Patton Oswalt, I’m sorry you’re so wrong about Boston

April 16, 2013 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Patton Oswalt’s beautiful and heartfelt Facebook post understandably struck a chord with a nation stunned by the carnage in Boston:

This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness … So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

It is an admirable sentiment and very moving, but tragically wrong. Considering it was endorsed by hundreds of thousands of people, I wanted to offer a contrary perspective.

First, the “prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence” are not paid by the majority of us but by innocent people neglected by the rest of the world. While we go about our lives, fretting over our iPhones and apps, sports teams and celebrities, there’s Aisha and far too many like her:

13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in conflict capital, Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. LINK

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Obama’s infrastructure proposal: left says “good idea, too small,” right says “more big spending”

September 6, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Consensus is quickly congealing around President Obama’s reported $50 billion infrastructure proposal: the left says it’s a good idea, but a paltry sum relative to the size of the hole we’re in. The right, having successfully framed Obama as a profligate liberal, is pouncing on “more big spending.”

ED MORRISSEY:

What happens when over a hundred billion dollars in borrowed cash gets plunged into infrastructure spending and it fails to kick-start the economy?  According to this administration, spend another $50 billion on the same failed policy.  Barack Obama will unveil his new economic stimulus plan in Wisconsin today, while Russ Feingold looks for a place to hide

MICHELLE MALKIN:

President Obama will announce an additional $50 billion in infrastructure spending. Yeah, that’s what voters have been waiting for — more spending. Should be a good sell on the campaign trail.

STEVE BENEN:

It comes as something of a relief, then, that infrastructure and public works remain a top White House priority. Bang for the buck, these is the kind of investments that make a real difference. … Because this is an excellent idea that would improve the economy, it’s very likely to be killed by Congress. But (a) I’m glad President Obama is stepping up and doing the right thing anyway; and (b) it’s good to have lawmakers put on the spot before the election, taking a position on sensible, effective economic proposals like this one. I’d like to see a bigger, more ambitious package, but it’s a step in the right direction.

KEVIN DRUM:

This is all perfectly sensible. At the same time, if it’s offset by other items in the budget it probably won’t have any net stimulative effect. Essentially, we’ve given in to the deficit hawk brigade without even a fight. Not that it matters, I suppose. It’s too small to be more than a pinprick, and Republicans will probably filibuster to the death the right of our nation’s oil and gas companies to their federal subsidies anyway. But I’m sure it will give Fox News something to roar about for the next month.

The demise of the left and the new (un)reality: a center-right America

September 1, 2010 by Peter · 4 Comments 

Let’s face it, these are dark days for the left. As we barrel toward the November elections and an almost certain triumph for the GOP, we are losing the national debate and making giant strides backward on key issues.

It’s the new (un)reality:

  • George W. Bush is steadily and surely being rehabilitated and now the question is how much gratitude we owe him.
  • Sarah Palin can move the public discourse with a single tweet, promoting a worldview consisting of unreflective, nationalistic soundbites.
  • Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox are dominating the national conversation, feeding a steady stream of propaganda packaged as moral platitudes to tens of millions of true believers.
  • In the face of overwhelming evidence, climate deniers are choking the life out of the environmental movement and willfully condemning humanity to a calamitous future.
  • From ACORN to Van Jones, liberal scalps are being taken with impunity.
  • Feminism is being redefined and repossessed by anti-feminists.
  • Women are facing an all-out assault on choice.
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is being co-opted by a radio jock.
  • Schoolbooks are being rewritten to reflect the radical right’s anti-science views.
  • The rich-poor divide grows by the minute and teachers and nurses struggle to get by while bankers get massive bonuses.
  • We mark the end of a war based on lies with congratulations to all, and we escalate another war with scarce resources that could save countless lives.
  • An oil spill that should have been a historic inflection point gets excised from public awareness by our own government and disappears down the memory hole (until the next disaster).
  • Guns abound and the far right’s interpretation of the second amendment (the only one that seems to matter) is now inviolate.
  • Bigotry and discrimination against immigrants, against Muslims, against gays and lesbians is mainstream and rampant.
  • The frightening unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration have been enshrined and reinforced by a Democratic White House, ensuring that they will become precedent and practice.
  • Girls and women across the planet continue to get beaten, raped, ravaged, mutilated, and murdered while sports games induce a more passionate response.

All this a meager eighteen months after a wave of hope swept the nation and gave heart to progressives who had battled for sanity and rationality during the dark days of Bush. Well, these days are much darker. Already the national discourse is conducted on the right’s terms.  The marginalization of liberal thought under Bush-Cheney has only accelerated under Obama, and we must accept that indeed, America is — or is becoming — a center-right nation.

Why is this? My thoughts:

There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right.

This is something Republicans are willing to do while Democrats are not. The media plays along, so the net effect is for rightwing framing to prevail. And prevail it has. The consequence is that public opinion is shifting to the right.

The only question is how far right it can go before there’s a correction. I’m not optimistic.

UPDATE: Let me just add that by no means is this about quitting, but about being realistic. I’d never advocate giving up the progressive fight and I relish taking on those who want to take America “back” instead of taking it forward. With all the setbacks — and we’re facing a major one now — I have faith in the inexorable march of progress. Ultimately, humans will civilize themselves. Let’s hope we don’t bake our species out of existence before that happens.

Not a single mention of Iraqi civilian casualties in President Obama’s Iraq speech

August 31, 2010 by Peter · 1 Comment 

George Bush and Dick Cheney invaded Iraq based on lies and deceptions. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives. Tonight, President Obama delivered a strong speech to mark the end of combat operations. One glaring omission: not a single mention of Iraqi civilian casualties. Only a line about sacrifices made by Iraqi fighters who fought alongside coalition troops.

Earlier I wrote the following:

When President Obama speaks to the nation about the end of combat operations in Iraq, he will avoid the elephant in the room: that America was deceived into war.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, and we won’t know it for years, an undeniable legacy of the Iraq war is that Bush and Cheney squandered America’s moral authority with the invasion and we’re still paying the price in blood and treasure.

We all know why Obama can’t talk about Iraq as a failure. It’s because we can’t tell the families of the dead that their loved ones died in vain.

But we don’t have to. They didn’t die in vain. Not if we’re honest with ourselves. It’s when we avoid the bitter and hard truths that we undermine their noble sacrifice.

Let’s pay tribute to the beautiful souls lost in Iraq by being brutally honest and by demanding the truth. Let’s learn from our terrible mistake. We owe it to the memory of those who gave their lives.

Obama has kept a campaign promise and has handled Iraq exceptionally well, but at the very least, one paragraph in his speech should have been devoted to the countless lives we destroyed, the families shattered, the babies and mothers slaughtered. It’s the least we can do.

There is no honest assessment of Iraq and no honoring the dead without admitting it was based on lies

August 31, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

When President Obama speaks to the nation about the end of combat operations in Iraq, he will avoid the elephant in the room: that America was deceived into war.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, and we won’t know it for years, an undeniable legacy of the Iraq war is that Bush and Cheney squandered America’s moral authority with the invasion and we’re still paying the price in blood and treasure.

So much ink was spilled over this topic that I won’t replay the debate in full. But here’s an excerpt of something I wrote in response to Karl Rove’s recent crowing about “success” in Iraq:

Saddam Hussein was a murderous dictator, one of several across the globe. Seeing him brought to justice was an exceptional thing. We don’t focus enough attention on human rights violations across the globe – specifically the wholesale oppression of girls and women – and I wish Saddam’s fate on every other human being who brutalizes and slaughters innocent people.

However, the Bush administration did not put forth human rights as the primary rationale or justification for war. Instead, they lied, claiming at the time of the invasion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent, grave, growing threat to the United States. Countless articles, editorials, blog posts and reports have enumerated those falsehoods and exaggerations and I direct Mr. Rove to “the Google” to peruse them.

No amount of revisionist history will undo the immense and unfathomable death, pain, suffering, blood, gore, and torture unleashed by our ‘preemptive’ invasion, the shattered families, the psychological damage, among our veterans and the Iraqi people. The moral damage to America is deep. The resources spent in Iraq could have been allocated to millions of teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, to education and medical research, to health care — saving thousands if not millions of lives rather than killing hundreds of thousands.

Nearly 400 Iraqis died in violence last month. The U.S. still maintains a massive troop presence there. Stability in Iraq is tenuous at best. By all measures in the preceding paragraphs, the Iraq fiasco was, is and always will be a failure. Perhaps less of an unmitigated failure than it could have been, but a failure nonetheless.

We all know why Obama can’t talk about Iraq as a failure. It’s because we can’t tell the families of the dead that their loved ones died in vain.

But we don’t have to. They didn’t die in vain. Not if we’re honest with ourselves. It’s when we avoid the bitter and hard truths that we undermine their noble sacrifice.

Let’s pay tribute to the beautiful souls lost in Iraq by being brutally honest and by demanding the truth. Let’s learn from our terrible mistake. We owe it to the memory of those who gave their lives.

UPDATE:  Katrina vanden Heuvel sums it up on Twitter:

7 years of fighting, 4400 US soldiers & countless Iraqis killed. $ 1 trillion & counting. Worth it? No.

Facing an energized and unscrupulous right, Obama brings a water gun to an artillery battle

August 30, 2010 by Peter · 4 Comments 

Two things are crystal clear from President Obama’s lengthy sit-down with NBC’s Brian Williams:

  • He is a decent, thoughtful, intelligent man, trying to do the best he can for his country under extremely challenging circumstances.
  • He is completely outgunned by the rightwing attack machine.

Watch the interview and ask yourself what’s missing from the president’s responses:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

On substance, President Obama makes several critical points, among them that the spilled Gulf oil is “still out there” and that he stands firm in support of the Ground Zero mosque. He is realistic about the economy and he gets an excellent quip in, saying that he can’t spend all his time with his “brith certificate plastered to his forehead.”

Still, you can’t help notice the glaring lack of offense, the cautious answers, the muted tone, the inability to channel the profound alarm and financial pain Americans are feeling. There’s fire on the right, there’s no fire being expressed by Obama. There’s no blasting of Wall Street, no outrage at BP and oil companies, no fury at the lies and obfuscations of the GOP, no grand unified vision of what Democrats stand for and why they deserve to run the country.

I’ve argued that the GOP aims for the total destruction of Obama’s presidency. Charles Lemos puts it in stark terms:

Nothing else will satisfy the GOP’s lust for power than the wanton destruction of Obama’s Presidency. From day one, this has been their game plan, obstruct, rant and rave, delay, obstruct some more, rant and rave, delay, repeat as necessary as to make the nation look ungovernable and the Administration as pathetic and dangerous if not criminal. Throw enough mud, maybe some will stick. And if nothing’s there, invent something.

Posture is everything in politics. The White House and leading Democrats are in a defensive crouch. Much of it is their own doing. Elected to be the anti-Bush, they’ve given Bush and his team a pass on Iraq lies and outflanked Bush from the right on civil liberties and executive power. Given an opportunity to turn the Gulf spill into a historic inflection point, they raced to bury the story, outdoing BP in the rosy spin department. Passing major bills, they neglected to frame them as part of a progressive vision for America, allowing their opponents to frame everything they do as a socialist takeover.

In this interview, Obama mocks the “silly season” and shrugs off Glenn Beck’s outrageous legacy theft of Martin Luther King, Jr. but there’s nothing silly about what the GOP and rightwing attack machine are doing. They are dominating the national debate.  They are brazenly and unscrupulously pushing the envelope further right than anyone imagined. They are doing Orwell proud, denying climate change in the face of obvious warming, pushing for more drilling in the face of an epic spill, drumming up anti-Muslim sentiment, angling for more bailouts for the rich, stealing legacies, and claiming feminism as their own. They are “taking back their country” and returning it to the 19th century.

And worst of all, the only force on the left with the passion and experience to take them on, the netroots, are systematically being demoralized and marginalized by the White House.

So even though I respect and admire the Obama I see in Brian Williams’ interview, appreciate his honesty and integrity, I know in my heart he is bringing a water gun to an artillery battle. With an opponent who takes no prisoners.

The GOP aims for total destruction of Obama’s presidency, including impeachment

August 27, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Sometimes it’s helpful to state the obvious: Republicans play hardball. Brazen hardball. Unscrupulous hardball. Yes, it’s couched in well-crafted soundbites about fighting “big government” and “judicial activism” and promoting “fiscal responsibility.” But in essence, it’s about no-prisoners political warfare. And when there’s a Democrat in the White House, it means total destruction of that presidency.

Of course, the campaign of destruction will be justified as being “for the good of the country.”

Impeachment is still working its way from the fringes, but it will inevitability move to the mainstream if Democrats lose the House. And read this Politico story for a sense of how November and beyond might play out:

If President Barack Obama needed any more incentive to go all out for Democrats this fall, here it is: Republicans are planning a wave of committee investigations targeting the White House and Democratic allies if they win back the majority.

Everything from the microscopic — the New Black Panther party — to the massive –- think bailouts — is on the GOP to-do list, according to a half-dozen Republican aides interviewed by POLITICO.

Republican staffers say there won’t be any self-destructive witch hunts, but they clearly are relishing the prospect of extracting information from an administration that touts transparency.

UPDATE: At MyDD, Charles Lemos expands on the story:

Nothing else will satisfy the GOP’s lust for power than the wanton destruction of Obama’s Presidency. From day one, this has been their game plan, obstruct, rant and rave, delay, obstruct some more, rant and rave, delay, repeat as necessary as to make the nation look ungovernable and the Administration as pathetic and dangerous if not criminal. Throw enough mud, maybe some will stick. And if nothing’s there, invent something.

Starring in the role of chief inquisitor is California’s Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa, we are told, would like Obama’s cooperation. But it’s not essential.

“How acrimonious things get really depend on how willing the administration is in accepting our findings [and] responding to our questions,” says Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Rep. Issa who refers to his boss as “questioner-in-chief.”

If this sounds like a re-run to you, it is. Issa will be reprising the role once played by Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana during the Clinton years. Also starring in a supporting role is Texas Rep. Lamar Smith.

The fierce urgency of defending Obama — against the left

August 26, 2010 by Peter · 14 Comments 

As a lifelong Democrat and progressive activist, I’ve spent years going after Republicans and conservatives. I worked for John Kerry and went head to head with my counterparts on the Bush team. I marched in countless anti-war protests and incurred the wrath of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders. I’ve canvassed door to door for environmental groups and had doors slammed in my treehugging face. I’ve engaged in flame wars in conservative forums. I’ve blogged since the beginning of blogs, attacking Hannity, Coulter, Limbaugh, Savage, O’Reilly.

But never have I seen a more fierce reaction than from fellow Democrats when I criticize President Obama. It is a visceral anger, deeply personal, and sadly, it is directed at progressives who set party aside and critique the White House on principle.

I’ve finally realized the crux of the problem: it’s that many of Obama’s defenders are ignoring the difference between campaign mode and governance mode. In campaign mode, my job as a Democrat is to cheer my candidate on, to work overtime to get them elected. That’s exactly what I did when my former employer, Hillary Clinton, dropped out of the race and endorsed Obama. I was in constant contact with my friends on Obama’s campaign, helping (informally) with blog outreach and strategy. I did everything I could to help elect him and when all was said and done, here’s what I wrote:

As a Democrat who left one career behind in 2001 and made politics my new one after Bush was elected, who vowed to fight every wrong-headed policy foisted on America by the Bush administration, I feel a profound debt of gratitude to Sen. Obama and his family, his campaign, his tireless and devoted staff, and his volunteers and supporters across the country. As well to Hillary Clinton – who was true to those who respect and love her, proving the detractors wrong and crisscrossing the country on behalf of the Obama-Biden ticket – and to her supporters, volunteers and staffers who joined hands with their primary opponents and worked around the clock to arrive at this amazing day.

…What I didn’t yet know was how centered, thoughtful and disciplined Sen. Obama would prove to be in the fierce storm of a presidential election, competing with two formidable opponents. As others have noted, it augurs well for his presidency (should tonight’s results turn out as anticipated). Most importantly, I couldn’t possibly know the stamina and dedication of his strategists, staff, volunteers, donors and supporters, who are poised to finally slay the dragons that defeated Gore and Kerry.

So today, as I vote for President Obama, with history at my fingertips, I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who worked so damn hard to elect him and Democrats across the nation.

On the day he took office, I switched from campaign cheering mode to fulfilling Obama’s request that we “hold him accountable.” I take those words and that duty seriously. It’s my job as a citizen. Since 2008, I’ve used the written word to tug at the administration from the left.

I truly respect and admire Obama. I’ve worked in past campaigns with a number of his staffers. I know they are good and decent people trying to improve their country and working tirelessly under extreme stress. There’s no denying that they’ve racked up an impressive list of accomplishments and they deserve credit for it. But that doesn’t mean I should set aside the things I’ve fought for my entire adult life. It doesn’t mean I should stay silent if I think the White House could do a better job promoting a progressive vision. And it doesn’t mean I should stand aside if I think mistakes are being made. Sure, I’m just one individual with an opinion, but why the fierce urgency of defending Obama whenever I express it?

From Gen. McChrystal to Gen. Conway: does Obama have an insubordination problem?

August 25, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

First it was Gen. McChrystal whose infamous comments to Rolling Stone cost him his career:

Then, much more subtly, it was Gen. Petraeus chipping away at President Obama’s July 2011 withdrawal deadline.

Now it’s Gen. James Conway, whose unbelievable comments flirt with the ‘t’ word, saying that the president is giving “sustenance” to the enemy:

The top U.S. Marine general made a sharp departure from the White House’s talking points on Afghanistan, saying President Barack Obama’s promised July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing troops from the country had given “sustenance” to the Taliban.

“We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Gen. James Conway told reporters on Tuesday. “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance….In fact, we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’”

Here’s how a prominent conservative blogger characterized Conway’s remarks:

I’d be angrier about this than about what Team McChrystal pulled a few months ago. Not that what Conway’s saying is surprising — this has always been the chief hawkish criticism of the July 2011 timetable — but to have one of your own top brass question the strategy publicly, especially in terms this explosive, is mind-boggling.

So what’s going on?

UPDATE: Sean Paul Kelley directs us to this Andrew Bacevich piece for context:

In practice, civilian control—expectations that the brass, having rendered advice, will then loyally execute whatever decision the commander-in-chief makes—is at best a useful fiction. In front of the curtain, the generals and admirals defer; behind the curtain, on all but the smallest of issues, the military’s collective leadership pursue their own agenda informed by their own convictions of what is good for the country and, by extension, for the institutions over which they preside.

The glaringly simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate

August 24, 2010 by Peter · 13 Comments 

There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right. Negotiation 101.

Here’s how John Boehner does it:

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will call Tuesday for the mass firing of the Obama administration’s economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House adviser Larry Summers, arguing that November’s midterm elections are shaping up as a referendum on sustained unemployment across the nation and saying the “writing is on the wall.”

In one fell swoop, this becomes the starting point of a conversation. For Democrats it would be an end point — if they ever reached it.

It’s no accident that in 21st century America, torture has been mainstreamed; climate denial has taken firm hold; book burning, racial dog whistles and brazen religious intolerance are part of our discourse and par for the course. This is how the right plays the game, using Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox, Drudge, blogs, chain emails, talk radio, etc. to shamelessly and defiantly drag the conversation as far right as possible. And Republican elected officials are willing to take the heat to play the game as well, saying things no Democrat would be willing to say.

This is the reason the left is furious: when progressive positions are unnecessarily bargained away, Democrats are ceding the leverage that would move the national debate back to the center. After all, the counterweight to the right is not the mushy middle, it’s the principled left.

Progressive activists don’t expect a single payer health care system, bringing all Bush warmongers to justice, ending the looting of the poor by the ultra-rich, revitalizing the environmental movement, undoing Bush-Cheney’s executive power excesses, bringing about true social justice and stopping needless wars. No. They’re far more jaded and pragmatic than anyone admits. But at least make those the debate points rather than ditch them unilaterally.

Democrats run away from the left while Republican run to the right. The net effect is that the media end up reporting far right positions as though they were mainstream and reporting liberal positions as though they were heinous aberrations. And you wonder why America is veering off the rails?