Archives for: September 2009
We watched as President Obama was sworn in and we saw the monstrous crowd at the nation's capital brave the weather to see their hero receive his trophy after a long and tedious struggle. We saw the happiness in his family's faces, the jubilation of our Hollywood heroes and read the zealous columns of the sympathetic press. What we didn't see was the back rooms across the country where the party of the fallen candidate was planning its strategy long before the inauguration had taken place.
The agenda was simple: discredit the new president in every conceivable area and gather support in every possible way with the end result of winning back the trophy which they had let fall through their hands. It was going to be tough. He had captured the hearts of the American people, the European communities and many who have hated the red, white and blue for decades.
The effort began as a spark in the forest. It was inflamed by the righteous talk show hosts and within a year began to grow like a California forest fire. The country had not seen such an underground movement since Watergate. A new ingredient had been added, the politics of fear and hate.
Some erroneous ideas put forth were: The president pandered to Muslims. He was not even a citizen. This Robin Hood was going to redistribute our wealth. We had defeated the Marxists and Socialists and here they were back, again. The elderly would be euthanized. There would be wholesale abortions. Indigents from South of the border would now send for their relatives to receive health care at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer. And now the biggest blow of all - he was going to talk to our youth! This had never been done before. He even had the audacity to encourage them to stay in school and make a better life for themselves. Indeed, this idea was coming from far beyond the left field bleachers. It needed to be halted before our children’s minds were totally warped.
We have endured the genius of Tricky Dick, the momentum of a stumbling G. Ford, the indiscretions of Slick Willy, the incompetence of George W. Bush, and the historic gun episode of Dick Chaney. What more could our country ask of us? Now the very fiber of our nation, our youth, would be told to stay in school. Our structure was crumbling!
We've watched the systematic approach of our friends from the Right as they planned their tea parties, sent their thugs to town hall meetings and terrorized the over seventy crowd. We've listened as the new Voice of America, Rush, Hannity, Ingram, O’Reilly say: “Now he’s gone and done it," and it's "a bridge too far." We've got him dead in his tracks - a deer in the headlights. It's up to every true American to make him pay the price. Next week no children should be allowed to attend school. Stay in your homes and disconnect the televisions and radios. This radical must be stopped! The new ideas are frightening and must halt, especially if they want to help all people – not just the powerful and wealthy. What are we thinking?
A happy father lifts a laughing little girl on his shoulder. It is the image of joyful fatherhood, healthy upbringing. Looking at the photograph of the young convicted murderer and one of the victims, his own infant daughter, the question almost asks itself. How could he?
The initial sympathy for the young father dissolved as the evidence grew. Experts delved into the scene and came to a sad conclusion. The man had set the fire that had killed his three children. He presented a convincing image for a while. Firefighters said he had to be restrained in his attempts at some suicidal effort at rescuing the kids. He was described as hysterical.
But you can't hide from science. A state fire expert found three separate starting points for the fire. Tests on material found near the front door showed lighter fluid. The fire was not only "intentionally set by human hands", in the words of the expert, the father had deliberately poured accelerant to keep any of the kids from the only escape route.
When news came of a confession, it pretty much closed the case. Waiting for trial, the man had boasted to a fellow prisoner about his true motive. He was protecting his wife, hiding evidence that she had been abusing her stepchildren, his kids.
The fire happened in Texas in 1991. The murderer, Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed in 2004. Good riddance!
In the last five years, the case has slowly unraveled. The confession turns out to be more than a little suspect. "... it’s very possible I misunderstood what he said," recalls the fellow prisoner. "Being locked up in that little cell makes you kind of crazy. My memory is in bits and pieces. I was on a lot of medication at the time. Everyone knew that."
A forensic fire specialist testifies that the local "expert" was no expert at all, relying on folklore and personal belief, rather than evidence. Lighter fluid is known to have been stored near the entrance of the house in a container that was found melted. Electrical outlets were never examined for flaws. The specialist says there is no evidence at all of arson. Never was.
The accused murderer had been offered the deal of a lifetime. If he would plead guilty, his life would be spared. He refused. He was innocent and would not admit to murdering the children he would have died to save.
In countless debates about the death penalty, proponents have been unimpressed by freed convicts nearly executed, their innocence proven later. The fact that they went free proved that the system had worked. Certainly no innocent ever went all the way to execution. It rings hollow in retrospect.
Looking at the photograph of the happy father and his laughing little girl, both now dead, the question almost asks itself. How could we?
As long as there's the possibility -- no matter how remote -- that an innocent person could be killed, nobody should be for the death penalty.
- - Kirk Bloodsworth, twice convicted of rape and murder
2 years on death row
Innocence proven by DNA evidence in 1993
It was a formal debate held during the momentous year of 1974. William F. Buckley led one panel. Senator Lowell Weicker led the opposing side.
Buckley quoted Lowell Weicker's by then famous speech as a member of the committee investigating Watergate crimes of the Nixon Administration. Weicker had denounced the prevailing attitude of the administration. "God knows. Republicans don't view their fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed," he said, but as "human beings to be loved and won." Buckley quoted the words with derision and contrasted them with a conversation Weicker had had in his office with Nixon aide Chuck Colson: "You can just get your ass out of my office because you make me sick."
Weicker, in response, briefly recounted the context of that encounter. The conversation had turned to the Nixon enemies list, and Colson had suggested that it would be to Weicker's personal benefit to support his party's President. The audience broke the rules and burst into spontaneous applause. It was a rare tin-ear event for Buckley.
Three public meetings last month reminded me of that rare Buckley lapse.
Barney Frank was confronted by a young woman who demanded to know why he would support proposals by President Obama which were "policies of Nazi Germany". Frank eventually referred to his own Jewish background, "When you ask me that question, I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?"
Michael Steele, GOP chairman, conducted a meeting of his own at Howard University in Washington, DC. He was interrupted by a young woman whose mother had died when she could not pay for cancer treatment. It was a heart wrenching story. And Steele showed the depths of his compassion. Of her story, he said, "It makes for great TV. You'll probably make it tonight. Enjoy it." Then he had police eject her.
Many of us gave GOP Representative Lynn Jenkins the benefit of the doubt after she (accidentally, she says) urged a cheering crowd of conservatives to find a "Great White Hope" to defeat President Obama in three years. At a more recent public meeting, she was questioned by an uninsured waitress whose 2 year old son has not seen a doctor almost since birth. "why can't I get an affordable option? Why are you against that?" Jenkins laughed at the woman. She wants privately based programs that will give folks like the waitress an opportunity "to go be a grown-up and go buy the insurance." The woman and her son, thankfully, were not evicted.
Fox News commentators simply could not understand how Barney Frank could have been so rude to an constituent guilty only of an innocent comparison to Hitler. They had no reaction that I have been able to find about Michael Steele or Lynn Jenkins.
It is President Obama who wants to mandate circumcision.
- - Rush Limbaugh, August 25, 2009
Burr is out of town today, attending his daughter's wedding.
He will be back on line tomorrow.
Nuggets of internet gold:
Conservative Chuck Thinks Right examines speculation about a tax on stock speculation. He thinks it's dumb to "people that invest in the economy". He asks a penetrating question: "is it me that is stupid here or them?" Biting my lip until it bleeds.
Our favorite paranoid, Puma by design 001 considers a wingnut congressman who warns that Obama is a preparing a dictatorship. The ever willing Puma inhales the vapors. He picked a heck of a time to give up sniffing glue.
- The World of Doorman-Priest reacts to weird Christian vandals who damage shops in the UK for premature Christmas displays.
Have a safe weekend. Pray for someone in pain. A lot of them out there this week, the next few could find any of us among them. Be careful out there.
Afghanistan isn't worth the life of one more American soldier, much less the hundreds and thousands that an open-ended commitment to a war that we cannot win would cost.
- - Joseph L. Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers, September 3, 2009
The loss of the White House last year was painful for Republicans, but many wrote it off as Democratic trickery, boosted by the coincidence of a cyclic economic downturn. The loss of the House and Senate two years before was a precursor for some. For others losses were a thumping caused by a combination of bad luck, public scandal, and war.
But a few Republicans were not stunned by either election. And they did not write off the losses as temporary set backs. They had seen the quiet buildup of Democratic strength over the previous two decades. Economic events, campaign vagaries, and tragic national events pushed aside and hid the slow movement of demographics and popular mood, but it was there.
What is frequently overlooked is the role of technology in the steady decline of Republican fortunes. Radio has always been a haven for hate speech and right wing warnings of black helicopters. But internet news and cable networks offer choices that were once denied to ordinary folks. In the past, election losses forced painful re-evaluation of principles and tactics. Parties came back bruised but rejuvenated as a result.
But this time, conservatives are shielded by a cocoon of their own making. They envelope themselves in a sort of alternate reality helpfully woven for them by Rush Limbaugh and a variety of FOX personalities.
Recent tactics, in retrospect, plow familiar ground. They have adopted the only real strategy available. Misrepresentations have been invented that are so breathtakingly extravagant as to belong in a situation comedy. Untruths have expanded into screaming bouts, attempts at governance by temper tantrum. Violence and threats of violence are the current manifestation.
So how have they been doing? Well, public support for key elements of President Obama's health care direction have dropped a bit, although not enough to force health care reform from the table. His personal popularity has dropped as well, holding at about the level of his support on election day of last year. And analysts forecast Republican gains next year that could be about average for an out-of-power party in an off year election.
But, as the dust settles from this summer's screams and guns, two facts remain stark. Those preferring the GOP to President Obama remain a distinctly small minority. And those who are most frightened by the dirty tactics of lies and razzle dazzle of Republican fast dancing tend to be the frail of our society: the elderly and the ill informed. These are the folks we must care for in their declining years.
Republican tactics may indeed squeak out gains next year. But those of us who see the excitement of younger folks are given a different vision. The remainder of the century could be a series of very lonely decades for what had once been a Grand Old Party.
The typical anti-Obama activist tends to be white, male and -- perhaps most significant -- advanced in age.
- - Matt Bai quoting Opinion Research and Pew Polls, August 31, 2009
During the lonely years of the Bush presidency I needed a break from the rosy cheeked incompetence and gray haired cynicism of that madcap administration. I found brief peace each week in the fictional struggles of President Bartlet on The West Wing. I welcomed the contrast.
One episode kept my attention well after the program ended. A major new space probe of the planet Mars provides an opportunity for the President to address the nation's school children by closed circuit television, piped into their classrooms. He will even answer questions from a randomly selected few. The hope is to provoke interest in the wonders of science. More ambitious is the possibility of promoting the worlds that can open up to kids as a result of education. Education is the silver bullet to so many social ills.
Many events compete for the attention of the President in this alternate universe, and for ours as an audience. But the theme of education keeps returning. Then disappointment comes crashing in. The scientists lose contact with the probe. The adventure becomes a disaster. The televised conference will have to be canceled. But the press secretary objects. She presses her case with the President. The issue is children:
Some of them don't go to the blackboard or raise their hand cause they think they're going to be wrong. I think you should say to these kids, "You think you get it wrong sometimes, you should come down here and see how the big boys do it."... Some of them will laugh and most of them won't care but for some they might honestly see that it's about going to the blackboard and raising your hand.
It was a thoughtful show. It was a respite from the stark reality of a world leader who feigned ignorance as if it gave him a common touch, sometimes mocking at the education of others. Conservatives still see science as the enemy, facts as trickery, and knowledge as kind of sissy.
Next week, President Obama will address the nation's children on C-Span and the internet. He will talk about "persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning." Students will be invited to create and upload their own videos "describing the steps they will take to improve their education and the role education will play in fulfilling their dreams."
If you think that's good, you are not a Republican. Jim Greer is Florida's GOP chairman. "I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology." The plan "obligates the youngest children" to agree with government economic analysis and health policy alternatives. Kids will become wonks. And silver bullets are subversive.
Reacting to conservatives furious that President Obama will address students, encouraging them to study and work hard to succeed in school:
I'm not sure why everyone is so scared that we'll all be brainwashed by the President ...
The reaction of the world to the attacks on the United States on that day of horror was massively supportive. The left-leaning French newspaper, Le Monde, carried a headline that spoke for Europe and most of the world. "We Are All Americans." The unity of angry response to the mass murder was mighty, and held a promise of action.
That moment was squandered. The administration exploited the righteous calls for vengeance to sidetrack a powerful response into ousting a minor, though horrible, dictatorship. The murderers were allowed to escape. A world eager to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us was treated to a needless bellicosity. You are with us or against us, we lectured them. NATO, wanting to take the brunt of the effort, was shunted into a minor role.
It played well at home. Dirty Harry had hit the world scene. "You have to ask yourself," we told those who wanted to join us, "do I feel lucky?" Conservatives gloried in it. "Well, do you? Punk?" Domestically, it was a smashing success. The exploitation of national fury for political gain was awe inspiring. There was no end to the cynicism. The thousands of murdered victims were pressed into political service as Republican campaign puppets.
But, around the world, the nation's prestige plummeted. Prestige is easy to underestimate. It is not the international equivalent of a high school popularity contest. It affects our security in profound ways. Unbelievably, terrorist acts were on the upswing. We were becoming less safe.
A young Senator in 2006, returning from the African country in which his father had been born, is said to have contemplated the nation's vulnerability abroad. Terrorists thrive in supportive populations. And the invasion of Iraq combined with personal experiences of torture to produce a background buzz that was constantly against the United States.
At long last, things have turned. Partly it has been that the boorishness of the last administration has been matched by the intolerance of those active in supporting terrorism. Assaulting young girls for going to public school is not an ideal way of drumming up popular support. Harsh punishment for minor violations of complex and rigid interpretation of religious law provokes a less than completely hospitable environment. But more is at play.
A young President is having an effect. He speaks words of tolerance. He extends an open hand to moderates. Apparently, al Qaeda is feeling the pain. Their clumsy attempts to denigrate Obama have thus far backfired. The helpful intelligence coming from from sources previously regarded as unlikely has resulted in danger and death to once invulnerable terrorist leaders. Islamic throngs are giving Obama more than their cheers and shouts.
Conservatives are furious at the breach of their sensibilities. The battle is not won. But a page has turned. There's a new sheriff in town. A new approach is now policy. It is humane. It is intelligent. And it is working.
Discussing President Obama's effect on anti-terrorism efforts
...we are seeing results that indicate more captures, more deaths of radical leaders and a kind of a global coming-together by the fact that this is a threat to not only the United States but to the world at-large and the world is moving toward doing something about it.
- - General Jim Jones, National Security Advisor, August 31, 2009
Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) is blunt about opposing health care reform, and in predicting victory for things as they are. Any bill, any bill at all, says Barton, will be "dead on arrival". Democrats will vote against it because they want to avoid political suicide.
He explains why, and why if reform passes it will still lose. "If they somehow manage to get the votes and get enough Democrats to walk the plank and commit suicide, in the next Congress, I'll be chairman Joe Barton of the Energy and Commerce committee, and we'll repeal it."
David Weigel at The Washington Independent calls such talk mere bluster. "...even the most optimistic strategists would call it extremely unlikely that Republicans could get a veto-proof majority in 2010..." Casey Smith at Daily Kos sees it as "an amazing bit of hilarity." Smith recalls the success of FDR and concludes, "This is just a thought, but maybe Barton's doesn't know what he's talking about at all." Steve Benen at Washington Monthly says this: "It's hollow bravado, but it's nevertheless interesting hollow bravado."
These are my kind of folks. They are missing something important. We are witnessing a resurgence of a phenomenon that many of us had hoped was a stain of the past, the use of mini-riot for political advantage.
The escalation has gone rapidly from honest debate to inexplicable belief in wild charges on the level of science fiction. Death panels, death books, euthanasia, an end to Medicare, plots to promote illegal immigration, and more have replaced honest discourse.
Stranger-than-truth tales have given way to rule by temper tantrum. Truth is overcome by increasing the volume of screams. Opposition is shouted down.
From howls we have gone to threats. Assault weapons, whose only use is killing wide swaths of people, are displayed. A preacher publicly prays that a President be killed. A swastika is painted in the dead of night.
When George W. Bush was my President, I confronted with righteous anger one who wished aloud that the man would die. I demanded to know whether the individual represented a clear and present danger or if the talk was just dangerous bluster. I kept at it until the offender backed down.
I never voted for George Bush. But democracy demands prices. One is that the wrong people can be elected. The wrong direction can be chosen. When my ideas are rejected by the majority, I am willing to try again in the next election, and in the election after that. It's how a republic works.
When a Republican speaks, even momentarily, in favor of putting his ideas up for a vote, I find it a refreshing change from goon squads supplied with X-file stories generated from the mangled minds that compose the current condition of contemporary conservative thought. I can live with the bravado.
CNBC Anchor Maria Bartiromo
debating Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) on Medicare.
Maria Bartiromo: "How come you don't use it? You don't have it.
How come you don't have it?"
Anthony Weiner: "Because I'm not 65."
Maria Bartiromo: "Yeah... c'mon!"
- - Video available here.