Saturday, January 31, 2009

Limiting Bonuses

So the Obama administration won't be limiting executive compensation. Why? They don't want to "discourage firms from asking for aid." What kind of rationale is this? The taxpayer is doing these firms a favor by bailing them out. If they don't get the aid, they go out of business. If these firms want to survive, they'll accept whatever conditions the Obama administration puts on them and since we, the taxpayers are bailing them out it seems quite reasonable for us to limit the compensation given to those who brought their companies to the brink of collapse anyway. These corporate executives should consider themselves lucky that they weren't fired as a condition for the firms getting the aid.

What a disappointment!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Michael Steel at the RNC

Today, in an effort to expand their dwindling base by appealing to minorities, the Republican National Committee elected its first African American to serve as its chairman. Michael Steele, the new chairman beat the runner up, Katon Dawson in a sixth round of voting 91 to 77.

Steele garnered national attention when then-Congressman Robert Ehrlich selected him to serve as his gubernatorial running mate in 2002. Ehrlich and Steele won in an upset against the Democrat, Kathleen Townsend. He unsuccessfully ran for Paul Sarbanes' senate seat in 2006 but lost to Representative Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland).

Steele vowed to broaden his party's base by running a 50-state strategy not unlike the one that President Barack Obama's team successfully used last year.

"We are going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighborhood, every community, and we are going to say to friend and foe alike we want you to be a part of us, we want you to work with us but for those of you who are going to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over," Michael Steel said in his acceptance speech.

Though he wasn't the social conservative's preferred candidate (that designation went to former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell), Steele squarely fits within the conservative wing of the Republican Party. He opposes abortion rights, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage. Last year he defended his party's now discredited positions on tax cuts, and "small government."

The Grand Old Party would have to nominate candidates who can win in the region they are selected to run in. Steele would have to court social moderates if he wants the Republicans to make gains in the Philadelphia and New York suburbs. He would need to run candidates with environmentally-friendly and moderately pro-choice positions. He would need to court Republicans who do not want education funding diverted to private and parochial schools.

His outreach to minorities will prove more difficult. The party would have to abandon its positions on affirmative action and racial profiling. And it would need to address urban blight and failing public schools.

Mr. Steele's race factored into the committee's decision to pick him as their standard-bearer. They needed an answer to the Democratic Party, whose nominee became the first African American president of the United States. The Republican National Committes needed to show they want to reach out to the minority community, particularly after two of their candidates got into trouble for racially insensitive conduct.

Chip Saltsman of Tennessee got himself in trouble for circulating a CD with the "hit" "Puff the Magic Negro." He and some of his supporters said they thought it might help him win the chairmanship. In an effort to downplay his identity as a racial minority (or victim) Blackwell, the darling of the religious conservative wing of the Republican Party, refused to condemn Saltsman.

Dawson, the runner up, saw his reputation tarnished (rightly) when his membership in an all-white club was uncovered. Some Republican strategists, apparently did not want Dawson to win, since it would send the wrong message after the nation elected its first African American president. Their fears were not realized but, and it should be noted, by only 14 votes.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Stimulus Package - comments

Feldstein is not impressed. Kramer at CNBC isn't either.

Addendum: from what I read so far this bill sounds like a budget bill, not a stimulus package. I skimmed through the transportation infrastructure section and the money devoted to that seemed paltry. I'm beginning to think we need the tax cuts more specifically targeted to the working poor and far more spending on this nation's infrastructure, as Senator Bill Nelson (D-Nebraska) suggests but I also remember reading an article that suggests that we tailor that money to the repair and maintenance of roads already in existence as opposed to building more roads that would need maintenance down the road. As for the aid to the states - well, we don't want them downsizing so that deserves inclusion in the stimulus package.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009- II

This good bill shouldn't even be needed. Equal pay should be given for equal work. Justice, however was denied to one Goodyear Supervisor from Alabama (figures) who discovered a pay wage discrepancy between herself and her male coworkers. The Supreme Court turned down her claim of discrimination since she filed way after the 180-day statute of limitations expired.

The Supreme Court's reasoning was heavily disputed by the four more liberal members of the Supreme Court. The conservatives and swing Justice Anthony Kennedy said Ledbetter could not circumvent the statute of limitation rules by having each paycheck disparity treated as an overt act of gender discrimination that re-starts the clock for filing a lawsuit. A wage disparity, they claimed is not an act of discrimination. Ledbetter, apparently, needed to file her discrimination claim within the 180-day period following her first paycheck.

The four liberals dissented and noted that such information concerning such acts of overt discrimination are hard to come by. No sophisticated employer would tell his female employee she is getting less for her work because she is a woman and most employees don't compare wages, particularly on their first days of their job.

This law which President Barack Obama rightly signed today addresses their concerns so that women are not, like Mrs. Ledbetter, left behind and, as Senator Barbara A. Mikulski herself said, employers who fear a potential onslaught of lawsuits could always refrain from discriminating against women.

To see how your local Congressman or senator voted, check Project Vote-Smart.

The president's statement can be seen here.

Blagojevich Comparisons

Well, the two-term Democratic governor from Illinois is out. Before he is carted off to jail (assuming he goes to trial and is convicted) let's take a trip down memory lane.

the governor compared himself, or should I say, his situation with:

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., an African-American civil rights activist who protested against segregation in the South

Nelson Mandela, a South African prime minister who, before he was elected to that office, was jailed for leading the fight against racial apartheid.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian prime minister who led his people to independence from the United Kingdom through peaceful means. He too, was jailed.

a cowboy wrongly convicted for stealing a horse even though he was nowhere near the scene of the crime

the thousands of American workers who were laid off from their jobs.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Economic Stimulus Package

can be found here. Comments will be added as I read through them. My failure to comment on the package up to now can be attributed to my desire to see what the actual bill includes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Speaking to the Muslim Community

Impressive interview with Al Arabiya. The president was interviewed by Al Arabiya. The president admitted that we have in the past made some mistakes and vowed to "listen" to the Israelis and Palestinians before issuing his own stance. "WhatI told him [George Mitchell]is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating," President Obama said.

We know what "dictating" gave us in Iraq and the Palestinian territories so hearing this realistic assessment (including the lowering of expectations concerning a potential outcome) from the president brought a sigh of relief.

Would his predecessor do this? No. Did his predecessor reach out like Obama is doing now? no. President Barack Obama is conducting a two-front war against the terrorists. He's letting the military do its job in Pakistan (as his predecessor belatedly did) and waging a public relations war. "There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them," the president said (referring to Al Qaeda).

Mr. Obama held his ground. Israel is a friend. It's security "of paramount importance." but the plight of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza was also mentioned. The president spoke of a need to address the concerns of those living in both political enclaves and gave a nod of approval and commendation to the Saudi king for floating his peace proposal since it "took courage." Mr. Obama didn't back down from his contention that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons but he did so by speaking of what that would impose upon all the inhabitants of the Middle East, Iranians included and without referring to the nation as a pariah state or a member of "the axis of evil."

We definitely have a president who wants to change the political atmosphere, not just in Washington but around the globe. He ran for the highest office promising to change the tone and rebuild our alliances. In fulfilling this promise he is off to a good start.

Friday, January 23, 2009

LIlly Ledbetter Law

On May 17, 2007 an ideologically divided Supreme Court upheld a Circuit Court ruling denying a former Goodyear Tire & Rubber employee $360,000 in back pay for alleged paycheck discriminatory practices. The employee, Lilly Ledbetter, filed a suit claiming sex discrimination after noting a major disparity between her male coworkers' and her paychecks. The jury awarded her $360,000 in back pay for her loss but the 11th Circuit overturned their judgment.

Justice Samuel A. Alito, writing for five-member conservative majority that upheld the 11th Circuit's decision, said she filed her discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission too late. The statute of limitations for claims filed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is 180 days after the alleged discriminatory act took place. Her lawyers said she met the statute of limitation since the company discriminated against her every time they gave her a paycheck. Each paycheck distribution was, they claimed, an act of discrimination. The Supreme Court disagreed. The after-affects of discrimination are not discriminatory per se so long as the pay raises that follow are applied to everyone else. (In other words, if she makes "x" dollars and a male co-worker gets "x" dollars and they both get the same job performance score, both should get "y" dollars in raise. If she gets "z" which is less than "y" but her male co-worker gets "y" she is discriminated against. However, if, 181 days down the road she and another male co-worker get " gets "m" dollars increase that does not trigger a claim of discrimination since she and the other male co-worker who get the same in wages got the same wage increase.

The conservatives on the court focused on a particular act of discrimination that led to the disparity in wages. The liberals on the court focused on the disparity which the discriminatory act caused.

Yesterday, the Senate voted to right the wrong by passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, making it easier for women to file wage discrimination claims against their employers by extending the statute of limitation to up to two years after the alleged discriminatory act.

The House should quickly pass this bill and send it to President Obama to sign.

Education: Reaching for Lower Expectations

"We're not lowering standards but adopting a more standard language," Jane K. Strauss as quoted in The Washington Post

If, as Jane K. Strauss suggests, the board adopts "a more standard language" and the standards in the surrounding Virginia districts are lower than they are in Fairfax, then the board is voting to lower standards.

So much for high expectations. I guess it would be easier for the students to "reach for the stars" if the stars were lowered or if they collapsed.

And as for the parent's concerns - shouldn't college admissions departments look at the criteria each school has when comparing letter grades?

The Strikes in Pakistan

Some things, thankfully, don't change and President Barack Obama vowed to continue the fight against the terrorist networks at work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. During the primary he offered what was the most hawkish position on the war against the terrorists in western Pakistan.

One unnamed Pakistani official said we may have killed a "high-level target." I certainly hope so.

Obama's Effect on Black Student's Test Scores

B---s--t. And I say that as one who voted for President Obama.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Governor David A. Patterson probably angered some liberal Democrats by appointing U.S. Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand as former Hillary Clinton's successor in the senate. The congresswoman from New York who hails from a conservative, Republican-leaning district in upstate New York. The one-term Congresswoman from upstate New York supports gun rights, which is a big plus for people with my civil libertarian persuasion and aligned herself with the conservative "Blue Dog" coalition. Her record on gay rights is mixed.

She co-sponsored legislation that would have banned sexual orientation-based discrimination which did not include protections for the transgendered, and the Matthews Shepard Act, which extends hate crime coverage to sexual orientation-induced hate crimes. However, she does not support the repeal of the misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act" nor did she co-sponsor legislation lifting the ban on gays serving in the military. Empire State Pride, the state's gay rights organization, however, is on board.

Governor Patterson took a huge risk in picking her in a state which easily votes for liberal Democrats. It was, however, a good move on his part. She has more experience than Caroline Kennedy, who ran on her name without defining herself on any issues (like the stimulus package, taxes, the Middle East Peace Process, the Iraq War). By appointing her, Patterson also sent a signal to those who do not align with their national party on every issue - the party welcomes them.

Addendum: for more on her see this article.

Couldn't be more pleased. Opposes amnesty for illegal immigration. Supports gun rights. Pro-gay and will uphold the right to privacy.

Stem Cell Research for Those With Spinal Cord Inujries

This is the dawn of a new era - one where scientific discovery will be promoted by our government since it could save and/or improve the quality of our lives.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama's Executive Orders on Torture and War Detention

Today our new president issued three executive orders purportedly reversing his predecessor's policies relating to the detention and inquisition of enemy combatants held in connection to the war on terror.

In one executive order, President Barack Obama charged the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence as well as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security to review the status of the remaining 245 prisoners so that they can be released or prosecuted in an orderly manner before the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is closed.

The Review Board will have a year to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and decide which detainees can be released and which detainees should be prosecuted - either in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution or through a "lawful means" that is "consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice."

The military commissions which the president's predecessor created two years ago was suspended while the review of its process is undertaken but a revised version might be used if prosecuting the suspects in a civil court is not "feasible" (probably when the evidence was gathered through inadmissible means like torture).

In a separate executive order, the president instructed the same members of his national security team to conduct a broader examination of the "lawful options" at the Federal Government's disposal once an "enemy combatant" is captured.

Both executive orders give the Justice Department a prominent role. The Attorney General will serve as the co-chair of both boards and any and all files on the detainees shall be made available for him to review at his command.

A third executive order bans American officials from using any interrogation technique not explicitly authorized in the Army Manual, mandates the closure of any CIA-maintained-or-owned detention facility "as expeditiously as possible," and creates a "Special Interagency Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies" consisting of the same members of the president's national security team (see above).

The Task Force will "study and evaluate" the interrogation practices that are described in the Army Field Manual to see if the described methods could effectively be used for intelligence-gathering purposes or if it needs to be modified. The Task Force will also "study and evaluate" the practice of rendition, whereby individuals are transferred to other nations where standards forbidding torture are much lower.

This executive order, in effect, removes the incentive for sending "enemy combatants" overseas since the Task Force was charged to ensure that the practice of removing "enemy combatants" complies with our "domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States." Rendition cannot result "in the ransfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect of, circumventing" our commitments to "ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.

Some conservatives believe Guantanamo Bay should not be closed until the president can safely transfer the prisoners to another country or otherwise hold them indefinitely. On tonight's edition of "Hardball," Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri) said it would be grossly "irresponsible" to release hard-liners like Said Ali al-Shihri who would return to the battlefield. He said Missouri doesn't want to house detainees in its prisons but if California's progressives want Guantanamo Bay the detainees should be sent to Alcatraz. Senator Bond doesn't want a detainee who escapes from prison plotting his next attack in his home state.

The senator appears to be overreacting. President Obama did not order the prisoners' immediate release. He ordered his national security team to review both the the findings justifying their incarceration and the process for trying such individuals. Moreover, the fear which Senator Bond expressed requires an unwarranted lack of faith in the prison system's ability to hold and, if need be, isolate the prisoners left in their care.

Some liberals believe the president hasn't gone far enough. The president may utilize the military commissions which he has, for the moment, suspended. He did not explicitly ban the practice of transferring a prisoner to foreign countries that would not offer them rights comparable to the ones provided here.

The Political Heretic, however, believes that the president, at this moment, should be given the benefit of the doubt. He is cautiously removing policies that should never have been implemented. Though the president isn't banning rendition (thereby potentially depriving war combatants of trial rights offered here) he is closing the loophole that would allow for the torture of them. We are seeing a step, if only a step, in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration: We Shall Overcome; We will Endure if We Work for It

President Barack Obama's inaugural speech today wasn't just a break from the president or a call for "responsibility." It was a prescription for change, a prescription which Obama freely credited to known and American heroes that came before us. Fight for it. "We are the change" we seek the president said in November.

He said it wouldn't be easy. The incoming administration faces a host of problems - some which his predecessor left behind and some that will follow. But he said they are not insurmountable as long as we all do our part and he put the problems we faced into historical perspective. Generation upon generation rose to meet the challenges facing them - the founding of this nation, the civil war, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam, the Cold War, etc. They fought for change. Now the president is calling us to help him do the same.

"Our challenges may be new" our new president said. "The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. ...

... In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
"But our verdict today is that, despite some important accomplishments, the Bush years were a time of squandered opportunities, shocking abuse of power and cynical abandonment of both legal principles and historical values.

... Alas, the promise of that first inaugural has been honored mostly in the breach. From a refusal to consult with Congress on post-9/11 anti-terrorism policy, to an arrogant disregard for world opinion and modern science, to the misplaced loyalty that allowed Donald H. Rumsfeld and Alberto R. Gonzales to linger in his Cabinet, Bush's presidency too often was characterized not by consensus-seeking but by a cocksureness that ruled out the admission of error."
editorial from The Los Angeles Times

"The fact that Truman is now highly regarded should give pause to anyone assessing a president at the end of his term. Perhaps future generations will be kinder to George W. Bush than today's harsh critics.

Perhaps. But, at least from today's vantage point, it is hard to see Bush making a Truman-like comeback in popular standing. ...

... For these and other reasons, Bush's record, at least for now, does not lend itself easily to a positive assessment. History isn't likely to regard him as the worst president ever, as some liberal historians have declared. But with only a slight reservation about not knowing what the future will bring, as he departs it is hard to place him anywhere but in the lower tier."
- editorial from The USA Today

"We're disappointed and surprised by Bush's performance as president. Nothing in his record as governor of Texas suggested that he would so badly handle the job of president and that he would try to take the nation so far to the right politically. He governed here as a moderately conservative Republican and campaigned under the same colors for president." editorial from The Austin American Statesman (This paper endorsed former President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, then endorsed President Barack Obama in 2008).

"History could very well view him differently, particularly his domestic achievements, but at this point his presidential failures, sadly, overshadow his successes and may for some time." mixed assessment offered from the editorial in The Dallas Morning News (This paper endorsed former President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, then endorsed Senator John McCain in 2008).

"Because of those faults, and his refusal to fight his party when he needed to, it is fair to say that his presidency was a failure on many levels. But it was far from a total loss. History will decide how successful George W. Bush's presidency was.

Without the perspective of time, it is impossible to balance the numerous mistakes both small and large against his one major and historic success.

Whatever the final judgment, we are thankful that he made the right strategic call when the time came. President Bush kept this country much safer than others would have.

It would be a huge mistake to take that for granted."
editorial from The Manchester Union (this paper endorsed former President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, then endorsed Senator John McCain in 2008).

Giuliani and the Republican's Way Forward

The old mayor is back. I guess the sneering of "community activists" at the Republican National Convention won't help him if he runs for governor. Socially moderate Republicans. Not necessarily liberal. Certainly "to the right of the Democrats" on the social issues. but "more tolerant." Abortion. "Treatment of gays," etc.

Ted Kennedy

taken out of the luncheon on a stretcher. How unfortunate.

BREAKING NEWS: Sen. Kennedy reportedly taken from inaugural luncheon on stretcher

A note in the Language Concerning Gay Rights

First, the commitments -

One must always pay attention to the language public servants use when they are promising to do something. Note first, that the president is committed to passing (and not just working toward" a bill forbidding sexual orientation-based discrimination in the work place. He is also committed to passing the Matthew Shepherd Act:

# Combat Employment Discrimination: President Obama and Vice President Biden will work to overturn the Supreme Court's recent ruling that curtails racial minorities' and women's ability to challenge pay discrimination. They will also pass the Fair Pay Act, to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

# Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: President Obama and Vice President Biden will strengthen federal hate crimes legislation, expand hate crimes protection by passing the Matthew Shepard Act, and reinvigorate enforcement at the Department of Justice's Criminal Section.

In other words, he is giving us a means to measure success. We can (in Obama's words) count on his backing on these two issues and he is guaranteeing success on these two matters.)

His support for other gay rights initiatives is mentioned on the civil rights page but the committal is weaker.


Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.

Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell:
President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.

President Obama says he will begin the process of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" because he believes it should be repealed, but he is going to work with the military. Don't expect an order given over night.

His commitment on AIDS is far more comprehensive and his commitment to shift strategies is obviously stronger than his commitment to end "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (note the commitment to start that in the first year of he probably hopes will be the first of two terms in office). Still, the devil is in the details that have yet to be disclosed.


# Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples:
President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.

Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.

Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.

# Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage:
President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.

Bush: Keeping Us Safe? One Conservative Says No

"To the extent that FEMA’s insufficient response to natural disaster revealed the government’s utter lack of preparedness and lack of appropriate leadership up through late 2005, the more appropriate way to describe the approximately four years between 9/11 and Katrina was that we as a nation happened to be fortunate during that period that the behemonth Department of Homeland Security was never called upon to respond to a major terrorist attack." - from Daniel Larrison's blog at The American Conservative

President's First Speech as an Indictment of Bush

A damning indictment of the former president's job and a promise to break from it.

Key Quotes first, then the text posted in full.

1. The State of Affairs as Bush Left It

"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet."

Nothing to add here. It's obvious. Bush leaves Obama a mess.

2. Ideology

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

Former President George W. Bush governed like an ideologue - an ideologue on the economy, an ideologue on foreign policy, and an ideologue on domestic cultural war policies. He let ideologues try to remake the world in our image - in the Palestinian territories and Iraq prematurely. His first Defense Secretary planned for this war ideologically. Anyone who read Cobra II could see that. One plan for an invasion was scrapped to prove we could win on the dime with a smaller force. On the economy he governed by deregulating the markets and then, albeit reluctantly, pushed for a bail out. On the cultural issues he curtailed research into stem cell research and pushed abstinence-only education to the forefront.

3. Science Need Not Be Forsaken to Accommodate Religious Values

"We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories"

George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Treaty. He failed to address global warming. Our new president promises to focus this nation's attention on alternative sources of energy. The former president opposed embryonic stem cell research. Obama will, it is hoped, fund it. The former president pushed for abstinence-only education. Obama will support a far more comprehensive approach.

4. Civil Liberty Preserved as Well as Security

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations."

No more torture (it is hoped). No more rendition (it is hoped). No more wiretapping without a court's approval (it is hoped). Can we scrap the misnamed PATRIOT Acts? Don't count on it. (Sigh).

5. Diplomatic Foreign Policy:

"And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more."

His predecessor once told the world that if it was not for us, it is against us. I was questioning (and perhaps even hoping for my own selfish reasons) that the president would raid the Vatican and place the pope, who opposed the war in Iraq, under arrest. Obama will sit down and talk with those who disagree with us (it is hoped anyway).

Obama's Inaugural Address

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
January 20, 2009

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

the President for all

Yes. For all. Could you imagine it? Eight years without being acknowledged. Eight years without recognition. Now we must push this agenda forward. And as far as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is concerned, this goes well beyond civil rights. It is a call for sacrifice. An invitation to serve and fight for this nation's security.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

No Robinson?

I watched the inaugural ceremony hoping to hear Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson deliver the invocation but was deeply disappointed when it was not aired on HBO. He was definitely at the event. I saw a brief glimpse of him when the president-elect was shaking everyone's hand on the way out. Apparently he delivered the invocation off camera (with poor microphone quality), and was followed by a 10 minute intermission before HBO began its taping.

What an insult! The first gay American to be given this prominent honor was ignored by HBO. Don't expect HBO to give the gays-are-as-evil-as-pedophiles-claiming "Reverend" (that's right, not even a bishop) Rick Warren that callously disrespectful treatment on Tuesday.

Send nasty complaints here. HBO deserves it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"It is no surprise that Bush referred to the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, during his press conference. It was the one time when he fulfilled the role of leader, giving the people hope and determination in a time of extreme peril. It is what he hopes people will think of when they recall his presidency." editorial for The Anniston Star

"In time, President Bush might be viewed more favorably, but in his final days, it is too early for an optimistic overview by many. But a closer look at the job the president has done over the last eight years does ease some of the harsh allegations."
a more forgiving editorial in The Gadsden Times

"In his valedictory interview with the White House press corps and in his farewell address to the nation, President Bush struck a more reflective tone than during most of his two terms in office. He acknowledged some mistakes and "disappointments," including Abu Ghraib, the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and his decision to emphasize Social Security reform instead of immigration law changes after his 2004 reelection.

But I listened in vain for any admission of what I and others consider the greatest moral failing of the Bush presidency -- his refusal to ask any sacrifice from most of the American people when he put the nation on a wartime footing after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some cite failures ranging from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo to Hurricane Katrina and the neglect of the environment and the working class.

But for all the outrages in those areas, I thought the most damaging to the American people -- both those living now and those yet unborn -- was placing the entire cost of Bush's ambitious, if not misguided, national security policy on the tiny fraction of American families with loved ones in the armed services.

Iraq and Afghanistan are the main fronts in the fourth major war of my lifetime, following World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and the first in which nothing was asked of the civilian population -- no higher taxes, nothing."
- David Broder in The Washington Post

"In those few sentences, Mr. Bush encapsulated both what was valuable in his approach to national security and foreign policy -- and what has been so very troubling. He was and is essentially correct to define Islamist terrorism as an unappeasable menace. His certitude amid the crisis of 9-11 helped galvanize the initial national response, including the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Alas, that same certitude led Mr. Bush down many blind alleys and, in the worst moments, caused him to debase his country's moral currency. In rejecting the Geneva Conventions, he seemed not to realize that the world, even those parts of it that were friendly toward the United States, does not assume American righteousness -- and that even a necessary counterattack against al Qaeda and other enemies must therefore be constrained by law. History may credit him for avoiding a second attack on U.S. soil, but not for his handling of Guantanamo or "enhanced interrogation."
editorial from The Washington Post

"For every positive - the appointment of two fine Supreme Court justices, the emphasis on school standards, the crusade against AIDS in Africa - there are larger negatives."
editorial from The New York Daily News

"That is vividly apparent as we watch W. and Obama share the stage as they pass the battered baton. One seems small and inconsequential, even though he keeps insisting he’s not; the other grows large and impressive, filling Americans with cockeyed hope even as he warns them not to expect too much too soon.

Even Obama’s caution — a commodity notably absent from the White House for eight years — fills people with optimism.

W. lives in the shadow of his father’s presence, while Obama lives in the shadow of his father’s absence. W.’s parlous presidency, spent trashing the Constitution, the economy and the environment, was bound up, and burdened by, the psychological traits of an asphyxiated and pampered son.

The exiting and entering presidents are opposite poles — one the parody of a monosyllabic Western gunslinger who disdains nuance, and one a complex, polysyllabic professor sort who will make a decision only after he has held it up to the light and examined it from all sides.

W. was immune to doubt and afraid of it. (His fear of doubt led to the cooking of war intelligence.) Obama is delighted by doubt."
Maureen Dowd of The New York Times

"You could imagine a different President passing through the same set of crises - Hurricane Katrina, Iraq's descent into chaos and the post-surge struggle back to some kind of stability, and finally this year's financial crisis - and coming out of them with a reputation as a battler, a man in the arena, a struggler and a doer who put his stamp on his time, even if the time was difficult and his decisions often went awry. But where the events of his second term were concerned, Bush seemed like a supporting player in his own presidency, standing in the wings while other figures - Mike Brown and Michael Chertoff; Donald Rumsfeld and then David Petraeus; Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke - took center stage, striving and erring, claiming opprobrium and credit, and generally overshadowing the man in the West Wing."

Ross Douthat
on his blog

Matthews Has it Right On Bush

Chris Matthews says a lot of inappropriate things on the air, particularly when he is speaking to a guest he is attracted to but his assessment of Bush is frighteningly accurate. "A rich kid driving his father's car,""Put down history by quoting Jefferson." "making fun of the smart people." "hanging out with the jocks." Ouch! Bush says he never consulted with his "daddy." He looked to a "higher Father" (ahem). Perhaps he should have consulted with his "daddy."

One Thing I Definitely Liked About Obama's Speech

It's good to hear the word "gay" again. For the last eight years we lived with a president who didn't acknowledge our existence or acknowledge that some of his official positions hurt us.

Action of course speaks louder than words and the gay rights organizations must hold the president-elect to account. Yes. The president has some breathing room because he must address the problems he is inheriting from the Bush administration (two wars, and an economy in shambles) but two items on the gay rights agenda can be and should be passed within the first three or four months:

(1) the Employment Non-discrimination Act: This should be a no-brainer. It doesn't impose any specific protections on a wronged group (like Affirmative Action). It merely requires employers to refrain from considering one's sexual orientation when considering career changes, and employment in general. The incoming administration could draw upon the respect we have towards those of different religious backgrounds to make the case. The Christian employer operating a nonsectarian business cannot bar the "unsaved" and pagan from a job. The Muslim operating a nonsectarian business must extend equal employment opportunities to the "infidel." Mandating the same level of respect to "unrepentant homosexual activists" imposes no additional burden on those "true-believers."

A nation that values equal opportunity would provide those with a gay or bisexual orientation with nothing less.

(2) The Matthew Shepard's Act (or some version of it): Libertarians oppose legislation like this in general because it imposes harsher penalties on those who express animus towards the particular group which his or her victim belongs to. I sympathize with their argument though it was already conceded once such hate crimes laws were passed to protect racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.

The incoming administration should, at minimum pass the above two pieces of legislation within the first year of its term.

Eliminating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should also be on the Obama administration's agenda. This could prove controversial, which is why postponing it for a year or two, way after the Obama administration passes its stimulus package, is understandable but the case can be made that at a time when armed forces are being being stretched to the max with its numerous overseas commitments, it would be unwise to deny those who are willing to contribute to this nation's defense from doing so.

Potential Cease-fire in Gaza

The cabinet, according to The Jerusalem Post (the conservative paper) and The New York Times, agreed to a 10-day cease-fire. The Israeli Defense Force will remain in the Gaza Strip until Hamas stops firing its rockets.

This analysis of Egypt's potential role in containing Hamas should be read. So far President Mubarak appears unwilling to do his part of the job.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

FISA Court

Bad day for freedom.

President Bush's Address

In his farewell address tonight, President George W. Bush said he asked the networks to give him one more time to "share some thoughts on the journey we [the president and this nation] have traveled together and the future of our Nation." The outgoing president stayed true to form. He shared only "some thoughts" about the the "journey" he took this nation on during the eight years of his presidency.

Mr. Bush used the 12-15 minutes of his airtime to defend his record on foreign policy but glossed over the mishaps that plagued his administration in Afghanistan and Iraq nor did he address the economic problems that we are facing in the years ahead. The president credited himself for the removal of two tyrannous regimes - the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Afghanistan - as if the quest to spread democracy led us to go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq.

No. It did not. The quest to capture terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden led us into Afghanistan and the alleged-but-unproven claim of a terrorist link and the search for weapons of mass destruction were invoked to send our troops into Iraq. Osama bin Laden was not found. He escaped capture at Tora Bora and is now rumored to be hiding out in some cave in Pakistan. No weapons of mass destruction - be they biological, chemical or nuclear in content - were discovered once our troops removed Saddam Hussein from power.

Mr. Bush called Afghanistan and Iraq "young democracies" in his speech tonight. Both governments, the Political Heretic concedes, were chosen through democratic means. People went to the polls and voted. Women can go to school in Afghanistan. Left out were questions concerning their viability. The Iraqis are politically divided. There are legitimate questions concerning their willingness to see themselves as Iraqis first and (take your pick) Kurdish, Shia, or Sunnis second. In the last elections, the people voted along ethnic lines and the parties themselves are sectarian in nature. To this day, Kurds, Sunni, Shia, and Turkomen squabble over Kirkuk's political status and control over the surrounding region's oil fields.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has made some inroads in the south in part because our attention shifted to Iraq. Afghanistan's central government administers the capital and the surrounding region but has yet to make an impression in the outlying regions to the north and south. Tribal governments look to poppy, not the central government, for their revenue.

Mr. Bush says we "cannot argue with the results." "America" he says "has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil." All true. We have not been attacked since 9/11 but his claim that this is the result of actions which he took cannot be verified as long as the information he resorts to is classified. We don't know if we can attribute this to the consolidation of power (in intelligence agencies) and the constitutionally dubious means by which they acquired that information (torture, rendition, warrantless wiretapping) or to the would-be terrorists' failure to come up with and execute a new plan to wreck mayhem on the United States.

At one point in the speech the president stated one factoid that was proven patently false. "When people live in freedom," the outgoing president said, they do not willingly choose leaders who pursue campaigns of terror."

Oh really? Utilizing this logic, the president either does not believe his statement that Hamas is a terrorist organization or his statement "that people who live in freedom" do not vote for "leaders who pursue campaigns of terror." Mr. Bush pushed for democratic elections and when Fatah, the largely secular and moderate wing of the Palestinian nationalist movement, obliged by holding Parliamentary elections, the people voted it out of power.

While the outgoing president's description of his foreign policy "accomplishments" glosses over the costly problems his successor will inherit, his interpretation of the American people's economic condition is borderline delusional.

Mr. Bush says every taxpayer is paying less in income taxes. Yes. That's right. Our income taxes were cut. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics says we have lost 1.9 million jobs in the last four months. Housing foreclosures have skyrocketed. You might be losing your job and consequently may not have the money to pay for mortgage but don't worry. Your income taxes were cut.

Bush said his administration took "decisive measures" to save the economy from financial collapse. He certainly did not tell us why such "decisive measures" were needed in the first place. He made no mention of his administration's economic laissez-faire philosophical outlook. No. He expressed confidence in "the resilience of America's free enterprise system" as if that (and not the president's administration) led to the collapse and will lead to its recovery.

The president can point to a few success stories. Yes. He pushed for and signed a bill that offers prescription drug coverage to some senior citizens though here the president added to the list of entitlement programs future generations will have to pay for. Yes. He pushed into law the "No Child Left Behind Act" which was designed to hold school districts accountable for raising student test scores. And yes, he has promoted HIV prevention in Africa.

but these success stories provide the Americans who have lost their jobs no solace. They do not provide the family that is falling behind in the mortgage payments comfort. They cannot bring back from the dead, the son or daughter or friend of one who has died fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. The people who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina won't find solace in what he said and the AIDS victims dying here in America will take little comfort in the help he gives to those living abroad.

I believe Mr. Bush will go down in history as on of the worst presidents in our history. He won't be the worst. James Buchanan deserves that distinction because he did nothing while the nation was falling a part. But he will go down in history as one of the worst to ever lead this nation. Never in this nation's history, has this country given such a higher honor and awesome responsibility to a person who lacked the intellectual rigor that is needed for that capacity. May it never happen again.

Liveblogging the Dufus- in- Chief

He's really clueless. People are losing their jobs and he is talking about the war on terror. He glossed over the war in Iraq. Talks about "promoting human liberty." Sparing babies abroad from malaria. Freedom of nations. Democracy. blah blah blah.

The smirk is on his face. The end result of his democracy project? Hamas in Gaza. The Iraq War is now an Islamic theocracy in all but name.

9 minutes into the speech - still no talk about the economy. Greatest threat remains a terrorist attack.

Speaks about rejecting isolationism. Wow that's debatable.
8:10 PM - still on the freedom schtick.

8:11 PM - Speaking about justice? what was that about his Justice Department?

broad horizon ahead.

8:12 PM - No talk about the economy yet.

8:13 PM - No talk about the economy yet. but we are hearing about a medic heading to Iraq and others virtuous Americans, whom he still has faith in. (obviously not Madoff).

8:14 PM - No talk about the economy.

Addendum: A slight correction - he did talk about the economy, sort of. lower income taxes. Lower income taxes? when Americans are losing their jobs left and right? when families are in danger of losing their homes after falling behind in their mortgage payments? He can only speak of lower income taxes?

Please. and note this phrase from the speech:

"Facing the prospect of a financial collapse, we took decisive measures to safeguard our economy."

Its as if this happened on its own with no help from the Bush administration. Nowhere in this statement is there the suggestion that his "laissez-faire" economic philosophy had a role in this financial meltdown. Nowhere.

I'm sick of him.
He wishes us a good night. well, I say. Good riddance.

Presidential Sitdowns with the Columnists

President-elect Barack Obama is setting the right tone by meeting with columnists from both ends of the political spectrum. On Wednesday night, he met with Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard and The New York Times, David Brooks of The New York Times, Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post, Peggy Noonan and Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, and Rush Limbaugh at George F. Will's house for dinner.

On Thursday, the president-elect met with E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and PBS, and Andrew Sullivan (who must have felt like the odd man out at an otherwise liberal gathering) of The Atlantic.

By meeting with the conservatives, the president-elect offered them an olive branch. Kristol and Krauthammer, in particular, took a major beating in the last two national elections. Their flawed neoconservative agenda cost the Republicans control of Capitol Hill two years ago and the president-elect's decision to oppose the war which they pushed for earned him the Democratic Party's nomination. If and when they reject him or his policies he could go to the American people and say that he at least tried to act conciliatory.

This meeting in a way, could set the tone by which the president-elect wishes to conduct our nation's business. If the conservatives and liberals agree to disagree with one another without being disagreeable, Mr. Obama would have changed the culture of Washington for the better.

Iran's Punishments

can be barbaric.

Washington Post Dead On on Disclosures

I found nothing to disagree with here. The President-elect and the Secretary of State could do us all (themselves included) a favor and spare us the inevitable speculation and concerns that will arise when Clinton is negotiating with the people who donated to her husband's charities.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bush's Unnecessary Farewell Address

Outgoing President George W. Bush apparently will address the nation for (what is hoped) would be the very last time on Thursday night. According to the liberal Huffington Post, the president asked the major networks to give him air time on Thursday night.

He is expected to deliver a 10-15 minute farewell address during which, his press secretary Dana Perino freely admitted, he will defend his policies. Perinop also said he will also use the farewell address to "his thoughts on greatest challenges facing the country, and on what it will take to meet them."

What the president says will for the most part be ignored by most Americans. We know what this country faces. Rising unemployment. Housing foreclosures. A credit freeze. Two unfinished wars. A crumbling transportation infrastructure. Global warming. Poverty. Rising costs in health care. And an educational system in need of improvement. Most blame him for the economic downturn and for the mishaps in Iraq so they will question whether he has anything credible to add to the debate about the stimulus package, the war in Iraq, the virtually defunct peace process in the Middle East, or Iran's uranium enrichment program.

Most Americans, I'm sure, don't want to look back. They want to look to this country's future and what the incoming president, Barack Obama, will do to set this country back on the right path.

The outgoing president can't really do much anymore. His time in office is coming to an end. He could do us all a favor, cancel the farewell address, and retire in peace so that we can move on towards what is hoped to be a brighter future.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Stephanopoulos and the Deficit Question

The transcripts are here. Stephanopoulos asked him some good questions though at one time, when the president-elect appeared noncommittal, he let him off the hook. Note his question concerning the promises the president-elect would have to push to the side given the nation's debt and the follow-up.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're going to face some real hard choices. You brought up health care a couple of times…

OBAMA: Absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: … in this interview already. During the campaign you said you would pay for health care by repealing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy. According to the CBO, you're going to get a $1.2 trillion to $1.8 trillion deficit even if all of the tax cuts are repealed.

OBAMA: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So how do you pay for health care?

OBAMA: Well, you know, these are going to be major challenges. And we're going to have to make some tough choices. Now what I've done is indicated to my team that we've got to eliminate programs that don't work.

And I'll give you an example in the health care area. We are spending a lot of money subsidizing the insurance companies around something called Medicare Advantage, a program that gives them subsidies to accept Medicare recipients but doesn't necessarily make people on Medicare healthier.

And if we eliminate that and other programs, we can potentially save $200 billion out of the health care system that we're currently spending and take that money and use it in ways that are actually going to make people healthier and improve quality.

So what our challenge is going to be is identifying what works and putting more money into that, eliminating things that don't work, and making things that we have more efficient.

I'm not suggesting, George, I want to be realistic here, not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace that we had hoped.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me press you on this, at the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of a grand bargain? That you have tax reform, health care reform, entitlement reform, including Social Security and Medicare where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?


The waste which the president-elect referred to was mentioned before on the campaign trail, long before the latest deficit figures came out. And yet Stephanopoulos did not press him further. He blinked by offering a more generalized question (whether Obama would commit to a "grand bargain" of sacrifice) and left it at that.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pakistan and the Nukes

This article in The New York Times' magazine section is worth the read.

Two things should be noted:

1. no matter who is officially in charge it appears as if our connection will be with the military, and not the government in Islamabad.

2. we must give the Pakistanis the "permissive action links" so that they can restrict to a select few the ability to arm nuclear weapons.

How bad was the terrorists' infiltration into Pakistan's government? Very bad.

IN BUSH’S LAST YEAR in office, Pakistan’s downward spiral came to dominate the meetings of the principals down in the Situation Room of the White House. First came the assassination in late December 2007 of Benazir Bhutto, which resulted in a secret trip by McConnell, the intelligence chief, and the director of the C.I.A., Michael V. Hayden, to Islamabad. It was the first of a series of secret missions to convince Musharraf and his handpicked successor as the chief of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, that the militants in the tribal areas were now aiming to bring down the government in Islamabad. The message was simple and direct: The Pakistani leadership needed to forget about India and focus on the threat from within.

But with each successive trip it became clearer and clearer, particularly to McConnell, that the gap between how Washington viewed the threat and how the Pakistanis viewed it was as yawning as ever. Even worse, suspicions grew that Inter-Services Intelligence was directly aiding the Taliban and other jihadist militants, seeing them as a useful counterweight to India’s influence in the region.

Washington’s sanguinity was not increased when Pakistan’s new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, arrived in Washington over the summer for what turned out to be a disastrous first visit. Gilani, as the country’s first civilian leader in more than a decade, was under huge pressure to show he could bring the intelligence agency, and the country, under control. He couldn’t — a brief effort to force the ISI to report to the civilian leadership was quashed — but he thought he had better show up with a gift for President Bush.

Gilani wanted to tell Bush that he had sent forces into the tribal areas to clean out a major madrassa where hard-line ideology and intolerance were part of the daily curriculum. There were roughly 25,000 such private Islamic schools around Pakistan, though only a small number of them regularly bred young terrorists. The one he decided to target was run by the Haqqani faction of Islamic militants, one of the most powerful in the tribal areas.

Though Gilani never knew it, Bush was aware of this gift in advance. The National Security Agency had picked up intercepts indicating that a Pakistani unit warned the leadership of the school about what was coming before carrying out its raid. “They must have called 1-800-HAQQANI,” said one person who was familiar with the intercepted conversation. According to another, the account of the warning sent to the school was almost comic. “It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram.’ ”

And just a reminder of what is at stake:

Soon after Kidwai took office, he also faced the case of the eccentric nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, who helped build gas centrifuges for the Pakistani nuclear program, using blueprints Khan had stolen from the Netherlands. Mahmood then moved on to the country’s next huge project: designing the reactor at Khushab that was to produce the fuel Pakistan needed to move to the next level — a plutonium bomb.

An autodidact intellectual with grand aspirations, Mahmood was fascinated by the links between science and the Koran. He wrote a peculiar treatise arguing that when morals degrade, disaster cannot be far behind. Over time, his colleagues began to wonder if Mahmood was mentally sound. They were half amused and half horrified by his fascination with the role sunspots played in triggering the French and Russian Revolutions, World War II and assorted anticolonial uprisings. “This guy was our ultimate nightmare,” an American intelligence official told me in late 2001, when The New York Times first reported on Mahmood. “He had access to the entire Pakistani program. He knew what he was doing. And he was completely out of his mind.”

While Khan appeared to be in the nuclear-proliferation business chiefly for the money, Mahmood made it clear to friends that his interest was religious: Pakistan’s bomb, he told associates, was “the property of a whole Ummah,” referring to the worldwide Muslim community. He wanted to share it with those who might speed “the end of days” and lead the way for Islam to rise as the dominant religious force in the world.

These guys will gain access through legitimate means in order to obtain a weapon of mass destruction.

Potential Cease-Fire

Please tell me the Egyptians aren't going to kill this deal. An international force could enforce the peace and destroy the tunnels that smuggle arms into the Gaza Strip.

One Conservative Editorial Board Gets What the Catholic Church Does Not

In one respects, the conservatives in The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are way ahead of the conservatives in the United States of America. The Times of London issued an editorial dissenting from the pope's anti-gay stances. Way to go. Until Rupert Murdoch hears of this I guess.

"It is thus frustrating that the Pope does not likewise embrace the finding that homosexual attraction is part of the natural order. The Pope instead follows his predecessors, who have condemned homosexual acts as a violation of natural law, which is immutable. Homosexuals, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are thus called to chastity.

There is no merit to urging a course on homosexual men and women that offends against science, reason and human kindness. To do so with extravagant rhetoric comparing homosexuality to genuine and urgent issues of social concern is unhelpful. Sexual relations are an important matter for ethical reflection. But the Pope might accept that Church teaching has been superseded by science as much as by social mores."

But that is the Catholic Church's problem. It,to its credit, officially doesn't hold the Bible to be the literal word of God. Inspired? Yes. The Catholic Church instead relies upon a selective reading of natural law to justify its concept of a moral order. It deems one thing which nature ordained (heterosexuality) natural while other another thing which nature ordained (homosexuality) unnatural.

Catholic "teaching" proscribes non-procreative sexual conduct since we all can give birth (leave aside people who are sterile) if male and female sexual organs are utilized properly. But what it improperly dismisses is the the natural means we use to select a mate (the sexual urge). For most people that leads them to a person of the opposite sex and consequently into a relationship that can lead to the birth of a new human being.

The sexual urges for heterosexual/bisexual M (male) + heterosexual/bisexual F (female) in all likelihood lead to C (child). Fine. This combination adheres to the laws of nature (N). When two members of the opposite sex are called to mate a child is/may be born.

But it is not, as the Catholic Church alleges, the only relationship that adheres to natural law, if we mean by it, the upholding of that which is set by nature. Giving birth isn't the only natural thing we do and for a select few, the act of giving birth requires them to enter into a relationship which violates the law which nature conferred on them.

Hence, the sexual urges of a homosexual M + the sexual urges of the homosexual M leads to conduct which, though it doesn't lead to childbirth, conforms with natural law and the sexual urges of a homosexual F + the sexual urges of the homosexual F leads to conduct which conforms with natural law.

The Catholic Church could deem such relationships immoral all they want but it does not detract from the fact that they are natural. It cannot say we homosexuality is forbidden because heterosexuality is natural. No. Both are found in the state of nature so the church must find some other rationale for upholding its sexual proscriptions.

The Weekend Preview

Advice for those who Want to Watch the Programs:

a. This Week on ABC at 10:00 AM to see the president-elect.

b. If the interview with the president-elect ends at 10:30, switch to CBS to see
Roland Burris.

c. At 11:00, flip to CNN to watch Wolf Blitzer for the next two hours.

d. At 5:00 PM - watch "Meet The Press" on MSNBC

e. At 6:00 PM - watch the Bushes on FOX News Channel

1. FOX News Sunday on FOX (Sunday at 10:00 AM ET):

Topic This Week - The Bush presidents and Punditry concerning the New Congress.

(a) Interview with the President: Outgoing President George W. Bush on his "accomplishments," some of the "key decisions" that defined his term in the White House - the war in Iraq, interrogation techniques, and presidential powers, and his recent meetings with the President-elect, his vision for the Republican Party, and his plans for the future.

(b) The Father and Son: Former President George Herbert Walker Bush and the president on their relationships concerning "policy and personal matters." (Aside: I guess we already know about that answer: there is none since W. answers to a "higher father" and sees through people's souls).

(c) FOX News Sunday Panelists on the New Congress: Bristol Kristol of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post, and Juan William of National Public Radio on the "political twists and turns" on Capitol Hill. (Aside: Expect some talk about Governor Rod Blagojevich's senate pick and complaints about the president-elect's stimulus package.

This show will be hosted by Brit Hume this week on FOX and repeated on the FOX News Channel at 6:00 PM ET.

2. "This Week" on ABC (Sunday at 10:00 AM ET):

Topic This Week - interview with the president-elect, political punditry on the interview and the new Congressional session that began.

(a) Interview with the Incoming President: President-elect Barack Obama on the major issues he will face in his first 100 days as president.

(b) Roundtable: Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia), Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal and George Will of ABC.

(c) In Memorium: A look at celebrities, politicians, and soldiers that died recently.

(d) Sunday Funnies: a brief look at some of the funniest political jokes aired this week.

This show is hosted by George Stephanopoulos on Sunday mornings.

3. "Meet The Press" on NBC (Sunday at 10:30 AM ET):

Topics This Week - how the president-elect should address matters of concern to the African American community, and preventing an economic depression with the Obama stimulus package.

(a) Presidential Leadership Series begin with focus on problems of particular concern to African Americans. Bill Cosby, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D-California), and Mayor Adrian Fenty (D-District of Columbia) on how the president can use his leadership to confront inner city violence, urban blight, unemployment, and high incarceration and school drop-out rates.

(b) The Stimulus Package: former U.S. Representative David Bonior (D-Michigan), Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, John Harwood of CNBC, Bethany McLean of Vanity Fair, and Mark Zandi of Moody's on whether the president's economic package and save the United States from an economic depression.

This show is hosted by David Gregory and re-broadcast at 5:00 PM ET on MSNBC.

4. "Face The Nation" on CBS (Sunday at 10:30 AM ET):

Topic This Week - seating Roland Burris

(a) Senator Roland Burris (D-Illinois): his reaction to the Illinois Supreme Court ruling stating that he did not need the Secretary of State to verify his appointment, and a potential deal to having him seated in the senate.

(b) Congress on Seating Burris: U.S. House of Representatives Minority Leader (wrong house) John Boehner (R-Ohio) and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) on whether Burris will be seated.

This show is hosted by Bob Schieffer on Sunday mornings.

5. "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" on CNN (Sunday at 11:00 AM ET): nothing posted today for this show which will be replaced by a new show hosted by John King on January 25, 2009. It is currently hosted by Wolf Blitzer.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Governor's Press Conference

Illinois' House voted to impeach their state's governor, Rod Blagojevich, by a margin of 114 to 1 with the dissenter saying there isn't enough evidence to remove the governor from office.

During his press conference the governor said this impeachment vote was the culmination of a two-year vendetta. "Let me say to begin with that the House's action today was, of course, not a surprise," Governor Blagojevich said. "It was a foregone conclusion. ... It happened kind of fast, but again, kind of expected, and part of the process that has essentially been the dynamic in Illinois since I was reelected governor in November of 2006."

To hear the now impeached governor tell it, the House was trying to thwart his attempts to provide the residents adequate health care. Specifically, he said he unsuccessfully pushed to expand insurance for mammograms, pap smears, as well as breast and cervical cancer.

As the press conference went on, the governor's claims got even more bizarre. The House said, he claims, that he should be impeached for the I-SAVE program, then showcased a number of people that his actions supposedly helped.

He not once addressed the accusations that he attempted to sell President-elect Barack Obama's senate seat or that he unsuccessfully threatened to withhold financing from a children's hospital and approval (through the Planning Board) for the construction of another hospital if representatives of the mentioned hospitals refused to donate to his election campaigns.

No indictment has been made by Fitzgerald as of yet. He in fact asked for more time but this is the basis for the impeachment proceedings he will face. The House raised some issues that were not in Fitzgerald's report (warning, PDF format) and it are these allegations which the governor must have responded to in his press conference (allegations 3-12 if you keep on pressing "next" in the top right corner).

Allegation 9:

"Blagojevich disregarded authority, procedure, and the separation of powers by unilaterally expanding a state health care program."

Allegations 10-12:

"Blagojevich had a role in and responsibility for:

Buying $2.6 million of flu vaccines that were never used.

Sarting a program to import prescription drugs that was ruled illegal by the federal

Giving a contract to a politically connected firm that mishandled an initiative to
save the state money."

House members may have some political axe to grind with the governor but they did not, as he suggested, impeach him until Fitzgerald released his report charging the governor for crimes related to the purchase of the president-elect's senate seat, and the extortion of The Tribune Comnpany and two hospital corporations. The governor could try to portray the House vote as an act of revenge or a political but the fact remains that he was arrested for the alleged crimes in Fitzgerald's report.