Monday, January 31, 2011

Secretary Clinton calls unprecedented meeting of top envoys

Secretary Clinton arrived in Haiti yesterday.

Having largely ignored Secretary Clinton during her tenure as secretary of state, the upheaval in Egypt has called the media's attention to the fact that she plays a major role in US foreign policy. On  Sunday, the secretary was a guest on five talk shows, and today's headlines shout that she called an  unprecedented meeting of top envoys that began in Washington today.

From an AP report at the Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is convening an unprecedented mass meeting of U.S. ambassadors.

The top envoys from nearly all of America's 260 embassies, consulates and other posts in more than 180 countries will be gathering at the State Department beginning on Monday. Officials say it's the first such global conference.

The gathering comes at a time of crisis in Egypt that could reshape dynamics in the Middle East, fallout from leaked diplomatic documents and congressional calls for sweeping cuts in foreign aid.

Read more:

Julian Assange’s God complex and his problems with women, including Hillary Clinton

Steve Kroft’s interview of Julian Assange on 60 Minutes this Sunday was unnerving. Assange is a smooth talking, slick looking character radiating a discomfiting aura. He had self-serving answers to all of Kroft’s questions and didn’t hesitate to position himself as a superior being with the divine right to manipulate world leaders and diplomats as he sees fit. He gets to judge them, too.

And he singled out Hillary Clinton for his most intense expression of contempt. Considering that he’s been accused of rape by two women in Sweden, one detects a strong tendency toward misogyny.

More frightening than any other aspect of the interview, though, was Assange’s apparently unquestioned belief that he knows what’s best for all people – kind of a God complex, wouldn’t you say?

In the meantime, the man determined to expose the secrets of others, whether endangering innocent lives or not, is himself surrounded by secrecy.

Watch the interview on 60 Minutes:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What to do about those selfish old people living high on Social Security?

“For $200 you can feed a low income senior citizen for one year....” Courtesy of the Foodbank of Eastern Michigan
It’s the question on everyone’s mind these days: what are we going to do about these “entitlement” folks who are draining the national budget?

Entitlement is the term of choice the majority of politicians and members of the media now use to refer to Social Security and Medicare. It’s a derogatory term that implies that elderly or disabled beneficiaries of these programs are selfish, undeserving people who subsist on government handouts without ever having contributed anything useful to society. And what’s more they’re living high on the hog at the expense of worthy taxpayers even as the nation’s economy goes down the drain.

Said politicians and media reps never mention that throughout their working lives, today’s seniors paid high Social Security and Medicare taxes. And have you ever heard any politician or news reporter note that the government continues to deduct hefty Medicare fees from the minimal monthly Social Security payments of even low income seniors?  

Pay a visit sometime to a local apartment building for low income seniors and take a look at the residents. Notice how many of these “entitlement” folks are hard of hearing, but can’t afford hearing aids; wear eyeglasses that are at least five years old; and have lost all or most of their teeth, but can’t afford dentures. Then tell me again about the superior quality of life this population enjoys on the backs of taxpayers.

And while you’re visiting one of these establishments for the elderly and/or disabled, remind yourselves that the majority of the residents paid into the system while working hard throughout their adult lives, and many of them served in the military.

There is no doubt a percentage of  independently wealthy seniors who could live very well without Social Security or Medicare. But why must our government and the media continuously denigrate the rest of the nation’s elderly and/or disabled population by referring to them as “entitlement” recipients, thus shaming them for barely meeting their basic needs for food, shelter, and medical care.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Look out! Web tools can be used to promote human rights or to undermine human rights

Scott  Shane at the NY Times provides an in-depth look at the uprising in Egypt and how both governments and dissidents can use social media to their advantage. Shane leads off with these words:

WASHINGTON — Fear is the dictator’s traditional tool for keeping the people in check. But by cutting off Egypt’s Internet and wireless service late last week in the face of huge street protests, President Hosni Mubarak betrayed his own fear — that Facebook, Twitter, laptops and smartphones could empower his opponents, expose his weakness to the world and topple his regime.

However, the situation has become much more complex:

Tunisia’s uprising offers the latest encouragement for a comforting notion: that the same Web tools that so many Americans use to keep up with college pals and post passing thoughts have a more noble role as well, as a scourge of despotism. It was just 18 months ago, after all, that the same technologies were hailed as a factor in Iran’s Green Revolution, the stirring street protests that followed the disputed presidential election.

But since that revolt collapsed, Iran has become a cautionary tale. The Iranian police eagerly followed the electronic trails left by activists, which assisted them in making thousands of arrests in the crackdown that followed. The government even crowd-sourced its hunt for enemies, posting on the Web the photos of unidentified demonstrators and inviting Iranians to identify them.

“The Iranian government has become much more adept at using the Internet to go after activists,” said Faraz Sanei, who tracks Iran at Human Rights Watch. The Revolutionary Guard, the powerful political and economic force that protects the ayatollahs’ regime, has created an online surveillance center and is believed to be behind a “cyberarmy” of hackers that it can unleash against opponents, he said. 

Read Shane’s complete article here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Columbia Journalism Review nails Minneapolis Star Tribune for failing to fact check Michele Bachmann’s Iowa speech

Michele Bachmann (R.Minn.) official photo.

Yes, I’ve repeatedly criticized the media for fanning the flames of controversy, its biased – often sexist – reporting, and its repeated bashing of selected politicians like Sarah Palin. But at the same time, I also insist on fact checking a politician’s statements – no matter who they are - and at least making an effort to keep our political leaders honest.

The Columbia Journalism Review nails the Star Tribune for its recent lapse in this area:
Campaign 2012 is underway, even with but one declared Republican contender. And so comes an example of What Not to Do in Campaign Reporting, courtesy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (h/t, MinnPost’s David Brauer).

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) visited Iowa (Iowa!) on Friday and delivered a speech “covered by a corps of roughly 50 Iowa, Minnesota and national media,” according to the Des Moines Register. In other words, speculative Election 2012 press coverage—Will s(he)? Won’t s(he)? And when will s(he) or won’t s(he)?— is picking up at a predictable pace.
“Bachmann testing the waters,” as the Star Tribune headline had it.

Mid-story, the Tribune reports, in passing, that “Democrats deride [Bachmann] as… factually challenged.” (I’m just passing along some other politicians’ claims about the veracity of this politician’s claims. Yes, I’m a reporter from Bachmann’s home state so I should be in a particularly good position to tell readers whether “factually challenged” is a fair description of the Congresswoman or just an unfounded Democratic dis. But, moving on….) A few sentences later it is confirmed: there will be no fact-challenging (of the “factually challenged”) here (emphasis mine): 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Photo of Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress surfaces

A photo of Mark Sanford and his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur, has surfaced on the Argentine website, So this is what the former South Carolina governor (R) was up to when he said he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail? Click here to see the photo.

Update: Giffords enjoys fresh air and sunshine at rehab hospital

Gabrielle Giffords' family reported that she felt the sunshine on her face today for the first time since she was shot. Her office released the above photo of the congresswoman's bed on a hospital deck, with husband Mark Kelly by her side.

Along with many Americans, I feel a personal connection with Gabrielle Giffords, and I’m eager for updates on her recovery. We celebrate every step forward she makes, thankful that her husband Mark Kelly is standing with her on her prolonged journey toward healing and wholeness.

Minutes ago, the AP’s Ramit Plushnick-Masti reported:

HOUSTON — Police stood guard as an ambulance took Rep. Gabrielle Giffords from intensive care to a rehabilitation hospital on Wednesday, an encouraging step that came after doctors upgraded her condition from serious to good and removed a tube that was draining fluid from her head.

Doctors at Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center Hospital determined the Arizona congresswoman was healthy enough to move to nearby TIRR Memorial Hermann, where she will continue her rehabilitation work.

Read more:

Obama’s SOTU and ranking the oratorical gifts of contemporary American presidents

Barack Obama's oratorical style imitates that of former civil rights leaders and evangelical pastors, including that of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.

I listened to President Obama’s state of the union speech last night and concluded that he had basically taken the safe path in summarizing where the nation is and where he would like to see it move in the next two years. I thought it was a decent, though uninspiring speech.

I awoke this morning feeling no different about the state of the union than I felt the day before yesterday. How about you? This is an open thread.

On Facebook, however, Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic (a Minn. company) and currently a professor of business management at the Harvard Business School, posted on his way to Davos: “Just arrived in Switzerland. Pres Obama hit all the right notes in last night's State of Union, with "U.S. must compete" and an optimistic outlook for economy.”

George linked to this article in the Wall Street Journal that provides reasonably objective coverage of both Obama’s speech and the Republican response offered by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan: Obama: U.S. Must Compete.

George is widely respected here in Minn. and having read True North, his book on leadership that emphasizes the importance of personal integrity, I tend to respect his judgment on economic issues. So I’ll defer to him in the matter of what Obama had to say in his second SOTU.

However, I’m still not persuaded of Obama’s oratorical gifts. In scanning today’s online news coverage in general, I paused at Aaron Couch’s article in the Christian Science Monitor that cites Richard Greene’s ranking of the top five presidential orators in his book, Words that Shook the World: 1. JFK, 2. FDR, 3. Obama, 4. Reagan, and 5. Clinton.

Unlike his impassioned followers in 08 and the fawning media, I’ve never been impressed by Obama’s oratory skills as I recognized early on that he was imitating the style of African-American civil rights leaders and evangelical preachers, including that of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Evidently, Greene thought it was to Obama’s credit that he sounded like MLK, Jr. Couch quotes Greene as saying that Obama comes closer than any other president to using the “rhythm, body language, pauses and punctuation and nuances in voice tone to ‘sing’ a speech,” like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Personally, I would prefer that our president speak in his own voice.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Giffords and husband Mark Kelly watch SOTU (photo)

The New York Times' Jim Roberts shared this photo on Twitter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly watching the State of the Union Address.

Both President Obama in his SOTU speech and Rep. Paul Ryan, who gave the Republican response, recognized Gifford at the beginning of their speeches. In her honor, members of  Congress wore black and white ribbons like that worn by Mark Kelly in the above photo. At the SOTU, the Arizona delegation left an empty chair for Giffords.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What is that awful terrifying woman up to now?

Courtesy of the Guardian UK

Ross Douthat at the NY Times evaluates the media’s coverage of Sarah Palin. If you’ve wondered, as I have, why a liberal blog like the Huffington Post obsessively mentions Palin in dozens of articles day in and day out – see Michael Brenner’s article posted today, Barack Obama -- Out of the Closet – Douthat’s piece is a must-read. Here’s a sample:

And this is what’s so problematic, to my mind, about much of the Palin coverage: The media often acts as though they’re covering her because her conservative fan base is so large (hence the endless talk about her 2012 prospects), when they’re really covering her because so many liberals are eager to hear about, read about and then freak about whatever that awful, terrifying woman is up to now. Here’s an illustrative passage from Marshall’s post:

With Sarah Palin and pretty much everyone else, we’re not trying to pump her up or pull her down or really do anything else with her. That’s a second order kind of thinking I don’t think is really ever proper for us to get involved in. (To give one funny and ironic example I’m pretty sure our Eric Kleefeld was the first person to pick out Palin’s use of the term “death panels” in a Facebook post back in during the Summer of Hate and much of the subsequent furor ricocheted off that original post.)

The parenthetical, it seems to me, somewhat undercuts the first two lines. The fact that TPM was the first to seize on the “death panels” provocation is neither “funny” nor “ironic.”  Instead, it’s typical of the Palin-press symbiosis. If you were a casual consumer of political news in 2009, you would assume that Palin’s famous “death panels” remark received outsize media attention only after it became a rallying cry for the right-wing masses. But in reality, it received outsized media attention in part because a liberal Web site seized on it and ran with it as an example of the scary awfulness of Sarah Palin. And that pattern keeps repeating itself. It’s why there’s more Palin coverage in publications like TPM, MSNBC and Vanity Fair (not to mention, of course, a certain Palin-obsessed Atlantic blogger) than in many conservative outlets: Not because they’re the only places willing to tell the truth about her, but because they’ve built an audience that believes the worst about her, and enjoys wallowing in the fear and loathing she inspires.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Secretary Clinton focuses her worldwide efforts on behalf of human rights in Tunisia

Photo is in the public domain.

Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state has already been noteworthy for her efforts on behalf of human rights around the world. Recently, the Secretary has focused on Tunisia following the overthrow of long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

AFP reports:

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on the embattled Tunisian prime minister to carry out democratic reforms to stem the country's political turmoil, her spokesman said Saturday.

Clinton called Mohammed Ghannouchi "to encourage ongoing reforms, and pledged support for transition to open democracy," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a message on the micro-blogging website Twitter.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Will friends of Katalusis from the Netherlands please step forward?

courtesy of
Dear readers,

Katalusis does not register high numbers from one day to the next, but I find it heartwarming that the Netherlands ranks second only to the United States in the number of page views from their country. And I'm becoming increasingly curious about my readers in the Netherlands - who are you, where are you from in the Netherlands, and what draws you to Katalusis?

Thank you so much for your interest, and I hope to hear from you in the comment section below.

Hillary Clinton’s popularity soars even as she places women’s rights at the center of US foreign policy

 Secretary Clinton meets with Belarusian and Belarusian-American human rights activists including "We Remember" President Irina Krasovskaya and Belarus Free Theater co-founder Natalya Kolyada to discuss recent events in Belarus. State Department Photo by Michael Gross

In her recently published must-read article in the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting marvels that Hillary Clinton’s popularity continues to soar as she places women’s rights at the center of US foreign policy.

Bunting writes:

Many of her statements can be routed back to the idealistic internationalism of 70s feminism. Astonishingly, she has managed to bring the feminism for which she was loathed in the early 90s (as the first lady who didn't stay home and bake cookies) into the heart of the state department and foreign policy, and is still clocking high opinion poll ratings.

From the start Clinton left no one in any doubt where she stood: women's rights are "the signature issue" of this administration's foreign policy, she said. She mentioned women 450 times in speeches in the first five months in office. "Transformation of the role of women is the last great impediment to universal progress," she declared, and began to develop what is her standard line: women's issues are integral to the achievement of every goal of US foreign policy.

Or put more simply: the empowerment, participation and protection of women and girls is vital to the long-term security of the US. Last month this rhetoric was translated into policy in the long awaited Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which aimed to redefine US foreign policy around civilian power. "We are integrating women and girls into everything we do… in all our diplomacy with other governments… in our work on conflict and crisis," said the state department's briefing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Is civility an insufficient goal for our national discourse?

Civil Discourse Please Dialogue Men's T-Shirt by KR Designs

Kathleen Reardon, a professor of management at the Univ. of Southern Cal. Marshall School of business, offers an insightful discussion of calls for greater civility since the Tucson shooting.  

 Reardon writes:

 I've been thinking about the calls for greater civility delivered eloquently by President Obama and many in the media. David Brooks, for example, with whom on occasion I've disagreed, wrote of civility as "the natural state for people who know how limited their own individual powers are and know, too, that they need the conversation." The conversation is our engagement in "social enterprise" -- listening to the views of others so that we might improve our own.

Civility usually refers to politeness and courtesy extended to others. When this becomes rare, confrontation is more frequent and disdain more common. Tensions between people arise and escalate quickly. When others must be wrong in order for us to be right, civility suffers.
Civility, therefore, is good. But recent calls for greater civility remind me of calls in the past for tolerance toward people not of your own race, religion, gender or nationality. Tolerance is better than no tolerance, but it's not as admirable a goal as appreciation. Civility is better than incivility, but not half as socially substantive as empathy and compassion.

So, to start with civility is an insufficient goal for a society seeking to raise the tenor of its public and private discourse.

Read more:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Statement by President Bill Clinton on Martin Luther King Day

Statement and photo courtesy of  the William J. Clinton Foundation.

President Clinton with Harlem high school students.

"Dr. Martin Luther King once wrote that nonviolence means ‘not only avoiding external physical violence but also internal violence of the spirit.’ Today as we honor what would have been Dr. King’s 82nd birthday a little more than a week after a shooter took the lives of six people and wounded 13 others in Arizona, including a member of Congress, we’d all do well to heed this message. While no one intends their words or actions to incite the violence we saw in Tucson — and it’s wrong for anyone to suggest otherwise — we live in a world where what we say and how we say it can be read, heard, or seen by those who understand exactly what we mean and by those whose inner demons take them to a very different place.

That’s not an argument against free speech, but a reminder that, as with all freedoms, its use carries with it responsibility. Therefore, we should follow the example Dr. King set and exercise our freedom of speech in ways that both clarify our honest differences and nurture the best of us rather than bring out the worst. We must not let our political differences degenerate into demonization. Our opponents are just as convinced they’re right as we are. And we must constantly reaffirm the conviction that our common humanity is more important than our differences.

That’s why America’s founders established as our permanent mission the formation of a more perfect union. That’s why Dr. King reminded us that we are all caught up in an ‘inescapable web of mutuality.’ That’s why he taught us to remember that, in the face of evil, only light can push out darkness and only love can push out hate. Living those lessons is something we can all do to honor Rep. Gabby Giffords and the other victims of the tragedy in Tucson."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Did you live through the sixties?

Photo courtesy of
I lived through the sixties, how about you?

I was married with two children born in 1960 and 1962. I held an infant on my lap while following televised developments in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 during the Kennedy Administration. It was a crazy decade. I went back to school in the early 70s, completing junior college before transferring to Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn. where students were still feeling the aftershock of the 60s. Marijuana was readily available on campus, and we continued to endure a few bomb scares.

Although the U.S. economy was doing pretty well back then, Robert Samuelson finds parallels between the 60s and the current era:

WASHINGTON -- We are, it's said, now living through the most wrenching period since the end of World War II. Unemployment has exceeded 9 percent for 20 months, and it's unclear when it will decisively decline. Americans' faith in the future has been shaken; a recent Gallup poll finds that only one in seven thinks it "very likely" that today's children will "have a better life than their parents." The feelings and facts are genuine, but the conclusion amounts to historical amnesia. At least one other period rivals the present for its disillusion and contentiousness -- the 1960s.
At first blush, the comparison seems absurd. The Sixties were nothing if not prosperous. The economy expanded for a then-record 106 months; by 1969, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. For job seekers, it was paradise. "I didn't look for a job, the job looked for me," recalls political scientist Alan Wolfe of Boston College, who received his Ph.D. in 1967. That applied to almost anyone wanting work. Now, graduating Ph.D.'s face "horrendous" prospects, notes Wolfe, as do most job seekers.

But a strictly economic focus misses broader political and psychological parallels. What frightens people today is that we've experienced setbacks that were so completely unpredicted and unimagined (financial panic, major bank failures, General Motors' bankruptcy, huge budget deficits, collapsed housing values) that they raise dark doubts about our institutions and leaders. The political order seems unequal to the challenges. The stridency of debate reflects fears that one political crowd or the other will yank the country in a disastrous direction.

Precisely the same sort of breakdown occurred in the Sixties, and although the causes were very different, the consequences as measured by public divisiveness and anxieties were as great or greater. "The country was more divided than at any time since 1861, just before the Civil War," says historian Allen Matusow of Rice University, author of the acclaimed Sixties' history "The Unraveling of America."

Read more:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

“Is our political speech really more bitter and poisonous than it's ever been?”

Robert F. Kennedy (photo courtesy of
Tim Rutten at the LA Times credits the Internet with contributing to and amplifying the vitriol in American politics. I suggested as much in a recent post in which I mentioned the obligatory sarcasm and cynicism that dominates the blogosphere, especially in anonymously posted diatribes. The uglier your attacks on those with whom you disagree, the more page views you’re likely to garner, and this is equally true for Left and Right-wing bloggers.

Rutten argues that political speech today does not reflect Bobby Kennedy’s America, due primarily to the technology that powers the new media. Rutten writes:

Is our political speech really more bitter and poisonous than it's ever been?

No, though it's certainly more debased and lacerating than it was just a few short years ago. We've been through eras of bitterly expressed politics more often than we'd probably care to admit. The Federalists and anti-Federalists bickered ferociously. Contention over the Bank of the United States during the Jacksonian era was fierce. The political rhetoric leading up to the Civil War was murderous. Franklin Roosevelt's policies were the target of vile opposition. And during the McCarthy period, intolerance abounded.

If there's a major difference between these other periods in which political expression was an ugly business and ours, it probably lies in the technology of speech. We live in an era saturated with communication of all sorts, and this has both radically democratized political speech and opinion and deprived it of any restraint or standard of responsibility.

Because we're literally bathed in politicized speech, which is different than political speech, when rhetoric turns ugly, it seems as if it is all around us because in some sense it is. In former eras we were buffered by constraints of time and distance, which new media have erased.

The Internet has been a great enabler of incivility, not only because it so easily allows the anonymous or pseudonymous expression of the most violent or hurtful opinions but because it reinforces the illusion of a virtual world in which there is nothing but speech. Anyone with a laptop or a smart phone can engage in endless wrangling with the political figures they know only as broadcast images flickering across the video screen. In such an environment, there is no need for the restraint or civility that is an essential part of dealing with flesh-and-blood people or the actual consequences of a real world.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Let’s take the high road now and then in the blogosphere

Photo courtesy of
In the blogosphere you’re apt to be scorned if you choose a reflective approach over snarky expressions of distilled cynicism in your posts, but once in awhile we need to rise above our prejudices and give credit where it’s due.

I appreciated President Obama’s speech in Tucson the other day, and I likewise offer a pat on the back to John McCain for his response in today’s Washington Post. McCain writes:

President Obama gave a terrific speech Wednesday night. He movingly mourned and honored the victims of Saturday's senseless atrocity outside Tucson, comforted and inspired the country, and encouraged those of us who have the privilege of serving America. He encouraged every American who participates in our political debates - whether we are on the left or right or in the media - to aspire to a more generous appreciation of one another and a more modest one of ourselves.

The president appropriately disputed the injurious suggestion that some participants in our political debates were responsible for a depraved man's inhumanity. He asked us all to conduct ourselves in those debates in a manner that would not disillusion an innocent child's hopeful patriotism. I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments. We should respect the sincerity of the convictions that enliven our debates but also the mutual purpose that we and all preceding generations of Americans serve: a better country; stronger, more prosperous and just than the one we inherited.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Order online your own Glock handgun – the kind used in the AZ shooting

Order your own Glock handgun at
Full disclosure:  I admit to a bias against guns. At the age of 18, shortly before she would have graduated from high school, my younger sister accidentally blew her shoulder off with my father’s shotgun. Home alone that day, she lay there on the floor and bled to death.

In the aftermath of the Arizona shooting, Nick Kristoff in the NY Times asks, Why Not Regulate Guns as Seriously as Toys? Please keep in mind that you can order your own Glock gun online at; that’s the kind used in the AZ shooting.  

Kristoff writes:

Jared Loughner was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college. He was rejected by the Army. Yet buy a Glock handgun and a 33-round magazine? No problem.

To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn’t we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Giffords opened her eyes

Nancy Pelosi was in the room when Giffords opened her eyes.( Pelosi's photo is in the public domain.)
President Obama’s speech in AZ this evening was very powerful and moving. In my opinion, he hit just the right note to de-escalate the finger pointing and partisan blaming. And in our hearts, we all had to cheer when, with permission of Mark Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, Obama announced that Gabrielle had opened her eyes for the first time since she was shot.

Politico reports that friends of Giffords, including Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz were in the room when she opened her eyes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Arianna Huffington favorably cites a Clinton??!

Arianna Huffington’s post titled “Arizona Shootings: Our Moment of Silence Needs to Be Followed by More Than Just Lowered Voices” would be more credible if one didn’t recall the viciousness of her blog’s attacks on Hillary Clinton during and after the 08 primary, not to mention the denigration of Bill Clinton and his administration.

The Huffington Post egregiously amplified every insane charge from the Left targeting Hillary, including repeated slanderous accusations of racism. Huffpo, the vanguard of the Left, also eagerly published posts suggesting that the first viable woman presidential candidate in American history hoped for the assassination of Barack Obama, her leading opponent in the Democratic primary.

Needless to say, Arianna and company went on the attack again when Hillary was appointed secretary of state.

One can only hope that Arianna’s words in today’s post are sincere:

This is not a call for passionate debate to come to a halt. But there is a huge difference between passionately disagreeing with your opponents and crudely demonizing them, between considering them as adversaries to be engaged and treating them as enemies to be targeted.

In a remarkable turnaround from 08, Arianna encourages President Obama to follow in the footsteps of former President Clinton:

In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton made a number of impassioned calls for taking a stand against reckless speech and behavior. "When there is talk of hatred," he said at a prayer service four days after the attack, "let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, Let us 'not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'"

I'd love to see President Obama use this moment to call on the country to find ways to "overcome evil with good." Americans, he said in a 2006 speech, "want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives." That purpose should be found in the shared national objective of rebuilding our communities and our connection to each other through everyday acts of compassion, generosity, and service.

I believe it’s possible for human beings to wake up and acknowledge their own culpability in the perpetuation of evil in society. Here’s hoping for the redemption of Arianna and the Huffington Post.

“Politics has always been based on fear”

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords with her husband NASA astronaut Mark Kelly in an undated handout photo
The language in our culture since 9/11 has become increasingly violent. I noticed this a few minutes after my co-workers and I watched the Twin Towers go down on a conference room television. As I stepped out in the corridor, a company vice president strode toward me. Without pausing, he said, “We’ve got to hunt them down and kill them.”

Almost any newscast from Afghanistan in the past few years has featured an interview with an American military leader boasting about the number of Taliban his troops have killed. Whatever happened to the practice of taking prisoners?

The word “kill” is now commonplace in our national discourse.

The Tucson massacre has triggered a much-needed discussion on the lack of civility in politics and the media. Gail Russell Chaddock, a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, offers a thoughtful perspective on what it might take to bring about a positive change in the language and tone we use to converse with one another on the air and elsewhere.

Saturday’s mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., reset the political clock on Capitol Hill Monday, as Congress swept aside the legislative agenda out of respect for those killed or injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona and her aide, Gabriel Zimmerman.

The motive for the mass shooting in Tucson is not clear, but that hasn’t stopped speculation about what is to blame or how tragedy can be averted in the future.

The most frequent comment on Capitol Hill – short of ubiquitous calls to exercise prudence – is to tone down the toxic rhetoric, especially gun-infused metaphors.

RELATED – Arizona shooting: Seven times politics turned to threats or violence last year

But critics acknowledge that it will take more than just members of Congress altering their tough-talking ways to change the overall culture. Political consultants, fundraisers, the news media are all also addicted to tough talk – and for the same reason, it sells.

“This is a deep cultural style of political expression that has developed over 30 years, and it’s not going to be changed overnight,” says former House historian Raymond Smock, who led a staff discussion Monday on the issue at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.

“Politics has always been based on fear … keeping people mad, keeping people on the ragged edge,” he adds. “Every once in a while we get sensitized again, but it’s hard to change.”

Read more:

Monday, January 10, 2011

A statement from No Labels on the violence in Arizona

The No Labels political movement arose in part to help de-escalate the political rhetoric in America and to encourage bipartisanship.  Today, the organization responds to the shooting of Rep. Giffords and several others on Saturday:

Statement from No Labels

The horrific act of violence that occurred Saturday in Arizona has shocked us all to our core and spurred many Americans to ask some hard questions, both about this specific incident and the larger political forces that may have contributed to it. We at No Labels believe this kind of conversation, as painful as the circumstances surrounding it are, is in the best interests and traditions of our country. At times of crisis, when our fundamental democratic values are threatened, we come together as Americans and directly confront our challenges.

But for our country to move forward from this tragedy, we have to talk carefully as well as candidly. We do not yet know all the facts behind this senseless act, and it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to rush to judgment or point fingers of blame at the moment, as some sadly have already done. This is no time for self-aggrandizement or partisan point-scoring -- that's part of the problem, not the solution.

It is clearly, though, a time for self-reflection, as Sheriff Dupnik eloquently put it. Based on the immediate and intuitive reactions of so many Americans, we know enough to say that something is deeply wrong with our political discourse -- and that with this incident, a dangerous line has been crossed. As we grieve for those who died and pray for the recovery of those who were injured, we hope this moment of mourning will lead us to engage each other with more civility and respect and see each other not as opponents or enemies but as Americans.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Buddhist monk’s antidote to the violence in American politics

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in AZ Saturday, photo courtesy of her website.

In July 2004, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh began his address to the US Congress, published online in the Shamabala Sun, with these words:
Distinguished members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, it is my pleasure to have this opportunity to talk with you about how we can share our insight, our compassion and our understanding in order to better serve those we want to serve and help heal the wounds that have divided our nation and the world.
In the aftermath of the outbreak of violence in Arizona yesterday, it might be wise to keep Nhat Hanh’s words in mind while reading this NY Times article by Carl Hulse and Kate  Zernike on the increasing vitriol in our national discourse:
WASHINGTON — The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others at a neighborhood meeting in Arizona on Saturday set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics.

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Who is Gene Sperling?

It’s disconcerting these days to watch the analysis of Shields and Brooks on the PBS NewsHour. From his gleeful, fawning support of Obama in ’08 and simultaneous contemptuous disparagement of Hillary Clinton, Mark Shields, um, he’s the liberal of the pair, now speaks scathingly of “the Obama cult.” And that’s why Shields is glad to see the shakeup in the Obama Administration that includes the appointments of Gene Sperling as director of the National Economic Council and Bill Daley as chief of staff.

So who is Gene Sperling and how has the media done in introducing him to the public? Ezra Klein thinks the media has fallen down on the job:

Matt Yglesias is right that the media -- myself included -- has done a crummy job introducing people to the work and thought of Gene Sperling, as opposed to scrutinizing the few areas of his background that seemed likely to create controversy:
Like [Sperling] or hate him, I just wish the past week’s worth of commentary on him hadn’t relied so heavily on “six degrees of Robert Rubin” versus “here’s a thinly sourced anecdote from the 1990s.” Sperling’s views on economic policy are not a state secret. He published a good book in 2005, or if you want a briefer precis of his views, you can read his 2007 article for Democracy

Friday, January 7, 2011

By choosing Bill Daley, Obama alarms his liberal fans yet again

Once a beacon of hope for the left, Obama now perches at the center
If you spent any time at all in the trenches back in the ’08 Democratic primary, you recall how viciously those kids on the left, while fueling Obama’s campaign with their $1.00 donations, denigrated the Clinton Administration and attacked Hillary Clinton. They especially vilified the Clintons for being centrists, and they held up the haloed Obama as the harbinger of a new politics.

Obama’s politics are about as new as the politics of the Daley machine in Chicagoland, and it’s interesting how the punditry are finding ways to support Obama’s pick of Bill Daley, who is apparently as centrist as they come, to replace Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff.

That would be the same punditry that joined the kids in '08 in elevating Obama while tearing Hillary down. Oh, well, maybe it was just their sexism.

In his NY Times piece on Daley’s appointment, Eric Lipton does acknowledge that Daley’s appointment has “alarmed some of the president’s liberal supporters, who say that bringing Mr. Daley into the White House violates a commitment to curtail the sway of special interests.”

But then Lipton provides one of the more objective takes on Obama’s latest decision to bring an old Chicago pol to the White House:

WASHINGTON — He is a top executive at JPMorgan Chase, where he is paid as much as $5 million a year and supervises the Washington lobbying efforts of the nation’s second-largest bank. He also serves on the board of directors at Boeing, the giant military contractor, and Abbott Laboratories, the global drug company, which has billions of dollars at stake in the overhaul of the health care system.

And now William M. Daley, the son and brother of Chicago mayors and a behind-the-scenes political player himself, will hold one of the most powerful jobs in Washington: chief of staff in the White House, where he will help decide who gets into the Oval Office and what President Obama’s Capitol Hill agenda should be.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Israel-Palestine: “It’s Hillary time”

Secretary Clinton shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their bilateral meeting at the Blair House in Washington, D.C., July 6, 2010. State Department.  Photo by Michael Gross.

On the potential for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg declares it’s "Hillary time:"

FWIW, I do tend to think that Hillary Clinton has been put on earth in order to negotiate this issue to a successful conclusion. She has the will, the intelligence, the understanding and the prestige to make this happen -- if it is going to happen at all. Opportunities are, in fact, presenting themselves at this moment, and it would be a shame to see Hillary's talents go to waste on lesser projects. And, by the way, I don't believe that solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute fixes America's problems in the Middle East, but I do believe that it's an important enough issue in its own right to warrant most of Hillary's attention. 

See the entire post:

A partisan 112th Congress gets underway

For the people or for the party?
Chris Good’s post at the Atlantic doesn’t project much optimism for bipartisanship for the 112th Congress as he reports on opening day at the U.S. House of Representatives, but I’m still going to hang in there with the No Labels philosophy.

Here’s Chris:

"I wish we were in power. I think the public policy goals I like would be better served, but we came in here with the majority, we were in the minority, back to the majority, back again," Frank says. "I'm skeptical now. The Republicans in the House seem to be pretty hard-edged partisans, so I am not optimistic."

There's a lot of that going around among Democrats today: the attitude of, "What can you do?"

For the next 30 minutes or so, the United States does not have a legislature. After the conclusion of the 111th Congress, the 435 representatives were technically kicked out. They don't represent their districts, on paper, until they're sworn back in.

Democrats, one might expect, would prefer to keep it that way. Judging from what they've said about Republicans over the past four years, you'd think they'd prefer no Congress at all to one run by Speaker-elect John Boehner.

But, despite this gloom and fatigue, they seem to be taking it in stride.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A filibuster plan that only a Republican can love?

Recently, Minnesota’s former Vice-President Walter Mondale and Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for fixing the filibuster. In today’s Washington Post, Ruth Marcus urges liberal Dems to be careful what they wish for regarding changing the Senate’s filibuster rules:

The junior Democratic senators are fed up, understandably so, with the institution's glacial pace. Liberal activists are demanding filibuster reform - now.
They should be careful what they wish for.

The reforms being discussed make complete sense. But they also wouldn't do much to address the fundamental complaint about the filibuster: that it effectively imposes a supermajority requirement for any Senate action. And as a pure matter of partisan politics, these changes could end up causing more problems for Democrats than they would solve, now and in the future. 

But then, wouldn’t it be great if our esteemed senators on both sides of the aisle could sit down together and conduct an intelligent debate about the way to reform the filibuster rules that will best serve the American people - or is that expecting too much maturity from our elected officials?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chilean women unite in faith-based activism against authoritarianism

As a 1990 seminary graduate, this exclusive by Maxine Lowy from the Women’s Media Center on the activism rooted in feminist theology in Chile caught my attention. 
Courtesy of the Women's Media Center

Women who formed the backbone of the antipoverty and human rights work of liberation theology in Latin America have organized for women’s empowerment for decades.

Twenty years since Chile emerged from dictatorship, the legacy of faith-based activism against authoritarianism lives on among women who challenge traditional patriarchal notions of Christian religion. The fertile ground that in these two decades has nurtured women who seek full participation in their churches and society at large is the annual Women’s Theological Week, which convened most recently November 17 to 19 in Santiago, Chile.

The gathering has been organized since 1991 by the Diego de Medellin Ecumenical Center (CEDM, its Spanish acronym), an institution that channels faith to address pressing social issues. Women’s Theological Week brings together Catholics and Protestants, theologians and grassroots community organizers, nuns and Pentecostals under the multi-hued banner of feminist theology.

In Latin America, feminist theology springs from the liberation theology that was born as a theological commitment to the poor in Latin America in the early ‘60s and came into full maturity when military regimes took the continent by assault in the ‘70s and ‘80s. During the 17 years (September 1973 to March 1990) Augusto Pinochet held Chile in his grip, from under the protective wings of the Catholic Church arose neighborhood health committees, human rights groups, soup kitchens, crafts coops and an array of mutual aid groups, with majority participation by women, to resist the authoritarian political and economic policies.

Liberation theology taught how to read and analyze the Bible in light of the repression Chileans were witnessing. But by the mid 1980s when secular women took to the streets demanding “democracy in the country and in the home,” women’s empowerment gave way to a sense of marginalization even in the progressive but male-dominated liberation theology circles.

Women’s Theological Week coordinator Doris Muñoz, a CEDM staffer who during dictatorship participated in the Catholic-led Sebastian Acevedo Movement against Torture, exemplifies this itinerary. “My political conscience is embodied in the Christian ethic of giving sight to the blind.”  When, in 1988, she entered a Chilean seminary renown as a place for reflection on liberation theology, she perceived “levels of discrimination” and realized that it “was not the same to study theology as a woman, or to study theology as a layperson.”  Today Muñoz considers herself a feminist theologian or, more precisely, an eco-feminist, because “the patterns that degrade the environment are the same as those that subjugate women.” She insists, “We need a change in cosmovision because androcentrism dominates the world and we as women suffer as a result.”

Barack Obama as Luke Skywalker (video)

Jon Stewart's review of 2010 for the Obama Administration in which he portrays Obama as Luke Skywalker - watch:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Is Luke Skywalker
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

Anonymity: a shame-free zone where Internet bloggers can inflict shame on others?

Stanley Fish, a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University in Miami, writes for the NY Times on education, law and society. I’ve been reading Fish’s column for several years.

Fish has long been a standard bearer for civility, even on the Internet, and he was one of the few members of the media to consistently protest the vulgar sexism and misogyny so prevalent in the 2008 Democratic primary that targeted Hillary Clinton. He also defended Sarah Palin against similar attacks in the general election.

In today’s column, Fish discusses the abuse of free speech by too many anonymous Internet bloggers. He writes:

The practice of withholding the identity of the speaker is strategic, and one purpose of the strategy (this is the second problem with anonymity) is to avoid responsibility and accountability for what one is saying. Anonymity, Martha Nussbaum, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Chicago observes, allows Internet bloggers “to create for themselves a shame-free zone in which they can inflict shame on others.” The power of the bloggers, she continues, “depends on their ability to insulate their Internet selves from responsibility in the real world, while ensuring real-world consequences” for those they injure.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Minnesota inaugurates Mark Dayton, the first Democratic governor in 20 years


Mark Dayton was inaugurated today as Minnesota’s first Democratic governor in 20 years. In the interest of full disclosure, my ties with the Dayton family go back to the 1980s when I was a Dayton Merit Scholar at United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities. The scholarship paid for my tuition and books. 

Today Mark and I are Facebook friends, and you can bet I voted for him last November.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune covered Dayton’s inauguration:
Moments after Mark Dayton was sworn in as governor, he began bracing Minnesotans and political rivals for difficult times ahead.

The state's first Democratic governor in more than 20 years signaled his willingness to work with Republicans who will control the Legislature, but said he was prepared to spend his new political capital to make tough but unpopular decisions.

Dayton steps into office after years of a depressed economy and a series of accounting gimmicks that leave the state facing a staggering $6.2 billion deficit. Dayton and Republican legislative leaders must balance the books without hobbling the state's sputtering economy, but also without angering recession-wracked taxpayers stinging from higher property taxes, soaring college tuition and cuts to cherished government services.



Chavez notices Hillary’s smile

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with Hillary Clinton this weekend at the inauguration of Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, he was struck by the secretary of state's smile, which was, apparently "spontaneous."  

Your Facebook friend could be a prison inmate

I read it in the NY Times this morning:

ATLANTA — A counterfeiter at a Georgia state prison ticks off the remaining days of his three-year sentence on his Facebook page. He has 91 digital “friends.” Like many of his fellow inmates, he plays the online games FarmVille and Street Wars.

He does it all on a Samsung smartphone, which he says he bought from a guard. And he used the same phone to help organize a short strike among inmates at several Georgia prisons last month. 

Read more:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Minnesotans Klobuchar and Mondale: fix the filibuster

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (press kit photo).
We Minnesotans value civility and as a result, we’ve produced a few remarkable politicians. Listening first to Sen. Amy Klobuchar this morning on WCCO speak out against the misuse of the filibuster in the US Senate and then reading former Vice President Walter Mondale’s op-ed in today’s NY Times on the same topic would hearten anyone who prefers problem solving to obstruction in our government.

Mondale writes:

Mondale at United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities in '06.
WE all have hopes for the New Year. Here’s one of mine: filibuster reform. It was around this time 36 years ago — during a different recession — that I was part of a bipartisan effort to reform Senate Rule 22, the cloture rule. At the time, 67 votes were needed to cut off debate and thus end a filibuster, and nothing was getting done. After long negotiations, a compromise lowered to 60 the cloture vote requirement on legislation and nominations. We hoped this moderate change would preserve debate and deliberation while avoiding paralysis, and for a while it did.

But it’s now clear that our reform was insufficient for today’s more partisan, increasingly gridlocked Senate. In 2011, senators should pull back the curtain on Senate obstruction and once again amend the filibuster rules.