Monday, March 30, 2009

Senator John Cornyn Threatens "World War III" If Al Franken Is Seated As Minnesota Senator

Republicans have forgotten their objections to "frivolous lawsuits" when it comes to the Minnesota election dispute–the longest in state history–between apparent Democratic senator-elect Al Franken (left) and former Republican senator Norm Coleman.

Franken currently leads Coleman by 225 votes in the recount; however, he cannot be certified until the state court rules on election challenges. Even the Minnesota Supreme Court, however, may not have the final say if one of the parties–i.e., Coleman–appeals to a federal court. That may be the next step, as reported in Politico:

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is threatening “World War III” if Democrats try to seat Al Franken in the Senate before Norm Coleman can pursue his case through the federal courts.

Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledges that a federal challenge to November’s elections could take “years” to resolve. But he’s adamant that Coleman deserves that chance — even if it means Minnesota is short a senator for the duration.

A three-judge panel is expected to rule any day now on legal challenges to the November election.

...Cornyn believes that Minnesota can’t certify Franken the winner if Coleman seeks review from the U.S. Supreme Court or files a new federal case. 

Behind all this is preventing one more vote in the Senate for President Obama's agenda:

Minnesota has been down a senator since the beginning of the year, and Democrats — who expect Franken to prevail eventually — view themselves as down a vote they’re entitled to have. Without Franken in the Senate, the Democrats hold a 58-41 vote advantage over the GOP; getting to 59-41 sooner rather than later would make it easier to move President Barack Obama’s agenda through Congress.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee director Eric Schulz spoke to Talking Points Memo about the Republican tactics in Minnesota:

"Republicans have made it clear they will hold this Senate seat hostage in order to pursue their political agenda - at the hefty expense of Minnesota having full representation in Congress. We're all awaiting the three-judge panel to return its verdict, and once they do, we will have yet another confirmation that Al Franken won the election - and hopefully he can get to Washington to do the job he was elected to do."

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, told C-Span that having only one Governor puts the state "at a disadvantage." Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the state's lone Senator, has stated that her staff's casework has "doubled."

None of this matters to John Cornyn, who said, "I encourage [Coleman] to see it through the end. He feels like he owes it to the voters of Minnesota and his colleagues here. He realizes how important retaining that seat is to us.” Actually, Cornyn and Coleman are shortchanging the voters of Minnesota for the interests of their party colleagues.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell: Bush Was "A Millstone Around Our Necks"

In a recent interview, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky predicted a comeback for Republicans now that George W. Bush is no longer president:

"President Bush had become extremely unpopular, and politically he was sort of a millstone around our necks in both '06 and '08. We now have the opportunity to be on offense, offer our own ideas and we will win some."

McConnell told reporters that the "party of no" label used by Democrats and the White House in reference to Republicans doesn't bother him:

"I don't feel anyone should be apologetic for opposing a bad idea. I'm not fearful of an effort to demonize dissent."

Speaking of opposing what they call a bad idea, i.e., President Obama's budget, the Republicans put out an alternative that was short on numbers, leading White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to extend the concept of the "party of no":

"It's interesting to have a budget that doesn't contain any numbers. I think the 'party of no' has become the 'party of no new ideas.' "

CNN contributor Paul Begala agreed–and put the blame where it belongs:

"The Republicans are like an arsonist who complains that the fire department is wasting water. Obama is trying to handle an immediate crisis while also laying the foundation for long-term growth. The Republicans are doing neither. They have no plan to stop the loss of jobs or to get capital markets functioning properly -- and they certainly have no plans for health care, education or energy, which are the keys to both long-term economic growth and long-term deficit reduction."

"If this were 'Sesame Street,' the announcer would be saying, 'This program brought to you by the
letters G, O and P ... None of the crises the president is addressing were of his creation. All of them were created or worsened by the Republicans who ran the House of Representatives, Senate and White House for years."

Regarding McConnell's reference to Bush as a "millstone," Matthew Yglesias points out that McConnell "was architect of the unorthodox notion that Senate Republicans should respond to losing their majority in 2006 by launching a lot of filibusters in defense of the unpopular incumbent president’s agenda." The photo above shows McConnell with the "millstone" whose agenda he so faithfully served.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

DNC Web Ad: The Number Zero, Brought To You By The Letters G-O-P

Following the Republicans' unveiling of their alternative budget plan, the first one in economic history that contained no numbers, the Democratic National Committee put out this Web ad. "A budget without numbers? Isn't that like selling a car without wheels?" asks Chuck Todd, chief White House correspondent for NBC News. An appropriate question for a party whose wheels have fallen off.

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Lady Day Sings The Blues

Billie Holiday brought a heightened emotional pitch to jazz and blues classics, including this 1957 rendition of "Fine and Mellow." Note how moved she is by the solo of the second saxophonist, her longtime musical partner Lester Young. Holiday called him "Prez," while he called her "Lady Day." Other members of this all-star ensemble include Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Danny Barker, Milt Hinton and Mal Waldron. Plagued by heroin addiction, alcoholism, abusive relationships and poor health, Billie died impoverished  in 1959 at age 44. She left behind a body of work that marks her as one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all times, clearly evident in this outstanding performance.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Joe The Plumber Speaks Against Employee Free Choice Act And Real Plumbers' Interests

The most important labor issue in years is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Following a decades-long slide in union membership, the EFCA would help employees form a union more easily and deter the activities of anti-union employers. The bill gives workers the right to unionize as soon as a majority signs cards stating that they want to do so. Workers would also have the right to hold a secret-ballot election.

The initiative sends the Republican party, big business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce into a panic. Fox News, the right-wing spin machine posing as a news channel, has been propagandizing against it.

Now the anti-union Americans For Prosperity has picked Joe the Plumber to speak at Pennsylvania rallies against the EFCA. It's fitting that this group's false populism is represented by an individual who isn't a licensed plumber. Meanwhile, the licensed plumbers represented by the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry don't necessarily see Joe as their spokesman. Here are the comments of Rick Terven, the group's political and legislative director:

Joe the plumber is selling out real plumbers. Right now, labor law is stacked against real plumbers. Real plumbers want and need the Employee Free Choice Act as a way to empower themselves to join a union, without fear of intimidation or losing their jobs. Joe the Plumber doesn’t speak for real plumbers.

In fairness, though, let's give the last word to a representative of the Americans for Prosperity on the credentials of Joe the Plumber:

“The public loves Joe the Plumber,” the spokesperson, Mary Ellen Burke, claimed to me. “They see him as a role model.”

Asked whether Joe the Plumber had any particular knowledge or expertise about EFCA that might explain the decision to enlist him, Burke said that he was being enlisted to provide a “grassroots perspective” and “the working perspective” on the measure.

Pressed on whether Joe the Plumber has any particular claim to being a spokesperson on the issue, Burke replied that “he represents the American worker.”

Burke couldn’t immediately say whether Joe the Plumber was being paid for his appearances.

One Detail Missing From Republican Budget: Numbers

After a media buildup regarding the unveiling of the Republican alternative budget, party members revealed once again that they have no ideas beyond saying "No" to the Obama administration. Instead of presenting any numbers, they promised to offer "a component" on the House floor. MSBNC's Contessa Brewer expressed her frustration:

Brewer: Here's a number of Republicans from the House of Representatives who are coming out and taking on the president's budget again. We were told, we were promised that they were going to offer an alternative and what we're hearing again is them laying our their criticism of the president's budget... So far, we're not seeing any real numbers attached to this. ...I didn't hear ideas. I heard the promise of ideas.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that the Republican budget makes for fast reading:

Question: ...House Republicans unveiled what they described today as their alternative to the president's budget. I wonder if anyone here has had a chance to brief you on that on -- if you're aware that it doesn't actually contain any numbers.

Gibbs: I did -- I -- it took me several minutes to read it. (LAUGHTER) I will note that ... there's one more picture of a windmill than there is of a chart of numbers. There's -- just for your knowledge, there's exactly one picture of a windmill. It's interesting to have a budget that doesn't contain any numbers. (h/t Talking Points Memo)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amnesty International: Five Countries Carried Out 93% Of Executions In 2008

Amnesty International reported that the number of executions worldwide doubled in 2008 compared to 2007. The organization also found that China put many more people to death than the rest of the world combined. In addition, the United States is one of the leading countries in the use of the death penalty–a distinction it shares with nations whose human rights records it has criticized:

In its annual report on the death penalty, Amnesty International on Tuesday chronicled beheadings in Saudi Arabia; hangings in Japan, Iraq, Singapore and Sudan; lethal injections in China; an electrocution in the United States; firing squads in Afghanistan, Belarus and Vietnam; and stonings in Iran.

In all, 59 countries still have the death penalty on their books, but only 25 carried out executions last year. Two nations, Uzbekistan and Argentina, banned the death penalty last year.

Amnesty International said at least 2,390 people were executed worldwide in 2008, compared with its 2007 figure of at least 1,252.

With at least 1,718, China was responsible for 72 percent of all executions in 2008, the report stated. After China were Iran (346), Saudi Arabia (102), the United States (37) and Pakistan (36), according to the group.

“Together they carried out 93 percent of all executions worldwide,” the report said.

In the video above, Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International, states, "Beheading, shooting, hanging, lethal injections, electrocutions and stoning have no place in the 21st century." Despite the statistics cited above, she finds a positive implication in the fact that only 25 of the 59 countries with the death penalty used it: "That shows that the trend is toward abolition."

There are a number of objections to the death penalty: it discriminates on the basis of wealth, status, race and geography; it's costly; it isn't a deterrent; it often involves poor legal representation; it puts the U.S. in the company of countries with poor human rights records; it puts the state in the position of killing people; it may make juries reluctant to convict defendants. Of all of the objections, however, the strongest one is the possibility of killing an innocent individual. Our legal system, like all other human enterprises, includes the possibility of error. There is no way to ensure that an individual will never lose his or her life for the crime of another–the ultimate mistake that cannot be corrected. From the ACLU:

Since 1973, 129 death-row prisoners have been released because they were innocent. In addition, at least seven people have been executed since 1976 even though they were probably innocent. Wrongful convictions often result from false confessions, which are frequent among people with mental retardation, mistaken eyewitnesses, jail house snitches, junk science and prosecutorial abuse.

The Innocence Project uses DNA testing to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, including those on death row:

The prospect of innocents languishing in prison or, worse, being put to death for crimes that they did not commit, should be intolerable to every American, regardless of race, politics, sex, origin, or creed.

According to Amnesty International, Europe and Central Asia (with the exception of Belarus) have become a "death-penalty free zone." May the United States and the rest of the world outlaw this barbaric penalty and ultimate denial of human rights.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

South Africa Caves In To Chinese Pressure, Bars Dalai Lama

The defeat of the brutal apartheid system in South Africa was one of the great victories for human rights in the 20th century. So it was particularly shameful to see South Africa bar the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of the Tibetan people, from visiting the country. 

To add more painful irony, the Nobel Prize winner was specifically barred from attending a peace conference to promote the 2010 World Cup and the concept of uniting people through sports.

The South African government gave an absurd reason for the barring: the Dalai Lama would have served as a "distraction" from the topic of the World Cup. In truth, they succumbed to pressure from China, an important trade partner.

South Africans of conscience condemned their country's stance. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, "We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and shamed." Tutu and F. W. deKlerk, the country's last white president and the recipient, with Nelson Mandela, of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, vowed to boycott the conference. It seems, in fact, that the conference has been postponed due to the controversy.

Mandla Mandela, Nelson Mandela's grandson called the barring "worrying and saddening" and stated, "Where are we headed in the future? I don't think as a sovereign country we need to succumb to international pressures."

The Chinese have vilified the Dalai Lama for years, calling him a "splittist" and a violent conspirator, even though he has called for "genuine autonomy," not independence, and has always advocated non-violence. Chinese intransigence against this moderate figure, who rejects hatred against China, has caused some younger Tibetans to question whether they should embrace more militant tactics in their struggle.

Regardless, the Chinese insist that other countries cut ties to the Dalai Lama. They warned French President Nicolas Sarkozy not to meet with him in France, calling such a meeting interference in Chinese internal affairs. Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama eventually met in Poland, which angered the Chinese.

So China insists that the French president not meet with the Dalai Lama in France and the South African government bar the Dalai Lama from attending a conference in South Africa. Exactly which country is interfering in the internal affairs of others?

Follow-up: Organizers announced that they have cancelled the peace conference following the South African government's barring of the Dalai Lama from entering the country. In addition to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president F. W. deKlerk, Geir Lundestad, executive director of the Nobel Committee, had also said that he would not attend.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Soldiers' Testimony On Gaza Heightens Secular-Religious Tensions

Dany Zamir, director of the Oranim Academic College in Tivon, Israel, leaked testimony of IDF soldiers to the newspapers Maariv and Haaretz alleging lax rules of engagement in the Gaza conflict that resulted in Palestinian civilian deaths and destruction of property. Since its initial report, Haaretz published a second account with more extensive testimony. The reports reached the New York Times:

In the two months since Israel ended its military assault on Gaza, Palestinians and international rights groups have accused it of excessive force and wanton killing in that operation, but the Israeli military has said it followed high ethical standards and took great care to avoid civilian casualties.

Now testimony is emerging from within the ranks of soldiers and officers alleging a permissive attitude toward the killing of civilians and reckless destruction of property that is sure to inflame the domestic and international debate about the army’s conduct in Gaza. On Thursday, the military’s chief advocate general ordered an investigation into a soldier’s account of a sniper killing a woman and her two children who walked too close to a designated no-go area by mistake, and another account of a sharpshooter who killed an elderly woman who came within 100 yards of a commandeered house.

The testimony has heightened tensions between the secular left who traditionally dominated the IDF and the religious nationalists who are assuming more command positions:

Several of the testimonies, published by an institute that runs a premilitary course and is affiliated with the left-leaning secular kibbutz movement, showed a distinct impatience with religious soldiers, portraying them as self-appointed holy warriors.

A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, “the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”

This particular soldier questioned these doctrines and gave those under his command a different message:

He said that as a commander, he had tried to explain to his men that “not everyone who is in Gaza is Hamas,” and that “this war was not a war for the sanctification of the holy name, but rather one to stop the Qassam rockets.”

Dany Zamir did Israel a service by leaking these testimonies, which expose the indoctrination on the part of the religious right–the type of group whose doctrines in recent years have led to fanatical nationalism and militarism not only in Israel, but throughout the world.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

An Attempted Escape From Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

Warning: Plot spoilers below!

Director James Gray's last film based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, was in 1994 with "Little Odessa," a title that refers to the nickname for the Russian Jewish enclave. "Little Odessa" was a family tragedy based on the return of a hit man who returns to visit his dying mother. "Two Lovers" is also a haunting film, minus the violence.

The Brighton Beach depicted here is not part of the hip, artistic, gentrifying Brooklyn; this is the borough's Old World, and its main character, Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix), feels stuck there. Following a broken engagement, Leonard is depressed, occasionally suicidal and on medication. He works in his father's dry-cleaning store and lives with his concerned parents (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov).

Leonard meets Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) the daughter of his father's business associate. She's pretty and warm-hearted, a nice Jewish girl who meets with his parents' appproval and who senses Leonard's vulnerability. Leonard soon meets a neighbor, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), in the hallway who ignites his passion. A long-haired, slim blonde, Michelle has a drug history, is somewhat unstable and is having an affair with a married lawyer. She's exotic and carries with her the sophistication of Manhattan, where she works and attends the club scene. Leonard's parents look askance at her, while she looks toward Leonard as more of a brother than a lover. Leonard, meanwhile, gazes longingly at his golden shiksa from across the courtyard, in scenes suggesting that Gray is paying homage to Hitchcock's "Rear Window."

Leonard convinces Michelle to take off to San Francisco with him and is ready to break the chains of the old life for love and adventure 3,000 miles away. Yet his dreams are dashed, as Michelle's lawyer friend decides to leave his wife for her. Leonard, in resignation, gives Sandra the ring he intended for Michelle. As he embraces his fiance, one realizes that he's gaining a wife and a inheriting a laundry business, but that he's also settling for the life laid out for him. 

Joaquin Phoenix as Leonard offers an affecting portrait of an character attempting to transcend his arrested development, yet finding himself pulled back to earth. San Francisco and Michelle are ultimately as inaccessible as his parents, the dry cleaning business and the old neighborhood are suffocating. Nearby Manhattan is depicted as a place of glamor and dynamism, while Brighton Beach is as gray as the main character's brooding frame of mind. Leonard is at cross purposes with his two lovers in this emotionally resonant film, yet the viewer can't help but empathize with his attempt, however futile, to break the bonds of his circumstances. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Explaining The Loss Of Explanations

The Postmodern Turn by Steven Best and Douglas Kellner. Illustrated. 306 pp. Guilford. $18.95 (paperback)

For readers new to postmodernism, the last chapter of "The Postmodern Turn" should have been the first. True, the first chapter refers to the end of grand narratives and the loss of faith in universal explanations found in postmodern theory. Yet it is in the last chapter that the major themes of postmodernism are fully outlined: the rejection of unification in favor of complexity; the renunciation of fixed meaning for ambiguity; the abandonment of truth for relativity, and the breakdown of rigid boundaries of knowledge for interdisciplinary study.

That being said, this study delineates the difference between the modern and the postmodern, while asserting that we are living in a transitional period between the two. Modernism saw the artist as an isolated genius whose creations were original and monumental and whose purity of style was rooted in the "high arts." These pillars of modernism implode in  postmodern literature: "Instead of deep content, grand themes and moral lessons...postmodernists...are primarily concerned with the form and play of language..." 

The emphasis on grand spiritual and emotional themes in the modernist abstract expressionist painting of the 1950s is forsaken by pop artist Andy Warhol, who emphasized commercial culture, and in Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, who appropriated everyday objects and broke the barriers between "high" and "low" art. In architecture, the purity of the International Style, characterized by minimalist glass and steel boxes, gave way to buildings that eclectically borrowed from different periods. In the sciences, quantum physics and chaos theory introduced a measure of indeterminacy in place of a mechanistic view of the universe.

Politically, the rejection of universal schemes to save humanity resulted in a fragmentation of social movements. In identity politics, previously marginalized groups, such as gays, minorities and women, asserted their own competing historical narrative against the dominant Western perspective: "Identity politics bears the influence of postmodern theory, which is evident in its critique of modern reductionism, abstract universalism, and essentialism, as well as in its use of multiperspectival strategies that legitimate multiple political voices."

Best and Kellner emphasize how the existentialist philosophers, with their attack on absolutism and disenchantment with rationalism, were precursors to postmodern thinkers. The authors, however, extend their study beyond the theoretical and provide illuminating insights into the ways in which postmodernism has become an all-encompassing cultural force.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama Continues Positive Reversals Of Bush Policies

In the midst of dire news on the economic front, three positive developments from the Obama administration are well worth recognizing:

Gay Rights: The Obama administration on Wednesday formally endorsed a U.N. statement calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality, a measure that former President George W. Bush had refused to sign.

The move was the administration's latest in reversing Bush-era decisions that have been heavily criticized by human rights and other groups. The United States was the only western nation not to sign onto the declaration when it came up at the U.N. General Assembly in December.

"The United States supports the U.N.'s statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity and is pleased to join the other 66 U.N. member states who have declared their support of the statement," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Abortion Rights: President Barack Obama on Friday lifted restrictions on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, reversing a policy of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush, a spokesman said.

...When the ban was in place, no U.S. government funding for family planning services could be given to clinics or groups that offer abortion services or counseling in other countries even if the funds for those activities come from non-U.S. government sources.

...Critics of the funding ban say the anti-abortion restrictions have resulted in huge drops for funding worldwide to organizations that provide family-planning services and basic healthcare. They say this means many women are deprived of contraception and other health services in poor countries, leading to back-alley abortions and deaths.

Medical Marijuana: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday outlined a shift in the enforcement of federal drug laws, saying the administration would effectively end the Bush administration’s frequent raids on distributors of medical marijuana.

Speaking with reporters, Mr. Holder provided few specifics but said the Justice Department’s enforcement policy would now be restricted to traffickers who falsely masqueraded as medical dispensaries and “use medical marijuana laws as a shield.”

In the Bush administration, federal agents raided medical marijuana distributors that violated federal statutes even if the dispensaries appeared to be complying with state laws. The raids produced a flood of complaints, particularly in California, which in 1996 became the first state to legalize marijuana sales to people with doctors’ prescriptions.

Rachel Maddow has been outlining the Obama administration's "Scrub, Rinse, Repeat" reversals of Bush policies; in the video above, she notes the signing of the U.N. Gay Rights Declaration. It is gratifying to know that we now have an administration that recognizes that gays are not criminals, abortion rights are part of women's health services and those relieving human suffering by legally dispensing medical marijuana shouldn't be harassed.

The Bush administration's hostility to gay and abortion rights were emblematic of its support for the religious right agenda. The federal raids on medical marijuana distributors in California put the lie to Republican support for states' rights. Obama's recent moves follow other positive reversals of Bush policy in terms of fair pay for women, children's health insurance and stem cell research. As a general proposition, we can surmise that any reversal of the Bush legacy is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama Asks Critics For Alternative Budget, Boehner And McConnell Offer Zilch

President Obama challenged critics of his $3.6 trillion budget and its priorities in terms of health care, energy, taxes and economic recovery to come up with their own plan:

“If there are members of Congress who object to specific policies and proposals in this budget, then I ask them to be ready and willing to propose constructive, alternative solutions. 'Just say no’ is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs. It is not an acceptable response to whatever economic policy is proposed by the other party.”

"Constructive, alternative solutions"? Don't count on it. In the words of Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader:

“As I told my colleagues, we don’t have enough votes to legislate. We are not in the majority. We are not kind-of in the minority; we are in a hole. They ought to get the idea out of their minds that they are legislators. But what they can be is communicators.”

They'll communicate criticisms, alright. But not a counter-proposal. They don't have one, and they don't intend to propose one. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made the same point in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. Watch:

McConnell: [W]e are going to offer a number of amendments to the Democratic proposal. […]

Stephanopoulos: But shouldn’t you have a comprehensive approach that lays out the trade-offs? If you just have rifle-shot amendments, you don’t have to make all the trade-offs that you have to make in an overall budget.

McConnell: Well, we’re just sort of getting down in the weeds here about procedure. Through the amendment process, we would absolutely reformulate the Democratic plan. Whether you have a comprehensive approach or whether you offer an amendment is something a parliamentarian can debate. (h/t Think Progress)

The problem isn't procedure. It's that Boehner, McConnell and the rest of the GOP have plenty of criticisms, but no answers to the economic disaster brought about by eight years of Republican rule.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gibbs: After Limbaugh, Cheney "Next Most Popular Member Of The Republican Cabal"

Dick Cheney is certainly bucking the tradition whereby former presidents and vice presidents don't criticize a new administration. Cheney recently commented in an interview that President Obama "has made the country less safe"–less safe, that is, than the previous president, who ignored the August 6, 2001, daily presidential brief entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." 

The former vice president also criticized Obama's agenda for health, education and energy. Regarding those issues, we can recall Bush's veto of the children's health insurance bill, Cheney's secret energy task force meetings and Bush's underfunding of the No Child Left Behind educational initiative. How many of us miss such "leadership"?

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered pointed responses to Cheney's criticisms:

Gibbs: Well, I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy. So they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal. I would say that the president has made quite clear that keeping the American people safe and secure is the most serious job that he has each and every day. ...I think the American people will, in this administration, see those actors brought to the swift and certain justice that was not brought to them in the previous administration. ...I think not taking economic advice from Dick Cheney would be maybe the best possible outcome of yesterday’s interview. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Contracts Are Binding For AIG Execs–Not UAW Members

Popular outrage at the American International Group is based on the fact that it has received a $170 billion bailout by taxpayers, yet is handing out $165 million in bonuses to those who ran the insurance giant into the ground. While acknowledging that what AIG has done is "outrageous," Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, stated that a contract is a contract:

Summers: We are a country of law. There are contracts. The government cannot just abrogate contracts. Every legal step possible to limit those bonuses is being taken by Secretary Geithner and by the Federal Reserve system.

Of course, "a contract is a contract" under certain conditions. When the conditions apply to CEOs, they're legally binding. When they apply to labor, they can be torn up. Perhaps Summers should be reminded of Republican demands that the United Auto Workers agree to "steep cuts in pay and benefits" before the automobile industry was bailed out. The UAW acceded to major concessions in a previously agreed-upon contract, including, according to UAW president Ron Gettelfinger, the "sacrifice [of] job security provisions and financing for retiree health care."

In contrast, little was demanded of the executives of the Big Three in Detroit. As Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts said of Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, "It is striking to me that when Eric Cantor talks about concessions, it's only the workers." One hopes that Geithner and the Federal Reserve will find a way to demand that AIG abrogate its contract the way that the UAW was forced to concede items more basic than fat bonuses. It's fair to say that the actions of AIG executives have had a more disastrous effect on the economy than those of UAW members.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Obama Or Limbaugh: Which Party Leader Exemplifies "Family Values"?

Writing in Newsweek, David Frum (left), resident fellow of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and editor of, presented a stark contrast between the leaders of the Democratic and the Republican parties. From his article, "Why Rush Is Wrong" (3/7/09):

On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of "responsibility," and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.

And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as "losers." With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers [
Conservative Political Action Conference] cheering Rush's every rancorous word—we'll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.

Frank Rich extends Frum's contrast in a devastating portrait of  prominent Republicans who supposedly represent a party that exemplifies "family values." An excerpt from his essay, "The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off" (3/14/09):

Even were the public still in the mood for fiery invective about family values, the G.O.P. has long since lost any authority to lead the charge. The current Democratic president and his family are exemplars of precisely the Eisenhower-era squareness — albeit refurbished by feminism — that the Republicans often preached but rarely practiced. Obama actually walks the walk. As the former Bush speechwriter David Frum recently wrote, the new president is an “apparently devoted husband and father” whose worst vice is “an occasional cigarette.”

Frum was contrasting Obama to his own party’s star attraction, Rush Limbaugh, whose “history of drug dependency” and “tangled marital history” make him “a walking stereotype of self-indulgence.” Indeed, the two top candidates for leader of the post-Bush G.O.P, Rush and Newt, have six marriages between them. The party that once declared war on unmarried welfare moms, homosexual “recruiters” and Bill Clinton’s private life has been rebranded by Mark Foley, Larry Craig, David Vitter and the irrepressible Palins. Even before the economy tanked, Americans had more faith in medical researchers using discarded embryos to battle Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than in Washington politicians making ad hoc medical decisions for Terri Schiavo.

Regarding four of Rich's references, Gingrich surprised his former wife Jackie by discussing divorce in her hospital room as she recovered from cancer surgery, Foley sent sexually explicit messages to teenage Capitol Hill pages, Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after soliciting sex in an airport men's room and Vitter was linked to a prostitution ring. All are members of a party with a religious right base that presumes to serve as the nation's morality police, and all oppose the right of stable, faithful gay couples to marry. Such gay couples exemplify "family values" more than these GOP exemplars of moral probity ever will.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: R.E.M. Lose Their Religion

This past week, R.E.M. was the subject of a Carnegie Hall tribute. Formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1980, the band was a pioneer in the post-punk, alternative rock sound and is noted for enigmatic ballads with a folk-rock influence. Rolling Stone wrote, "The quartet's arty mix of punk energy, folky instrumental textures, muffled vocals and introspective, often oblique lyrics influenced a generation of alternative-rock bands." Band members are also known for their support for progressive causes. 

Here singer Michael Stipe and guitarist Peter Buck, playing an electric mandolin, lead the group in "Losing My Religion," performed somewhere in Canada. The song is not about religion per se; Stipe explained that it is "about romantic expression" and the title is "a common Southern expression that means being at the end of one's rope."

Glenn Beck: "Political Correctness" Sparks Gun Massacres

In the Washington Monthly of November 11, Steve Benen described New Gingrich's despicable attempts to make political hay out of three horrific events:

"... in 1994, after Susan Smith drowned her two young sons, Gingrich, just three days before the midterm elections, equated her crime with the values of the Democratic Party. In 1999, shortly after the Columbine massacre, Gingrich argued that American 'elites' bear responsibility. After the shootings at Virginia Tech, Gingrich blamed liberals for supporting 'situation ethics'..."

Following Gingrich, Glenn Beck blamed Michael McLendon's shooting rampage in Alabama, in which he killed 10 people, including his mother, uncle and aunt, on a political climate that drives conservatives into a murderous rage. In other words, it's all the liberals' fault. Watch him speaking to Bill O'Reilly on Fox:

Beck: But as I’m listening to him. I’m thinking about the American people that feel disenfranchised right now. That feel like nobody’s hearing their voice. The government isn’t hearing their voice. Even if you call, they don’t listen to you on both sides. If you’re a conservative, you’re called a racist. You want to starve children.
O’Reilly: Sure.
Beck: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?
O’Reilly: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.
Beck: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?
O’Reilly: Nah, I don’t believe in this snap thing. I think that that kind of violence is inside you and it’s a personality disorder.

It doesn't speak well of Beck that O'Reilly was acting as the voice of reason. Beck assumed that McLendon went on a killing spree because he was a frustrated conservative. Actually, he had no idea what the McLendon's politics were, and perhaps was making assumptions based on the fact that the gunman was a white southerner. 

Investigators point instead to McLendon's anger toward his family and failure to become a Marine or a police officer. Perhaps Beck was speaking out of his own rage and frustration. Does he feel that no one hears him under the Obama administration? Would he also have contended that liberals were being "pushed to the wall" during the eight years of the Bush administration?

In any event, Beck need not feel "disenfranchised." The fact is that he has Fox News, the de facto propaganda arm of the Republican party, to spout his vile and nonsensical theories across the nation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

RNC Chairman Michael Steele Calls Abortion "An Individual Choice"

In an interview with the Washington Times prior to his appointment as chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele stated his support for the party's opposition to abortion:

"In an editorial board meeting at The Washington Times on Tuesday, Mr. Steele clarified his stance, saying that he thinks Roe should be overturned as a sloppy piece of decision-making, favors state regulation on abortion, and supports the Republican party's platform that calls for a constitutional ban on abortion."

In his recent interview with GQ's Lisa DePaulo, however, Steele contradicted his supposed support for the ban:

DePaulo: Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?
Steele: Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.
DePaulo: You do?
Steele: Yeah. Absolutely.
DePaulo: Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?
Steele: I think Roe v. Wade—as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.
DePaulo: Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?
Steele: The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

As if stating that abortion is an "individual choice" isn't startling enough, here's Steele on gays:

DePaulo: Do you think homosexuality is a choice?
Steele: Oh, no. I don’t think I’ve ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. Um, you know, I think that there’s a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can’t simply say, oh, like, “Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being gay.” It’s like saying, “Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being black.”
DePaulo: So your feeling would be that people are born one way or another.
Steele: I mean, I think that’s the prevailing view at this point, and I know that there’s some out there who think that you can absolutely make that choice. And maybe some people have. I don’t know, I can’t say. Until we can give a definitive answer one way or the other, I think we should respect that.

So women have the right to choose and being gay is an innate sexual orientation that should be respected. I must say that I am complete agreement with the chairman of the Republican National Committee on both issues. But this interview isn't helping Steele retain his already shaky position within his party. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, said that Steele's comments could cause the Republicans "to lose many of its members and a great deal of its support in the trenches of grass roots politics."

Huckabee must be referring to the morality police that populates the Republican base. The GOP, after all, insists on intruding on such private decisions as whether a woman can have an abortion and whether a gay couple can sanctify their relationship through marriage. So much for the professed belief in "small government."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Senator Lindsey Graham Against Earmarks, Except For His $950,000 Earmark

Following the trend of Republicans who voted against the stimulus bill but then touted aspects of it that benefited their constituencies, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called for President Obama to veto the $410 billion omnibus bill because it has too many earmarks.

What would be Graham's next step? Why, to restore his $950,000 earmark for a convention center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina! Here he is speaking to NBC "Meet The Press" host David Gregory:

Gregory: "Should the president veto this bill?"

Graham: "Well, I'll leave that up to the president. We do need earmark reform. I wish he would veto the bill. We'd get back together and come up with an earmark reform process... I voted to take all earmarks out, but I will come back in the new process and put that back in. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, we're trying to build an international airport, an international convention center and open up a new interstate highway to diversify Myrtle Beach's economy... I think I should have the ability as a United States senator to direct money back to my state as long as it's transparent and it makes sense."

I wonder how many senators who criticize earmarks would also contend that their earmarks are the ones that are good for the local economy, are transparent and make sense?

There is, by the way, a certain amount of grandstanding involved with the railing against earmarks, given their relative budgetary insignificance. As columnist Bob Herbert pointed out:

More than 4.4 million jobs have been lost since this monster recession officially got under way in December 2007, and we’ve got people wigging out over earmarks. Folks, get a grip. Some earmarks are good, some are not, but collectively they account for a tiny, tiny portion of the national budget — less than 1 percent.

Freaking out over earmarks is like watching a neighborhood that is being consumed by flames and complaining that there is crabgrass on some of the lawns.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

GOP Rep. McHenry Puts Republican Interests Over National Interests

Republican Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina was unusually direct in describing his party's strategy. No, it's not offering constructive alternatives to the issues of most concern to the American people during this time of crisis. Instead, it's all a numbers game:

“We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., an outspoken conservative who has participated on the GOP message teams. “Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Keith Olbermann of "Countdown" considered the implications of McHenry's comments: “Did he just give away the secrets in the Republican vault? I mean, can we accept from here on out that nothing the Republicans might do or say is meant to be constructive, but literally, it is meant to be destructive?”

Olbermann's guest on "Countdown," Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek," posed a pertinent analogy: “Had Democrats tried to do something similar in the wake of 9/11 and said our focus is going to be on the midterms, well, you can only imagine what the debate and the reaction would have been.”

Writing on his blog The Plum Line, Greg Sargent reports, "McHenry’s description of his party’s goal–to 'bring down approval numbers' for Nancy Pelosi and House Dems–is being much talked about today among Congressional Dems. It’s likely that Dems will grab on to the quote today to bolster their charge that Congressional Republicans aren’t interested in playing a constructive role in governing and see their hope for political revival in the eventual failure of the Democratic majority’s policies."

Steve Benen also commented in The Washington Monthly on the Republicans' cynical tactics:

Most of the time, Republican leaders will maintain the fiction, at least in public, that they're serious about good-faith negotiations with the majority party. They'll say how willing they are to engage in a constructive debate, with the goal being improved public policy.

But once in a while, they'll drop the facade. We hear one GOP lawmaker say the party will emulate the insurgency tactics of the
Taliban. We hear another say the party should position itself as "freedom fighters" taking on the "slide toward socialism." We hear another say the party's principal "goal" is to bring down Democrats' poll numbers.'s a reminder of why Democratic leaders are making a mistake if they plan on looking to the minority party as credible and sincere governing partners. As Joe Klein recently
argued, the president "should have no illusions about the good faith of his opponents."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Obama Lifts Limits On Stem Cell Research, Ends Bush's War On Science

In lifting the Bush administration's limits on stem cell research, President Obama is enabling scientists to conduct studies that may go a long way toward relieving human suffering. As explained in today's Times:

"Because embryonic stem cells are capable of developing into any type of cell or tissue in the body, many scientists believe they hold the possibility for treatments and cures for ailments as varied as diabetes, Parkinson’s and heart disease. Some researchers say stem cells may someday be used to treat catastrophic injuries, such as spinal-cord damage."

House Republican leader John Boehner complained, "...the President has rolled back important protections for innocent life." The question is, however, whether we going to forgo the potential to cure of diseases that afflict human beings in favor of protecting a cell that cannot think or feel and is not a person? Notably, two of his fellow Republicans do not agree with Boehner, including Nancy Reagan, a longtime supporter of stem cell research:

“I'm very grateful that President Obama has lifted the restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. ...I urge researchers to make use of the opportunities that are available to them, and to do all they can to fulfill the promise that stem cell research offers. Countless people, suffering from many different diseases, stand to benefit from the answers stem cell research can provide. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to do everything in our power to find cures for these diseases -- and soon. As I've said before, time is short, and life is precious."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sounded a similar note:

"President Obama's executive order is a huge win for the millions of people who suffer from spinal cord injuries, diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis and many other illnesses. ...I applaud President Obama for removing this barrier which allows California to maximize critical research funding so we can continue to lead the world in stem cell research."

The president has also ended the Bush administration's war on science by issuing a memorandum protecting research from political influence:

"The president believes that it's particularly important to sign this memorandum so that we can put science and technology back at the heart of pursuing a broad range of national goals," Melody C. Barnes, director of Obama's Domestic Policy Council, told reporters during a telephone briefing yesterday.

...The decision by President George W. Bush to restrict funding for stem cell research has been seen by critics as part of a pattern of allowing political ideology to influence scientific decisions across an array of issues, including climate change and whether to approve the morning-after pill Plan B for over-the-counter sales.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Frost/Nixon": Exposing The Cover-Up In The Final Round

I expected “Frost/Nixon,” directed by Ron Howard, to be solely a re-enactment of David Frost’s interviews with Richard Nixon following the latter’s presidential resignation due to the Watergate scandal. Of course the interviews are pivotal to the film, but there’s much more character development and dramatic tension than a mere dramatization of a transcript would allow.

David Frost (Michael Sheen) was a lightweight English talk show host specializing more in celebrities than in political figures. Nixon's (Frank Langella) resignation inspired Frost to pursue the series of interviews that riveted the nation. Despite the entreaties of his researchers that he confront Nixon for his war policies in Vietnam and Cambodia and his complicity in Watergate, Frost, according to the film, was unprepared in the first few interviews. The former president saw the interviews as a chance to rehabilitate his reputation, and viewed Frost as an adversary. Frost allowed Nixon to engage in rambling replies that avoided a full accounting of his egregious actions in office. It was only after a late night phone call to Frost in which a tipsy Nixon revealed his deep insecurities and intention to come out the winner that Frost finally did the research that the interviews demanded.

In the final interview, Frost exposed the fact that Nixon did indeed engage in covering up the Watergate break–in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Following a startling statement that “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Nixon admitted his complicity and his deep regret. Nixon shows much insight in a final meeting with Frost when he states that the extroverted Frost should have been a politician and the analytical, mistrustful Nixon should have been an interviewer. Both Langella and Sheen are outstanding, with the former capturing Nixon's complexities and contradictions and the latter convincingly depicting Frost's development into a host equal to the task of confronting the only American president to resign from office.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: The Blues Project Do Their "Flute Thing"

The Blues Project was a Greenwich Village-based band that lasted from 1965 to 1967. With its eclectic mix of rock, jazz, blues, folk and psychedelia, one writer likened the group to a "Jewish-American equivalent to British bands like the Yardbirds, who used a blues and R&B base to explore any music that interested them." The most prominent members were keyboardist Al Kooper and lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield, who performed with Bob Dylan during his folk-rock breakthrough, including on the song "Like A Rolling Stone." The late, classically trained flutist and bassist Andy Kulberg leads the band in the instrumental "Flute Thing," whose jazz and psychedelic influences result in a meditative and hypnotic performance.

Republicans: Health Care A "Privilege" And A "Want"–Not A "Right" And A "Need"

Representative Zach Wamp of Tennessee and former Bush chief of staff Andrew Card recently confirmed that when it comes to health care, the Republicans just don't get it.

In an interview, Wamp offered MSNBC's Tamron Hall the usual fear-mongering rhetoric regarding President Obama's commitment to cover all Americans. Wamp stated that we're on a "fast march to socialism...almost class warfare...we better step up and defend our system or else it's going to go away." Look what happened to Canada, folks. Why, you're no longer allowed to start a business up there, right?

Hall stated that 46 million Americans have no health care and 1.5 million will lose their homes due to health care expenses. She asked what the Republican plan was to expand health care. Wamp offered the GOP bromide regarding tax incentives for those who buy their insurance. That means nothing, of course, to the many who've lost their jobs in this economy. But let's suppose that through these incentives, one saves a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars. Will that help when an individual or family member is confronted with a catastrophic medical situation requiring extended hospitalization?

Hall was astounded when Wamp asserted that health care was a "privilege." When asked if that applied to those suffering from cancer, Wamp gave a muddled response, stating, "..for some people, it’s a right, but for everyone, frankly, it’s not necessarily a right." When pressed to specify those who do not have a right, Wamp referred to those who reject employee-covered health care–and made the astounding and completely unattributed statement, "Half the people that are uninsured today choose to remain uninsured." Did you get that? According to Wamp, one out of every two uninsured individuals in America today are intentionally turning down health care for themselves and their families. Watch:

Meanwhile, instead of using the term "privilege," Andrew Card uses "want." The difference is merely semantical. According to Card, "...we have got a huge crisis in our economy, and I think we have got to solve that problem first. This is not about wants. It’s about needs." Card is not only wrong when he states that health care is not a "need," but he's also unaware of the impact of rising health care costs on the "huge crisis in our economy." Is it any wonder that he was the chief of staff in the Bush administration? Judge for yourself whether the Obama administration should also heed his advice:

"Headzup" is right on target regarding Card's obliviousness to what people "need":

The Wamp interview starts with an interesting statistic. Asked in a Quinnipiac poll whether President Obama can reform health care and reduce costs, 55% said "yes" and 39% "no." In addition, a recent CNN poll states that, contrary to the views of Wamp and Card, the American people overwhelmingly want more government involvement in health care:

"As President Barack Obama hosts a Thursday summit at the White House on health care reform, recent national polling suggests that nearly three out of four Americans support government programs to improve the country's health care system.

"Seventy-two percent of those questioned in recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey say they favor increasing the federal government's influence over the country's health care system in an attempt to lower costs and provide health care coverage to more Americans, with 27 percent opposing such a move. Other recent polls show six in 10 think the government should provide health insurance or take responsibility for providing health care to all Americans."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Proposition 8 "Unacceptable"

As California Supreme Court justices weigh the banning of gay marriage through Proposition 8, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to gay and lesbian leaders during the first reception for LGBT History Month at 10 Downing Street. Brown eloquently condemned the rescinding of an equal right:

"I was in America yesterday and I know you will be sorry I didn’t bring Barack Obama back. He is coming soon. But what I saw in America told me what we have to do. This Proposition 8, this attempt to undo the good that has been done. This attempt to create divorces among 18,000 people who were perfectly legally brought together in partnerships, this is unacceptable and shows me why we always have to be vigilant, why we have always got to fight homophobic behaviour and any form of discrimination."

In 2005, the UK legalized same-sex civil partnerships, enabling gay and lesbian couples to enjoy tax breaks on inherited real estate and pension rights.

Friday, March 6, 2009

SEIU Workers Invite O'Reilly To "Walk A Day In Our Shoes"

During the past week, Bill O'Reilly attacked the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as a dangerous, subversive group:

"Leading the way is the radical-left Service Employees International Union, a huge supporter of Barack Obama, and a force that represents 2 million workers in the USA and Canada. That union, allied with George Soros and Miss Pelosi, is pushing for a dramatic change in America -- a change that would badly damage our capitalistic system, which these people feel is unjust. Very quietly, the SEIU is buying a lot of airtime."

The unspecified "dramatic change" is probably the Employee Free Choice Act, hated by Republicans and business leaders. This legislation, favored by President Obama, will make it easier for employees to unionize if a majority signs cards stating that that's what they want. The corporate conservatives' nightmarish vision thus takes place in two steps: workers sign the cards, capitalism crumbles.

Some of these "radical-left" workers have challenged O'Reilly to walk a day in their shoes. Watch:

SEIU member Joan Nemeth of Montana explains:

"A radical group? I don't think of myself as radical. I think of myself as an average American trying to make a living and not being able to do it, because the wages that I have are inadequate to the task, let alone not having health care for 14 years."

These are not the concerns of O'Reilly, whose right-wing rhetoric reflects how removed he is from those struggling to pay their bills and afford health care. To sign SEIU's petition telling O'Reilly "to walk a day in the shoes of an SEIU member before he slams hardworking people," click here.

Now You Too Can Say, "I'm Sorry, Rush"

Why should Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina have all the fun? Now you too can have the pleasure of humbling yourself before the de facto head of the Republican party, Rush Limbaugh, and apologize for saying anything critical about him.

It's not necessary to come up with a statement of contrition like Steele's "There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership" or Gingrey's "I regret those stupid comments." There's also no need to send out an aide, like Sanford did, to explain that one is not criticizing anyone in particular with the statement, "Anybody who wants [President Obama] to fail is an idiot."

The secret Republican Apology Machine has been uncovered–and it will provide you with a ready-made apology for the GOP party boss. To get the process going, click here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Steele Continues Placating GOP Party Boss Limbaugh

Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, a position that one would think carries a certain amount of respect within his party. Yet he, like his fellow Republicans, continues to kowtow to conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, a blowhard of the first order.

Why a blowhard? Limbaugh said of the women's movement for equal rights, "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society." He also commented, "Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud." 

Limbaugh stated that Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama was "totally about race." He said of outstanding quarterback Donovan MacNabb, "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. ...he got a lot of credit for the performance of [the Philadelphia Eagles] that he didn't deserve." Limbaugh spun an obscene, racist fantasy about Obama: “We are being told that…we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president.” Who exactly "told" Limbaugh that?

It is therefore both amazing and revealing that this is the individual who commands such respect and fear among the GOP. Yet there was one brief moment when Michael Steele had the courage to tell the truth about Limbaugh. Watch him speaking to to CNN's D.L. Hughley:

Now you just heard Steele say, "Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh — his whole thing is entertainment. He has this incendiary — yes, it's ugly." Limbaugh then lambasted Steele and within two days, the RNC chairman apologized

Apparently that wasn't enough. Speaking to Sean Hannity today, Steele denied the very words you just heard, remarking, "The point I was trying to make which was if you go back and listen to that exchange, there was no attack on Rush. What I was saying is that there are people out there who actually want to demonize and use him as a bogeyman, but also say that what he is saying is ugly and divisive. And all of that got turned around." Watch:

So we're to believe that when Steele said of Limbaugh, "He has this incendiary — yes, it's ugly," he wasn't expressing his own opinion. Supposedly he was exposing the views of other people who "want to demonize" Limbaugh.

The groveling, the denial. At this point, it's pathetic.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bush Administration Secret Legal Opinions Reveal War Against Constitution

Every time one believes that the entire tale of Bush administration destructiveness and incompetence has finally been told, another layer is revealed. Never assume that the sordidness in conduct and policy and the damage done to the country over the past eight years have been completely exposed. That includes the latest revelations below.

George W. Bush said the following when he was sworn in: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." A recent article in The New York Times reveals the extent to which, far from protecting and defending the Constitution, Bush did all he could to circumvent it:

"The secret legal opinions issued by Bush administration lawyers after the Sept. 11 attacks included assertions that the president could use the nation’s military within the United States to combat terrorism suspects and to conduct raids without obtaining search warrants.

"That opinion was among nine that were disclosed publicly for the first time Monday by the Justice Department, in what the Obama administration portrayed as a step toward greater transparency.

"The opinions reflected a broad interpretation of presidential authority, asserting as well that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants."

The article also states that the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches was disregarded in favor of the use of force to carry out raids on terrorists; the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech and the press may be overridden "to wage war successfully"; Congress could not stop the president from transferring detainees to other countries, known as rendition, or interfere with the president's determination of the treatment of detainees.

John C. Yoo, shown above, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Council, and Robert J. Delahunty, special council in the office, wrote the opinion authorizing domestic use of the military. Mr. Yoo also wrote a memorandum advocating that, according to the article, "...judicial precedents approving deadly force in self-defense could be extended to allow for eavesdropping without warrants."

Clearly, the Obama administration's commitment to greater transparency has allowed American citizens to see the extent to which our Constitutional rights were threatened by a lawless administration. Writing in Harper's Magazine on "George W. Bush's Disposable Constitution," Scott Horton comes to stark conclusions regarding the abrogation of rights we take for granted:

John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the President as commander-in-chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.

...We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.