Saturday, February 28, 2009

All Gods Have Clay Feet – Even Left-Wing Idol Barack Obama

Friday evening, I posted a few strong reminders of George W. Bush that came through in Barack Obama’s responses during Jim Lehrer's NewsMaker interview on PBS’ NewsHour.

There was more deja vu to come.

According to Devlin Barrett at the Huffington Post, the Obama Administration got slapped down in court yesterday for defending the Bush wiretapping policy:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has lost its argument that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government's warrantless wiretapping program.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Friday rejected the Justice Department's request for an emergency stay in a case involving a defunct Islamic charity.

Yet government lawyers signaled they would continue fighting to keep the information secret, setting up a new showdown between the courts and the White House over national security.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, claimed national security would be compromised if a lawsuit brought by the Oregon chapter of the charity, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, was allowed to proceed.

Now, civil libertarians hope the case will become the first chance for a court to rule on whether the warrantless wiretapping program was legal or not. It cited the so-called state secrets privilege as a defense against the lawsuit.

Huffpo’s reader mg moore’s comment was spot on. It accurately summed up typical responses from Obama’s devoted netroots base whenever their idol disappoints them:

mg moore

The responses from the Lefties here are typical of what I am seeing across the other boards:

Typical Reaction 1: Denial
Something along the lines of 'I won't believe this until I hear him say it or I read it from a news source that tells me what I want to hear!" The implication being that THEIR Obama would never do that!

Typical Reaction 2: Blame Bush
Something like "Well Bush screwed it up so much that Obama has to keep doing the same old immoral thing so he can fix it later".

Typical Reaction 3: Deux Ex Machina
Obama is a thousand steps ahead of all mere mortals in his intelligence, kindness and sexiness and mere mortals cannot understand nor should they attempt to question HIS plans.

I'll make a prediction. You guys are going to get your hearts broken and in 3 years I am going to be on the boards defending him to you!

mg(All gods have clay feet)moore

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shades of George W. Bush in Jim Lehrer’s NewsMaker Interview of Barack Obama

President Obama told Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina today that U.S. combat operations will end in Iraq by August 31, 2010.

But as the new commander in chief promised to wind down the War in Iraq, he had already ordered 8,000 of the 40,000 Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune to Afghanistan, and a brigade from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg in central North Carolina could soon follow.

Jim Lehrer, an ex-Marine, joined President Obama at Camp Lejeune and interviewed him for the PBS NewsHour this evening.

As usual, Obama self-righteously reiterated his position that he had opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning without mentioning that he had not been a U.S. senator at the time the Iraq War Resolution was passed and was therefore ineligible to vote on it.

Aside from that, our new commander in chief’s answers to several of Lehrer’s questions prompted a strong sense of déjà vu reminiscent of George W. Bush:

JIM LEHRER: And you also said in your speech that it's - one of the lessons of Iraq is that there are clearly defined goals. What are the goals for Afghanistan right now?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, I don't think that they're clear enough, that's part of the problem. We've seen a sense of drift in the mission in Afghanistan, and that's why I've ordered a head-to-toe, soup-to-nuts review of our approach in Afghanistan.

In other words, Obama has ordered 17,000 troops to Afghanistan prior to reviewing U.S. strategy there and setting any goals.

JIM LEHRER: You're not the least bit uneasy over the fact as John McCain and John Boehner, the Republican leader of the House, have praised your plan {for exiting Iraq} while the Democrats are criticizing it?

BARACK OBAMA: You know, I don't - I don't make these decisions based on polls or popularity. I make the decisions based on what I think is best. This is consistent with what I said during the campaign. The fact - if anything I think people should be interested in the fact that there's been a movement in the direction of what I thought was going to be the right plan in the first place.

Think about it: how often have we heard Dubya say he didn’t make his decisions based on polls or popularity.

When Lehrer asked Obama about how it felt to send young men and women in the military into harm’s way, we got another statement nearly identical to Bush’s response to the same question.

BARACK OBAMA: You know, it will keep you up at night. I feel an enormous obligation to get it right, which is why I say the last thing I'm thinking about is either applause or cat calls from the public or, you know, the cable stations as I'm making these decisions. I feel a profound obligation to these troops and their families to make sure that the decisions I'm making are the best possible decisions given the best possible information that I have, having canvassed the widest range of viewpoints in order to keep the American people safe.

But perhaps the most chilling trigger of deja vu occurred during the Analysis of Shields and Brooks following Lehrer’s interview with Obama. It came when Brooks expressed concern at Obama’s apparently unflappable self confidence in facing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a global financial crisis, and several other major problems, any one of which would be a heavy burden for a newly elected president with little or no relevant experience.

How many times did we shake our heads in dismay at George Bush’s swagger in facing the challenges of the presidency? Our former president's ego was no doubt as bolstered by his advisors and handlers as our current president's ego is by his.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Madam Secretary Way Out in Front of Our Mindless Media Minions

Secretary Clinton isn’t pausing long enough for the media to catch its breath; she’s got a job to do and mindlessly offensive editorials at the Boston Globe or elsewhere won’t deter her. The Globe editorial board is among those in the media who haven’t figured out yet that when your country’s track record includes torture, rendition, and unleashing sexism and misogyny against its first viable female presidential candidate, you are in no position to lecture China or any other country on human rights.

And let us not forget Obama’s head speechwriter, Jon Favreau. That’s the young man who was photographed with one of his drunken pals sexually molesting a cardboard cutout of the newly appointed secretary of state. Favreau’s Facebook photo, circulated worldwide on the Internet, told the world just how little America respects women.

In the meantime, Madam Secretary will set off on March 1 for the Middle East and Europe.

RFE/RL reports:

Clinton will visit Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank to examine prospects for charting a "new path" in the region, U.S. officials say.

On March 2, in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, U.S. officials have said Clinton will make a U.S. pledge of some $900 million to contribute to rebuilding Gaza in the aftermath of its recent war with Israel. Palestinian official are hopeful total donations will cover their estimate of some $3 billion in total damage.

Envoys from some 80 countries will attend the Gaza donors conference. George Mitchell, the Obama administration's special envoy for Mideast peace, will accompany Clinton.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, will not be there. The Palestinians will instead by represented by President Mahmud Abbas, who is expected to meet with Clinton when she later visits the West Bank.

RFE/RL continues:

From the Middle East, Clinton will fly to meetings in Brussels with NATO and European Union officials. The she heads to Geneva for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on arms control and Afghanistan.

Read More:

Secretary Clinton Hosts Trilateral Talks with Pakistan and Afghanistan

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Afghanistan's Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, left, and Pakistan's Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Photo credits: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Watching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s poise in visiting with one head of state after another in recent weeks while keeping the ignorant dolts in the media at bay has been a rewarding experience in itself. You had to love the way she reminded the press during her Asian trip that stating the obvious isn’t news.

Clinton is on the go. Between her Asian trip and her upcoming visit to the Middle East, she has hosted “valuable” trilateral meetings with Afghan foreign minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta and his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung reports:

The unprecedented trilateral talks were part of a U.S. effort to encourage cooperation between the neighboring governments over terrorist inroads in both countries. They came as the Obama administration is conducting a strategic review of the foundering Afghan war effort and of its policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Delegations from both countries included defense and intelligence ministers, as well as diplomatic chiefs.

"Our basic purpose was to exchange views on the strategic issues now being reviewed in our policy review by the Obama administration," Clinton said. "That goal has been amply fulfilled." No specific agreements were announced.

Read more:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Buddhist’s Take on the Global Financial Crisis: Enlightened Altruism

It seems ironic to come across Gordon Mijuk’s piece in the Dow Jones Newswires on Matthieu Ricard’s Buddhist take on the global financial crisis.

Mijuk writes:

Shrouded in his red Buddhist robe, Matthieu Ricard was hard to miss amid the sea of black and gray business suits that crowded the halls at the World Economic Forum.

His take on the global financial crisis and the fast economic downturn, however, folded almost neatly into the grim view that was shared by many business leaders during the panel discussions in Davos.

Also, his solution sounded somewhat familiar.

"This crisis shows that a system based on egoistic interest is dysfunctional," Ricard said. "It has created the lose-lose situation in which we find ourselves now."

Ricard, who was born in 1946 in Paris to French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel, turned to Buddhism some 40 years ago after completing his doctoral thesis in molecular genetics.

While he regularly seeks solitude and seclusion in the Himalayas, Ricard has a hands-on approach to life.

Besides being the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, Ricard is a renowned photographer who also has written several best-selling books about Buddhism and science. He is heading a nonprofit organization in Nepal that is providing medical care and education to children.

"One way out of this crisis is to follow what I would call an enlightened altruism," Ricard said. "This crisis has shown that we don't work in isolation but that there is an interdependence. So what we need to do is to work together and consolidate the interest of the economy, human beings and the environment. This could be a win-win situation."

Or, in other words: Yes, we can.

Politico’s Hilarious Video of Late Night’s Take on Obama’s Speech

Ya gotta watch Politico’s summary of the late night’s take on Obama’s speech:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Echoes of the Bush Administration: Senior Dem Calls Obama Out on Executive Branch Power Grab

How soon we forget. Seems like just yesterday that many of us were up in arms over the repeated power grabs by the executive branch from the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government under the Bush Administration.

Take a look at this morning’s press release from Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest serving member of the senate. In a letter to Barack Obama, Sen. Byrd calls the president out for creating “czar” posts that might influence policies not subject to required Constitutional power checks. (As a superdelegate in the Democratic primary, Sen. Byrd endorsed Obama.)

Washington, DC - Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., the Constitutional conscience of the Senate, has written to President Barack Obama expressing his concerns over the increasing appointments of White House "czars," and the relationship between these new White House positions and their executive branch counterparts, noting that "too often, I have seen these lines of authority and responsibility become tangled and blurred, sometimes purposely, to shield information and to obscure the decision-making process."

Byrd, in his February 23 letter, specifically referenced the creation of new White House Offices of Health Reform, Urban Affairs Policy, and Energy and Climate Change Policy, noting that "the rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances. At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials."

"As presidential assistants and advisers, these White House staffers are not accountable for their actions to the Congress, to cabinet officials, and to virtually anyone but the president. They rarely testify before congressional committees, and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege. In too many instances, White House staff have been allowed to inhibit openness and transparency, and reduce accountability," Byrd's letter continued.

Byrd cited President Obama's recent memorandum to the executive departments and agencies in which Obama noted that, "A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency."

"As you develop your White House organization, I hope you will favorably consider the following: that assertions of executive privilege will be made only by the President, or with the President's specific approval; that senior White House personnel will be limited from exercising authority over any person, any program, and any funding within the statutory responsibility of a Senate-confirmed department or agency head; that the President will be responsible for resolving any disagreement between a Senate-confirmed agency or department head and White House staff; and that the lines of authority and responsibility in the Administration will be transparent and open to the American public," the letter requested and concluded.

Obama’s Speech: No Specific Solutions to the Financial Crisis

Princeton historian Sean Wilentz was one of the few opinion writers in the 2008 Democratic primary who saw through the Obama camp’s repeated attempts to smear Bill and Hillary Clinton as racists.

Since the election, the Clintons have demonstrated remarkable forgiveness and resolve in continuing to put their considerable talents to work on behalf of America and the wider world.

As Katalusis readers are well aware, I’ve so far been unable to match the graciousness of the Clintons - but back to the present.

I hadn’t read anything by Professor Wilentz in some time when I spotted his analysis of Obama’s speech last night posted at the Daily Beast. In keeping with his usual style, Wilentz is objective, courteous, and fair in his assessment of what our new president said or neglected to say.

It’s been nearly a decade since the country has heard a vibrant, full-throated Democratic speech from a president of the United States. President Obama gave one tonight. In presenting his budget priorities to the Congress and the American people, he provided a clear defense of the federal government’s historic role as a catalyst for economic growth and the nation’s welfare. From the Transcontinental Railroad to the Interstate Highway System, he explained, private wealth has always expanded with the help of the national government. And with that, the president exorcised the political spirit of Ronald Reagan from Capitol Hill.

Energy, health, education—these are at the top of the administration’s agenda. If nothing had happened last September, when Lehman Brothers was allowed to collapse, these policies also would have been at the top. But a great deal has changed since the Democratic convention ratified the party’s platform, with these same priorities. The country and the world have plunged into the greatest economic crisis since the Depression. And that must be the president’s chief preoccupation.

No matter what the White House decides to do, it should have made some decisions by now—and President Obama should have announced them tonight.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office on March 4, 1933, the nation had been in a depression for nearly four years. The banking system had virtually collapsed; the credit markets were frozen; and unemployment had exceeded 25 percent. The calamity that President Obama confronts is still in its earliest stages. He faces the challenge of sparing the country the kind of suffering that Roosevelt inherited from Herbert Hoover and that led to the New Deal.

Today, the banking system is near collapse; the credit markets are nearly frozen; and unemployment is rising dangerously. And the system is vastly more complex than it was in the early 1930s. This is the heart of the crisis—and the president lucidly explained much of it in his speech. But he should also have proposed specific solutions because until he does the crisis will continue to deepen.

Read more:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Political/Spiritual Epiphany in the Dentist’s Office

Photo credits:

Due to a busy schedule I’ve not posted much lately. I was guest speaker on Sunday at a local Twin Cities Unitarian Universalist church, and I was occupied Monday organizing my mindfulness meditation group. I just got back this afternoon from my six-month check up at the dentist’s office, and I’m going out later this evening to help with fundraising at the seminary where I earned my master’s in divinity degree.

No doubt you’ve already glimpsed the thread of spirituality running through the above list of activities. No? I’ll bet you don’t get the spiritual connection with the dentist’s office.

Let me explain. I’ve been seeing the same dentist at least twice a year for about the past eight years. Dr. Fuller and I never fail to get into an intense political discussion while he’s completing my check up. He’s fair, though. He removes the gadgets and allows me to speak when it’s my turn.

A lot had happened since my visit last July, but we zeroed in on the economy and quickly moved to discussing Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine.” Dr. Fuller was putting his tools away, when I mentioned we’d managed to thoroughly depress ourselves this time around. That’s when I told him I was starting a mindfulness meditation group in my neighborhood. Startled, he replied, “That’s the only way out of this. A lot of people have told me they’re doing the same thing.”

Could the global financial meltdown be moving us toward a deeper appreciation of the spiritual? Just a thought.