Sunday, January 31, 2010

Maureen Dowd offers balanced coverage of Obama’s Q and A with Repubs

Wow. It’s hard for me to admit this and even go so far as to link to her op-ed in today’s NY Times, but of all the coverage I’ve scanned of Obama’s much heralded Q and A with the Republicans the other day, Maureen Dowd has offered the most balanced account of the occasion. Hey, she even acknowledged that despite his emergence from his “Camus coma,” Obama got his comeuppance a few times from Utah’s freshman member of the House, Republican Jason Chaffetz.

Is it too much to hope that our punditry is finally emerging from its comatose state evident since Barack Obama first-stepped on the national stage?

Read Dowd’s entire column here:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

U.S. ranks 70th in the world in political empowerment of women

After the treatment Hillary Clinton received during the 2008 Democratic primary, I was not surprised to learn today in Ruth Marcus’ column, submitted to the Washington Post from Davos, that the United States ranks 31st in the Global Gender Gap Index – and hey, look at this: we rank 70th in the category of political empowerment.

As I’ve suggested before, America should be embarrassed to lecture the rest of the world on human rights issues - what with its treatment of women, and it’s recent experiments in using torture to obtain intelligence information from “enemy combatants” picked up off the streets in various countries without benefit of formal charges.

But back to the gender gap. Marcus reports:

The focus is on the gap between men and women in each country rather than women’s overall levels of achievement there, so countries are ranked based on the gender differential rather than development level. At the top of this year’s heap, once again, were the Scandinavian countries: Iceland ranked first, followed by Finland, Norway and Sweden. But the rest of the top 10 was a global grab bag: New Zealand was number five, then South Africa, Denmark, Ireland, the Philippines and Lesotho. At the bottom was Yemen, with Chad, Pakistan, Benin, Saudi Arabia and, surprising to me, Turkey, which was a notch below Iran.

The United States ranked No. 31, about where it’s been for the last few years but worse than its No. 23 ranking from the first survey, in 2006. This relative backsliding is unusual: Of the 115 countries that have been covered in all four years, 97 improved their rankings.

Read more of the shameful details here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tavis Smiley, Michael Beschloss, and the continued PBS assault on Bill and Hillary Clinton

I used to get angry when the right criticized PBS for having a liberal bias in its political coverage. No more. That was before the 2008 Democratic primary when I saw Shields, Brooks, and Lehrer repeatedly treat Hillary and Bill Clinton with lip-curling contempt. PBS has been at it again this week, once again demonstrating their “do or say whatever it takes to support Barack Obama attitude,” even if it means trashing two fellow Democrats who have given him their complete support throughout his first year in office.

Just prior to Obama’s first State of the Union speech, the network aired Tavis Smiley’s interview with Hillary Clinton, which I watched with mixed feelings. On one level, Smiley was treating the secretary of state with apparent awe for her hard work and dedication, but on another level there was unmistakable condescension in his every comment about her.

And there was outright misrepresentation of the facts in his first mention of her trip to Africa where she exposed herself to dangerous conditions in the East Congo, the rape capital of the world, to make a stand for women’s rights.

From her entire trip to Africa, Smiley chose to highlight an incident when Clinton rightfully objected to a student’s question regarding what her husband thought about an issue.

In concert with his sexist colleagues in the media, Smiley failed to get the put down that any self-respecting contemporary woman in Clinton’s circumstances would have experienced in that situation. Instead, our smug, superior news correspondent referred to Clinton’s objection to the question as a “gaffe.”

I never learn. I made the mistake of tuning in the NewsHour the day after Obama’s State of the Union address to watch Judy Woodruff moderate a panel that included so-called historian Michael Beschloss. Historians put aside their biases and record history objectively, right? My jaw dropped in astonishment as I heard Beschloss attempt to prop up Obama by accusing Bill Clinton of having done whatever it took during his first term to get re-elected. It was about then that I hit the off button on my remote.

I don’t understand how American TV viewers continue to support PBS in response to its recurrent fundraising drives in which its spokespersons boast about the network’s objective and balanced news coverage. Personally, I will never send PBS a dime.

By the way, Beschloss didn’t succeed in his efforts to elevate Obama by smearing Bill Clinton. Not by a long shot. In this morning’s NY Times column, Paul Krugman puts Obama’s puny stabs at leadership in perspective:

Wait, it gets worse. To justify the freeze, Mr. Obama used language that was almost identical to widely ridiculed remarks early last year by John Boehner, the House minority leader. Boehner then: “American families are tightening their belt, but they don’t see government tightening its belt.” Obama now: “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.”

What’s going on here? The answer, presumably, is that Mr. Obama’s advisers believed he could score some political points by doing the deficit-peacock strut. I think they were wrong, that he did himself more harm than good. Either way, however, the fact that anyone thought such a dumb policy idea was politically smart is bad news because it’s an indication of the extent to which we’re failing to come to grips with our economic and fiscal problems.

It’s time we all asked ourselves, what’s going here?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

President Obama’s State of the Union: Hey, America, fixing our economy is just a big athletic contest!

Well, yes, I sat up and listened to President Obama’s first State of the Union address. Overall, I felt mildly dismayed, but not surprised, by how the president’s audience cheered on the several occasions when he mouthed the usual clichés to arouse America’s competitive spirit in relationship to the rest of the world, for example:

From -- from the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains or the new factories that manufacture clean-energy products.

It was kind of like listening to a basketball coach rev up his team before the big game with all the loyal fans present. As was to be expected, the fans stood up and cheered on cue.

Sadly, I did not hear an alternative vision of how America could play a leadership role in promoting a level of global prosperity that would at least allow the people of every nation the opportunity to provide food, clothing, and shelter for their families. But then that would require an emphasis on cooperation rather than heightened competition.

I had to shake my head when President Obama offered a disclaimer for Candidate Obama who was swept to victory on his repeated pledges to transform the world in six days and rest on the seventh. Instead of “Yes, we can,” the president spoke more humbly a year after he took office:

I campaigned on the promise of change, change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change, or that I can deliver it.

But remember this: I never suggested that change would be easy or that I could do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is.

I beg to differ: Candidate Obama may never have suggested that change would be easy, but nowhere in his heated rhetoric did this superb motivational speaker warn his typically youthful, shouting, and foot-stomping followers of the hard road ahead.

And he’s still not being 100 percent honest and straightforward with the American people by implying that overcoming the financial meltdown and high levels of unemployment is comparable to a rigorous pick-up basketball game in which the USA team in its red, white, and blue uniforms can easily overcome its international competition.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Elizabeth Warren nails Wall Street CEOs on the Daily Show (video)

I’d like to nominate Elizabeth Warren for the presidency in 2012. Watch this video.

Secretary Clinton skips Obama’s first State of the Union speech

“Madam Secretary sends her regrets,” so writes Washington Post columnist Al Kamen:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton got a pass last week from President Obama to skip Wednesday night's State of the Union speech. (We had heard she begged to be excused, but apparently it didn't come to that.)

Seems there's an important international meeting Wednesday in London on battling radicalization in Yemen, and then another, long-planned conference there Thursday on development and security in Afghanistan.

So while the president struggles to regain his footing after being rudely shoved aside by a pickup-driving Republican in Mass., Secretary Clinton will be joining world powers in seeking ways to support the Yemeni government’s efforts to combat its local branch of Al Quaeda, which has claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack in the U.S.

Clinton will also meet with representatives of 60 nations on stabilizing Afghanistan and transferring control from international forces to the Afghanis.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather be in Hillary's shoes today than Obama's.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The liberal media wants to know: who the heck is Barack Obama?

Without acknowledging that he and his sexist colleagues in the liberal media joined forces to take down Hillary Clinton and elevate the unvetted and inexperienced Barack Obama to the presidency, Bob Herbert demands to know this morning in the NY Times, “Who is Barack Obama?”

Herbert writes:

Americans are still looking for the answer, and if they don’t get it soon — or if they don’t like the answer — the president’s current political problems will look like a walk in the park.

Mr. Obama may be personally very appealing, but he has positioned himself all over the political map: the anti-Iraq war candidate who escalated the war in Afghanistan; the opponent of health insurance mandates who made a mandate to buy insurance the centerpiece of his plan; the president who stocked his administration with Wall Street insiders and went to the mat for the banks and big corporations, but who is now trying to present himself as a born-again populist.

Mr. Obama is in danger of being perceived as someone whose rhetoric, however skillful, cannot always be trusted. He is creating a credibility gap for himself, and if it widens much more he won’t be able to close it.

Mr. Obama’s campaign mantra was “change” and most of his supporters took that to mean that he would change the way business was done in Washington and that he would reverse the disastrous economic policies that favored mega-corporations and the very wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the poor.

After detailing the ways in which Mr. Obama has betrayed his most ardent supporters in his campaign for office, Herbert concludes:

Mr. Obama will deliver his State of the Union address Wednesday night. The word is that he will offer some small bore assistance to the middle class. But more important than the content of this speech will be whether the president really means what he says. Americans want to know what he stands for, where his line in the sand is, what he’ll really fight for, and where he wants to lead this nation.

They want to know who their president really is.

In the meantime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just keeps on being the Hillary we've always known her to be, working her heart out in support of the rights of all people wherever in the world she finds herself.

And guess what? She couldn't care less what the media thinks about her.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Elizabeth Warren’s time has come

In early December, Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the banking bailouts, posted an article online titled America Without a Middle Class. I was so impressed by her blunt assessment of our current economic situation that I emailed the link to a family member who agreed that Warren got it right.

Warren wrote:

The contrast with the big banks could not be sharper. While the middle class has been caught in an economic vise, the financial industry that was supposed to serve them has prospered at their expense. Consumer banking -- selling debt to middle class families -- has been a gold mine. Boring banking has given way to creative banking, and the industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts.

And when various forms of this creative banking triggered economic crisis, the banks went to Washington for a handout. All the while, top executives kept their jobs and retained their bonuses. Even though the tax dollars that supported the bailout came largely from middle class families -- from people already working hard to make ends meet -- the beneficiaries of those tax dollars are now lobbying Congress to preserve the rules that had let those huge banks feast off the middle class.

Pundits talk about "populist rage" as a way to trivialize the anger and fear coursing through the middle class. But they have it wrong. Families understand with crystalline clarity that the rules they have played by are not the same rules that govern Wall Street. They understand that no American family is "too big to fail." They recognize that business models have shifted and that big banks are pulling out all the stops to squeeze families and boost revenues. They understand that their economic security is under assault and that leaving consumer debt effectively unregulated does not work.

Families are ready for change. According to polls, large majorities of Americans have welcomed the Obama Administration's proposal for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). The CFPA would be answerable to consumers -- not to banks and not to Wall Street. The agency would have the power to end tricks-and-traps pricing and to start leveling the playing field so that consumers have the tools they need to compare prices and manage their money. The response of the big banks has been to swing into action against the Agency, fighting with all their lobbying might to keep business-as-usual. They are pulling out all the stops to kill the agency before it is born. And if those practices crush millions more families, who cares -- so long as the profits stay high and the bonuses keep coming.

So it’s no wonder that President Obama summoned Warren to Washington the day after the Dems’ loss up in what used to be Kennedy country. Warren had already spelled out very clearly the outrage that swept Scott Brown to victory on Tuesday.

And not surprisingly, Ethan Porter, associate editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, is promoting Warren as a Democratic candidate for higher office in 2012. In a Boston Globe op-ed, Porter writes:

Warren has spent her career laying the groundwork for what might be called progressive populism. From her perch in Cambridge, she’s excoriated the unfair credit and lending practices that, in part, gave rise to the current crisis. She was the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which, if created, would regulate credit cards and mortgages in the same way home appliances are regulated now. (Full disclosure: Warren once wrote about the agency in the publication I help edit.) And well before the bubble broke in the summer of 2007, when America was still riding high on George W. Bush’s economy, Warren was speaking out against the incredible pressure the 21st century economy was putting on the middle class. She was derided as a Cassandra, but she was right.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The air seeps out of the Obama balloon

Mort Zuckerman’s piece titled The Incredible Deflation of Barack Obama in the US News and World Report summarizes the word from the media one year after its idol became president of the United States.

Uh, Mort, some of us avoided being swept up in the drunken euphoria rampant in the 2008 Democratic primary and general election and instead endured the contempt shown those who opted for sobriety. Now we can only shake our heads at the sad spectacle you portray:

The air is seeping out of the Obama balloon. He has fallen to below 50 percent in the poll approval ratings, a decline punctuated by his party's shocking loss in the Massachusetts special election.


Barack Obama was undoubtedly sincere in what he promised, even if his promises were within the normal range of political exaggeration. The first trouble is that his gift for inspiration aroused expectations, stoked to unprecedented heights by his own staff, that he would solve the climate crisis on Monday, the jobs crisis on Tuesday, the financial crisis on Wednesday, the education crisis on Thursday, Afghanistan on Friday, Iraq on Saturday, and rest on Sunday. His oratorical skills were highlighted by the contrast with President Bush, who mangled words so much that his incoherence became, as Tina Brown wrote, "a metaphor for incompetence." Expectations were spurred, too, by Obama's recognition that Americans yearned for a new kind of politics, a rejection, as he put it, of "politics as usual."

Read more:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Health Care Reform and the Sad Narrative of a Deflated Democratic Party

The Wall Street Journal’s Adamy and Meckler just posted the sad narrative of a deflated Democratic Party the day after the Mass. special election in which voters chose Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s long held seat in the Senate.

Brown’s win in Mass. should not have come as such a shock to the Democrats. During the 2008 Democratic primary, Bay state voters demonstrated they were not owned by the Kennedy clan when they chose Hillary Clinton despite the fact that Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Kerry, and Gov. Deval Patrick had all three endorsed Obama. That should have told party leaders something in their headlong rush to undermine Hillary and speed Obama to the nomination.

Even so, I’m finding small satisfaction in the latest denouement of the Democrats as they continue to plummet back to earth from their euphoric rise with their charming, but inexperienced leader.

About health care reform, Adamy and Meckler write:

One day after losing their filibuster-proof Senate majority in a Massachusetts special election, exhausted Senate Democrats looked downtrodden as they filed into their weekly lunch in a second-floor room at the Capitol. "People are hysterical right now," said one Senate aide.

Party members clashed openly over what to do next. Sen. Max Baucus, a top Senate Democrat, appeared to throw cold water on a bill that would focus only on stiffer insurance regulations. Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, scotched another idea, a complicated parliamentary maneuver to usher a bill quickly to the president's desk.

In an interview with ABC News, President Obama said he would be open to scaling back the legislation in order to salvage it. "I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements in the package that people agree on," Mr. Obama said. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said later the president would prefer Congress to pass the comprehensive package, and has not given up on that option.

Read more:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pat Robertson: “Haiti is cursed”

Joan Collins has a few words about Pat Robertson's judgment of Haiti in her NY Times column this morning:

This just in from the Christian Broadcasting Network: The Rev. Pat Robertson did not say that the earthquake in Haiti was the result of God’s wrath at the Haitians for making a pact with the devil to get out from under French colonial rule.

A spokesman, Chris Roslan explained that all Mr. Robertson was saying is that Haiti is cursed. I hope that clears everything up.

In the meantime, folks here in St. Paul continue to work toward understanding and peace in the world through multiple interfaith peace-making efforts. Read more.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Persecution of Baha'is in Iran

In separate interviews this week, members of the St. Paul area Baha’i community, Dolly Britzman and Louis Offstein, expressed their concern in response to breaking news of the persecution of fellow members of their faith in Iran.

According to an update from the Baha'i World News Service, the Jan. 12th session of the Iran government’s trial of seven imprisoned Baha'i leaders lasted about three hours, and no date for future sessions was provided. The release cited reports indicating “numerous violations of legal due process.”

Read more:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

President Obama admits he has failed to unite the country

Game Change authors Halperin and Heilemann quote Democratic party leaders as labeling Hillary Clinton “polarizing” to justify their back-stabbing defection to Obama in 2008. But over at the Boston Globe, we learn that after his first year as president, Barack Obama is admitting his failure to unite the country:

"President Barack Obama says he has not succeeded in bringing the country together, acknowledging an atmosphere of divisiveness that has washed away the lofty national feeling surrounding his inauguration a year ago.

"That's what's been lost this year ... that whole sense of changing how Washington works," Obama said in an interview with People magazine.

Indeed, recent polls indicate that Obama is the most polarizing president in modern history, so we gently remind readers that SoS Clinton’s popularity has soared this past year with support from both parties and independents, and we have to ask Democratic party leaders who’s polarizing now?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Former Clinton Campaign Advisor Speaks Up For Hillary

Our misogynist male dominated media appears to have geared up in attack mode when faced with the reality that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s approval rating in the past year has soared far above that of President Obama. Even more galling to the good ol’ boyz media network, it has become abundantly clear that their euphoric allegiance to Obama in 2008 and simultaneous sexist assault against Hillary has become an accepted truth by most thinking people.

Ugliness emerging from the sensationalist, gossipy recently published trash, Game Change, by Heilemann and Halperin erupted at Politico the other day in an item by Ben Smith titled Game over; the Clintons stand alone. Not quite, Ben.

Peter Daou, a Clinton campaign advisor has stepped forward on behalf of his former boss with an eloquent, balanced mature article this morning at the Huffington Post.

Daou writes:

I am reading Game Change now and will update this entry once I've completed the portions about Hillary Clinton but I wanted to post something immediately in response to the Politico story.

Ben Smith is a savvy, well-connected reporter and Heilemann/Halperin are about as plugged into Beltway culture and DC power centers as anyone can be -- whether that's good or bad I'll let others judge. I became acquainted with Halperin during the campaign -- and with Smith -- but never spoke to the former about the book, nor with the latter about his article, so I'm coming to this as an outside observer. I don't dispute that Heilemann/Halperin have high level sources. I just want to be sure their readers get an accurate picture of Hillary Clinton's conduct during the campaign.

To read Daou’s article in its entirety, go here.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Long-Term Strategy in the War on Terror

In the aftermath of the Christmas Day terrorist attempt, which the president has linked to Al Quaeda, the Obama Administration justifiably scrambles to strengthen security measures. In the meantime, concerned citizens might be wise to look at promising long-term religious and spiritual resources in responding to the ongoing war on terror.

For example, process theology offers bridges between major world religions, science and religion, religion and spirituality, and across societal divides such as gender, sexual preference, race, and ethnic origin.

A post-Einsteinian, post-Jungian worldview, process theology emerged from the musings of Alfred North Whitehead, a noted mathematician who pursued interests in philosophy and science - even quantum physics. As one might expect, process theology is not antithetical to established scientific principles, and it remains open to new discoveries and insights in both science and religion.

Read More:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Only fools think they can make a difference in the world

We concluded this morning's meeting of my mindfulness meditation group with the Franciscan benediction shown below. The words of St. Francis seem eerily relevant to today's concerns about terrorism, war, economic recession, and high unemployment.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, starvation, and war so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Obama Breaks Yet Another Campaign Promise

Barack Obama rode to victory during the Democratic primary by rousing his flock with messianic promises – one has to wonder about the naiveté of the members of said flock, including the fawning media who never questioned the One’s credentials. In the meantime, Hillary Clinton, Obama’s leading opponent in the primary, was pilloried by both left and right wing extremists and their respective punditry.

Watching the NewsHour last night I shook my head as Jim Lehrer queried his distinguished guests about Obama’s current travails. Lo and behold, our president is being assailed from both the left and the right. The significance of this phenomena as spun by the White House: “He must be doing something right.”

And gosh, the media has even begun to notice that the onetime harbinger of the “new politics” who arose out of the heart of the Daley machine in Chicago is – are you ready for this – breaking yet another campaign promise.

Chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reports:

(CBS) President Obama wants the final negotiations on health care reform - a reconciliation of the House and Senate versions of the bill - put on a fast track, even if that means breaking an explicit campaign promise.

"The House and Senate plan to put together the final health care reform bill behind closed doors according to an agreement by top Democrats," House Speaker Nanci Pelosi said today at the White House.

Reid adds:

The White House is on board with that, too. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stressed today that "the president wants to get a bill to his desk as quickly as possible."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Setting the bar as low as possible for Democratic incumbents in 2010

Thoughtful members of the electorate will continue to choose between incumbents and opposing candidates for political office based on their experience and other trustworthy qualifications that go beyond that favorite of party hacks and the media: the likeability factor according to the latest Gallup poll. Reminder: likeability was a determining factor in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections.

Tom Edsall, political editor for the Huffington Post; however, would prefer that in 2010 we not focus too much attention on mundane considerations such as actual qualifications for the office sought.

Edsall’s not so new advice to Democratic incumbents is to make the race about the other guy. President Obama’s remaining supporters on the left have been using that strategy since day one. They’ve met any criticism of Obama with comparisons to his predecessor or the team of McCain and Palin. By setting the bar so low, they hope Obama will continue to dazzle the electorate.

For obvious reasons, the present concern is the possibility of losing the Democratic majority in the House. Edsall writes:

Democratic incumbents face the most threatening political environment since the Republican landslide of 1994 -- and they know it.

The trends are all moving in the wrong direction. Voters are shifting to the right; white antipathy to the President has intensified; the popular consensus backing Obama and his agenda has collapsed in less than a year; and a growing number of center-conservative House Democrats are jumping ship. It's not that voters are suddenly becoming big fans of the Republican Party -- its poll numbers are falling just as rapidly as the Democrats' -- but political scientists and strategists from across the spectrum agree that simply by virtue of being the opposition, the GOP is positioned to make large gains on November 2. There's even an outside chance they'll wrest back control of the House.

Read more:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

1 out of 4 Americans on Food Stamps, and No Plan to Create Millions of Jobs

I’ll forego the pleasure of saying “I told you so” to Bob Herbert and recommend his op-ed in this morning’s NY Times titled “An Uneasy Feeling.”

Herbert writes:

Staggering numbers of Americans are still unemployed and nearly a quarter of all homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Forget the false hope of modestly improving monthly job numbers. The real story right now is the entrenched suffering (with no end in sight) that has been inflicted on scores of millions of working Americans by the Great Recession and the misguided economic policies that preceded it.

As The Washington Post reported over the weekend, the entire past decade “was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times.” There was no net job creation — none — between December 1999 and now. None!

Herbert, the former zealous Obama supporter, concludes:

Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the nation’s moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well.

Now we’re escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Obama Justice Department: Illegality of Torture “Not Clearly Established”

Nah - the U.S. doesn’t condone torturing prisoners.

In the 2008 presidential primary, Michelle Obama evoked criticism for suggesting she had not always felt proud of her country. This morning I’m confessing that I’ve had my moments of shame as a U.S. citizen. One of those moments occurred in 2004 when the first photos surfaced that depicted the horrific abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

An editorial in this morning’s NY Times revisits the torture issue:

Bush administration officials came up with all kinds of ridiculously offensive rationalizations for torturing prisoners. It’s not torture if you don’t mean it to be. It’s not torture if you don’t nearly kill the victim. It’s not torture if the president says it’s not torture.

In its final paragraph the Times editorial reveals a conflict between President Obama’s opposition to the use of torture and his administration’s shameful waffling on the issue:

President Obama, much to his credit, has forsworn the use of torture, but politics and policy makers change and democracy cannot rely merely on the good will of one president and his aides. Such good will did not exist in the last administration. And the inhumane and illegal treatment of detainees could make a return in a future administration unless the Supreme Court sends a firm message that ordering torture is a grievous violation of fundamental rights.

Anyone who doubts the degree of executive branch pliability in this realm needs to consider this: The party that urged the Supreme Court not to grant the victims’ appeal because the illegality of torture was not “clearly established” was the Obama Justice Department.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Gasp – What a Concept! Human Beings Should Preside Over the Market – Not the Other Way Around!

It’s Sunday morning, and I was drawn to an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Jim Wallis, a religious leader known for his emphasis on social justice for all people.

I especially appreciated these words in A Religious Response to the Financial Crisis:

…the Earth does not belong to the market. Human beings are stewards of God's creation and should preside over the market -- not the other way around. We must replace the market's false promise of limitless growth and consumption with an acknowledgment of human finitude, with a little more humility and with some moral limits. And the market's first commandment, "There is never enough," must be replaced by the dictums of God's economy -- namely, there is enough, if we share it.

Wallis concludes with some excellent advice:

Moving forward, I hope local congregations and national denominations alike will begin reflecting on where they keep their money and how their investments reflect their faith. I envision congregations creating checklists to evaluate who they do business with, and national church bodies considering where they should invest their pension funds.

When I recently told a few friends that my wife, Joy, and I had decided to close our little account at Bank of America and move our money to a local bank that has behaved more responsibly, I was amazed at the response. Religious leaders and pastors from around the country called to say that they, too, were ready to take their money out of the big banks that have shown such shameful morality and instead invest according to their values, by putting money into more local and community-based institutions.

So we've decided not just to remove our own money, but to invite other Christians, Jews and Muslims to do the same. Already we are hearing reports of whole congregations, groups of churches and faith-based organizations, from California to New York City, deciding to transfer their funds to local banks and credit unions.

The banks say they are "too big to fail." So let's make them smaller. We might finally get Wall Street's attention.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bush and Obama: Uniters, Not Dividers??

Photo courtesy of

On May 6, 1999, Salon published an article by David Horowitz featuring his interview of presidential candidate George W. Bush. Horowitz began by stating:

I like George Bush. He has a strong set of core convictions, including a significant religious faith, but he is also genuinely tolerant, open and warm-hearted toward people with whom he disagrees.

In the course of the interview Bush, former governor of Texas, declared:

...I showed the people of Texas that I'm a uniter, not a divider. I refuse to play the politics of putting people into groups and pitting one group against another.

Later on, Bush answers a question about his attitude toward minority groups, including homosexuals:

I think that each person ought to be judged by their heart and by their soul and by their contribution to society. Group-thought will balkanize our society, and I have rejected the politics of pitting one group of persons against another.

Now compare Bush’s remarks on bipartisanship to the words of candidate Barack Obama in 2008 as reported by the NPR’s Mara Liasson:

Obama has made this bridging of partisan divisions the touchstone of his campaign. "My goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate, where we're always trying to score cheap political points, and actually get things done," he has said.

Obama presents himself as a post-partisan political leader. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, he said that he just wants to do what works for the American people.

"Both at the state legislative level and at the federal legislative level, I have always been able to work together with Republicans to find compromise and to find common ground," he said.

A little over a year after President Bush took office, The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Derrick DePledge wrote:

WASHINGTON — President Bush promised to change the tone of politics and work as closely as possible with Democrats, but he has shown in his first few months in the White House that his commitment is to the conservative public policy agenda he outlined during his election campaign.

In Congress, the theory that leaders of the two political parties would have to find common ground because of the slim Republican majorities in the House and Senate has also largely crumbled, especially in the House, where conservatives have quickly moved to enact tax and regulatory proposals that would have withered under President Clinton.

The climate, for many lawmakers, is as partisan as ever.

And so it went throughout Bush’s eight years in office.

In April 2009, the Pew Research Center reported its startling poll numbers for President Obama:

For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades. The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama's job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president -- 88% job approval among Democrats -- and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%).

And the trend continues; on the eve of his first anniversary as president, the latest polls show that although 83% of Democrats continue to approve of Obama, only 14% of Republicans do. One cannot avoid recalling that as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, Hillary Clinton was labeled by both the fringes on the left and the right as too polarizing to be president. The same poll cited above shows Secretary of State Clinton with a 75% job approval rating by supporters from both major parties and independents.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ellen Goodman’s Last Column

The other day we learned that Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin came close to tying for first place as the most admired women in America. You all know how I feel about Hillary Clinton by this time; given the chance, I would’ve voted for her to take first place. And although I continue to have major differences with Sarah Palin, I continue to stand up for her against the unrelenting sexist attacks from the left and right wing extremes.

For years columnist Ellen Goodman was near the top of my list of most admired women. In the past two years, however, her lukewarm support for Hillary and her over the top attacks on Sarah dampened my enthusiasm for her work. Even so, I felt a twinge of something akin to grief just now as I read her final column in today’s Boston Globe:

Ellen writes:

Looking backward and forward, I belong to a generation that has transformed our culture. We’ve been the change agents for civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights. Now, we find ourselves on the cutting edge of another huge social change. This time, it’s the longevity revolution. Ours is the first generation to collectively cross the demarcation line of senior citizenship with actuarial tables on our side.

“Senior citizen’’ is now a single demographic nametag that includes those who fought in World War II and those who were born in World War II. We don’t have a label yet to describe the early, active aging. But many of us are pausing to recalculate the purpose of a longer life. We are reinventing ourselves and society’s expectations, just as we have throughout our lives.

Ellen concludes by quoting herself at an earlier age:

“The trick of retiring well may be the trick of living well,’’ I wrote back then. “It’s hard to recognize that life isn’t a holding action, but a process. It’s hard to learn that we don’t leave the best parts of ourselves behind, back in the dugout or the office. We own what we learned back there. The experiences and the growth are grafted onto our lives. And when we exit, we can take ourselves along - quite gracefully.’’

She knew then what I know much more intimately now. So, with her blessing, I will let myself go. And go for it.

All rancor aside, I wish Ellen Goodman well as she steps off the stage at the Boston Globe.

Hope, Optimism, and Excitement

Wisconsin Farm in Summer, Photo by Virginia

The sky is blue this morning, and the sun is shining, never mind the -4 degree temp here in St. Paul.

I begin the New Year with hope, optimism, and excitement about this stage of my journey. And as always, I look forward to the companionship of friends and family along the way.

I believe it was Jean Paul Sartre who once said something to the effect: "Don't walk in front of me and be my leader; don't walk behind me and be my follower; walk beside me and be my friend."

Happy New Year, Everyone!