Washington Bitchy: Nico Pitney smacks down Milbank
Mr. Washington Sketchy himself, WaPo king of snark Dana Milbank, takes one to the thorax from HuffPo blog reporter Nico Pitney, who went one-on-three on CNN's Reliable Sources. Milbank got called out for his whingeing over Pitney's Iran question at Barack Obama's recent presser, including getting called out on his past, gushing coverage of George W. Bush. Watch, and learn:
The Dubya of Persia attacks the U.S. president, using his political doppelganger as a foil. Ahmadinejad the Appointed begins his diatribe with a swipe at the Brits:
"They (The British) already have a bad record in these matters," he said, describing Downing Street as being run by "political retards". "But why did the US president fall into their trap?"
He advised Mr Obama to take a different approach from his predecessor President George W Bush.
"I hope you (Obama) will avoid interfering in Iran's affairs and express regret in a way that the Iranian people are informed of it," Mr Ahmadinejad said.
"Will you use this language with Iran (in any future dialogue)? If this is your stance, there will be nothing left to talk about. Do you think this behaviour will solve the problem for you? This will not have any result except that the people will consider you somebody similar to Bush."
I think the appropriate response to that might be laughter, but then I'm not a diplomat.
70 professors were arrested in Iran for meeting with Mr. Mousavi, whose wife has stated that her country is now, for all intents and purposes, under martial law.
... if you think Michelle "Internment Camps" Malkin and her crowd really care one iota about the people of Iran. After all, we're talking about Michelle Malkin -- probably the only brown person ever published by the white supremacist site Vdare, who has never demonstrated any emotion toward Muslims outside of the narrow chasm between hatred and loathing -- theoretically being in favor of people who are out yelling "Allahu Akbar" -- a phrase that is an anathema to people like her. No, I'd guess that the wingers are really after with all their carping about Iran is a plan they can reproduce, and thereby pretend that at long last, they're freedom-fighters, too: fighting Barack Obama (of course) ... maybe even in the streets! Witness this interesting comment thread on Malkin's latest supposedly heartfelt Iran post:
Ladies and gentlemen, I think we may have spotted the next lone gunman. Hopefully someone who knows this weirdo "Elm Creek Smith" will keep one eye on his gun stash, and 911 on speed dial. And what's really scary is that his comments aren't all that far from the recent nuttiness Twittered by Florida's very own Marco Rubio.
By the way, on the not really giving a crap about Muslims but shooting their mouths off anyway front? Throw in the right wing local politicos who probably couldn't find Iran on a map, or think Barack Obama is a Muslim, and probably can't stand Muslims as a rule anyway ... or all three combined. Say ... I wonder if my old pal O'Neal Dozier is a member of the Southeastern Broward Republican Club ...)
He smacked down John McCain ("only I'm the president...") apparently pleased the increasingly troll-like Krauthammer and his friends at Hot Air, explained the logic of competition ("if the insurance companies say they're delivering a great product, why can't they compete [with a public plan?]" and issued a strong statement on Iran, that in reality, is much like his previous statements, only not in writing. Had enough, neocons? (probably not). Best moment of the presser: when poor Major Garrett showed his Fox "News" creds by asking whether non-existent Iranian diplomats would be welcome at the White House on the Fourth of July ... Earth to Major: we don't have Iranian diplomats because we have no formal diplomatic relations with Iran.
It's almost hard to believe, with all the GOPers out there demanding that President Obama demand a recount in Iran (as Rep. Mike Coffman, embarrassing my former state of Colorado, suggested tonight on "Hardball") that there are any non-Iranians out there with much to say about Iran that isn't completely idiotic. The idea that the American president should demand a recount in a country that isn't the United States is at minimum ironic, given what happened in our presidential elections in 2000, complete with five of our very own Republican mullahs putting their thumb on the scale on the side of their political compatriot. It's also insane. Watch Chris Matthews try to explain as much to a stumbling Coffman tonight:
So why has Europe, so often cast as the more timid side of the transatlantic partnership, responded more vigorously this time? The answer, according to Robin Niblett, director of the London-based international-relations think tank Chatham House, lies in the low-rumbling crisis in the background of the disputed election: Iran's nuclear program.
"The United States is the only country that can convince Iran that it is not as threatened as it thinks it is, and that's crucial to the negotiations [over Iran's disputed enrichment program]," Niblett says. "The Obama Administration is playing it absolutely right: it is determined to convince the Iranians that its goal is not regime change. Any public denunciations could damage Obama's efforts to coax Iran out of its defensive posture."
Meanwhile, over in Europe:
Domestic politics is also playing into the strong rhetoric on the part of European leaders like Sarkozy and Merkel, according to Niblett. "It is in Sarkozy's nature to be plain-speaking and tough, and that's played well domestically. His popularity has dropped recently, so his stance on the importance of free elections plays well. It does for Merkel too, as it distinguishes her from [Social Democrat Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has been more measured in his response."
Yeah, domestic politics is playing a big role here, too. It seems some of our Republican/neocon friends are more interested in attacking the president of the United States than in pursuing an intelligent foreign policy that benefits America's national security.
Next up, real, live Republican grown-up Peggy Noonan (who unlike the neocons, is a conservative Ronald Reagan actually bothered to listen to):
Stifling and corrupt religious autocracy has seen its international standing diminished, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is among other things a Holocaust denier, has in effect been rebuked by half his country, and through free speech, that most painful way to lose your reputation, which has broken out on the streets. He can no longer claim to speak for his people. The rising tide of the young and educated seems uninterested in reflexively hating the West and deriving their meaning from that hatred.
To refuse to see all this as progress, or potential progress, is perverse to the point of wicked. To insist the American president, in the first days of the rebellion, insert the American government into the drama was shortsighted and mischievous. The ayatollahs were only too eager to demonize the demonstrators as mindless lackeys of the Great Satan Cowboy Uncle Sam, or whatever they call us this week. John McCain and others went quite crazy insisting President Obama declare whose side America was on, as if the world doesn't know whose side America is on. "In the cause of freedom, America cannot be neutral," said Rep. Mike Pence. Who says it's neutral?
This was Aggressive Political Solipsism at work: Always exploit events to show you love freedom more than the other guy, always make someone else's delicate drama your excuse for a thumping curtain speech.
And she adds this:
Should there at this point, more than a week into the story, be a formal declaration of support from the U.S. government? Certainly it's time for an indignant statement on the abuses, including killings and beatings, perpetrated by the government and against the opposition. It's never wrong to be on the side of civilization. Beyond that, what would be efficacious? It must be asked if a formal statement of support for the rebels would help them. And they'd have a better sense of it than we.
The current policy, much criticized by prominent Republicans, vindicated Barack Obama's boast in his Cairo speech that he is a "student of history." The student in him knows that the worst thing the United States could do at the moment is provide the supreme leader and the less supreme leaders with the words to paint the opposition as American stooges -- or, even worse, suggest to the protesters that some sort of help is on its way from Washington.
Cohen then delivers a nice splash of cold water to Paul Wolfowitz's (surprise, surprise!) TOTALLY WRONG ANALOGY in his recent column comparing Ronald Reagan's intervention with a former colony with Barack Obama's positition vis-a-vis a government WITH WHICH WE HAVE NO FORMAL RELATIONS... (sigh)
Some of Obama's critics have faulted him for not doing what Ronald Reagan (belatedly) did following the fraudulent election in the Philippines in 1986. After some dithering, Reagan virtually forced President Ferdinand Marcos into exile. How neat. How not a precedent for Iran.
Marcos was, to exhume a dandy Cold War phrase, an "American lackey." The Philippines itself was a former American colony. We knew the country. Hell, at one time, we virtually owned it.
In contrast, not a lot is known about how Iran is actually governed. If, for instance, the White House asked the State Department to send over someone with on-the-ground experience in contemporary Iran, the car would arrive empty. The last American diplomats left Iran in 1979. The United States has to rely on foreign diplomats and journalists for its information.
Yet according to some of the dumbest elected persons I've ever heard on television, our president should take to the airwaves and ... wait for it ... demand a recount in Iran. Brilliant.
In the end, the Nation's Washington editor Chris Hayes got it right on Rachel's show tonight. The neoconservative movement is fundamentally about this weird, preening desperation to make every world event, every happening in every culture, even ones we fundamentally don't understand -- All About Us. Thus, the Iranian uprising is about Us (not about the economy, or joblessness, or frustration with the strictures of religious law, or the things the Iranians say it's about. Silly brown people -- they just don't get that it's really all about them wanting Us to guide them to freedom!) The protesters are speaking to Us (not to the Europeans who used to run the place, or to other English-speaking people, just Us. The color green is so close to the color blue that even THAT must ... MUST be About Us. This desire to jam the United States and our inflated self-portrayal as The World's Greatest/Only Defender of Liberty Everywhere into the center of every conceivable conflict is actually starting to look like a mental affliction, and it's one that I, for one, am very glad was not visited on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last November.
George Will says it all: neocon Obama critics wrong on Iran
You're seeing the split again: neocon nuts versus actual conservatives, this time on the issue of Iran, in the persons of realists like Dick Lugar, old school ex-regime changers like (the awful) Henry Kissinger, and paleocons like Pat Buchanan and on Sunday, George Will.
What these guys seem to have in common is that they were part of the Nixon crowd -- people who in general are skeptical (if not downright disdainful) of neoconservatism and its interventionist, Wilsonian bent (not to mention the fact that the same neocons who are now screeching for Obama to help the demonstrators were rooting for Ahmadinejad to win the election...) Buchanan and others (including Zbigniew Brzezinksi) see the neocons hovering around the Iran situation, looking for an opening for military intervention. They've seen that movie before and don't want to catch another viewing. By the way Brzezinksi has to have had the quote of the weekend, when he appeared on the best of the Sunday shows, "Fareed Zakaria GPS," and conflated the right wing Iranian regime and our own neocons:
In Iran, we have two different forces at work. You have those who are for more democracy but who are also nationalistic and you have those who are supporting the regime who in many respects are ... very similar to our Neocons. They are Manichean, they look at the world as divided into Good and Evil and many of them see America as the personification of Evil...
[Obama] has struck exactly the right note. He's offering moral sympathy, he's identifying himself morally and historically with what is happening in Iran but he's not engaging himself politically, he's not interfering, because that would turn out badly and it could be exploited by the Neocons in Iran to crush the revolution ...
Meanwhile, the White House is reportedly getting frustrated with the lack of credit Obama is getting for the Cairo speech, which undoubtedly inspired reform-minded Iranians, at least according to Chuck Todd.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling it an "execution," wants the commander-in-chief to show a little more compassion to even "the least sympathetic animals."
"Believe it or not, we've actually been contacted by multiple media outlets wanting to know PETA's official response to the executive insect execution," a blog on the group's website explained. "In a nutshell, our position is this: He isn't the Buddha, he's a human being, and human beings have a long way to go before they think before they act."
The group has sent Obama a device that traps a fly so it can then be released outside.
"We believe that people, where they can be compassionate, should be, for all animals," PETA spokesman Bruce Freidrich explained.
“As we all know, human beings often don’t think before they act. We don’t condemn President Obama for acting on instinct. When the media began contacting us in droves for a statement, we obliged, simply by saying that the president isn’t the Buddha and shouldn’t be expected to do everything right—if not for that, we would not have brought it up. It’s the media who are making a big deal about the fly swat—not PETA. However, we took the opportunity, when asked, to point out that we do offer lots of ways in which to control insects of all kinds without harming them. There is even a chapter in PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk’s book, Making Kind Choices, about how to rid your home of “uninvited guests.” ‘
“We support compassion for all animals, even the most curious, smallest, and least sympathetic animals. We hope that everyone will take inspiration from Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who included insects in his realm of compassion and would stop to move a worm from hot pavement to cool earth.”
I'm sure by now you know about the Tennessee State Senate staffer who e-mailed this "historical keepsake photo" of the 44 U.S. presidents, depicting Barack Obama as a "spook." (She says she sent it to the wrong list ... and the right list would have been, what ... David Duke, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and you mama???)
Well, should Sheri Goforth, the staffer in question, be fired? Welll... the Nashville Scene says she's just a symptom of a greater, nastier cause:
Think about the people she works for as a secretary. Since January alone, they've accused Barack Obama of being a foreign national. They've accused the federal government of turning socialist. They've tried to assert their sovereignty from the United States, playing the part of ingrate welfare client. (Last I heard, Tennessee gets $1.23 back for every dollar it kicks to the feds in taxes.)
They profess love for Jesus, but won't listen to what he has to say. They've tried to kill prenatal care, women's health clinics, and pre-kindergarten funding. They've even attempted to reject federal stimulus money for the unemployed. But they have tried to put a gun in every bar, park and playground. Jesus would have liked that.
These are the people Goforth works for. Is it any wonder she believes what she does? But to fire her only picks off a middle-aged lady. It does nothing to heal the greater wound, which is composed by the creeps, racists, half-wits and professional victims who make up the Tennessee legislature.
Pat Buchanan does it again, answering the neocon warmongering gobbledygook with a good, sensible column on the president's response to Iran in Town Hall. His opening:
The Obama policy of extending an open hand to Iran is working and ought not be abandoned because of the grim events in Tehran.
For the Iranian theocracy has just administered a body blow to its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people and the world.
Before Saturday, the regime could credibly posture as defender of the nation, defiant in the face of the threats from Israel, faithful to the cause of the Palestinians, standing firm for Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear power.
Today, the regime, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is under a cloud of suspicion that they are but another gang of corrupt politicians who brazenly stole a presidential election to keep themselves and their clerical cronies in power.
Let's see, Rev ... can you give us something on... say ... President Obama? When's the last time you talked to him?
"Them Jews aren't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office," Wright told the Daily Press in Newport News, Va.
"They will not let him talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is .... I said from the beginning: He's a politician; I'm a pastor. He's got to do what politicians do," Wright continued.
Yep. That's pretty stupid. Good job, man (eyes rolling.)
Censored by the Huffpo: drunken, Obama hating Israelis
You may not have seen this video, which is why it's so dangerous to allow any single news site to set the agenda, whether it's the Drudge Report or the Huffington Post, which summarily yanked it down a couple days ago. And now we return you to the post, already in progress...
This video is no fun to watch, but watch it anyway. It's from journo Max Blumenthal, and is from his "Feeling the Hate in Jeruslem on the eve of Obama's Cairo Speech." Says Blumenthal:
On the eve of President Barack Obama’s address to the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt, I stepped out onto the streets of Jerusalem with my friend Joseph Dana to interview young Israelis and American Jews about their reaction to the speech. We encountered rowdy groups of beer sodden twenty-somethings, many from the United States, and all eager to vent their visceral, even violent hatred of Barack Obama and his policies towards Israel. Usually I offer a brief commentary on my video reports, but this one requires no comment at all. Quite simply, it contains some of the most shocking footage I have ever filmed. Watch it and see if you agree.
Here it is:
And now, the remix:
That "political science major" was the BEST, wasn't she? (eyes rolling) Hopefully this is just an isolated group, and doesn't represent how most young Israelis feel, about the U.S., President Obama, or the very idea of peace with the Palestinians. One note: get a load of the accents on these guys. Most are straight out of Queens, New York...
UPDATE: The video's co-creator, Joseph Dana, explains its "news value," (are you listening, Ariana?):
Max and I went on to the streets of Jerusalem at ten o’clock on a Wednesday to ascertain the feelings of the young population about Obama’s upcoming speech in Cairo. As is often the case, the streets of central Jerusalem were not filled with native Israelis but American Jews. Doubtlessly anyone who has visited Jerusalem has encountered the droves of American Jewish kids that are sent to Israel to study for a period of time from Teaneck or Westchester.
... As a resident of Jerusalem, I can say that the people represented in this video are not members of a fringe group or simply drunk college kids. These people reflect the sentiments shared by many people in this country and this city. These people and their families are the core of the opposition to meaningful peace between Israel and her neighbors. This is what Obama is up against.
The AP analysis that President Obama's success in remaking U.S. relations with the Muslim world depends largely on Israel sounds right to me. And how Israelis responded to President Obama's historic Cairo speech depends largely on which Israelis you're talking about. On the one hand, you have the hardliners, represented by the writers at the Jerusalem Post (and sometimes it seems, by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who obsessed on Thursday over Obama's failure to use the word "terror" or "terrorism," and over the president's "provocative" comments about settlements -- Wolf really should give a disclaimer about his former work for AIPAC when discussing the Mideast ...) One JPost writer sums up the "problem" with Obama's words, from the right wing Israeli point of view:
... First and foremost was his linkage of the establishment of the State of Israel and the Holocaust.
Thus, according to Obama, Americans recognize that "the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied," an obvious reference not to the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from its historic homeland, but rather to the Shoa. The continuation of the speech, in which he refers to his visit today to Buchenwald and attacks Holocaust denial, make this linkage absolutely clear.
But besides being historically inaccurate, this false connection strengthens one of the strongest canards of anti-Israel propaganda in the Muslim world; that Europeans guilty of Holocaust crimes established a Jewish state in Palestine at the expense of the local Arab residents to atone for their World War II atrocities.
By ignoring three thousand years of Jewish history, by neglecting to even mention the unbreakable link, started long before the advent of Islam, between the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael, Obama totally failed to deliver what should have been one of his most important messages to the Arab world.
The prime minister ordered the ministers to say nothing, but of course they could not help but invade the studios. Uzi Landau said that a Palestinian state is tantamount to an "Iranian state." Isaac Herzog appeared even more ridiculous when he said that the problem with the settlements is one of "public relations." In essence, both were busy with the same problem: How can we manage to pull the new America's leg as well? Israeli politicians have never before appeared as pathetic, as small as they did Thursday, compared to the bearer of promise in Cairo.
Netanyahu now understands what he already knew before the speech: The moment of political reckoning that he so feared is now rapidly approaching. The thunder he hears in the distance is the sound of the Likud legions and the West Bank settler hordes rolling down the mountains. The light on the horizon is not that of a new day, but of a train coming right at him - a night train from Cairo.
Netanyahu will have to decide over the coming weeks whom he would rather pick a fight with: the powerful U.S. administration, whose president sees himself in an almost messianic role, or his own coalition and members of his party.
If people can't even agree on when and why Jewish people emigrated to what is now Israel, it's hard to see how any consensus can be formed. What's interesting, is that earlier Jewish leaders saw the issue with far more clarity, like this fellow, who said:
“If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti - Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault ? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?”
That would be a quote from David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. And here are two interesting quotes, from the late Ariel Sharon, on settlements:
“Everybody has to move; run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don't grab will go to them.”
That, my friends, is what Obama is up against.
For a good, objective take on the history of the contested claims to the former mandate of Palestine, try this:
For a less objective take, check out the award winning film "Occupation 101."
With the exception of the "Palestinians are cockroaches" crowd among the Israeli far right, President Obama's speech was received in the Middle East mostly like this:
“I think his performance was marvelous,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a professor at King Saudi University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “He seems so much more sympathetic, so much more understanding of the feelings, attitudes and perceptions of Arabs and Muslims. I think it was a speech with a vision, it was designed to set the stage for a new beginning.”
Even the way Mr. Obama began his speech, with his use of the phrase “peace be upon him” after mentioning the Prophet Muhammad, and his opening greeting — “Peace be upon you” in Arabic — struck a chord with many people, particularly in Saudi Arabia, the deeply conservative desert kingdom where Islam was born.
“Starting the speech with the words ‘salaam aleykum’ was a really good approach,” said Ghina Sibai, a 32-year-old art director from Beirut, Lebanon, in comments echoed by others across the Arab world. “Its kind of like a peace treaty. He’s trying to address the Muslim world through its own culture.”
But there were also responses like this, with the Times finding the most skeptics in Syria (or just happening upon some and reporting them as a generalized whole...):
“What is astonishing is that he condemned violence, but he didn’t say a word about what the United States did in Iraq,” said Khalid Saghieh, the executive editor of al Akhbar, a Lebanese daily newspaper that leans towards Hezbollah. “If you want to call for a new beginning, you should at least apologize for tens of thousands of victims in Iraq.”
... “I consider Mr. Obama’s speech a morphine injection to numb the minds of Muslim and Arab people,” said Mr. Abdullah, the Syrian electrical engineer, “so that they don’t mind so much the injustices carried out by the United States in the region, as long as Mr. Obama respects Islamic culture and heritage.”
I think overall, however, it's impossible to characterize the speech as anything but well received in the Muslim world, with caveats. Read more reactions, caveats included, at the Beeb.
Obama told his audience, as I noted above, many things it didn't necessarily want to hear. Indeed the bulk of the 55-minute address was taken up by his discussion of the seven tough issues he identified: violent extremism; Israel; nuclear arms and Iran; democracy; religious freedom; women's rights; and economic opportunity and what he called a "fear of modernity."
But he also told his listeners a lot of things they wanted to hear – his refusal to castigate Islam, even quoting John Adams to that effect ("the United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims"), and his repeated invocation of the search for common ground. Obviously, I could hear the speech only through my ears, but it seemed to me that for the most part he found the tonal sweet spot: firm but respectful where in disagreement, asking people to think a little harder and engage in a little more self-contemplation.
Still, the most striking thing to me was the reaction inside that hall in Cairo, where Obama literally, got some brotherly love from the audience, which interrupted him with cries of "we love you!"
The president delivered an historic address at Cairo University. The full text is here. It ended with an incredible flourish, that includes a quote from my favorite book of the Bible: the book of Mathew: We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written. The Holy Quran tells us, Mankind, we have created you male and a female. And we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.
The Talmud tells us, The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.
The Holy Bible tells us, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth. Here's the speech, courtesy of some diligent Youtubers (good luck trying to watch the speech on CSPAN's website. Their streaming absolutely, categorically, blows. BTW it's amazing, in the age of Youtube, how difficult it still is to get a full rebroadcast of anything newsworthy. Instead, what you get are small clips and soundbites, both on cable news and online...) Anyhoo...
It would, of course, be nice to have the whole thing in one file. If I find such a thing, I'll post it.
After Tiller's murder, fears of right wing extremism
Suddenly, this doesn't seem so funny anymore:
Not saying this woman was necessarily dangerous, but with the first Black president in office, right wing extremism on the rise, and armed, truly crazy people lurking out there, thank God the Secret Service takes no chances.
Obama's Cuban-American Vatican rep: a small thing, but maybe an important one
Tucked into the Huffpo story today about President Obama's new ambassador hires is this one:
The White House also announced it plans to nominate Miguel H. Diaz, an associate professor of theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minn., for the top job at the Vatican.
A Roman Catholic theologian, the Cuban-American advised Barack Obama's presidential campaign. He also was among 26 Catholics who signed a statement supporting the nomination of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic whose support for abortion rights was criticized by conservative Catholics.
Obama built up a small but solid base of Cuban-American support in Florida last year by announcing he'd ease travel restrictions to Havana, which helped him win this state; and the latest Bendixen poll suggests he enjoys a 67 percent approval rating among Cuban-Americans. Don't think the SoFla community won't notice that a Cuban-American has been picked to represent the U.S. in Rome.
Republicans would be crazy to attack Judge Sotomayor ... but they'll probably do it anyway
Would the Republican Party, already shrinking away to nothingness under the weight of a demographic tsunami, dare to oppose what would be the first Hispanic and only the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court? Would they risk alienating the multiple interest groups who will be galvanized by the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, including not only Latinos and women, but also Catholics (not to mention New Yorkers and Yankees fans...?) The short answer is no, they wouldn't, unless of course they are collectively insane. And yet, the arguments against Judge Sonia Sotomayor are already gathering, and none of them is helpful ... to the GOPI:
1. She's "temperamental." Not that anyone knows what that means, but Media Matters caught the neocons at TNR attacking Sotomayor without even pretending to do anything more journalistically rigorous than quoting random people who clearly aren't fond of her. Unfortunately for the right, attacking Judge Sotomayor's "temperament" will ring awfully familiar, and not in a good way, in the ears of women, who are used to hearing their strength conviction read by some old school dudes as a tendancy toward tantrums.
2. She doesn't like white people. Righties have already begun dissecting Sotomayor's membership in Hispanic organizations at Princeton and her general empathy for fellow Latinos as somehow disqualifying. John Perazzo wrote ominously in Front Page Magazine about one of those membership organizations:
The other group to which Sotomayor belonged, Princeton’s Third World Center (TWC), was established in 1971 “to provide a social, cultural and political environment that reflects the needs and concerns of students of color at the University.” A 1978 Princeton publication explained that the TWC had arisen chiefly to address the fact that “the University’s cultural and social organizations have largely been shaped by students from families nurtured in the Anglo-American and European traditions,” and that consequently “it has not always been easy for students from different backgrounds to enter the mainstream of campus life.”
Oooh ... sounds subversive ... The other knock on Sotomayor in the race case is the case of Ricci v. DeStefano, the now infamous New Haven firefighter case that raises the specter of affirmative action, "reverse discrimination," and more bluntly, black guys taking white guys' job opportunities away (or in this case, the government doing it.) Sotomayor, who ruled against the white firefighters who filed a discrimination suit after a test they passed was thrown out because from the City of New Haven's perspective, not enough minorities passed, was featured in a Willie Horton style web ad claiming she "didn't give a fair shake to firefighters not promoted on the basis of race." Personally, I think that the city of New Haven was wrong to throw out that test because they didn't like the demographics of the passing scores. But going after Sotomayor on the basis of this racially charged case will only make Republicans look hostile in the eyes of Black and Brown people, something they need no more of at this stage.
3. She's a token. Apparently, Justice Antonin Scalia has been heard to opine that “the next nominee to the Court will be a female Protestant Hispanic”. Funny stuff, Nino. And expect more wingers to complain that Sotomayor is not a white guy, and was selected by the other non-white guy wingers loathe (Barack Obama) on that basis. But again, conservatives do themselves no favors by attacking the fastest growing ethnic and voter group in the nation, in order to placate the dwindling number of Angry White Men, all of whom already vote Republican.
4. She's an "activist judge," (which is code for, she's a liberal.) For this one, the righties say they have videotaped evidence, namely a talk Sotomayor gave at Duke University in which she dared to say this:
“All of the Legal Defense Funds out there — they’re looking for people with Court of Appeals experience. Because it is — Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know, and I know, that this is on tape, and I should never say that. Because we don’t “make law,” I know. [audience laughter] Okay, I know. I know. I’m not promoting it, and I’m not advocating it. I’m, you know. [audience laughter]”
To this I'd have to say, so what? The judge properly asserted that the courts don't make law. But she was guilty of a bit of "truthiness," in that in many ways, our courts do set policy. From Brown v. Board, which undid racial separation in schools, to Roe v. Wade, which clearly altered national policy on abortion. Like it or not, courts, by interpreting the laws made by legislators, do in effect, make policy. Today, for instance, the California Supreme Court will decide if voters in that state had the right to decide that state's marriage laws. As inartful as Sotomayor's statement about the power of our court system was, it was in essence, true, and hardly disqualifying. Besides, since the right has already charicterized Barack Obama as a Marxist, I'm not sure there's room to place Sotomayor much to his left.
Most importantly, Judge Sotomayor is bringing a heavyweight resume to the table: 17 years on the federal bench, educated at Princeton and Yale, editor of the Yale Law Review (President Harvard Law Review had to love that), not to mention her incredible life story, rising from the projects in the South Bronx to potentially, the highest court in the land. Given her qualifications, and her back story, the right bears a hell of a lot at risk in potentially attacking this nominee. Whether they do it anyway will tell you a lot about the mental state of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.
Meanwhile, the GOP has tried to stop Sotomayor's ascent before, namely, back in 1998:
Senate Republican staff aides said Trent Lott of Mississippi, the majority leader, has agreed to hold up a vote on the nomination as part of an elaborate political calculus; if she were easily confirmed to the appeals court, they said, that would put her in a position to be named to the Supreme Court. And Senate Republicans think that they would then have a difficult time opposing a Hispanic woman who had just been confirmed by the full Senate.
''Basically, we think that putting her on the appeals court puts her in the batter's box to be nominated to the Supreme Court,'' said one senior Republican staff aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ''If Clinton nominated her it would put several of our senators in a real difficult position.''
At that time, Pat Leahy described Republican opposition to her this way:
'Their reasons are stupid at best and cowardly at worst,'' he said.
''What they are saying is that they have a brilliant judge who also happens to be a woman and Hispanic, and they haven't the guts to stand up and argue publicly against her on the floor,'' Senator Leahy said. ''They just want to hide in their cloakrooms and do her in quietly.''
Let's see who's hiding in the cloakrooms this time.
The Politico writer wasn't listening. ... too busy gawking at all the celebrities... yeah, I understand. Eight years of nothing but Kelsey Grammer, an aging Bo Derek and Dennis "not even kind of funny" Miller had to be one hell of a bummer...
Newsbusters whinges that Sykes only attacked conservatives and white people... waaaaa... but they helpfully transcribe all of Wanda's best zingers, which I'll be helpful in providing below:
* I know Governor Palin, she's not here tonight. She pulled out at the last minute. You know, somebody should tell her that's not really how you practice abstinence. * And I have to say to the First Lady, kudos to you for unveiling the bust of the Sojourner of Truth in the White House. That's, yes. And, but, could you do me a favor and please make sure it's nailed down real well since, 'cause you know when the next white guy comes in they gonna move it to the kitchen. * 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. * 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. * Dick Cheney, oh my God, he's a scary man, scares me to death. I tell my kids, I says, "Look, if two cars pull up, and one has a stranger, and the other car has Dick Cheney, you get in the car with the stranger." * And finally, Sir, they even gave you grief about the dog, about Bo. You know, the animal rights people on you, "Why didn't he get a rescue dog? Why didn't he get a rescue dog?" Look, the man has to rescue a country that's been abused by its previous owner. Let him have a fresh start with a dog.
God, those never get old... Not to be outdone, here are Obama's best lines:
"I strongly believe my next 100 days will be so successful I will finish them in 72 days," Obama said. "And on the 73rd day I will rest."
"Michael Steele is in the house tonight – or as he would say, ‘in the heezee,’ he said, pausing for laughter before adding, "Whas’ up?" [Needless to say, the self-obsessed Steele lapped up the attention.]'
“That brings me to another thing that’s changed – my relationship with Hillary. We may have been rivals during the campaign, but these days we couldn’t be closer. In fact, the second she got back from Mexico she greeted me with a big hug and a kiss – told me I really oughta get down there myself.
"In the next hundred days, our bipartisan outreach will be so successful that even John Boehner will consider becoming a Democrat. After all, we have a lot in common. He is a person of color. Although not a color that appears in the natural world. …
Jeff Zeleny is in his own way, a freakin' genius, having produced the most interesting moment of the night ... and Obama thinks damned fast on his feet, using deft debate technique (writing it down, thinking through the next answer while answering the current one, etc. ...) to explain what has "enchanted" him most about the presidency so far...
Obama still prefers to be a generalist when answering questions specific to Black America. (And the Chyron guys at MSNBC didn't know who Andrew Showell is (he's from BET. I didn't know either until this morning, because I don't watch BET...) probably because the administration understands the dangers that still lurk in his being perceived as the "Black president" rather than the American president. Still, the communications team should come up with a lexicon that works.
The president skillfully explained why his government has intervened so heavily in the auto industry, and expressed hope for Chrysler's survival ... (he'll talk more about the automakers at noon today.)
He pronounced "nuclear" correctly, as "nuclear" and Pakistan as "Pah-kee-stahn" not "Paak-i-staan" (like Aflak).
And unline his predecessor, he didn't embarrass either himself or us with stupid fraternity-style nicknames and razzing of the press corps.
The other important moment in the press conference came when President Obama invoked none other than Winston Churchill to explain why the U.S. should not be in the business ot torturing people (and in doing so, he stated clearly what waterboarding is.) Per the Times of London:
President Obama last night waded back into the bitter controversy over the CIA’s harsh interrogation of terror suspects by declaring clearly that the waterboarding authorised by the Bush Administration was torture.
In a White House press conference, Mr Obama said that the simulated drowning technique used repeatedly on detainees such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had violated “our ideals and our values”.
He added: “I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.”
... Citing the experience of Britain in the Second World War, “when London was being bombed to smithereens”, he pointed out that Winston Churchill had refused to allow torture of 200 German detainees because to have done so would have corroded “the character of a country”.
And while some at the Huffpo are crediting Brit Andrew Sullivan for the Obama reference, the Times says the credit for the original article goes to one of their writers, Ben McIntyre:
The President cited an article he'd read,
"talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees, and Churchill said, 'We don't torture,'".
"As Britain's very survival hung in the balance, as women and children were being killed on a daily basis and London turned into rubble, Churchill nonetheless knew that embracing torture was the equivalent of surrender to the barbarism he was fighting."
It's almost obligatory that everyone comment on the president's first 100 days in office, so here goes. I agree with Joe Klein that so far, President Obama has done an admirable job, and set himself on a course to be a more than consequential president. He hit the ground running, quickly reversed several bad Bush policies on the environment, stem cell research, Gitmo and Iraq, passed a massive stimulus bill which, while it could have packed more punch, clearly packed enough to get both consumer confidence and the stock market growing again, and to call a halt to the once precipitous slide in the U.S. economy. Things haven't turned around yet, but the fall is much less steep, and most people at least believe we're on the right track. His poll numbers are outstanding, 8 in 10 Americans just plain like the guy (even more like his wife,) and he has quickly and deftly set aside the opposition party as a serious player in the game in Washington.
Showing an ability to use both charm and forcefulness as needed, Obama beat back the pirate debacle, turned around our image around the world, wowed Europe (with a lot of help from Michelle) and set the table for a new start in relations with the Middle East and Latin America. He returned home to a country that is more hopeful now than it has been in nearly half a dozen years. Obama has been helped by the weakness and increasing derangement of his opponents, who have gone so far off the cliff that it's not clear they can be pulled back (even after losing Arlen Specter, and with it, their Senate fillibuster.) Most important, he has been a man of action, and that in the end, is what the country needs and wants. Whether on swine flu, or Gitmo, Iraq, Pakistan, hemispheric relations or the economy, the president has tackled the problems that President Bush left for him quickly and assertively, and made Americans feel that someone is actually at the helm of the ship again.
The biggest disappointment so far has been on the subject of torture and secrecy, where the president has seemed to prefer to either prop up or sweep past the crimes of the Bush administration, and simply "move on." And while I think Amnesty International is being a bit too harsh when it says that the administration has sent a mixed message on human rights, there will be no moving on when it comes to torture, or the detainees at Gitmo and other U.S. prison facilities, and I suspect Obama will have to face the past, and deal with what was done by his predecessor, like it or not. Another disappointment has been on Wall Street, where the president's team seems so stacked with Goldman Sachs alum, that they can't bear to really take on the Big Boys in NYC.
Remarkably, one of the things that hasn't confronted Obama as yet, is race, which has faded so quickly from the conversation that you've almost got to remind yourself from time to time that he is the "first Black president." Whether it's through his own force of personality, America's cultural maturing, or the myriad crises that have taken precedence, race has been a surprisingly neutral factor in Obama's first 100 days as president. I think that's a good thing. Many black leaders probably do not.
Overall, I give him an A for strong effort, a B for execution, and an A- for message. And I give him an A+ for bringing on Rahm Emanuel, who has proved to be an effective operator on the Hill.
As President Obama heads to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, his administration finally releases the last (we hope) of the torture memos. (Curious that the wingers have no problem with things like torture, secret detentions, sneak and peak searches, forcing librarians to divulge customer reading habits, infiltration of Quaker peace groups etc., but they're all a-teabaggin' over a 4 percent increase in rich people's taxes... but I digress...)
Meanwhile, here in Florida, Cuban-Americans are needled by the fact that several Latin American presidents, including Lula of Brazil, Hugo of Venezuela and Evo of Bolivia, among others, will likely push for an end to Cuba's exclusion from the Organization of American States, which forms the attendance base of the summit. Writes the Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez:
Cuba's not invited to the big party in Trinidad and Tobago, but it will crash it anyway.
It'll be the pesky ghost at the table, pushing, shoving and booing -- all in an effort to derail President Barack Obama's first foray Friday into Latin America's often messy love-hate relationship with the United States.
With the help of Hugo, Lula, Evo, Daniel, Michelle, Cristina and many other Latin American presidents who learned how to play leftie politics -- and win -- virtually at Fidel Castro's knee, the ghost is demanding a clean slate and collective amnesia.
Forget 50 years of an atrocious human-rights record. Never mind that there are no property rights, labor unions or free speech.
Forget multiparty elections, the ghost thunders, it's tiny Cuba vs. the bad Imperialist Goliath.
Obama would rather forget, too, but he's not ready to deliver more freebies like the end of the U.S. embargo or the tourist ban -- yet. But as first steps, he has opened the door wide for Cuban-American travel and unlimited remittances to Cuba.
He figures that's enough to get the ghost off his back at the summit, where Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to press for the island's membership in the Organization of American States.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza told Herald reporter Frances Robles at the summit Thursday that he agrees. Obama counters that Cuba needs to first show it belongs back in the organization that kicked it out in 1962.
Fidel Castro rails against any such inclusion in the OAS, calling it a tool of U.S. will. One reason he won't give: Cuba doesn't begin to meet the principle of the OAS charter -- democracy.
Ironically enough, the "Inter-American Democracy Charter"was adopted by the OAS on September 11, 2001 during a special session in Peru, hours after the 9/11 attacks in New York. The charter lays out the essentials of regional cooperation, democracy, the need to fight poverty and improve education and the environment, and of course human rights -- which brings us back to Cuba, which has got some issues on that front. And yet, as Marquez points out, over the last eight years the U.S. hasn't exactly been a champion of human rights, either (see "torture memos" above...) So Obama goes into the summit borne on the winds of change, but still refusing, as of yesterday, to hold the previous administration accountable for the human rights abuses that, if we were, say, applying for membership to the OAS today, would likely make us as ineligible as Fidel's Cuba.
Related: Raul says he's willing to talk to the U.S., including about human rights.
Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is willing to talk to Washington about everything, including human rights, political prisoners and press freedom.
His comments came hours after US President Barack Obama said Cuba needed to make the next move if there was to be further improvement in relations.
Mr Castro was speaking in Venezuela ahead of a Summit of the Americas.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he will veto any final declaration as Cuba is excluded from the meeting.
The summit, due to start in Trinidad, includes 34 Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The US has said the gathering is reserved for democratic nations.
Which brings us back to our checkered recent past:
Speaking to Latin American leaders in Venezuela, President Castro said he had sent word to the US government "in private and in public" that he is open to negotiations as long as it is "on equal terms".
Alas, amigos, we're pretty much already on equal terms. More on the potential thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations here.
On Tea Party day (stop laughing, you!) ... it's fitting that we find out that the election of our first black president has touched off a rise in right wing nutcases:
In a report made public today, the Department of Homeland Security warns that the recession and the election of President Obama are "fueling resurgence" of right-wing extremist groups that are seeking new recruits, especially returning veterans.
The intelligence assessment suggests that veterans make attractive recruits because of "combat skills and experience" that could boost the "violent capabilities" of radical right groups. Further, it says that any possible new restrictions on gun ownership, combined with vets' trouble reintegrating into their communities during a bad economy, "could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."
"The high volume of purchases and stockpiling of weapons and ammunition by right-wing extremists in anticipation of restrictions and bans in some parts of the country continue to be a primary concern to law enforcement," the report states.
But DHS "has no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence," spokeswoman Sara Kuban told Fox News. The assessment was issued last week to law enforcement. A similar assessment on left-wing groups was issued earlier in the year.
How does DHS define "right-wing extremism'? It writes that it "can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."
When we were in D.C., I was told that there were some 800 right wing/racist/extremist groups under surveillance by the FBI and Secret Service. And gun nuts have been a-stock-pilin of late, worried that Barack was sending the black helicopters over. So what to make of the report? Not surprising, unfortunately. Hell, the Palin rallies were attended by a rise in right wing extremism, and I expect that at least some of the "tea parties" will be, too. I await the Youtubes...
Sorry Redstate (which still hasn't gotten the basic facts of the rescue straight -- no, dears, the captain didn't jump off the boat a second time...) "No Drama" Obama's handling of the pirates of the Horn of Africa is getting kudos, even from the increasingly wingery Associated Press:
Obama's handling of the crisis showed a president who was comfortable in relying on the U.S. military, much as his predecessor, George W. Bush, did.
But it also showed a new commander in chief who was willing to use all the tools at his disposal, bringing in federal law enforcement officials to handle the judicial elements of the crisis.
The rescue appeared to vindicate Obama's muted but determined handling of the incident. What won't be known for some time is whether Obama will benefit politically.
And the pillars of Obama's success should be remembered by the wingers:
1. No exploitation for political gain:
When Obama campaigns for re-election, he may take Bush's approach of turning any such incident into evidence of his leadership acumen. On the other hand, Obama didn't go before the cameras Sunday to trumpet the success, instead releasing a written statement that saluted the bravery of the military and Phillips but claimed no credit for himself.
2. No empty, Bush-style "tough talk":
He didn't call in his Cabinet for a high-profile command meeting. He let military and top administration officials do the talking, but even they kept saber rattling out of the equation.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Obama's silence should not be interpreted to mean that he wasn't deeply involved. The president's public posture was calculated to not raise the temperature on the situation or give the hostage-takers anything to exploit.
3. Actual work instead of Rovian marketing:
So what Obama did was receive regular briefings, sometimes as often as half a dozen times a day. He weighed in with two critical decisions allowing the military to take action to save Phillips' life. And he laid the groundwork for a federal criminal law enforcement response.
4. No "war on terror" B.S.:
Obama doesn't like labels for himself or catch phrases for policy. So it's notable that in an administration that has virtually banned the phrase "war on terror," no one called the pirates "terrorists."
Reason #244 not to listen to Newt Gingrich: he spends a lot of time braying about things he knows nothing about.
This morning on "This Week," the former disgraced House Speaker took his Twitter bitching about President Obama's handling of the Somali pirate capture of an American seaman to the big leagues. I suppose Newt, who gets exactly zero national security briefings or hell, briefings of any kind, wanted Obama to go out Dubya style: start blustering on television about nuking Somalia, and order the U.S.S. Bainbridge to blow the pirate dinghy out of the water with the Maersk captain still inside, or have Navy SEALs storm the ship, risking the captain's life. Just hours later, news reports said the captain had been rescued, after three dead-on (no pun intended) simultaneous shots by SEAL snipers who had parachuted in secret aboard the Bainbridge, and CNN reported that the president had on Friday given the Seals the go-ahead to use deadly force if necessary to save the captain's life.
Americans have grown more optimistic about the economy and the direction of the country in the 11 weeks since President Obama was inaugurated, suggesting that he is enjoying some success in his critical task of rebuilding the nation’s confidence, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
These sometimes turbulent weeks — marked by new initiatives by Mr. Obama, attacks by Republicans and more than a few missteps by the White House — do not appear to have hurt the president. Americans said they approved of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, foreign policy, Iraq and Afghanistan; fully two-thirds said they approved of his overall job performance.
By contrast, just 31 percent of respondents said they had a favorable view of the Republican Party, the lowest in the 25 years the question has been asked in New York Times/CBS News polls.
And it appears, the pollsters say, that Obama's honeymoon has been more durable than that of his recent predecessors.
Still, there are worries out there:
The poll found that 70 percent of respondents were very or somewhat concerned that someone in their household would be out of work and looking for a job in the next 12 months. Forty percent said they had cut spending on luxuries, and 10 percent said they had cut back on necessities; 31 percent said they had cut both.
For all that, the number of people who said they thought the country was headed in the right direction jumped from 15 percent in mid-January, just before Mr. Obama took office, to 39 percent today, while the number who said it was headed in the wrong direction dropped to 53 percent from 79 percent. That is the highest percentage of Americans who said the country was headed in the right direction since 42 percent said so in February 2005, the second month of President George W. Bush’s second term.
The percentage of people who said the economy was getting worse has declined from 54 percent just before Mr. Obama took office to 34 percent today. And 20 percent now think the economy is getting better, compared with 7 percent in mid-January.
“It’s psychology more than anything else,” Arthur Gilman, a Republican from Ridgewood, N.J., said in a follow-up interview to the poll. “President Obama has turned around the negative feeling in this country. He’s given everything an impetus because he’s very upbeat, like Roosevelt was. It’s too soon to tell if the spending stuff works, but some things have improved.”
That last guy, the Republican, is bad, bad news for the GOP.
By the by, who does the public blame for the economic crisis we're in? Sorry, Scarborough:
... The poll found that he shoulders virtually none of the public blame for the economic crisis: 33 percent blame Mr. Bush, 21 percent blame financial institutions, and 11 percent blame Congress.
And whom do voter trust to turn things around? Sorry Glenn Beck. You may want to break out the tissue:
By more than three to one, voters said they trusted Mr. Obama more than they trusted Congressional Republicans to make the right decisions about the economy. And by more than two to one, they said they trusted Mr. Obama to keep the nation safe, typically a Republican strong suit. Nearly one-quarter of Republicans said they trusted Mr. Obama more than Congressional Republicans to make the right decisions about the economy.
“As far as acting like adults and getting things done, the Democrat Party has done better,” said Rachel Beeson, an independent from Wahiawa, Hawaii. “The Republican Party seems to have decided that they are going to turn down anything that comes out of the White House, and nothing will get done that way.”
And that, from a guy who still says "Democrat Party." Meanwhile, GOPers still clinging to the notion that Obama is more polarizing than George Dubya Bush may want to avoid reading this.
President Obama's first speech in a Muslim country took place this morning (our time) in Turkey.
President Barack Obama sought Monday to make American amends with the Islamic world after eight years of tension, declaring in a speech to the Turkish parliament that he is determined to have a “partnership with the Muslim world.”
“Let me say this as clearly as I can: the United States is not – and will never be — at war with Islam,” Obama said in remarks delivered in Ankara. “In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject but also to strengthen opportunities for all people.”
Obama’s declaration that the U.S. is not at war with Islam is certain to get huge play throughout the Arab world. ...
... Obama, seeking to mend strains with a critical ally that bridges Europe and the Middle East, acknowledged “difficulties these last few years.”
Turkey, the only majority Muslim country in NATO, refused use of its territory as an invasion route to Iraq.
Quick takes: unemployment, detainees, and the Obamas take Paris!
The March unemployment figures are as dire as you thought they'd be: 663,000 jobs lost, unemployment at 8.5 percent. As per usual, Wall Street could care less. Meanwhile:
Google also rose before the bell, although its gains were limited as Techcrunch, the website, reported the company may be in talks to buy Twitter, the microblogging service that has become the latest online craze. Google’s shares picked up 0.8 per cent to $365.45.
If the Googs make Twitter as bug-free as Blogger, we're all in big trouble...
Overseas, President and Michelle Obama get the full red carpet treatment as they arrive to a rapturous welcome in Paris, where the president held a town hall and promised a less arrogant America. Meanwhile, were Michelle O and Carla Bruni Sarkozy wearing the same dress in different colors??? You be the judge:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said today that his country will accept one prisoner from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay as a way of demonstrating approval of President Obama's decision to close the facility, adding that "it feels really good to work with a U.S. president who wants to change the world."
One of the t-shirts has a rifle sight aimed at a pregnant Palestinian with the slogan "1 shot, 2 kills," according to a report last month in the Haaretz newspaper.
A spokesman for the military called the shirts "simply tasteless," and said the armed forces' chief educational officer had instructed commanders to ensure soldiers did not create or wear the items and to discipline those who disobeyed.
Haaretz said soldiers graduating from a snipers' course designed the t-shirts with the gun sight on the pregnant woman and printed them privately. The paper described examples of soldiers in other units printing shirts with their own slogans.
This as some Israelis fear a growing isolation of that country from Europe, and potentially, from the Obama administration. Indeed, when it comes to the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel's new ultra-right wing government is quickly becoming the odd man out, with its new foreign minister, Mr. Lieberman, even pissing off Israel's one sem-friend in the region, Egypt.
One said: 'There was a bit of a bottleneck as all of the leaders filed out so the Queen started chatting to Michelle Obama. She appeared to look up at her and make a comment about how tall she was.
'As she did, she put her arm around Mrs Obama and rested her gloved hand on the small of her back.'
Almost simultaneously, Mrs Obama put her arm around the Queen's shoulders rather more firmly.
'The pair then looked at their feet and appeared to be discussing their shoes.
... No-one - including the ladies-in-waiting standing nearby - could believe their eyes. In 57 years, the Queen has never been seen to make that kind of gesture and it is certainly against all protocol to touch her.
'But she didn't seem to mind a bit and was smiling and joking throughout,' the eyewitness said.
Michelle and Barack go to the opera, with Michelle in her signature sleeveless.
Michelle in her fave: J-Crew
President Obama and "the bros" formed the new "Frat Pack" (Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev)... though Barack didn't look into anybody's eyes and see their soul...
Is it just me, or do Chinese P.M. Hu and the Saudi prince look like the guys who sat near the cool kids table in junior high school?
Meanwhile, Obama and His Frumpiness, Gordon Brown, got down to business.
And while they are decidedly not anti-American, or anti-Obama (sorry wingers,) there are still lots of protests, though some of the protesters were civilized enough to make time for tea. Ah, the English!
Spoiler alert: it doesn't appear to be an escalation, but we're not leaving, either. In short, there's going to be more money (60 percent more), 4,000 more troops on top of the 17,000 fresh combat troops greenlighted earlier, and more training for a much larger Afghan Army. But this, I think, is the key point, from the WaPo:
Obama plans to announce a "simple, clear, concise goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al-Qaeda in Pakistan," said the official, one of three authorized to anonymously discuss the strategy.
That's "Pakistan..." with a "P." The president is speaking now.
With Obama having traveled to Capitol Hill today to try and sell his omnibus budget, we're witnessing a singular spectacle in American politics. Namely, the same legislators who brought you $1.3 trillion in deficits, who greenlighted any and everything George W. Bush asked for, without a whiff of debate, and who raced to bail out the banks to the tune of $700 million last September, when the Bushies were still in charge ... now, these same people, Democrat and Republican, are demanding caution, incrementalism, and only a little bit of change, from the new president.
What's that all about?
Voiced daily by the cast of the increasingly unwatchable "Morning Joe," the new Incrementalism goes something like this: things are so bad, and the last administration blew it so badly, the only prudent course is to do, not nothing, but very, very little. They want President Obama to "just do the economy." But what does that mean? It means just do tax cuts for the well-to-do and leave the nettlesome stuff, like healthcare, energy and climate change, alone. They want him to stop being so flashy -- get off the TV and stop talking so darned much, especially to Jay Leno (too many viewers, who don't understand policy the way a cable chat show host does!) They worry that he's "overexposed," which is another way of saying they envy his popularity, and have therefore become full-time haters. They want him to "slow it down," do less, do it less ambitiously, and for gods sakes do it later. That, they say, is the "fiscally responsible" thing to do. Of course, these are the same people who couldn't invade Iraq fast enough, at any cost, because we "couldn't afford to wait for a smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud..." who never saw a war supplemental they didn't like, and who over the last eight years have happily raked in more pork than a fat guy at a barbecue stand.
Evan Bayh has become the Democratic face of the Incrementalists (while Kent Conrad apparently is the muscle,) and he is certainly congenial enough -- sort of a Mr. Rogers with better hair. But Bayh's approach is to insist that he and his "Moderate Coalition" fully intend to help pass Obama's agenda ... only very, very slowly...
Here's the real deal. Conservative Democrats and frustrated Republicans alike know that the fundamental truth of presidential elections is that the euphoria they create doesnt' last long. The really ambitious presidents, the ones who want to do more than just redecorate the Oval Office, push their biggest agenda items through in the first 8-10 months, while they have maximum "political capital." (Dubya actually trumpeted his supposed "capital" after winning a second term, which is about 3 years and two months longer than 8-10 months... he isn't a very smart man...) Bill Clinton made the mistake of putting less central, more radioactive issues, like gays in the military, up front, draining his election capital almost immediately. Surely Obama, who knows his history, knows that what big things he doesn't get done before October, he probably won't get done at all.
So here's my question: will Obama give in to the Incrementalists and settle for a so-so presidency, or will he go big, as Chris Matthews has been not-so-subtly telegraphing he'd like to see him do?
My vote is go big, Barack. Otherwise, you wind up Millard Filmore.
The vaguely Obama-unfriendly Politico breaks out the pitchforks on the president's offhand remark on Leno, likening his bowling skills to "the Special Olympics or something." Politico even goes for the trifecta, dredging up a one-off Obama remark about Nancy Reagan, and adding this:
Aside from the regrettable appearance of a president even implicitly poking fun at the disabled, Obama’s comments came on the same day that he had appeared with California First Lady Maria Shriver, an early supporter whose mother founded the games.
Well call in the impeachment managers already. Was it an unfortunate slip in an otherwise successful appearance? Yes. Will Republicans milk the hell out of it, probably by trotting out Sarah Palin and her special needs child allllll day tomorrow? Certainly. Is this the most important thing we could be talking about as the financial world collapses? Hardly. Team Obama has pulled back on the remark, the president will likely issue a more formal apology tomorrow, and maybe, someday, that will be the end of it. But don't hold your breath.
Meanwhile, the Huffpo floats a poll that until it's spammed by the redstate crowd, is about evensies on whether readers give a care.
On his way back to Washington on Air Force One, Obama called the chairman of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver, to say he was sorry — even before the taped program aired late Thursday night.
"He expressed his disappointment and he apologized in a way that was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population," Shriver said Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America." Obama, Shriver said, wants to have some Special Olympic athletes visit the White House to bowl or play basketball.
... Shriver is the son of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whose endorsement early in the Democratic primaries was critical to Obama winning his party's nomination.
Hat tip to Youzentoube. From last week on SFGATE, but still a classic:
I see you out there. I know you're lurking, seething, sending me angry letters, posting nasty comments in anonymous forums across the Interweb, not merely enraged that I and millions like me dare to support President Obama's massive overhaul of the enormously flawed American idea, but that I also dare to see him as exactly the finest and most intelligent and, yes, even integrity-filled progressive visionary we could possibly hope for at a time like this.
You are fuming in disbelief. How can I not see it? How can the vast majority of the country not see it? How is it that no one but you and a few manic fringe writers seem to notice that President Obama is either A) a thinly veiled socialist commie instigator hell-bent on destroying America from the inside out, or B) nothing more than a cleverly disguised corporate-loving Bush clone because, oh my God, haven't you seen his policy on H1Bs and faith-based initiatives and his nefarious plan to take over the banks and, um, something else you can't quite remember right now but you're sure is really, really damning?
You are slamming your fists on your keyboard. Why doesn't the world get it? That it's all just the same old cronies rearranging the same old powermad furniture, a giant shell game Decepticon robot evil nightmare?
Oh, you poor dear. What utter, crushing frustration you must feel. Especially since the other side, the conservative side -- maybe it was your side? -- had its grand shot at running the show. It ran every sour idea, pushed every extreme right-wing economic scenario, wasted trillions on a failed war, spit on gays and kowtowed to the fundamentalists and shoved the country so far to the right we fell off Ted Haggard's massage table.
And alas, "unmitigated disaster" doesn't even begin to cover what happened next.
In the days leading up to President Obama's inauguration, U.S. law enforcement agencies huddled regularly in an effort to minimize any possible security risk to an event that promised record crowds for the country's first black president. But one agenda item led authorities to a target close to home: the ranks of the U.S. Capitol Police.
An FBI investigation that included taped surveillance had placed two off-duty veteran Capitol Police officers in the company of individuals whose racial views and capacity for violence were under scrutiny. Although the recorded discussion did not center on Obama, federal law enforcement officials wanted to ensure that the officers were not on duty covering the Capitol, where the president took the oath of office, according to two sources involved in the matter.
The FBI alerted Capitol Police officials, but some federal officials grew concerned when no immediate action was taken, according to the sources. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan voiced his frustration to then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, according to a senior federal official with knowledge of the incident. Chertoff, a former federal appeals court judge, told officials that if the Capitol Police did not act, he was prepared to take the issue to members of Congress overseeing the inauguration, the senior federal official said.
"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. . . . But there are codes of conduct that are necessary for law enforcement and people in positions of public trust," said one senior federal official with knowledge of the episode. Common sense dictated, the official added, that the swearing-in of the nation's first black president was not a time to take chances.
... Officials have said that a principal concern was the possibility of hate crimes spurred by racial prejudice, leading them to focus investigative attention before the inauguration on any number of domestic groups with white supremacist views.
The Capitol Police suspended the two officers with pay on Jan. 19, the eve of the inauguration ceremony, pending an internal inquiry into an allegation that they associated with felons in violation of department policy, according to a senior law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the personnel matter. The official said the action was taken as soon as officials received the FBI's file and was not precipitated by Chertoff..
Yeesh... So who were they associated with?
The suspended officers have no known criminal record, a senior law enforcement official said, and colleagues said the men are well regarded within the force. The officers rose to the attention of federal law enforcement partly because of their long association with a Southern Maryland motorcycle club, the Tribes. The group is a rough-hewn band of bike enthusiasts founded more than 30 years ago by corrections officers and other law enforcement officials.
The club came under law enforcement scrutiny earlier this decade, and in January 2004, a former member, John Beal, pleaded guilty to gun and drug charges after an undercover investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Capitol Police are barred from associating with felons, a policy shared by other law enforcement agencies.
Looks like Tribes website is here. The pics are ... um ... very bikery? On the up-side, they have participated in Toys for Tots ...
While we were in D.C. we were told that there were literally hundreds of hate groups being monitored by the Secret Service, FBI and Homeland Security during the inaugural. The primary brought out many of the crazies (including at those infamous Palinite rallies) but the inauguration surely brought out even more.
Meanwhile, over at Politico: the birthers are starting to really annoy people ... and by people, I mean judges...
If you’re baffled why the G.O.P. would thrust Jindal into prime time, the answer is desperation. Eager to update its image without changing its antediluvian (or antebellum) substance, the party is trying to lock down its white country-club blowhards. The only other nonwhite face on tap, alas, is the unguided missile Michael Steele, its new national chairman. Steele has of late been busy promising to revive his party with an “off-the-hook” hip-hop P.R. campaign, presumably with the perennially tan House leader John Boehner leading the posse.
At least the G.O.P.’s newfound racial sensitivity saved it from choosing the white Southern governor often bracketed with Jindal as a rising “star,” Mark Sanford of South Carolina. That would have been an even bigger fiasco, for Sanford is from the same state as Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the junior high school student who sat in Michelle Obama’s box on Tuesday night and whose impassioned letter to Congress was quoted by the president.
In her plea, the teenager begged for aid to her substandard rural school. Without basic tools, she poignantly wrote, she and her peers cannot “prove to the world” that they too might succeed at becoming “lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president.”
What such G.O.P. “stars” as Sanford and Jindal have in common, besides their callous neo-Hoover ideology, are their phony efforts to portray themselves as populist heroes. Their role model is W., that brush-clearing “rancher” by way of Andover, Yale and Harvard. Listening to Jindal talk Tuesday night about his immigrant father’s inability to pay for an obstetrician, you’d never guess that at the time his father was an engineer and his mother an L.S.U. doctoral candidate in nuclear physics. Sanford’s first political ad in 2002 told of how growing up on his “family’s farm” taught him “about hard work and responsibility.” That “farm,” the Charlotte Observer reported, was a historic plantation appraised at $1.5 million in the early 1980s. From that hardscrabble background, he struggled on to an internship at Goldman Sachs.
Read the whole thing. It's more than worth it, and contains some sober warnings for President Obama, too.
While Obama's proposed budget will hit Bush hard in the wallet, just like other wealthy Americans, the main blow may be aimed at his reputation.
The 134-page spending plan opens with a 10-page preamble entitled "Inheriting a Legacy of Misplaced Priorities" that lays blame for many of today's problems at the doorstep of the former president.
"It is no coincidence that the policy failures of the past eight years have been accompanied by unprecedented Governmental secrecy and unprecedented access by lobbyists and the well-connected to policymakers in Washington. Consequently, the needs of those in the room trump those of their fellow citizens," the plan says.
But others get blamed in a broad-brush condemnation: "For the better part of three decades, a disproportionate share of the Nation's wealth has been accumulated by the very wealthy," the budget says. It blasts "a legacy of irresponsibility," adding, "It's our responsibility to change it."
Mining the WaPo: Robin Hood and the budget showdown to come
The House got cold feet on mortgage modifications. The key paragraph in the WaPo story:
Under the provision, a bankruptcy judge would be able to cut the principal on a homeowner's mortgage, lower the interest rate and extend the terms, provisions known as "cramdowns." Judges are already allowed to modify mortgages for vacation or second homes but not for a borrower's primary residence.
In other words, bankruptcy will continue to be rich man's relief, at least for now. This time, Democrats tied to the financial services sector also opposed the change.
Meanwhile, the right is howling about President Obama's budget proposal, which gives real world figures for our debt and deficit for the first time. And yes, it's not looking good. But Republicans will have a hard time running away from the record of the president and Congress who got us here. (Spoiler alert: Both of them are Republican.)
From Dan Froomkin, we get the coming GOP narrative: that Obama is playing Robin Hood:
"You know, there are times where you can afford to redecorate your house and there are times where you need to focus on rebuilding its foundation," Obama said this morning "Today, we have to focus on foundations."
What he didn't mention was that he was also ripping out some of the foundations that were laid by the previous administration.
Obama's budget would dramatically increase taxes on the wealthy, while cutting payments and subsidies to insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness and defense contractors -- and mandating a system to charge polluters for their carbon emissions.
It would, in short, reverse the redistribution of wealth that took place during the Bush era. This time, the rich will be subsidizing the poor, not the other way around.
The revenue increases -- supplemented by staggering deficit spending -- would pay for tax cuts for non-wealthy Americans and hugely ambitious plans in the areas of energy, health and education that, as Obama insisted on Tuesday night are necessary to assure the country's long-term prosperity.
And the problem with that would be...? I recall that rich people did pretty well under the Clinton tax rates, which is what we're returning to.
Meanwhile, Bill Kristol, trying to reinvent himself at the WaPo, advises Republicans to try and smother the Obama agenda soon:
Obama's aim is not merely to "revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity." Obama outlined much of this new foundation in the most unabashedly liberal and big-government speech a president has delivered to Congress since Lyndon Baines Johnson. Obama intends to use his big three issues -- energy, health care and education -- to transform the role of the federal government as fundamentally as did the New Deal and the Great Society.
Conservatives and Republicans will disapprove of this effort. They will oppose it. Can they do so effectively? Perhaps -- if they can find reasons to obstruct and delay. They should do their best not to permit Obama to rush his agenda through this year. They can't allow Obama to make of 2009 what Franklin Roosevelt made of 1933 or Johnson of 1965. Slow down the policy train. Insist on a real and lengthy debate. Conservatives can't win politically right now. But they can raise doubts, they can point out other issues that we can't ignore (especially in national security and foreign policy), they can pick other fights -- and they can try in any way possible to break Obama's momentum. Only if this happens will conservatives be able to get a hearing for their (compelling, in my view) arguments against big-government, liberal-nanny-state social engineering -- and for their preferred alternatives.
Poor Bill Kristol. Having embarrassed himself as an error-prone New York Times columnist, he's now reduced to doing his schtick on Fox News and posting snipey blogs on the WaPo. His beef with Obama? He didn't mention Kristol's favorite subject in the non-SOTU speech last night, and that subject is WAR, WAR, BEAUTIFUL, GLORIOUS WAR!!!!!!!
He looked shell shocked. He spoke in a monotonous, hokey voice, that reminded me of one of those old fashioned "Your body and you" films we were forced to watch in seventh grade. And that accent! I mean, the guy sounded like an Indian Barney Fife! But what was truly lame about Bobby Jindal's response to President Obama's commanding address tonight was the content. In short: there was none.
Jindal invoked Hurricane Katrina (which caused billions of federal dollars to be sucked into his state) to pooh-pooh government spending. He then waxed creepy, referring to an "old saying" about half of Louisiana being "under water" and the other half being "under indictment." Sorry, but even so many years after Katrina, that under water shit's just not funny, man.
He snickered at investments in a new fleet of federal government automobiles that would ostensibly be built in Detroit ... hence creating jobs ... and high speed rail "from Las Vegas to Disneyland," which even if it were true, would also ... wait for it ... create (in this case, infrastructure) jobs.
He told hokey story after hokey story, about his dad, about the wonders of the supermarket, peppering a terrible speech with "Americans can do anything." It sounded like he should end each sentence with "Ma" or "Pa." Truly, this guy is the male Sarah Palin!
He invoked the shop-worn GOP tactic for appealing to ... well I'm not sure who at this point ... by droning on and on about slavery. As if! Barack Obama is already president, dude. Moving on, now!
He claimed Republicans in Congress "went along with" big government spending during the six years they controlled EVERY BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT, instead of allowing his buddies in D.C. to take responsibility. And then he talked about re-asserting personal responsibility. Somebody get me a hammer for my head!
And those eyes! Staring, unmoving, into the camera... I felt hypnotized, and not in a good way...
If that guy is the future of the Republican Party, all I can say is Barack Obama: four more years.
Rachel Maddow's review was priceless: "bah bah bah ... I know I talk for a living, but I'm not sure I'm capable of doing what I get paid to do right now. I'm absolutely stunned."
I just wish Jindal's speech contained more substance.
Instead, the governor stuck to the tried-and-true attacks on Democrats as the spend, spend, spend party. That's basically true.
But what's the alternative from the GOP? Exactly how do Jindal and the Republicans want to get America out of its fiscal mess?
Look closely, and Jindal's speech contained little that shows he and his party have a lot of good clues about how to do that.
Yeah, well you should have seen it, brother! Even before Jindall got started, Chris Matthews muttered "Oh God..." (with the mic still hot...) setting up the hilarity to follow.
More Youtube fun. Jindal repeats debunked claims on high speed rail. Watch those eyes and tell me you are not entertained:
UPDATE: ThinkProgress compiles the Jindal pannery (from the Fox News panel, no less) and throws in some choice clips from Jindal Fife's little talk with America (and yes, he did call himself a "what folks in the in-SUR-ance industry call a 'pre-existing condition'...") God help us all...
I thought his delivery was weak. The content will play well with the party base but seems unlikely to expand it. . . . That said, it is hard for anybody to come out well from responding to a presidential speech to a joint session of Congress.
On the up-side, the Giant Fur Hat Lady, the Hair Tail off the Side Lady and Joe the Plumber's dad thought he was "exemPLARY." I suppose Frank Luntz can't afford to be picky these days...
President Obama's address to Congress and the American people tonight is being described as Reaganesque. I think it was more FDR than Reagan, but there you go. He made clear the challenges we face (the "day of reckoning" part.) but promised the nation that we will recover. So far, the reviews are great. From the AP:
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama gave America the audacity to hope again.
After describing the U.S. economy in nearly apocalyptic terms for weeks, pushing his $787 billion stimulus plan through Congress, the president used his address to Congress on Tuesday night to tap the deep well of American optimism — the never-say-die spirit that every president tries to capture in words. And great presidents embody.
"We will rebuild. We will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," Obama said, echoing Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
"The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach," Obama said. "What is required now for this country is to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more."
The themes of responsibility, accountability and, above all, national community rang throughout an address carefully balanced by the gravity of its times. Job losses. Home foreclosures. Credit crisis. Rising health care costs. Declining trust in government. Obama touched all those bases.
From the White House press office: excerpts of President Obama's speech tonight:
We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.
Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.
On the stimulus bill and his soon to be dropped budget:
The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.
My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.
Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.
But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.
A new ABC/WaPo poll puts the president's approval rating at 68 percent. The GOP? Not so much.
Compared, the approval ratings fall this way:
President Obama - 68% Democrats in Congress - 50 Republicans in Congress - 38 (wah wah waaaaahhhhh....)
And the Post writes:
Overall, 68 percent of poll respondents approve of Obama's job performance, a finding that puts him on par with the average for the past eight presidents at this point in their tenures. Ninety percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents approve of Obama's performance. Sixty-four percent said they approve of how Obama is handling appointments to the Cabinet and other top positions in the administration, despite tax problems and stumbles that have led to three of his top nominees withdrawing from consideration.
Although Obama has encountered near-unanimous GOP opposition to his stimulus plan in Congress and widespread criticism for a housing bailout plan that some say rewards people who have been fiscally irresponsible, 64 percent of those polled back the economic recovery package, and the same percentage support the mortgage proposal. The broad support for the recovery package comes as just 10 percent said the bill was too heavy on spending and too light on tax cuts, the primary contention of the Republican leadership in Congress.
Overall, 60 percent of poll respondents approve of how Obama is dealing with the economy.
About nine in 10 Democrats and seven in 10 independents said Obama is living up to the central promise of his campaign: bringing change to Washington. Most Republicans said he is not.
Half of all poll respondents said they approve of how congressional Democrats are doing their jobs, up 15 points from July and the highest marks they have received in nearly two years. Congressional Republicans also are being viewed more favorably, with 38 percent approving of their job performance, a 13-point improvement since the middle of last year.
Head to head, though, Americans put far more faith in Obama than in congressional Republicans: Sixty-one percent said they trust Obama more than the GOP on economic matters; 26 percent side with the Republicans in Congress. On that question, Obama's advantage is bigger than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush ever had over the opposition party in the legislature.
Overall, Democrats maintain an edge of nearly 2 to 1 over Republicans as the party that Americans prefer to confront "the big issues" over the next few years.
The Daily Beast posts a scary piece by Reza Aslan. It concludes:
The true threat to peace in the region, and, consequently, to Israel’s future, comes from the prime minister himself, who, as recently as last month, declared his intention to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank in direct violation of the “Road Map to Peace,” put in place by the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the UN. This is the man that Israelis have once again elected to lead their country. A man whose Likud Party platform explicitly rejects the creation of a Palestinian state (“The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River”), refers to the Occupied Territories by their biblical names “Judea” and “Samaria,” and pledges to continue building settlements in the West Bank, in violation of international law, as “a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”
Let’s be clear: A political party has just been freely elected in the Middle East whose charter rejects the two-state solution, whose leader refuses to implement previous negotiations, and whose constituency, indeed whose very platform, denies the existence of a sovereign Palestinian entity. One can only assume that, given recent American precedence, this new party will not be allowed to govern. Indeed, we all await the economic blockade that will inevitably be put in place in Israel until the prime minister’s party changes its charter to match international norms.
And guess who Bibi is forming his new government with?
Much has been made about the position that Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-nationalist leader of the suddenly mainstream Yisrael Beiteinu party, will play in the new Israeli government being formed by Netanyahu. Yet Lieberman is nothing but a professional provocateur—an odious, racist, populist politician who has publicly called for the drowning of Palestinian prisoners, the execution of Palestinian-Israeli parliament members, the bombing of all Palestinian-owned businesses, the obliteration of Gaza “just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II,” and the expulsion of Arab citizens from Israel whom Lieberman deems “disloyal.”
My first introduction to Netanyahu were his frequent appearances on "Nightline" when I was a kid in the 1980s. Even then, he struck me as an extremist, a racist, and an expansionist who wanted nothing less than the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their native lands. With him leading the Israeli government, good luck with the peace process, everybody.
A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds broad support for President Obama's mortgage rescue plan, though you wouldn't know it from CBS News' headline:
Poll: Public Wary Of More Bailouts
Really? Sounds grim (and this from the new home of an extremist like this.) But let's read on...
As President Obama pushes a $75 billion mortgage relief plan, sixty-one percent of those surveyed say the government should help homeowners, while just 20 percent oppose such help.
Hm... that doesn't match the headline...
But while 35 percent say Mr. Obama’s plan makes them feel relieved for people facing foreclosure, just as many are resent the beneficiaries of the program for needing to be rescued following what respondents see as irresponsible behavior.
Let's examine that, shall we? In the actual poll, rather than the story, 61 percent indeed say homeowners should be helped. But that includes 47 percent of Republicans (with just 31 percent opposed) and 59 percent of Independents, with just 24 percent opposed. Democrats approve of helping struggling homeowners by a wider 73-9 percent. As for resentment, the poll reads this way:
OBAMA’S PLAN TO AID HOMEOWNERS MAKES YOU FEEL… Relieved for people facing foreclosure 35% Resentful of irresponsible homeowners 35 Don’t know enough about plan yet 26
Not sure that means Americans are "increasingly resentful." It means that about one-third each feel relieved or resentful. Not exactly "public wary of more bailouts." What the poll does find is that a majority of Americans don't want to hand more money to banks: just 39 percent approve of that idea, versus 50 percent who disagree. The reason? 57 percent don't believe that giving money to the banks, who aren't lending the money (and who may actually be hiding it...) will help the economy.
On the other hand, a majority of Americans do oppose bailouts to corporate entities and banks, in other words, to the people they perceive as the villains in the economic collapse. Per CBS:
Fifty-nine percent say President Obama’s proposal to help banks would only help bankers, not all Americans.
There is widespread support for the president and Congress’ efforts to cap executive pay: Eighty-three percent say the government should limit executive salaries if companies get federal money. Just 11 percent say it should not.
Americans are even less supportive of a further bailout for the U.S. auto industry. (Automakers have already received loans from the government but say they may need more money to avoid bankruptcy.) Just 22 percent say the government should give more money to automakers, while 68 percent oppose any further aid.
But guess who isn't seen as the villain? That would be Barack Obama:
One month into his term, President Obama’s overall approval rating remains favorable, with 63 percent of Americans approving of the job he is doing as president. The figure is similar to the approval rating he received earlier this month.
Seventy-six percent of Americans are confident in Mr. Obama’s ability to make the right decisions about the economy, including nearly a third who are very confident.
More than half of Americans also approve of President Obama’s handling of foreign policy (57 percent) and Iraq (54 percent).
And 77 percent are optimistic about the next four years with Mr. Obama as president, including 57 percent of Republicans.
Meanwhile, the public appears to be tiring of the Republican political stunt-making when it comes to reviving the economy, and they are increasingly seen as partisan and obstructionist:
While the percentage of Americans who believe the president is trying for bipartisanship has slipped seven points from earlier this month, 74 percent still think he is trying to be bipartisan.
By contrast, just 45 percent say Congressional Democrats are trying to be bipartisan and 31 percent say Congressional Republicans are trying to do so.
Most of those surveyed say Republican opposition to the stimulus bill - it passed with the support of no House Republicans and just three Senate Democrats - results from politics.
Sixty-three percent say GOP opposition was for political reasons, while 29 percent say it was because the stimulus bill would be bad for the economy.
Americans say Mr. Obama should focus more on his positions than reaching across the aisle. Fifty-six percent say he should prioritize sticking to his policies, while just 39 percent say he should put bipartisanship first. Seventy-nine percent, however, say Congressional Republicans should prioritize bipartisanship.
In other words: throw the Republicans overboard. Back to the stimulus bill: the exact numbers are as follows:
IMPACT OF STIMULUS BILL ON ECONOMY (will make things) Better 53% Worse 13 No impact 24
And Americans have realistic expectations:
STIMULUS BILL’S EFFECT ON LENGTH OF RECESSION Will shorten significantly 19% Will shorten, not significantly 17 Will not shorten 50
Most of those surveyed assumed Obama's plans would improve the economy in 2 to 4 years.
BTW, the GOP has caught onto the public mood, and even Bobby Jindal was bending over backward to sound "bipartisan" during the governors' news conference today. Too late, my friend.
Meanwhile Bobby Jindal was on MTP this weekend, and still trying to convince thinking people that his state doesn't want to take the stim money. By the way, Jindal's argument is that he has to look out for the business owners and "taxpayers" of Louisiana, which is why he doesn't want unemployment insurance help from Uncle Sam. In other words: screw the broke. Jindal represents the "winners."
SC's Mark Sanford is trying to boost his GOP star power by saying he doesn't want the money either, (unless of course he DOES want the money...) to which I say, "make my day." (Paul Begala agrees. Any Republican governor or Senator who doesn't want the money should just leave it on the table (and good luck getting re-elected.) Arnold Schwarzenegger, who the Daily Beast reports nearly left the GOP over his insistence on pragmatism, said on "This Week" that the Obama administration can "give the money to Cali." And Charlie Crist, who did a great job on MTP and looked incredibly reasonable, hammered home the fact that he's in office as a public servant, not a party servant, and he answers to the people of Florida, not the GOP. If the Republican Party had any brains left (which it apparently doesn't,) it would be more Arnold and Charlie, and less Bobby, Mark, and crazy Shelby.
He's got Bibi Netanyahu to deal with, and that's just in Israel. Here at home, one of the big three networks just made a fascinating hire. Per TPMCafe, "the new CBS Vice-President, [is] a right-wing extremist, a supporter of the craziest settlers on the West Bank and all out opponent of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations." The details:
A few weeks back CBS's "60 Minutes" ran a groundbreaking piece by Robert Simon showing that settlements had destroyed the two-state solution. One thing the piece left out is that American extremists have played a crucial role in that destruction by supporting the settlements and quietly undermining the "peace process" (such as it is).
Rupert Murdoch's New York Post today ran this cartoon marrying the Travis the Chimp saga with the debate over President Obama's economic recovery plan. Take a look:
Mm-hm. In case you're having trouble reading it, the cop behind the one who just shot the Travis stand-in is saying, "they'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." One presumes that the Post, whose editorial stance is reflively, Fox-ily, anti-Obama (and who clearly don't have enough black people on staff in the editorial department, since surely if they did, one of them would have warned them...) wouldn't have been able to figure out in advance that anyone might take offense...
Okay. Well whether or not you are offended probably depends on who you think wrote the stim in the first place (Democrats in Congress or Obama,) since the cartoon seems to be sending the message that it was so bad it seems to have been written by a crazy monkey hopped up on Xanax.
So if you think Congressional Democrats are that crazy monkey, your outrage level is probably at about level 5 (if you're a Dem, zero if you're a Republican.) If you think Obama was responsible for the bill (and you're not one of those inevitable nuts on the Internet who compare every monkey on Youtube to a black person ... scroll down to the comments, you'll see what I mean...) then let's just put you down for 10. ... or maybe 12.
The National Association of Black Journalists? They're a 12:
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 18, 2009 - While the New York Post has long held a reputation for eye-catching headlines and startling exposes, it has now resorted to the lowest common denominator of taste and class.
How could The Post let this cartoon pass as satire? To compare the nation’s first African American Commander in Chief to a dead chimpanzee is nothing short of racist drivel.
The publisher and editors of The New York Post owe its readers an explanation.
I question the judgment of the editorial editors to move this to print as well as the diversity of its staff that would let them think this passes as comedy.
While I believe editorials questioning yesterday’s signing of the record economic stimulus should exist, there is a line that should never be crossed. Top among them is the assassination of a U.S. President.
Barbara Ciara, president
Rev. Al? (apparently out of hiding after being sidelined by Bar during the campaign) 12:
The cartoon in today's New York Post is troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys. One has to question whether the cartoonist is making a less than casual reference to this when in the cartoon they have police saying after shooting a chimpanzee that "Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill."
Being that the stimulus bill has been the first legislative victory of President Barack Obama (the first African American president) and has become synonymous with him it is not a reach to wonder are they inferring that a monkey wrote the last bill?
Although the Guardian's Daniel Nawaw notes:
We at the Guardian America office in Washington don't get the humor, and I find the cartoon rather inane. It is worth noting that congressional Democrats wrote the bill, not Obama or anyone in the White House. If the conservative New York Post is calling Harry Reid, Max Baucus and Nancy Pelosi a bunch of monkeys, is that worth Sharpton getting worked up about?
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York Post cartoon that some have interpreted as comparing President Barack Obama to a violent chimpanzee gunned down by police drew outrage Wednesday from civil rights leaders and elected officials who said it echoed racist stereotypes of blacks as monkeys.
Is the monkey Obama? That may be what Sean Delonas intended but the beauty of good editorial cartoons is you do not get a road-map. The Post subsequently attempted to clarify by stating that the primate merely represents the Washington Democrats collectively who produced the flawed Obama bill.
The next question is should the left by so vehemently outragedby the identification of our president as a chimpanzee. One suspects there are short memories at work here and tiresome partisan shouting. A frequent pastime of our liberal friends was to call Bush “chimp.” What is the difference? None. the New York Post cartoon racist?
I dunno, you tell me ... Smirking Chimp? What say you? Of course, they're not the only ones to have made a sport of comparing Dubya to a chimp, (and Powerline and other rightie bloggers are making a lot of hay out of the cartoon archives...) but see, here's the thing: there's no more widespread smear against African people than the monkey reference. Anyone who draws cartoons for a living ought to have a bit more historical perspective and cultural acumen, don't ya think? Media Matters meanwhile, responds to Powerline:
Here's the thing, the Post cartoon in question depicted the chimp shot through the chest and dying on the sidewalk. When Power Line finds a cartoon published in a major metro American newspaper that associated Bush with a chimp dead on the sidewalk and his body riddled with bullets, than Power Line might have a point. Right now, it's just defending the indefensible.
The Obama homeowner plan will be unveiled today. Per the leaks, it's likely to contain substantial help for homeowners in trouble, which is great news for the economy (and the banks that got them there...) Says the WaPo:
President Obama will unveil today a $75 billion foreclosure prevention program, which the administration expects to reach up to 9 million homeowners.
"The plan I'm announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it," Obama will say at a speech in Mesa, Ariz., according to an advance text released by the White House.
The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan includes measures to allow homeowners to refinance into loans with cheaper payments, according to a summary of the plan. For example, if a lender agrees to lower a borrower's payment so that it comprises no more than 38 percent of his income, the government would pay to lower the payments further to 31 percent of income. The aim would be to make the payments affordable.
The plan offers incentives for lenders that modify troubled loans, with up to $1,000 for each modification and then another monthly "pay for success" fee as long as the borrower stays current, according to the summary. If the lender reaches an at-risk homeowner before they miss a payment and modifies their loan, the lender would be eligible for another incentive payment.
Homeowners will also be eligible for incentive payments. Those that stay current on their loans could qualify for a "monthly balance reduction payment that goes straight towards reducing the principal balance of the mortgage loan," according to the summary. The homeowner could receive up to $1,000 a year for five years.
The Obama plan does not include provisions to help investors and is focused solely on owner-occupied homes. Officials said the administration is trying to provide enough help to stem foreclosures while not rewarding borrowers who purposefully stop paying. At the same time, Obama's team wanted to risk only as much taxpayer money as absolutely necessary.
The plan "will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans," Obama will say, according to the text of his speech.
The administration estimates that the plan could stop the slide in home prices by up to $6,000 per home, simply by reducing foreclosures. "The effects of this crisis have also reverberated across the financial markets. When the housing market collapsed, so did the availability of credit on which our economy depends," Obama says in the prepared text. "As that credit has dried up, it has been harder for families to find affordable loans to purchase a car or pay tuition and harder for businesses to secure the capital they need to expand and create jobs."
And from WhiteHouse.gov, some of the fine print in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions thread:
Borrowers Who Are Current on Their Mortgage Are Asking:
What help is available for borrowers who stay current on their mortgage payments but have seen their homes decrease in value?
Under the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, eligible borrowers who stay current on their mortgages but have been unable to refinance to lower their interest rates because their homes have decreased in value, may now have the opportunity to refinance into a 30 or 15 year, fixed rate loan. Through the program, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will allow the refinancing of mortgage loans that they hold in their portfolios or that they placed in mortgage backed securities.
I owe more than my property is worth, do I still qualify to refinance under the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan?
Eligible loans will now include those where the new first mortgage (including any refinancing costs) will not exceed 105% of the current market value of the property. For example, if your property is worth $200,000 but you owe $210,000 or less you may qualify. The current value of your property will be determined after you apply to refinance.
How do I know if I am eligible?
Complete eligibility details will be announced on March 4th when the program starts. The criteria for eligibility will include having sufficient income to make the new payment and an acceptable mortgage payment history. The program is limited to loans held or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
Question: what is the point of helping homeowners who have an acceptable mortgage payment history? Doesn't that mean they aren't behind on their loans? Just asking. More fine print, and a seeming contradiction:
Borrowers Who Are at Risk of Foreclosure Are Asking:
What help is available for borrowers who are at risk of foreclosure either because they are behind on their mortgage or are struggling to make the payments?
The Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan offers help to borrowers who are already behind on their mortgage payments or who are struggling to keep their loans current. By providing mortgage lenders with financial incentives to modify existing first mortgages, the Treasury hopes to help as many as 3 to 4 million homeowners avoid foreclosure regardless of who owns or services the mortgage.
Do I need to be behind on my mortgage payments to be eligible for a modification?
No. Borrowers who are struggling to stay current on their mortgage payments may be eligible if their income is not sufficient to continue to make their mortgage payments and they are at risk of imminent default. This may be due to several factors, such as a loss of income, a significant increase in expenses, or an interest rate that will reset to an unaffordable level.
Hm. I guess I'll just wait for the announce.
UPDATE: President Obama is presenting the plan now. It sounds much better somehow in his speech than it did in the WaPo. The plan is clear and straightforward: refinancing Fannie and Freddie backed mortgages to market value, reducing mortgage payments for those in trouble to one-third of their income, allowing homeowners who are "upside down" on their mortgages to refinance at lower interest rates, and he plans to move forward on allowing bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments so that they reflect the fair market value of homes. Perhaps anticipating GOP objections to that provision, Obama pointed out that "that's already the rule for people who own 2, 3 and 4 houses, so it should also be the rule for people who own just one home."
"I'm curious to know how you are going to incorporate the unemployed into the stimulus. I'm broke as hell right now. I have $10 in my bank account. I've been out of work since October. No one is hiring. I just dropped off 30 applications today."
Poster child for the 'new' GOP: angry, old, bitter John McCain
John McCain: the world's most miserable politician
And some people thought he wasn't the party's ideal standard bearer... From the Huffpo:
Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with the brash political attacks Sen. John McCain has launched against Barack Obama in the weeks since the new president took office. No one expected the Arizona Republican to be a legislative ally for this administration. But it was widely assumed that Obama's overtures to McCain in the weeks after the election would dull some of the hard feelings between the two. Now, they are realizing, it has not.
"He is bitter and really angry," Bob Shrum said of McCain in an interview on Friday. "He is angry at the press, which he thinks is unfair. He is angry at Obama and angry at the voters. He has gone from being an angry old candidate to being an angry old defeated candidate."
Indeed, McCain has been all over TV, seeming to go out of his way to dis President Obama - the man who defeated him for the White House (happy Presidents Day, everybody!) and the economic recovery bill that passed the Senate without him or his little sidekick Miss Lindsey "we're screwed" Graham.
McCain is not alone. Even fellow conservatives are starting to notice how bereft and old fashioned the GOP's "salt marsh mouse" strategy is. Not to mention the fact that it won't work, unless the country plummets even deeper into recession. What a thing to root for...
Meanwhile President Obama heads to McCain's backyard on Wednesday to talk up his housing initiative. McCain will, sadly, be "in another part of the state." Heehee...
And double meanwhile, maybe this is the real reason McCain is so grouchy these days ... well, let's just face it, EVERY ... day...
John McCain might be fan favorite during Phoenix Suns games, but Arizona’s senior senator sure didn’t receive a warm hometown welcome Sunday night in front a national crowd at US Airways Center.
McCain, who’s held his seat in Arizona for 22 years, was greeted with a smattering of boos and hisses when introduced with wife, Cindy, during a break between the first and second quarter of the NBA All-Star game Sunday night.
His presidential opponent Barack Obama was greeted more cordially after a short speech that aired during halftime on the stadium’s monitors and big screens.
The best thing about this country is that even with its faults, the goodness and decency of most people almost always outweighs the nastiness and callowness of the few. When times are toughest, Americans pull together to help each other, and to support our neighbors, whether it's helping to put the shutters up on the block during hurricane season, or crying for the victims of 9/11 from a thousand miles away. I suppose that's actually true of all human beings, American or not, but hey, let me have my gauzy, patriotic moment.
A prime example of the fundamental goodness of people: Ms. Hughes and her son now have a home. From the Huffpo:
If you were paying attention to Obama's stimulus push yesterday it was hard to miss Henrietta Hughes, a woman on the verge of tears who asked the President to help her with an "urgent need": homelessness. After the Florida town hall where Hughes talked to Obama, a local Fort Myers paper says she was offered a home by State Representative Nick Thompson's wife.
The house is in LaBelle, the first home Scere Thompson bought after law school. She told Hughes, “Just give me the opportunity to help you.”
Rep. Thompson, I should point out, is a Republican, Expect the wingers to try and use this act of kindness to prove that government can't solve problems, since the Rep's wife got to Ms. Hughes before President Obama could (ah, look! They're starting already...) They do that, because "conservatives," broadly written, believe that human beings are fundamentally evil. Everything else they believe proceeds from there. But the right can't have it both ways. They can't sneer at charity and simultaneously claim that charity begins at the GOP.
An interview with Ms. Hughes (before the gift) below:
In Fort Myers today: President Obama and Charlie Crist team up
Let me say again, though I think I've said it before, that Charlie Crist is a very, very smart man. And ambitious. He neutralized lingering questions about his sexuality (at least in the press) by marrying a girl. And he didn't just marry any gil -- he married a rich socialite whose public image and net worth can only help his political fortunes.
He ran and won in 2006 as a moderate Republican, and succeeded in winning over a good number of Democrats (he also won 18 percent of the Black vote.)
He has somehow gotten away with flitting off to Europe for a $400,000 junket, having neutralized the story with ... the wedding to a girl...
When McCain ran for president, Charlie backed him instead of Uncle "Loser" Rudy, and even suffered the indignity of getting onstage with Sarah Palin AND shucking for oil derricks off the coast of Miami, all in an attempt to become vice president.
And when that didn't work out, he went back to being a moderate, and most recently stepped out publicly in support of President Obama and the economic stimulus package, becoming the most prominent governor -- and the first prominent Republican in the country, to do so. He did it early, and he did it at the same time El Rushbo and his former candidate, John McCain, were doing everything in their power to play spoiler.
I want to start by thanking your governor, Charlie Crist, for joining us today. Governors understand our economic crisis as well as anyone; they're on the front lines dealing with it every day. And Governor Crist shares my conviction that creating jobs and turning this economy around is a mission that transcends party. When the town is burning, we don't check party labels. Everyone needs to grab a hose!
Governor Crist and governors across the country understand that. Mayors across the country understand that. And I think you understand that, too. Which is what I want to talk about today.
Crist's embrace of the stiumulus is good policy and good politics, especially for a guy who may yet run for Senate (against, among others, Kendrick Meek, who press released his "accompanying" of President Obama to Fort Myers "aboard Air Force One" yesterday, but who didn't get much of a photo op out of it, while Crist got to introduce the president), and who already has crossover appeal among Democrats, who sometimes appear to like him better than his own base does. In a state that's trending blue, pissing off a few GOP hardliners probably helps Crist, rather than hurting him, especially since his actions, unlike his silly "drill here, drill now" fakery, will likely result in billions of dollars flowing into the state, while his opponents are only promising to say no, and say it often.
Also in Politico: Crist says yes, Mel says no. (And wouldn't that contrast be helpful for a would-be GOP Senator running against the tide of Democratic salivating over 60 votes in the Senate... what if the 60th vote could be a guy named Charlie...?)
In his prime time press conference tonight, President Obama laid into the opposition party with a velvet glove, that happened to have a pretty tightly clenched fist beneath it. He chided members of the other ideological party whose opening or final negotiation position is that government should "do nothing" while the economy continues to head off a cliff, saying they are alone in that ideological fixation, while most economists and people of common sense are with him. The bottom line is that something must be done, and that only government has the spending wherewithall to do it. The Republican formulation that if we just stand far back enough from the edge, we won't hear the screams as loudly as the cart carrying our economic future goes over the side.
Obama made a simple, succinct, and forceful case for his economic recovery plan, uttering the world "stimulus" only twice, and seemingly unintentionally. He gave complex, intelligent answers to economic and foreign policy questions, and even one on A-Rod -- a nice change after eight years of dumbass. Okay, sorry, that was partisan of me. Not very Age of Obama... but what is? Calling on Sam Stein of the Huffpo. Nice work if you can get it, Sam...
The president also answered a question that's been vexing me and many other Democrats: who the hell cares about bipartisanship??? His answer: "I didn't do [all of that outreach to Republicans] for a few vote this week. I did it for the long term," and to build good will that he can use for the next four years. Full answer:
You know, when I made a series of overtures to the Republicans, going over to meet with both Republican caucuses, you know, putting three Republicans in my cabinet -- something that is unprecedented -- making sure that they were invited here to the White House to talk about the economic recovery plan, all those were not designed simply to get some short-term votes. They were designed to try to build up some trust over time.
Obama didn't take the bait from Helen Thomas when she asked him if any Middle Eastern countries have nukes (read: Israel) and he wouldn't be pinned down on a timetable for Afghanistan, negotiations with Iran, or whether his administration will allow the media to view the flag draped coffins of our fallen troops. Not quite transparency, but I can live with it.
UPDATE: The Huffpo has the full transcript of the presser. Representative clip:
As I said, the one concern I've got on the stimulus package, in terms of the debate and listening to some of what's been said in Congress, is that there seems to be a set of folks who -- I don't doubt their sincerity -- who just believe that we should do nothing.
Now, if that's their opening position or their closing position in negotiations, then we're probably not going to make much progress, because I don't think that's economically sound and I don't think what -- that's what the American people expect, is for us to stand by and do nothing.
There are others who recognize that we've got to do a significant recovery package, but they're concerned about the mix of what's in there. And if they're sincere about it, then I'm happy to have conversations about this tax cut versus that -- that tax cut or this infrastructure project versus that infrastructure project.
But what I've -- what I've been concerned about is some of the language that's been used suggesting that this is full of pork and this is wasteful government spending, so on and so forth.
First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then, you know, I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now and the economic crisis that we have right now.
Number two is that, although there are some programs in there that I think are good policy, some of them aren't job-creators. I think it's perfectly legitimate to say that those programs should be out of this particular recovery package and we can deal with them later.
But when they start characterizing this as pork, without acknowledging that there are no earmarks in this package -- something, again, that was pretty rare over the last eight years -- then you get a feeling that maybe we're playing politics instead of actually trying to solve problems for the American people.
All I can say is, this guy's got extraordinar swag... And no, I'm not fantasizing (sick, twisted wenches...)
Paul Krugman feels about the same way I do about the Senate "compromise" wrought by newly emboldened "centrist" Mafiosa Susan Collins of Maine. It sucks:
What do you call someone who eliminates hundreds of thousands of American jobs, deprives millions of adequate health care and nutrition, undermines schools, but offers a $15,000 bonus to affluent people who flip their houses?
A proud centrist. For that is what the senators who ended up calling the tune on the stimulus bill just accomplished.
Even if the original Obama plan — around $800 billion in stimulus, with a substantial fraction of that total given over to ineffective tax cuts — had been enacted, it wouldn’t have been enough to fill the looming hole in the U.S. economy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will amount to $2.9 trillion over the next three years.
Yet the centrists did their best to make the plan weaker and worse.
One of the best features of the original plan was aid to cash-strapped state governments, which would have provided a quick boost to the economy while preserving essential services. But the centrists insisted on a $40 billion cut in that spending.
The original plan also included badly needed spending on school construction; $16 billion of that spending was cut. It included aid to the unemployed, especially help in maintaining health care — cut. Food stamps — cut. All in all, more than $80 billion was cut from the plan, with the great bulk of those cuts falling on precisely the measures that would do the most to reduce the depth and pain of this slump.
On the other hand, the centrists were apparently just fine with one of the worst provisions in the Senate bill, a tax credit for home buyers. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research calls this the “flip your house to your brother” provision: it will cost a lot of money while doing nothing to help the economy.
All in all, the centrists’ insistence on comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted will, if reflected in the final bill, lead to substantially lower employment and substantially more suffering.
Krugman blames the Obama administration's seeming obsession with bipartisanship for the worsening of the bill, and I agree. It's time to stop trying to coddle the opposition and start recognizing that there's a reason they are where they are. Giving Susan Collins a veto over the proposal so that she can play Cruella de Ville, demanding that no more money be given to those awful poor people and children, is a hell of a rotten negotiating position for the White House to be in.
WRONG. ABOUT. EVERY. F***ING. THING. From holding back the economic development of the early nation, to slavery, to the Civil War, to Jim Crow, to Segregation, to the minimum wage, to maximum hours, to workplace safety, to workers compensation, to food safety, to child labor, to isolationism, to the FDIC, to Social Security, to the union movement, to Red Baiting, to woman's suffrage, to anti-intellectualism, to workplace discrimination, to State's Rights, to the Voting Rights Act, to equal pay, to religious fundamentalism, to loving guns more than life itself, to anti-Catholicism, to anti-Semitism, to Vietnam, to the War on Terror, to birth control, to not taxing while really spending, to homophobia, to clean water, to environmentalism, to making the rubble bounce on brown people, to supporting torture, to police abuse, to global warming, to outlawing precious and blessed foreplay between consenting adults, generation after generation, they've been the assholes of the nation.
Stimwinder: Two Maines, a Pennsylvania, and a side of bacon
According to MSNBC, the three Republicans who have pledged to vote for the stimulus compromise bill are Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. If Ted Kennedy comes back, which is shameful for him to have to do (as Atrios points out,) that would give the Democrats exactly 60 votes, which NBC says they need because the bill would raise the deficit. Not sure I trust them on that -- need to look it up. But there it is. Cue the food metaphors!
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said the agreement was a bipartisan effort and cited the work of Collins and Specter.
"We trimmed the fat, fried the bacon and milked the sacred cows," Nelson said. He said the compromise included $350 billion in tax cuts that would reach 95 percent of all Americans.
Collins said negotiators cut more than $110 billion in "unnecessary spending" in the compromise package.
"Is it perfect? No. Every compromise reflects choices that are necessary to bring people together," she said.
Specter said he supported the deal even though parts of it "give me heartburn."
So it seems we have a deal. The punkdafied Democrats in the Senate, led by the compromise king, Harry Reid, have crafted a deal (apparently co-produced by Olympia Snowe of Maine and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.) The deal? Supposedly, it's 52% spending and 48% tax cuts -- up from the 30 percent tax cuts already forked over by the House.
So what's wrong with this picture? I can still remember taking the class dubbed "Ec 10" at Harvard, taught by former Reagan economic advisor Martin "Marty" Feldstein. One of the few tidbits of that course that I remember is this: people tend act, according to utility theory, according to what they think is best for them. And they can be made to act on what's best for others only to the extent that they see the good in an action for themselves. For instance: if you give a hungry person $100, they will probably buy food with it. If you give a full person $100, you will have a hard time convincing them to use the money for food. So why, pray tell, would you give a rich person a tax cut, putting more cash in their pockets, and assume that they will use the money to help out the jobless? What, I ask, is in it for them?
Answer: not much -- not in this economy. Tax cuts, even for the middle class, will likely be saved, not spent. Whereas, tax cuts to the poor are guaranteed to be spent back into the economy, because the poor need to spend.
Meanwhile, over on Capitol Hill, Republicans -- the losing party in the last two national elections -- have managed to scam more tax cuts out of the stimulus bill, by accusing Democrats, successfuly it turns out, of "spending rather than stimulating." Well, let's return to our "Ec 10" lesson, shall we? See, as it turns out, the definition of "stimulus" in ecoomic terms is ... um ... spending. Go figure.
As Media Matters points out, Republicans have succeeded in getting the media to frame the debate as either government spending or stimulation, with tax cuts placed in the column of stimulation. But the problem is, tax cuts are not stimulative. And spending is not just stimulative, it is the very definition of stimulation. As President Obama put it today, "that's the whole point! Watch:
And MM's Jamison Foser adds:
Fundamentally flawed stimulus coverageby Jamison FoserIf there's one fact that should be made clear in every news report about the stimulus package working its way through Congress, it is this: Government spending is stimulative. That's a basic principle of economics, and understanding it is essential to assessing any stimulus package. So it should be an underlying premise of the media's coverage of the stimulus debate. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. Indeed, reporters routinely suggest that spending is not stimulative.
Economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explains: "Spending that is not stimulus is like cash that is not money. Spending is stimulus, spending is stimulus. Any spending will generate jobs. It is that simple. ... Any reporter who does not understand this fact has no business reporting on the economy.
"Unfortunately, many of the reporters who have shaped the stimulus debate don't seem to understand that.ABC's Charles Gibson portrayed spending and stimulus as opposing concepts in a question to President Obama: "And as you know, there's a lot of people in the public, a lot of members of Congress who think this is pork-stuffed and that it really doesn't stimulate. A lot of people have said it's a spending bill and not a stimulus."
That formulation -- "it's a spending bill and not a stimulus" -- is complete nonsense; it's like saying, "This is a hot fudge sundae, not a dessert." But nonsensical as it is, it has also been quite common in recent news reports. There's another problem with Gibson's formulation, though -- in describing the stimulus as a "spending bill," he ignores the fact that the bill contains tax cuts, too. Lots and lots of tax cuts. And those tax cuts, by the way, provide less stimulus than government spending on things like food stamps and extending unemployment benefits. It probably goes without saying that Gibson didn't ask if the bill would be more effective if the tax cuts were replaced by additional spending.
MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, among others, has repeatedly suggested "welfare" provisions in the bill wouldn't stimulate the economy. This is the exact opposite of true; those provisions are among the most stimulative things the government can possibly do. There are some fairly obvious reasons why that is true, beginning with the fact that if you give a poor person $100 in food stamps, you can be pretty sure they're going to spend all $100 of it; but if you give a rich person $100 in tax cuts, they probably won't spend much of it at all.
But we needn't rely on logic and common sense to know that welfare spending is stimulative; economists study these things. One such economist is Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com, who served as an adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign. Zandi has produced a handy chart showing how much a variety of spending increases and tax cuts would stimulate the economy. According to Zandi, a dollar spent on increasing unemployment benefits yields $1.64 in increased gross domestic product, and a dollar spent on food stamps yields $1.73 in GDP. As for tax cuts, Zandi says the most effective form is a payroll tax holiday. A one dollar reduction in federal revenues as a result of such a tax holiday would produce a $1.29 increase in GDP -- far less than the benefit realized from extending unemployment benefits, increasing food stamps, providing general aid to state governments, or spending on infrastructure. ...
Now that a deal has apparently been done, let's hope that the 42% of the now $790 billion deal is tax cuts for the middle and lower middle classes.
Otherwise, it might be time to impeach Harry Reid.
The singer, who looks for all the world like a geriatric Beyonce, says she was just kidding when she threatened to whip the younger woman for singing "her" ... ahem ... song, "At Last." But she really is pissed at Obama, as she told the NYDN:
"I didn't really mean anything," James said. "Even as a little child, I've always had that comedian kind of attitude. ... That's probably what went into it."
Still, James acknowledged being miffed she wasn't invited to perform her signature song for Obama's first dance with his wife on inauguration night.
James said she was "feeling left out of something that was basically mine, that I had done every time you look around."
She said she liked Beyoncé's performance, but when asked if she thought she could have done better, James answered, "I think so. That's a shame to say that."
As for why she never hit the "stop" button, even after declaring Obama "not her prez?" Because she was getting the laughs, man!
"Nobody was getting mad at me in Seattle," she said. "They were all laughing, and it was funny."
She said the jokes were "not from a vicious place."
James pointed out that she posed for a picture and spoke with Beyoncé last year before the premiere of "Cadillac Records," in which the young singer portrays the 71-year-old legend.
As for Obama, James said she "always thought he was handsome and he was cool."
"I still had my joke about him," she said. "That might be horrible. The President might not ever like me in life."
She questioned how upset Obama could possibly be about the barb: "He's got other stuff [to worry about] besides Etta James."
The GOP continues to fiddle while the country burns. Today, Barack Obama continued his "calling out the losers" tour:
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama decried as "inexcusable and irresponsible" the delay of his economic recovery legislation in Congress with an estimated 3.6 million Americans losing their jobs since the recession began.
Obama's remarks were some of his most direct and pointed in support of the massive economic package that the Senate considered Friday and tried to pare down below its $900-billion-plus price tag. Obama acknowledged it was not perfect and pledged to work with lawmakers to refine the measure, which he called "absolutely necessary."
"But broadly speaking, the package is the right size, it is the right scope, and it has the right priorities to create 3 to 4 million jobs, and to do it in a way that lays the groundwork for long-term growth," Obama said at a ceremony in the White House East Room.
The president named an outside economic team of advisers as the nation dealt with more bad news in the unemployment report for January. Employers slashed payrolls by 598,000, the most since the end of 1974, propelling the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent. The rate is the highest since September 1992.
"These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay or politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work," Obama said bluntly. "Now is the time for Congress to act."
Meanwhile, the staggering job losses that aren't phasing the GOPers, apparently, continue to bite the hell out of the rest of us.
But according to TMZ, whether or not her snidery makes sense depends on what the meaning of "her" is...
Etta went on stage in Seattle last week and told the crowd she's gonna lay the smack down on B for "singin' my song" at Obama's Inauguration Ball. But not only did the 71-year-old not write the song, she wasn't even the first -- or second -- to record it!
Glenn Miller did it first in 1941, followed by Nat King Cole in 1957. Etta got around to recording it in 1961. In fact, Glenn's version ranked higher on the Billboard Pop Singles chart than Etta's ever did.
FYI -- neither Miller nor Cole ever threatened to beat Etta's ass -- although it's about time someone knocks some sense into that lady.
Barack Obama today named 26-year-old Josh Dubois, his head of faith outreach during the campaign, to head his office of faith based initiatives, a relic of the Bush administration that will survive, apparently, though with revisions, including eliminating the green light on discriminatory hiring practices.
Dubois has a rich history of advocacy on civil and human rights that goes back to his college days, and did a great job during the campaign. I met him when he came to Miami toward the end of the campaign. Solid guy. More on the changes:
Joshua DuBois’ job as head of the Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is expected to differ from that of his predecessor in the Bush administration. Obama has indicated that in addition to advising local religious leaders on how to get federal funding, the role will now also include working with them on social service outreach and tying their efforts into the administration’s fights against problems such as poverty.
Dubois is a Pentacostal minister, in case you're wondering.
Obama finally fires back (Senate Dems, not so much...)
After taking weeks of crap from Republicans who are busy braying for more tax cuts for the rich, while the country literally falls apart, President Obama finally hit back yesterday, while signing the State children's healthcare bill Dubya vetoed twice. Said Obama:
"In the past two days, I have heard criticisms of this plan that, frankly, echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis in the first place," Obama said, before signing a children's health insurance bill.
He took aim at the "notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems" and warned against the idea that the economic crisis could be tackled with "half steps, and piecemeal measures and tinkering around the edges."
Obama also faulted unnamed opponents he said believe "that we can ignore the fundamental challenges like the high cost of healthcare and still expect our economy and country to thrive."
"I reject these theories, and by the way so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change," the president said, in his most edgy partisan language in his two weeks in office.
Meanwhile, guess who is emerging as the face of the opposition in the Senate? John "Defeated in the Last Election" McCain. He had this to say about the bill:
"No bill is better than this bill, because it increases the deficit by over a trillion dollars," Senator McCain told CBS News, a day after Democratic leaders sent signals that they did not yet have the votes to pass the measure.
Really? No bill? And who might be blamed for the tanking economy if no bill passes? That's right: Republicans. Oh, and the spineless Democrats, led by the even more spineless Harry Reid, who purportedly form the Congressional majority. As this post by Tommy Christopher over at Political Machine puts it:
I had to chuckle a little when I saw Matt Lewis' similarly titled article (actually, it was less a chuckle, and more of a singular "Ha!"), because I was preparing to blast Senate Democrats for their utter lack of balls. As my trip to the inauguration proved, Democrats are more than willing to dance at them, but completely disinterested in having any of their own.
The Huffington Post reports that Senate Democrats are wandering around, decrying their lack of votes to pass the stimulus plan...
Only they don't need 60 votes. All they need is for Harry Reid to do his job and impose the old fashioned fillibuster rules. Which Republican will be willing to take the bait? And if they don't, the bill would pass on a straight up or down vote. Grow a pair, Dems.
Meanwhile, Obama floats an op-ed, reiterating his opposition to old, stale, failed tax cut policy.
Score one for the fabulous Claire McCaskill. Obama has adopted her plan (which, to be fair, was first proposed by Bernie Sanders...) From the IHT:
The Obama administration is expected to impose a cap of $500,000 on the compensation of top executives at companies that receive large amounts of federal bailout money, according to people familiar with the plan.
Under new rules to be announced by the Treasury Department as early as Wednesday, executives would also be prohibited from receiving any bonuses above their base pay, except for normal stock dividends.
The new rules would be far tougher than any restrictions imposed during the Bush administration, and they could force executives in the months ahead to accept deep reductions in their current pay.
Executives at companies that have already received money from Treasury Department would not have to make any changes. But analysts and administration officials are bracing for a huge wave of new losses, largely because of the deepening recession, and many companies that have already received federal aid may be seeking more.
Under the Treasury's $700 billion rescue program, most companies that have received money so far have been considered "healthy" rather than on the brink of collapse.
But five of the biggest companies that got federal aid – Citigroup, Bank of America and American International Group, General Motors and Chrysler -- were all facing acute problems. And top executives at those companies made far more than $500,000 annually in recent years.
Kenneth Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America, made more than $20 million in 2007. Of that, $5.75 million was in salary and bonuses.
Vikram Pandit, who became chief executive of Citigroup in December of 2007 and previously held other senior positions at the bank, made $3.1 million.
Richard Wagoner, the chief executive of General Motors, made $14.4 million, much of it in stock, options and other non-cash benefits. He earned a $1.6 million annual salary.
"That is pretty draconian — $500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus," said James Reda, founder and managing director of James F. Reda & Associates, a compensation consulting firm. "And you know these companies that are in trouble are not going to pay much of an annual dividend."
Not a lot of money? Get over yourselves. If you want tax dollars, no more free lunch. By the way, the plan is $100,000 more generous than what McCaskill or Sanders proposed, which was to cap the salaries of the hat in hand crowd at what the president makes.
Dear Harry: Don't be a wuss. Make the bastards filibuster
If Republicans, led by the eyebrowless Mitch McConnell plan to try and derail the economic stimulus bill in the Senate to try and stick the Democrats up for more Bushian tax cuts for the rich, here's an idea, Harry: make them filibuster it, the old fashioned way. In other words, no wimpy cloture vote. If they want to filibuster, make the bastards stand in the well of the Senate for as many hours as they're willing to talk. Just like their Democratic forebears did in efforts to stop civil rights legislation in the 1960s (before they all jumped ship and became Republicans.)
The economy shrank at a 3.8 percent pace at the end of 2008, the worst showing in a quarter-century, as the deepening recession forced consumers and businesses to throttle back spending.
Although the initial result was better than economists expected, the figure is likely to be revised even lower in the months ahead and some believe the economy is contracting in the current quarter at an even faster pace.
The new figure, released Friday by the Commerce Department, showed the economy sinking at a much faster clip in the October-December period than the 0.5 percent decline logged in prior quarter.
Although economists expected an even worse fourth-quarter performance — a staggering 5.4 percent rate of decline — the results were still grim.
Meanwhile, things weren't as bad for some people as for others. Those who did better than the rest of us include...
Bank executives, who handed out about $18 billion in bonuses to themselves, as a reward for screwing up the mortgage market... (President Obama scolded them roundly for it today.)
Exxon Mobile, which posted earth shattering, record profits of $45.2 billion, due to Bushian sky-high oil prices through most of last year. And get this: those profits were DOWN 33%...
And last, and actually, least ... Rudy Giuliani, who's still getting people to listen to him warble, on cable TV, talk radio and on and on, despite having gotten exactly ONE electoral vote during his presidential campaign, and becoming the laughing stock, not just of New York, but of the world, with his scandal-tainted, one state strategy bid for greatness.
The prospect: 120 million Japanese people who sound like Barack Obama
CNN just ran a package about the newest education craze in Japan: learning to speak English by reciting the speeches of Barack Obama. Obama is a particular hit in Japan, and not just because there is a town there, called Obama...
One of the things I used to hate about the right during the Bush years was their demand that everyone in the country give total fealty and obeisance to the president. Sites like the Free Republic and RedState routinely banned users who did not express complete, utter and rapturous affection for George W. Bush, or who dared to disagree with his policies, particularly when it came to the "war on terror." Democrats would do well to avoid that kind of totalitarian nonsense when it comes to Barack Obama, although the temptation to worship is there, given the historic nature of his candidacy, his command of the media and personal magnetism. That said, Democrats must also avoid trying so hard to appear indpendent that they wind up nit picking every little thing Obama does (as happened with his selection of Rick Warren to give what turned out to be a perfectly nice opening prayer at his inauguration.) [Photo at left: House Minority Leader John Boehner tees off.]
That said, I'm worried about my friends on the right.
It seems that with every passing day, they are fading more and more into irrelevancy. My Friday column in the South Florida Times will address this, but in a nutshell, the problem is this: Republicans haven't figured out how to oppose a popular president, any more than Democrats did during the years when Bush worship was the order of the day (from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina.) And Republicans have invested in what surely is a losing strategy: opposing the very thing Americans want most: an economic recovery package -- a big one.
Worse, Republicans are opposing the Obama plan without offering a credible alternative. All they've got is all they've ever had: an almost manic obsession with tax cuts -- for wealthy individuals and corporations. That's it. That's the entire Republican economic platform -- oh, that and more deregulation. In other words, the Republican Party is demanding that the new president pursue the exact same policies as the old president; you know, the ones that have failed miserably, sunk the U.S. and global economy, and caused the Republican Party to lose the last two national elections.
If that doesn't make sense to you, you must not be a Republican.
The inherent risk in this strategy for the GOP is that it could somehow work -- the Republicans despite their paltry numbers on the Hill could find a way to obstruct or water down the plan. And then what? If the economy continues to sink, as it inevitably would, they would get the blame. On the other hand, if and when the plan passes -- and let's face it, the plan can pass without them -- the GOP has stood so firmly against it, they can't hope to get any credit for any economic improvements that follow. How that strategy makes sense is beyond me. Meanwhile, Republicans look postively foolish, going around demanding more tax cuts, when Americans have long since rejected trickle down economics and all its related calamities. It's like stumping for Herbert Hoover in the age of FDR.
And then there are the chatterers, like Rush Limbaugh, who was dumb enough to admit this week that he really does want Obama to fail -- something we all knew, but which few thought anyone would be bone headed enough to say out loud. Even Glenn Beck, as dim as he is, isn't dumb enough to admit that he hopes for Obama's failure (and by extension, the failure of the U.S. economy.) Beck has resorted to utter foolishness of his own, however, this week moaning about Che Guevara T-shirts and Mao handbags, and something about a "Drunken Negro cookie" in Greenwich Village, New York. How the hell does he even know about that?
I suppose eventually, Republicans will find their way, and strike a balance between obstruction and intelligent opposition (and then, maybe they'll let John McCain in on it.) But for now, the party of Hoover is looking for all the world like irrelevant, sapped Tories, lost in a Laborite America.
I just listened to part of Barack Obama's interview on Al Arabiya television tonight (on CNN). My one word reaction: wow. Never, at least not since Jimmy Carter, have I heard an American president speak of respecting the Arab world, and voice so thoughtfully, the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people. Obama made the point that members of his family are Muslim -- something he could never say during the campaign -- and he pledged to do all that he could to advance the interests of both Palestinian and Israeli children.
Finally back from D.C., the "road trip from hell," where the family and I witnessed history. The inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama will be memorable for me for a million reasons, good and bad, but it will be remembered, first because WE WERE THERE. That's especially important for my children, who, whatever else happens in their lives, can say they stood on the National Mall, beside the reflecting pool, while the first Black president took the oath of office (however fumbled by the Chief Justice, who graciously donned his robe today to have a re-do.)
I'll post pictures later. But to summarize, the trip went as follows:
Friday, January 16 -
Picked up rental van. Packed up for the road trip.
Saturday, January 17 -
Loaded up the van (kids and GPS included) and headed for D.C. The trip is about 15 hours, give or take. We wound up stopping overnight in North Carolina, about four hours from Destination Maryland (and my cousin's house. She had an Obama party that night, even though she's a Republican, so God bless her for that. Her husband is from Great Britain, as were many of the guests and over nighters.)
Sunday, January 18 -
Arrive at cousin's house around 10:00 a.m., and joined the dozen or so people coming and going; an "Obama eclectic" crowd of Jamaicans, Guyanese, British, Puerto Rican and first generation African-American, who had traveled from far and wide (UK, Atlanta, New Jersey, Delaware, Texas, and of course, the five of us from Florida.) I'm disappointed that we missed the party, but excited to see my favorite cousins, who are the daughters of my mother's favorite sister. All but one will be in town for the festivities.
Monday, January 19 -
Plans all awry. Cold, miserable day, emphasis on MISERABLE. Drove around Bowie, Maryland looking for long johns. Target didn't have them, so a cousin takes us to a shopping mall Sears. Didn't make the NAACP reception or the Russell Simmons party. Maybe next inauguration. Failed to locate friends who had traveled in from the Virgin Islands, or Jason's uncle who had driven down from New York. Went into "The District" to wait in 1.5 hour line for coveted inaugural tickets (thank you, Congressman Hastings, who graciously granted them) and mill around Radio Row to check in. The kids took pictures on the Capitol steps, and we tried to figure out which historic buildings were which. Had to leave early, because our car had to be out of D.C. by 3 p.m. due to the "car curfew." So missed a planned book signing event and day two of the NAACP reception. Back to Bowie, for cook up rice, Guyanese version chow mein and curried goat, plus sorrell (a red, berry drink) and cake. Made myself two coconut-mango mojitos. Laughed late into the night with a house full of family and newfound friends.
Tuesday, January 20 -
The Big Day! Woke up late (at 6 a.m.) and started frantically putting layers of clothes on the kids. Temperature started at around 18 degrees and soon droppped to 5. Cousin #3 and my favorite auntie arrive! Took lots of pictures. Got to the train station after 8, dropped off by cousins. Saw rows of abandoned cars on I 50 getting towed away. The poor souls had decided to walk to the station, so as not to be late. I'm told by a cousin that the fine, including towing, would approach $200. Waited about an hour and a half at the New Carolton metro station, mostly outside, to get on the train. Phoned in to James T's show in Georgia, where the friendly, happy crowd provided background shouts. Picked a group who hailed from Georgia and surrounds. The crowd at the station was fabulously mixed -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian, you name it. And all were patient and happy, if nervous that we wouldn't get to the National Mall on time. On the train, a young white guy tells us that blue ticket holders (the VIP, seated section) were being turned away at the Mall due to a broken security screening magnetometer. Felt relieved because our tickets were silver, which would place us in the standing room area just outside the VIP section, near the reflecting pool.
We finally got to the Federal Center NW metro station at around 11 a.m., and began searching for the silver ticket entrance. Soon figured out that the silver tickets hadn't been as rare as the lovely packaging, complete with welcome letter from the Member of Congress, had implied. Tried to find the end of the line, which stretched and bent around about 11 long blocks. Never found the end of the line. Decided to b-line for the radio row location, the Liaison Hotel, which was cut off by rings of ridiculously ubiquitous fences and other barriers, erected by the Secret Service and Capitol Police.
Around 11:30, gave up trying to navigate the security maze and followed a bolting crowd to the Mall, as we heard a youth choir signaling that the ceremony had begun. Figured we had just 30 minutes to find our way, since Obama was to be sworn in at noon.
Just before noon, found ourselves on a sea of grass on the Mall, swarming with other rushing hoardes over mashed down fencing and broken through barriers to what turned out to be the silver ticket section, now totally unmanned by security. Found a good spot along the frozen reflecting pool, and stood on the high concrete so the kids could get a clear view of the jumbotron. Pastor Rick Warren is giving the opening prayer. From what I can make out, it is affirming and not at all controversial, which is what I expected.
The view facing the Capitol
The view facing the Washington Monument from the reflecting pool.
The reflecting pool, frozen in January.
Best seats in the house? CNN's "skybox."
... and more people.
12:04 - Obama is sworn in. I miss the oath flub fumbling with my cell phone camera, the real camera having run low on batteries and no longer in my hands. Struggle to understand what he was saying during his speech, as the echo reverberating from loudspeakers in front and behind, makes it sound as if Obama is speaking Pig Latin. Squinted to read the chyron on the jumbotron without my glasses. Walk youngest son closer so that he can get a good picture of Obama. Very nice, very tall, white guy in yellow union-emblazoned jacket hoists my 9-year-old onto his shoulders so that he can get his picture. Shook his hand, and told him that's why I love union people. He has tears in his eyes from the ceremony, and says, "we are the people. We are the people." Through the Pig Latin, I make out Obama's recounting of George Washington's admonition to the nation during a cold, wartime winter.
Joe Biden is sworn in.
Obama is sworn in. View of the Jumbotron from "Silver Ticketland"
View from the silver ticket section, next to the reflecting pool.
12:30 or so, we try to find a quick exit as the national poet, and then the benediction from Joe Lowry are going on, trying to get out of the Mall and somehow, to the Liaison hotel. No luck. The massive crush of humanity is moving, and not in the right direction.
Nearly 1:00, realize we're going the wrong way and that we have to double back. Security perimeters reveal a depressing reality: we're going to have to circle the Capitol building in order to get to a hotel that's just across the security fences. But now, the parade route has closed off the most direct route. So we start walking. As we finally near the Capitol, see Marine One lift off overhead. Hear over the loudspeakers that President Bush is inside, departing Washington for the last time. The crowd starts cheering, and breaks into a chorus of "nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye!"
Dubya goes bye-bye in Marine One.
Nearly 1:30, we pass Tom Hanks as he stands outside a row of "porta potties," waiting for his wife. He's obliging excited tourists by taking pictures with them, so we gather our group and take a picture, too. One son has gone off on his own, and we call him back. Hanks tells him, "don't worry, young man, everybody's yelling at you, but it's okay. Come on in."
The Reid family, cousin Janice, and Tom Hanks (the white guy in the hat is Tom.)
Not sure who the woman at the end is...
1:50, finally arrive at the Liaison hotel, nearly two hours late. I can finally get a cell phone signal, which the Secret Service had been jamming all morning near the Capitol. By the time we get upstairs and I can finally get upstairs to my set-up, there is no set-up. By the time I reach the program director at Hot 105, it's too late to run a line, and the engineer has gone. I greet the host at sister station WEDR as he sets up, and phone in a call to James T. Not the way I'd planned it, but the best we can do at the moment.
2:30, back on the streets, we're trying to find the Metro. The streets are being quickly abandoned, newly repopulated with assorted refuse, paper, cups and bottles, but not a single newspaper. Those, people are hanging on to. The kids, cousin and husband are too tired and too cold to schlep to the Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian, and the other sites I had hoped to see. So it's on to Union Station. We buy souveniers for the kids' friends back in Florida. We walk about a block, and stop by a group of vendors selling "official programs," and dressed like Abraham Lincoln, in paper top hats. We run into a cousin I haven't seen in like ten years. He's selling posters by the side of the road (he's really a travel agent, but explains that the posters are some sort of fundraiser for a youth organization he volunteers with.) We buy a coupld of posters, and at 2:45, I phone in my final, not-the-way-I-planned-it call to the radio station at 2:45. We buy more souveniers.
3:00, across the street from Union Station, a group of vendors are doing a brisk business. We sign a national unity tapestry and receive a certificate, on which we pledge to do our part to remake America, along with President Obama.
Street vendors do a brisk business across from Union Station after the inaugural.
Inside Union Station, we board the wrong train. When it reaches its last stop, we swap the incorrect blue line for orange, to New Carolton.
3:50, back at New Carolton, we get off the train, and phone a cousin to come and pick us up. My daughter Winsome forgets her souveniers on the train. I'm certain I must have, too. Downstairs, we surprisingly run into my friends from the Virgin Islands, whom I'd fretted that we'd missed, and take pictures with them. They're going to the Southern Ball.
My friends Ludlow and Colleen (on the phone) as we met up with them by
surprise at the New Carrolton Metro station after the inaugural.
4:00 or thereabouts, we're back at my cousin's house in Bowie. My hands and feet are numb. I open my wallet, and find the souveniers that I thought I'd lost. They consist of three pins: one depicts the new First Family, one, the new administration, and the third says: "I was there."
Me and Miles
Jmar, 11 (left) and Winsome, 13 (right)
My cousin Janice.
For more inaugural photos, click here to go to my Facebook page.
Taking President Obama At His Word by Newt Gingrich
Presidential inaugurals are one of last aspects of our national politics that are genuinely welcoming of the American people. So much of presidential campaigning is so tightly controlled and choreographed that it works to exclude Americans. But inaugurations welcome us all in, and allow our part in the greatness of American democracy to extend beyond the voting booth.
Callista and I were fortunate enough to be present on the National Mall on Tuesday for what was a truly historic event. For as far as we could see, down the great length of the Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, there were people. Americans. Possibly the largest crowd in history for a presidential inaugural.
He goes on to say this:
Regardless of who you supported in November, it was impossible not to be moved by this event, because it said extraordinary things about the United States of America.
Dictators Take Heed: In a Single Generation, the Son of an African Immigrant Rose in America to Be Leader of the Free World
The first thing the Obama inaugural said was how far American has come in a short time.
There are people alive today who were once not allowed to sit at a lunch counter, not allowed to stay at a hotel, and prevented from exercising their right to vote by virtue of the color of their skin. These Americans saw an African American man democratically assume the most powerful office in the world on Tuesday. What an extraordinary breakthrough.
And the second message about America sent by the Obama inauguration was aimed straight at the heart of all the dictators, theocrats, oligarchs and military strongmen who rationalize their tyranny with the excuse that their people aren’t “ready” for democracy: In the course of a single generation, the son of an immigrant from a poor country in Africa rose in America to be the leader of the free world.
After that he goes on with some drivel about Obama's rhetoric being "center right" and some malarky about the free market. Anyway, the first bit was good.
... or at least not since Jimmy Carter: an American president expressing sympathy for the Palestinians, and sorrow for the loss of Palestinian civilian lives. President Obama just did exactly that during his address regarding the selection of George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. Obama has called for an end to rocket fire into Israel, but also for an end to the "suffocating poverty" inflicted on the residents of Gaza. That, in and of itself, is the kind of sea change that comes from having a president who has had real, meaningful contact with the Muslim world, plus an international perspective that includes more than road trips to Mexico to score some blow. (Ahem)
Regarding the conflicts in Asia, he has said that there can be no lasting peace until we "expand the sphere of opportunity" to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A pay freeze for administration members earning over $100,000 a year and strict rules on lobbying, both before and after serving his White House.
Phone calls to top Middle Eastern leaders, and a nod to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as Mideast envoy. Mitchell did great things during the Clinton administration for peace in Northern Ireland, but he has special qualifications for this job, too, as Mother Jones points out:
At first glance, Mitchell may not seem the most obvious choice for the Middle East envoy job. Others have far more experience in the region, and Mitchell's success in Northern Ireland does not necessarily translate to the intractable conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. But what you may not know is that Mitchell is himself of Lebanese ancestry; his father, John Kilroy, was an Irishman adopted by a Lebanese family, and his mother was a Lebanese Maronite Christian.
More than that, Mitchell had a brief, albeit unsuccessful, run as Middle East envoy during President Bill Clinton's last-minute attempt to broker peace there before he left office. The so-called "Mitchell Commission" studied the conflict in detail for several months before releasing a report in April 2001 to the newly inaugurated Bush administration.
As with his work in Northern Ireland, Mitchell suggested in the 2001 report (available here) that no peace could come to the Middle East until both sides stopped the violence and steeled themselves for difficult negotiations. Beyond that, though, he affected a more balanced approach to the peace process, calling not only for the Palestinians to renounce terrorism, but for the Israelis to cease using economic blockades against the Palestinians and to halt the construction of new settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Putting a Lebanese-American at the forefront of policy, along with the well known and widely trusted Secretary of State Clinton, is a great look, and Obama seems to be signaling that he will be as tough on settlement building as Bush was soft on it.
Meanwhile, on the newly de-tourested Capitol Hill:
Hillary is approved, and then greeted as a liberator by a weary Foggy Bottom, which made little attempt to show their relief that the new administration has arrived. BTW the two GOPers who voted against Hillary in the Senate were Jim DeMint (R, SC) and David Vitter (R, Whore House.) Geithner is approved, tax issues and all.
Eric Holder is held up by Bush lackeys on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are apparently seeking assurances that there will be no torture prosecutions emanating from the Obama Justice Department. (Meanwhile, the U.N.'s top torture investigator says the body doesn't really need the United States to act on the matter. They can move against top Bushies themselves, and Manfred Nowak, the U.N. "Special Raporteur on Toture," has at least two defendants in mind ...) Said Mr. Nowak:
“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld. […] He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.
“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.
Cheney should of course be added to the list, along with Bush and Don Rumsfeld, particularly since he has openly admitted to authorizing the torture of U.S. detainees.
BTW, check out the new Whitehouse.gov. It mirrors the previous Obama campaign and transition sites. Nice.
The Senate just says yes to giving Team Obama the second half of the TARP fund. The vote was 52-42, and it's counter-intuitive, but a "no" vote meant yes, give him the dough. (Lieberman Watch Update: Traitor Joe voted, as he should, with the Dems.) Meanwhile, the price tag for the economic stimulus bill tops $825 billion.
I know that you've both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn't have let you have. But I also know that it hasn't always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn't make up for all the time we've been apart. I know how much I've missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.
When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I'd make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.
I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential-schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college-even if their parents aren't rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.
No, I'm not caught up on blogging. But I am caught up on the nightmare that is preparing to go to the Obama inaugural. Not that I'm not happy for the brother, and insanely relieved that he's going to be president (Bush can't get out of town soon enough for me, no matter what great comedy relief he provides...) and not that I'm not completely enraptured by the fact that we're about to make history by rather matter of factly inaugurating our first black president ...
But here's the thing: the process of credentialing media for the multi-day, multi-part event has been, to put it in lay terms, PURE HELL.
First, we had to submit multiple pictures, each one more ghastly and mug shot-like than the last.
Then, we had to wait, and wait, and wait, to find out if we were even getting credentials.
Now, we find out that yeah, we have credentials, but only sort of. I'm going to be broadcasting from radio row on Tuesday, for Hot 105 Miami/FTL. Other than that? Bupkis. I have tickets to the swearing in, but beyong that? Who knows. It turns out that each individual event, and I do mean each ... requires its very own press credential. In short, media will have to walk around with like, a dozen different color credentials around our necks, or else.
I'm not sure whether to blame the capitol police, the Secret Service (whom I've always found to be lovely people, by the way, during my several dealings with Obamaworld) or the Presidential Inaugural Committee... you know? I'm going with them. This process is extremely frustrating and random.
The U.S. economy is shedding jobs like dog hair ... unemployment has hit a 16-year high of 7.2 percent ... with 524,000 jobs lost in December alone (projections put it at 9 percent or more by next year):
The economy lost an astonishing 1.9 million jobs in the past four months alone, an acceleration in layoffs toward the end of a year that brought the biggest drop in employment in more than a half century.
For all of 2008, the economy shed 2.6 million jobs, the largest decline since a 2.75 million drop in 1945.
The December data pointed to a bleak start for 2009 and increased chances the economic downturn could become the longest since the 1930s.
Is the plan being limited by fear of debt? There are dangers associated with large-scale government borrowing — and this week’s C.B.O. report projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for this year. But it would be even more dangerous to fall short in rescuing the economy. The president-elect spoke eloquently and accurately on Thursday about the consequences of failing to act — there’s a real risk that we’ll slide into a prolonged, Japanese-style deflationary trap — but the consequences of failing to act adequately aren’t much better.
Is the plan being limited by a lack of spending opportunities? There are only a limited number of “shovel-ready” public investment projects — that is, projects that can be started quickly enough to help the economy in the near term. But there are other forms of public spending, especially on health care, that could do good while aiding the economy in its hour of need.
Or is the plan being limited by political caution? Press reports last month indicated that Obama aides were anxious to keep the final price tag on the plan below the politically sensitive trillion-dollar mark. There also have been suggestions that the plan’s inclusion of large business tax cuts, which add to its cost but will do little for the economy, is an attempt to win Republican votes in Congress.
Meanwhile, more proof that Bush's $700 billion TARP swindle was just that: a massive giveaway to the country's largest banks, in exchange for nothing. Nothing for mortgage holders, nothing for taxpayers, though they did give bonuses to their CEOs and dividends to their richest investors. Hopefully, Obama will scrap the plan and use the remaining $350 billion to beef up his stimulus plan.
Obama delivered his first major economic speech since becoming president this morning. First, he makes a couple of basic points:
This crisis did not happen solely by some accident of history or normal turn of the business cycle, and we won’t get out of it by simply waiting for a better day to come, or relying on the worn-out dogmas of the past. ...
... ow, the very fact that this crisis is largely of our own making means that it is not beyond our ability to solve. Our problems are rooted in past mistakes, not our capacity for future greatness.
And sets down a core Democratic principle worthy of FDR:
It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy – where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.
Here's video of the opening remarks:
Okay, now for the plan, which starts with the much mentioned "green jobs":
To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years. We will modernize more than 75% of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills. In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced – jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain.
On health care, a plan that so far, is not exactly bold:
To improve the quality of our health care while lowering its cost, we will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized. This will cut waste, eliminate red tape, and reduce the need to repeat expensive medical tests. But it just won’t save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs – it will save lives by reducing the deadly but preventable medical errors that pervade our health care system.
I didn't read the word "universal" in there, or see dramatic change that doesn't sound strangely like something Jeb Bush would come up with ... okay, giving him and Tom Daschle the benefit of the doubt on that one, we move on to education:
To give our children the chance to live out their dreams in a world that’s never been more competitive, we will equip tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries. We’ll provide new computers, new technology, and new training for teachers so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with kids in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future.
To build an economy that can lead this future, we will begin to rebuild America. Yes, we’ll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects. But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy. That means updating the way we get our electricity by starting to build a new smart grid that will save us money, protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation. It means expanding broadband lines across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world. And it means investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries.
And last but not least, cash to the starving states, and to taxpayers:
Finally, this recovery and reinvestment plan will provide immediate relief to states, workers, and families who are bearing the brunt of this recession. To get people spending again, 95% of working families will receive a $1,000 tax cut – the first stage of a middle-class tax cut that I promised during the campaign and will include in our next budget. To help Americans who have lost their jobs and can’t find new ones, we’ll continue the bipartisan extensions of unemployment insurance and health care coverage to help them through this crisis. Government at every level will have to tighten its belt, but we’ll help struggling states avoid harmful budget cuts, as long as they take responsibility and use the money to maintain essential services like police, fire, education, and health care.
It somehow doesn't sound as bold when you've been hearing essentially the same thing for a year, but hey, it's a step forward. Read the whole speech here.
America's most famous television surgeon, Sanjay Gupta, is poised to take his black bag and microphone to the White House as President-elect Barack Obama's choice for U.S. surgeon general.
A neurosurgeon who is also a correspondent for CNN and CBS, Gupta was chosen as much for his broadcasting skills as for his medical résumé, suggesting that the incoming administration values visible advisers who can drive a public message. He has also been offered a top post in the new White House Office of Health Reform, twin duties that could make him the most influential surgeon general in history.
A practicing physician and one of People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive," Gupta met for more than two hours with Obama in Chicago on Nov. 25, according to two sources with knowledge of the talks. Gupta, 39, later spoke with several Obama advisers, including Thomas A. Daschle, who will run the new White House policy office and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The globetrotting doctor has told Obama aides he wants the job, which involves overseeing the 6,000-member Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. When reached yesterday, Gupta did not deny that he plans to accept the offer but declined to comment.
Picking Gupta, who by the way, used to write speeches for Hillary Clinton, means Obama plans to use his public persona to push through what must be, or perhaps hopefully will be, a massive reorganization of the nation's healthcare system. The one, two punch of picking Gupta and Daschle signals that the Obama people are serious about getting the policy through Congress (Daschle), and explaining it credibly to the American people (Gupta).
If indeed Barack Obama plans to nominate former Bill Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta to be CIA director, over the apparent objections of people like Diane Feinstein, it will be an ... um ... interesting go. I'm not one who cares much what Ms. Feinstein thinks, she being one of the Senate's leading hawks, and thus an apologist for a rheem of Bush policies, including the Iraq war, domestic spying, and "enhanced interrogation." The fact that people like her, and fellow "gang of eight" member Jay Rockefellar have a problem with the pick is actually good news for me. Panetta is clearly not tainted by their Bush-like views.
On the other hand, looking through his resume, Panetta doesn't seem uniquely qualified for the post, and risks being undermined in the post if he is seen by career spooks and analysts as a political hack who doesn't understand the "culture."And he is yet another in the increasingly tiresome parade of Clinton vets packing the Obama administration. Then again, his long history as a manager (the CIA has like a multi- billion dollar budget) and organization leader might make him just the guy for the job, and his political experience would be most helpful in what is, in the end, a political job.
I kind of expected Obama to pick someone from someplace like the Center for American Progress, which has become the think tank of record for political progressives (without the icky neoconish views of places like Brookings.) He would have had a lot of good choices there, including former Reagan undersecretary of defense for manpower Larry Korb, who I know and very much respect. Korb is a Republican, which would have made the pick all the more useful. And CAP has other scholars on the ready, like P.J. Crowley and Brian Katulis. Who knows, maybe Obama feared they would be perceived as too ideological. I disagree with the idea that he could have picked Jane Harman, who may well be Feinstein's favorite, because Harman, too, is associated with the big, giant rubber stamp that's been slapped all over Bush security policy over the last six-plus years.
To be fair to Panetta, politicians have held the post before, including Florida Rep. Porter Goss (though he was a former CIA employee) and of course, George Bush Sr., who received the post as kind of a political gift. And Panetta did sit on the Iraq Study Group. (Not that that's necessarily a good thing; so was James "the fixer" Baker...)
There have been 20 CIA Directors (there is no more "Director of Central Intelligence" and now the position reports to the National Intelligence Director) since Harry Truman created the position in 1946. Most have been military men, with a heavy tilt toward the Navy, including the first four: Rear Admirals Sidney William Souers and Roscoe H. Hillenkoette, Hoyt Sandberg Vandenberg who served between the two, and Walter Bedel Smith (1950-53), plus Navy men William Raborn (1965-66, whom the office building in D.C. is named for,) Carter's CIA Director Stansfield Turner and Reagan's, William Casey, plus the current Michael Hayden (George H.W. Bush was himself a Navy pilot.) A handful, like Clinton top spook (and he is spooky) James Woolsey, had backgrounds in the Army. Others were former OSS spooks like Allen Dulles (who served Eisenhower and Kennedy, up to the Bay of Pigs debacle,) Richard Helms (1966-72, the guy at CIA who refused to put a stop to the Watergate probe,) and William Colby (1973-76). And there have been occasional political or managerial types like John McCone (1961-65), who like Panetta had no intelligence background, but succeeded Dulles and is considered one of the best directors the agency has had. So it's a gamble. (McCone is the guy who warned LBJ not to expand the war in Vietnam. You might call LBJ's response a gamble, too.) When Bush I was named in 1976 by Gerald Ford, he had been chairman of the Republican National Committee and pretty much everyone knew he wanted to be president. In fact, in order to be confirmed, Bush promised not to run in the up-coming election. So it's not exactly a post reserved for actual spies.
So let's take a moment to get comfortable with Leon Panetta. As the folks at McClatchy report, it is if nothing else, a single that change is coming.
So ... Bill Richardson has taken himself out of the running for commerce secretary. Well that's interesting. He says he wouldn't want to delay the important work of rebuilding the economy with his confirmation, which he now seems to believe would be "far from a sure thing" even with Democrats in firm control of Congress. Hm. What's the problem? It seems that, at least according to Mike Barnacle this morning on miserable Don Imus' show, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has few cards to play, and planned to play the two jacks in his hand: attacking Richardson, and trying to upend Eric Holder for A.G. The Richardson plot is as follows:
The New Mexico investigation, which began last summer, focuses on whether Richardson's office urged a state agency to hire a California firm as a result of generous contributions from the company and its president to political action committees established by the governor.
Richardson insisted that he and his staff "have acted properly in all matters" and predicted that the investigation would exonerate him. But he said the probe could take weeks or months, potentially holding up his Senate approval. Instead, Richardson said he will remain "in the job I love as governor of New Mexico."
Hm. You know what two words stood out for me from the above paragraphs? "last summer." If Bill Richardson was under investigation last summer, why was he still running for president, last summer? Just asking, you know, in a "what if he had somehow won the nomination," John Edwards did the same crap, and WHAT IF HE HAD GOTTEN THAT SECRETARY OF STATE NOD??? (which of course, he never was going to... thankfully it turns out...) sort of way. A bit more on the probe:
A grand jury in Albuquerque is looking into whether CDR Financial Products received a contract with the New Mexico Finance Authority because of pressure from Richardson or other state employees. CDR made $1.48 million advising the authority on interest-rate swaps and refinancing of funds related to $1.6 billion in transportation bonds, state officials confirmed.
The Beverly Hills-based firm and its president, David Rubin, together gave $100,000 to Sí Se Puede and Moving America Forward, both PACs started by Richardson, shortly before winning the lucrative state contract, records show.
The federal probe heated up considerably last month, just around the time Obama announced Richardson as his choice for commerce secretary, according to sources familiar with the investigation. New subpoenas were issued, and testimony was scheduled from officials at J.P. Morgan Chase who worked for the state with CDR and from the director of Richardson's political action committees.
CDR's selection drew FBI interest because the firm did not make an initial list of the most qualified bidders. The bidding was reopened for review, and a state committee headed by one of Richardson's former top aides later helped select CDR.
A legal source familiar with the investigation said yesterday that FBI agents, working on the Senate's behalf and conducting a background check of Richardson for the Commerce job, conveyed to Obama's transition team the seriousness and significance of the Albuquerque grand jury probe.
The agents are said to have communicated that the governor's top aides -- and even Richardson's actions -- were under scrutiny. At least two sources familiar with the investigation said some evidence raises concern about the propriety of the Richardson administration's interactions with a donor.
Obama aides declined to comment on any conversations the transition team may have had with the FBI about the investigation.
The inquiry springs from a long-running nationwide investigation by the Justice Department into "pay-to-play" practices in local government bond markets. Federal investigators are questioning whether financial firms have lavished politicians with money and gifts in exchange for high fees on work advising municipal and local governments on investments.
Hm. And double 'hm.' And one wonders where the vaunted mainstream media was during all this FBI probing. Oh yeah, that's right. They were debating whether Barack Obama is a celebrity and playing endless loops of Jeremiah Wright. Ah, journalism.
Other questions I'd like answered include which governors the FBI is focused on. Given that this is still the Bush Justice Department we're talking about, overarching the FBI, I'd be interested to see if there are any Republican governors on the list. Of course, Richardson has not been accused of a crime, or indicted, or anything, so far, so he retains the presumption of innocence. But it certainly is interesting that an ongoing FBI probe of a sitting governor and presidential contender never became an issue during the Democratic primary.
On second thought ... Joe Lowry's not for gay marriage either
Don't call it a flip-flop, apparently the MSM got this one wrong. I also erred, reporting in this post, that unlike Pastor Rick Warren, the Rev. Joe Lowry, who will give the benediction at Barack Obama's swearing in, is a supporter of gay marriage. Well color me corrected. On MSNBC's "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," Rev. Lowry went to great pains to disabuse David Shuster of the notion that he supports gay marriage. "I'm for civil unions," said Lowry, but he said his religious convictions would cause him to eschew the "marriage" thing. Watch:
When you talk about the law discriminating, the law granting a privilege here, and a right here and denying it there, that's a civil rights issue. And I can't take that away from anybody.
That statement is interesting, in that nowhere in it, does Lowry state that he favors gay marriage. I think perhaps the media, in this case USA Today's Faith and Reason blog, and ABC, were looking for ideological bookends where none existed. I fault myself for not being more skeptical. As someone who grew up Methodist myself, and knowing the religion to posess the mildest of manners, and a long tradition of tolerance, I can tell you that despite that, Methodists read Leviticus in exactly the same manner as other Christians...
By the way, did Rachel Maddow jump the shark tonight with her big build-up to a supposed "gotcha" on Rick Warren over this 20-minute self-defense video on the Saddleback Church website? Maddow portrayed the extemporaneous video as damning, in the Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club sense, but the clips she played were, charitably, run of the mill. No bombshells. Nothing incendiary. And if the clips she played represented the "worst" of Warren's "screed," as Maddow called it, then it's a sleepy screed indeed. I'm starting to remember why I didn't enjoy Rachel's radio show when it was on down here. Sometimes, activist journalism can be interesting. Other times, not so much.
In keeping with his deterimination to bring Americans together, Barack Obama continues to confound Fox News and right wing talk radio by positing a bi-partisan and distinctly American, inauguration. The inauguration committee has announced its honorary co-chairs (Republicans hilighted):
President Jimmy Carter President George H. W. Bush President William J. Clinton (D.C.) Mayor Adrian Fenty Senator Dick Durbin Senator Dick Lugar Senator Claire McCaskill Representative Tammy Baldwin Representative Artur Davis Representative Ray Lahood Representative Linda Sánchez General Colin Powell Hunter and Kathleen Biden Craig Robinson (Michelle Obama's brother) Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng (Barack Obama's half-sister)
It is a highly symbolic gesture from the the man who will become America's first black president to the man who proclaimed the end of slavery.
But the links go deeper than that: Mr Obama has often cited Lincoln - the first Illinois congressman to end up in the White House - as his role model and has looked to him taken inspiration from him as he prepares for inauguration day on January 20.
The Bible in question is one of two Lincoln Bibles held in the Library of Congress. The other is the Lincoln family Bible, which was unavailable because it was packed away with the First Family's luggage, which was still making its way from Springfield, Illinois when Lincoln's inauguration came around on March 4, 1861.
Instead, another Bible was bought by William Thomas Carroll, the Supreme Court Clerk, who later wrote at the back of the book certifying that it was indeed the Bible on which the 16th president had been sworn in. It has not been used since.
The 1,280-page Bible, published in 1853 by the Oxford University Press, is bound in burgundy velvet with a gold-washed metal rim, its edges heavily gilded.
"President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in," Emmett Beliveau, who heads Mr Obama's inaugural commmittee, told Time magazine.
"The President-elect is committed to holding an inauguration that celebrates America's unity, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage."
Photos allegedly taken in Hawaii by paparazzo Bauer Griffin or one of his minions appear to confirm it.
Meanwhile, the cynic in me wonders: how did the photog get that close? (Where was the Secret Service?) Could these pec pics be fakes?? And is it totally inappropriate to think the in-coming president of the United States is a hottie??? Enquiring minds want to know. (BTW, Michelle in the pics is sporting a very cute wrap, and some seriously worked out arms. Message: lust after her man, but only when she's not around to whup your behind...)
As the niche controversy over President-Elect Barack Obama's choice of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his swearing in continues to fester, it strikes me that we may have another Elian Gonzales-style saga in the making.
Elian, you may recall, was the adorable 6-year-old boy who washed ashore in Miami during the Thanksgiving of 1999, after losing his mother in a deadly attempt to "float to freedom" from Cuba. Elian quickly became the center of an international custody battle between his father, who wanted to return him to the island nation, and his Miami relatives -- people he had never met before finding himself in their care -- who wanted him to remain in the United States, with them. In the course of several months, Miami's Cuban-American community erupted, surrounding the Miami relatives' house with protests and "human chains," their leaders daring the Clinton Justice Department to come and get him, making a spectacle of the bewildered little boy as he played with new toys and politician-issued puppies in full view of the crowds and cameras, causing a weary nation to scratch its collective head and ask, who are these people, and why won't they just let the boy go home?
Of course, at the heart of the Elian drama were real and deeply felt issues of communism versus freedom, the wrenching pain many Cuban-Americans continue to feel regarding their homeland, and international politics that most Americans find either too compliated, or too tedious, to contemplate. But those issues were subsumed by the high drama, and a seeming obsessiveness among a single, niche constituent group that most other Americans simply could not relate to.
Eventually, Elian went home. But the Cuban-American community had lost more than the boy. In fighting so loudly and so lavishly for him to remain, they lost credibility with the wider public.
The gay and lesbian community is facing its Elian moment. By screaming so loudly about Warren's inclusion in the inauguration, and making gay marriage a kind of litmus test for true progressiveness and humanity, they have embraced a fight that only a small sliver of the population can relate to, and put their credibility on the line by painting Barack Obama as an enemy, at a time when most Americans consider him their only hope.
The "Elianization" of the gay marriage issue is made worse by the fact that some of the arguments being made against Warren simply don't hold up. Examples:
Rick Warren is a fringe preacher not fit to occupy a place of such high honor on January 20th. Really? Warren's breakthough book, "The Purpose Driven Life," which TIME Magazine in 2005 called the best-selling paperback in history, has sold something like 56 million copies since its release in 2002. That's just 10 million fewer readers than Barack Obama had voters, and roughly 2 million fewer people than voted for John McCain. Far from a fringe player, Warren might be the most widely known and best-liked religious figure in the U.S. since Billy Graham. His 22,000 member church boasts a global network of 40,000 other churches, united in advancing an agenda focused not on opposing gay rights, but rather on fighting global poverty, AIDS and climate change. Warren may be a lot of things, but "fringe" is not one of them.
Warren's views on gays are out of the mainstream. Perhaps Rachel Maddow, the inimitable Barney Frank and those at the left-most end of the poitical spectrum wish it were so, but it is not (actually, Frank recognized as much when he criticized San Franciso Mayor Gavin Newsome for pushing the envelope on gay marriage in 2004.) Warren does not support the idea of gay marriage. Neither do a majority of Americans. Neither, by the way, does Barack Obama. Or Hillary Clinton. Or Joe Biden. Or any Democrat who ran for president this year with the exception of Dennis Kucinich. But most Americans do support equal access to such things as healthcare benefits through civil unions or domestic partnerships, a view with which Warren, despite the hype over his "incest" comments, concurs, as he stated during his recent, but rarely fully quoted, interivew with Beliefnet:
Q: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family - divorce or gay marriage? A: [laughs] That's a no brainer. Divorce. There's no doubt about it. Q: So why do we hear so much more - especially from religious conservatives - about gay marriage than about divorce? A: Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? [Note: Warren is quite overweight.] Q: Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships? A: I don't know if I'd use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights. Q: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation? A: You know, not a problem with me.
(Hat tip to Bob Ostertag.) By painting Warren's views as out of touch with those of most, or worse, of the "good" Americans, the gay movement risks marginalizing itself, not Warren, since most people agree with him. In fact, it would be difficult to find a mainline preacher in this country who didn't concur with his reading of the Bible's stance toward homosexuality or marriage, but Warren is unique among evangelical leaders in being openly supportive of equality via civil unions. Moreover, had Obama reached for a "fringier" minister, one who openly supported gay marriage, to give his invocation, he would have touched off yet another round of the tiresome culture war, and given himself needless hurdles to getting crucial things done. In fact, there are only two reasons Obama has NOT been attacked for having a preacher who supports gay marriage on the dais on January 20. One is that Rev. Joe Lowry is no ordinary preacher -- he is a dean of the Civil Rights Movement, and is expected to speak from the perspective of Dr. Martin Luther King. The other is that the hew and cry over Rich Warren has sucked up all the oxygen.
And then there is the final meme, which might be the most marginalizing of all:
Barack Obama has betrayed his base. Barack Obama was elected by 66,882,230 Americans, a figure that includes a majority of the roughly 6 million Americans who are either gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual. But it also includes strong majorities of the much larger cohorts of African-Amerians, Latinos, Catholics, women, and young voters, some of whom support gay marriage, most of whom do not. Obama's "base" this year included 9 percent of registered Republicans, and 20 percent of self-described conservatives. Anyone want to place a bet on whether they feel betrayed by Warren's inclusion? As Obama has said repeatedly, his base is the American people. Attempting to pigeon hole him into a base that consists entirely of those on the left, is suspiciously like the right's expectation (which unfortunately was met) that George W. Bush would govern only on behalf of evangelical Christians, wealthy individuals and multinational corporations.
It seems to me that many on the left actually bought, lock, stock and barrel, into the cartoon caricature of Barack Obama peddled by the likes of Fox News and right wing talk radio throughout the campaign, when he was painted as some wild-eyed leftie. Well surprise! He is not, nor has he ever been. The left will be very happy with the Obama agenda, which, since its aim is to save this country from the three-fold blight of economic ruin, needless war and a loss of global credibility, should make the center and the right happy, too.
The reality is that Barack Obama is coming into office with a tremendous weight on his shoulders, and gay marriage simply cannot be at the top of his agenda (the aforementioned economy and wars come first.) And he has decided to govern as he ran: as a man determined to bring Americans together, exclude no one from the conversation, and to declare no group to be "untouchable" -- not even evangelical Christians, of whom he, you wil recall, is one.
Obama is being true to that promise by inviting Warren, and the millions of people he reaches, to be a part of the inaugural. By bringing them into the tent, he is not saying that he subscribes to all of the Christian right's beliefs. But he is signaling that there is room for believers in the tent. Does the LGBT community really want to be the ones standing at the door saying they may not come in? If they do, they will find that it's a lot more crowded outside.
I've been struggling with writing an op-ed on the whole dust-up over Barack Obama inviting Pastor Rick Warren (the proverbial "chicken soup" for the soul-filled) to do the invocation at his swearing in. The trick: how to write that the gay (sorry, "GLBT") community has completely lost the plot, without incurring a torrent of emails calling me a fake progressive bigot (apparently, Obama is one of those bigots now.)
You see, what the Rachel Maddow/Keith Olbermann crowd has conveniently forgotten -- apparently having bought into the cartoon character version of Barack Obama sold to them by Fox News Channel, is that Barack Obama is now, and has been for a very long time, an evangelical Christian -- just like Rick Warren. As such, he, like Warren, opposes extending the term "marriage" to apply to gay or lesbian couples. Like many religious progressives, Obama supports equal rights -- namely, civil unions or domestic partnerships (which, by the way, also help straight, unmarried couples deal with such issues as health insurance and inheritance.) But he is not now, nor has he ever been, a proponent of gay marriage. By the way, neither is Hillary Clinton. Or Joe Biden. Or any Democrat who ran for president this year with the exception of Dennic Kucinich.
Apparently, the gay community missed the memo. And now they are shocked. SHOCKED! to discover that they can no longer support Obama because he does not support gay marriage. Well, okay. And apparently, the gay community has also discovered that black people are the enemy, because they, being a largely religious sort of people, also agree with the "purpose driven" preacher. Hm. Well count Latinos, Catholics, Methodists, Presbytarians, Asians and ... well... most everybody. The majority of Americans of all races, creeds and religions feel exactly the way Warren does about gay marriage. In fact, being pro gay marriage is a distinctly minority view. If you were to ban everyone who opposes gay marriage from the Inaugural, there would be nobody but Barney Frank and the aforementioned Mr. Kucinich on the National Mall. Even Obama wouldn't be able to show up.
Which brings me to a terrific post at the HuffPo by a guy named Bob Ostertag, a pretty out there gay man it seems, who makes a few really good points in this terrific post, which I could not have made better, since I lack his cultural perspective. And here are a few of them...
Brilliant point 1: is this any way to build a political coalition that's anything but marginal?
How is it that queers became the odd ones out at such a momentous turning point in history? By pushing an agenda of stupid issues like gay marriage.
"Gay marriage" turns the real issues of equal rights for sexual minorities upside down and paints us into a reactionary little corner of our own making. Yes, married people get special privileges denied to others. Denied not to just gays and lesbians, but to all others. Millions of straight people remain unmarried, and for a huge variety of reasons, from mothers whose support networks do not include their children's fathers, to hipsters who can't relate to religious institutions. We could be making common cause with them. We could be fighting for equal rights for everyone, not just gays and lesbians, but for all unmarried people. In the process we would leave religious institutions to define marriage however their members see fit.
That's how you win at politics, isn't it? You build principled coalitions that add up to a majority, and try not to hand potent mobilizing issues to your opposition in the process.
Brilliant point #2:is gay marriage really the most important issue on the table for gay people? Really?
Through years of queer demonstrations, meetings, readings and dinner table conversations, about gay bashing, police violence, job discrimination, housing discrimination, health care discrimination, immigration discrimination, family ostracism, teen suicide, AIDS profiteering, sodomy laws, and much more, I never once heard anyone identify the fact that they couldn't get married as being a major concern. And then, out of the blue, gay marriage suddenly became the litmus test by which we measure our allies. We have now come to the point that many unthinkingly equate opposition to gay marriage with homophobia.
Rick Warren is now the flash point, the one all our political allies, even Barack Obama, are supposed to denounce because he doesn't pass gay marriage the litmus test.
Brilliant point #3: Is Rick Warren really a smart enemy to choose?
Q: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family - divorce or gay marriage? A: [laughs] That's a no brainer. Divorce. There's no doubt about it.
Q: So why do we hear so much more - especially from religious conservatives - about gay marriage than about divorce?
A: Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? [Note: Warren is quite overweight.]
Q: Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?
A: I don't know if I'd use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.
Q: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?
A: You know, not a problem with me.
I have an idea: let's accept equal rights for all. Equal rights are the issue when it comes to national politics. That's Obama's position, and I think he has it right.
By the way, that's the exact same position Barack Obama has ... and the same one that, well, I have. Does that make me a bigot?
Ostertag's closing is perfect:
Just a reminder to all those gays and lesbians who never look beyond their cultural ghetto: we've got some serious problems going on in the world today that need to be addressed now. Global warming in particular can't wait. For thirty years Evangelical Christians have been the anchor that has pulled this country to the right, giving us first Reaganism and then Bushism. Wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And a decade of world-threatening climate change denialism.
At a minimum, 80 million Americans identify as evangelicals, and up to double that depending on how you define evangelical. They are the largest single religious group in the country, and the fastest growing. They are not going away. Somehow, some way, queers are going to have to share this country with all these people.
I am delighted that there is a new generation of evangelicals that thinks the biggest issue isn't homosexuality but global climate change, AIDS, and poverty. And who "don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles." I am so ready to make common cause with them. I couldn't care less about what they think of gay marriage.
I wish more people in the gay community would listen. Barack Obama has seized the opportunity to speak to those 80 million or so evangelicals, 72 percent of whom did not vote for him. By inviting Warren to the party, he has at least gotten their attention, and signaled to the country that he intends to do the opposite of what our current president did after being appointed in 2000. Then, George W. Bush decided to govern only his half of the country, and to screw the rest. Obama wants to be the president of an entire nation, not the "queer nation." And trying to force him to cotton to a narrow political agenda ... or else ... isn't exactly buying into the notion of a "new politics," which is more than just a cobbling together of the interest groups on your side. Obama isn't going to waste his time "paying back" constituency groups who got him elected. He's going to fix the country, starting with, as Joe Biden said today on "This Week," the most pressing issue of all: the economy. After that, he's got two wars, global warming, and major foreign policy challenges like Pakistan, India and the like, to tackle. Sorry, but gay marriage is not top of the list.
Sideber: And by the way, at the close of his quite downtrodden TIME Magazine article, John Cloud suggests that Barack Obama will now have to "do something very nice" for the gay community, like overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by fiat, or nominating an openly gay Secretary of the Navy. He says he's not holding his breath. He shouldn't. Obama is clearly a student of history, and will remember what happened when one William Jefferson Clinton made such an attempt at constituent payoff. The result, the aforementioned "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," wound up angering both the gay community, and the military, which remained alienated from Clinton until the end of his presidency. If Obama were to try to push the envelope, he too will lose a military whose rank and file remain majority Republican and often suspicious of "liberal" politicians, and in one fell swoop, he would undo the good will and currency he has carefully built up with his moderate appointments, and harm his ability to push his economic agenda through. Obama would do well to pass on this one.
If you plan to be in D.C. (and yes, I do...) the mega-events will be ... well... mega, at the inauguration. There are also a bunch of unofficial events and parties, which you can find here. And of course, the WaPo has the scoop on the biggest of the big goings-on, and here you go. And bring a heavy coat. I'm assuming it's going to be hellafide cold.
People for the American Way issues a statement of displeasure regarding Rick Warren's participation in the inaugural. It reads in part:
Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.
I'm sure that Warren's supporters will portray his selection as an appeal to unity by a president who is committed to reaching across traditional divides. Others may explain it as a response to Warren inviting then-Senator Obama to speak on AIDS and candidate Obama to appear at a forum, both at his church. But the sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans.
But as US News and World Report writer Dan Gilgoff points out, the Warren selection is just the latest move in the Obama charm offensive to the religious among us -- partially because, he IS one of the religious among us. I know the "he's a Muslim" crowd don't want to believe it, and neither do my friends on the left, but um ... Obama is himself, a Rick Warren-style Christian (conservative values, friendly demeanor, keen on moving beyond abortion.) Or pretty close to it. And as The Swamp puts it:
... for Obama, making a statement about his inclusiveness and willingness to reach across ideological lines is more important than satisfying liberals on every issue as he has shown with his cabinet choices.
In fact, PFAW's reaction may help Obama with some centrist and more conservative voters.
Also, many African American church goers tend to share Warren's views on social issues. So the issue is more complicated than simply right and left.
A top aide to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushes hard for Caroline to be the next junior Senator from New York, and that's ruffling feathers among the non-upper crust (rather than just among Clintonistas, like before...) leading one assemblyman to state:
Rory I. Lancman, a state assemblyman, said that there was “a growing concern that high public office is being reserved for a better class of people — people who can buy into it like Michael Bloomberg or people who can come into it through their celebrity like Caroline Kennedy.”
Egads. And of course, up to now, in the 240 or so years of formal American existence, politics has been strictly reserved for the common man...
The Joint Congressional Committee in charge of the inauguration just released the order of events for January 20. Spoiler alert: there will be Aretha! ... and apparently, Obama has forgiven Rick Warren for hooking John McCain up with that phony "cone of silence..." during his non-debate debate this summer. Talk about a purpose driven life! Okay, actually, Warren took a risk back in 2006 by inviting Obama to Saddleback Church over the objections of the really scary fundies, so why not forgive ... Here's the press release:
WASHINGTON, DC - Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, today announced the program for the 56th Presidential Inauguration, which will take place on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2009.
"I am delighted to announce this superb line-up of participants in the 2009 inaugural ceremonies," said Senator Feinstein. "The inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama will be an event of historic proportion. It is appropriate that the program will include some of the world's most gifted artists from a wide range of backgrounds and genres."
The program participants were invited by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and chosen by the Chairman, the Presidential-elect and the Vice President-elect. In addition to Senator Feinstein, the members of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies include: Senator Bob Bennett, Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer; and House Republican Leader John Boehner.
The order of the program will be as follows:
Musical Selections The United States Marine Band
Musical Selections The San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus
Call to Order and Welcoming Remarks The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Invocation Dr. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA
Musical Selection Aretha Franklin
Oath of Office Administered to Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. By Associate Justice of the Supreme Court The Honorable John Paul Stevens
Musical Selection, John Williams, composer/arranger Itzhak Perlman, Violin Yo-Yo Ma, Cello Gabriela Montero, Piano Anthony McGill, Clarinet
Oath of Office Administered to President-elect Barack H. Obama By the Chief Justice of the United States The Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.
Inaugural Address The President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama
Poem Elizabeth Alexander
Benediction The Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery
The National Anthem The United States Navy Band "Sea Chanters"
Sidebar: Rev. Lowry was a very early Obama supporter, and one of the few, unfortunately, from the original Civil Rights Movement. He was in Miami at the re-dedication of the former "colored beach," Virginia Key, earlier this year, and gave a hell of a speech on Obama. He's exactly the guy to do the benediction. And look for it to be a barn burner.
And a little bit about the poet:
Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher. She is the author of four books and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She has received many grants and honors, most recently the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that "contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954," and the 2007 Jackson Prize for Poetry. She is a professor at Yale University and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University this year.
So what's their beef, as our current, class-cutting commander in chief might ask? They Hillaryites are angry that Caroline and her uncle Ted supported Hillary's new boss, Barack Obama, during the primary (but please, don't call it a jihad...) Make sense? No? Me neither.
After all, I think it was Barack Obama who just gave Hillary the second biggest prize of the election season (sorry Joe Biden)... namely, a nomination to be Secretary of State. Not exactly the boobie prize. And Hillary has shown her full (cough) and unwavering support for Obama since giving up the ghost on becoming president herself. So what gives, guttersnipes?
Could it be that if Caroline is named to the Senate, she is sure to win the seat outright by a landslide in two years, and then two more? Could it be the fear that the magic of Camelot, housed in both the Legislative and Executive branches (following the knighting of Obama by much of the Kennedy clan, let alone JFK's speechwriter...) could yet eclipse the magic of Clintalot, even with Bubba ensconced in his Harlem digs, or puttering around upstate, or back-slapping foreign friends at the U.N.? It could very well be so.
But is she qualified? That's today's debate in the New York Times (where one particularly snippy Dem compares Caroline to J.Lo. How rude...) Well, let's see ... Arkansas first lady ... U.S. first lady ... standing by your cheating hubby ... famous name, univesally known to voters ... Senator. Yep! She's as qualified as the last person to hold the job! Hell, what qualifications have their ever been to be a political leader, besides age? We have members of Congress who used to be on "The Love Boat," for god sakes, and the governor of California is The Terminator! (And trust me, if they changed that little Constitutional rule, "Come with me if you want to live" could very well become the oath of office on a distant January 20th.) This is America, Hillbots. Anybody famous can be elected to any office! ... Unless, of course, they're running against Barack Obama.
So suck it up, folks. Caroline should get the job, if only to reinvigorate not just New York politics, but American politics, which she would do, as a Senate ally of the main guy charged with the job, our incoming president. Senator Kennedy from New York. Get used to it, all over again.