Sunday, August 31, 2008

After Katrina, McCain Continues Flooding Us With Bluster

With John McCain celebrating his birthday on August 29 and Hurricane Gustav threatening the Gulf Coast, I'm reminded of the birthday cake McCain enjoyed as Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

Before we get to that, though, let's recall his April 2008 criticism of the Bush administration on Katrina: "Never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way it was handled."

Yet when the levees gave way in 2005 and New Orleans was engulfed in death and destruction, McCain was enjoying that birthday cake, shown above, with George Bush. 

I realize that McCain was a senator, not the president. He didn't have the opportunity to snap into action the way Bush did, by watching a DVD prepared by an anxious staff member trying to impress upon the president the depth of the catastrophe; flying over New Orleans to get an aerial view; telling "Brownie," the former official for the International Arabian Horse Association, that he was doing a "heckuva job," and making a Karl Rove-choreographed post-Katrina speech in New Orleans, one as meaningful as "Mission Accomplished."

No, McCain couldn't have done any of these things. But the one thing he could have done, if he were as concerned about the residents of New Orleans in 2005 as he professed to be in 2008, was to tell Bush, "Screw the birthday party! What are you doing here? Why aren't you in New Orleans doing something?"

McCain, after all, is a "maverick," so he needn't have worried about talking out of turn.

And had Bush taken such advice, he would have served as a good example to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was taking in "Spamalot" on Broadway and shopping at Ferragamo as the floodwaters hit.

In any event, McCain's post-Katrina record shows a complete lack of interest in planning for future catastrophes and meeting the needs of the victims. Think Progress reported that he voted twice against the creation of a commission to investigate the failure of the levees. He also voted against a 2006 spending bill "...that would have provided $28 billion in hurricane relief, and legislation that would have extended unemployment and Medicaid benefits to hurricane victims for several months." McCain's sordid record on New Orleans is the subject of the following video:

When questioned about his voting against the two commissions on June 4, 2008, McCain falsely stated, "I've supported every investigation." He then tried to sidestep the issue: "I'm not exactly familiar with what you said... I don't know exactly what you are describing at this moment." View his response:

McCain's record of bluster on New Orleans parallels his meaningless talk and contradictory actions on a host of issues. He states that he supports veterans, yet he voted against the 2008 Webb amendment to expand educational benefits for veterans and against the expansion of medical services during three votes in 2006. He states that he understands the problems facing today's economically stressed families, yet he's against the minimum wage and universal health care, while he's for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. He states that he wants to do something about energy, yet he skipped eight votes last year on  alternative energy, perhaps to avoid angering his big oil buddies, and offers false hopes about drilling. He states that he's against Obama's timetable of withdrawal from Iraq, then reverses himself as the Iraqi and American administrations start to embrace it. He plays the tough talker on Georgia, refusing to criticize or even acknowledge Saakashvili's invasion of South Ossetia.

Notice that you don't hear too much anymore about McCain's "Straight Talk Express." Perhaps that's an implicit acknowledgment that it has derailed.

Debra Bartoshevich Wins Lieberman/Miller Turncoat Democrat Award

Debra Bartoshevich is enjoying her 15 minutes of fame as the "proud Hillary Clinton Democrat" who testified in an ad that she's now supporting John McCain.

For that reason, she is the first winner of The Liberal Curmudgeon's Lieberman/Miller Turncoat Democrat Award. The award is named for Joe Lieberman and Zell Miller, the former Democratic politicians who decided that the party betrayed them–not that they betrayed the party. So they vigorously and shamelessly campaigned for the Republicans and the neo-conservative agenda.

I'm curious about exactly what Bartoshevich believes a "proud Hillary Clinton Democrat" is. True, both Clinton and John McCain voted for the war in Iraq and supported the gas tax holiday hoax. In both cases, Barack Obama showed better judgment and a superior grasp of the issues (qualities I value above the number of years of experience). But the similarities end there.

Is Hillary against a woman's right to choose? Is Hillary for the current system of privatized health care, which leaves millions uninsured? Is Hillary for the regressive tax structure favored by the Bush administration? Is Hillary against raising the minimum wage? Is Hillary for increased tax breaks for big oil? Is Hillary for privatizing Social Security?

In every case, the answer is "no." Regarding McCain, however, the answer is "yes" down the line.

I'll remind Bartoshevich that Hillary asked in her speech at the Democratic National Convention, "Were you in this campaign just for me?" She also said, "No way. No how. No McCain. Barack Obama is my candidate. And he must be our president."

Isn't Hillary's point made clear there? Hasn't Bartoshevich clearly broken with her former candidate?

So Bartoshevich is not a "proud Hillary Clinton Democrat." In fact, someone who supports a candidate with McCain's agenda isn't a Democrat at all.

But the problem with definitions don't end there. Because Debra Bartoshevich says that she respects McCain's "maverick and independent streak."

It's easy to toss around these terms. But do they have any meaning as applied to McCain? Whatever "maverick and independent streak" McCain may have had is long gone. No one who votes with George Bush 95% of the time can credibly claim those qualities–a point made in the video above.

Let's also not forget McCain's choice of a running mate in an attempt to pander to the religious right and, in effect, to insult the intelligence of women across the country.

Bartoshevich also extols McCain's "experience and judgement." That presumably includes his support of the war in Iraq, his refutation of timetables until both the Iraqi and the U.S. administrations adopted Obama's concept, his demagoguery over the conflict in Georgia and his hucksterism over drilling for oil.

What's the good of experience if it results in judgements like these?

Bartoshevich ends by telling us, "A lot of Democrats will vote McCain. It's OK. Really." No, it's not OK. This country has undergone too much damage over the past two Bush terms to put up with what amounts to a third. Really.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

For Sarah Palin, Big Oil Trumps Polar Bear's Survival

The video above from the National Wildlife Federation describes how the polar bear's habitat is disappearing because of the melting of sea ice due to global warming. Without sea ice, polar bears can't hunt seals and survive. The Federation supports listing the polar bear as a threatened species.

According to Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, though, polar bears are not threatened. It's big oil that's threatened. 

Palin therefore sued Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in order to reverse the listing of polar bears as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the Associated Press (8/4/08), "Governor Sarah Palin and other state officials fear a listing will cripple offshore oil and gas development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in Alaska's northern waters, which provide prime habitat for the only polar bears under U.S. jurisdiction."

Lest one think that Palin is concerned only about big oil, she has also thought long and hard about the polar bear's well-being. And, lo and behold, she's reached a conclusion that lends doubt to the polar bear's actually being in danger: 

"The state contends there are no real differences between the bears in the 19 subpopulations identified in Kempthorne's decision, and that the population as a whole is healthy. That would undermine the argument that ice loss off Alaska would affect world polar bear population.

"The lawsuit contends federal officials did not consider the best scientific evidence demonstrating bears' ability to survive and adapt to changing climate conditions."

The concern for profit and the scientific doubt work out nicely together, don't they?

Of course, the scientific community doesn't necessarily agree with Palin's expert opinion.

"Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead author of the petition that led to the listing, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists addressed skeptics' objections during the listing process. She called the lawsuit "completely ridiculous and a waste of the court's time."

"This lawsuit and her head-in-the-sand approach to global warming only helps oil companies, certainly not Alaska or the polar bear," Siegel said. "Gov. Palin should be working for sustainable, clean energy development in Alaska instead of extinction for the polar bear."

Regarding the polar bear's ability to survive and adapt, the video makes clear that they need the sea ice to hunt seals. But what does Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, know when placed next to Sarah Palin?

The Associated Press states that Palin's "...view is rejected by most polar bear experts, who say the animals need ice to hunt seals and will not win a territory fight with grizzly bears that already inhabit northern Alaska."

Regarding global warming, ABC News reports, "In an interview for the September issue of the conservative magazine Newsmax, Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, said she does not believe climate change is caused by human behavior." 

So maybe everything that's happening to the polar bear is perfectly natural. It may even be divinely ordained. Let's add global warming as another topic Sarah Palin knows more about than Dr. Doug Inkley–and, for that matter, all the scientists who have written about global warming in peer-reviewed scientific journals throughout the world.

As a measure of just how extreme Palin is, consider the fact that her lawsuit is against the Bush administration, no friend to the environment (see my post, "Bush Administration Continues War On Environment And Endangered Species", 8/23/08). What's more, the GOP 2008 platform for the first time acknowledges, "Increased atmospheric carbon has a warming effect on the earth."

So there we have it, folks: a Republican vice presidential candidate so out on a limb that she makes the GOP look like the Sierra Club.

Paul Krugman On Republicans "Feeling No Pain"

I must quote Paul Krugman more than any other commentator. Readers of The Liberal Curmudgeon should get used to it. 

Krugman, a renowned economist, columnist and author, consistently pinpoints the economic disparities brought about by GOP rule and offers vigorous critiques of the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policies–along with the data to back up his critiques.

In "Feeling No Pain" (8/29/08), Krugman focuses on the difference between Democratic and Republican perspectives on working Americans. While it's true that some Democrats are too beholden to corporate interests, I believe that Krugman makes a generally accurate differentiation. Excerpts follow, but I recommend that you click the link above and read the entire article. It's especially worthy reading on Labor Day weekend, and it applies to the choice we face in November.

"Democrats say and, as far as I can tell, really believe that working Americans are getting a raw deal; Republicans, despite occasional attempts to sound sympathetic, basically believe that people have nothing to complain about.

"As it happens, the numbers support the Democrats.

"That Census report gives a snapshot of the economic status of American families in 2007 — that is, before the financial crisis started dragging the economy down and the unemployment rate up. It’s a given that 2008 will look much worse, so last year was as good as it will get in the Bush years. Yet working-age Americans had significantly lower median income in 2007 than they did in 2000. (The elderly, whose income is supported by Social Security — the program the Bush administration tried to kill — saw modest gains.) Meanwhile, poverty was up, and health insurance — especially the employment-based insurance on which most middle-class Americans depend — was down.

"But Republicans, very much including John McCain and his advisers, don’t believe there’s a problem.

"Former Senator Phil Gramm made headlines, and stepped down as co-chairman of the McCain campaign, after he described America as a “nation of whiners.” But how different was that remark, really, from Mr. McCain’s own declaration that “there’s been great progress economically” — progress that’s mysteriously invisible in the actual data — during the Bush years? And Mr. Gramm, by all accounts, remains a key economic adviser to Mr. McCain.

"It’s true that elected Democrats are often too cautious — and too beholden to major donors — to be as progressive as the party’s activists would like. But even in the face of a Republican Congress, Mr. Clinton succeeded in pushing forward policies, like the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, that did a lot to help working families.

"And what one sees on the other side is a total lack of empathy for and understanding of the problems working Americans face. Mr. Clinton, famously, felt our pain. Republicans, manifestly, don’t. And it’s hard to fix a problem if you don’t even think it exists."

In the brief video clip above, Krugman comments on the nation's growing economic disparity following a presentation at the Center for American Progress, June 2006.

McCain Undercuts "Experience" Argument With Palin Pick

Ron Fournier of The Associated Press (8/29/08) writes that McCain "...may have undercut his best attack on the Democrat" with his choice of Republican Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential running mate:

"She is younger and less experienced than the first-term Illinois senator, and brings an ethical shadow to the ticket. A governor for just 20 months, she was two-term mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of 6,500 where the biggest issue is controlling growth and the biggest civic worry is whether there will be enough snow for the Iditarod dog-mushing race.

"On his 72nd birthday, is this really the one-heartbeat-away he wants to put in the White House?" said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the No. 3 Democrat in the House. "What does this say about his judgment?"

The "ethical shadow" refers to an investigation by Alaskan lawmakers as to whether Palin abused her power in the firing of a public safety commissioner. The commissioner did not fire an Alaskan state trooper who went through a divorce and is engaged in child custody battles with Palin's sister.

In the video above, Jack Cafferty points out that McCain has chosen someone less experienced than Obama after weeks of criticizing his opponent on this very score:

"All we have heard from John McCain for months is, 'Barack Obama is too young. Barack Obama is too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief. Who do you want answering the phone in the White House at three a.m.? Blah, blah, blah.'

"So what does McCain do? He picks someone to be his running mate who is even younger than Barack Obama and has less experience."

Obama, despite having less foreign policy experience than McCain, has consistently shown better judgment on the war in Iraq, the need for a withdrawal timetable, the refusal to play the demagogue on the Russia-Georgia conflict and the need to put diplomacy before rash military adventures. As Bill Clinton put it in his outstanding speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama "...has shown a clear grasp of our foreign policy and national security challenges, and a firm commitment to repair our badly strained military."

Palin can certainly not claim as much with her support of the disastrous Bush-McCain foreign policy. 

Cafferty's comments are worth viewing, including his reading listeners' letters on McCain's "pandering to women" and "last minute, desperation pick."

Pat Buchanan Praises Obama's Magnificent Speech

I'm no Pat Buchanan fan, but it was a measure of his objectivity and appreciation for oratory when he praised Barack Obama's acceptance speech as "genuinely outstanding...magnificent...the greatest convention speech and probably the most important because...this came out of the heart of America and he went right at the heart of America."

Buchanan expressed profound respect for Obama as "a professional orator and...a writer of his own speeches." Such literary skills may be derided in some quarters as more evidence of "cultural elitism." But wouldn't it be heartening to finally have a president who doesn't make one cringe every time he opens his mouth, but inspires us all–as Obama did Thursday night–with his stirring call to restore what is best in America?

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain-Palin Ticket: Direct Threat To Women's Right To Choose

I thought about an article, "Mexico City Struggles With Law On Abortion" (New York Times, 8/25/08) when considering John McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a running mate.

The article states that Mexico City's "left-wing government" is revamping its abortion services despite court challenges from conservative groups. It makes clear the economic considerations of a woman's right to choose, inasmuch as restricting such a right specifically punishes poor women:

"When Mexico City’s government made abortion legal last year, it also set out to make it available to any woman who asked for one. That includes the city’s poorest, who for years resorted to illegal clinics and midwives as wealthy women visited private doctors willing to quietly end unwanted pregnancies."

Dr. Laura Garcia, who is the only one out of 13 gynecologists who agreed to offer abortions at a public hospital, "...said she had been insulted by colleagues and chased down the street by abortion opponents. But she said that having witnessed what happened to women before abortion became legal — she saw cases of septic shock and uncontrolled bleeding from botched abortions — helped her continue her work."

Dr. Garcia describes the traumas poor women who seek abortion may eventually face if the  McCain-Palin ticket is victorious. Palin, a Christian conservative, stands by McCain in his opposition to abortion rights. 

McCain has completely undermined his argument regarding Barack Obama's lack of foreign policy experience, by potentially placing this particular vice presidential candidate one heartbeat away from the presidency. Regardless, he has shored up his standing among Christian conservatives and is making a pitch for women who supported Hillary Clinton and are still bitter about Obama's candidacy.

Nevertheless, it took chutzpah for Palin to allude to herself as carrying on Clinton's quest: "It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America, but it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."

Palin is insulting the intelligence of the women of America. Her politics, including her firm opposition to abortion, do not resemble Clinton's at all. Moreover, American women will not take the simple-minded approach of rallying around Palin simply because of gender. It may come as news to the McCain-Palin camp that women also examine the issues.

That being the case, Obama supporters must continually remind women that McCain, with the firm support of Palin, would appoint Supreme Court judges dedicated to reversing Roe v. Wade–and that the loss of abortion rights would have especially dire consequences for the nation's poor women.

Peace Now Issues Unsettling Report On Israeli Settlement Expansion

The Israeli non-governmental organization Peace Now released a report dated August 2008 that will certainly disturb anyone devoted to the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two-state solution.

The report, "Eliminating  the Green Line," describes how "Israel Is Eliminating the Green Line And Continuing to Build in the Isolated Settlements." The Green Line is the border between pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank. Among the findings, taken directly from the report:

• Over 1000 new buildings are being constructed in the settlements, in which approximately 2,600 housing units, according to Peace Now’s calculations (aerial photographs and field visits). Approximately 55% of the new structures are located to the east of the constructed Separation Barrier.
• According to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics, construction in the settlements has increased by a factor of 1.8 by comparison to the same period last year. The Housing Ministry initiated 433 new housing units during the period of January – May 2008, compared to just 240 housing units during the period January – May 2007 (construction initiated by the Housing Ministry accounted for 64% of all the construction counted in the West Bank by the CBS in recent months).
• 125 new structures have been added to the outposts, including 30 permanent houses.
• The number of tenders for construction in the settlements has increased by 550%. 417 housing units, compared to just 65 in 2007.
• The number of tenders in East Jerusalem has increased by a factor of 38 (1,761 housing units compared to 46 in 2007).

Israel has signalled that it intends to keep major settlement blocks within the separation barrier that it is constructing along its border with the West Bank. The barrier's use in those terms is the subject of some controversy, since it juts into the West Bank and goes beyond the legitimate purpose of a protective measure against terrorist infiltration. Now we learn that the majority of the new construction–55%-goes even beyond the barrier itself.

The settlements, along with the corresponding checkpoints and road blocks, deny the contiguity of the West Bank and thus are a major obstacle to the formation of a viable Palestinian state. The Green Line is increasingly blurred as settlement blocks are linked to isolated settlements: "In recent years the trend has accelerated to eliminate the Green Line through intensive construction intended to create a territorial connection between the blocks of settlements and isolated settlements in the heart of the West Bank." The map above shows the main construction sites from December 2007-July 2008 as they spread eastward.

Peace Now also described the continued construction in isolated settlements, contradicting statements by the government that it is dedicated to removing such outposts, which surely weaken the rule of negotiating partner Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority. The report states, "...Israel is also continuing to build in the isolated settlements. At least 425 new buildings have been constructed over the past six months in isolated settlements and outposts in the heart of the West Bank, including caravans and permanent buildings."

The same trend holds for East Jerusalem: "The level of government activity relating to construction in East Jerusalem has increased dramatically. In addition to construction underway on the ground, tenders have been published for thousands of housing units, and the planning committees have promoted plans for thousands of new housing units."

In "Rice, In Israel, Criticizes Surge in Settlement Construction" (New York Times, 8/27/08), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that "...such building does not advance the cause of peace."

The building is a violation of Israeli commitments under an American-backed peace plan. The Bush administration, though, has severely neglected the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following its string of foreign policy disasters, the administration has over the past year tried to become more active, but it will prove to be a case of too little, too late for resolving the complex conflict. 

Rice made her comments with Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livini by her side. Livini said that settlement building should not play a role in the negotiations since the goal should be "not to let any kind of noises that relate to the situation on the ground these days enter the negotiation room."

This myopic statement denies the fact that negotiations over territory must indeed be influenced by "the situation on the ground"–and that such a situation does profound damage to the peace process. Peace Now points out this very contradiction and its effects in its conclusion:

"Despite the Israeli government’s renewed commitment during the Annapolis Summit to freeze all settlement activity, the construction has continued and almost doubled in all of the settlements and outposts on both sides of the Separation Barrier. No outpost had been evacuated, and instead, many outposts were expanded. In East Jerusalem the construction increased dramatically. It seems that the government of Israel repeats the mistakes of the past, by on the one hand negotiating an agreement with the Palestinians and in parallel constructing in the settlements. This construction undermines the Palestinian partners and creating facts on the ground that might prevent the possibility of a peace agreement."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reaches the same conclusion in its editorial "Fooling Ourselves" (8/26/08), which recognizes the role played by Peace Now: "Had Peace Now not published reports from time to time, it is doubtful anyone would have been aware of the continuing construction in the settlements."

Haaretz cites the undermining of negotiations by the continued settlement construction revealed by Peace Now:

"Israel is continuing to work against itself, against its future, against any chance for the existence of two nation states side by side.

"...Time is running out and the self-deception is continuing. Not the Americans, but rather the Israelis will bear the results of this continued disorder.

"If there is any place forbidden for Israel to build even one more house, it is the West Bank, beyond the separation fence and anywhere it is clear to anyone with eyes to see that it is part of the Palestinian state. Such a state is an Israeli interest of the highest order. A new neighborhood in Ariel or Arab Jerusalem will not advance its establishment."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

One Night Left For Limbaugh's Dream: Democrats Wild In The Streets Of Denver

A reader with the user name "Media Monkey" left a comment hoping that I'd write about Rush Limbaugh's dream that there be riots in the streets of Denver during the Democratic Convention, which "would see to it that we don't elect Democrats," according to (4/24/08).

Limbaugh apparently hoped back then that, through the riots, "the people on the far left would look bad." You know, the Maoists and Trotskyites who support the Obama-Biden ticket. 

Four months after speaking of his dreams, Limbaugh must be disappointed that these crazed radicals didn't burn down the Pepsi Center. He must still be nurturing hopes for an insurrection tomorrow night at INVESCO Field at Mile High. Maybe the corporate name of the place will drive the radical rabble over the edge.

Limbaugh was so besotted by his fevered imaginings that he actually compared the riotous Democrats to the proper Republicans.

"There won't be riots at our convention," Limbaugh said of the Republican National Convention. "We don't riot. We don't burn our cars. We don't burn down our houses. We don't kill our children. We don't do half the things the American left does."

I myself was tempted to burn my car this evening, just to do one of the things the American left does. But it's a work night, so I didn't bother. 

So I just went home, had some dinner and watched my fellow Democrats at the convention. There was plenty of speaking and cheering and sign waving. No pitched battles, though.

Even if the Democrats behave during the last night of the convention and even if they're victorious in November, Limbaugh should still nurture his dreams. An Obama-Biden administration might turn out to be something like the youthful leadership in the 1968 film "Wild In The Streets," shown in the trailer above. That, of course, would bring back the Republicans in 2012 and a return to the sober-minded policies that have brought us peace, national unity and economic prosperity over the past eight years.

More Insights From Republican Spinmeisters Conway And Giuliani

On "Larry King Live" (8/26/08), GOP strategist Kellyanne Conway stated that because Hillary Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention was so good, her supporters must be wondering anew why she isn't the nominee. Her comment followed Senator Clinton's outstanding, passionate speech, the very point of which was to promote party unity behind Barack Obama.

The Republican strategy is clear: sow or exagerrate Democratic disunity. Rudy Giuliani did the same with his absurd statement, "Nowhere tonight did she say that Barack Obama is ready to lead."

Really? How about Hillary's statement, "And when Barack Obama is in the White House, he'll revitalize our economy, defend the working people of America, and meet the global challenges of our times."

Or try this one: "And we know that President Obama will end the war in Iraq responsibly, bring our troops home, and begin to repair our alliances around the world."

Pretty tall orders for someone who isn't ready to lead.

As for Kellyanne Conway, we've already seen how insightful she is on a previous "Larry King Live" (3/7/08) with her racist comment, heard in the video above, "...while Hillary and Obama argue about whether or not she should let him sit in the back of the bus of her presidential ticket..." Both King and Obama supporter Jamal Simmons were incredulous at her statement. 

Conway should now realize that Clinton is calling for Obama to take over the wheel and drive the bus.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Joe Biden: The Right Pick To Confront The GOP Slime Machine

I'm heartened by Joe Biden's "Seven Kitchen Tables" line, shown in the video above. That type of line-and the confident way Biden presents it–is exactly what the Obama campaign needs after Labor Day, when the country pays closer attention to the campaign. The Republican slime machine will kick into full gear, making what came before merely the dress rehearsal.

In order to have any hope of winning, the Republicans must turn to trivia and slime. Thus the focus has been on Paris, Britney, lapel pins and tire gauges. How can the GOP play it any other way? The president has at most a 30% approval rating. The war is unpopular, the economy is faltering, our international reputation is in the tank, millions are without health care–and the Republicans put up a candidate, McCain, who supports Bush 95% of the time. How can he possibly win on the issues? He's forced to adopt the Rovian tactics of campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, tactics that George Bush used against him in 2000. At the time, McCain said, "''My message is, Governor Bush, get out of the gutter. Let's stop this kind of campaign.''

Obama wants a new type of politics, one that turns away from the negative campaigning of the past. The problem is that a hesitancy to respond to attacks is often interpreted as weakness. That's what happened to John Kerry with the Swiftboat ads. In Biden, Obama has a partner who is ready, willing and able to play hardball. Paul Krugman, in "Accentuate the Negative" (8/25/08) is relieved that the Obama campaign pursued the McCain "houses" issue:

"So the Obama campaign has turned to the politics of personal destruction, attempting to make a campaign issue out of John McCain’s inability to remember how many houses he has. And the turn comes not a moment too soon.

" the world we actually live in, pro-corporate, inequality-increasing Republicans argue that you should vote for them because they’re regular guys you’d like to have a beer with, while Democrats who want to raise taxes on top earners, expand health care and raise the minimum wage are snooty elitists.

"And in that world, stripping away the regular-guy facade — pointing out that everything Rush Limbaugh said about Mr. Kerry applies equally to Mr. McCain, that Mr. McCain lives in a material world few Americans can imagine — is only fair. Yes, Mr. Obama vacations in Hawaii — and Cindy McCain says that “In Arizona, the only way to get around the state is by small private plane.”

According to Krugman, after McCain is stripped of his "regular guy" image, we'll be left with the issues, which is to the Democrats' advantage:

"...can (the Obama campaign) really win in an exchange of character attacks? Probably not — but it doesn’t have to.

"The central fact of this year’s election is that voters are fed up with Republican rule. The only way Mr. McCain can win the presidential race is if it becomes a contest of personalities rather than parties — and if his campaign can instill in voters the perception that Mr. Obama is a suspicious character while Mr. McCain is a fine, upstanding gentleman.

"The Obama campaign, on the other hand, doesn’t need to convince voters either that he’s the awesomest candidate ever or that Mr. McCain is a villain. All it has to do is tarnish Mr. McCain’s image enough so that voters see this as a race between a Democrat and a Republican. And that’s a race the Democrat will easily win."

Frank Rich, in "Last Call for Change We Can Believe In" (8/24/08), urges Obama to use "a few more fisticuffs." What, after all, do we now know about McCain? Rich summarizes it neatly:

"What we have learned this summer is this: McCain’s trigger-happy temperament and reactionary policies offer worse than no change. He is an unstable bridge back not just to Bush policies but to an increasingly distant 20th-century America that is still fighting Red China in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in the cold war. As the country tries to navigate the fast-moving changes of the 21st century, McCain would put America on hold."

What Obama needs to do, Rich continues, is to "go after McCain's biggest asset–experience–much as McCain went after Obama's crowd-drawing celebrity." Rich asks pointed questions about the nature of McCain's experience and the conclusions he's drawn:

"Is a man who is just discovering the Internet qualified to lead a restoration of America’s economic and educational infrastructures? Is the leader of a virtually all-white political party America’s best salesman and moral avatar in the age of globalization? Does a bellicose Vietnam veteran who rushed to hitch his star to the self-immolating overreaches of Ahmad Chalabi, Pervez Musharraf and Mikheil Saakashvili have the judgment to keep America safe?"

The question of experience and foreign affairs also plays into the Biden pick. Obama chose him in part to shore up his perceived weakness in these areas–yet I put the accent on the word perceived. Because while Obama may have less foreign policy experience than McCain, he makes up for it in his grasp of world events. Obama seems to know when a war is unjustifiable and when a timetable is a viable option to end that war. He has the insight to realize that the country has strayed off course through the go-it-alone military adventurism of the neocons–and that it's time to put more stress on diplomacy.

This insight is lost on McCain. Take his handling of the conflict in Georgia. McCain, whose campaign foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann represented Georgia as a lobbyist, immediately blasted Russia as the conflict erupted, stating, "...we must not allow Russia to believe it has a free hand to engage in policies that undermine Georgian sovereignty.” He spoke about throwing Russia out of the G8 and about setting Georgia on the path to becoming a NATO member, despite the fact that such a move would aggravate tensions with Russia. It would also be an empty gesture if NATO members were not prepared to confront Russia militarily in the case of another conflict with Georgia. It was more McCain bluster–the bluster of a candidate who employs the domestic mantra "drill! drill! drill!" in order to appear as a man of action.

McCain completely ignored the complexities of the Russian-Georgian situation. True, Russia is aggressively occupying more than the contested areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and it doesn't seem to want to leave Georgia despite treaties and promises. But the fact is that the conflict started with Saakashvili's invasion of South Ossetia, an area with a homegrown seccesionist movement. Thomas Friedman, in "What Did We Expect" (8/19/08), quotes the Washington Post's longtime Russia watcher Michael Dobbs: "“On the night of Aug. 7 ..., Saakashvili ordered an artillery barrage against Tskhinvali and sent an armored column to occupy the town. He apparently hoped that Western support would protect Georgia from major Russian retaliation, even though Russian ‘peacekeepers’ were almost certainly killed or wounded in the Georgian assault. It was a huge miscalculation.” The Economist Magazine, Friedman points out, called  Saakashvili "an impetuous nationalist."

The task of the Obama campaign is to not only point out the plans its candidate has for the country. It also has to expose McCain's bluster and poor judgement, whether it pertains to a domestic issue like energy or an international issue like Georgia. One can only be heartened by the fact that Obama now has a partner, Biden, who's ready to throw barbs at an opponent whose tough talk promises more of the same misadventures we've experienced on the world stage over the past eight years.

McCain-Embedded Media Enjoy Cozy Barbecue At 15-20 Acre Sedona Estate

The Los Angeles Times (7/27/08) reported, "The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, where researchers have tracked network news content for two decades, found that ABC, NBC and CBS were tougher on Obama than on Republican John McCain during the first six weeks of the general-election campaign."

The article, "In Study, Evidence of Liberal-Bias Bias," continues: "During the evening news, the majority of statements from reporters and anchors on all three networks are neutral, the center found. And when network news people ventured opinions in recent weeks, 28% of the statements were positive for Obama and 72% negative.

"Network reporting also tilted against McCain, but far less dramatically, with 43% of the statements positive and 57% negative, according to the Washington-based media center."

Bear these statistics in mind while watching the video above featuring Meghan McCain, daughter of the Republican presidential candidate. Meghan's offers "Musings and Pop Culture on the Political Trail."

The video, "Sedona Surprises," posted on YouTube on 3/9/08, features Meghan's perky comments on the McCains' barbecue for the press. Dad grilled "his famous grilled ribs and chicken" for media members who "really relaxed" with the McCains before going forth months later to issue more positive comments on the fun-loving GOP candidate than on his opponent. The delicious grub is no doubt a perk for those media members who are embedded with the McCain camp.

For those wondering which one of the many McCain homes set the scene for the event, the opening shot verifies that it was the Sedona multi-home estate, on 15-20 acres of land.

Meghan's written introduction to the video captures the good times and coziness between the media and the McCains at their barbecue:

"I know that so many of you really enjoyed our photo gallery from the BBQ event in Sedona for members of the media. We think you're going to love this video. Watch for Dad being dangerous on the grill with his tongs, Mom's humor, us rocking out in the car and of course, all the unexpected silliness. Enjoy!"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bush Administration Continues War On Environment And Endangered Species

Future historians will have to tally how many lives have been lost due to the destructive actions of the Bush administration. 

The war in Iraq started with the bombing of Baghdad, known as the "shock and awe" extravaganza, as if those being blasted to bits were bit characters in a blockbuster action movie, this time brought to us live. Since then, the toll has included thousands more Iraqis and American soldiers. When Hurricane Katrina hit, the people of New Orleans could no longer count on a once robust and well-funded Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In a blatant example of the administration's preference for cronyism over competence and its contempt for government agencies, Michael Brown was chosen as FEMA's head. 

Brown's prior position provided ample training in disaster management. He served as judges and stewards commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association. 

Despite Bush's praise of "Brownie" for doing "a heckuva job," the weakened FEMA was not able to cope with the massive death and destruction.

Seemingly not content with actions that endanger human life, the administration is now targeting endangered species. Following the administration's pattern, the agency charged with protecting wildlife is contradicting its very purpose and leading the way in endangering endangered species. A New York Times article, "Changes in Environmental Reviews Are Sought" (8/11/08), states the following: 

"The Bush administration is proposing to let federal agencies decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants, according to a draft of planned rule changes obtained by The Associated Press.

"The proposed regulations, which do not require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews that government scientists have been performing for 35 years."

One doesn't have to wonder too much if federal agencies that want to undertake development projects are going to let a few species that might never exist again, with unforeseen consequences to the ecosystem, stand in their way.

Note, though, that it's those pesky scientists who will be gotten out of the way, as part of the administration's ongoing war on science. One remembers the famous comment made by a senior White House aide to writer Ron Suskind: "The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' 

It's no wonder that the administration is against stem-cell research, which would help find cures for real people suffering from real diseases, and refuses to take a leadership role in combating global warming, which has been verified by peer-reviewed scientific journals throughout the world ("In 2004, an article in the journal Science that surveyed 928 papers on climate change published in peer-reviewed scientific journals found that 'none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.' "–Paul Krugman, "Enemy of the Planet," April 17, 2006.)

So it should come as no surprise to find that "Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said...that the changes were needed to ensure that the Endangered Species Act not be used as a 'back door' to regulate the heat trapping gasses linked to global warming." 

Heaven forbid. 

To ensure that the link between greenhouse gas and global warming not be allowed in any door front or back, in 2002 and 2003, Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality–naturally!–"repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents."

What was Mr. Cooney's background? "Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the "climate team leader" and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training."

Mr. Cooney, no doubt, was subject to the same rigid background check as Michael Brown.

The Petroleum Institute's interest in global warming is limited to its effect on its profit margin. The attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act is based on the same motive: "If approved, the changes would represent the biggest overhaul of endangered species regulations since 1986. They would accomplish through rules what conservative Republicans have been unable to achieve in Congress: ending some environmental reviews that developers and other federal agencies blame for delays and cost increases on many projects."

A Times editorial, "An Endangered Act" (8/12/08), considers the effects of the administration's continued quest to cater to developers at the expense of the environment Excerpts follow:

"The new regulations would overturn one of the act’s most fundamental provisions. Under current rules, federal agencies are required to submit their plans to either the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"This in effect gives scientists at those agencies the right to say no to any project or, as is most often the case, to require modifications if the project threatens an endangered species. Mr. Kempthorne would now effectively remove these agencies, whose job is to oversee the act, from the process.

"The dangers of such “self-consultation” should be obvious.

"The Bureau of Reclamation likes to build dams; the Department of Transportation likes to build highways. Protecting endangered species is not their priority. Other agencies, like the Office of Surface Mining or the Bureau of Land Management, have shown themselves far too vulnerable to pressure from the very industries, like mining, they are meant to regulate.

"The Endangered Species Act has, on the whole, been successful in arresting the decline of many species that might otherwise have gone extinct. In cases like the bald eagle, it has helped restore the health of a species to a point where it can be removed from the endangered list. But many property owners and commercial interests, including developers and loggers, hate the act because, in their view, it unreasonably inflates costs.

"The Bush administration has tried hard to accommodate their interests. It has gone to great lengths to circumnavigate the clear language of the law by rigging the science (in many cases ignoring their own scientists), negotiating settlements favorable to industry and simply refusing to obey court orders. This time, however, the administration means to rewrite the law itself, albeit through regulatory means.

"There is now a 30-day comment period, after which the department is likely to issue a final rule. In 2006, courts struck down a similar if narrower effort to give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to approve pesticides without consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service. Mr. Kempthorne’s latest assault deserves a similar fate."

The video commentary above on the Bush administration's environmental policies is from The Young Turks of Air America Radio.

The Nation Magazine On What's At Stake

The current issue of The Nation (Sept, 1/8, 2008) includes an article, "Progressives in the Obama Moment" (8/13/08), part of which summarizes the critical stakes for the country and the world in the upcoming election. Without question, McCain represents a third term of the disastrous Bush policies, while Obama opens up the possibility of crucially needed national reform. The two paragraph summary is well worth considering:

"...the central reality: this election features a stark ideological contrast. Although marketed as a trustworthy maverick, McCain accurately describes himself as a "foot soldier in the Reagan revolution" and attests that "on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush." He is committed to the full Bush catastrophe: continued war in Iraq, more tax cuts for the wealthiest, more corporate trade deals, more deregulation, more hostility toward labor, more conservative social policies and reactionary judges. Indeed, he's Bush on steroids. McCain seeks not only to privatize Social Security but also to unravel employer-based healthcare, leaving people to negotiate alone with insurance companies liberated from regulation. His bellicose posturing on Iran and Iraq is as disastrous as his pledge of impossibly deep cuts in domestic programs. He embraces the corporate economic and trade agenda that has so devastated the American middle class. If he is defeated, it will mark the end of the Reagan era.

"Obama clearly offers a change of course. His victory in itself will require overcoming the racial fears that have so long divided this country. He carries a reform agenda--largely driven by progressives--into the election: an end to the occupation of Iraq, using the money squandered there to rebuild America; affordable healthcare for all, paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy; a concerted drive for energy independence, generating jobs while investing in renewable energy and conservation. He is committed to empowering labor, to holding corporations and banks more accountable and to challenging our trade policies. A social liberal, his judicial appointees will keep the right from consolidating its hold on the federal judiciary. Obama may not be a "movement" progressive in the way that Reagan was a "movement" conservative, and he may have disappointed activists with his recent compromises, but make no mistake: his election will open a new era of reform, the scope of which will depend--as Obama often says--on independent progressive mobilization to keep the pressure on and overcome entrenched interests."

Does John McCain Want To Reinstitute The Draft?

In a town hall meeting in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on August 20, an audience member stated to John McCain, "If we don't reenact the draft, I don't think we'll have anyone to chase Bin Laden to the gates of hell." McCain responded, "I don't disagree with anything you said."

If he heard the audience member correctly and expressed his true conviction, McCain's statement has a certain logic. McCain, after all, has consistently supported Bush's war in Iraq which, coupled with the war in Afghanistan, has been running the military into the ground. How many times can young men and women in uniform be recycled for further tours of duty? Readers should also view again the video in my post, "McCain's Campaign Pledge: More Wars" (6/14/08), in which he repeatedly warns that "there's going to be more wars" and states, "These young people who are in this crowd, my friends, I'm going to be asking you to serve."

McCain already views the unnecessary war in Iraq as justifiable, so who knows how many more conflicts he might initiate if he were elected? Parents of children who may be of draft age in a few years should consider themselves forewarned–as should all of us.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Alan Colmes Exposes Conservative Moral Hypocrisy

Alan Colmes couldn't take it any more after three right wingers, including Hannity & Colmes co-host Sean Hannity, waxed indignant about John Edwards' running for president and appealing to family values while cheating on his wife Elizabeth, a cancer patient. How, they wanted to know, could we ever trust such a man to be president? 

Finally Colmes turned the tables and asked if Edwards' behavior was any different from John McCain's, who left his former wife Carol after she was disfigured in a car accident to take up with a much younger and wealthier woman, Cindy. Colmes's opponents flailed around trying to come up with reasons why McCain's behavior is somehow more understandable, in a blatant display of conservative moral hypocrisy. Hannity's reference to Edwards' "fancy home" strikes one as ironic given recent revelations of McCain's multiple dwellings. 

Video is from the 8/12/08 Hannity & Colmes on FOX News, the GOP propaganda outlet posing as a legitimate news source. Visit Media Matters to see clips of right-wing misstatements and deception that include FOX hosts Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.

McCain's People Will Get Back To You On The Number Of Homes He Owns

It must be nice having so many homes that you don't remember how many you own. That apparently is the position John McCain is in. 

Asked how many he owns by two reporters from, McCain replied, "I think–I'll have my staff get back to you. It's condominiums where–I'll have them get to you."

Politico later reported that John McCain's family owns eight properties, not seven as identified by Democrats or four as identified by McCain's staff.

Perhaps McCain's multiple home ownership wouldn't be such a big deal if his campaign didn't depict Barack Obama as an out-of-touch elitist and McCain as a regular guy. And if he didn't embrace the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and major corporations. And if he didn't lecture the many who are victims of predatory loans by a mortgage industry that took advantage of the deregulation that McCain favors. 

Gail Collins, in "McCain Forecloses Early" (3/29/08), noted McCain's lack of sympathy for those losing their homes (their one home, that is). And in the midst of the crisis, McCain's solution is to call for yet more deregulation:

"The theme for his mortgage speech this week was basically McCain to Homeowners: Drop Dead. It was, he said sternly, “not the duty of the government to bail out and reward those who act irresponsibly.” The good news, he noted, was that out of 80 million American homeowners, only 4 million are in the tank, while everybody else is “working a second job, skipping a vacation and managing their budgets” the way Countrywide Financial intended them to.

"He did, however, leave the door open for some vague, amorphous, undefined aid to good homeowners, as opposed to irresponsible ones who ... did something irresponsible. Like taking that vacation.

"McCain then suggested that the federal government ought to do something about getting regulations off the back of the financial markets and concluded with a call to reduce the corporate tax rate. It was not exactly a rallying cry for the masses."

The video above, "McCain's Mansions" from Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films, contains a comment from a woman who stated that a "second job" and "skipping a vacation" won't save her home due to her dire straits. Not that McCain would know anything about that.

It's no wonder that McCain, who admits that he doesn't know much about economics, retained Phil Gramm as an economic adviser. Gramm made the now famous comments that Americans concerned about the economy are part of a "nation of whiners" undergoing a "mental recession." They ought to shape up and stop acting irresponsibly, no doubt.

Given McCain's policies favoring the well-off, his lack of concern for Americans' economic difficulties and his hypocrisy in portraying Obama as an elitist, it's clear that we need to keep McCain from occupying a ninth home: The White House.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Attorney General Mukasey In Service To A Lawless Administration

Attorney General Michael Mukasey is compiling a record that is completely in sync with the administration he serves. 

My post of July 27, "Michael Mukasey's Torturous Legal Perspectives," describes his circular, semantical arguments during confirmation hearings to avoid acknowledging that waterboarding is torture. He has also supported procedures that would make it almost impossible for a Guantanamo prisoner to receive a fair trial, including the use of secret evidence at habeas corpus hearings and limiting prisoners' rights to introduce testimony or call witnesses. 

Following the Justice Department scandal in which aides to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez made a conscious effort to fill non-political jobs with conservative prosecutors loyal to President Bush (see my post of 7/30/08, "OK On God, Guns And Gays? You're Hired!"), Attorney General Mukasey "rejected the idea of bringing criminal charges against former Justice Department employees who improperly used political litmus tests in hiring decisions, saying he had already taken strong internal steps in response to a 'painful' episode,' " according to the New York Times (8/12/08).

In an editorial "Mr. Mukasey In Denial" (8/12/08), the Times takes the attorney general to task for not vigorously pursuing alleged illegal actions by administration figures. The editorial refers to a speech Mukasey made on the politicization of the Justice Department:

"Mr. Mukasey made no mention of the role played by his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, and other members of President Bush’s inner circle. There is by now strong reason to believe that they were involved in plans to fire United States attorneys for political reasons, fill other important positions on the basis of partisanship rather than competence and order prosecutions designed to help Republicans win elections.

"The department has never properly pursued the bad actors. It has shown no real concern for the victims. Mr. Mukasey’s cynical remarks shrugging off the whole scandal should prod Congress to pursue it even more vigorously."

Mukasey refuses, however, to investigate current and former administration members who were involved in alleged Justice Department scandals:

"Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, has long insisted that he was prosecuted on vague corruption charges — for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison — because he was one of his state’s leading Democrats.

"Mr. Mukasey should have said that based on the recent reports he is going to personally and vigorously pursue allegations of politicization in the department, no matter where they lead. He should have talked about the exhaustive efforts he is making to get to the bottom of Mr. Siegelman’s allegations.

"He should also have vowed that he would do everything in his power to see that President Bush’s chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, his former White House counsel, Harriet Miers, and former top political adviser, Karl Rove, all comply with Congressional subpoenas to testify in public and under oath.

"As the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Mr. Mukasey should demand that they tell what they know — particularly about the firing of the United States attorneys — and deliver relevant documents. Instead, he has supported their baseless claims of executive privilege."

So besides playing rhetorical games on the definition of waterboarding and backing show trials in Guantanamo, Mukasey allows current and former administration figures to cynically avoid testifying under oath (see the "Headzup" video clip above).

It is shocking that an attorney general should conduct himself this way–but from another perepective, it isn't. From hyping the so-called "evidence" of WMD to smearing Joseph Wilson to the constant use of signing statements to illegal wiretaps of Americans' phone calls abroad to the evasion of the Constitution in Guantanamo, this is an administration that considers itself above the law. Michael Mukasey has placed his legal talents at the service of a lawless White House.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

McCain Rides The Happy Talk Express On The Economy

The recent appearance of Barack Obama and John McCain at Saddleback Church, Reverend Rick Warren's evangelical megachurch in Lake Forest, California, left me reflecting not so much about what I see as an all-too-pervasive emphasis on religion in American politics, but about the candidates' stance on economic issues.

What stood out for me–and what I think has not received enough play in the media–was the answer to the question of what defines "rich"? According to an account in the New York Times (8/17/08), Obama said that American families that earn less than $150,000 a year are middle class or poor and entitled to a tax break.

During his session, McCain said that " 'rich' should mean people who are happy."

How heartwarming.

In a time of home foreclosures, higher gas prices and rising unemployment, the Republican candidate comes up with something that has the profundity of a Hallmark greeting card.

Of course, McCain had to give that answer. He would have caused an uproar among his supporters had he presented a serious definition of the word "rich." For the GOP, that term is not simple. Defining it could lead to dangerous discussions about our new gilded age, in which the wealthy have benefited tremendously by the Bush tax cuts. Of course, while piles of cash have been shoveled at millionaires and billionaires, we've spent billions on an unnecessary war (see the counter on this page), the deficit has metastasized and we've gone into deep debt to Asian banks.

The Bush tax cuts I've referred to are the very ones that John McCain wants to extend for the wealthy and major corporations, including big oil. If he were elected president, he would continue the policies which the Times protests in the editorial "The Corporate Free Ride" (8/18/08). The editorial proposes a way " address the United States’ gaping fiscal deficit: persuade corporate America to start paying taxes," especially since "An investigation by the Government Accountability Office found that almost two-thirds of companies in the United States usually pay no corporate income taxes. Big companies, those with more than $50 million in sales or $250 million in assets, are less likely to avoid Uncle Sam altogether. Still, about a quarter of them report no tax liability either."

Imagine what could be done for health care, education, the infrastructure, veterans' care (including the thousands that are going to need lifelong care as a result of Bush's war) and other societal needs with that money. George Bush and John McCain, however, have other priorities: "The first place to look for money to close the budget deficit should be among the high-income individuals who have been treated so generously by the Bush administration. But corporate America has been getting a free pass for far too long. And the seeming ease with which corporations escape the taxman altogether compounds a fundamental unfairness in the American economy... It is a uniquely American paradox. This country’s corporate tax rates are among the highest in the industrial world, yet the taxes that corporations pay are among the lowest. With an enormous budget deficit and pressing demands for better health care and other social programs, America can no longer afford free riders."

Despite McCain's advocacy of unpopular economic policies, Obama still isn't surging in the polls. Paul Krugman, in "It's the Economy Stupor," notes this paradox and suggests that the Obama campaign hasn't approached this issue with enough passion:

"By rights, John McCain should be getting hammered on economics.

"After all, Mr. McCain proposes continuing the policies of a president who’s had a truly dismal economic record — job growth under the current administration has been the slowest in 60 years, even slower than job growth under the first President Bush. And the public blames the White House, giving Mr. Bush spectacularly low ratings on his handling of the economy.

"...the problem isn’t lack of specifics — it’s lack of passion. When it comes to the economy, Mr. Obama’s campaign seems oddly lethargic.

"I was astonished at the flatness of the big economy speech he gave in St. Petersburg at the beginning of this month — a speech that was billed as the start of a new campaign focus on economic issues. Mr. Obama is a great orator, yet he began that speech with a litany of statistics that were probably meaningless to most listeners."

Now that we're heading into September, it's time for the Obama campaign to end McCain's silly season of Britney, Paris and tire gauges and focus the country on issues that matter, including the economy. The new ad above depicting how removed McCain has consistently been on economic issues is a step in the right direction. Obama must hit hard against GOP economic policies, sure to be continued by McCain, that have led to our economic impasse. Krugman presents Bill Clinton's victorious "It's the economy stupid" theme as a model:

"In his speech accepting the Democratic nomination in 1992, a year in which economic conditions somewhat resembled those today, Bill Clinton denounced his opponent as someone “caught in the grip of a failed economic theory.” Where Mr. Obama spoke cryptically in St. Petersburg about a “reckless few” who “game the system, as we’ve seen in this housing crisis” — I know what he meant, I think, but how many voters got it? — Mr. Clinton declared that “those who play by the rules and keep the faith have gotten the shaft, and those who cut corners and cut deals have been rewarded.” That’s the kind of hard-hitting populism that’s been absent from the Obama campaign so far."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Right-Wing Hack Jerome Corsi's Latest Abomination

"Swiftboating" has entered our vocabulary as a verb signifying an ad hominem attack or smear campaign. We remember the 2004 election, in which John Kerry, a war hero who received a Purple Heart for his dangerous missions as a swiftboat captain in Vietnam, had his military record questioned. Who was the beneficiary of these attacks? George Bush, who, like Dick "I had other priorities" Cheney and other neocons, supported the Vietnam war, later to start the Iraq war, yet somehow never made it to the battlefield. Questions still remain about how George Bush was honorably discharged from the National Guard in 1973 eight months before the end of his six-month commitment. Yet Republican operatives wanted to attack John Kerry for the very asset he brought into the campaign, his military experience. So it was that the war hero was smeared in ads produced by the misnamed "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth."

Associated with the Swiftboaters was Jerome Corsi, who wrote "Unfit for Command," a hatchet job whose accusations were uncovered as rife with contradictions. Now during the 2008 presidential campaign, Corsi has come out with "Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality." The New York Times (8/12/08) points out that "Several of the book's accusations are unsubstantiated, misleading or inaccurate":

"For instance, Mr. Corsi writes that Mr. Obama had “yet to answer” whether he “stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended to his law school days or beyond.” “How about in the U.S. Senate?” Mr. Corsi asks.

"But Mr. Obama, who admitted to occasional marijuana and cocaine use in his high school and early college years, wrote in his memoir that he had “stopped getting high” when he moved to New York in the early 1980s. And in 2003 The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., quoted him responding to a question of his drug use by saying, “I haven’t done anything since I was 20 years old.”

"In an interview, Mr. Corsi said “self-reporting, by people who have used drugs, as to when they stopped is inherently unreliable.”

"In exploring Mr. Obama’s denials that he had been present for the more incendiary sermons of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Corsi cites a report on the conservative Web site that Mr. Obama had attended a sermon on July 22, 2007, in which Mr. Wright blamed “the ‘white arrogance’ of America’s Caucasian majority for the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks.”

"Mr. Obama, however, was giving a speech in Florida that afternoon, and his campaign reported he had not attended Mr. Wright’s church that day.

"William Kristol, a columnist for The New York Times, had cited the same report in a column, and issued a correction. “There is a dispute about the date, and Kristol chose to side with Obama,” Mr. Corsi said. “We can nitpick the date to death,” he added, saying his “fundamental point” was Mr. Obama’s close association with someone ascribing to “black liberation theology.”

"Mr. Corsi described most of the critiques of his book as “nitpicking,” like a contradiction of his claim that Mr. Obama had failed to dedicate his book “Dreams of My Father” to his family; Mr. Obama dedicated the book to several family members, in the introduction.

"Mr. Corsi called the Media Matters critique inconsequential because it was advancing a liberal, political agenda."

It's no wonder that Corsi doesn't like Media Matters; this invaluable web site is dedicated to exposing conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Corsi appeared on a station whose very purpose is to peddle misinformation and hate, the "The Political Cesspool Radio Show," described as "pro-white." The show was streamed live on July 20 on the self-described "White Nationalist" website Media Matters has exposed 13 falsehoods in Corsi's book and compiled excerpts from Corsi's slanderous comments on Catholics, Muslims, Democrats and media figures. The Media Matters video clip above shows media figures pointedly challenging Corsi's many falsehoods. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, however, are among Corsi's supporters.

John Kerry, 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who said that he regrets "not striking back more forcefully at the (Swiftboat) attacks," started a Web site, Truth Fights Back, dedicated to taking back "the truth from the Bush/McCain politics of Karl Rove that have come to dominate the GOP.  In an email announcing the site, Kerry wrote, "The liars are back. We've seen this movie before. The Republicans, without ideas, start running a negative campaign filled with personal attacks and misleading ads. The attacks get condemned, but they get lots of attention and get played on TV endlessly. We've got to fight every way we can."

Kerry has it right. The Republicans, especially after eight disastrous years of the Bush administration, have nothing to offer in terms of the economy, the environment, foreign relations, health care and other critical issues. So they repeatedly engage in the politics of personal destruction. No matter who the Democratic candidate is, that candidate will have his or her patriotism, character and background subject to the most outrageous lies. In 2004, the Kerry campaign did not rapidly and consistently respond to the Bush campaign smear merchants. Part of the Obama campaign's attempt to do so is the establishment of the Web site Fight The Smears. The site has a section on the Corsi book, Unfit For Publication. The Obama campaign and its supporters must pound away daily at purveyors of outrageous smear peddlers like Jerome Corsi.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

McCain: "Nations Don't Invade Other Nations"

Can you believe this guy?

I don't know if he's confused, forgetful or just hypocritical. Yet here's John McCain actually telling reporters in Michigan, "In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations."

Huh? What does McCain call Bush's war in Iraq, which he has ardently defended since the days of "shock and awe"? Doesn't that qualify as an invasion? How about Afghanistan?

The video clip above stands as proof that McCain actually made this statement.

Perhaps McCain should have stated, "In the 21st century, other nations don't invade other nations. Only we do." 

McCain could then explain that we're the leader of the free world, unlike those bad Russians, so when we invade other nations, it's justified. And if one justification proves false, we can always resort to another, from WMD to ties to Al Qaeda to establishing democracy to fighting the terrorists who have shown up in Iraq as a result of our invasion.

As an explanation for McCain's statement, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and put aside possible hypocrisy. I believe that it's just more McCain confusion. This, after all, is the candidate who referred to the Iraq/Pakistan border, even though the two countries don't share a border. Who confused Somalia for Sudan when asking, "How can we bring pressure on the government of Somalia?" Who referred to "President Putin of Germany." Who said that troops in Iraq are "down to pre-surge levels" when there were 20,000 more troops than at the beginning of the surge. Who twice mistook Sunnis for Shiites in Iraq. Who referred several times to Czechoslovakia, a nation that no longer exists since being divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993.

Pretty strange for a candidate who admits that he doesn't know much about economics, but bills himself as a strong foreign policy man. Perhaps foreign policy isn't his strong suit either. If it were, he'd realize that we've invaded another nation–actually two–and he's just fine with it. Right now, in the 21st century.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

McCain The Energy Huckster

Recent columns by Bob Herbert and Thomas L. Friedman paint a picture of McCain on energy, and it ain't pretty.

In short, McCain is an energy huckster.

Herbert, in "An Empty Promise" (8/12/08), writes about the fraud perpetuated by McCain on energy. He starts off relating a conversation with Senator John Kerry:

"He was talking about the latest smoke screen in the presidential election, the bogus contention that lifting restrictions on offshore oil drilling would somehow, in the foreseeable future, bring down the price of gasoline for American motorists.

"This absurd contention is now one of the main issues of the campaign. It’s the latest example of a very real fear (that sky-high energy prices will undermine the average family’s standard of living) being exploited shamelessly for political purposes.

"Senator John McCain told cheering bikers at a giant motorcycle rally in South Dakota: “We’re gonna drill offshore! We’re gonna drill here, and we’re gonna drill now!” He told an audience in Lafayette Hill, Pa.: “We have to drill here and drill now. ... Drill here and drill now.”

"Assuming that everything over all those years goes all right, it is estimated that an additional 200,000 barrels of oil a day would come from the additional offshore drilling. That’s a tiny share of the world’s daily output of 85 million or so barrels.

"Here’s what the Energy Information Administration, the statistical agency that provides official data for the federal government, had to say about the anticipated additional output from offshore drilling:

“Because oil prices are determined on the international market ... any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.”

"I wonder if the electorate will ever wise up. We’ve known, or should have known, since the 1970s that the day of reckoning on energy would come. The U.S., blessed with so many resources, is no longer blessed with an abundance of oil.

"How pathetic that in the midst of a presidential campaign the loudest voices we are hearing on this subject are crying: “Drill! Drill! Drill!”

But it gets worse. Besides selling snake oil on drilling, McCain's nowhere to be seen on renewable energy–unless he's in a television commercial. Friedman, in "Eight Strikes And You're Out" (8/13/08), explains, starting with the same motorcycle rally:

"John McCain recently tried to underscore his seriousness about pushing through a new energy policy, with a strong focus on more drilling for oil, by telling a motorcycle convention that Congress needed to come back from vacation immediately and do something about America’s energy crisis. “Tell them to come back and get to work!” McCain bellowed.

"It was only five days earlier, on July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill — S. 3335 — that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.

"Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits — which expire in December — to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America’s energy profile.

"Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year — which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn’t leave his office to vote.

“McCain did not show up on any votes,” said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, which tracks clean-technology legislation. Despite that, McCain’s campaign commercial running during the Olympics shows a bunch of spinning wind turbines — the very wind turbines that he would not cast a vote to subsidize, even though he supports big subsidies for nuclear power.

"As Richard K. Lester, an energy-innovation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes, “The best chance we have — perhaps the only chance” of addressing the combined challenges of energy supply and demand, climate change and energy security “is to accelerate the introduction of new technologies for energy supply and use and deploy them on a very large scale.”

"That is what this election should be focusing on. Everything else is just bogus rhetoric designed by cynical candidates who think Americans are so stupid — so bloody stupid — that if you just show them wind turbines in your Olympics ad they’ll actually think you showed up and voted for such renewable power — when you didn’t."

Herbert asks, "I wonder if the electorate will ever wise up," and gives the early support for the war in Iraq as an example of mass gullibility. Friedman wonders if cynical candidates–i.e., like McCain–think Americans are "so bloody stupid." Will the American people fall for a candidate who repeatedly shouts "drill!" even though the evidence clearly shows that he offers no energy solution? All that counts for McCain is image. The call to drill makes it look like he's doing something, just like his ads make it look like he's interested in renewable energy.

McCain is critical of such oil-rich countries as Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Yet like Bush and Cheney, McCain's policies will keep the U.S. dependent on foreign oil. McCain also talks a good game on global warming, allowing him to come across as a GOP "maverick." Yet if he opposes funding new energy-efficiency systems, he offers nothing on this issue as well.

So we have a candidate who's spent the past few weeks on Britney, Paris and drilling. This time, the American people will see through the hucksterism and not vote for that candidate. Right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Lionel: Who Are We To Talk To Russia About Aggression?

President Bush said that Russia's military action in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were "...damaging its reputation and 'were unacceptable in the 21st century.' " McCain called on the United Nations to condemn "Russian aggression."

Has anyone noted an irony in these statements? Here is the president of the United States and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, both of whom thought it was a fine idea to occupy and invade a sovereign nation, Iraq, that posed no threat to the United States. Now they are protesting Russia's "unacceptable" actions and "aggression."

Radio host Lionel of Air America Radio points out the irony in Bush's stance in the video clip above. He states, “The president is standing in front of the world and telling Russia, ‘You have invaded a sovereign country and you’re seeking some kind of a regime change. You want to topple the leader of a sovereign nation.' Does this sound familiar to you? Who are we to tell anybody anything? What is the difference between South Ossetia and Iraq?” 

That's just a highlight; the entire clip asks provocative questions and is well worth a listen.

Lionel's repeated question, "Who are we to tell anybody anything," is a reflection of our nation's declining moral standing after an unjustifiable war, waterboarding, extraordinary rendition, the reversal of the FISA bill and other illegal actions. It will take a long time and a reversal of policies before we are able to speak to the world about diplomacy and curbing aggression.

Haaretz, Israeli Human Rights Groups Protest Shooting Rubber Bullet At Bound Palestinian

Haaretz, in an editorial "Just Fire A Rubber Bullet At Him?" has protested the relatively light treatment of IDF Lt. Col. Omri Borberg and a soldier in his command who fired a rubber bullet at close range at the foot of a shackled and blindfolded Palestinian.

The editorial states, "Shooting a shackled and blindfolded person, who is clearly not endangering soldiers, and even shooting in order to frighten, or the threat to shoot in order to frighten, and not even directly at the person's body but only in immediate proximity to him, are all acts forbidden by law, whether military or civil, during times of both war and peace, in Israel or anywhere else where respect for human rights exists.

"To ensure that the prohibition against shooting a shackled person will be clear and unambiguous, the chief of staff should have made an example of the shooting at Na'alin - even if the result of the shooting was only a slight injury to the Palestinian's foot.

"However, instead of a strong statement by the chief of staff, instead of the expulsion of the battalion commander from the Israel Defense Forces, a deal was cut whereby Lt. Col. Borberg would be removed from command of the battalion, transferred to another position and tried in the military court on the relatively light charge of "unworthy conduct."

Haaretz described the scene as follows:

"The picture emerging from the indictment as formulated is that the utter prohibition on shooting a shackled individual has not been instilled and has not been internalized. The soldier did not view an order to shoot, if he received one, as a blatantly illegal order. The commander did not understand the illegality in the threat to shoot a person in shackles. The battalion commander said - according to the indictment - in order to frighten the Palestinian: "What do you say? Shall we take him aside and shoot him?" and the soldier replied: "I have no problem shooting rubber [bullets] at him."

"The commander said: "Insert a bullet," and the soldier said, "I have one in the barrel," and fired. Only after the soldier had fired did his commander clarify to him that "one doesn't shoot a person who is tied up."

Ashraf Abu Rahmeh, the Palestinian who was shot, and four Israeli human rights organizations demanded that the military judge suspend legal proceedings to enable the organizations to examine and consider challenging the charge. The organizations include the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B'Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.

According to a press release on the B'Tselem web site, the organizations' contend that "command measures cannot substitute for appropriate criminal proceedings."

The video clip from Reuters above contains footage from the incident filmed by a Palestinian girl from the window of her home, along with commentary from a B'Tselem spokesperson.

On the one hand, Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which this incident would have been publicized. It's also the only country in the region in which four human rights groups and a major newspaper would have such free rein to protest the incident, especially one involving the military. These factors point to Israel's status as the only democracy in the Middle East.

On the other hand, one cannot but be disturbed by the fact that the shooting of a bound individual is not a grave enough event for criminal charges to be pressed. Apparently the only ramifications relate to the soldiers' military careers. Perhaps this treatment is more evidence of the brutalizing effect of the Israeli occupation, not only on the Palestinians, but on the soldiers and the legal system. Haaretz put it aptly: "The decision to try the two on a relatively minor charge sends a message to soldiers that the IDF is prepared to close its eyes, at least partially, and is not outraged, as might be expected, at the shooting of a shackled person."