November 2010


The unbearable lightness of being a Tea Partier, part II


In The unbearable lightness of being a Tea Partier, I wrote:

The Tea Party is another manifestation of a rightwing phenomenon whereby carefully crafted talking points are force-fed to the public through Fox, talk radio, chain emails and other outlets, then regurgitated in the form of deeply-held convictions.

A fundamental characteristic of Tea Partiers’ views is the vehement embrace of ideas with little or no grounding in knowledge or comprehension and the parroting of Fox-style soundbites as though they were carefully considered positions.

…The point is not to denigrate or minimize people’s views, but to demonstrate that the views are often based on erroneous information, misinformation or outright lies delivered by cynical millionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

If you’re going to ‘defend’ the Constitution or deny global warming or reject “big government”, you might want to do your own research before taking the word of Constitutional scholars and climatologists like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Christine O’Donnell.

Or as I put it recently: Only in the Tea Party can you defend a Constitution you haven’t read, deny climate change you’re causing and slam government programs you support.

I can’t imagine a more cogent articulation of the Tea Party phenomenon than this:

Cholera has killed almost 1000 Haitians, hundreds of thousands at risk


More pain for the people of Haiti:

Haiti’s cholera toll has risen above 900, including dozens of deaths in the teeming capital, as the epidemic showed no sign of abating just two weeks ahead of presidential elections.

Of Haiti’s 10 provinces, six now have been touched by the cholera epidemic according to the health ministry, which said 14,642 people so far had been treated in hospital, about 2,300 more than on Friday.

The aid group Save the Children said 40 percent of those who have died in the epidemic were not in a hospital or clinic, suggesting they had no treatment or had not recognized symptoms of a disease that can kill within hours.

Bush is getting a pass for torture, but could he face legal problems outside the U.S.?


I’ve been following the astonishing callousness and carelessness with which George W. Bush admits to having authorized torture:

The U.S. media long ago determined that George W. Bush’s transgressions have ceased to be newsworthy. One of the reasons is that the Obama administration made the disastrous decision not to investigate Bush. That cop-out allows Bush to freely admit he approved torture…

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, “Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting.”

M. Cherif Boussiani, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University who co-chaired the U.N. experts committee that drafted the torture convention, said that Bush’s admission could theoretically expose him to prosecution. But he also said Bush must have presumed that he would have the government’s backing in any confrontation with others’ courts.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a long-standing critic of Bush’s interrogation and detention policies, called prosecution unlikely. “The fact that he did admit it suggests he believes he is politically immune from being held accountable. . . . But politics can change.”

Here’s an interesting perspective:

Now that President Bush is back with an autobiographical book defending his tenure, so are those who want him arrested for torture. In this article from France’s Rue 89, Jean-François Lisee informs that every country – all 146 of them – that are signatories to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, are obliged to arrest Mr. Bush, and Lisee points out that a few have already begun proceedings against Bush Administration officials.

For the Rue 89, Jean-François Lisee writes in part:

If no action is taken against Bush in his home country, that opens the possibility of indictment in a third country.

A total of 145 other countries, including Canada, are signatories to the U.N. Convention Against Torture. And all signatories have committed to enforcing its provisions, even against offenders residing in other territories.

Therefore, with varying degrees of success, proceedings have been initiated in Spain and Belgium against foreign heads of state, notably the Chilean Pinochet. Water boarding is now considered a form of torture worldwide, and those responsible must be prosecuted.

In fact, a court in Madrid last January opened proceedings against Bush advisers who wrote memos illegally authorizing the use of torture. The case is pending, but the issue was pursued precisely because no American authority took action against the officials responsible.

It’s a safe bet that George W. Bush is now in the crosshairs of the Spain tribunal. If it were to condemn him, even in absentia, he would then be subject to the mutual extradition treaty in force among 24 European countries. In other words, Bush couldn’t travel to any of these countries without incurring the risk of being deported to Spain to serve out his sentence.

The awful power of Rush Limbaugh


There’s no denying that Limbaugh is a major player in American politics, feeding a stream of liberal-bashing propaganda to rapt listeners.

Mike Stark describes it this way:

Rush Limbaugh is heard by more people on a near-daily basis than any other person in the world. I’m not positive about that, but pretty damned sure. A good cable news audience (Bill O’Reilly sets the standard here, I believe), may reach 5 million people on an excellent night. Network news shows get 7-8 million people.

For three hours every single weekday, Rush Limbaugh reaches (for at least part of those 3 hours) 20 million people. The naked fact is that he is the most influential political voice in the United States. Probably moreso than the President himself.

Over his 25 years of broadcasting, Rush has built up a ton of trust with his audience and completely changed the AM radio spectrum. Hannity is close on his tail in terms of reach. Just behind him, you find Beck. And Ingraham. And Levin and Savage and Medved and Prager and Dobbs and Mancow and Bennett and Doyle…. and… and…. and….

What is more scary? The fact that these folks vote in wildly disproportionate numbers. They aren’t passive listeners. They open their wallets (fear does that to some folks, I guess), forward ridiculous email chains (when is the last time you got a progressive email from a crazy uncle?) and can be reliably counted upon to flood Congress with faxes, letters and phone calls. All of that gives them an outsized voice in our politics. It’s why our issues poll well, but we can’t elect people that do what we want them too. The talk radio crowd, combined with the moneyed interests, crowd progressive voices out.

I’d love to see a graphical representation of American politics compared against the arc of right wing talk radio. My bet is that it’d open up some eyes. I suspect that too many of us believe that since we see talk radio for the hucksterism that it is, it can’t really be a true threat. And I don’t think that could be more wrong. Talk radio is the nervous wiring of the right wing. The Koch’s and Scaife’s and the Waltons may be the brain sending signals through the wires, but as an organizing tool, it’s incredibly potent.

There would be no Tea Party without the likes of Limbaugh:

Anecdotal evidence continues to mount that the Tea Party is another manifestation of a rightwing phenomenon whereby carefully crafted talking points are force-fed to the public through Fox, talk radio, chain emails and other communication mechanisms, then regurgitated in the form of deeply-held convictions.

I say “force-fed” because if you tune in to these outlets, it’s a relentless stream of indoctrination:

Liberals are worse than terrorists — Global warming is a hoax — Obama is a Kenyan socialist — Gays are trying to corrupt our children — “Big government” is oppressing us — All Muslims are bent on our destruction — “Activist judges” are trying to undermine the Constitution The Constitution’s two main tenets are that everyone should have the right to carry assault weapons and that America is a Christian nation.

A fundamental characteristic of Tea Partiers’ views is the vehement embrace of ideas with little or no grounding in knowledge or comprehension and the parroting of Fox-style soundbites as though they were carefully considered positions.

There’s an entire universe of liberal-bashers on the air, but Limbaugh remains a central figure. Hard to imagine what the country would be like without the anger and hatred he peddles.

Inspiring: Anuradha Koirala fights trafficking of Nepal’s women and girls


A true hero:

Anuradha Koirala is fighting to prevent the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Nepal’s women and girls. Since 1993, she and her group, Maiti Nepal, have helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 12,000 victims.

Koirala: I would like to urge all the human beings around the world: Please close your eyes and imagine these girls are your daughters, and you will feel the pain of being trafficked.

Don’t watch this video of Afghan women


A terrible reality for Afghan women:

Even the poorest families in Afghanistan have matches and cooking fuel. The combination usually sustains life. But it also can be the makings of a horrifying escape: from poverty, from forced marriages, from the abuse and despondency that can be the fate of Afghan women. “If you run away from home, you may be raped or put in jail and then sent home and then what will happen to you?” asked Rachel Reid, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who tracks violence against women.

Returned runaways are often shot or stabbed in honor killings because the families fear they have spent time unchaperoned with a man. Women and girls are still stoned to death. Those who burn themselves but survive are often relegated to grinding Cinderella existences while their husbands marry other, untainted women. “Violence in the lives of Afghanistan’s women comes from everywhere: from her father or brother, from her husband, from her father-in-law, from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law,” said Dr. Shafiqa Eanin, a plastic surgeon at the burn hospital, which usually has at least 10 female self-immolation cases at any one time.

The most sinister burn cases are actually homicides masquerading as suicides, said doctors, nurses and human rights workers. “We have two women here right now who were burned by their mothers-in-law and husbands,” said Dr. Arif Jalali, the hospital’s senior surgeon. Doctors cited two recent cases where women were beaten by their husbands or in-laws, lost consciousness and awoke in the hospital to find themselves burned because they had been shoved in an oven or set on fire.

Unless you’re prepared to be shocked and enraged, don’t watch this video:

On 60 Minutes, President Obama apologizes to America for being a Democrat


The title of this post is intentionally hyperbolic and provocative — I couldn’t think of any other way to express my shock at the things President Obama said to Steve Kroft.

First, some context: I’ve been insistent that the fundamental problem for President Obama and Democratic leaders is a lack of moral authority, a pervasive sense among the electorate that they don’t have the courage of their convictions:

Over the course of two years, President Obama and the Democratic Party achieved a remarkable feat: they passed significant, in some cases historic, legislation, yet managed not to tell the America public what they stood for and why they stood for it.

What’s worse, elected to be the anti-Bush, Barack Obama took page after page from the Bush playbook, on war, civil liberties, gay rights, executive power and women’s reproductive rights, among several other things. A perfect example is the shameful spiking of the BP spill, a craven political ploy that backfired terribly: as Democrats were getting trounced at the polls, BP was reporting a return to profitability.

No one can deny that the Obama White House and Democratic leadership racked up important accomplishments during the past two years, but voters don’t care what you do if they think you don’t stand for anything.

I keep hearing the retort that it’s all about jobs, that if the unemployment rate were 6%, Obama would be riding high and none of this would be an issue. I don’t buy it. All things being equal, when you cede your moral authority, when you telegraph to the public that you won’t stand your ground in defense of your principles, when you allow your opponent to step into the vacuum and frame your actions for you, you lose the connection to the people, you squander the ability to explain your actions, to buy time when things are going poorly, to earn trust during hard times.

In this case, Democrats collapsed in the face of an obstructionist Republican Party and the Tea Party, an overhyped, media-magnified phenomenon fueled by misinformation from think-tank generated soundbites disseminated by millionaire radio hosts and media moguls and stoked by wealthy conservative interests.

Had the White House laid out a set of core beliefs and values that they vowed to adhere to and that they framed their policies with, Democrats could have kept the American public on board with them through a tough economy. Instead, they flailed from inane attack to inane attack, never telling America what they stood for and why they stood for it, never demonstrating the strength of character and resoluteness essential to viable leadership.

The aftermath of the GOP’s midterm triumph perfectly illustrates this problem: Obama is falling over himself seeking compromise with Republicans, ceding to their frames, while Republican leaders say they will stick to their principles and try to destroy his presidency and legacy. Here’s how I put it a couple of days ago: If one side offers “compromise” and the other claims to stand firmly on principle, which one appears more principled to voters?

Astonishingly, in a 60 Minutes piece that just aired, Obama goes one step further. During the course of the entire interview he only once mentions having the courage of one’s convictions. And he attributes it not to himself or Democrats, but to Tom Coburn, a staunch conservative!

“There are some sincere Republicans in the Senate like Tom Coburn, Oklahoma, who is about as conservative as they come, but a real friend of mine and somebody who has always had the courage of his convictions and not, you know, bringing pork projects back to Oklahoma. And it may be that that’s an example of where, on a bipartisan basis, we can work together to change practices in Washington that generate a lot of the distrust of government.”

Read the rest of these excerpts and tell me how you feel about the White House’s post-midterm strategy. From my perspective, this interview is a near-complete capitulation to rightwing framing and basically an apology for being a Democrat:

“What [people have] seen over the last two years is a lot of partisan bickering. A lot of the same chronic problems that we’ve seen in Washington over the last several decades now. And that frustrated them. And I think they rightly said, “Okay, President Obama, you said you were gonna do something about this. We haven’t seen enough change in Washington.”

“I think that what happened over the course of two years was that we had to take a series of big, emergency steps quickly. And most of them in the first six months of my administration. Each of them had a big price tag. You got intervention in the banks. You’ve got the auto bailout. You’ve got a stimulus package. Each one with a lot of zeroes behind it. And people looked at that and they said, “Boy, this feels as if there’s a huge expansion of government.”

“But necessity created circumstances in which I think the Republicans were able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional, big government liberal. And that’s not something that the American people want. I mean, you know, particularly independents in this country.”

“Now, I campaigned saying we should stop doing earmarks. You know, even though it’s small as a part of our overall federal budget, you know, what people consider to be pork projects, no matter how worthy, make people feel that government’s not accountable. And there should be a better way of doing it. But I had to make a decision, “Do I sign this omnibus bill to finish last year’s business? And, you know, make sure that I can keep on working with Congress to get all these things done? Or do I veto that bill and have a big fight right away in the middle of an economic crisis?” Well, I decided to sign the bill. Now, that’s an example of where I was so concerned about getting things done that, you know, I lost track of part of the reason I got elected.”

“It’s not just a matter of how many bills I’m passing, no matter how worthy they are. Part of it’s also setting a tone in Washington and for the rest of the country that says, “We’re responsible. We’re transparent. We’re open. We’re talking to each other. We’re civil.” You know?”

“I think it’s fair to say that, you know, we made the right decisions in making sure that we stabilize the economy. But in terms of setting the tone and how this town operates, we just didn’t pay enough attention to some of the things that we had talked about.”

“And my hope is that we may be in a position now where the two sides meet and agree on some things that need to be changed. I noticed that [Virginia Congressman] Eric Cantor, one of the leaders in the House, said, you know, we really need to put an end to earmarks.”

“We thought that if we shaped a [health care] bill that wasn’t that different from bills that had previously been introduced by Republicans — including a Republican governor in Massachusetts who’s now running for President — that, you know, we would be able to find some common ground there. And we just couldn’t.”

“So, for us to figure out in a bipartisan way how to start rebuilding our roads. How to make sure we got the best airports in the world. How do we make sure that we’ve got a rail system that works in this country?”

“Well, you know, again, historically, rebuilding our infrastructure is something that has garnered Democratic and Republican support. I want to have a conversation with them and see if that’s still the case. What I just mentioned in terms of providing tax breaks for companies that are investing here in the United States. That’s not a traditional liberal position. That’s a traditional Republican position. That’s a Chamber of Commerce position.”

“What I’m gonna do is I’m gonna reach out to Republicans and I’m gonna say, “What can we work on together?” There are gonna be some things that we can’t agree on. You know? Philosophically. And so, we will have those battles. And we’ll save those decisions till after the next election. But in the meantime, there must be some things we can agree on.” KROFT: Haven’t you tried that? PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well I have, but I’m gonna keep on trying. And I’ll give you an example that I mentioned yesterday at the press conference in energy. I think that you know the Republicans don’t want to see some big comprehensive climate change bill.”

“Well, it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves. We have a long tradition in this country of a desire for limited government, the suspicion of the federal government, of a concern that government spends too much money. You know? I mean, that’s as American as apple pie. And although, you know, there’s a new label to this, I mean those sentiments are ones that a lot of people support and give voice to. Including a lot of Democrats.”

“Sometimes I think this debate gets framed as if I think rich people, folks who are doing well, should be punished. Part of what America’s all about is going out there and getting rich. And, you know, if you make a good product, you provide a good service, God bless you. I want you to do well. Then you can plow that money back into creating jobs. And building your businesses. That’s terrific.”

“I understand the Republicans have a different view. And so, we are going to have to have a negotiation. And I am open to you know, finding a way in which, you know, they can meet their, you know, principles and I can meet mine. But in order to do that, I think we do have to answer the question of how we pay for it. If in fact we’re gonna extend these tax cuts, then we’ve got to figure out what does that mean for our debt and our deficit.”

“And hopefully, we can agree on a set of facts that leads to a compromise.”

“You know, I think that both John [Boehner] and Mitch [McConnell] are very smart. They’re capable. They have been able to, I think, organize the Republican caucus very effectively in opposition to a lot of the things that we tried to do over the last two years. And that takes real political skill. And I believe that they want the best for the country just like I do. Just like Democrats do. So you know, my assumption is that we’re gonna be able to work together. And whenever we’ve had conversations here at the White House or over on Capital Hill, they’ve always been cordial.”

“Okay, during election season, I think the rhetoric flies. And by the way, I’ve been guilty of that. It’s not just them. And you know again, this is an example, you asked me earlier, of what I reflect on. I reflect on the fact that part of my promise to the American people when I was elected was to maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think over the course of two years, there have been times where I’ve slipped on that commitment. And that’s something that I’ve got to make sure that I’m checking on an ongoing basis, making sure that my rhetoric matches up with my expectations for myself and the expectations of my supporters.”

“You know, now I will say that when it comes to some of my supporters, some of my Democratic supporters who express some frustration, part of it, I think, is the belief that if I just communicated things better, that I’d be able to persuade that half of the country that voted for John McCain that we were right and they were wrong. And, you know, one of the things that I think is important for people to remember is that, you know, this country doesn’t just agree with The New York Times editorial page. And, you know, I can make some really good arguments defending the Democratic position, and there are gonna be some people who just don’t agree with me. And that’s okay. And then we’ve got to figure out a way to compromise.”

“And so I think that we’ve got some repair work to do [with the business community]. And as I said in my press conference — you know, the key to the American economy has always been the dynamic private sector that creates jobs. I would love a situation in which the private sector is off and roaring and movin’ and, you know, the government is playing a much more limited role in the economy.”

“No you know, I do get discouraged, I mean, there are times where you think, “Dog-gone-it you know, the job numbers aren’t movin’ as fast as I want.” And you know, I thought that the economy would have gotten better by now. You know, one of the things I think you understand — as president you’re held responsible for everything. But you don’t always have control of everything. Right?”

“And you know, I think that it is entirely legitimate that in the banking sector, it’s very important for us to write these rules in collaboration with interested parties so that they can start knowin’ how things are gonna work. When it comes to healthcare, we need to be consulting with the insurance industry to make sure they know how things are gonna work.”

President Obama was smart to tackle health insurance reform when he did


Paul Krugman makes an excellent point today (when doesn’t he make excellent points?):

Democrats, declared Evan Bayh in an Op-Ed article on Wednesday in The Times, “overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession.” Many others have been saying the same thing: the notion that the Obama administration erred by not focusing on the economy is hardening into conventional wisdom.

But I have no idea what, if anything, people mean when they say that. The whole focus on “focus” is, as I see it, an act of intellectual cowardice — a way to criticize President Obama’s record without explaining what you would have done differently.

After all, are people who say that Mr. Obama should have focused on the economy saying that he should have pursued a bigger stimulus package? Are they saying that he should have taken a tougher line with the banks? If not, what are they saying? That he should have walked around with furrowed brow muttering, “I’m focused, I’m focused”?

The issue, says Krugman, is not the lack of focus, but the inadequacy of the White House’s economic plan. This is something Krugman has been hammering from day one and who knows where we’d be if Democrats had listened to him and others who were advocating for a more audacious stimulus.

This raises another point. I actually think Obama was smart to use the momentum of the 2008 campaign to pass a health insurance bill. My complaint – and that of many progressives – was that the administration was ceding too much ground in the debate, was flat-footed in response to the rightwing noise machine, was blithely negotiating away key bargaining chips, and was getting bogged down in appeasing a few centrist Democrats who appeared to be negotiating in bad faith. Remember, progressives were agitating for the threat of reconciliation long before Scott Brown’s stunning victory.

Still, the bill passed, and I don’t buy into the congealing conventional wisdom that Obama should have postponed tackling health care.

Bush’s bombshell: I broke the law


This story should be as big as the midterms, but it won’t be. The U.S. media long ago determined that George W. Bush’s transgressions have ceased to be newsworthy. One of the reasons is that the Obama administration made the disastrous decision not to investigate Bush. That cop-out allows Bush to freely admit he approved torture:

Human rights experts have long pressed the administration of former president George W. Bush for details of who bore ultimate responsibility for approving the simulated drownings of CIA detainees, a practice that many international legal experts say was illicit torture. In a memoir due out Tuesday, Bush makes clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique against alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for him.

In his book, titled “Decision Points,” Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was “Damn right” and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, “Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from this admission is what is most interesting.”

M. Cherif Boussiani, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University who co-chaired the U.N. experts committee that drafted the torture convention, said that Bush’s admission could theoretically expose him to prosecution. But he also said Bush must have presumed that he would have the government’s backing in any confrontation with others’ courts.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a long-standing critic of Bush’s interrogation and detention policies, called prosecution unlikely. “The fact that he did admit it suggests he believes he is politically immune from being held accountable. . . . But politics can change.”

The disparate threads of 2009/2010 politics come together in this admission:

First, it reminds us how radical Bush really was and why America recoiled in disgust, lurched left and elected a Democratic president.

Second, it highlights the irresponsibility of the press, who should be blasting this on every front page. Remember, the media still has agenda setting power and tells the public what matters.

Third, it bring into stark relief the political and moral tone-deafness of the Obama White House. If you can’t hold an American president accountable for breaking the law on a matter as grave as torture, then you have no moral authority — and questionable political acumen.

Fourth, it explains why someone like Sarah Palin can get elected president.

Fifth, it is yet another vindication of the progressive community, whose warnings about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bybee, Yoo, Rove, Rice, Ashcroft, etc. have proven to be prescient.

The final insult is that it takes Darrell Issa to threaten investigations of Bush while Democrats mope around after their midterm drubbing:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) pledged on Wednesday to investigate both Barack Obama and George W. Bush with his newfound subpoena power when he takes over as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“I’m going to be investigating a president of my own party, because many of the issues we’re working on began [with] President Bush or even before, and haven’t been solved,” Issa said during an interview on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown.”

America is not America if we lose our moral compass. It matters not one iota if round-the-clock indoctrination by the rightwing noise machine numbs the majority of our citizens and makes the unacceptable acceptable to them. The rest of us must speak out forcefully in defense of the fundamental principles that undergird our nation.

Don’t listen to me, listen to the Bible: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

UPDATE: Marcy raises an intriguing point about Bush’s confession:

At least from Smith’s description, it appears that Bush says nothing about approving the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (nor the reported waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi). Mind you, Ron Suskind has reported that Bush was intimately, almost gleefully, involved in ordering torture for Abu Zubaydah. But Bush doesn’t cop to that in his book. Now, there may be good reason for that. After all, John Yoo had not yet written the memo claiming that waterboarding did not amount to torture at the time Abu Zubaydah was first tortured.

According to multiple reports, the White House–Alberto Gonzales at least, if not his boss–approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on a daily basis. And when you read the Bybee Memo and the OPR Report on it, it’s very clear that the memo carved out legal authorization specifically for the torture directly authorized by the President. Indeed, the White House’s prior approval for torture–potentially up to and including waterboarding–may explain the urgency behind the memo in the first place, to provide retroactive legal cover for Bush’s unilateral disregard for US laws prohibiting torture.