Monday, December 29, 2008

A Sad Family Tragedy

If anyone thought for a minute that victims of child molestation didn't find themselves with serious emotional problems later in life, just take a look at this story.

The mother who killed her son's accused molester in a courtroom in 1993, a sensational story that led to a TV movie, has died.

Ellie Nesler died Friday in Sacramento at 56 years of age, after a 14 year battle with breast cancer.

Nesler gained notoriety after she shot and killed Daniel Driver, who had been accused of molesting four boys, including her then-six-year old son William, at a Christian camp. There was a mixture of support for taking out a man who many believed was a monster, but there was an equal measure of condemnation for her vigilante-brand of justice.

After being convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Nesler's 10-year sentence was overturned because of jury misconduct. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was let out after three years due to her cancer. In 2002, she pleaded guilty to selling and possessing methamphetamine, and served four years of a six-year sentence.

In and of itself, this was a terrible story. But it doesn't end there. In reporting about Nesler's death, the LA Times also noted that William Nesler, who again was only six years old at the time his mother killed his accused molester, has himself had serious problems with the law. In 2005, he was convicted of first degree murder for stomping to death a man hired to clean his family's property. He is currently serving a 25-year-to-life sentence for that crime.

A sad tragedy all around.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back in the Saddle(back) Again, cont.

A reader writes:
[I]n the context of a national and international stage, I find that after viewing [the Warren selection] from every point of the compass, I'm left with [Obama's] simple message of believ[ing] in Unity, and the power and truth of his message and actions. And it is unassailable: [We are] "The UNITED States of America."

For a body of people as diversified as we are to come together in times like these requires real compromise. Those who cling to their causes call it "sacrifice." That's unfortunate, since there are a lot of us here in the USA whose views countermand those of most of the rest of us. If We The People are ever gonna make it work, we have GOT to unify. Not talk the talk. We need to do it. Having someone as unlikely as Warren speak is a good example of what it looks like, in my view.

Right now, there is a huge swath of semi-lost, wandering-in-the-woods American conservatives, semi-and-otherwise, who may be a leeetle-bit behind the curve of political understanding, but who are nonetheless brother and sister Americans, and who are freaked. This is an olive branch, and personally, I think it's a brilliant move, engineered in a way that will garner all the highest exposure, while costing none of the higher expenses of other ways we might hope to bring the "other side of the aisle" to the table, i.e., legislative compromise.

Hey, what part of "UNITED" didn't you get?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back in the Saddle(back) Again

Obama has asked Saddleback megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural. It's amazing to me how some on the left are completely unhinged by this choice. Here's the money quote from an op-ed in today's LA Times by Katha Pollitt, "a poet, essayist, and critic":

In a news conference Thursday, Obama defended the choice of Warren: "It is important for the country to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues." That's all very well, but excuse me if I don't feel all warm and fuzzy. Obama won thanks to the strenuous efforts of people who've spent the last eight years appalled by the Bush administration's wars and violations of human rights, its attacks on gays and women, its denigration of science, its general pandering to bigotry and ignorance in the name of God.

I'm all for building bridges, but honoring Warren, who insults Obama's base as
perverts and murderers, is definitely a bridge too far.

As a Jew, I certainly disagree strongly with Warren's opinions, but in America he's allowed to have them. Certainly, Obama doesn't agree with everything Warren believes, but he's free to select him to deliver an invocation on January 20. Instead of seeing Obama's choice as a slap in the face to liberals (of which I am one), I prefer to see this as a bold statement that sends a strong message to everyone involved, which I see as this: When Obama says he will change our politics, he means it. Gone are the days when ideological differences -- however profound they may be -- make it too difficult for us to be seen together, too difficult for us to break bread, or exchange emails. I admit to having had a difficult time with this choice. But I trust President (elect) Obama and believe he didn't lose contact with what propelled him to election victory and eventually to the White House.

Let Mr. Warren, who holds some pretty abhorrent views, deliver the invocation. The odd thing I've learned in life is that inspiration can come from some pretty unlikely places. We all might be surprised.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Legacy of Adam Walsh

Adam Walsh, the little six-year-old boy who severed head was found in a Florida canal 120 miles from where he disappeared in 1981, can finally rest in peace. Today the LA Times report that police in that state announced that they had identified his killer as Ottis Toole, a serial killer who died in prison more than 10 years ago. Toole had been the lead suspect in the boy's death for years, but the police investigation was horribly botched such that indisputable evidence could not be found. Toole had confessed to the killing twice, then later recanted. Apparently he'd confessed to literally hundreds of murders, most of which were fake. But his niece told authorities that he confessed on his deathbed.

The Walsh family held a press conference today when the news was announced. Adam's father, John Walsh, is the iconic host of America's Most Wanted, which has led to the arrest and conviction of the country's most notorious criminals. His unflagging activism on behalf of Adam and other victims of crime changed forever the way the country monitors missing children. Databases, a national center, and telephone lines were created for people to report missing children. The most recent improvement in that system has been the Amber Alert system, which posts data about missing children on freeway signs and TV news programs.

The LA Times story added this at the end:
What it also did, said Mount Holyoke College sociologist and criminologist Richard Moran, is make children and adults alike exponentially more afraid."

[John Walsh] ended up really producing a generation of cautious and afraid kids who view all adults and strangers as a threat to them and it made parents extremely paranoid about the safety of their children," Moran said.
Maybe Mr. Moran is not a parent of young kids today, but this was an extremely ignorant statement.

La Neige la plus Cruelle

As beautiful as it sometimes looks, you will NEVER find me living somewhere where looking out the window reveals this:

Found Pearl

Read this in comments section for Dick Cavett's 11/14 NY Times column about Sarah Palin:

Horrified is how I feel about her, and baffled is how I feel about her following. Please do not let her become the face of either Christianity or motherhood. The words of Jesus are appropriate here:

“. . . Ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity . . . .” Matthew 23:28

I suppose a likely comeback would be: Therefore you are without excuse, every one of you who passes; judgement, for in that you would judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things (Romans 2:1)

But we can judge if we judge with integrity. Of course, there were many of us -- myself included, probably -- who jumped on the anti-Palin bandwagon simply because we wanted to tear McCain down (and she made it so damn easy!). But at some point during the nine weeks or so that she was a candidate for back-up president, it became much more about wanting what was best for my country. As Cavett wrote, "I do not wish her ill. But I also do not wish us ill."

I know this is so pre-November 4, already, but the little pearl I read above gave me some additional context for my harsh judgment of Palin. I wanted to share it with you.

Back to the grind!

When Do We Start?

New Yorker blogger George Packer thinks that the recent Senate report and a report by the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction on the sanctioning of torture from the highest levels of the Bush Administration, up to and including the president and vice president themselves, is just a part of a larger puzzle that needs full exposure to public scrutiny.
Eventually the country will need, even if it won’t entirely want, the whole
story to be told. The best way to tell it would be to reproduce the 9/11
Commission—to convene a single bipartisan panel, with the authority to look into
the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and of the war on terror, and
give the panel full investigative power, even if its conclusions put some of the
principals in legal jeopardy.

The next Administration and the next Congress will have to decide whether
it’s worth the agony to look back. The agony will be worse, sooner or later, if
we don’t.
I agree with Packer, but I think the timing has to be once American troops are largely out of harm's way. I don't see the benefit of holding hearings, public or otherwise, analyzing the prosecution of ongoing military operations. If such a commission were to release findings that war crimes were committed, or at least that the Bush administration bent laws to impose harsh interrogation techniques on detainees, that would just make Obama's job that much harder, as he tries to redeploy troops to Afghanistan and fulfill or beat the SOFA timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

Wait until we're out of there before we start poking into what happened and who did what.

Monday, December 15, 2008

One Way to Bring Him to Heel

Sorry, had to do that. If you haven't seen it yet, here's the video of an Iraqi reporter hurling not one, but both, of his shoes at outgoing President GW Bush during a press conference in Baghdad over the weekend:

Here's a bit of fantastic satire, one that does have a bite of serious truth. I mean, where were the Secret Service? What if that shoe had been outfitted to explode on impact?

And while he's joking about the shoe size of the hurler, news comes that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino received a black eye during the melee.

All the more reason to read (or re-read) this fantastic piece by Paul Waldman that a reader passed on to me this morning. Money quote:
Goodbye, we can say at last, to the most powerful man in the world being such a ridiculous buffoon, incapable of stringing together two coherent sentences. Goodbye to cringing with dread every time our president steps onto the world stage, sure he'll say or do something to embarrass us all. Goodbye to being represented by a man who embodies everything our enemies want the people of the world to believe about America -- that we are ignorant, cruel, and only care about foreign countries when we decide to stomp on them. Goodbye to his giggle, and his shoulder shake, and his nicknames. Goodbye to a president who talks to us like we're a nation of fourth-graders.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Library Censorship in New York

One would think that Sarah Palin had moved to the Empire State.

Pages from the middle of the book [Girl, Interrupted] have been torn out by the school district after having been deemed "inappropriate" by school officials due to sexual content and strong language. ... "[But] since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing," [said the English Dept. chair].

"Bowdlerizing is a particularly disturbing form of censorship since it not only suppresses specific content deemed 'objectionable,' but also does violence to the work by removing material that the author thought integral," said Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "It is a kind of literary fraud perpetrated on an unsuspecting audience."

Just get another copy, OK? And put the damaged one out in the open as a reminder to what happens when human beings forget their humanity.

It's No Wonder...

Like Sarah Palin, George W. Bush was believed by many in the evangelical community to have "the anointing," to be chosen by God to lead the United States. And why not? He's one of them, right? He's a True Believer, one who considers the Bible to be the literal word of God, right?

Oh, wait... no he's not.

I think evolution can - you're getting me way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president. But it's, I think that God created the earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution.

No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from [the Bible].
He's smarter than the average bear!

So it's no wonder that Evangelicals and those of that persuasion got hardly anything of what they wanted in the past eight years: abortion is still legal in every state, no school prayer allowed, gays can marry in two states and there is no constitutional amendment to ban it altogether, and this is still a secular nation with a non-evangelical majority.

Smart Christians would do well to abandon politics right now and focus on ... duh... the family.

I've Got Shrinkage!

CNN reports that US household debt fell for the first time ever since data has been recorded starting in 1951.

Now, we're only talking about a 0.8% drop, but that's about $30 billion in the last quarter. And the total amount is an unbelievably staggering $13.91 trillion.

Along with this is a steep decline in net worth of nearly 5% in the fourth quarter.

As for my family, we watch how we spend money very carefully, as well we should, since my commission-only job has hit the skids in the past year. Thankfully we saved pretty well and made some important choices on our debt, so we're still OK, but I can't say we put a major dent in our debt. We still have a car loan for another 2 1/2 years, a house we're still paying for, and credit cards we still pay off every month. We have cut back on non-essential items, and we go for even deeper savings on groceries by clipping coupons. We got our house re-assessed to cut down on property taxes, and we spend a lot more time at home just hanging out or going to places where we can entertain the kids for free, like the park. It honestly hasn't been too bad, now that gas prices are so much lower than they were over the summer.

Now, if only people decided it was time for them to buy or refinance their homes, I'd have way more business. So if any of you out there are reading this and wondering if now's the time, it is. Let your friends know. When Lisa and I bought our house in 2004, we got a 30 yr. fixed at 5.875%. Now, we could probably cut that 1%. So yes, now's the time.

Friday, December 5, 2008

15 Years

The sentence for OJ Simpson for his part in the botched armed robbery attempt. The judge said the sentence wasn't payback for his acquittal in 1995 for double homicide, but she did get this zinger out.

Earlier in this case, at a bail hearing, I said to Mr. Simpson I didn't know if he was arrogant, ignorant or both. During the trial and through this proceeding I got the answer, and it was both.
He'll be eligible for parole in about six years, when he's 67 or so.

This feels like payback, no matter what the judge said. And it feels good.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

One View From the Top

This will not be a political blog-piece. As my faithful readers know, I pay attention to a lot of things. I write, I used to play guitar, I've been a professional entertainer, and I work in the mortgage industry (more like volunteer lately, but oh well).

Today I ran across a piece of a CNN interview with legendary pop music producer David Foster. Yeah, me too. My first reaction was also "Blecch!" But when I read this piece, I realized that he was refreshingly honest (and of course he has the track record of success to back him up). I don't know -- when I was younger I wouldn't have had a problem with calling him a sell-out and a schlockmeister. But as I near my 50th birthday (in 2012) I can appreciate what he does. I'm sure no fan of Celine Dion, or most of the artists with whom he works, but I understand their place in the galaxy of pop stars over the past 40 years.

Money quote:
I did three albums with the group Chicago. And we had huge success. I was playing piano; I was co-writing the songs; I was playing the bass; I was arranging it. I was doing everything. And they wrote on the liner notes of their new album that "He was such a control freak and an egomaniac, he wanted his name on everything." And then they went, "But it's the most success we've ever had." They weren't happy, but their pocketbooks were.

I would contend that they were very happy. I disagree with him that "art and commerce are natural enemies." If you ask a guy like guitarist Robert Fripp, who has made a decent living for 40 years as a "small, intelligent, mobile unit," one can be fairly uncompromising with one's art and still be commercially viable and to some degree successful. Foster's problem is that nothing is legitimate unless it sells mega-millions of copies.

Headed for Splitsville

This post by Razib Khan at Secular Right makes the argument for including secularists in the Republican Party. But, like Sullivan, I tend to think that there is no longer any room in the Republican Party for non-theocratic thinkers. It's The Way or the highway for the GOP now.

I believe the GOP is headed for a schism that finally creates a third major party in this country. There may be multiple splits at first, but only secularist intellectuals and Christianist theocrats will remain. It means the exile of conservative power at the top levels of government for at least a generation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Obama's First Problem

LA Times blogger Andrew Malcolm posted last Sunday that Obama has a bit of a problem if he wants Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State. The obstacle is that little piece of paper called the Constitution. You know, that thingie that our current president and vice president so cavalierly ignored for the past seven and a half years?

Apparently, Article One, Section Six states:
"No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office."

I had to look up that big word there, "emoluments." It simply means compensation. What this clause means is that Hillary can't become Secretary of State if the compensation is higher than what she's currently getting as a Senator if she, as a Senator, had voted for a pay raise for the Secretary of State.

Now, this is not the first time it's happened. And the way presidents like Nixon, Carter, and Clinton have gotten around it is by having Congress pass a law reducing the pay of the particular cabinet office so that the appointee actually takes a pay cut, and the lawmaker appointed to the job would get no benefit from the pay the job offers even if he had earlier voted for a pay increase for that position.

Well, with him being a constitutional scholar, it would seem a bit expedient for Obama to take this path. Not only that, it would smack as "politics as usual" where Washington insiders reward each other, regardless of the law. He promised a change from all that stuff. I don't see a large distinction between that sort of maneuver and the way Tom DeLay rolled out the red carpet for lobbyists.

If she wants this job, I think Hillary needs to resign from the Senate today. There's nothing in the Constitution that prohibits a former member of either house of Congress becoming an appointee to a president's cabinet.

(h/t Sullivan)

Monday, December 1, 2008

"The Main Story for the Muslim World"

Sullivan analyzes the "abuses of faith" that US interrogators and Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. He correctly points out that one must use a measure of skepticism with the accounts of abuse from these facilities, since disinformation is part of the training of any military operative in custody. But strung together, these accounts are a disturbing indictment of how the US tortured detainees without ever touching them, by using religious torture.

The Catholic magazine Commonweal has a definitive article on the subject of religious abuse. We have all heard accounts of soldiers desecrating the Korans of the detainees. But what this articles proposes is that this kind of torture is far worse than the physical kind, and has more far-reaching implications for the Muslim world in general. For when these stories get out -- and they will get out and be believed by Muslims around the world -- it will become clear to them that the US has waged a war against the religion itself, not just against its extremist practitioners who engage in terrorist acts. Money quote:
[H]owever U.S. officials justify these actions to themselves, the judgment of the Muslim detainees will be more important in the future. Even isolated instances of religious torture can have a profound effect on collective memory. Does it really matter how many soldiers used the Qur’an for target practice? Such events are iconic. What is important to the Muslim detainees themselves and the global audience that hears their reports is that a clear pattern of disrespect for Islam has emerged. The United States has desecrated what most Muslims consider God’s presence on earth (the Qur’an), drowned out the call to prayer with the American anthem and rock songs, used grotesque sexual assaults to undermine piety, mocked religious holidays, and engaged in freelance proselytism.
On the left, we have been saying that our invasion of Iraq, our abuses at Abu Ghraib, and our actions in Guantanamo and other black sites are doing a better job at recruiting terrorists than al Qaeda could do itself. What better way to recruit fighters for your cause if the message is that it's a fight to the death between Islam and western faiths which seek to destroy it?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"The Lamest Duck"

Joe Klein sums up Bush's eight years in one paragraph of his brilliant essay.

In the end, ..., it will not be the creative paralysis that defines Bush. It will be his intellectual laziness, at home and abroad. Bush never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and regulation that was necessary to make markets work. He never understood, or cared about, the delicate balance between freedom and equity that was necessary to maintain the strong middle class required for both prosperity and democracy. He never considered the complexities of the cultures he was invading. He never understood that faith, unaccompanied by rigorous skepticism, is a recipe for myopia and foolishness. He is less than President now, and that is appropriate. He was never very much of one.
I particularly enjoyed the sentence about faith. Skepticism is what makes faith so rewarding. If all one did was spend his whole life obeying what his parents, clergy and community told him, he would be a lame excuse for a human being, a shell filled with intellectual meringue.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Where Am I?

Last Saturday was "honey-do" day, Sunday I worked for a local realtor by sitting one of his open houses, and Monday I actually had business to attend to.

While I love writing in this blog every day, you'll forgive me for actually attending to my day job making mortgage loans. My being busy might be a signal that things are improving (or just that my employer is gaining in market share while the market tanks even further). Either way, good for me.

In the meantime, visit Andrew Sullivan, HuffPost, Glenn Greenwald, Talking Points Memo, and Swampland, for some up to date analysis and excellent writing.

I'll be back soon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Return to Sanity

I posted earlier about Nebraska "safe-haven" law intended to protect unwanted babies and infants. Now the state has amended its law to restrict the age of children that can be dropped off to 30 days or less.

Parents of 35 children -- 29 of them older than 10 -- have dropped off their kids at Nebraska hospitals since the law took effect in September, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Five came from other states, with parents traveling to Nebraska from Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Florida and Georgia.

Officials said no infants were among the children left at hospitals

View from The Cocoon

Last night on NPR, Mike Huckabee told host Robert Siegel that he believed the Republican Party needed to move more towards social conservatism to survive. In discussing his new book, Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That's Bringing Common Sense Back to America, Huckabee said that the fiscal conservatives with libertarian attitudes on social issues were "faux cons." He singled out Mitt Romney as a classic example, whose views he said "represented a 180-degree turn" from views Romney had taken when running for Massachusetts governor.

Huckabee believes that the anti-gay, anti-abortion planks of the party can continue to be a winning strategy for the party. Well, maybe, if the goal is to turn the party into a 100% evangelical Christian and radical Catholic party. But Huckabee lives in a bubba-bubble. Attempting to turn New Testament theology into political power will further marginalize the Christianists and result in the eventual splintering of the Republican Party into at least two, perhaps three distinct segments: the radical theocons, the socially moderate low-tax corporate class, and perhaps a group that tries to take the best from both worlds.

It has been very enjoyable watching the wheels turn on this crippled party-wagon.

Fifty-Eight, cont.

In re-reading my post from yesterday, I realized I missed a third benefit of Ted Stevens' election defeat: it prevents Sarah Palin from appointing someone to replace him (perhaps herself or The Dude) had he won the election and then been booted by the Republican Senate conference. How could I have forgotten that little tidbit?

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Cross posted at Open Salon:

So Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has now defeated Ted Stevens for Alaska's contested Senate seat. That accomplishes two very important things: one, it cleanly eliminates a convicted felon from the Senate chamber, a person who is a clear enemy of progress and the kinds of change we need; and two, it brings the Democratic Senate majority to 58 seats, two shy of a filibuster-proof majority.

Weeks ago, I read in DailyKos a post from Kos himself that Democrats needed to crush the Republicans. Well, from a popular vote perspective, Obama doubled the victory margin that Bush43 had over Kerry, and was the first Democrat in more than 30 years to win with more than 50% of the vote. From an electoral college viewpoint, Obama annihilated McCain, beating him 365-173, a 192-vote margin.

In the Senate, the Dems have so far picked up eight additional seats. In the House, it's a gain of 20 more seats, and an 80-seat majority. Some pundits were saying that only a super-majority in the Senate would signal a Dem blow-out. Not to be glib, but I PISS ON THEM!

So, now we have two unresolved seats remaining: in Minnesota, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman leads Al Franken by about 200 votes amidst a statewide recount which is due to be completed by or before Dec. 5. It looks promising for Franken. In Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss, who you might remember won the Lee Atwater Award in 2002 when he successfully conflated his triple amputee opponent, Democratic incumbent Max Cleland, with Osama bin Laden, will face a runoff election on Dec. 2 against challenger Jim Martin. Rasmussen has Chambliss by 4% in their latest poll, with a margin of error of + or - 4%, so it's a statistical dead heat. If you know any voters in Georgia who are election-fatigued, call them and tell them to go vote!

Even though I think 58 or 59 seats in the Senate will be enough to have the GOP by the balls, getting to 60 would be an achievement like no other in this polarized nation. Having Georgia with a blue seat would effectively draw a blue line around the south and prairie states who refuse to acknowledge reality. It's only fitting that a museum honoring biblical creationism, and Branson, MO (where old entertainers like the Osmonds still think they are relevant), are in this territory.

Blog Type?

I don't know the mechanic's of this (if any), but this site can "analyze" a blog as to how its writers think, and with which parts of their brains. I plugged in my blog's URL and it revealed this:

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

It labelled me as left-brain dominant in my thinking, highly logical, fairly intuitive and practical, with a need for a sense of order and details, and a reliance on habit. Pretty damn accurate, I have to say, although I much prefer the safety and security of a desk and laptop to a black-and-white or fire truck. Sullivan fell into the same category.

I also have another blog at Open Salon, which generally consists of reposts of what I post here, but also a few original things as well. Here's what the analyzer said about that one:

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

I'm actually impressed...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aye, Aye, Aye!

Sullivan posts about National Review's decision to shill for Bush for the last eight years.

I'm not shocked that NR abandoned journalistic integrity in order to defend the Bush administration or other Republican politicians. I assume it's also happening on the other side. But to see it just laid out there like some internal memo from an insurance company that plainly advises denying all claims three times to discourage policyholders, it feels creepy as hell.

From Peter Gabriel's "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" --
we do what we're told
told to do

one doubt
one voice
one war
one truth
one dream

Monday, November 17, 2008

Politically Incorrect -- and Just Damn Funny

My three-year-old son, Eli, is whip-smart and ferociously independent. He loves to play the guitar and sing Jewish songs (that he learns in pre-school), wearing his yarmulke like our Rabbi.

He's the most energetic little boy I know. He'll play for hours out back, bouncing a whiffle ball of our concrete patio and whacking it with his bat. It's a treat to feel one of his screaming line drives whiz past your ear.

The boy is also a complete sponge when it comes to soaking stuff up. As Lisa and I discussed the election, sharing a few details with Eli's older brother Max, he took it all in. He even sat with me during the debates and laughed when I yelled at the TV after a particularly loathesome McCain answer.

Since the election is over, I've noticed that Eli calls any young, thin, handsome black man "Barack Obama." Last night we were out at a restaurant with our next door neighbor, and Eli actually pointed to a black man and said, "Barack Obama." I was not sure of what to say except to say in a silly way, "No, Eli, Barack Obama lives all the way in Washington where he's getting ready to be president. He doesn't come to this restaurant to eat." Then he pointed to the man's female companion, an Asian woman and said, "Barack Obama." And then he started swaying in his seat and singing, "Barack Obama. Barack Obama." Man, this kid's hilarious.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Horrible Reality

Nebraska's Safe Haven law was written to protect infants born to teens or other women who for whatever reason cannot keep their children. Problem is, the state didn't put an age limit on the kids. So there have been numerous older children, all but six over the age of 10.

Now, the state is changing the law, but not before more than two dozen teenagers have been dropped off from places as far away as Georgia and Florida.

Honestly, I can't see how they couldn't have foreseen this happening. That's some pretty incompetent lawmaking and governing.


Yglesias posts this morning that there is a faction of military leadership that likes the idea of withdrawing from Iraq because they prefer to gear up for a more conventional Russia or China scenario.

Matt has a wise take on this. Rather than focus on the military right now...
...we need to think about what our major priorities are on the international agenda — I would say stabilizing the world economy, combating climate change, curbing nuclear proliferation, eliminating al-Qaeda, and promoting peace and development in the poor world — and then think realistically about the military’s ability to contribute to advancing our agenda on those items relative to other modalities of national power.

During the Bush administration, the Pentagon civilian leadership has been nearly a complete mess (Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz -- all the spawn of Cheney). And for more than seven years, we have devoted so much time and energy to military matters that so far have yielded dubiously positive results (Taliban and al Qaeda resurgent in Afghanistan, Iraq's government still incapable of political stability and with no way to manage their own security needs, and Iran ever closer to having nuclear weapons), that it would be a blessing for President Obama to shift his priorities.

I see a massive diplomatic undertaking starting shortly after inauguration, with his Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton?) and her best underlings spanning the globe -- from Russia to China, from France and Germany and Britain to the Baltics and Belgrade and Baghdad, from Australia and Argentina to India and Indonesia -- to take the president's message to our allies and strategic partners that we are on a new mission to repair the damage of the last eight years (torture, rendition, treaty withdrawal, saber-rattling, Islamophobia) or at least to promise a new commitment towards talking first rather than shooting first. (Whew, long sentence!)

Re-brand the United States. Re-brand the presidency. Re-brand Americans. It is noteworthy to want to promote democracy around the world, but before that you have to promote peace. We have seen how force-feeding democracy worked so far in Iraq, and how it has failed to spread outside of Kabul to the warlord-run countryside of Afghanistan. Even in the seeming bright spots (Ukraine, and to some degree Pakistan) there is much to fret over. And I will not engage in debate with anyone over the disgusting bloodying of our own Constitution, but that's truly what we have exported.

Whenever the president-elect, or your Senators or Congressmen, makes moves in this direction, send a small contribution and a note of support to that politician. When they do something in the other direction, hold them accountable and empower them to consider differently. After all, they work for us.

Amidst the Rant, Something Useful

Frank Schaeffer is the author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. He posted Tuesday on HuffPost about Sarah Palin.

This is why she'll never be president:
The Religious Right, the racists, the anti-gay hate-mongers are now not only marginalized but thoroughly out of step with even members of their own former constituency. For instance the Gordon College student newspaper (Gordon is an influential Evangelical College north of Boston) endorsed Obama this year. Many
young evangelicals voted for the Democrats. James Dobson, Fox News, Limbaugh et al. were utterly powerless to do more than stir up hate. They are losing the next generation of their "base."

And this, a bit of a solution for how to turn the whole country blue in a generation:
What's the best defense against the rube/Palin voters derailing the Republican Party forever? If the statistics of who voted for whom are correct, the education of white people in the deep South and their economic empowerment is the best answer. Maybe it will take a black Democratic president to figure out some affirmative action program that can get our southern born-again white underclass into colleges and thereby save the Republican party.

Education of underprivileged minorities works. Just look at Head Start.

Man Free of AIDS 20 Months Post-Surgery

From HuffPost Thursday:

Dr. Gero Huetter said Wedneday his 42-year-old patient, an American living in Berlin who was not identified, had been infected with the AIDS virus for more than a decade. But 20 months after undergoing a transplant of genetically selected bone marrow, he no longer shows signs of carrying the virus.

"We waited every day for a bad reading," Huetter said.

It has not come. Researchers at Berlin's Charite hospital and medical school say tests on his bone marrow, blood and other organ tissues have all been clean.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One Soldier's Account

CNN profiles Iraq war vet Colby Buzzell who blogged from Iraq during his deployment in 2004.
I observed a man, dressed all in black with a terrorist beard, jump out all of sudden from the side of a building, he pointed his AK-47 barrel right at my fucking pupils, I froze and then a split second later, I saw the fire from his muzzle flash leaving the end of his barrel and brass shell casings exiting the side of his AK as he was shooting directly at me. I heard and felt the bullets whiz literally inches from my head.

He was blogging anonymously before the Army found out who he was and confined him to base. Then he posted an anti-war rant from Jello Biafra (singer for Dead Kennedys) and they ordered him to stop. Only 10 weeks, but it seems to have struck a nerve. He compiled his blog posts and journal entries into a book, called "My War," published in 2005.

Now he's home, divorced, diagnosed with PTSD, and regularly contributes to Esquire. If you want a good read from this man, go here, and learn that there really is a draft (just among guys who've been deployed already). Scary stuff.

They're All Gone

The LA Times reports today that John "Mitch" Mitchell, the drummer for legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix, died Wednesday in a Portland, OR hotel room. He was 61. The county coroner said it was apparently natural causes.

Mitchell was the last surviving member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, a trio of Mitchell, Hendrix, who died in 1970 at age 27, and bassist Noel Redding, who died in 2003.

Over 18 months, the band released three of the most incredible albums in rock history: "Axis: Bold as Love," "Electric Ladyland," and "Are You Experienced?" As a young guitarist growing up in the late 1970s, I went back and listened to those albums with my friends while we smoked and smoked and smoked. "Purple Haze" and "Manic Depression" indeed.

Hendrix shocked the world when he emerged on the scene in 1966 (yikes, that was a long time ago). He made it OK to be weird, OK to improvise. He also made it OK for black artists to play rock music instead of pure soul or pure R&B. Sly Stone, Prince, Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Lenny Kravitz, Nile Rodgers, Slash (Guns 'n Roses), even American Idol judge Randy Jackson (who played with Journey) owe a debt of gratitude to Hendrix. Not to mention every flamboyant rock guitarist of any race: Allan Holdsworth, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan (RIP), Jimmy Page, Kevin Eubanks (The Tonight Show band), Hiram Bullock (his solo on Sting's version of "Little Wing" just blows me away), Jon Butcher, and even the pop stylings of John Mayer.

With Mitchell's passing, that incendiary band is all gone. RIP, Mitch.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Fringe on the Left

Ted Rall makes some good points about the popular vote revealing that we're still a sharply divided country, but this vote was not fear-based. More than any other election, even 1992, Americans reasoned this one out. True, it was not hard for most, given that McCain's candidacy was backward-thinking, dishonorable, and wildly off-kilter.

What Obama's election reveals is as nuanced as the president-elect's thinking: we went from a nation that 45 years ago had institutionalized racism and could never conceive of a man with dark skin to be a supermarket shift manager, let alone president; to a nation that celebrates the ascendancy of any person who has vision, courage, composure, and above all, compassion for everyday Americans. Plus, he didn't come from a southern state! Can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

That and a Commodore 64 Will Get You...

For the most reality-challenged post of the day, I bring you Hugh Hewitt:
The best rule of politics I have ever heard was the direction to unify our side and divide theirs. The latter is going to take care of itself in short order as the demands of the Democratic coalition cannot all be met, even in significant part. The task for the GOP and conservatives is to make sure the big tent is still standing and that everyone, even media elite pundits, are welcome there if they can agree on the one true test: Ronald Reagan was a great president.
And so was FDR, and so was JFK, and so was Lincoln, and so was Jefferson, and so was Clinton. So what? If Hewitt means that the Republican Party needs to rally around the principles of Ronald Reagan in order to survive, you can count on the party staying out in the cold for at least one generation. The tsunami of young voters who don't have direct experience of Reagan in their lifetimes, who have rebelled against their parents who grew up in the '80s and voted Obama, plus the combination of boomers who woke up from their stupor to discover their retirements at risk and the older generation of Americans who will make their final journeys over the next 20 or so years, and you've got a permanent Democratic majority. If Obama can fashion and successful implement New Deal 2.0, modern presidential politics will begin with Bill Clinton and become enshrined with Barack Obama.

Prop 8's More Dangerous Brother

Gay author and sex advice columnist Dan Savage extends the horror of banning gay marriage to its very logical extreme, as a recent law passed in Arkansas proposes:
Most ominous, once “pro-family” groups start arguing that gay couples are unfit to raise children we might adopt, how long before they argue that we’re unfit to raise those we’ve already adopted? If lesbian couples are unfit to care for foster children, are they fit to care for their own biological children?
If a state can potentially nullify marriages that were legal before the passage of Proposition 8, and to ban non-married, cohabitating couples of any sexual orientation from adopting children or being foster parents, what's to stop a state from declaring adoptions or foster arrangements as no longer legal and taking happy children away from loving parents and/or guardians?

Sullivan and others see a newer, stronger civil rights-oriented, community outreach-centered, movement on the horizon.

A Multi-Party View?

Matt Yglesias shows how the Swiss deal with their system.

It's refreshing to see people living in reality.

Is Palin a Progressive Now?

Italics mine, from a CNN interview (hat tip: TPM):

BLITZER: I just want to sort of footnote, was [the Ayers-association attack] your idea or did somebody write those lines for you?

PALIN: It was a collaborative effort there in deciding how do we start bringing up some of the associations that perhaps would be impacting on an administration, on the future of America. But again, though, Wolf, knowing that it really -- at this point, I don't want to point fingers backwards and play the blame game, certainly, on anything that took place in terms of strategy or messaging in the campaign.

Now is the time to move forward together, start progressing America.

I'm with ya, Governor! Let's make progress... starting with your exit from the national stage!

Well, I Got Had, Didn't I?

From the Arizona Republic:
Billionaire T. Boone Pickens said that his Texas wind farm is on hold because natural-gas prices have dropped but that his plan for wind power and natural-gas vehicles is still viable to reduce foreign oil imports.

You will recall that I was very excited about Pickens's flying the wind-power banner during a year when green technology was very much a part of the general election discourse. However, given the trouncing that oil has taken in the world marketplace recently, and given how much real money Pickens is likely to have lost in that process, I'm not surprised that he's holding onto his gold rather than spending $2 billion of his own money to seed windfarm development in the Texas panhandle. And it does make more sense right now to spend money on natural gas given its cheapness. Leaving the risky, expensive stuff to the federal government is typical; it's just sad that an innovative citizen is no longer among the leaders in the private sector.

Concerned citizens ought to be hoping for higher fuel prices soon to kick-start wind power as a serious alternative. Consider this 3.6 megawatt tower that GE produces with a 104 meter rotor diameter. One such tower would produce enough energy annually for nearly 400 average homes. A field of 500 of these towers could light up a city of 500,000 with capacity to spare.

On Palin

Sullivan's still pounding the war drums to call her out.
Her candidacy, in short, was indefensible. It remains indefensible. Until the mainstream media, the GOP establishment, and the conservative intelligentsia acknowledge the depth of their error, this blog will keep demanding basic accountability.

In light of the fact that Palin never did a press conference, never produced medical records, and was caught in a series of almost laughable lies, I wholeheartedly endorse Sullivan's call to continue the pressure on her. As of today, at least, she's a serious contender for the Republican nomination in 2012 (which should tell you a lot about the state of the Republican Party and how much work they need to do to improve their credibility). I think bloggers are going to transform the mainstream media (see how Nate Silver owned this year's election polling) and the way they handle candidates. Since the Palin pick, the press have found their spine and started asking the questions that need to be asked, although they have still to ask many more questions. As the Obama presidency kicks off and the wreckage of the Bush administration is revealed, new and old media must work together to build a new fourth estate that is as powerful a check and balance on governmental power as the other three. Obama has already shown deference to the role of Congress by standing aside while the Senate figures out what to do about Joe Lieberman and Ted Stevens (though I'm sure he has his opinions and has let them be known in the appropriate manner). Let's hope that his future Supreme Court nominees are celebrated for their judicial indepedence, Constitutional scholarship, and absence of any personal relationship with any prominent member of the Executive Branch (Miers, Scalia).

Holding Bush to Account?

Iconoclastic former NPR host Bob Edwards ("Morning Edition") posts a piece on HuffPost that relates the Obama victory to Jim Crow in his Louisville, KY hometown. He also warns that the press is still going to keep an eye on Obama:

I want to preface these remarks by assuring my listeners that if President Obama makes one false move, my producers and I will hold him to account and scrutinize him with the same fervor as we have President Bush.
As the first sentence in the piece, this quote sets the tone for the rest of the article. As much as I admire Bob Edwards and loved his folksy, easy-going manner as the host for ME, I couldn't get behind anything else in the article except for his overcoming his father's racism. No one at this point can seriously agree that the so-called liberal media scrutinized Bush in any meaningful way.

In comments to the article I wrote:
It was only after the Democrats took back Congress in 2006 that any significant ink or airtime was spent digging deeply into the Bush administration. Until then they were too afraid of appearing unpatriotic to say anything. And, understandably, they were human and wanted an end to terrorism in our country. Too bad they pinned their hopes on the wrong people for way too long.

This article got me thinking about the lengths we as a people are willing to go to keep from harm. I understand that it's normal to want to stay safe and to do whatever is needed to protect oneself or one's family and loved ones.

But "whatever it takes?"

It's true that we've had no terrorist acts on our soil in over seven years. But the price of this absence of terrorism (note that I didn't use the word "safety") has been dear, indeed. In a conversation with a relative the other day, we discussed whether preventing such acts from occurring justify doing "whatever it takes." This was in the context of my vehement insistence that Bush had radically undermined the Constitution, in particular the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures and relates to a person's reasonable expectation of privacy. My relative disagreed, saying that Bush was justified in using extraordinary measures to secure peace in our country. In response, I asked where such measures stopped -- would it be OK to declare martial law and demand confiscation of all guns owned by private citizens? Would it be OK to shut down or take over the press? To deny people the right to peacefully assemble or to petition the government? At what point, then, do we stop being a democracy and become a dictatorship?

No, the press did a ridiculous job of "pressing" Bush to justify his actions and the actions of Cheney and the Cabinet secretaries. In some ways, they censored themselves, out of fear: fear of being painted as too "liberal" and un-patriotic; fear of losing readership and even more money in an already-dwindling marketplace; fear for their own personal safety. We were all understandably shocked and frightened watching the World Trade Center collapse and the Pentagon burn. Every ring of that bell at the 9/11 memorial service at ground zero, when the each of the victims' names was read, jolted like a strong aftershock. But the press had an obligation not to join us in the cocoon; they were supposed to be out there like the firefighters and police officers, risking their lives (or livelihoods) to get the information that we all needed. In particular, during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the press stopped reporting news, and became an extension of the Bush administration's press office.

Mr. Edwards may have learned his lesson, but he shouldn't distort the recent past to justify his new-found love for his work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Harrowing Veteran's Story

Anthony Acevedo deserves the Medal of Honor. Instead he was told to keep quiet and never talk about his experiences.

Acevedo sees it differently. For a soldier who survived one of the worst atrocities of mankind, the military's reaction is still painful to accept. "My stomach turned to acid, and the government didn't care. They didn't give a hullabaloo."

It took more than 50 years, he says, before he received 100 percent disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Please remember why we observe this day and keep in that way.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Don't Forget This Story

Remember when the press reported that mega-insurance giant American Internation Group (AIG) received an $85 billion bailout from the federal government? Well, the original plan, which was announced on September 16 and gave the government an 80% equity stake in the company, was quickly followed by another bailout of $38 billion on October 8. Three weeks after that, it got another $21 billion. Total $144 billion so far. This bailout is the poster child for all bailouts, because more than any other bailout so far, it has come to symbolize what many see as the socialization of private business.

Now comes word of an expanded bailout of $150 billion announced today. It is made up of a $25 billion write-down of the original $85 billion loan to $60 billion, a purchase of $40 billion in preferred shares, and purchase of $53 billion in mortgage-backed securities owned by AIG. "Preferred" shares in a company allow the purchaser to get their money out before shareholders of common stock.

I am so skeptical of this bailout at this point. I mean, what really happens if AIG fails? According to an interview with former AIG chief executive Maurice Greenberg, AIG is tied to many firms through its various complicated financial contracts. If AIG fails, then all these contracts will have to be unwound -- and the ripple effects of this unwinding are very far reaching, on a global basis. Investments purchased and resold and resold would come crashing down on the balance sheets of dozens of financial services companies, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. It's not a surprise, then, why they decided to become federally chartered bank holding companies rather than just Wall Street investment banks. In the wake of Lehman's being allowed to fail, they'd be able feed from the federal trough if they are in similar circumstances. And AIG's problems are likely tied very tightly to Goldman and Morgan, so if AIG fails, then Goldman and Morgan get to apply at the Fed window for bailout money too, because now they're banks.

It's important not to forget this ongoing story -- one, because it has implications that are likely to reverberate all the way down the financial food chain (in political terms, "Main Street"); two, because Barack Obama's administration will inherit this problem and his handling of it will certainly provide grist for the mill in 2010 and 2012, on both sides of the aisle; and three, because now that the government has taken a $25 billion loss on this bailout, it's important to see how, or if, we will ever be paid back to the point where the government is no longer a shareholder.

My bet is that the government shoulders the whole bailout and loses everything.

Words From the Wise

Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, was Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration. He is a respected progressive voice on economic matters. He posted a thoughtful essay yesterday on TPM regarding what we need to do to get out of this "Mini-Depression." Money quote:
Government spending that puts people back to work and invests in the future productivity of the nation is exactly what the economy needs right now. Deficit numbers themselves have no significance. The pertinent issue is how much underutilized capacity exists in the economy. When there's lots of idle capacity, deficit spending is entirely appropriate, as John Maynard Keynes taught us. Moving the economy to fuller capacity will of itself shrink future deficits.
If there is a larger target for Republicans to shoot at in the next two years, I have yet to find it. But Obama's got clear vision on the economy and is putting together the right team to help him solve the problem. If he manages public expectations in the right way, and clearly articulates why putting people back to work is more important than the budget deficit in the short term, then the public will stay with him. Trotting out stupid arguments about socialism will only hurt the Republicans now, as it didn't stick during the campaign and won't stick during the first Obama term.

About As Gracious As He Can Get

Bill Kristol waxes semi-snarky in his Monday column in the NYT:

It will be tougher yet if [Republicans] underestimate Obama. His selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff suggests that Obama’s not going to be mindlessly leftist, and that he’s going to shape a legislative strategy that is attentive to Congressional realities while not deferring to a Congressional leadership whose interests may not be his own. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both tripped up in their first two years by their Democratic Congresses. Obama intends for Emanuel to ensure that that doesn’t happen.

And Obama has the further advantage of inheriting a recession that will give him a very tough first year or two (for which he won’t be blamed), but that should be followed by a recovery well timed for his re-election bid.

So Obama will be formidable. But conservatives should welcome the challenge. It’s good for conservatism that conservatives will have to develop refreshed ideas and regenerated political skills to succeed in the age of Obama.

And it wouldn’t hurt for Governors Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and the other possible 2012 G.O.P. nominees to begin bringing some puppies home for their kids.

I think this is about as magnanimous as Kristol will allow himself to get. With an eye focused sharply on taking back the White House as soon as possible, Kristol manages to recognize that Obama is capable of making smart choices in how to govern. He understands that Obama "gets" Americans quite capably, since he happens to be one himself.

Still, I'm irked by the "mindlessly leftist" comment above. Until I started to pay close attention to Bush43 after 9/11, I had always thought that presidential administrations were never "mindless." I even recognize that Reagan himself had a nuanced view of the world. In fact, his direct assault on the Soviet Union to bring about the end of the Cold War (finally mopped up by his successor, Bush41) was fantastically executed, even thought it added trillions to the debt load for future generations to retire. Bush43 surrounded himself with sharp tools, to be sure, but never used them to their fullest potential. Straightjacketed by his pathological need to outdo and individuate from his controlling father, W never used those tools to their fullest potential. He eschewed thoughtful deliberation in favor of gut instinct. It is the typical tack a recovering alcoholic in AA would take, looking for "God shots," or signs from above, to guide his decisions. This incurious take on the world was exacerbated by his excessive boorishness -- touching the German chancellor inappropriately, referring to the former Russian president as Vladimir while doing a press conference, or his predictable testiness whenever the press asked difficult questions -- and his public displays of fake confidence ("I'm the Decider"). Today, I recognize mindlessness in presidential politics. It's simply idiotic for Kristol to consider that Obama would not do a complete 180 on the past eight years and devote major grey matter to the affairs of state.

The roller coaster continues.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Plugged Into the Matrix

Palin biographer Kaylene Johnson writes an "If You Knew Sarah Like I Know Sarah" op-ed on Because it's so damn hilarious, I had to paste the whole thing. My comments are parenthetical.

WASILLA, Alaska (CNN) -- In a year when Alaska celebrates 50 years of statehood, it can be argued that our state finally joined the union August 29, 2008, when Gov. Sarah Palin was nominated by Sen. John McCain as his vice presidential running mate. (So up until 2008, all Alaskans were secret secessionists?)

Suddenly, everything Alaskan and everything Sarah came under micro-scrutiny as media from all over the world descended on small-town Alaska to find out more about the woman who held the possibility of becoming the most powerful leader in the world. (as if that were so unusual!)

In the harsh light of that scrutiny, we learned a few things about our governor. And we learned a few things about ourselves. What surprised many Alaskans was the warrior persona that grew up around Palin as she took on the role of partisan pit bull. (This illustrates how the growing Christianist community in Alaska, indeed most Alaskans in general, is willing to overlook glaring character flaws. Case in point: Ted Stevens' reelection)

Although she campaigned against rabid partisanship in her bid for the governor's office, we learned that when the job calls for it, she is capable and willing to become a hard-liner for her party. Her legacy as governor, however, has been based more on cooperation than confrontation. (or, perhaps, flat out theft, as in the funds earmarked for the Bridge To Nowhere, a project she turned down but kept the money)

Many of her staunchest supporters here were Democrats who appreciated her willingness to reach across the aisle to get the job done. With team spirit and a singular vision, Palin achieved more progress in two years toward the development of a natural gas pipeline than the previous two administrations put together. (a pipeline that, to my knowledge, has yet to be built)

Once Palin became McCain's VP pick, the investigation became politically charged, and many of the alliances Palin had created across party lines became strained. (this was mainly due to the McCain campaign's meddling in state affairs in an effort to keep their precious VP pick from getting stained)

From the McCain/Palin perspective, the investigation had become a political witch hunt (you mean, like Republican calls to investigate the Obama/Ayers connection? Or the Khalidi connection?). Conversely, Democrats accused the McCain/Palin camp of stonewalling. And so it went, with Palin burning some hard-won political capital right up to the day before the election, when the state's personnel board exonerated her. (A personnel board comprised of the governor's hand-picked cronies does not exonerate the governor: it provides her with political cover. The legislature's investigation determined that she had illegally abused her power over and over again. Stay tuned for competing narratives on this topic in 2012)

Her popularity before being launched on the national stage was more than 80 percent; today, her popularity in the state ranges between 64 and 68 percent, figures enviable to most politicians in America. Even so, she will have some political fences to mend on the home front. (If Ted Stevens win re-election and he then steps down, it leaves his Senate seat open to whomever Palin wants to put there: herself? The First Dude? Her future son-in-law? If she wants to mend fences, she'll stop the political shenanigans and cronyism that soured so much of the country on the Bush administration [remember Brownie?])

People close to Palin told me early in the campaign that the McCain camp's "handling" of Sarah Palin was unfortunate not only to Palin but to the campaign. (That's what "people close to Palin" would say, of course! If anything, there was no good way to "handle" Palin as she was a farcical choice in the first place. McCain did himself in on the day he picked her. Then again, I have my theories about that.)

Putting a muzzle and straitjacket on her and then scripting her so tightly that she came across as foolish was a "colossal blunder," according to one of Palin's closest aides. Her national poll numbers grew increasingly negative. (No, McCain had to muzzle and straitjacket her because she was an ignoramus. The only VP candidate more completely unprepared than she was Ross Perot's selection, retired Vice Admiral James "Gridlock!" Stockdale.)

Even so, Palin drew enormous, enthusiastic crowds throughout the country and energized McCain's flagging candidacy, not a bad debut for a newcomer to the national political stage. (Debut, OK. Performance, abyssmal. Denouement, deservedly pathetic.)

Home-grown supporters were willing to take to the streets in Alaska and across the nation to seek a victory. One group of supporters organized, calling themselves Alaskans for Reform.

One of the organizers, Mary Havens, told me that after their offers to volunteer were rebuffed by the McCain camp, they set up their own shop, conducted rallies and raised $24,000 for the campaign. (By contrast, the readers of Bob Cesca's Goddamn Awesome Blog raised nearly $10,000 without rallies, just by posting a few witty blog entries.)

Many of these hard-core enthusiasts were the same people who succeeded in their grass-roots, statewide effort to put Palin in office in the first place. Through groups like Alaskans for Reform, we learned that Alaskans don't need anyone's permission to stand up for what they believe. (Congratulations on passing American Civics 101!)

The people who know Sarah Palin best say that she joined the McCain campaign with a sincere desire to do what was best for America. She hoped that she would succeed in helping John McCain ascend to the presidency. (I never would suggest that Sarah Palin was savvy enough to have any other motive.)

Instead, she stood by McCain as he made a concession speech congratulating Sen. Barack Obama on winning the White House. (Reports I've read in recent days suggest that Palin had asked to address the Arizona crowd, and had been sharply rejected by campaign management. That would not be the time to be announcing her candidacy in 2012!) The next day, in Palin's more characteristic style, she called on Americans to unite in supporting the new administration as the nation faces the challenges that lie ahead.

As for 2012, if Palin chooses to run for the presidency, she will now know just how intensely personal and ugly a campaign can get. She will have the traction of being a household name. She will have more experience. And perhaps most important, she'll be running for office on her own terms.

Governor Sarah Palin has a big job to do: govern Alaska well. She might also be Alaska's next senator. Whatever she does, the country would do well to ignore her for at least a couple of years. She'll come back -- as "fatal cancer" often does.

The Wages of Sin

Here is another Daily Beast piece, this one by Scott Horton, that suggests Bill Kristol at the NY Times was a "mole" for Palin and her handlers in the campaign.

What emerges on a close reading is this: Palin and those closest to her inside the campaign were eager to wage a Lee Atwater-style campaign designed to demonize Barack Obama, with Palin as the figure leading the charge. McCain was resisting this push or at least attempting to keep it within tight boundaries. Kristol campaigned against the McCain strategy, boosting Palin.
Well, they failed at that, didn't they? The take-away for me here is that they grossly overestimated Palin and her appeal beyond the radical fundamentalists.

Incidentally, Atwater pioneered the methods of campaigning perfected by Karl Rove in 2000. He died in 1991 at age 40 of a malignant brain tumor. Before he died, he converted to Catholicism and wrote a bunch of apologies to those he had harmed. Noble effort, that. But karma got him good. The message to me is that when you screw with people's lives that way, there is a dear price to pay. Atwater paid with his life. Rove's bill hasn't been delivered to him just yet, but it will. Palin is running a tab right now, and God help her if she doesn't abandon that plan.

The Stupid Party

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for highlighting this piece by Jeffrey Hart over at The Daily Beast.

Jeffrey Hart is professor emeritus of English at Dartmouth College. He wrote for the National Review for more than three decades, where he was senior editor. He wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan, when governor of California, and for Richard Nixon. He's got serious conservative bonafides going back 40 years or more.

Here's the essential crux of his piece:

Does any reasonable person not believe that gays and lesbians deserve respect
and equality? Not today’s Republican Party. Expert translators from Arabic have been dismissed for being gay. And applicants for the post of certified public accountants in the Iraq Green Zone have been asked about their view of Roe v. Wade.

Both Obama and McCain supported federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. An embryo is a cluster of cells the size of the period at the end of this sentence. It takes a strange mentality to equate that with a seriously ill human being. (Bush, August 2001: “It’s wrong to destroy life in order to save life.”)

But science never sleeps, and embryonic stem cell work has been going on around the world in advanced nations, as well as in state or privately funded laboratories here. Harvard is planning a new billion-dollar science campus, with a major cell-research laboratory. Promising advances of various kinds are being explored world-wide.

So here we are in 2008. With its indispensable Southern and, more widely, evangelical base, the Republican Party has become the stupid party.


In its embrace of the religious right under George W. Bush, the Republican Party became the stupid party. And committing suicide along with it has been the conservative movement. The party united around god, guns and [hating] gays is finished.

Hart also called Obama "the real conservative in 2008," and "the new Reagan."

Dear readers, the Obama victory this week renders the Republican Party of George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Bill Kristol, and Sarah Palin a farce of a political movement. They are not conservative (largest expansion of government in history since 2001, largest budget deficits in history, $10.5 trillion in debt). They are religious radicals, neo-fascists, and -- thank God -- an ever-shrinking minority in the United States of America.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

It's OK To Be Smart Now

As we approach Jan. 20, 2009 and the "End of an Error," we rejoice at the departure of the most intellectually incurious president we have ever had. Yale, Harvard MBA, multiple business owner -- no matter. He was painfully stunted from the neck up. A president needs to be vigorously intellectual, to be able tear things down, even though he might not always use that intellect when he makes decisions. With 8,000 things in his face every day, a dazzling mind is an OK thing to have. I shudder to my core when I think that Sarah Palin might have ascended to the VP's office having only recently learned that Africa was a continent.

Had McCain/Palin been successful, you know what that would have been? Well, I'm going to use a big word now, one that I came across for the first time today, but one that definitely sums up what I mean: Kakistocracy: government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens, by the worst of society. Pronounced a certain way, the first two syllables of this juicy word sound like the word my grandmother used to describe her grandchildrens' bowel movements. Fitting.

Let Go of Joe?

HuffPost reports on the up-in-air fate of Sen. Joe Lieberman, the "independent" Democrat from Connecticut who campaigned for McCain and failed at coaching Sarah Palin to be an effective mouthpiece for the campaign.

It's very possible that he may be booted from all his committee spots as early as today when he meets with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV).

I say boot him. President Obama will have enough bipartisan balance in his cabinet (we hope) that would make diluting the legislative power of the Senate unnecessary. I don't see where the Democratic Party owes him anything. He says he caucuses with the Democrats, but then he campaigns with McCain? Plus, he's on the wrong side on Iraq and Afghanistan.

I'm not a stickler for party loyalty, which is why I was so glad to see so many conservatives bolt the McCain-Palin ticket during the campaign. But he showed himself to be a turncoat at a time when his influence in the Jewish community was most needed to propel Obama to the White House. Knocking him down a few pegs may kick him over to the Republicans permanently, but at this point, would anyone be surprised to find out that he's really a Republican?

Have We Really Grown As a Nation?

The Obama margin of victory was decisive in the electoral college -- 190 votes, a better than 2-to-1 rout. The campaign, running a 50-state strategy, captured more states that went Republican in 2004 than I think many thought possible: Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana(!), Nevada, and Colorado. They even came within 5% in Georgia and Montana.

The thousands of volunteers on the ground just plain outperformed the Republicans in every way.

But have we really grown as a nation in electing a bi-racial president with a black father? If you look at a map showing the way the votes were distributed, you'll see that a great swath of territory in the South, the Great Plains, and the Northern Rockies, leaned quite heavily against Obama. I want to believe that race did not play a part in this most important election of my lifetime. I mean, if you look at the black vote, they went 90% or more for Obama, but that doesn't reveal anything because black folks typically go Democratic at that rate anyway.

I'm talking about the South and its shameful past of slavery and Jim Crow laws. It's only been 44 years since the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. And it's not as though the racist white establishment in that part of the country suddenly shut off its racist beliefs when the laws changed. Many of those people are still around after all these years, and they still vote.
Further, lots of white Christianist folks moved down to the South from other parts of the country because of that region's "family friendly" suburbs (largely white). For that part of the country, I would say that they have a long way to go before I would consider it a place of growth.

In other parts of the country, Obama won decisively. In Hawaii, he took 72% of the vote; only Washington, DC was higher than that (not even Obama's home state of Illinois did that well). Now, from a racial point of view, there just aren't enough black folks in this country to score that big a victory.

To me, this was a victory based on demographics. The only demographic group that McCain won was people over 65. Obama took his own age group by a slim margin, and scored a good win among 30-44 year olds, but he just crushed McCain 2-1 in the under-30 crowd.

And this is where I see the hope. Among these folks, all of whom were born in or after the late 1970s, racism just doesn't play a role. This is the generation that saw MTV videos rotating from white to black and back again seamlessly. The generation whose sports heroes were as much Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Tiger Woods as they were Peyton Manning, Larry Bird, and Andre Agassi. The generation that saw the Huxtable family as conventionally American. My sons have play dates with kids of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. I have hope that my generation has taught the next one well enough that this blindness to skin color or ethnicity will stick and endure. We have too much at stake.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

They Knew

Yes, the McCain campaign knew from the start that Sarah Palin was a blockheaded and painfully ignorant political lightweight. According to this Fox News reporter, it's been revealed the day after the election, now that nothing is off the record anymore, that essentially McCain chose her after minimal consideration and based on the strong recommendation of Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.

And yet, even though they knew right away that she didn't fit the bill, they still went ahead for two months, bullshitting all of America with this farce of a candidate. McCain's first choice, Joe Lieberman, put his entire political career in jeopardy (and has now ruined it permanently) to try to inject some brains into this pin cushion of a politician, and smiled in the background like a dutiful little man, like a sleazy trusty at Treblinka. Just waiting to be named Secretary of State in the McCain administration. And now that he's heading back to the Senate, he is sure to lose all his choice committee positions.

This was the one they chose to be next in line for the presidency? This is what they called putting country first?

She thought Africa was a single country! She couldn't identify the countries that were parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)!

Having her in the shotgun seat is the ONLY reason why the Republicans didn't lose by 20 points.

The Fox News anchor on the left in the video says that the network's analysts studied the charts on McCain's standing in the polls, and concluded that the turnaround that put Obama in the lead for good occurred right after Palin's interview with Katie Couric. And it was revealed that Palin refused pre-interview prep work from McCain's staff!

She is FAR worse than Bush in the "govern by the seat of your pants" dept. All I can say is I am profoundly grateful that the Obama recognized the farce early enough to neutralize any potential appeal she might have had beyond the Christianist base of the GOP.

The Story Will Be Told

Investigative journalist Sy Hersh talks to The Guardian:
The unknown quantity of voter racism apart, however, he is hopeful that Obama will pull it off, and if he does, for Hersh this will be a starting gun. 'You cannot believe how many people have told me to call them on 20 January [the date of the next president's inauguration],' he says, with relish. '[They say:] "You wanna know about abuses and violations? Call me then." So that is what I'll do, so long as nothing awful happens before the inauguration.'

Another Alaskan Disaster

First we had the Exxon Valdez, then Sarah Palin. Now we have the convicted felon who won't leave.

Stevens (R) * 106,351 48%
Begich (D) 102,998 47%
* incumbent
99% of precincts reporting.

Still not called either way, but if it goes for Stevens, this will set a new low for Alaskans, the election of a convicted felon to the US Senate. Isn't this the kind of thing Governor Palin was supposed to root out, the mav'rick hockey mom?

So here's howI predict it will go if Stevens is declared the winner:
  1. He gets sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009.
  2. He is sentenced for his crimes.
  3. He is forced by Senate Republican leadership to step down.
  4. Governor Palin appoints a new Republican (herself?) to take his place.
An alternative eliminates #1 if #2 happens first.

The Final Bush Push

Maybe I should call it a Bush Putsch, as he's so clearly attempting to overthrow the government.
In the waning days of his administration Bush, Cheney, and his cabinet are pushing through new laws, rules changes, and regulations that undermine abortion rights, the environment, and of course, civil liberties. The NY Times reports it in an editorial published Monday.

My all-time favorite:
The administration has taken other disturbing steps in recent weeks. In late September, the I.R.S. restored tax breaks for banks that take big losses on bad loans inherited through acquisitions. Now we learn that JPMorgan Chase and others are planning to use their bailout funds for mergers and acquisitions, transactions that will be greatly enhanced by the new tax subsidy.
Ay caramba. Screw those poor homeowners! We're going shopping Wal-Mart style for new businesses.

More Reader Thank Yous

A reader writes:
It's more like, thank you Shrub for sucking so badly and for being such a boil on the ass of humanity, that you forced millions of us to get off the couch and do something about it before it got even worse.

Thank You, George W. Bush, cont.

A reader writes:

Thank you George Bush, for saying that you consult with God every night, and that you feel you have been chosen by Him to do this job; this has shown me the importance of free will, and the morality of taking responsibility for the consequences of one's actions.

To that comment, another reader writes:

It taught us that sometimes that small voice we hear in our head is actually our own ego speaking and not God.

Thank You, George W. Bush

After my first wife and I split up in 1995 after six years of marriage, I began a nearly three-year journey trying to heal and discover who I was as a man. Along the way, I spent a weekend in April 1996 at a Masonic Temple in Pasadena with about 200 other men, all of us wounded in some way, at the beginning of the same healing journey. During those 48+ hours, I came to face the collection of deep resentments I'd formed over the years against my father.

That wasn't the revelation for me; I'd known about them for some time. What did wake me up, however, was that in order for me to move on, to become the man I'd always wanted to be, I had to "clear" those resentments with my dad. And in this big ballroom, surrounded by men I came to trust and feeling very safe, I figured out that instead of blaming my dad for all the shitty things I believed he'd done to me or said to me as I was growing up, I needed actually to thank him. I had an amazing opportunity to turn those painful events in my memory into practical life lessons -- for after all, what is a father's job other than to prepare his children for life? And isn't every father given whatever tools he has from his father? After I'd done that, I could come to love him on his terms. I was ready to stand with my father as a man, instead of merely a big boy.

Today, I will use that tool again to clear with George W. Bush, who "fathered" 300+ million of us for the last eight years. We all know what he did; the list is unbelievably long. And yet, let's face the fact that he was a product of his own father and his upbringing. He was taught to be incurious, to be ideologically rigid, to be spiritually shallow, to be sinister, to be a thief of elections, to squander goodwill, and to be an ultimate failure.

So thank you, Mr. President, for stealing the 2000 election from Al Gore, because it taught us to be more vigilant, more mindful, and more protective of our precious right to vote.

Thank you, Mr. President, for withdrawing the USA from international arms treaties, because it taught us, in this world of such different nations, how fragile we are, and how beautiful peace is.

Thank you, Mr. President, for choosing Dick Cheney as your Vice President, because it taught us that true leaders never delegate the hardest jobs to subordinates with nothing to lose.

Thank you, Mr. President, for turning an abundance of international goodwill in the aftermath of 9/11 into a healthy dose of international scorn and derision, because it taught us that we are not too big to accept help or too powerful to be humble.

Thank you, Mr. President, for lying to us about weapons of mass destruction and exposing our susceptibility to deception when we are afraid, because it taught us that no matter how terrifying a situation is, we must always keep our wits about us to avoid serious judgment errors.

Thank you, Mr. President, for prohibiting embryonic stem cell research, because it taught us the immeasurable value of science and its promise for future generations.

Thank you, Mr. President, for completely bungling the invasion of Iraq, because it taught us that presidents need to consult with real experts with real ground-level experience in warfare, instead of just using our gut.

Thank you, Mr. President, for the "Mission Accomplished" banner, because it taught us that the hardest work often comes after we think we're done.

Thank you, Mr. President, for letting New Orleans and its inhabitants die, because it taught us that, whether we are black or white or whatever, we are Americans and we deserve respect from our leaders.

Thank you, Mr. President, for Abu Ghraib and black sites and extraordinary rendition and waterboarding, because it taught us that even countries like ours, which claim to stand for humanity, can betray humanity if the people don't pay attention.

Thank you, Mr. President, for spying on us illegally, because it taught us that liberty is more important than a transitory need for information.

Thank you, Mr. President, for signing statements, because it taught us that no one is above the law -- no one.

Thank you, Mr. President, for being so ideologically rigid and spiritually shallow, because it taught us to be open to all ideas and tolerant of all belief systems.

Thank you, Mr. President, for trying to form a permanent Republican majority, because it taught us to fight with all we've got to preserve the progressive ideals that work best for the most Americans.

And finally, Thank you, Mr. President, for letting John McCain hug you and vote with you so often, because it taught us that the idea of living another day with all the things you've done was so unbearable that we needed a huge change, that we needed Barack Obama.

Really, Mr. President, thank you so very much. We love you. You did a great job.