Here's another indication that Obama is far more progressive than some of his progressive critics -- and, yes, his support for Lieberman and some of his questionable appointments (Gates, Jones, Salazar, etc.) -- would suggest. In contrast to Bush, Obama evidently intends to take science seriously:
President-elect Barack Obama's selection Saturday of a Harvard physicist and a marine biologist for science posts is a sign he plans a more aggressive response to global warming than did the Bush administration.
John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco are leading experts on climate change who have advocated forceful government action. Holdren will become Obama's science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Lubchenco will lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees ocean and atmospheric studies and does much of the government's research on global warming.
Holdren also will direct the president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Joining him as co-chairs will be Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Eric Lander, a specialist in human genome research.
"It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology," Obama said in announcing the selections in his weekly radio address.
The president-elect said promoting science means more than just providing money, but also is about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.
"From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way," Obama said. "Leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process."
Yes, I equate progressivism, in part, with taking science seriously, though of course it's liberalism that has long been connected to science. Regardless, these are just labels, and it's not just the respect for science here, it's the policy implications of putting science once more "at the top of our agenda." Specifically, Obama signals that he is serious about tackling global warming, developing alternatively energy, and the like.
Liberals and progressives -- and we are all together, more often than not, and the labels are often interchangeable -- should applaud these moves.
Obama is set to take America out of the Bush Dark Ages. Isn't that partly why so many of us supported him?
Now that Geraldine Ferraro has come out against the appointment of Caroline Kennedy to NY's junior senate seat I am doing a compete about face and will now wholeheartedly support Kennedy's bid. If her appointment pisses Ferraro off, then I'm in. Yes, I'm shallow like that.
Iraq can serve as an anchor of stability in the region, a counter to Iranian hegemony and a model of democracy for the Middle East.
If, by stability, they mean civil war; if, by counter to Iran, they mean a client state of Iran; if, by model of democracy, they mean a shell of a central government used to oppress any vocal opponents, then maybe they're onto something. Neo-con dreams never die, they just get rehashed in op-ed after op-ed.
Friday Bush announced that some of the TARP funds intended for the financial industry will be used as a temporary lifeline to the Big 3 auto makers, after the Senate failed to pass the auto bailout bill last week.
The plan pumps $13.4 billion by mid-January into the companies from the fund that Congress authorized to rescue the financial industry. But the two companies have until March 31 to produce a plan for long-term profitability, including concessions from unions, creditors, suppliers and dealers. (emphasis mine)
The funding is on the condition that the union workers' wages be reduced to the level of non-unionized workers at foreign auto plants. Now I've written this before, but I'm going to say it again: there were no such stipulations given to the financial industry bailout. I'm not opposed to restrictions and conditions, but the white collar/blue collar double standard in juxtaposing the two bailouts is astounding.
For the financial bailout, no one insisted on increased regulations to ensure such abuse would not happen again, no one said that traders would need to take a commission cut, no one demanded that the financial industry take accountability and explain how this will not happen again. And it's not like this was the first time the government has stepped into the affairs of the financial sector, just like this hasn't been the first state funding given to the auto manufacturers.
What's also key here is who is required to "concede": unions, creditors, supplier, and auto dealers....hmmm, what's missing on this list? CEOs, perhaps? Why must the automakers be required become viable on the backs of the blue-collar workers who dare to earn the median income, vacation time, and health care! The average union wage is $29/hour (Factcheck.org debunks the $70/hour lie, and has a great analysis of the difference between wages earned and labor costs "per worker"). The average non-union, foreign auto maker worker makes about $24/hour, and they particpate in profit-sharing program. For example, in 2007,
Toyota Motor Corp. gave workers at its largest U.S. plant bonuses of $6,000 to $8,000, boosting the average pay at the Georgetown, KY, plant to the equivalent of $30 an hour. That compares with a $27 hourly average for UAW workers, most of whom did not receive profit-sharing checks last year.
Which means that domestic union workers and domestic plants for foreign carmakers are pretty comparable. But when times are tough, Bush is demanding that worker benefits and pay be cut, when CEOS are making ridiculous compensations despite their leadership failure. It is not the auto workers who aren't doing their jobs. Why don't we begin with making U.S. CEOs cut their pay down to what the foreign automakers earn? From USA Today:
Detroit automakers have focused on the gap between their hourly workers and those of the non-union foreign automakers in the USA. Union workers say the executive pay gap should be examined, as well.
Japanese companies are not required to break out salaries and bonuses for top executives. Instead, they lump them together. Last year, Toyota's top 37 executives earned a combined $21.6 million in salary and bonuses, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. U.K. firm Manifest Information Services, which analyzes proxy information, estimates Toyota's top executive, Hiroshi Okuda, earned $903,000 in 2006.
At Honda, the top 21 earned $11.1 million, combined, in salary and bonuses, SEC filings show.
"There is this huge gap between the average worker and the CEO, and the gap is greatest in the U.S.," Kim says. "That kind of thing might work where individual work counts the most, but in the manufacturing sector, it's all about teamwork."
This alongside the recent revelation that Bush included a one-line loophole to allow excessive executive pay in the financial bailout package. From The Washington Post:
But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money.
Now, however, the small change looks more like a giant loophole, according to lawmakers and legal experts. In a reversal, the Bush administration has not used auctions for any of the $335 billion committed so far from the rescue package, nor does it plan to use them in the future.
A final note on all this: Labor costs only account for about 10 percent of the cost of producing a vehicle. And it's not the cost of American cars that people complain about; they're already often thousands of dollars less than their Japanese counterparts.
American cars don't not sell because greedy union workers earn $4 more/hour base pay than non-union workers of foreign autos do; their health care and vacation time does not result in an equal quality, more expensive car than the Hondas and Toyotas of the world. There's clearly a problem with Detroit's business model, and the Big 3 have no one to blame but their leaders, who are getting paid a shitload for their companies' unprofitability. You can't pin this one on the little guy.
For people like Ducan Hunter and Michael Smerconish torture is about vengeance, not saving lives. If they wanted to really save lives they'd be open minded to the fact that torture does not work (if anything, it's counterproductive). Trust me, I would like to string Khalid Shaikh Mohammed up by his toes and beat him senseless just like most people, but that's not the way to get at what he knows in the best way possible.
Michelle Malkin is talking about Christmas cheer. Yes, it's like Kim Jong Il talking about threats to civil liberties, only worse, because we don't have Fox News bleating his demented ravings or calling them "conservative comment."
Yes, it's the atheists, as though they were a group: it's the atheists, the non-believers who are getting in the way of her cheerful enjoyment of Christmas and the atheists who should be treated like "Internet trolls." That, I presume, means to ignore them. Of course, in Fox speak, that means to continue their mythical battle between retail Christianity and the nefarious forces of religious freedom.
Gretchen Carlson, who apparently has a good shot at surpassing Malkin for sheer vituperative viciousness disagrees, saying that religious freedom will be the death of Christianity.
"If you don't stand up and fight for it, it might just disappear! I'm talking about Christianity!"
No, you're not, you're talking about forced unanimity and mandatory expressions of official faith. Christianity thrived actual persecution for enough time to make me doubt that it's future is in jeopardy , at least from other religions, and it has thrived through persecutions of it's own, but it's having a tougher time in some places that leave everyone alone to celebrate if and when and how they like and restrain them from forcing their practices and rituals on others.
Back before Christianity was coopted by those who play to the stupid and ignorant and hateful; back before Fox News and the Aryan Nation, it was an inclusive holiday. As a non-Christian and an atheist and someone who knows all too much about Christian history, about early Christian, Greco-Persian, Roman and Norse practices that form the basis of Christmas: as someone who knows how the holiday (and yes, it's a goddamn holiday) owes more to Coca-Cola, Hallmark and Charles Dickens than to some Jewish baby born to a teenage mother in April of an indeterminate year about 2000 years ago, I've always celebrated it anyway. After all Christmas as we know it is an American holiday and one that used to bring about a spirit of tolerance, brotherhood and generosity to a unique degree. It was a holiday that brought out the liberal in most of us.
Now that it's become a bloody piece of meat in the claws of harpies like Malkin and Carlson, now that we've become as stupid and superstitious and as ready to rend our neighbors as any of our subhuman cousins at the behest of Fox and its stable of demons, I'm no longer interested. Its just another hot poker in the dungeons of the Fox inquisition.
Of course if their were any real Christians in this country they might propose at least to ignore this attempt to make it a holiday of hate, but perhaps that, like liberty and the pursuit of happiness just another lost hope of the secular humanists who first dreamed of it.
Bush's 'Right of Conscience' rule is unconscionable
By LindaBethWell, the threatened "right of conscience" regulation was pushed through by President Bush on Thursday as a "midnight regulation." This regulation would allow anyone to refuse to participate in medical procedures they feel goes against their religious beliefs. "Employees" are defined broadly: from the pharmacist filling a prescription for antibiotics to a cashier refusing to ring out oral contraceptives, to the one who cleans the surgical tools after a procedure involving a blood transfusion. From The Washington Post:
The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable.
The regulation is clearly targeted toward providing a way for medical professionals to opt out of performing or assisting in abortion procedures and prescribing and dispensing the "Morning after Pill." But this isn't *just* an issue of reproductive rights, as if that weren't reason enough to be outraged. Refusing AIDS treatment to unmarried or gay patients, refusing blood transfusions to patients (Jehovah's Witnesses), refusing to treat mental illness with anything but prayer (Christian Scientists) are possibilities as well.
In calling for limits on “conscientious refusals,” ACOG cited four recent examples. In Texas, a pharmacist rejected a rape victim's prescription for emergency contraception. In Virginia, a 42-year-old mother of two became pregnant after being refused emergency contraception. In California, a physician refused to perform artificial insemination for a lesbian couple. (In August, the California Supreme Court ruled that this refusal amounted to illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.) And in Nebraska, a 19-year-old with a life-threatening embolism was refused an early abortion at a religiously affiliated hospital.
Supporters of the proposal said it will protect doctors who do not wish to perform abortions or provide birth control to unmarried women, or perform artificial insemination procedures.
This clearly isn't even about the moral objection to a procedure (such as abortion, birth control, blood transfusions, sex change operations, etc.), which is outrageous enough; but a person who has made life choices with which a medical professional disagrees can essentially be refused treatment. My question is, if one finds the practices of one's profession so objectionable, should you be working in that profession? RA Charo "criticizes those medicalprofessionals who would claim 'an unfettered right to personalautonomy while holding monopolistic control over a public good'" (quoted in the New England Journal of Medicine). There are many jobs or professions I will not work because of ethical objections. For starters, Wal-mart.
But what's most insidious (as if it all weren't), is that the vaguely worded regulation could be stretched to include those not directly involved in the medical procedures (such as equipment cleaners), or those making appointments or ringing customers out for medical procedures or products they disagree with or disagree with their application. As if American sex education isn't fucked up enough as it is, can you picture a Christian refusing to see condoms to a teenager?
Interestingly, that report also defines "conscience" as:
"the private, constant, ethically attuned part of the human character. It operates as an internal sanction that comes into play through critical reflection about a certain action or inaction. An appeal to conscience would express a sentiment such as 'If I were to do 'x,' I could not live with myself/I would hate myself/I wouldn't be able to sleep at night.'"
Oh, the irony of Bush acting on behalf of those who wish to act "conscionably" and being able to live with one's actions from his administration thathasbeenanythingbut.
Further, I myself feel it is morally unconscionable that we don't have universal health care and that corporate CEOs make 250 times what average workers make. Does this mean I get to stop paying taxes?
Given that he was a right-wing extremist, and given that I didn't know him personally, I have been trying all day to come up with something nice to say about him. And here it is -- let me quote Steve Benen:
In an age when some powerful conservative activists would occasionally trade principles for access, Weyrich took his ideology seriously, and refused to waver. This, to his credit, led him to help create a group called Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, which condemned the Bush administration's warrantless-surveillance program as an example of big government run amok.
Well, that's something. Like some other conservatives, Weyrich thought Bush went too far. No, he may not have been much of a civil libertarian, but I suppose he knew blatant Orwellian excess when he saw it.
Otherwise, there is no denying the mark Weyrich made on American conservatism. He was one of its giants.
Back in January 2006, I wrote a post responding to Weyrich's claim that Canadians are "liberal and hedonistic," not to mention Marxist. Here's part of it:
As for Canada, we are liberal, as I've argued here and here. Is it hedonistic to value each and every human being, to respect gays and lesbians, to welcome immigrants from around the world, to encourage self-fulfillment and a healthy society through an appreciation of diversity, and to provide health care, education, and the basic necessities of life to all?
If so, then I'm a hedonist and proud of it. But it's not. It's liberalism. It's what we in Canada are all about. Even most of our conservatives respect and promote these fundamental liberal values.
Weyrich was wrong about Canada just as he was wrong about so much else. For today, though, I'll just leave it at that.
And this is the problem, you see. She's never actually run for anything, never had to campaign in or around the state, never had to go directly to the people to ask for their support. Even Hillary had to campaign state-wide, after all, however much of a carpetbagger she may have been. Hillary may or may not have known much about, say, anything north of Westchester County, but the campaign forced her to get close with her adopted state in a hurry.
As for Kennedy, she's campaigning, sort of, unofficially, trying to secure an appointment, and while I credit her for making an effort, however transparently opportunistic, there's a big difference between spending some time being shuttled from Syracuse to Rochester to Buffalo for meetings with local officials and hitting the pavement, knocking on doors, and flipping pancakes. She says she'll run for election if appointed, and maybe she will, but her self-promotional tour doesn't exactly inspire confidence that she's the right person for the job.
Here's an ad that Warren made supporting Proposition H8te:
Seriously? Warren and his "we're not homophobes but gay people should not be allowed to marry" crowd keep talking about the biblical definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. How many wives did the biblical big guys have?
Samuel 12:7-8 "And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master s house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things."
Rick Warren's bible tells of the Lord God of Israel giving a man multiple wives. Not allowing, actively giving. Enough with the "marriage is between one man and one woman and has been for 5000 years" bullshit.
As recently as 1890, just over 100 years ago, the Mormon Church (you know, those fine folks who sought to "protect marriage" by pumping tens of millions of dollars into the pro-Prop H8te campaign) not only allowed and practiced but advocated for polygamy. The only reason they disavowed the practice was to gain statehood for Utah.
5000 years my ass.
As for the procreation argument, what do these homophobes think about heterosexual married couples who plan to not have children? Should they not be allowed to be married? Should married, childless couples be stripped of the rights granted them when they tied the knot?
The honeymoon is over, Mr. Obama. Time to start acting like the forward-thinking leader this country and planet so desperately needs. Embracing Rick Warren lends legitimacy to his intolerance and is a huge step in the wrong direction.
Hat tip to AmericaBlog, go there for more on the topic.
Update II [12.18.08]:Obama's defense of his choice of Rick Warren saying, "We're not going to agree on every single issue" misses the point of why people are upset about it.
Update III [12.18.08]: Wonkette weighs in and uses profanity, too. You go, girl.
The problem for Obama with the Rick Warren pick isn't social issues. That makes it seem like it's all about gay marriage in particular, or gay rights in general. It's not. The problem with Rick Warren is that he's a clear and present homophobe who equates gay marriage to polygamy, incest, and pedophelia. He says he's not a homophobe, yet he equates gays to criminal predators:
WARREN: "I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that a marriage. I am opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I am opposed to one guy having multiple wives."
INTERVIEWER: "Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?"
WARREN: "Oh, I do."
In the clip below, Hillary Rosen provided interesting context on the humanity and decency aspect of denigrating a social group using the bible as statue: "At one time the bible was used to justify slavery. If [Warren] was a preacher out there using 'moral weapons' against African Americans (instead of gays), we wouldn't even be having this conversation."
Rick Warren preaches a faith based on fear, hatred, and divisiveness. Rick Warren equates gays marrying to criminal acts. Rick Warren and his bigoted, hateful views should not be on the inauguration stage. The way we in 2008 look back on racist public figures from the 50s and 60s is the way our children will look back on Rick Warren.
[Creature's note: I would like to welcome Ted, my co-blogger and best friend, to The Reaction. Welcome, Ted, and congrats for landing a coveted guest posting slot here at the best group blog around.]
[MJWS's note: I've long been a fan of Ted's blogging over at State of the Day, Creature's home, and he's a welcome addition to our team here at The Reaction. I'm sure he's already turning heads with this post title. You can be sure that he'll continue to prod and poke, stimulate and provoke, in posts to come. And for more from Ted, check out BAGeL Radio, one of the finest music outlets around.]
I must admit -- and contrary to Carl -- I'm not terribly enthused about the prospect of Caroline Kennedy being appointed to fill Hillary's Senate seat.
It's not that I don't like Kennedy -- hell, she's better than Fran Drescher, who was on Larry King the other night talking about her supposed qualifications for the job, which apparently including having been to Washington and enjoying talking to people (the interview was one of the lower points of Larry King's career of low points) -- it's that I think a more seasoned political figure would be a better choice. I don't dispute that she's done an awful lot with her life, as Carl points out, but, let's face it, she's topping the list of candidate right now largely because she's a Kennedy. Surely there are many other New Yorkers who have similarly hefty resumés.
Over at The Plank, Michelle Cottle makes much the same argument Carl does: America has dynasties, like it or not. Yet, like me, she's cool to the Kennedy-for-Senate movement: "Not because she's unqualified or entitled or a nepotistic threat to democracy or any of that. I'm simply weary of the entire Kennedy myth (and, by extension, the family) -- as I suspect are most people under the age of 50. For all their glamour and mystique, the Kennedys embody the past. Which is fine, but they tend to make the older generation get all mushy and misty-eyed and sentimental about a golden age that was never really all that golden. Time to move on, folks. The theme du jour is 'Change,' remember?"
I'm not as tired of the Kennedys mainly because I just don't pay them that much attention. Besides, other than the present patriarch himself, Ted, it's not like the Kennedys have been political A-listers dominating the Democratic Party.
Among other things, though, what bothers me is what The Stump's Noam Scheiber calls Kennedy's "Palin-esque stiffing of the press." It's not enough just for her to want the job. As she's running her de facto campaign, she needs to answer the questions being lobbed her way, not ducking and running and generally avoiding any engagement with the press. And she needs to explain to New Yorkers just why she wants the job, why she thinks she's the right choice, what she'd do in the job (what are her political positions and policy priorities?), and what her political future would be (she'd be required to run for re-election in two years). After all, although the decision is New York Governor David Paterson's alone, the appointment is obviously a public issue, and the public deserves to know more about the person who may soon represent them in the U.S. Senate. In a democracy, lest we forget, appointments to democratic institutions are, by definition, undemocratic. Kennedy would be a senator, with the advantage of incumbency when running for re-election, without ever having been elected. It seems to me that the burden is on Kennedy to prove herself worthy of the position and to do so in an honest and open fashion, just as it is on Patterson to ensure that the process is as open and honest as possible.
Anyway, that's a long preface to some very funny Andy Borowitz (via The Plank's Chris Orr):
Caroline Kennedy would like to be considered Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2009 and has let the magazine's editor know of her interest in the honor, aides to Ms. Kennedy confirmed today. While some observers considered Ms. Kennedy's bid to be premature, especially since 2009 has not officially begun, aides to the New York senatorial aspirant said that it reflected her view that 2009 will be a very big year for her....
In addition to the Person of the Year honors, Kerry Kennedy said that Caroline had also expressed an interest in next year's Nobel Peace Prize. "That's a call she hasn't made yet," Ms. Kennedy said. "She has to figure out the time difference in Oslo."
Like I said, it's not enough just to announce that you want the job. Whether you're a Kennedy or a Drescher, you need to prove yourself worthy of such a high office. Drescher obviously isn't. Kennedy may very well be, but she has some convincing to do.
As the last person on earth to write about Caroline Kennedy, I too am pretty strongly against handing her a Senate seat. Nothing personal -- but I'm anti-dynasty, and feel that a Senate appointment requires at least some minimum threshold of experience and engagement.
It's worth emphasizing though how unseemly the whole thing is, particularly in the age of Blago. The Blago pay-for-play raises some interesting line-drawing challenges. Legislators seek favors all the time -- that's a huge part of what legislating is. But where is the line?
The key I think is to focus one the purpose of the benefit sought. If it's for some plausibly public benefit, then fine. If it's for private benefit, then that's where things start getting smelly. If Blago, for instance, had said "I demand that you push for universal health care. If you do, I'll appoint your preferred candidate." That's pay-for-play in a sense -- it's demanding a "payment" of sorts -- but that's perfectly acceptable in our current system.
Apparently, Publius has decided that Caroline Kennedy is George Blagojevich in drag.
Long-time readers of this blog know that I have a certain...affinity for the Kennedys. It comes from having been acquaintances, I suppose. People of the same age on the Upper East Side tended to gravitate to one another, especially in the clubs and boites that served us.
But even ignoring that for a moment, Publius, if I'm reading this semi-literate drivel correctly, is saying that a Kennedy, offering to serve out the two years mandated by state law of Hillary Clinton's term, is somehow the same thing as Jesse Jackson, Jr. being held up for ransom.
Unseemly? To say it's insulting is an understatement. Let's deconstruct this for a moment.
Caroline Kennedy has shown across the course of her life -- adult and child -- nothing but good judgement. She has served admirably in any number of compassionate, charitable roles and offices. Indeed, I often wondered why she allowed her brother John to serve as the political face of the JFK legacy. She was clearly the brains of the outfit.
Again, I can make that comment based on immediate observations, not Publius' sackcloth-and-ashes assumptions. Boots on the ground, as it were.
And it's not like Caroline was sitting at the kiddies' table for the past thirty Thanksgivings at Hyannisport. I wager she learned quite a bit about politics and legislating from Uncles Teddy and Sargent, and Cousins Ahnuld, Patrick, Bobby Jr, Andrew Cuomo... not to mention the assorted lieutenant governors and state legislators.
Caroline chose a path that saw her be a full-time mother and a part-time activist, and yet Publius, who I'm presuming is a man and perhaps has a certain bias towards the glass ceiling, holds her lack of notoriety and "achievement" against her.
This is much like claiming Hillary Clinton did nothing for children all her life, despite the fact that she served as an organizing advisor to the Children's Defense Fund and raised Chelsea.
Indeed, Caroline Kennedy has been what Barack Obama ran as and what Sarah Palin and John McCain and the other rapacious Republican reptiles mocked: a community organizer. After all, she serves on the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, helped create the Profiles In Courage award, worked as director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the the New York City Department of Education, and is vice-chair of the board of directors of The Fund for Public Schools. Hell, she's got better education creds than the jackass Obama nominated at Secretary of Education!
Et tu, Publius? Es vos iunctio lacerta?
The bit that got under my skin, however, was the "dynasty" comment. How idiotic do you have to be to think that dynasties have not been, are not, and will not be the primary means of achieving political office in America for the future? Seriously!
Barack Obama and John McCain ALONE spent nearly $1 billion dollars to in this past election cycle, and all candidates in total spent nearly two billion. Two years ago, I had written that we might be looking at the first election cycle where candidates in total spent over a billion, primaries and general.
So, Pubby, you may not like it, but deal with it: You aren't going to get campaign finance reform that levels the playing field anytime soon and apart from Barack Obama, it's unlikely that enough people will coalesce around enough different candidates that the playing field will tilt away from dynasties.
In fact, how many years will it be before Michelle Obama runs for office? I'm surprised her name hasn't been touted for the open seat in Illinois! All Obama has done is add one more family to the aristocracy of this nation that began with Adamses, then Harrisons, then Roosevelts, then Bushes, Kennedys, Clintons, Bidens, Gores, et al.!
WAKE UP, PUBLIUS! THEY'RE HERE ALREADY!
So if we're going to have to allow for dynasties, and we have a perfectly useful dynasty in the Kennedys, one that has a track record of putting the people first, then why not slip one more into the Senate?
Barack Obama’s choice of a prominent evangelical minister to perform the invocation at his inauguration is a conciliatory gesture toward social conservatives who opposed him in November, but it is drawing fierce challenges from a gay rights movement that – in the wake of a gay marriage ban in California – is looking for a fight.
Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, opposes abortion rights but has taken more liberal stances on the government role in fighting poverty, and backed away from other evangelicals’ staunch support for economic conservatism. But it’s his support for the California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that drew the most heated criticism from Democrats Wednesday.
“Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans,” the president of Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solomonese, wrote Obama Wednesday. “[W]e feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination.”
And this backlash has delighted the righties, who are chortling that the queers are all in a tizzy over Pastor Rick. That's their way of covering up the fact that there are probably a fair number of wingers who are not happy that Mr. Warren is giving the blessing to the enemy... or were hoping for the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
I'm not exactly sure why the inauguration of a president requires the inclusion of the clergy to conduct a ritual, but other than the obvious political posturing and pandering that is woven into the fabric of the moment, it is a tradition and it would have been a huge story if that part of the ceremony had been left out. I can't remember it ever being a big deal as to who it is who gives the invocation, although I can imagine that some people weren't happy when John F. Kennedy had Cardinal Cushing give the invocation at his inauguration.
As the article notes, Pastor Warren was outspoken in his support for the passage of Prop 8 in California, comparing same-sex marriage to polygamy and incest, which is, to me, the same as saying getting a driver's license leads to grand theft auto. So I hope that this one event is the last we'll be hearing from him in terms of public speaking on behalf of the Obama administration. Far be it from me to tell the president-elect who to choose as his spiritual counsel, but I hope that his actions speak louder than words, and I hope that what follows in the next four years will do more to piss off the Religious Right -- the end of DADT, repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would be a start -- than it will to mollify them with a thirty-second appeal to a mythological being.
Scientists skeptical of the assertion that climate change is the result of man's activites are criticizing a recent Associated Press report on global warming, calling it "irrational hysteria," "horrifically bad" and "incredibly biased."
Where the hilarity? Well, these so-called "scientists" -- the Fox article refers to (and quotes) a grand total of three of them (because the deniers are a tiny fraction) -- are only calling the report hysterical, bad, and biased because it reflects the general consensus of real climate-change experts instead of their widely-repudiated, reality-denying, ideology-driven beliefs.
As the AP put it to Fox by e-mail, "It’s a news story, based on fact and the clearly expressed views of President-elect Barack Obama and others." That's a gross understatement. It's not just based on fact, it's based on a broad consensus within the scientific community.
One of the scientists, feeding the Fox machine, called the report "not fair and balanced." Actually, what's not fair and balanced, as usual, is Fox News, which reports on this non-story of the objections of a few global warming deniers like it's evidence of significant disagreement in the scientific community and like the deniers themselves are irrefutable authorities on the matter. It's not a news article, it's -- as you might expect -- propaganda. The deniers' views are not questioned at all, there are no opposing views presented (other than the one line from the AP, which is quickly ignored), and, in the end, the article only serves to reinforce the widely-repudiated, reality-denying, ideology-driven lies of the deniers and their allies on the right.
Much as you might expect from Fox News -- unfair, unbalanced, and hilarious, in a dark and disturbing way, in its approach to the truth.
I can only hope that the people behind this barbarity get what they deserve.
And, all across the country, there need to be laws, with clear guidelines, restricting -- and perhaps banning, if a suitable alternative can be found, as surely one can -- the use of these so-called "seclusion rooms," or "time-out rooms."
Is this seriously how special-needs children ought to be treated? By being thrown into isolation?
It makes you wonder how civilized our civilization really is.
SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Supreme Court has rejected Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan's attempt to have Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared unfit to hold office, court officials said.
The high court issued the order without comment.
Stay tuned. This is one story that isn't about to fade away anytime soon, not with the sensation-seeking media on the bloodthirsty prowl and with Obama's similarly bloodthirsty opponents, along with their various enablers and mouthpieces in the media, looking for the next Whitewater to undermine Obama's yet-to-begin presidency.
It is expected that Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack will be tapped by Obama to be agriculture secretary. I've never been all that fond of Vilsack -- he gets more attention than he deserves because Iowa holds the first Democratic caucuses and therefore because he gets pandered to -- and I think Ezra Klein is right that he's just too close to the corn (ethanol) industry: "Appointing him to head the agency is like appointing the governor of a petrostate to head the Department of Energy." Still, as Steve Benen notes, "the news may not be that bad." Vilsack, after all, does seem to be something of a conservationist -- perhaps too much of one for Big Ag, which would be a good thing.
So, as with some of Obama's other questionable appointees -- Gates, Salazar, Jones -- we'll see. I'm still willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, but I'm certainly not as generous with it as I used to be.
The New York Post is reporting that Rudy Giuliani is in talks to take over Bill O'Reilly's syndicated radio show. I wouldn't listen to Giuliani any more than I would listen to O'Reilly, which isn't at all, but if there's room for a Nazi like Pat Buchanan on a major cable news network, there's surely room for a fascist thug like Giuliani on the radio.
Liberals anywhere to the left of Obama, not to mention progressives, are deemed to be out of the mainstream and therefore extremist, but right-wing blowhards are plastered all over the mainstream media and given plum spots at major networks. Giuliani would just be more of the same.
It's far too early to assess Paulson's impact, though there's no denying his influence on the political and economic landscape not just of the U.S. but of the world. I'm not sure who this "Sarah Palin" is (for some reason, if I think back through the year that was, what comes to mind is a nagging cold sore), but Sarkozy certainly deserves to be on the list, having emerged, perhaps improbably, as Europe's leading statesman, and Zhang, the artist behind the spectacular Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, is a suitably ecclectic selection. (The piece at Time on Zhang is by Spielberg.)
On Zhang, I must admit that I'm not as much of a fan anymore. Once upon a time, back in the early '90s, when he was making Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern (which I would put on my list of the greatest films of all time -- a chillingly powerful masterpiece), The Story of Qiu Ju, and To Live (a brilliant journey through modern China), I thought he was one of cinema's finest directors, a bold and courageous voice speaking out, often through historical parable to avoid the censors, against tyranny and brutality, and specifically against the tyranny and brutality of his country's totalitarian regime.
But then he started making more crowd-pleasing epic entertainments like Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower. All three are magnificently beautiful movies, and all three are profoundly engaging, but, somewhere, the voice of protest and resistance was lost. Hero, like his earlier films, can be read as a defence of the individual against the state, but, ultimately, the message is that the glory of China, the glory so celebrated at the Olympics this year, requires the sacrifice of the individual to and/or by the state. The Curse of the Golden Flower, a fascinating mixture of Machiavelli and Shakespeare that may be too gorgeous for its own good (in a way, the movie equivalent of the gorgeous Gong Li, Zhang's frequent leading lady), ends on a similar note, with resistance utterly defeated by a brutal tyrant. Are there parables in there? Sure. But whatever parables there are are overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle of it all, the old Zhang vanquished by the new one, the protest replaced by unabashed nationalism, a celebration of the past, present, and future glory of China, with Zhang become one of its leading artistic cheerleaders -- for what was the opening ceremony in Beijing but nationalist cheerleading?
WASHINGTON — The White House has prepared more than a dozen contingency plans to help guide President-elect Barack Obama if an international crisis erupts in the opening days of his administration, part of an elaborate operation devised to smooth the first transition of power since Sept. 11, 2001.
Mr. Bush said Tuesday that a top priority in his final days in office is to help Mr. Obama get ready to govern. "We care about him," he said in an interview with CNN. "We want him to be successful, and we want the transition to work."
The subtitle should read "Everything I Know About What's Going On In The World." It should be written on a fucking gum wrapper.
Seriously, can anyone think of a President who, after eight fucking years in office, is so embarrassingly unprepared for the job???
When Bill Clinton handed the reins of power over to George W. Bush, his staff spent weeks alerting Bush's staff to the troubles they perceived in the world: Al Qaeda, a coming recession, Korea, China, the rise of Russia.
Bush played golf. He cleared brush. And his staff took their cues from the Moron-In-Chief and likewise ignored nearly every single warning -- rumour has it that Condi Rice perked up only when Russia and China were mentioned. The hubris exhibited in the following eight years was on display before the Oval Office phone was cold.
We could play the "if only" game for years with Bush: if only he had listened to warnings about Al Qaeda, if only he had listened to his dad about Iraq, if only he had realized that Saddam Hussein was contained under the embargo, if only...
If only 8,000 Americans, roughly half of them civilians, could be alive today, and another 100,000 soldiers uninjured, rather than providing an object lesson in the foolishness of war in general and invasions in particular.
If only the SCOTUS had selected Al Gore.
If I were Barack Obama, I'd give Chimpy fifteen minutes... squeeze him in between smokes and a game of hoops...to let him explain what he thinks the consequences of what he has wrought upon the world will be. Yes, he publicly says that, in the end, a free and democratic Iraq will yaddayaddayadda, but I call bullshit. I suspect Bush has sat up nights in the second term thinking, "Holy shit, what have I done?"
Maybe not many, but even if he did that even once, it would be enough for me.
It seems clear from Obama's picks and the rapidity of them that he's aware that he has to hit the ground running. It's a scary world out there and the economic crisis is a megaphone for terrorists and unrest, which means the violence in the world is only going to increase.
In case the lesson of Mumbai was lost on you. Poverty breeds contempt and fear and anger. Imagine what famine and pestilence will breed.
It looks like Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, one of the more conservative Democrats in the Senate, is Obama's choice for interior secretary, and so the question turns to what his departure means in political terms. According to Chris Cillizza, it " presents Republicans with a prime pickup opportunity in a swing state, an early sign that their fortunes may be turning after two disastrous elections in which the party lost a combined 13 seats in the Senate."
Salazar's replacement will be appointed by Democratic Governor Bill Ritter. He or she will then have two years of Salazar's term left before the next election for that seat in 2010. Cillizza sees this as a potential opening for the Republicans. And yet, two of the leading candidates for the position are fairly popular figures in the state, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Salazar's brother John, currently representing the state's 3rd District in Congress. Even with less than two years in office before the 2010 election, either one would have a distinct advantage over any Republican challenger, and especially, as Cillizza notes, if that challenger is right-wing wacko Tom Tancredo.
Furthermore, as Steve Benen points out, this development could turn out be an "improvement" for Democrats in the Senate. For example, "if [Hickenlooper] gets the nod, the party may find a more reliable vote on progressive issues." There is still the question of how the conservative Salazar will do in "a not-especially-glamorous cabinet post" but a hugely significant department in terms of the environment, but "if [he], as a popular former senator, can leverage his stature and ties to Obama effectively, he can make a difference at the agency. And if he's replaced by a more progressive successor in the Senate, this may be a win-win opportunity for everyone."
A win-win for the Democrats, that is, not for the Republicans.
And yet, once again, as he did in similar fashion upon the victories of Chambliss in Georgia and Cao in Louisiana, Cillizza is hyping some non-existent Republican comeback. And why? Surely he doesn't actually believe his spin, or does he? Maybe he's so caught up in in-the-now, divorced-from-context punditry that he can't help but make much ado about nothing, that is, sensationalize about the unsensational. He needs to write about something, after all, so why not make something up, fabricate a narrative out of nothing at all?
I just can't help thinking, though, that there's a double standard at work here, as there is with many in the Beltway establishment. Obama isn't in the White House yet, and the new Congress, with expanded Democratic majorities hasn't begun sitting yet, and yet we're supposed to believe that Republicans are already on the rise again, that, for all intents and purposes, the Democrats won't last long in power? Huh.
But what if the roles were reversed? What if the Democrats had just suffered two straight resounding defeats in congressional elections and the Republican had soundly defeated the Democrat to regain the presidency? Would Cillizza and his ilk, in that case, be fabricating some narrative about a Democratic comeback with scant evidence to back it up? Hardly. They'd be babbling on endlessly about Democrats being lost in the wilderness and having to rebuild and be more like Republicans. Even any Democratic victory akin to Chambliss's or Cao's -- which do not point to some larger shift but are reflections of local conditions (an incumbent winning a run-off, a challenger defeating a corrupt incumbent in a low-turnout run-off -- would be spun as somehow confirming the narrative of Republican ascendancy and hegemony.
There is the spin, though, and there is the reality, and the reality is that there is no Republican comeback and that, for now, Salazar's seat will remain safely in the hands of the Democrats.
Does that make it official? No. Congress still must confirm the result, and that will be on January 6.
I don't mean to dismiss the significance of yesterday's events. As the AP notes in its article, linked above, "[i]n many states, the formal, staid proceeding was touched with poignance, particularly among people old enough to recall a time when voting alone posed the risk of violence for black Americans."
For many of the 538 electors, that is, a seemingly meaningless act was deeply personal and deeply meaningful.
As former Steelers great Franco Harris, an Obama elector in Pennsylvania, put it, "[t]hat was special. This was the most valuable thing I've ever signed my name to."
Obama won the election on November 4, but every stage of the process is important in its own way, even if the Electoral College process doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense these days.
This doesn't exactly come as a revelation, but the admission, at long last, is welcome nonetheless. According to The Raw Story, Dick Cheney has finally admitted that he supported the use of torture on detainees (specifically waterboarding, which, despite the denials from its supporters, is torture). In other words, he supported what is, essentially, a war crime. But Cheney didn't just support torture, he authorized it:
I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it,
he said in the interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl. In other words, he is, essentially, a war criminal.
Yes, even Cheney, at times, can speak the truth.
Meanwhile, it seems that the world's most famous shoe-thrower, Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, may have been tortured. So says his brother, though the Iraqi military, as expected, is denying the allegation. (It is being reported that al-Zaidi has been transferred to the U.S. prison at Camp Cropper.)
I agree with Andrew Sullivan that we should "treat the charges with skepticism," but, of course, it's possible, quite possible, given what surely goes on with the Iraqi military.
I've spent a few days catching up with the Bernard Madoff story (as well as the smaller but no less spectacular Marc Dreier tale of woe). I have a couple of thoughts and observations to make.
First, this is just the beginning. As with all things financial, the first shock is never the last, as things like this ripple through the interconnected financial world. Look at how the "contained" (to use Henry Paulson's term) subprime mortgage meltdown took over the entire commercial banking system.
Before we go much further, I need to do a quick primer on what Madoff and Dreier did. It involves a term you might have heard called a "hedge fund". A hedge fund is nothing more than a pool of money that places sophisticated bets on individual companies and/or stock indices. Usually, because the chance for profit is much higher, they will bet against a company or market by "shorting" the stock or borrowing shares from someone with the promise to pay for them later, turning around and selling them, then buying other shares back when the price drops and "paying" back the original loan. There are other, even more complex arrangements that hedge funds engage in, like derivatives and leverage, and I might cover those in later articles.
There are plenty of complications to short selling, not least of which is the possibility of unlimited losses: if the shares never go down below the "sales" price, the borrower can't earn any return. The upside is, it's about the only way to make money in a down market.
Hedge funds, therefore, spend an extraordinary amount of time looking for companies that are about to fail in some respect: revenues off, profits down, dividends cancelled. Obviously, they try to do this before the rest of the market finds out.
Hedge funds are also exempt from the very tight oversight rules of the SEC that apply to brokerages by dint of the fact that one has to be a "qualifed" or "accredited" investor (the rules are a bit complex, but suffice it to say to be either of these, you gotta have bucks). These are in effect private, invitation-only investments, and the investors are expected to have some financial sophistication, as evidenced by the fact they have $1 million or more.
As the Madoff case shows, not so much.
While the grunt work of a hedge fund relies on quantitative analysis (number crunching), the marketing work of a hedge fund relies primarily on the qualitative properties of the fund manager.
Which leads me to observation number two: there's no accounting for greed. By all accounts, Madoff should have been a successful manager. He was a chairman of the NASDAQ, which means he had an awful lot of success investing, and had credentials and contacts out the wazoo.
Time will tell us how he failed so miserably, but the clear lesson from Madoff's point of view is, he got greedy.
You see, fund managers are generally entitled to a percentage take of the profits (normally 20%) as well as a percentage of the assets in play (usually 1%) to cover administrative expenses (salaries, normally). Obviously, the higher the nut, the larger the percentage take is in real dollars. If you manage actual assets of $15 billion, as Madoff did, but can leverage these to three or four times their size, as Madoff did, you can claim $50 billion in assets and ignore the liabilities, because hey, they're going to be paid back! On paper, you've just earned $7 billion in bonuses and can claim $500 million in expenses.
Not bad, eh? So you can understand why Madoff didn't just toss the keys on the desk when his investments went sour.
Which brings me to point number three: There's no accounting for greed. (What?)
How he sold these stakes in his fund is simple: he dummied up numbers, attracted the right kind of attention and was able to practically hand out stakes in his fund. He all but promised a 12% return each year, allowing people to fill in the "promise" bit on their own. So long as he was able to expand his investment pool, the sky was the limit in terms of how much money he would control but also how long he could pay out 12% returns.
This is why hedge funds are run on the rule that the investors have to have sophistication, because the opportuinity to bilk people is too juicy. You're supposed to know to ask questions, the right questions. Apparently, enough people didn't, dazzled by doubling their money every six years.
Clearly, the SEC, which has nominal oversight over hedge funds, gave Madoff a pass, which brings me to point number four: too often, we are led by authority and don't question it. We saw it after Obama took the nomination, the number of liberals who creid foul as Obama correctly shifted to more centrist positions. We see it in the Madoff case. Hey, the guy was chairman of NASDAQ just ahead of the tech boom!
Point number five (and echoing point number one) is that hedge funds have already been responsible for the collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Indeed, some speculation has it that hedge funds are responsible for the year long collapse of the global stock market.
That's Mickey Kaus's assessment of new Meet the Press moderator David Gregory (quoted favourably by Slate's TV critic, Troy Patterson, in his own assessment of Gregory), and I generally agree:
How bad a choice was Gregory? Let me put it this way: I've heard George Stephanopoulos say interesting things. I've heard Tom Brokaw say interesting things. I've heard Mort Kondracke say interesting things. I've heard David Broder say interesting things, and Norah O'Donnell and David Gergen and Gwen Ifill and even (once) Sam Donaldson. I heard Tim Russert say interesting things. I've never heard David Gregory say an interesting thing.
Well, I don't agree about Kondracke, who seems to lack a soul, and I don't much care for Broder and his CW centrism, and I'm not a big Ifill fan, and O'Donnell's a bit vapid, but I get the point. I don't think I've ever heard Gregory say an interesting thing either, and his reporting on the presidential race was mind-bogglingly banal and shallow.
What's worse, though, is that Gregory is an all-too-eager, all-too-pleased-with-himself Beltway insider who, as Patterson puts it, "[embodies] the coziness of the political class" and who is "delighted to be in the club." Forget hard-hitting, independent journalism. Forget even the tiresome "gotcha" journalism of Russert. At the grand and ironic theater that is American politics, Gregory, like so many other Beltway insiders, doesn't so much sit in the audience with us, the people, monitoring, reporting on, and ultimately holding to account the actors on stage, as prance around on stage with the actors themselves, as with Rove in '07, one of them, not one of us, the Fourth Estate fully co-opted by the powers-that-be, itself a power that is. Adds Patterson:
Last week, when Tom Brokaw formally announced that the 38-year-old was taking over a show that we're obliged to acknowledge as an institution, Gregory panted with humility while never managing to extinguish the self-regard that animates his on-air presence. This aspect stands in contrast with the projected warmth of his predecessor, the late Tim Russert. It probably makes no difference to the show's content, but the new face of Meet the Press wears a contented smirk.
That "new face" with the "contented smirk" might be around for years and years and years, on Sunday mornings and on election nights and whenever else NBC wants to be thoroughly uninteresting and, whether it knows it or not (and it likely doesn't), part of the problem.
I'm afraid I have to disagree with Carl. While I also like to think the best of others, I don't see any evidence that Bush has learned his lesson. People seem to be focusing on Bush's remarks about AQ in Iraq during this interview conducted shortly after the shoe throwing incident in Baghdad. But I thought this exchange was just as telling:
Raddatz: It's also considered a huge insult in this world, the sole of a shoe, throwing a shoe.
Bush: I guess. Look they were humiliated. The press corps, the rest of the Iraqi press corps was humiliated. These guys were just besides themselves about, they felt like he had disgraced their entire press corps and I frankly, I didn't view it as, I thought it was interesting, I thought it was unusual to have a guy throw his shoe at you. But I'm not insulted. I don't hold it against the government. I don't think the Iraqi press corps as a whole is terrible. And so, the guy wanted to get on TV and he did. I don't know what his beef is. But whatever it is I'm sure somebody will hear it.
I guess that interview was conducted before the thousands of Iraqis marched in Baghdad in support of the reporter's release. Followed closely by the roar of approval heard all across the Arab Street, hailing the insult "as a proper send-off to the unpopular U.S. president."
It's tempting to think Bush is just being deliberately obtuse, but I have a feeling he's been living in the bubble for so long, he simply believes his own propaganda. This response does nothing to dissuade that notion.
Bush: Well, first of all I think a president's legacy is going to take time. We've accomplished a lot in my administration. Like No Child Left Behind; 52 months of uninterrupted job growth; PEPFAR, which is the AIDS initiative in Africa; fighting malaria, where there's poverty; faith based; I mean there a lot that people will be able to judge this administration on.
Indeed there is, and never shall public opinion and Bush's own rosy revisionist fairy tale meet.