gleaned from detainees before coercive methods were applied, obviously the ultimate justification for "enhanced interrogation techniques" can only be that it is "results-oriented." Which makes it difficult to believe that the same Republican appointee made the comments about both torture and the selection of a judicial nominee by a Democratic president. No, it's really not surprising.
From Your Humble Blogger

As recounted in this adoring Associated Press article, Appellate Court Judge Sotomayor, in her comments upon being nominated for the Supreme Court by President Obama, remarked

That emotion will never leave me- humility. A deep, deep sense of humility...

Compare this to the comic strip from "The Born Loser" of May 15:

The Born Loser

This, of course, says nothing of the fitness of Appellate Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be elevated to the United States Supreme Court. It is of a sort with statements made by many politicians (Democratic, Republican, or otherwise) and even more, commonly, by professional athletes and other celebrities. But it should remind us that to declare ourselves "humble" or "humbled" is a little like declaring ourselves "modest." Can't be true.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Savage Taking A Chance

I was thinking of making it a "quote of the week," but really did not want to give Michael Savage that much credit. Still, he had a point when he remarked (sort-of video below), as transcribed by

And yet here in America, I’ve had some people come to my aid. They see the bigger picture. They’re not like [Bill] O’Reilly; they’re not like Limbaugh, who’s the biggest disappointment of all. Limbaugh has turned out to be the biggest phony of all of them, all of them. Amongst all of them, he is the biggest fraud. Rush Limbaugh is a fraud. When he was accused of the drug usage, I supported him. But that man is a one-way street. It’s all about him. He’s in it for nobody but himself.

The liberal blogosphere has had some fun with this, with The Young Turks, for instance, entertainingly likening it (video way below) to a "cat fight." Cent Uygur does note that Savage apparently resents the lack of support Limbaugh, and others, have given him in his bid to enter Great Britain, which has banned 22 people from the country since October.

Savage, a right-wing radio talk show host (in)famous for blasting Muslims and autistic children, has been lumped in with two leaders of a violent Russian gang, and other nefarious characters. The decision evidently resulted from adoption of a policy of "presumption in favor of exclusion" and concern that Britain not be appearing to excude only Muslims.

The former Michael Alan Weiner should be forgiven for mistaking Rush Limbaugh for someone with a sense of loyalty, commitment to the concept of free expression, or even someone driven by ideological principle. Savage probably is a true believer, though most of what he believes is wrong. Limbaugh, by contrast, is driven by a belief most of all in himself; if in Casablanca, Bogart's Rick Blaine cynically claims "I'm the only cause I'm interested in," Limbaugh more honestly (if inaccurately) has often boasted "with one hand tied behind my back just to make it fair." Savage has dared to criticize the de facto head of the Republican Party; whether he can make it out alive, and without apology, we should know soon.

Liz Cheney, Feigning Ignorance, with attribution, printed a transcript of the argument between Liz Cheney of the famous Dick Cheney family and Lawrence O'Donnell on the May 22, 2009 episode of ABC's Good Morning America. The most telling remark from the former vice-president's daughter came halfway through when she actually said

Lawrence, are you going to let me answer here? Waterboarding is not torture. And you ought- I would refer to you Attorney General Holder's testimony-

Miss Cheney, meet conservative radio talk show host Eric "Mancow" Muller :

Muller, to his credit, had the courage to test his belief that waterboarding is not torture, and now acknowledges that it is. Not so Sean Hannity, who (to my surprise) never did take up Keith Olbermann's challenge (video below) on Countdown to undergo this "enhanced interrogation technique," even though Olbermann offered to give to charity $1,000-$2,000 for each second Hannity would last. (Olbermann announced last Thursday that he had rescinded the offer and instead would donate $10,000 to charity in recognition of Muller's act.)

O'Donnell is wrong, I think, when he tells the MSNBC host that Dick Cheney and Hannity "think torture works because it works on them." Hannity chose not to accept Olbermann's offer in part because he knows it is torture and that he could not withstand more than a few seconds of it. Cheney & Cheney, similarly, know that waterboarding is torture and usually does not work. It doesn't matter. Truth is irrelevant to some people.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Article(s) Of The Week

Were I New Age-inclined, I would say that Paul Krugman, writing the column "Blue Double Cross" on the op-ed pages of The New York Times, was channeling Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, co-authors of "Rx and the single payer," posted on on May 22, 2009. Or more likely, Moyers and Winship channeling Krugman.

Moyers and Winship reviewed the opposition in the Carter and Clinton White Houses to warn of the obstacles facing President Obama and the Democratic Congress in their current effort to get legislative approval of health care reform. The private sector, Moyes-Winship state, promised to cut costs voluntarily, persuading the Administration to back down from its bid to force lower costs on the industry which, not surprisingly, continued to rise. And when the Clintons broached the idea of reform, they were bludgeoned by, Moyers-Winship note, "the most expensive and deceiful public relations and advertising campaigns ever coneived- paid for, of course, from the industry's swollen profits."

And now? On May 11, the Administration announced that, as Krugman notes, "major players in health care had come together to support a national effort to control health care costs." Since then, Moyers-Winship observed, both the chairman of the lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans and the chief executive of Eli Lilly have publicly suggested to their colleagues that the industry can control costs on their own without government involvement.

Worse yet, Harry and Louise (or a variation thereof) are back, in the form of an ad campaign initiated by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. The ads feature the chairman of Conservatives for Patients' Rights, Rick Scott, apparently a former health care entrepreneur, who, Moyers-Winship explain

took two hospitals in Texas and built them into the largest healthcare chain in the world, Columbia/HCA. In 1997, he was fired by the board of directors after Columbia/HCA was caught in a scheme that ripped off the feds and state governments for hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus Medicare and Medicaid payments, the largest such fraud in history. The company had to cough up $1.7 billion to get out of the mess. Rick Scott (reportedly) waltzed away with a $10 million severance deal and $300 million worth of stock.

But if the authors of both pieces understand fully the improbability that the health care industry will prove any more cooperative now than in previous Democratic presidencies, Moyers-Winship conclude on a more optimistic note. They quote the president of the California Nurses Assoication and National Nurses Organizing Committee, which recently led a march (video below) in Washington for single-payer care. While Moyers-Winship rightly quote Illinois State Senator advocating (video way below) a single-payer system in 2003, Krugman effectively, and helpfully, recalls the Democratic primary campaign and lays down a challenge for President Obama:

But what if interest groups showed up at the big table, then blocked reform? Back then, Mr. Obama assured voters that he would get tough: “If those insurance companies and drug companies start trying to run ads with Harry and Louise, I’ll run my own ads as president. I’ll get on television and say ‘Harry and Louise are lying.’ ”

The question now is whether he really meant it.

The medical-industrial complex has called the president’s bluff. It polished its image by showing up at the big table and promising cooperation, then promptly went back to doing all it can to block real change. The insurers and the drug companies are, in effect, betting that Mr. Obama will be afraid to call them out on their duplicity.

It’s up to Mr. Obama to prove them wrong.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Seductive Power Of Pictures

Continuing a tendency to report on a news item not when hot but after it has passed from the news, I found intriguing the recent finding by Gallup that for the first time in the fifteen years it has been polling on the question, more Americans identify themselves as "pro-life" than "pro-choice."

The operative term, of course, is identify. Like the startling findings of the Rassmussen poll a few months ago that found nearly half of all Americans unconvinced that capitalism is preferable to socialism, the abortion poll does not measure support for or against specific policies. It measures identification with a position or, more specifically, a term. Just as "socialism" and "capitalism" mean varying things to different people, so, too, do "pro-life" and "pro-choice" mean something different to you than to your neighbor.

Still, it is interesting, and as Nancy Gibbs recently wrote in Time, the primary reason for the shift in allegiance is probably the tendency of moderates (or, I think, those with largely unformed or shifting perspective) to form an opinion in reaction to the prevailing political winds, or perceived status of abortion policy in the nation. Currently, as she notes, there is a pro-choice (there with that term again) President and a Democratic Congress. Those individuals uncommitted to a pro-choice or pro-life position now will lean toward the latter position, concerned that the pendulum will swing too far left.

Though less of a factor, ultrasound probably plays a factor or, as Gibbs puts it "people under 30 are more opposed to abortion than those who are older, perhaps because their first baby pictures were often taken in utero." The exaggerated impact of something visual, the distorted picture it presents in this case is reminiscent of a great story told over the years by CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl and repeated by others, and here in the blog common (For more context on the incident, see "Morining in America" by Gil Troy.) In her piece, Stahl

juxtaposed images of staged photo opportunities in which Reagan picnicked with ordinary folks or surrounded himself with black children, farmers and happy flag-waving supporters. These images, she pointed out, often conflicted with the nature of Reagan's actual policies. "Mr. Reagan tries to counter the memory of an unpopular issue with a carefully chosen backdrop that actually contradicts the president's policy," she said in her Evening News piece. "Look at the handicapped Olympics, or the opening ceremony of an old-age home. No hint that he tried to cut the budgets for the disabled or for federally subsidized housing for the elderly."

Stahl's piece was so hard-hitting in its criticism of Reagan, she recalled, that she "worried that my sources at the White House would be angry enough to freeze me out." Much to her shock, however, she received a phone call immediately after the broadcast from White House aide Richard Darman. He was calling from the office of Treasury Secretary Jim Baker, who had just watched the piece along with White House press secretary Mike Deaver and Baker's assistant, Margaret Tutwiler. Rather than complaining, they were calling to thank her. "Way to go, kiddo," Darman said. "What a great story! We loved it." "Excuse me?" Stahl replied, thinking he must be joking. "No, no, we really loved it," Darman insisted. "Five minutes of free media. We owe you big time." "Why are you so happy?" Stahl said. "Didn't you hear what I said?" "Nobody heard what you said," Darman replied. "Come again?" "You guys in Televisionland haven't figured it out, have you? When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. Lesley, I mean it, nobody heard you."

Stahl was so taken aback that she played a videotape of her segment before a live audience of a hundred people and asked them what they had just seen. Sure enough, Darman was right. "Most of the audience thought it was either an ad for the Reagan campaign or a very positive news story," Stahl recalls. "Only a handful heard what I said. The pictures were so evocative-we're talking about pictures with Reagan in the shining center-that all the viewers were absorbed.

Or check out one of those commercials for prescription drugs. Beautiful suburban or rural scenes. Happy, smiling, likeable, and empathetic people. Little attention is paid to whatever side effects the voice over glides through in accordance with federal law. The pictures, the visuals, dominate. It's a reality that marketing consultants, political strategists, and special interest groups depend on and, though a minor factor in the shift of sentiment on abortion policy, still something of significance.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nonsense, Gingrich/Boehner Edition

Are these guys really serious?

The GOP continues its torturous media blitz a)to divert attention from Dick Cheney to Nancy Pelosi; and b) to drown the enhanced intelligence techniques debate in a swelter of "he said, she said" accusations allowing the media to push the meme that one Party is as bad as the other. And so it was that Newt Gingrich appeared Tuesday to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America (transcript courtesy of, video below from You Tube):

SAWYER: Former Speaker, political gladiator, Newt Gingrich, here with us this morning. We heard about, we heard you were saying it, we saw that you were writing it. What do you want to happen?

GINGRICH: Well, I think that with Speaker Pelosi’s comments last Thursday, particularly the ones in which she alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency routinely lies to Congress, that she really disqualified herself to be Speaker. I mean, there’s no problem with her being a member of the House, but —

SAWYER: So you think —

GINGRICH: I think the Democrats should get a new Speaker. [...]

SAWYER: But as you know, some people have said that you’re doing this for political reasons. It’s really a political salvo that you’re hurling at her and a kind of double standard. For instance, Congressman Peter Hoekstra, who is head of the House Intelligence Committee at the time, wrote a letter in which he, on another issue, said this about the CIA: “We cannot have an intelligence community that covers up what it does and then lies to Congress.” That’s a Republican saying it and they’re saying, “Where were you then? You didn’t call for him to resign.”

GINGRICH: Well, I think in that particular he’s fighting with them over a particular report he wants. This is about a year and a half ago. But I’ve had a similar standard of toughness with Republicans on other issues. For example, Secretary Paulson, when I thought he was failing as Secretary of the Treasury.

SAWYER: So should he [Hoekstra] be repudiated for those words too?

GINGRICH: Well, in that case, he’s writing a specific letter asking them to change something they were doing. He did not say the CIA routinely lies —

SAWYER: “Lies,” he said —

GINGRICH: — to the Congress.

SAWYER: Well, he says “lies.” He says “what it does and then lies to Congress.”

GINGRICH: And I think they actually had to come back and testify.

I think that it’s important for Congress to keep the CIA under observation, it’s important for the CIA to report regularly, but I think what Panetta said Friday is very telling. It is illegal to lie to Congress. And the CIA doesn’t do it, and Panetta said it is harming this institution. He made a speech Monday in which he said this is harming the institution. And I have no sense that — I mean, I would certainly, if I were a person trying to defend this country, I’d have very little confidence that the Speaker of the House had any regard for what we were doing and what we’re trying to do to stop terrorism.

Apparently, the Central Intelligence Agency was operating an air interception program for illegal drugs, the Narcotics Airbridge Denial Program, in Peru from 1995 to 2001. On April 21, 2001 a Peruvian Air Force jet shot down a missionary plane carrying the Bowers family, resulting in the death of two members of the family, with two others surviving. Although the C.I.A. acknowledged that proper procedures were not followed, it contended that the incident was an isolated one. Hoeskstra maintained that approximately ten other private planes had been shot down during the program and "they (C.I.A.) never followed the rules as meticulously as they should have." The House Intelligence Committee, then chaired by Hoeskstra, conducted an investigation and the C.I.A.'s Inspector General's report alleged a widespread cover-up of this and other incidents. Consequently, Representative Hoekstra called for a new federal inquiry into the program, already ended, and remarked

"We cannot have an intelligence community that covers up what it does and then lies to Congress."

And now Newt Gingrich says "he (Hoekstra) did not say the C.I.A. routinely lies." (Gingrich's comment "is writing a specific letter asking him to change something they were doing" may have referred to the letter Hoekstra after his charge wrote the Inspector General . Or Gingrich may have been blissfully ignorant. Or careless with his facts.) And current House Minority Leader John Boehner (R.- Ohio), asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer whether the C.I.A. "lied to Congress", responded "I know as much about this case as Pete Hoekstra does and the Inspector General did in fact do an investigation, produced a report and frankly supported, I think, Pete’s claims."

The hypocrisy is stunning. Boehner now says "The Speaker has had a full week to produce evidence to back up her allegations, and frankly I am disappointed she hasn't done so. We'll have no choice but to call for a bipartisan investigation." (Boehner obviously knows that Pelosi legally was precluded from making notes during, or following, the briefing.) And Gingrich says Hoeskstra "did not say the C.I.A. routinely lies" (emphasis mine). Except that Pelosi says "the C.I.A. was misleading Congress;" Hoekstra was more explicit and damning: the C.I.A. "lies to Congress." And Gingrich says, and Boehner implies, that Nancy Pelosi should be removed as Speaker of the House.

These fellows might be serious. But they're not serious individuals and have no serious argument.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another Limbaugh Fantasy

The online edition of the Long Island, N.Y. newspaper Newsday has reported on a couple of dealerships in Long Island which are among the 789 Chrsyler dealerships slated to be closed by the end of the year. One of them, Jim Anderer, says that his dealership employs 50 people and makes more than $1 million a year, and was the guest of Neil Cavuto on GOP today. Rush Limbaugh on May 19 played a portion of the interview, in which Anderer stated

Well, they'll say they want to combine all the stores, or they say that the dealers cost the manufacturer money to keep in business. And all of these might be true in some cases, but in the dealers that they cut, there seems to be no cohesive way that they did it. There was no process that you could put your finger on and say, "Hey, we cut 25% of the lowest performing dealers." They didn't do that, okay? Nobody will give us a real clear explanation or formula that they came up with.

And then Limbaugh's comments, before he started rambling about credit cards:

Now, why do you think that might be? I mean, I could only hazard a guess here. Do you think that the Obama administration -- "working with" Chrysler, heh, heh, heh; working with the automobile manufacturers, working with the dealers -- they're just randomly taking a look at a list and saying, "Eh, we don't need this one in Long Island, chop it. We don't need that one in Portland, chop it. We don't need that one in San Antonio, chop it"? Do you think they're doing that, or do you think maybe...? I just throw this out there as a possibility. Do you think maybe Obama and his administration are targeting dealerships that happen to be run and owned by Republicans? I don't know this.

And Rush makes it clear whom he blames: the evil federal government whose despot, Barack Obama, even may be "targeting dalerships .... run and owned by Republicans." Continuing the fantasy, Limbaugh says in the next paragraph "Well, you joke about it being about penalizing success, but what the hell... That would be the theme of this administration: 'We're going to penalize success.'"

This would be a surprise to Chrsyler, which, according to Newsday

said the dealerships were chosen based on various factors, including sales volume and their proximity to other Chrysler dealers.

The decision, as far as anyone- including Rush Limbaugh- knows, was made by Chrysler Corporation itself based on factors actors in the free enterprise system (for which Rush is consumed with love) normally consider. The "structured bankruptcy" and agreement with Fiat may not be enough to save Chrsyler, but the company was in sufficiently dire straits that it accepted $4 billion in loans from the federal government. President Obama's strategy may not be optimum but if Rush Limbaugh has had a better idea to save the faltering automobile company, he has not expressed it. And before concocting, and propagating by way of his microphone, a conspiratorial scenario, he ought to treat seriously the deterioration of a great American company, related businessess, and tremendous job loss.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fondness For Las Vegas, Nevada

On February 9, promoting economic stimulus legislation at a town hall meeting in Indiana, President Obama had said

You can't get corporate jets, you can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime...."

The President has an eye toward the economic health of the entire nation. A trip to Sin City cancelled may mean a trip made to another city in its place; Goldman Sachs Group, which has accepted $10 billion from American taxpayers, announced on February 9 that it had cancelled a three-day trip scheduled for Las Vegas and moved it to San Francisco. And if in response to public scrutiny of a corporation, a convention is cancelled, the funds not used for the gathering may instead be devoted to research, credit extended to a business or an individual, or some other productive enterprise. Hardly a disaster for the nation or its taxpayers.

Still, it's not surprising that the mayor of the affected city would jump up and attack the Mr. Obama's remark and an exorcised Mayor Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas whined "That's outrageous, and he owes us an apology. He owes us a retraction."

Not so the chairman of the Republican Party, which once (and to a lesser extent, still) posed as the protector of "family values," who complained

Earlier this year, the President told an audience in Elkhart, Indiana, 'You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime.'" Those days are over. "That quote was seen by many as an insult to Las Vegas," and, by the way, Vegas tourism is way down, and Vegas unemployment is way up.

On one side we have a President who could have told corporate executives, as presumably Limbaugh would have supported, "go right ahead. Take your corporate jets, take the taxpayers' money, and go fly anywhere you like." Or "go to Las Vegas-gamble and enjoy the women- but don't take that business trip to New York or Chicago." Or he might have said "go to Las Vegas. Just avoid that trip with the family to the Arch in St. Louis, Cape Kennedy in Florida, Williamsburg in Virginia, or Disneyland in California."

No, President Obama used Sin City- a nickname not attributed in jest or error- in his warning that the public interest is not to be neglected while heads of corporations surviving only through the largess of the American people pursue the perfect party on the taxpayers' dime. If only Mr. Limbaugh were half as interested in the nation, or even in his audience, as he is in the commercial interests of Las Vegas.

Sin can't be avoided altogether, and everyone likes to have fun. But it seems slightly incongrous for the representative of the "family values" party to show a marked preference for Las Vegas, Nevada over the values and economic betterment of the American people.
Where Is Barack Obama?

A commenter named "marksb" on displayed impressive eloquence Monday when he speculated, probably accurately, on the reaction a Senator Obama would have were he attacked as has Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:

The Speaker flubbed this. Imagine Obama in the same situation: “Folks are saying I was briefed and I didn’t say anything in protest. Well that’s just a shiny object to redirect your attention from the fact that our government, the leaders of our government, demanded, approved, and conducted torture in the name of the American people. Now they can point their fingers at Congress all they want about this or that technicality, but the shame and responsibility of violating international and US law, of conducting torture and maybe murder, is on their hands alone, and we need to get to the bottom of this mess.”

But Barack Obama can speak up: in fact, he is more credible than Nancy Pelosi on the matter of the intelligence briefings from the Central Intelligence Agency because he is not in the same situation. He would be recognized as more objective than Speaker Pelosi, embroiled as she is in this faux controversy drummed up by the GOP and its enabling mainstream media. And he is far more popular than the Speaker and can trade on that popularity. Further, he has the stature, as President, to make a statement- perhaps even more eloquent than the one posted by marksb- on behalf of the country: Democrats, Independents, Republicans, and unregistered individuals.

Thus far, that voice, or statement, is lacking. The sentiment expressed on Monday's The Ed Show on MSNBC by Ed Schultz was right on target:

Now, the key question for the White House tonight I also think is, what is the downside for the White House when it comes to supporting Nancy Pelosi? They are ominously and curiously silent on all of this, just hoping this all goes away. And I don‘t think that‘s a good play for the Democrats.

Mr. Obama may figure that Mrs. Pelosi can gut it out, muddle through, through Memorial Day. Perhaps he is reasoning that if the controversy has not abated by then, he can intervene rhetorically, even dramatically, on her behalf. But with each passing day, the suspicion grows that though the President's silence surely is not a good play for Democrats, that President may believe it is a good play for him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Republican Media- No. 22

The Repub spin machine is striving to switch responsibility to Representative Nancy Pelosi (D.-Ca.) for the torture which was supported, probably authorized, and possibly ordered, by then-Vice President Dick Cheney. And it has a willing accom;ice in the mainstream media. Even MSNBC's Chris Matthews, whose contempt for Richard Earl Cheney would be excessive if such a thing were possible, on Monday's Hardball told Lois Romano and Michael Eric Dyson

Michael, this is the first time that the president has been upstaged. There‘s more talk about Pelosi now. First time since he got elected. She‘s taking a show away from him. And she‘s in trouble on this issue. And Panetta could release those records, those memoranda for the records that could show her in a bad light, show that she was briefed on the issue of water boarding, if she was. It could be trouble here.

Or perhaps Leon Panetta, now director of the CIA, is acting in his role as Director of the CIA. Panetta was not nominated by the President to be a Democrat or to remain a friend of the former ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, but rather to be a cabinet officer. Mr. Panetta surely knows that any perceived wavering would give the Repubs the chance they relish to impugn the patriotism of yet another Democrat. Further, the Democratic President he serves already is regularly attacked on talk radio as having divided loyalties.

Given any doubt, then, CIA director Panetta is going to back his agency against any criticism by the Speaker of the House, or anyone other than the President, Presidential Press Secretary Gibbs, or the Vice-President (maybe).

And there is a possibility, however slight, that the CIA is being both honest and accurate. Repubs like to charge that Pelosi has accused the agency of lying, enabling them to charge (without explanation) that she is accusing the agency of breaking the law, thus necessitating an investigation of her behavior, or perhaps even resignation as Speaker. (The failure to consider the possibility that a CIA employee was wrong may be the first time in recorded history that a conservative Republican has discounted the possibility that a government employee may have been inefficient or incompetent.)

But evidence is mounting that the CIA's version of events does not accord with objective reality. Last week, Florida's Bob Graham, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, explained

Several weeks ago, when this issue started to bubble up, I called the CIA and asked for the dates in which I had been briefed," Graham tells Robert Siegel. "They gave me four: two in April of '02, two in September."

Graham says he consulted his logs "and determined that on three of the four dates there was no briefing held."

He adds: "On one date, Sept. 27, '02, there was a briefing held and, according to my notes, it was on the topic of detainee interrogation."

Graham says the CIA was initially reticent when he told the agency what he had found in his notes.

"They said, 'We will check and call back,'" Graham recalled. "When they finally did a few days later, they indicated that I was correct. Their information was in error. There was no briefing on the first three of four dates."

Graham says the agency offered no explanation regarding how it came up with the other dates.

So if the CIA was 25% accurate as pertains to the number of briefings it gave Graham, was it accurate as to the particular source of the briefing? reported yesterday that Bob Graham had appeared on C-Span's Washington Journal that morning and reported that he was briefed by representatives of the CounterTerrorism Center (supported by, notes indicate, the CIA's Office of Congressional Affairs). However, he actually was briefed by the Office of Congressional Affairs.

There has been little attention paid during this controversy to the log kept by the former Florida Senator, which obviously cast doubt on the accuracy of the CIA. Nor has there been sufficient attention paid to the circumstances surrounding briefings of congressional leaders by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA gets to take notes, which cannot be scanned by other partipants, none of whom may themselves: take notes, reveal to anyone anything about the briefing, nor make detailed notes thereafter. (Graham, famous for keeping a diary of virtually his every action, thus was prohibited from recording details of the meeting.) The CIA obviously (except not so obviously, as it has been glossed over) is not required to secure, nor is it in the habit of soliciting, approval from those it briefs.

This would be tolerable if the media were unaware that it is being played by one of the two major political parties. But it is aware, and is all too pleased to play the game.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shill At CNBC

You would have thought that after Jon Stewart humiliated Jim Cramer (video below), the network Cramer represents would have gained a little humility, engaged in a little circumspection. Apparently, though, you would have been wrong.

Thanks to Rush Limbaugh (I won't often say that) for playing on his May 15 program a portion of the discussion between CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo and a man Rush identified as the executive directive of the American Labor Association, Jonathan Tasini. Corporate apologist Limbaugh, as you would guess, believed that corporate apologist Bartiromo got the better of the labor advocate, though without hearing the entire exchange it's impossible to discern. And Limbaugh's special brand of partisan extremism does not come with a fetish for context or completeness.

Here, though, is the relevant portion of Friday's program broadcast by the head of the Republican Party:

"When you look at the number of industries dominated by unions --" I made this point yesterday, by the way -- "When you look at the number of industries dominated by unions, the performance is not that great, right? Airlines, autos, teachers. Why is that? Is there a connection to a business or an industry being heavily unionized and the industry being in the toilet?"

TASINI: You cannot blame unionized workers for the state of the auto industry. That was pure mismanagement, not the least of which is continuing to refuse to have a single payer Medicare for all health care system which would have relieved ten of billions of dollars of health care costs from the auto industry and the steel industry. The problem of much of the industry in America, the industry you're talking about, has nothing to do with wages, nothing to do with union workers. UAW --

BARTIROMO: What are you talking about? The autos had all those legacy costs in place. They're paying people who are putting their feet up and just relaxing at home on the sofa, and they're not on the assembly line.

TASINI: -- the way you solve the problem of the auto industry and the steel industry, many industries, is you have a national health care system.

TASINI: There are two reasons states are in trouble in terms of their budget. One is the overall collapse of the economy, thanks to Bernie Madoff, Wall Street, AIG, and all your other friends. If we went back to more progressive taxation system and taxed just the top 1%, we would have about eight or nine billion dollars more, which would solve the crisis here in the states.

BARTIROMO: I can't allow you --

TASINI: That's a fact.

BARTIROMO: -- to fan the flames of class warfare on this program, okay? You said --you said --

TASINI: Class warfare.

BARTIROMO: -- Wall Street and all your other friends, who is "they"?

TASINI: Are you telling me you don't think there's class warfare in this country? We have the biggest gap between rich and poor that we've ever had probably in a hundred years, productivity in the last 30 years has skyrocketed, and workers have gotten no benefit of that. That is the definition of class warfare.

You'll notice immediately Bartiromo's descent into the the tag line of "class warfare." Conservative Repubs have three options to counteract the charge that the strength of the middle class has been undermined by policies that favor the wealthiest 1% of the American population. Cry "socialism," "class warfare," or rely upon facts. Well, realistically, they cannot, and do not, rely on facts, a wise strategy given that in the economic sphere they have virtually none which could buttress their argument.

The failure of CNBC to undergo any self-introspection after its evisceration by Stewart really isn't surprising. The mainstream media, of course, largely ignored Stewart's charges about the bias of the business network, focusing on the humiliation of one man rather than analyzing the arguments (video way below) about a media little interested in questioning financial institutions, insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the energy industry and any other corporate interests in which it's entangled. (Fortunately, the left-leaning alternative media did have a clue; video way, way below).

But Bartiromo's recitation of Repub talking points about "class warfare" should not obscure the vacuousness of her other remark- that the airline, auto, and teacher "industries" are "in the toilet" (quite elegant, that Bartiromo) because of unionization. She might have noticed that the decline in the airline industry has mirrored the rise in energy prices, for which organized labor cannot be held responsible, except perhaps in the CNBC fantasyland.

Admittedly, profits of automobile companies have suffered while they have helped build the American middle class with middle class wages and health care benefits which should otherwise would have been provided by a universal health care system, as Tasini tried to explain to Bartiromo with his reference to Medicare and single payer. The American automobile industry would have profited if it had built more models which appealed to the American consumer and reacted more quickly decades ago to rising oil prices- even so, it now would be in little danger of collapse if the financial institutions apparently held blameless by Bartiromo had nor restricted credit and, having received taxpayer funding, restricted credit further.... to the industry and to the American consumer.

I am not sure what Bartiromo meant when referring to the teacher "industry" and perhaps neither did she. If she were aware, she might have meant layoffs of teachers common throughout the nation, and even more ubiquitous, teachers paying for their own school supplies. Those, clearly, are a direct result of teachers being scapegoated for the problems of the communities they serve and for insufficient support from taxpayers, school boards, and elected officials. And not coincidentally, the decline of public education has coincided with the intrusion of the private, for-profit market in the education of American schoolchildren.

Fortunately, given Bill O'Reilly's penchant for attacking NBC, MSNBC, and their owner, General Electric, we soon will hear Fox News' top talker criticize Maria Bartiromo's performance on CNBC. Or not.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hannity's Bluff Called

"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."

-Claude Rains' Captain Renault to Humphrey Bogart's Rick in Casablanca, 1942

So Wanda Sykes does stand-up (video below) at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner and people are shocked, shocked that she delivered tasteless jokes. Washington, meet Hollywood: the mores are a little different out there. On Limbaugh:

Rush Limbaugh, one of your big critics, boy, Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails. So, you're saying "I hope America fails," it's like, I don't care about people losing their homes, or their jobs, our soldiers in Iraq. He just wants the country to fail. To me, that's treason. He's not saying anything differently than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, Sir, because I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was just so strung out on oxycontin he missed his flight.
Rush Limbaugh, I hope the country fails, I hope his kidneys fail, how 'bout that? Needs a little waterboarding, that's what he needs.

There was something to offend everyone: equating Rush Limbaugh with hijackers; reminding the public Rush was a drug addict; wishing death upon Limbaugh; and in the case of Keith Olbermann and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, simply referring to September 11 in a joke not about September 11.

Bad taste aside, don't get caught up in the shell game: watching the Limbaugh stuff and ignoring the Hannity reference. (To his credit, and unsurprisingly, Olbermann had it right: criticize Sykes, then go on to the Hannity issue.)

It now has been 21 days since Charles Grodin bluffed (video way below) Sean Hannity, on the latter's GOP TV program, into agreeing to be waterboarded for "the troops' families." It now has been 20 days since Keith Olbermann, rightly scolding Hannity for "trivializing" torture for a "stunt," on MSNBC's Countdown upped the ante by offering (video way, way, below) to donate $1,000 for each second that Hannity would endure the waterboarding (and to double that if Sean then would admit that he feared for his life and that waterboarding is torture).

And now it has been four days Sykes joked:

Sean Hannity, Sean Hannity said he's going to get waterboarded for charity, for our armed forces. He hasn't done it yet, I see. You know, talking about how he can take a waterboarding. Please. Okay, he can take a waterboarding by someone you know and trust, but let somebody from Pakistan waterboard, or Keith Olbermann. Let Keith Olbermann waterboard him. He can't take a waterboarding. I can break Sean Hannity just by giving him a middle seat in coach.

The Olbermann line was funny, though Keith shouldn't, couldn't, and wouldn't be the one doing the torture. It would be done under controlled conditions, in front of news cameras by someone trained in the technique, and probably particularly careful about not applying excessive force or pain. And for charity, apparently one of Repub Hannity's choosing. And yet, Sean Hannity, like (probably) you and like me, apparently won't do it, even though he is exposed as an all talk, no action kind of guy the longer he avoids it.

But this even is instructive not only for what it tells us of the Republican right's darlings, the talk show host with the third largest audience in the nation. A lot of torture's defenders, such as Republican party head Rush Limbaugh, still won't admit waterboarding is torture. The dishonesty and fright of some of the nation's leading Republicans on this issue is fascinating, and nowhere clearer than in the case of syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer, who admits here that waterboarding is torture, then tells Dennis Miller he never believed it is torture.

Obviously, the main argument of the right, figuring that an appeal to fear is more compelling than reason, is that torture is the only thing standing between the U.S.A. and a terrorist attack. And Sean Hannity, unwittingly, has done his bit to demonstrate that perhaps the most notorious of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" is not the laughing matter he wants the public to believe it is.

Quote Of The Week

"Water-boarding] is torture... It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you -- I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."

-Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, on Larry King Live (video below, quote at or about 1:20) on May 12, 2009

Article Of The Week

Some of us were distressed upon hearing yesterday of the annual report by trustees of the Social Security and Medicare programs of the impact of the recession upon the health of the two programs.

Not primarily because Social Security is now projected to pay out more in benefits than it receives in 2016 (a year earlier than suggested in 2008) as Medicare will this year. Or that the Social Security trust fund presumably now will be depleted by 2037, four years earlier than previously projected by the trustees, and Medicare in 2017, two years earlier than forecasted.

No, as Robert Reich, once a trustee of the trust funds, explains in "The Truth Behind the Social Security and Medicare Alarm Bells" (posted today on projections depend upon the assumptions made by the official actuary of the programs. Reich notes that since the Civil War, the economy's average annual growth rate is nearly 3 per cent- and with that growth, Social Security would be sound for the next 75 years.

Medicare, as Reich reminds us, is a far different matter because its continuing viability depends upon reform of the health care system. He points out

fixing it has everything to do with slowing the rate of growth of medical costs -- including, let's not forget, having a public option when it comes to choosing insurance plans under the emerging universal health insurance bill. With a public option, the government can use its bargaining power with drug companies and suppliers of medical services to reduce prices. And, as I've noted, keep pressure on private insurers to trim costs yet provide effective medical outcomes.

The real danger to the Social Security and Medicare systems lies in its opponents, masquerading as "reformers." During the last Administration, it was Mr. Bush and his, mostly Republican, allies, pushing the idea of partial privatization- which would have been right friendly to Wall Street and disastrous to recipients. Now with the downfall (however temporary) of the GOP, corporatist Democrats are left to fill the void. And so it was Timothy Geithner, enough of a failure as head of the New York Stock Exchange that he was appointed Treasury Secretary, who yesterday contended at a press conference

The sooner we come together to make the difficult but achievable changes needed to strengthen the solvency of Medicare and Social Security, the more time we'll give the American people to plan and to adjust, and the sooner we'll be able to ensure that these vital programs will be as important for generations to come as they are today.

(For any of us who may want to harbor a notion that Geithner wants to strengthen the systems, note the phrase "the more time we'll give the American people to plan and to adjust"- i.e., to decreased benefits or more rigid eligibility requirements.)

There is only one problem with Reich's post. Unfortunately, he raises the possibility of means testing (which would transform the program into something akin to welfare) or raising the retirement age. Fortunately, he prefers raising the cap (currently $106,800) on Social Security taxation- which would be a progressive improvement, arguably more so if it exempted wages between the current cap and $200,000-$250,000. And he concludes, rightly, "the main point is that Social Security is a tiny problem, as these things go." If this argument, and the importance of a public option in health care reform, prevail, Social Security and Medicare will withstand the effort of conservative and neo-liberal forces to weaken probably the most popular government programs in American history.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Leadership On Display

There has been far less comment about the firing, on May 1, of the Director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, than there was over the $328,835 photo shoot taken under Caldera's auspices.

It was, however, worth waiting for the comment from Bloomberg News' Margaret Carlson, who told Keith Olbermann on Countdown on May 8 (video below):

What‘s interesting, if we were still in the Bush administration, there would have been no firing. It would have been, “Louis, what a heck of a job.” Instead, there is responsibility at the top. He did something really horrendous. There‘s no excuse, and he was let go.

And that is the amazing difference. I hope this continues, the difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration.... know, Obama took the ultimate responsibility. People never want to let go of the people that they‘ve hired or that are in charge. They don‘t like to do it. And he did it. That‘s the best way to do it.

Keith evidently had a problem with the failure of Caldera to take full responsibility for the public relations disaster. But as Carlson explained

And no one in Washington ever says, “I‘m—

I apologize.” They say, “If you were offended,” or, “if you determine I did anything wrong.” In other words, “If you‘re so sensitive and such a wussy person that you found this wrong, then I‘m going to say to you, you sensitive person, I‘m sorry.”

Of course, few really care about Louis Caldera, who was appointed to the office in early December by the President-elect. The real issue is the Chief Executive, the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (when they are called into actual service). And Barack Obama, fewer than four months into his presidency, has done what George W. Bush could not muster the backbone to do in eight years: fire someone of significance for cause.

Eight years of failure domestically, internationally, and economically, and rarely did anyone ever accept responsibility for anything. Oh, sure, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned under pressure: after playing a prominent role in a disastrous war effort- and then only after public revulsion at conduct of the Iraq war played a major role in rejection of the GOP in the mid-term elections.

This recent incident pales in significance next to the extraordinary challenges facing our current president after the dismal failure of the last. Still, given the media and public furor over the flyover- which Obama soon after the incident said would not be repeated- accountability had to be assumed, responsibility assigned. And President Obama stepped up and displayed the leadership lacking in the Oval Office the last several years.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Distortion On Pakistan

Sometimes Rush Limbaugh is just plain puzzling.

On Wednesday, Limbaugh offered up a soundbite from CNN's interview of American University Chair of Islamic Studies Akbar Ahmed in which he said

Remember that today for President Obama his greatest headache is not coming from Rush Limbaugh and the Republicans. It's really coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. He staked his reputation and his foreign policy in that part of the world.

Somehow Rush distorted Ahmed's observation that the greatest threat to the United States now is Afghanistan/Pakistan into

So here you have the American University Chair of Islamic Studies, Akbar Ahmed, saying, "Limbaugh and the Republicans are not Obama's greatest headache. It's Afghanistan and Pakistan." Pakistan's falling apart. Pakistan's falling apart, and the Taliban is taking over. They did a stupid thing. They advocated a stupid thing. They gave the Taliban a province, at the urging of the Obama administration. They gave the Taliban a province in Pakistan.

The chairman of the Republican Party may have been referring to the move by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari described in The New York Times on 3/28 as

In a conciliatory gesture to the opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-N, Mr. Zardari said that he would lift the executive rule he had imposed on Punjab Province, the most populous province in Pakistan and one where the opposition party holds the most seats in the legislature.

The article, however, gives no hint of support by the Obama Administration of Zardari's decision, which apparently intended to continue to deply remotely piloted aircraft, known as drones, armed with missiles against Al Qaeda in the tribal areas. And in a May 7 article in the conservative National Review Online, Alex Alexiev criticizes Washington's policy toward Pakistan beginning in the Clinton Administration, then continuing under President Bush and now under President Obama. He argues "Defense Secretary Robert Gates thinks that Islamabad’s capitulation to the Taliban in Swat — a deal conceived and executed by the military — is an acceptable compromise" (emphasis mine).

Perhaps this is what radio's most successful demagogue is referring to- a deal encouraged by the Pakistani military and executed by the Pakistani government with no encouragement by the Obama Administration.

Or perhaps Rush is confusing this with the Miramshah agreement worked out by the Pakistan government in September 2006 with North Wazirisan tribal leaders and members of the Pakistan in which

Islamabad withdrew troops, released 165 militants, agreed to economically compensate tribe members for their losses, and allowed them to continue carrying small weapons. In return, tribal leaders said they would stop the infiltration of militants across the Afghani border and prevent attacks on the military. However, in July 2007, militants renounced the deal and cross-border operations surged.

And when President Musharraf claimed "the deal is not at all with the Taliban. This deal is against the Taliban. This deal is with the tribal elders," President Bush responded "I believe him." As Mr. Bush did while his Administration doled out nearly $10 billion to the Pakistani President, who responded by trying to placate the Taliban, which was only strengthened and emboldened.

In contrast, President Obama on Wednesday met with Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington. There is a serious question whether Pakistan and Afghanistan will cooperate in the fight against the militants in the region, nor that Islamabad itself will fully commit its military in the fight against the Taliban. Still, as Howard Wolfson of CBS News wrote Friday

However you label the meetings this week - high level diplomatic consultations, strategy negotiations or old-fashioned head knocking - the administration has made a high profile roll of the dice to get Zardari and Karzai on board with a plan to do whatever it takes to get rid of those who threaten stability not only in their own backyards but beyond.
Palin's Schedule Disrupted By Act Of God?

Sarah Palin has been considered a kindred spirit by those who doubt the human origin of climate change. Soon after she was tapped as John McCain's running mate, Governor Earmark responded to a question about the effect of global warming on our nation by telling Newsmax, a conservative website:

A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.

Later, when asked by Katie Couric whether climate change is man-made, Palin would incoherently blather:

You know there are -- there are man’s activities that can be contributed to the issues that we’re dealing with now, these impacts. I’m not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate. Because the world’s weather patterns are cyclical. And over history we have seen change there. But kind of doesn’t matter at this point, as we debate what caused it. The point is: it’s real; we need to do something about.

Only a linguist would know what she meant when she referred to "man's activities that can be contributed to the issues" (emphasis mine) and her assertion that she would not "solely blame all of man's activities on changes in climate" (are we really concerned with whether climate change has altered man's activities?). But her reference to "weather patterns" being "cyclical" was a message to her fellow Republicans: like you, she was saying, "I believe weather patterns change periodically- warm this era, cold the next. Global warming is a hoax."

Permit me to digress. That remark, which I did not notice at that time, reminds me of a comment Senator Lindsey Graham (R.- S.C.) made on a Sunday morning talk show in the midst of Republican moral scandals leading up to the 2006 mid-term elections. "We all sin and fall short," Graham reasoned, reckoning (probably accurately) that only Bible-believing Christians, most of them politically conservative, would recognize his abbreviated reference to Romans 3:23, part of a passage in which the apostle Paul contends salvation comes only by way of Jesus Christ. Like Palin's remark, not quite code, but fairly close, nonetheless.

Given Palin's right-wing perspective on climate change, then, recent events described by the Wall Street Journal may be a little eerie:

An unusually warm spring thaw in Alaska is causing some of the state's worst flooding in decades, with rising rivers wiping out an entire village and bombarding another town with ice chunks as big as houses.

The Alaska Railroad shut down from Sunday through Thursday between the state's two biggest cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks, after water and ice submerged a section of track....

The floods resulted from a rare combination of unusually heavy winter snow and a spring warm-up over the past week that saw temperatures soar into the 70s -- a good 20 degrees higher than normal for this time of year.

And the impact upon the Governor?

Mrs. Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate, had planned to attend the White House Correspondent's Dinner this weekend in Washington, D.C., but a spokesman said her husband, Todd, would attend in her stead.

Coincidence? Bad luck? Divine intervention? You make the call.
Obama The Heretic!

Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer and predictably, conservative Repubs blasted President Obama for not holding a public ceremony. Howevever, a low key event to commemorate the day has been the norm, with the vice chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force noting "there was no East Room event until George W." And apparently, there was only one event held on the National Day of Prayer in the White House in the administration of each of the two Repub presidents (RWR and GHWB) immediately preceding GWB.

But that didn't stop Repub activist and The View co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck from stating yesterday on Fox and Friends (transcript from, video from youtube):

This has been a tradition in our country in our country since 1952 with Truman. … I think that we are looking to him today to lead this country and this has been a huge tradition. It has also been one that has been protected in our country through our constitution. We should be able to gather and pray as we see fit.

And when Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, referring to Obama, asked Hasselbeck "he hays that he likes to pray in private and do you have a responsibility to set an example" (i.e., by holding a public event, the guest responded "sure...." Clearly, Mrs. Hasselbeck was not denying that she, all Christians, Jews, Hindi, Buddhists, Muslims, and people of all faiths in this nation can pray as they wish in any house of worship, but instead advocating public prayer.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck, like many on the right, are aghast that President Obama prefers to pray in private instead of in public. So let's check in with what one authority said a couple of thousand years ago when he strongly implied that the motive of prayer (which he therein emphasized could be private) was far more important than the venue (from Matthew 5:6, New American Standard Bible):

And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, and when you have shut your dooor, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Simply a Felon

Commenting on a survey conducted by Ipsos on its behalf, Politico on Monday noted Among the most notable findings in our poll: 21 percen...