Saturday, April 30, 2011

Minnesotans will take our extended winter gloom this April over the tornadoes sweeping the south

On this last day of April here in St. Paul we awoke to driving rain mixed with traces of snow. We’re expecting a high today of around 50 degrees and a low tonight of 32. But family and friends agree that compared to folks in the storm-ravaged South, Minnesotans have nothing to complain about.

In the midst of the devastation from recent tornadoes across the southern landscape, the AP reports that volunteers are saving the day for many:

PRATT CITY, Ala. — Whether it's refilling blood-pressure medicine or patrolling neighborhoods in a grocery-filled pickup truck, tornado victims in splintered Southern towns say volunteers are ensuring they're well-fed and warm at night. At least a few, though, say they need more from the government: Help getting into their homes and cleaning up endless debris.

Across the twister-ravaged South, students and church groups aggressively tended to those who needed it most, clearing away wreckage and handing out food and water. Wednesday's tornadoes marked the second-deadliest day of twisters in U.S. history, leaving 341 people dead across seven states — including 249 in Alabama. Thousands were hurt, and hundreds of homes and businesses have vanished into rubble.

Federal Emergency Management Agency workers handed out information to people in shelters about how to apply for help. National Guard soldiers stood watch, searched for survivors and helped sift through debris. Churches transformed into buzzing community hubs.

In Tuscaloosa, a Red Cross shelter was handing out clothes and providing counseling for folks like Carol Peck, 55, and her 77-year-old mother. She said the shelter's First Aid station even refilled her blood pressure pills without her having to ask.

She can't explain how it happened, but she suspects her clinic contacted the shelter.
"Evidently, because I sure didn't call," she said. "They knew I was here. I don't know how, but they found me."

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wisconsin Dems claim momentum in recall wars

Image courtesy of

Gov. Walker (R) may yet rue the day he set out to break the backs of unions in a state that has a long history of fair labor practices:  in 1911, Wisconsin became the first state to pass workers compensation protections; in 1932, it led the way in enacting unemployment compensation; and in 1959, it passed one of the nation’s first collective bargaining laws for public employees.

At the Plum Line, Greg Sargent reports that Wisconsin Dems "can still claim momentum in the recall wars:"

Wow. In a sign that Wisconsin Democrats can still claim momentum in the recall wars, Dems today filed the signatures to trigger a recall election against a sixth Wisconsin GOP state senator — and this time, they filed an astonishing 166 percent of the number required, the highest yet.

Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, confirms that Dems today filed 26,524 signatures supporting a recall election against GOP senator Robert Cowles, out of 15,960 required. This is the strongest signature showing by Dems yet: Against five previous GOP targets, Dems amassed signatures in the area of 140 or 150 percent.

Sargent continues:

There are other signs that Dems have the momentum here; For one thing, GOP organizers fell short in signatures against four Dem targets. While there will all but certainly be recall elections against six Republicans, currently officials are examining signatures for the recall of only three Democrats, though there’s some talk about a fourth. 

If Dems end up with six recall elections versus three for Republicans, that’s not a bad place to be, given that Dems need to net three wins to take back the state senate.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In the 21st Century, does every American girl still dream of growing up to be a princess?

Kate and William (photo/public domain)

I ride my exercise bike for 20 or 30 minutes every morning; I’d like to increase my pedaling time, but I can’t tolerate the programming on TV’s early shows much longer than that. Lately, it’s gotten worse. Stuck with only basic cable, I flip back and forth between the Today Show, Good Morning, America, and the CBS Early Show.

The mindlessly euphoric coverage of the royal wedding on all three networks transports me back to the middle ages. The roles in which women are cast in this extravagant pageant are stunningly regressive.

The media’s preoccupation for several days this week with which fortunate designer will do Kate’s wedding gown would convince a thoughtful person that the struggle for women’s rights in the western world has permanently stalled.

And I even heard one drooling female commentator the other day suggest that every American girl dreams of growing up to be a princess. Does that mean that none of our daughters or granddaughters are dreaming of becoming religious, political, or business leaders, doctors, scientists, writers, or maybe, entrepreneurs?

It’s not surprising that today’s Doonesbury comic strip shows Zonker and his charge Samantha in London trying to crash the royal wedding. Samantha winds up in a crowded holding area for American girls wanting to marry Harry, while Zonker tries to make the best of the situation by saying, “No, no, this is good. You can size up the competition.”

Think about it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Has misogyny once again become cool?

The domestication of Michelle Obama (public domain photo)

I would argue that misogyny has never become uncool, but Anita Finlay’s post at the New Agenda on Why Politicians' Wives Dread Their Husbands Running for President is a must read for any self-respecting female who cares enough about herself and her daughters to take action against the ongoing “terrorism” unleashed against any woman in our culture who assumes a position of power, especially if she dares to step on the national stage either as a candidate or a candidate’s wife.

President Obama releases his birth certificate (live video)

The live event has concluded, but if you click on playlist in the bottom right-hand corner and then on the second image in the top row, which shows Obama, you can watch a replay of the video.

Ralph Nader on why Obama will likely win a second term

Whatever your political affiliation, it has to be depressing that within this huge superpower nation with its high ratio of college educated adults, neither the Republican Party, nor an independent party can find a qualified candidate to oppose President Obama in 2012. 

And that’s true even though Obama can claim at present only lukewarm support.

Given those circumstances, Ralph Nader offers a logical explanation for the likelihood that Obama will win a second term. But don’t let the civil tone of Nader’s Bloomberg piece fool you; he very effectively presents both the pluses and minuses of Obama’s leadership so far in his first term, e.g., Obama, a Nobel peace prize winner, has been “militarily aggressive on just about every move that liberals used to call impeachable offenses by former President George W. Bush.”

Nader writes:

The stars are aligned for Barack Obama’s re-election in November 2012. He won’t join Jimmy Carter to be the second Democrat in 120 years to lose a second term.

Five things are playing in Obama’s favor.

First, the Republicans -- driven by their most conservative members in Congress -- will face a primary with many candidates who will advance harsh ideological positions. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump and others might as well be on the Democratic National Committee payroll. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s reverse Robin Hood plan to cut more than $6 trillion in spending over a decade will provide the outrage, stoked by a sitting president possessed of verbal discipline. 

Second, the Republican governors’ attacks on unions are turning off the swing voters and Reagan Democrats in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Imagine the voter reaction if millions of workers lose their right to collective bargaining, and the impact that cuts in benefits and wages will have on their lives.

Democratic governors, such as Jerry Brown of California, Pat Quinn of Illinois and Andrew Cuomo of New York, are cutting -- but not taking away -- workers’ bargaining rights. This is a politically useful contrast for Obama. Reagan Democrats, who have won many elections for the Republicans, are a big plus for Obama in the contested states.

No Challenge

Third, no candidates are emerging to challenge Obama in the primaries. A discussion of Obama’s forgotten campaign promises and record would have public support among Democrats. Even so, the liberal base has nowhere to go to send a message about war, free-trade agreements, raising the minimum wage or union membership.

Nor does a third party or independent candidacy pose a threat, given the winner-take-all, two-party system.

Fourth, Obama has neutered much of the big corporate lobby’s zeal to defeat him. He decided from the beginning not to prosecute executives from Wall Street banking, brokerage and rating firms. Multinational companies are pleased with Obama’s position on trade, on not disturbing the many corporate subsidies, handouts and giveaways, such as the corn-ethanol subsidy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The real issue in the economic debate: “jobs, not deficit reduction”

An unemployment line. Photo courtesy of

The talk coming out of Washington lately from both the GOP and the Administration cannot be reassuring to seniors who rely on Social Security and Medicare, the unemployed, and others among the nation’s poor. But no doubt the five percent of the population in the U.S. that claims 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth are feeling on top of the world.

John Nichols at the Nation calls President Obama to account for allowing the GOP to take control of the debate in fiscal matters.

Nichols writes:

Republicans never cared about deficit reduction when George Bush was president.

And, for the most part, they don’t care now—as evidenced by broad GOP support for House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan’s plan to keep the budget out of balance until 2040 while clearing the way to begin streaming federal Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid dollars into the coffers of Wall Street speculators and insurance-industry profiteers.

But Republican leaders do care about controlling the debate. When the country is focused on an overblown debate about debts and deficits, that forecloses discussion about the serious economic and social challenges facing the nation. It also forecloses discussion about holding bankers and CEOs accountable for irresponssible and illegal practices that have done far more harm to the nation’s fiscal stability than retirees and the children of low-income families who need a little healthcare.

President Obama’s decision to mimic GOP talking points when it comes to fiscal matters has done more damage to his poll numbers—and Democratic political prospects—than anything said or done by an almost hopelessly inept Republican team.

And one Democratic congressman is calling the president out on the issue.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Giffords to attend shuttle launch

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Astronaut Mark Kelly
 Gabrielle Giffords appears to be making slow but sure progress. The Huffington Post reports:

HOUSTON — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will attend husband Mark Kelly's space shuttle launch in Florida on Friday, Kelly said, allowing the Arizona congresswoman to travel for the first time since she was flown from Tucson to Houston more than three months ago to recover from a gunshot wound to the head.

In an interview with CBS' Katie Couric, Kelly said Giffords' doctors had given her permission to travel to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for the launch of Endeavour, which is scheduled for 3:47 p.m. Friday. Kelly is the commander of the shuttle mission.

CBS released excerpts of the interview Sunday, and it was scheduled to air Monday on "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," according to a network statement.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

America’s addiction to the Predator drone: “a tool for assassination from 10,000 feet”

A few years ago another parent and I were exchanging emails expressing concern about the violence in video games. My friend remarked, “It seems the primary goal in some of these games — so popular with today’s teens — is to kill as many people as you can as quickly as possible.

“It’s as if killing is okay as long as it’s not real people. One day someone’s going to think: We’re not killing real people. We're just pushing a button, and some vaguely people-like beings on the other side of the globe disappear.”

When he made those remarks, I’m not sure either my friend or I was aware of weapons in the U.S. arsenal appropriately referred to as Predator drones.  Today, Predator drones are launched with the push of a button from sites within the U.S. where operators are taking deadly aim at targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and most recently in Libya. News reports chronicle daily the number of innocent civilians killed in these attacks.

One has to ask: are video games modeled after weapons already in use by our armed forces with such blatant disregard for human life, or is it the other way around?

The other day, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius protested Obama’s recent approval of the use of drones in Libya:

Ignatius wrote:

Drone attacks have become an addictive tool of U.S. national security policy, as illustrated by Thursday’s unfortunate announcement that President Obama has authorized their use in Libya.

Armed with Hellfire missiles, the Predator drone is a tool for assassination from 10,000 feet. It has been used by the CIA, with a paper-thin veneer of deniability, to attack al-Qaeda operatives and related targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where other weapons do not reach. One would like to think that’s a special case, born of the extreme threat posed on Sept. 11, 2001, and the remoteness of the tribal areas where the attackers are hiding. 

But now we have Defense Secretary Robert Gates, accompanied by Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stating at a news conference that Obama “has approved the use of armed Predators” over Libya—and, indeed, that the first mission was launched Thursday but aborted because of bad weather.
They did not state what targets the Predator had been assigned to strike. But surely it’s likely that the goal was to kill Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi or other members of his inner circle.

Ignatius continued:

I wrote late last year that the problem with the Predators is that they provide too easy an answer to political and military problems. They Saudis asked for them last year to go after Yemenis they didn’t like; the Turks use them (looking over our shoulders) to target Kurdish extremists in Iraqi Kurdistan. And now the United States will use them to beef up a stalemated NATO campaign in Libya, on behalf of a rebel army that very well may include Islamic radicals who, under other circumstances, might themselves have been targets of Predator attack.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Appropriate reading for Earth Day 2011: Sallie McFague’s “Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age”

It was a fortunate coincidence this Thursday when I picked up a copy of Sallie McFague’s Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (1987) in the library at United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities. I was on another errand at the time and unaware that today, Friday, April 22, would be Earth Day.

I graduated from United in 1990 with a master’s in divinity. Given my continued interest in process theology with its ecological worldview, others repeatedly suggested that I read Sallie McFague’s work. I just didn’t get around to it until yesterday – some 21 years later.

With the nuclear crisis in Japan and America’s risk-taking with our own nuclear power plants, McFague’s theological emphases continue to be not just relevant, but indeed urgent.

McFague was attempting to raise our consciousness regarding the threats of nuclear power in 1987; in mid-March of this year, I noted in a blog post that we are still in denial regarding humankind’s capability to destroy the earth:

The ongoing crisis in Japan raises questions pushed aside in recent decades in the rush to develop more and more nuclear reactors around the world – supposedly for peaceful purposes.

When was the last time you heard a debate over the disposal of hazardous waste or accident prevention measures at nuclear facilities? And has anyone in our country mentioned lately the possibility of a natural catastrophe that might unleash radioactive fallout?

A few days ago, I linked to an article here at Katalusis that described the risks involved in the current practice of “uprating” existing nuclear reactors in the U.S. The article states:

The U.S. nuclear industry is turning up the power on old reactors, spurring quiet debate over the safety of pushing aging equipment beyond its original specifications.

It’s way past time to tune into Sallie McFague’s theological wake up call to humanity. In a section titled, The Nuclear Nightmare, she begins:

“The question now before the human species…is whether life or death will prevail on the earth. This is not metaphorical language but a literal description of the present state of affairs.” But Jonathan Schell’s statement has not sunk in. It has not sunk in because we do not want it to, because we do not want to live in the nuclear age, an age in which we must exist with the knowledge that we can destroy ourselves and other forms of life. We prefer to live in the bygone prenuclear age, when god, the almighty King and benevolent Father, was in charge of the world. The thought that we are in charge is too terrifying to contemplate, for we know the evil in our own hearts and in the hearts of others. The thought threatens us with despair for the future; it raises doubts about whether there will be one and about what it will be. So the nuclear issue becomes the unspoken, unacknowledged terror that shadows all we do.

Compatible with the teachings of process theology, McFague points us in the theological direction of assuming humanity’s responsibility in partnership with God to insure a future for life on Earth. Otherwise, we’re headed for a dead planet – something to think about on this Earth Day, April 22, 2011.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Update on Wisconsin recall effort: shots for signatures

The recall effort in Wisconsin is now pitting Democrats and Republicans against each other in attempts to bring down elected officials from the opposing party. And it’s come to this: Republicans are reportedly offering shots at local bars in exchange for signatures on their petitions. And here’s a surprise: it’s not illegal in Wis. What were they thinking?

Amanda Terkel has the story:

WASHINGTON -- In an effort to gather enough signatures to trigger recall elections of state senators in Wisconsin, some backers are turning to peculiar, unconventional and, it appears, even intoxicating means.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party is planning to file a complaint to the state Government Accountability Board alleging that a Republican signature-gatherer offered alcoholic beverages to a group of women to get them to sign a recall petition against a Democratic state senator.

Although that's not illegal in Wisconsin, it is strongly discouraged and, Democrats argue, evidence that Republicans don't really have enough grassroots support for their recall campaigns.

Read more:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Arianna Huffington on Obama’s deficit speech: “Call it ‘attack of the impassioned, yet empty rhetoric”

In my previous post this morning, I mentioned the disillusionment of Obama believers, and Arianna Huffington was near the top of the list in 08 – she and her troops at the Huffington Post used sharp knives to cut anyone to pieces who dared criticize the One. 

And Hillary Clinton supporters well remember the despicable lows reached by the Huffington Post in its all out efforts to sabotage the Clinton campaign.

I suppose it stands to reason that Obama’s most zealous fans from 08 would now be among those most severely disillusioned. Take a look at what Arianna posted this Tuesday, April 19:

The first poll results since the president's big speech on the economy last week are in -- and they're not very good. According to a new Washington Post/ABC News survey, the president's approval rating continues to fall, driven by fears about the economy. "Forty-four percent of Americans see the economy as getting worse, the highest percentage to say so in more than two years," wrote Dan Balz and Jon Cohen in the Washington Post. "57 percent disapprove of the job the president is doing dealing with the economy, tying his highest negative rating when it comes to the issue."

Back in the heady days of the 2008 campaign, a powerful, impassioned speech like the one Obama delivered would have had a definite positive impact on the numbers. But the soaring rhetoric now comes with a bitter aftertaste.
Perhaps it's because we feel like we've seen this movie before. Call it "Attack of the Impassioned Yet Empty Rhetoric." But this version was even more unsettling than the earlier versions, in which the president delivered great speeches then failed to back up his words with the promised action. In this sequel, his words turned to broken 
 promises as soon as they passed his lips.

Lesson #1 for a presidential candidate: don’t pose as a candidate for sainthood

President Barack Obama and his predescessor George W. Bush are living proof that it’s a mistake for a presidential candidate to pose as a candidate for sainthood. In the case of both Obama and Bush, the electorate was doomed to suffer an almost immediate plunge into disillusionment.

On the campaign trail again, most recently in California, Obama takes pains to mention that he’s older and grayer this time around; I’ve not heard that he’s claiming to be any wiser.

But what must the left be thinking in the golden state these days? These are the folks who resisted the Kennedy magic in the Democratic primary in 08 then emanating from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Obama.

When the Obama campaign attempted to steal the California women’s vote from Hillary Clinton by featuring appearances by Caroline Kennedy, Maria Shriver, and Oprah, the voters turned their backs, and Clinton took the state.

California went to Obama in the general election, but based on this article in the LA Times, the party faithful are not exactly swooning at the president’s feet in the warm up to 2012.

Seema Mehta writes:

President Obama begins a two-day swing through California on Wednesday that underscores the conflicting roles the state plays in presidential politics: Its strong Democratic bent means it will once again be written off by both sides during the 2012 general election, but the trove of supporters here will once again be mined to bolster Obama's efforts elsewhere.

"He doesn't have to campaign here to win," said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont-McKenna College. "He does need to tap the deep resources of Democratic political money, and he needs to inspire volunteers."

Last time around, California donors gave $78 million to Obama's campaign. Tens of thousands of Californians volunteered, phoning voters and flooding crucial swing states such as New Mexico and Nevada.

But Obama faces obstacles that his historic candidacy didn't face four years ago, including a recalcitrant economy and a vein of disenchantment among some of his most passionate supporters.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Mayo Clinic’s world class care for an uninsured family

Plummer Building, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.  

We didn’t have health insurance coverage when my two children were growing up in a small town near Rochester, Minn. The Mayo Clinic was our health care provider back then and never once were we asked to present proof of insurance coverage at the admissions desk.

It was our good fortune that none of us was ever seriously ill during those years, but when we did need treatment, the Mayo Clinic graciously allowed us to pay as we were able for the world class care we received.

And it was world class. I was walking down the sidewalk one afternoon in Rochester when an older, well-dressed gentleman approached me. Speaking with an accent, he explained that he had just flown in from Turkey. He said he suffered terrible headaches, and no one had been able to help him, so he had turned to the Mayo Clinic. He asked me for directions, and I pointed out the nearby building to him.

With all the politicization of health care these days in the uproar over the health care reform bill and the repeated threats to Medicare, I often think of the days when my family and I were fortunate enough to live near the Mayo Clinic.

I do still benefit from Mayo’s services, however, as I subscribe to their online newsletter. It came today, and I’ve been checking out one of its features: Meal planning 101: Tips and tricks, by Jennifer Nelson, M.S., R.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., which begins:

Naturally, when I have friends over for dinner the conversation turns to food and nutrition.  Common questions are: "What should I eat to be healthy?" "What should I avoid?" and "Is this food a source of the latest cure-all nutrient?" Most of these I'm prepared to answer. One recent question, though, got me thinking, "How does Jennifer do her meal planning?" 

My meal planning starts with a sheet of paper. Pretty high-tech, right? In the left-hand column, I write the days of the week. Under each day I write:
  • Entree
  • Vegetable (hot)
  • Vegetable (cold)
  • Whole grain
  • Fruit
  • Beverage
Then I just have to fill in the grid. For those of you playing along at home, here are some of my tried-and-true meal planning tips:

Surprise: there aren’t a lot of working-class people at Obama’s fundraisers

With all the buzz in the U.S. media around the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, you’d think a majority of supposedly egalitarian Americans were suffocating in suspense over what Kate’s gown will look like.

But just when I’m feeling most underwhelmed by it all, E.J. Dionne reminds me that America has its own ruling class, and he’s absolutely right. E.J. observes:

WASHINGTON -- The American ruling class is failing us -- and itself.
At other moments in our history, the informal networks of the wealthy and powerful who often wield at least as much influence as our elected politicians accepted that their good fortune imposed an obligation: to reform and thus preserve the system that allowed them to do so well. They advocated social decency out of self-interest (reasonably fair societies are more stable) but also from an old-fashioned sense of civic duty. "Noblesse oblige" sounds bad until it doesn't exist anymore.

An enlightened ruling class understands that it can get richer and its riches will be more secure if prosperity is broadly shared, if government is investing in productive projects that lift the whole society, and if social mobility allows some circulation of the elites. A ruling class closed to new talent doesn't remain a ruling class for long.

But a funny thing happened to the American ruling class: It stopped being concerned with the health of society as a whole and became almost entirely obsessed with money.

E.J. goes on to note how the tax rate for our ruling class has dropped over the years:

Listen to David Cay Johnston, the author of "Free Lunch" and a columnist for Tax Notes. "The effective rate for the top 400 taxpayers has gone from 30 cents on the dollar in 1993 to 22 cents at the end of the Clinton years to 16.6 cents under Bush," he said in a telephone interview. "So their effective rate has gone down more than 40 percent."

He added: "The overarching drive right now is to push the burden of government, of taxes, down the income ladder."

And you wonder where the deficit came from.

If the ruling class were as worried about the deficit as it claims to be, it would accept that the wealthiest people in society have a duty to pony up more for the very government whose police power and military protect them, their property and their wealth.

The influence of the ruling class comes from its position in the economy and its ability to pay for the politicians' campaigns. There are not a lot of working-class people at those fundraisers President Obama has been attending lately. And I'd underscore that I am not using the term to argue for a Marxist economy. We need the market. We need incentives. We don't need our current levels of inequality.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nuclear power – the ultimate threat to the survival of the planet Earth

Three Mile Island, PA, scene of a nuclear meltdown in 1979. (Photo, public domain)

Humanity continues to be blinded by unadulterated greed in its pursuit of nuclear power regardless of the threat it poses to all of life. Concerns following the nuclear crisis in Japan will soon fade, and we’ll resume our former state of denial as we insanely speak of “safe, clean nuclear power.” Friends, there is no such thing. There never has been. There never will be.

At the LA Times, Alan Zarembo and Ben Welsh report the latest reckless attempts to boost the production of existing nuclear plants in the U.S. while disregarding the risks involved. This is scary stuff:

The U.S. nuclear industry is turning up the power on old reactors, spurring quiet debate over the safety of pushing aging equipment beyond its original specifications.

The little-publicized practice, known as uprating, has expanded the country's nuclear capacity without the financial risks, public anxiety and political obstacles that have halted the construction of new plants for the last 15 years.

The power boosts come from more potent fuel rods in the reactor core and, sometimes, more highly enriched uranium. As a result, the nuclear reactions generate more heat, which boils more water into steam to drive the turbines that make electricity.

Tiny uprates have long been common. But nuclear watchdogs and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's own safety advisory panel have expressed concern over larger boosts — some by up to 20% — that the NRC began approving in 1998. Twenty of the nation's 104 reactors have undergone these "extended power uprates."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sarah Palin and the Tea Party confront labor supporters in Madison

It had to happen: Sarah Palin onstage in Madison rallying her Tea Party constituents in opposition to labor supporters gathered at the state capitol building.

The AP reports:

MADISON, Wis. — Sarah Palin defended Wisconsin's governor at a tea party tax day rally Saturday, telling hundreds of supporters that his polarizing union rights law is designed to save public jobs.

Braving snow showers and a frigid wind outside the state Capitol building, the former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate told tea partyers she's glad to stand with Gov. Scott Walker. Hundreds of labor supporters surrounded the rally, trying to drown Palin out with chants of "Hey-hey, ho-ho, Scott Walker has got to go!" and "Recall Walker!"

"Hey, folks! He's trying to save your jobs and your pensions!" Palin yelled into the microphone. "Your governor did the right thing and you won! Your beautiful state won! And people still have their jobs!"

Walker, a Republican, signed a bill into law last month that calls for almost all public workers to contribute more to their pensions and health care coverage, changes that amount to an average 8 percent pay cut. The plan also strips them of their right to collectively bargain on anything except wages.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Obama’s “hidden hand” presidency

The National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein offers a thoughtful analysis of Barack Obama’s leadership style, comparing it to that of former president Dwight D.  Eisenhower.

Brownstein opens with a flashback to ’08:

n 2008, many of Barack Obama’s supporters thought they might be electing another John F. Kennedy. But his recent maneuvers increasingly suggest that they selected another Dwight Eisenhower.

That’s not a comment on President Obama’s effectiveness or ideology, but rather on his conception of presidential leadership. Whether he is confronting the turmoil reshaping the Middle East or the escalating budget wars in Washington, Obama most often uses a common set of strategies to pursue his goals. Those strategies have less in common with Kennedy’s inspirational, public-oriented leadership than with the muted, indirect, and targeted Eisenhower model that political scientist Fred Greenstein memorably described as a “hidden hand” presidency.

This approach has allowed Obama to achieve many of his domestic and international aims—from passing the health reform legislation that marked its stormy first anniversary this week to encouraging Egypt’s peaceful transfer of power. But, like it did for Eisenhower, this style has exposed Obama to charges of passivity, indecisiveness, and leading from behind. The pattern has left even some of his supporters uncertain whether he is shrewd—or timid.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Senator Gillibrand Fights Back for Women's Health on the Senate Floor (Watch video)

Senate Democratic women took a stand yesterday on behalf of reproductive rights. In her compelling presentation, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) had a few words for Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and his comment about Planned Parenthood that he later explained was “not intended to be factual.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When was the last time you heard a plea for “shared sacrifice” in our national discourse?

FL Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

We’ve all become better acquainted in the past several months with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as she joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in offering strong support to their severely wounded friend, Gabrielle Giffords. Observing their warmth and compassion for Giffords has been inspirational.

And we’ve been reminded that although Giffords has been temporarily sidelined, these three women are all outstanding leaders in the Democratic Party.

In recognition of her leadership skills, President Obama recently picked Wasserman Schultz to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Obama chose the right person. Her response to his deficit reduction speech yesterday is among the most intelligent, balanced, and thoughtful that I’ve scanned in this morning’s online coverage. I mean, how often in the last decade – in spite of our two wars - have you heard anyone use the phrase, “shared sacrifice?”

Politico’s Jennifer Epstein reports (emphases mine):

In her first interviews since getting the nod last week, the Florida congresswoman said that Obama’s Wednesday speech began to lay out an adult vision of shared sacrifices that stands in sharp contrast to the position that Republicans* have taken.

“The president envisions trying to address our budget deficit and turn the economy around and focus on job creation and not short-circuit our economic recovery,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show. In contrast, “the direction that the Republicans have proposed … is to balance all of the sacrifice on the backs of our seniors, on the backs of our frail elderly.”

*I would add, "and many faux liberals as well." 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What were those budget cuts again?

Details of the $38 billion worth of spending cuts factoring in last Friday's 11th-hour budget that averted a government shutdown have been released, but the cuts, while historic, were significantly eased by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway. 

CBS News Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes reports that legislation that reflects the deal made between Republicans and Democrats was posted online at 1:30 this morning.
Members of Congress are going to be getting their first real look of the deal Tuesday, and Republicans in particular are sure to express frustration that so many of the cuts in the deal aren't exactly cuts at all. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Obama to lay out long-term spending plan

Now that the dust has begun to settle from Friday night’s dash to the finish line to reach a  short-term budget agreement, President Obama is set to lay out a long-term spending plan this week.

From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama and Congress are shifting from short-term budget concerns to debates over the nation's long-term economic future, and everything - from Medicare and Medicaid cuts to tax hikes for the wealthy - is on the table.

In addition to calling for higher taxes for those earning more than $250,000 per year, the Wall Street Journal reports that the president has his sights on "changing parts of the tax code he thinks benefit the wealthy."

Much will be revealed at midweek, when the House and Senate are expected to vote on a budget for the remainder of this fiscal year and Obama unveils his plan to reduce the deficit, in part by scaling back the government's chief health programs for seniors and the poor. The House, too, may vote on Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's spending plan for next year as Democrats readied arguments that it proposed "Draconian" cuts to Americans who need help the most.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Obama’s twists and turns on the dance floor as he bows first to the left and then to the right

In Saturday’s column, Washington Post columnist Dan Balz offers a somewhat thoughtful analysis of Obama’s leadership on economic issues since his inauguration and raises a few questions for both parties and the public to consider.

I stayed with Balz for the most part throughout the piece, but he lost me toward the end when he joined most of  the punditry, whether liberal or conservative, by taking the intellectually lazy route and lumping Social Security and Medicare with all other government domestic programs under the derogatory term “entitlements.”

To add insult to injury, he actually credited Paul Ryan for his budgetary assault on the nation’s elderly and the poor.

(One would hope that Balz will eventually glance at the deductions on his payroll check stub and become aware that he’s been paying into the Social Security trust fund over the years. He might want to ask what the government has been doing with that money.)

 In any case, Balz begins by noting Obama’s twists and turns on the dance floor in Washington as he bows first to the left and then to the right:

In his first two years, President Obama pursued an agenda that dramatically increased government spending and ushered in the biggest change in social welfare policy since the Great Society. When he spoke to the country late Friday night, he sounded like a born-again budget cutter.

Americans may ask which is the real Obama, the politician who embraced the biggest stimulus package in the nation’s history, a bailout of the banks and a takeover of the automobile industry, or the one who on Friday hailed the new budget deal as including “the largest annual spending cut in our history.” 

Nervous Democrats fear that Obama gave away too much in the last-minute agreement that averted a government shutdown. They worry even more about the coming fights over raising the debt ceiling and particularly Obama’s response to the budgetary blueprint outlined last week by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

Read more:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Federal Budget agreement: the EPA and Planned Parenthood escape Republican axe

In reaching a federal budget agreement Friday evening, the AP reports:

On side issues – "riders," the negotiators called them – the Democrats and the White House rebuffed numerous Republican attempts to curtail the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency.

They also sidetracked their demand to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood. Under the accord, the issue will come to a vote in the Senate under terms guaranteed to end in its defeat.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When Koch brothers proxies in the Wisc. legislature go after a professor’s emails

Professor Juan Cole at Informed Comment offers an in-depth look at the American right-wing’s latest attempt to stifle academic freedom in leading universities. Cole, a history professor at the Univ. of Mich. writes:

The latest McCarthyite tactics of the American Right Wing is to attempt to intimidate professors at public universities by launching Freedom of Information Requests for their emails, as part of a witch hunt for dreaded Liberal Opinions.

First, the proxies for the Koch brothers in the Wisconsin legislature went after the emails of prominent University of Wisconsin professor William Cronon (the incoming head of the American Historical Association). The reasoning here is that state laws typically prohibit the use of state resources for partisan political activity, and those states with open meeting laws want to make sure that state resources are not used for political plotting in smoke-filled rooms.

Then, as Rachel Maddow explains below, a Koch-brothers-funded think tank in Michigan requested the emails of professors in this state, including the University of Michigan, including those that mention Maddow’s name. 

  Read Cole’s complete post here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Breaking News: Progressives defeat Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker’s choice for State Supreme Court

Kloppenburg victorious in Wisconsin

With all precincts reporting, Democratic Wisc. State Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg just defeated incumbent David Prosser. The Progressive Change Committee reports:

BREAKING NEWS: We did it!! Together, progressives defeated Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s choice for state Supreme Court -- and won back the “swing” vote that could soon decide whether Walker’s anti-worker bill is illegal.    

The margin was 204 votes! And in the last week, members of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America made 96,945 phone calls to targeted voters through our "Call Out The Vote" program. 

It's undeniable: PCCC members like you made the difference and helped win this important race.

Please spread the word about this progressive victory on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.)

Now we have to finish the job. When we win the upcoming recall elections against Republicans in Wisconsin it will have ripple effects across the nation -- showing that working families will hold Republicans accountable for their war on the middle class.

We're increasing our pro-recall TV ad buy in Wisconsin today to keep up the pressure, and we will keep going as long as folks keep chipping in $3. You can see our ad and donate here.
Or, click here to listen to the special briefing we just held with "Wisconsin 14" senators Mark Miller and Chris Larson -- where they talk about yesterday's election and the recall fight ahead.
Today, we achieved a huge victory. Thanks for being part of it –- and for being a bold progressive.

-- Stephanie Taylor, Adam Green, Jason Rosenbaum, Michael Snook, Keauna Gregory, Amanda Johnson, Neil Sroka, Matt Wall, Matt Burgess, Abby Blum, Shaunna Thomas, Kari Thurman, Chris Snook, Taylor Sappington, Allie Carter, Jake Conarck, DeVeria Flowers, and the rest of the PCCC team

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to replace Tim Kaine as chair of the DNC

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Vice President Joe Biden announced President Barack Obama's choice of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to replace Tim Kaine as chair of the Democratic National Committee in a Tuesday evening email to committee members:

Friend - 

President Obama has asked me to share some important news with you about the future of the Democratic Party.

Today, Tim Kaine announced that he is stepping down as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee to run for the U.S. Senate from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Chairman Kaine has been an incredible leader for the Democratic Party and our nation - and our party is stronger today than it has ever been thanks to his leadership.

But now he is embarking on a new journey. As Chairman Kaine departs, new leadership must come on. And the President wanted you to be among the very first to hear that his choice to lead the DNC is none other than Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Debbie has served the people of Florida - first in the Florida State Legislature, and more recently in Congress - for nearly two decades. During that time, she has fought for America's children, seniors, and men and women in uniform.

In selecting Debbie to lead our party, President Obama noted her tenacity, her strength, her fighting spirit, and her ability to overcome adversity. President Obama expressed great admiration for her as a leader, and he was honored that she accepted this important challenge on behalf of the Democratic Party.

No one should have any doubt that Debbie will work hard to strengthen our party and our country. I hope you will welcome her as President Obama's choice for the next Chair of the DNC.


Wasserman Schultz has represented Florida's 20th district in the House since her election in 2004, and she will reportedly not give up her seat when she assumes leadership of the DNC.

Hillary Clinton supporters in the 08 primary recall Wasserman Schultz as an impassioned supporter of their candidate. In recent months, she has appeared alongside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in support of their good friend Gabby Giffords, who remains hospitalized from a gunshot wound to the head.

Watch Bill Clinton speak out on the “birther” issue on Good Morning America (video)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The backlash against Wisc. Gov. Walker’s Union-busting continues

Photo courtesy of American Prospect.

Writing for the American Prospect, Harold Meyerson offers a thought-provoking analysis on the effects of the backlash against  Republican Gov. Walker’s drive to end collective bargaining for Wisconsin’s public employees.

Meyerson writes:

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was only speaking truth when he called Scott Walker, Wisconsin's Republican governor, the labor movement's "Mobilizer of the Year." The backlash against Walker's successful (for now) drive to end collective bargaining for Wisconsin's public employees has been stunning in its scope, intensity, and (ongoing) duration.

The big political question is how far and how deep that backlash will go. My first guess is that it has produced a shift in public opinion that will help America's unions, though it will take a lot more than public sympathy to rebuild labor's power. My second guess is that it will help the Democratic Party across the industrial Midwest.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Learn Not Burn: the local interfaith community’s response to the hate speech of Pastor Jones and his allies

At Learn not Burn each of us received a copy of the Quran, which now stands on my book shelf. Photo: Virginia Bergman 

At least 12 people, including U.N. staff, were killed in Afghanistan recently in a protest against the March 20th Koran burning in Florida.

The AFP reported the Koran burning on March 21:

A controversial US evangelical preacher oversaw the burning of a copy of the Koran in a small Florida church after finding the Muslim holy book "guilty" of crimes.

The burning was carried out by pastor Wayne Sapp under the supervision of Terry Jones, who last September drew sweeping condemnation over his plan to ignite a pile of Korans on the anniversary of September 11, 2001 attacks.
Sunday's event was presented as a trial of the book in which the Koran was found "guilty" and "executed."

The jury deliberated for about eight minutes. The book, which had been soaking for an hour in kerosene, was put in a metal tray in the center of the church, and Sapp started the fire with a barbecue lighter.

The book burned for around 10 minutes while some onlookers posed for photos. [Agence France-Presse, 03/21/11]

The incident and its violent aftermath reminded me of an interfaith event titled Learn Not Burn that a friend and I attended at Hamline University in St. Paul last fall in commemoration of Sept. 11 in response to the unholy threats of Pastor Terry Jones.

As I reported elsewhere, Learn Not Burn was facilitated by Bishop Aya (Professor Rosalyn Carroll) and Ms. Megan Diamond. The event was co-sponsored by the Wesley Center for Spirituality, Service, and Social Justice at Hamline and the Ambassadors for Peace, Universal Peace Federation, Minn. 

Participants represented several different religious traditions including Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Unification Church; accordingly, the event opened with a multi-faith prayer.

Speaking later, Megan Dimond urged her listeners to focus on what unites us, not what divides us. She said, “The attacks on one faith are attacks on all faiths.”

In keeping with the event’s title, Learn not Burn, each member of the audience received a copy of the Qur’an and the booklet, Discover Islam, the Reader.

At Bishop Aya’s bidding, old and young – several Hamline students were present - we each extended a hand to our neighbors and said, “I love you.”

For the closing words, we formed a circle around the auditorium and held hands.

Discussing the experience afterward, my friend and I wondered that at the core of most religions is a version of the commandment to love our neighbor, and yet there seems always to be so much divisiveness.

Of course, unlike Pastor Jones’ attention-grabbing threats, positive interfaith activities such as Learn not Burn, organized to promote understanding at home and abroad, are usually under-reported.

For information about ongoing interfaith activities in St. Paul, check out the St. Paul Interfaith Network.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Judge Sumi halts progress of Wisc. Gov. Walker’s collective bargaining bill (see video)

From ABC in Madison:

Tony Galli reports that on Friday, the same day Democrats announced success in their recall efforts, Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi continued to temporarily halt the progress of Governor Walker's controversial collective bargaining bill.

Sumi heard testimony about the hastily convened legislative conference committee that preceded the Senate's passage of the bill last month.

Sumi said the legislative immunity of several lawmaker defendants, including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald needs to be addressed to allow a continued hearing on whether the bill will still be held in limbo.