thedigbyblog at gmail Dennis: satniteflix at gmail Gaius: publius.gaius at gmail Tom: tpostsully at gmail
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People release balloons in Tokyo, Japan, as part of the New Year countdown.
I want to take this opportunity to thank some fellow bloggers for helping with my fundraiser this year, especially TBOGG who put his Basset Brigades on the case. They are a lot of fun, and generous to boot. Also Mike Lux, the most popular man in the blogosphere, who plugged it more than once and my pal John Amato, who always comes through. I'm vastly grateful to the others who put out the word as well.
I also want to thank those of you who donated anonymously, particularly the wonderful person from Hawaii. I wish I could thank you personally, but this will have to suffice.
I have had an issue with my email this week and so it is taking me a bit longer to get back to all of you individually than usual. But they're coming. In the meantime, I hereby raise a glass to all of you for being so kind and generous and wish everyone a very Happy New Year.
Here's a great piece by Micah Sifry about the disconnect between Obama and some members of his base.
The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. And this is the big story of 2009, if you ask me, the meta-story of what did, and didn't happen, in the first year of Obama's administration. The people who voted for him weren't organized in any kind of new or powerful way, and the special interests--banks, energy companies, health interests, car-makers, the military-industrial complex--sat first at the table and wrote the menu. Myth met reality, and came up wanting.
And even someone as cynical as I was about the race was a little bit surprised at how clumsily the White House has handled the politics. It's felt gratuitous, as if the plan was to repeatedly disappoint the base in order to prove their centrist bonafides. That sort of triangulation may have been necessary at another time, but right now it foolishly has moved the debate to the right when the right was badly discredited. It seems to be a matter of policy preference. And there is probably a price to pay for that.
This is an excellent observation:
Now, there is a new enthusiasm gap, but it's no longer in Obama's favor. That's because you can't order volunteers to do anything--you have to motivate them, and Obama's compromises to almost every powers-that-be are tremendously demotivating.
Maybe that doesn't matter. But I suspect that it's not a great idea when the other side is highly motivated --- a state which anyone who has observed the right for very long could have predicted, Obama's pie-in-the-sky promises to end politics as we know it notwithstanding.
This article is very interesting. The Obama movement always felt like a particular moment in time rather than a long term shift to me. This piece delves into how that's played itself out during this first year.
To end the decade, the Washington Post acknowledged that it is no longer a serious newspaper. It ran a piece written by the Peter Peterson Foundation financed Fiscal Times as a regular news article.
The piece conveys Peterson's view that there is a drastic budget crisis which requires circumventing normal congressional procedures. It implies that the huge surge in deficit in the last year was attributable to the irresponsibility of Congress rather than an economic collapse that resulted from incredibly incompetent policy and Wall Street greed.
No serious newspaper would publish a piece from an obviously interested party like the Peterson Foundation as a news story.
True. But the Washington Post owners certainly will do everything they can to protect their wealth. It's how they roll.
Here's a fascinating profile of John Mackey, the former CEO of Whole Foods in the New Yorker. It just goes to show you that even those who identify culturally as liberal can also be messianic, Randian kooks:
The man who has perhaps done as much as anyone to bring the natural-foods movement from the crunchy fringe into the mainstream is also a vocal libertarian, an orthodox free-marketer, an admirer of Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan, and Ayn Rand. In the 2008 Presidential election, he voted for Bob Barr—Ron Paul wasn’t on the ballot.
The right-wing hippie is a rare bird, and it’s fair to say that most of Whole Foods’ shoppers have trouble conceiving of it. They tend to be of a different stripe, politically and philosophically, and they were either oblivious or dimly aware of Mackey’s views, until the moment, this summer, when Mackey published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal asserting that the government should not be in the business of providing health care. This was hardly a radical view, and yet in the gathering heat of the health-care debate the op-ed, virally distributed via the left-leaning blogs, raised a fury. In no time, liberals were organizing boycotts of Whole Foods. (Right-wingers staged retaliatory “buy-cotts.”) Mackey had thrown tinder on the long-smoldering suspicion, in some quarters, that he was a profiteer in do-gooder disguise, and that he, and therefore Whole Foods, was in some way insincere or even counterfeit. No one can say that he hasn’t brought it on himself.
This excerpt probably illustrates his actual beliefs the best:
In the early eighties, Mackey told a reporter, “The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.” (That quote, to Mackey’s dismay, won’t go away, either.) His disdain for contemporary unionism is ideological, as well as self-serving. Like many who have come before, he says that it was only when he started a business—when he had to meet payroll and deal with government red tape—that his political and economic views, fed on readings of Friedman, Rand, and the Austrians, veered to the right. But there is also a psychological dimension. It derives in large part from a tendency, common among smart people, to presume that everyone in the world either does or should think as he does—to take for granted that people can (or want to) strike his patented balance of enlightenment and self-interest. It sometimes sounds as if he believed that, if every company had him at the helm, there would be no need for unions or health-care reform, and that therefore every company should have someone like him, and that therefore there should be no unions or health-care reform. In other words, because he runs a business a certain way, others will, can, and should, and so the safeguards that have evolved over the generations to protect against human venality—against, say, greedy, bullying bosses—are no longer necessary. The logic is as sound as the presumption is preposterous.
He's a libertarian who identifies culturally with the left. He's into New Age religion and self-actualization and believes in holistic health practices, clean food etc. But he's not a left libertarian. These things get confusing, but it's important to make the distinction.
Basically, this guy is a standard issue right libertarian which means that he is a free market fundamentalist, hates unions, hates government and extols the virtues of the John Galts like himself, although he believes in a sort of corporate paternalism that requires him to look after the parasites (workers) in some rudimentary fashion. He is also a believer in civil liberties and drug legalization. (I assume that since he's a Paul supporter, he's also critical of the Fed.) There are quite a few of these folks out there who seem like your liberal next door, more than you might realize. Hollywood, for instance, is full of them. I worked for a few. Many of them even think they're liberals and will vote for Democrats on social issues. But when it comes to taxing the wealthy and regulating business they might as well be Dick Cheney.
There is, of course, an actual left libertarianism and it is best articulated by Noam Chomsky, not some wealthy twit like Mackey. Chomsky (and, in some respects, Ralph Nader) have made the case very well for a long time and it's quite different than anything these mainstream libertarians have to say, although again, they do converge (along with doctrinaire liberals) on specific cases of civil liberties. Where they seriously part ways is on economics. Here's what typical right libertarians have to say on that subject:
The cultural trappings of conservatism and liberalism are used as shorthand to recognize your tribal brethren. And most of the time it works fairly well. But there are hippie wingnuts and Randian New Agers and infinite other permutations, so you can't always use those heuristics. Therefore, it's important to understand what these people really want and what will happen if they get it.
In the case of right wing libertarians, crunchy-con or not, many of them are sincere allies on civil liberties. There is no conflict on principle between your average liberals' view of gay rights or the drug war and a libertarians'. But to the extent they genuinely believe that government is wrong to bail out corporations, it's because they think the government over-regulated corporations and that government doesn't really have a right to spend money on anything except police, courts and national defense (which leads inexorably, in my view to a police state, which is quite ironic.) These sincere libertarians probably consist of about a hundred thousand people in the whole country.
The rest of them are right wingers who don't want to admit it, especially the corporate sponsored groups like this, run by the same people who created the K Street project. They are just plain old shills. Their goal is a Randian paradise of uber-wealthy overlords answerable to no one but themselves. And they have no scruples about getting there and are far better financed and organized than anything the left is capable of. If democratically empowered, they will win.
Movement politics are distinct from legislative politics where there are many strange bedfellows on specific pieces of legislation all the time, sometime out of [principle and sometimes out of sheer self-interest. But political movements require philosophical coherence and ideological consistency to make sense to people and give them a sense of solidarity. There may be certain discrete issues on which some shared principles among competing movements exist, but they are few and far between. For the most part, right wing libertarians and the conservative movement have an entirely different worldview from left libertarians and liberals. They are not compatible.
If you haven't read any books by Chomsky, now is a good time to do it since there seems to be a developing discussion of liberal libertarian philosophy in the commentariat. He's been writing about this stuff for decades and has a fully developed critique right there at the ready. There's no need to reinvent the wheel.
Here's a newly released video of him discussing manufactured consent.
Here's a recent short Q&A between Chomsky and a Ron Paul supporter. I'll just excerpt this one question:
Q: He [Ron Paul] wants to take away the unfair advantage corporations have (via the dismantling of big government)
“Dismantling of big government” sounds like a nice phrase. What does it mean? Does it mean that corporations go out of existence, because there will no longer be any guarantee of limited liability? Does it mean that all health, safety, workers rights, etc., go out the window because they were instituted by public pressures implemented through government, the only component of the governing system that is at least to some extent accountable to the public (corporations are unaccountable, apart from generally weak regulatory apparatus)? Does it mean that the economy should collapse, because basic R&D is typically publicly funded — like what we’re now using, computers and the internet? Should we eliminate roads, schools, public transportation, environmental regulation,….? Does it mean that we should be ruled by private tyrannies with no accountability to the general public, while all democratic forms are tossed out the window? Quite a few questions arise.
You've probably heard that Rush Limbaugh is in the hospital in serious condition. Evidently he had chest pains, although to my knowledge,they haven't released any information about what might have caused them.
However, this indicates that he may have been back on some kind of heavy medication:
KITV now reports that Limbaugh was sitting in a chair in his ninth-floor hotel room at Kahala Hotel and Resort when paramedics arrived. KITV reported that sources said Limbaugh told emergency crews that he was having chest pains and had been taking medication for back trouble.
He's lost a lot of weight, very quickly. A lot. And if I'm not mistaken, one of the side effects of his earlier addiction was weight loss. (At least it coincided with his addiction.) So maybe that's the problem. On the other hand, he's a very big, middle aged man who smokes. So it may just be the obvious.
I won't make any unkind remarks about his predicament, but I can't help but note how he behaves in similar circumstances. He really doesn't deserve any decency.
In the wake of the attempted bombing of a plane bound for Detroit, Rep. Peter King (NY-R) criticized Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for appearing "bored." [...]
"Finally, Janet Napolitano comes out and the first thing she said was everything worked well. And she seemed almost like she was bored to be there. There was no intensity. There was no show of emotion," he said.
That's what it's come to with today's Republican Party -- in the wake of an attempted terrorist attack, one of the first GOP responses is to blast the Homeland Security secretary for her tone and facial expressions. King wants her to be more "emotional."
That's right. This is how one properly reacts to news of a terrorist attack:
I was at a gathering earlier today with a lot of people who aren't political junkies. Across the board they were either barely aware of this failed terrorist attempt or handled the threat in stride, mostly complaining about airport delays if anything. The only people who are fouling their trousers over this story are the media and the Republican opportunists, all of whom seem to believe that each time some loser fails to set off a terrorist bomb, the president's primary function is to rush to the TV to provide "comfort" and then give everyone a rousing pep talk about how we're gonna get 'em dead or alive. (Then he can give them a bottle and put them to bed.)
They are currently working themselves into quite a frenzy over all this. But so far, I don't think the people are buying it.
In the snarkier precincts of the left-wing blogosphere, mainstream journalists like me are often called villagers. The reference, so far as I can tell, has to do with isolation: we live in this little village on the Potomac — actually, I don't, but no matter — constantly intermingling over hors d'oeuvres, deciding who is "serious" (a term of derision in the blogosphere) and who is not, regurgitating spin spoon-fed by our sources or conjuring a witless conventional wisdom that has nothing to do with reality as it is lived outside the village. There is, of course, some truth to this. Washington is insular; certain local shamans are celebrated beyond all logic; some of my columnar colleagues have lost touch with everything beyond their armchairs and egos.
But there is a great irony here: villagery is a trope more applicable to those making the accusation than to those being snarked upon. The left-wing blogosphere, at its worst, is a claustrophobic hamlet of the well educated, less interested in meaningful debate than the "village" it mocks. (At its best, it is a source of clever and well-informed anti-Establishment commentary.) Indeed, it resembles nothing so much as that other, more populous hamlet, the right-wing Fox News and Limbaugh slum.
The truth is that the left-blogosphere is a bunch of individual actors and discrete communities who have many different opinions about the Democratic Party, President Obama and the current state of progressive politics. We also mostly agree that the right wing is a collection of hypocritical corporate sponsored wealth protectors and resentful, reactionary stooges. But the one thing we all pretty much agree on is that Villagers will be Villagers --- and forming false equivalences between the left and right is a defining characteristic.
MADDEN: President Obama right now has suffered very greatly in the last few months because of the fight over health care, and he has very little political capital right now. So Republicans feel it is in vogue to criticize this president.
And then lastly, you have to also remember the fact that the president being on vacation in Hawaii, it’s much different than being in Texas. Hawaii to many Americans seems like a foreign place. And I think those images, the optics, hurt President Obama very badly.
He's right though. In fact, one of those Real Americans who thinks Hawaii was a little too "foreign" was Sarah Palin:
Palin’s own father says she left because she was uncomfortable around Asians and Pacific Islanders: “They were a minority type thing,” her father says, “and it wasn’t glamorous, so she came home.”
Evidently, the fact that Bush was hiding out on his faux ranch for most of his presidency was good optics for presidential involvement. I suppose that's true. Here's a picture of Junior getting briefed on hurricane Katrina at his ranch before he proceeded to do absolutely nothing about it:
Lieberman and multiple Republicans have pointed to the would-be bomber’s training in Yemen to argue that closing Gitmo would be disastrous to our security because repatriating Yemenis housed there could let them re-join the terrorists’ war on the U.S.
But a senior administration official emails that plans to close the facility haven’t changed — and that the administration is sticking to its scheme of releasing some detainees and trying or indefinitely holding others. The official says:
The detention facility at Guantanamo has been used by Al Qaeda as a rallying cry and recruiting tool — including its affiliate Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As our military leaders have recognized, closing the detention facility at Guantanamo is a national security imperative.
The President created the Guantanamo Review Task Force to conduct the thorough work that the previous administration did not: to review the relevant information about each detainee, including the threat they pose, to determine whether they should be prosecuted, detained, or transferred. As he has said before, the President will not release any detainee who would endanger the American people. We have worked cooperatively with the government of Yemen to ensure that all appropriate security measures are taken when detainees are transferred.
Again, what’s striking here is how alone the White House is in making this argument. Congressional Dems have balked at providing key funding necessary to facilitate the tranfser of some detainees to rural Illinois.
It isn't striking to me. When was the last time that Congressional Dems did anything but hide under the bed every time someone tries to light his pants on fire?
Starting Jan. 1, the estate tax -- which can erase nearly half of a wealthy person's estate -- goes away for a year. For families facing end-of-life decisions in the immediate future, the change is making one of life's most trying episodes only more complex.
On Jan. 1, the one-year halt to the estate tax begins. And never before has so much money hinged on the time of death, WSJ's Laura Saunders reports in a News Hub extra.
"I have two clients on life support, and the families are struggling with whether to continue heroic measures for a few more days," says Joshua Rubenstein, a lawyer with Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in New York. "Do they want to live for the rest of their lives having made serious medical decisions based on estate-tax law?"
Currently, the tax applies to about 5,500 taxpayers a year. So, on average, at least 15 people die every day whose estates would benefit from the the tax's lapse.
The macabre situation stems from 2001, when Congress raised estate-tax exemptions, culminating with the tax's disappearance next year. However, due to budget constraints, lawmakers didn't make the change permanent. So the estate tax is due to come back to life in 2011 -- at a higher rate and lower exemption.
To make it easier on their heirs, some clients are putting provisions into their health-care proxies allowing whoever makes end-of-life medical decisions to consider changes in estate-tax law. "We have done this at least a dozen times, and have gotten more calls recently," says Andrew Katzenstein, a lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP in Los Angeles.
Of course, plenty of taxpayers themselves are eager to live to see the new year. One wealthy, terminally ill real-estate entrepreneur has told his doctors he is determined to live until the law changes.
"Whenever he wakes up," says his lawyer, "He says: 'What day is it? Is it Jan. 1 yet?'"
Estate-tax experts didn't expect Congress to allow the tax to lapse, and are flabbergasted that it is actually happening. "All fall when I gave speeches, I said I was willing to bet anyone in the room $10 that we would have an estate-tax extension by the end of the year," says Thomas Ochsenschlager, head of taxes for the American Institute of CPAs. "Thank goodness I didn't have any takers," he says.
Nobody thought they'd actually let this happen. But I would bet that unless they can reinstate the tax immediately, the right will begin a hysterical campaign to keep the tax permanently zero so that these family death panels can't spend the next year killing off old people. When that doesn't happen, the Democrats will be accused of instituting a mega tax hike farmers.
They should have just extended last years rates one more year and then let the original tax rate come back up to where it was before Bush passed his epic giveaway to the wealthy. That's what fiscally responsible liberals would do. This is not an aristocracy and there's no reason for people to expect to inherit vast sums without having to pay a hefty tax. But instead this could be a circus that results in lowering the estate tax even further than it had to be because of it.
With all the bellowing on the right about the costs of health care reform, I was surprised to read this over at Krugman's blog about Bush's medicare drug deal:
According to the Medicare trustees, Part D created a $9.4 trillion unfunded liability over the next 75 years. That’s a big number, even for an economy as big as ours.
Good God. And they're bitching about the measly 900 billion in the health care bill that's paid for?
Krugman answers my next question:
What were they thinking? Mostly, they probably weren’t thinking at all. To the extent that there was a theory of the case, however, it went something like this: pass whatever legislation was needed to win the next election, then, once total conservative political dominance has been achieved, dismantle the whole welfare state.
The best laid plans …
That's right. In those days they thought they had reinvented politics and begun a thousand year reign. Seems they ran into a glitch. It happens.
Gosh, it seems like only yesterday that American singers could get themselves in big trouble by going to a foreign country and criticizing the President of the United States. They had their records burned, were subjected to death threats and blackballed from radio stations.
That was then and this is now. Here's Ted Nugent in England this week:
"I think that Barack Hussein Obama should be put in jail. It is clear that Barack Hussein Obama is a communist. Mao Tse Tung lives and his name is Barack Hussein Obama. This country should be ashamed. I wanna throw up."
It's a good thing he didn't say that he was ashamed of him. Them's fighting words.
I would suggest a boycott of his CDs but I don't think he's come out with anything new since about 1975, so we'd have to go down to the basement and dig out the old moldy vinyl. And I'm pretty sure the only radio stations that play "Cat Scratch Fever" these days do it as a retro joke, sort of like "Muskrat Love" by The Captain and Tenille. It's just not worth the trouble.
Please just shoot me now. The media has gone insane. Suzanne Malveaux just asked Candy Crowley how the voters in 2010 are going to rank the president's response to this failed terror attempt. It's a stupid question, but the answer really takes the cake:
Candy Crowley: I think the fact that we have seen him for two days in a row is the White House recognizing that this is perhaps more important --- the safety of the American people ---than jobs at this point. It wouldn't take much to rev up security moms who were so important in 2000 and 2004. So I think what voters judge is, sort of, the record. So it won't be today, but then what did he do? How safe did he keep us?
That's ridiculous. Did Candy wake up this morning and think it was 2003? The plane didn't go down. Nobody died. The perpetrator is some young, screwed up loser who tried to set his pants on fire. The only "security mom" who cares more about that than the fact that she doesn't have a job is a well paid television celebrity.
The press loves the boogeyman story because it makes them feel like crusaders for freedom and allows them to make common cause with macho right wingers. It's far more exciting than dull stories about losers who don't have jobs --- you can see the exhilaration coming off of them in waves. They love it.
Case in point, Chris Matthews, who is ready to force everyone to be cavity searched in the ticket line:
Matthews: You know what when we get on an airplane, we give up all kinds of checks we don't do by just walking down the street. I think we give up a certain amount of rights just getting on an airplane and I think you've got to recognize that your safety is tied up with everyone else on that plane's safety and anybody else that gets hit on that plane. You don't own the right to be on that plane because you're getting on an airplane so you do have to yield some civil rights...And by the way, Cliff, you know it and I know it, they're going to get smarter and smarter and sooner or later they're going to get all kinds of people to do their dirty work for them. They're the enemy. They're going to use any means they can to get us. They're out to kill us. Let's be as smart as they are because they are already smart.
Run fer yer lives!
Apparently, Matthews thinks that there is some Koranic law that requires all attacks against America to take place on an airplane. If some terrorist with imagination succeeds in a mall or on a bridge will we have to submit to profiliong and screening there too? Sounds like it.(And if he thinks these would-be terrorists like Richard Reid and Abdulmutallab are super criminals, no wonder he's petrified.)
Clearly, the security bureaucracy didn't work. A number of people at various levels dropped the ball in letting this guy get through. But I suspect a lot of that is because they decided to rely on the stupid security theatre to scare off the bad guys rather than putting their efforts into tracking people like Abdulmutallab.
Unless we actually have a terrorist attack, I think we can feel fairly confident that the 2010 election will be about the economy. This failed attempt was a wake-up call, but it's not the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor. And this media revival of Daddy Keep Us Safe is nothing but a cheap sideshow.
As more U.S. troops roll into Afghanistan, they will conduct offensive operations that result in the capture of more Taliban over the next 18 months. That is not enough time to build Afghan courts and prisons and to train guards, judges and lawyers. Even in Iraq, the legal system has had trouble coping with all of the terrorists U.S. authorities have turned over during the past year. Some have been released and have gone on to commit fresh atrocities.
Such a situation, which exists on a much bigger scale in Afghanistan, is profoundly demoralizing to troops. If service members see a "catch and release" policy in effect, they are likely to either pull back or pull the trigger prematurely. Both possibilities are worrisome. The former means more enemy fighters on the loose; the latter sullies our troops' honor, denies them the intelligence gleaned from interrogations and leads the remaining Taliban to fight harder.
Just as those many right wing arguments about how the CIA will refuse to protect the country if they aren't granted immunity from prosecution or the claim that the troops will no longer report abuse if pictures of abuse is made public, Boot is saying that American soldiers will be demoralized and either fail to do their jobs or start killing people indiscriminately in Afghanistan if the US doesn't break the law. This argument is insulting to the troops. They are all professional soldiers who understand their duty and they do not need the country to betray its principles because they have a hard job.
Right wingers often use the "feelings" of police and soldiers as a shield to excuse their authoritarian impulses. If Boot and his buddies want to argue for torture and indefinite detention, let them admit that they just don't believe in the rule of law. Blaming the troops is cowardly.
I'm frankly shocked that wealthy Republican operatives are making big bucks from the teabaggers. It seems so unlike them:
The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) -- which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement -- directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place.
Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB) spent around $1.33 million from July through November, according to FEC filings examined by TPMmuckraker. Of that sum, a total of $857,122 went to Sacramento-based GOP political consulting firm Russo, Marsh, and Associates, or people associated with it.
OCDB, which built the Tea Party Express, is essentially a Russo, Marsh creation, as we've detailed. The PAC's site was registered in July 2008 by Sal Russo, the firm's founder. That site also lists Russo as the PAC's "chief strategist." Tea Party Express fundraising emails, sent by OCDB and obtained by TPMmuckraker, come from another Russo, Marsh employee, Joe Wierzbicki.
Just for good measure, legendary GOP bamboozler Howard Kaloogian is also on OCDB's board, and has close ties to Russo, Marsh.
From July through November 2009, the firm received $832,403 from OCDB, according to the FEC records. An additional $8,500 went to Russo himself. And Wierzbicki took in $16,219.
A federal appeals court on Monday issued one of the most comprehensive rulings yet limiting police use of Tasers against low-level offenders who seem to pose little threat and may be mentally ill.
In a case out of San Diego County, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized an officer who, without warning, shot an emotionally troubled man with a Taser when he was unarmed, yards away, and neither fleeing nor advancing on the officer.
As lawsuits have proliferated against police and Taser International, which manufactures the weapons, the nation's appellate courts have been trying to define what constitutes appropriate Taser use.
The San Diego County case is the latest ruling to address the issue.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed the trial judge's ruling on Monday, concluding that the level of force used by the officer was excessive.
McPherson could have waited for backup or tried to talk the man down, the judges said. If Bryan was mentally ill, as the officer contended, then there was even more reason to use "less intrusive means," the judges said.
"Officer McPherson's desire to quickly and decisively end an unusual and tense situation is understandable," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the court. "His chosen method for doing so violated Bryan's constitutional right to be free from excessive force."
Some lawyers called it a landmark decision.
Eugene Iredale, a San Diego lawyer who argued the case, said it was one of the clearest and most complete statements yet from an appellate court about the limits of Taser use.
He said after Monday's decision that courts will consider all circumstances, including whether someone poses a threat, has committed a serious crime or is mentally troubled.
"In an era where everybody understands 'don't tase me, bro,' courts are going to look more closely at the use of Tasers, and they're going to try to deter the promiscuous oversue of that tool," he said.
"Certainly the officer should be able to articulate the reason the force (was used), and a mere resistance to comply may not be enough," said Sheriff John McGinness.
It's not. The idea that police can use it to subdue people at their discretion in order to make their difficult jobs easier is just wrong. The police can't hit people over the head with a baton if they smart mouth them or refuse to immediately comply and they shouldn't be able to shoot them full of electricity either. Just because it doesn't leave marks doesn't mean it isn't cruel and brutal.
This issue will wend itself through the courts for some time. I would imagine we'll see a Supreme Court ruling. Considering the current court, I'm sure Taser International hopes so.
The wingnuts are ginning up a story about Max Baucus being drunk on the senate floor. And like the good little GOP boosting schlock meisters they are, the Politico is breathlessly reporting on "the controversy."
Yes, you read that correctly. Not only did Politico quote guiding lights such as Newsbusters and The Drudge Report, but Politico actually quoted a Facebook page comment posted by disgraced, page-chasing GOP Congressman Mark Foley, in which he attacked the ethics of another.
What more do you need to know about Politico these days?
UPDATED: Of course Politico makes zero effort to relay to readers if the right-wing attack on Baucus carries any weight. If it's, y'know, true. That's not Politico's job. Politico's job is simply to alert the rest of the world to whatever, or whoever, is "under fire" from conservatives.
Yes, Mark Foley's Facebook scribblings are used in the article as an illustration of prim outrage at Baucus' personal life. I know.
And I have no idea if he was drunk, but the fact is that Baucus always slurs his words and speaks in a meandering fashion. It's just how he talks. As anyone who has ever heard Susan Collins knows, there's no requirement that Senators be good speakers.
Gallagher: But guys, let's look at the inevitable, the 800-pound gorilla in the room. How about we scrutinize young Middle Eastern men to stop this.
What happens when El Al Airlines, the airline run and operated by the state of Israel, if a Palestinian tries to board that plane? Do you think he goes through an extra degree of security? Well, let's do that with Muslims, let's do that with anybody named Abdul or Mohammad or Ahmed, let's take them and put them in a room and make sure they don't have explosives sewn into their underwear.
If you add in Africans (as you must by this logic) that's about half of the global population right there. But then how do we know that some guy named Bob isn't a Muslim? Or that some young woman named Samira isn't a terrorist? It gets really complicated. The only profiling that will really work is to not let anyone in the US at all and to require all US citizens to wear designations on their clothes to indicate which religion they are. Anything short of that just won't get the job done.
Short of that, I would guess we're going to have to continue to do the delicate balancing act between security and civil liberties and sharpen up the huge unwieldy anti-terrorist bureaucracy. As someone who was once lauded as a super-hero terrorist fighter always said, "it's hard work."
In case you were wondering what the Republicans have in mind:
On “Meet The Press” this morning, Newt Gingrich praised the Tea Party movement and their response to the push for healthcare reform and told David Gregory, “every Republican in 2010 and 2012 will run on an absolute pledge to repeal this bill. ” (He also added that the GOP cannot be the “Party of No.”)
Gingrich still has serious weight among the conservative base—he was responsible for “Drill Here, Drill Now” and the House Republican response to the first bailout (they proposed cutting capital gains taxes instead of saving the financial system)—and, as the plight of Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist have made clear, the only way out of a Republican primary is to avoid any hint of moderation.
"I'd like to pick up on what Sen. DeMint says about the process. I think the process was very bad. But the process was really caused, in large measure, by the refusal of the Republicans to deal in any way," said Specter.
"Sen. DeMint is the author of the famous statement that this is going to be President Obama's 'Waterloo,' that this ought to be used to break the president," said Specter, referring to the political battle over health care. "So that before the ink was dry on the oath of office -- and I know this, because I was in the caucus -- the Republicans were already plotting ways to beat President Obama in 2012."
Whether it will work is certainly up for grabs. But they will be running against health care (very possibly calling for its repeal) and if the Democrats are relying on the public seeing through their propaganda and recognizing what a wonderful reform it's going to be a few years down the road, they'd better come up with a plan B. It is going to be a difficult sell --- this country is in a very bad mood and doesn't want to hear happy talk. The Republicans are going to stoke that bad mood and Democrats are not going to be very effective in combating it if they rely on vacuous cheerleading. If anything, that makes people even angrier.
There's a bit of a hissy fit building about how the Obama administration is inappropriately taking credit for the citizen thwarted terrorist attempt. Oy vey.
Jake Tapper points out that such citizen initiative was once considered the result of a brilliant Bush administration anti-terrorist strategy:
In a press conference on January 17, 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made a similar claim about shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
“Throughout the war on terrorism, our military and intelligence officials have made a concerted effort to share appropriate information with the public in order to enlist their assistance,” Ashcroft said. “We've asked citizens to be vigilant, to be alert to any possible threat. The success of this strategy was made clear by yesterday's indictment of Richard Reid, who may very well have succeeded in destroying American Airlines Flight Number 63, as the indictment charges, had it not been for the courage and attentiveness of the citizen passengers and crew.”
In fact, there was a time when Bush was saying "Let's Roll" in his speeches as if he were the one to have inspired the phrase.
Frankly, no administration can take credit for this. Citizens act in these situations because they value their lives and the lives of others. I suppose you can call that an "anti-terrorism strategy," but most people would simply call it survival.
Can someone please explain to me why this is a story?
The Obamas have attended Sunday services in Washington three times this year — once at the predominantly African-American 19th Street Baptist Church, and twice at St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House. Asked at Tuesday's White House briefing whether the First Family is still searching for a local church to join, press secretary Robert Gibbs responded: "The President has attended fairly regularly up at Camp David a church that he's comfortable in and has enjoyed attending." (See pictures of Obama meeting Pope Benedict XVI.)
The church at Camp David is Evergreen Chapel, a nondenominational body currently led by Chaplain Lieut. Carey Cash. Each week, regardless of whether the President is on-site, Evergreen Chapel holds Christian services open to the nearly 400 military personnel and staff at Camp David, as well as their families. The Bush family spent eight straight Christmases at Camp David, in large part because of the retreat's privacy, and were regular attenders of the chapel's candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Other Presidents and their families have opted to stay in Washington for the holiday. The Clintons traditionally went to midnight mass at the Washington National Cathedral and woke up in the White House on Christmas morning before heading south for vacation. President Reagan also remained in Washington over Christmas — reportedly so members of the Secret Service could be near their families — although Reagan didn't venture out to a local church service.
The Obamas have celebrated Christmas in Hawaii, where the President grew up, nearly every year since the girls were born. But while Obama can still visit his favorite shaved ice joint and body-surfing spots, he doesn't have a childhood church home to attend. His mother wasn't a churchgoer, and Obama writes in "Dreams of My Father" that his grandparents took him to church infrequently.
So those awful Obamas didn't attend church On Christmas eve like every good American must do. Instead they were in some "foreign-like" place where the only so-called church Obama ever attended was some illegitimate, left-wing institution that no Democrats are allowed to attend if they want the approval of the Religion Industrial Complex:
The one church in Hawaii with which Obama does have a family connection is unlikely to be the place where the First Family would worship on Christmas Eve. As a child, Obama occasionally attended Sunday school classes at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, and his family held a memorial service there for his grandmother last Christmas. Conservative critics were quick to point out that the First Unitarian Church has a controversial history — in 1969, the church offered sanctuary to servicemen who refused to go to Vietnam. The refuge was brief, however, as military police invaded church grounds to arrest the soldiers.
Well that tears it for me. The Obamas are also very selfish and thoughtless for making their Secret Service detail go to Hawaii in December. What horrible people. Obviously, they are Muslims.
Would you like to come on a trip to a magical imaginary world? Well then, join Rahm Emanuel and his reporter sidekick Jonathan Weisman aboard this Wall Street Journal article:
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been telling Democrats a win on the health issue will reverse the slide in public opinion, just as passage of another controversial proposal, the North American Free Trade Agreement, lifted President Bill Clinton in the polls...
In an interview Friday, Mr. Emanuel expressed little concern for the president's standing with the Democratic base. Mr. Emanuel said the liberal wing of the party is already coming back to the fold.
This would be a bizarre thing for Emanuel to be telling other Democrats under any circumstances: NAFTA passed at the end of 1993 in Clinton's first year, and then in 1994 the Democrats promptly lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate—the House for the first time in forty years. You wouldn't think hearing Emanuel compare today to that would really get Democrats to break out the champagne.
There is an awful lot of historical nonsense being spread around these days on all sides but this one really takes the cake. NAFTA was the quintessential DLC experiment and is the worst possible example of Clinton's legislative success at this particularmoment. It was a business elite wet dream, advocated by the party of the working class against the interests of its own constituents. And the numbers in the links above show that it was actually quite unpopular and that whatever small bump Clinton got (probably for his "bipartisanship" more than anything else) were ephemeral. After all, he lost both houses of congress in the next election. I think Rahm should probably be careful about drawing such comparisons right now. They don't exactly inspire confidence.
The United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against the Al-Qaeda terror network in Yemen, The New York Times reported.
Citing an unnamed former top CIA official, the newspaper said that a year ago the Central Intelligence Agency sent many field operatives with counterterrorism experience to the country.
At the same time, some of the most secretive special operations commandos have begun training Yemeni security forces in counterterrorism tactics, the report said.
The Pentagon will be spending more than 70 million dollars over the next 18 months, and using teams of special forces, to train and equip Yemeni military, Interior Ministry and coast guard forces, more than doubling previous military aid levels, the paper noted.
Maybe I wasn't so far off about opening a front in Britain. Seems we're everywhere.
For those of you who aren't covered by your employer for health insurance, here's a handy tool to figure out what you'd owe under health care reform under the two plans. (Be sure to put in your age in 2014.)
I'm in the individual market and my insurance will go up to the point where it may be unaffordable. But I suppose it would have anyway. (I'm ancient, but won't be ancient enough for Medicare for some time yet.) For younger people with kids it looks like the subsidies will be a big help, however. How will you do?
Update: Here's a story in USA Today on how the bill will affect various people with different employment status' and income.
So things are getting stressful aboard airplanes these days. Terrorists are everywhere:
Earlier in the afternoon, Delta Airlines, which acquired Northwest last year, said in a statement that the crew had requested police assistance on the ground because a passenger was “verbally disruptive.” The Transportation Safety Administration said in a statement that it had been alerted to a “disruptive passenger on board” Flight 253. The T.S.A. said that the flight landed safely at Detroit International Airport at approximately 12:35 p.m. Eastern “without incident.”
“The aircraft has been moved to a remote location for additional screening,” the agency had said then. “T.S.A. and law enforcement met the aircraft upon arrival, the passenger is now in custody.”
Donald Trump's ex-wife, Ivana, was forcefully removed from a New York City-bound Delta Airlines flight...after causing a scene and screaming at crew members.
According to the Associated Press, Trump's 60-year-old former wife became angered by a group of children running in the aisle of her first class cabin while the flight was waiting to depart Palm Beach International Airport en route to New York.
Flight attendants were unable to calm the socialite down and the pilot taxied the plane back to the gate where law enforcement tried to convince Trump to voluntarily exit the aircraft.
When she refused and continued to hurl obscenities at crew members and fellow passengers, deputies "physically escorted her off the aircraft," a department spokesman told RadarOnline.com.
Ooops. Wrong passenger. This wasn't considered a terrorism incident at all. Turns out the alleged terrorist in question was a Nigerian on a different plane who was sick and spent some time in the bathroom. My bad. Terrorists come in many different guises.
Today's NY Times Book Reviewfeatures a new book about Molly Ivins, called A Rebel Life which sounds like a very good read and welcome tonic for our times. I miss her wit and wisdom.
One of the highlights of my blogging life was being quoted by Ivins in her column and I very much regret that I never got a chance to meet her. At Netroot Nations in Austin a couple of years ago we dedicated a panel to her and I quoted the last paragraph of the last column she published. It was during the fiery debate about the Iraq surge and related directly to that but I think the spirit of her words apply equally today:
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on January 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"
Banging pots and pans may be what we have to work with but it can make an ungodly noise if enough join in. And from what we are seeing with civil liberties and the Afghanistan surge especially, it's going to be necessary.
David Atkins pens an impassioned cris de coeur over at Daily Kos along these lines today that's worth reading if you're feeling low. There's plenty of fight left in us and god knows there's plenty to fight for.
On the heels of Greg Craig and Philip Carter resigning, this news that the Dawn Johnson nomination is dead can't help but make you wonder if there isn't a reason why all these high profile critics of the Bush administration's torture and detention policies are being systematically dropped. I don't understand why that would be unless there is a reason to believe they would object to current practices. After all, none of them had or would have the authority to launch investigations of the past.
On the politics, one hates to jump to conclusions but it is very curious that in virtually every single issue area, the administration goes out of its way to reject the people and items that are at the top of the liberal agenda. It's hard to believe that it's an accident.
It would be great for Obama to renominate her and fight publicly for her confirmation. He could even provoke a fight over the filibuster as part of the bargain. It would also be great if I woke up tomorrow morning and was 25 years old again. Somehow I think it's a long shot.
h/t to KG
Update: I didn't realize that it sounded like I was saying that Obama had ordered torture. I meant that they may have been worried about the military and the CIA going off the reservation and didn't want to risk having people on board who were going to make a big stink about it. There is no doubt in my mind that Obama has ordered that the torture be stopped. What I'm not so sure about is his commitment to holding people responsible for doing it against his orders. The administration has, after all, capitulated to the military and CIA's rationale that we can't even show pictures of abuse lest it inflame the Muslim world. Combined with their other hedging on civil liberties, I think it's fair to speculate about why some of the most vociferous critics of the Bush administration's practices are being excluded.
It looks way cooler with the glasses…and a bong hit. Trust me.
If I was restricted to writing one-line movie reviews (which undoubtedly would make a lot of readers jubilant) I would summarize James Cameron’s super-hyped, epic fantasy-adventure Avatar as: “A three-dimensional masterpiece with a one-dimensional script.” Then again, Mr. Cameron has never lost any money underestimating the attention span of your typical American filmgoer. Sure, his movies tend to go on longer than the Old Testament, but there’s usually an easy-to-follow 90 minute narrative buried somewhere within those 2 ½ to 3 hour running times (padded out by the protracted action set-pieces).
I will say this-if you are going to go for it, you might as well go all the way (you know-get your $300 million worth). This film is like the Baskin-Robbins of movie events-you may be confronted with 31 different choices of viewing experiences before you even buy your ticket. For example, at the particular multiplex I saw it at, they were showing it in 3 auditoriums and as many formats: 2-D, 3-D and 3-D IMAX. No one warned me that there would be a quiz, so I suffered a few moments of embarrassing vacillation (I visualized the people in line behind me rolling their eyes and miming a garroting to amuse their friends). To save face, I muttered “Imax” and sheepishly pushed my check card under the window. I even suppressed the urge to exclaim “Fifteen fucking fifty? For a matinee?!?!”
OK, I hear you. “There IS a 90-word movie review, buried somewhere within this 2000 word rant about the cost of an IMAX screening, right, Dennis?” I just wanted to clarify from the outset that prior to this, I was a 3-D virgin (always seemed too gimmicky to me; if I’m really itching to experience the sensation that the actors are in the same room with me, I could go see one of those newfangled-oh, what are they called again-“stage plays”?
Cameron’s story is simple enough; thematically it is an inverse re-imagining of his 1986 sci-fi adventure Aliens (with more than a few suspicious similarities to Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke). Set sometime in the future, the story centers on a lushly verdant planet called Pandora, which has been targeted for deforestation and mining by an Earth-based corporation. This doesn’t set well with the planet’s inhabitants, a relatively peaceful race of aboriginal forest dwellers called the Na’vi (The Emerald Forest, anyone?). A sizable contingent of Marines has been deployed to help “convince” the locals that it would be in their best interest to cooperate. This doesn’t set well with a small team of research scientists who have been studying and interacting with the Na’vi, via an experimental assimilation method using avatars that take on the actual physiology of the aliens. Deadlines have been set, and tensions mount. However, faster than you can say FernGully: The Last Rainforest, we are presented with The One Human who could save the day, in the person of a brave young wheelchair-bound Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). Sully is assigned by the gung-ho Marine commander (a hammy Stephen Lang, getting his Col. Kilgore on) to be the military liaison with the tribe. Sully soon becomes the political football between his C.O., the head researcher (Sigourney Weaver, recycling Dian Fossey) and the corporate weasel from the mining company (Giovanni Ribisi). Yes, I was thinking “Halliburton reference”, too. Oops-can’t forget the rote love story-Sully hooks up with a Na’vi babe (a 10 ft. tall and very blue Zoe Saldana).
This is all academic, really. How many people are flocking to see this for the “plot”? Don’t get me wrong, there were elements of the story that did appeal to me. I liked the idea of a paraplegic hero; the scene where Sully first “finds his legs” in his avatar body is actually quite moving, empowering and well played. Aside from that one brief moment, I didn’t find myself getting emotionally invested in this film or its characters in any significant way. The “save the forest” theme performed its requisite tug at my big ol’ softie lib’rul tree-hugging heart and all, but it’s become such a hoary movie cliché anymore. By the time the final third disappeared into interminable mayhem, they lost me.
However, in pure visual terms, the film does live up to its hype, and then some. There are some real knockout scenes, particularly in the film’s first half (before the novelty starts to wear off a bit and it just becomes shit blowing up). Cameron’s inventiveness and flair for mind-blowing production design is the real star here. Pandora’s otherworldly creatures, topography, and stridently colorful flora and fauna recall Disney’s Fantasia or Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet at times. In the film’s best “through the looking glass” moments, I felt like I had been transported inside the world of a Roger Dean album cover.
When all was said and done, the question I was left pondering was this: At what point does a film cease being a “film” and transmogrify into an “event”-or (if I may turn the cynicism up to “11”) a glorified 2 ½ hour infomercial for a video game? Yes, Cameron has perhaps “changed” the game, regarding the purely technical aspects of filmmaking and movie presentation. But is this ultimately for the good of the art form? When I think of my all-time favorite films, there are two things that they all seem to have in common: heart and soul. And you do not a need a pair of 3-D glasses and IMAX to experience that.
Amidst the fallout of the Senate vote, Politico put out a handy primer on just what industry got out of HCR:
A POLITICO look at the deals shows the liberals have it right, at least in regard to key reform proposals. Several cherished Democratic goals — including a government-run insurance plan, bringing in cheaper drugs from other countries and expanding Medicare — faced steeper, and ultimately insurmountable, odds of passage after the hospitals and drug companies said they would oppose any bill that included them.
This was no idle threat, but instead a serious challenge to Obama’s goal of winning reform — and pocketing a major achievement in his presidency’s first year.
But the liberal attacks glide past a hard reality. By bringing industry players inside the room, Obama and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) holstered some of the very guns that defeated reform in 1994. PhRMA, for instance, will spend nearly $200 million on reform this year — and clearly it could spend it endorsing or opposing the bill.
Cutting deals to neutralize would-be antagonists was one of the Democrats’ key takeaways from the failed “Hillarycare” effort. And the Obama White House followed a basic tenet of negotiating: first in, best deal. PhRMA agreed to give up $80 billion over 10 years to pay for reform — a figure that infuriated some House members who thought it was too light and who tried to negate the agreement.
Conversely, tardy negotiators risked getting clobbered. Exhibit A: the medical device lobby, which misplayed its early hand and nearly got slammed with a big tax.
Ken Thorpe, a former Clinton administration health care adviser who has participated in this year’s drive, said Obama’s critics are missing a larger truth: With so many powerful interests poised to attack to protect the plan, some deal making was inevitable.
“It’s a balancing act,” Thorpe said. “Could we have gotten more out of the drug industry? Perhaps. On the other hand, keeping them positively engaged allowed momentum to continue. Had they not engaged them early on, and didn’t bring them to the table, who knows how this would have turned out?”
Always fighting the last war. Clinton ran as a DLC New Democrat and probably could have made deals with industry and it would have been politically consistent to do so. (Whether or not it would have made a difference is debatable.) But the fact is that Obama isn't Clinton, this isn't 1994 and the lesson was the wrong one.
As I wrote earlier, aside from the political and moral question of making such "deals" in the first place, what this really reveals is the source of liberals' frustrations at the moment. The president may not have campaigned on the public option or even been much of a crusader for health care reform. But what he did campaign on explicitly and without reservation was clean government and the end of business as usual. Indeed, the word "change" was predicated on that simple promise alone. This is where the problem lies with the left and a fair number in the middle. The technocrats in Washington see health care reform as a triumph of pragmatic manipulation of the various levers of power. The media is celebrating that Obama Plays by Washington’s Rules. But for a good many people, that very fact violates the central rationale for his presidency. That's what's causing this cognitive dissonance and giving life to a new right wing anti-liberal argument.
Jeffrey Feldman approaches this issue from another direction today, citing Glenn Greenwald's recent post about a possible new left right alliance against corporatism and asking what sort of government one might want from such an alliance. It's a good question and one that I expect people will be asking for some time to come. But keep in mind that this is not exactly new on the left and it has been answered in some detail. Perhaps the best leftwing anti-corporate screed is summed up in a speech that filled Madison Square Garden ten years ago:
There has long been a strong left libertarian anti-corporate critique. (Noam Chomsky was there long before anybody.) But while there has been a sporadic history of making common cause with liberals on civil liberties, this alleged conversion of certain conservative movement luminaries to the anti-corporate cause is less than believable considering that just a few short years ago, these very people were orchestrating the greatest strategic alliance between government and corporate America in its history. Let's say I'm a bit skeptical about what "principle" they have recently unearthed in this regard. After all, they invented corporatism --- the Democrats have just learned to stop worrying and love the money.
Right wing "populism" is of a completely different form than that of the left, although it's fed by similar feelings of disenfranchisement and suspicion of elites. At the very least, lefties are not in the pockets of corporate America while they rail against the system that benefits it. I can't say the same for the right. I realize that this new populist alliance relies on the belief that left and right are now an outdated political paradigm. I just don't believe it. You can call it whatever you like, but the lines will divide up pretty much as they always have in America and liberals will have to decide who they're going to sacrifice to the cause if they want to change that. Believe me, sacrificing corporate donations won't get the job done.
The left is already philosophically consistent on the issue of big money in politics, and if they made the case straightforwardly and gained popular support, it could change the way politics are done. The populist right is incoherent. They operate on a whole other set of impulses, which almost always involve scapegoating of the other. I don't see a meaningful alliance there, although I do see how right wing populism will be very useful to the wealthy. It always has been in the past.
According to a statement posted Saturday morning on Air Canada’s Web site, the Transportation Security Administration will severely limit the behavior of both passengers and crew during flights in United States airspace — restricting movement in the final hour of flight. Late Saturday morning, the T.S.A. had not yet included this new information on its own Web site.
“Among other things,” the statement in Air Canada’s Web site read, “during the final hour of flight customers must remain seated, will not be allowed to access carry-on baggage, or have personal belongings or other items on their laps.”
The suspect, identified as Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, tried to light his explosives while the plane was descending into Detroit on Friday.
The suspect was wearing a white t-shirt and drank two diet cokes, so the TSA will be banning those on all flights as well.
Aceh did exist, of course, but with 166,000 dead or missing it had borne the brunt of the Indian Ocean tsunami, triggered by a 9.15-magnitude earthquake off the Indonesian coast on Dec. 26, 2004. It was a truly international catastrophe: the tsunami struck 13 countries, killing 226,000 people of 40 nationalities. Five years later, a first-time visitor to the worst-affected countries — Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand — might find the wave's terrible path hard to detect, thanks to a multinational, multi-billion-dollar reconstruction effort. Across Aceh, thousands of houses were built with foreign aid in what were once wastelands. In Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, new homes surround a 2,600-ton ship pushed a mile inland by the Tsunami. It is now a tourist attraction.
This was one of the most hideous catastrophes of a decade of hideous catastrophes. But the consensus is that they've managed to come back fairly smartly.
I recall watching the footage on the days after Christmas back in 2004 and then seeing the global response and feeling that the post-9/11 paranoia might be starting to lift a little bit. Global cooperation was in, at least for a little while. US soldiers were deployed to help not make war. It was horrible and life affirming at the same time.
Victor David Hansen explains Obama and liberalism.
Such a strange scenario we have found ourselves in—a clear majority of Americans is opposed to almost everything Obama has to offer; congressional representatives know they are acting against the will of the people, but know too that they are offered all sorts of borrowed money for their districts to compensate for their unpopular actions. And a charismatic commander in chief believes that he can charm even the angriest of critics, and that anything he promises (Iran’s deadlines, closing of Guantanamo, new transparency, no more lobbyists, etc) means zilch and can be contextualized by another “let me be perfectly clear” speech spiced with a couple of the usual “it would have been impossible for someone as unlikely as me to have become President just (fill in the blanks) years ago”
In short, we have a traditional statist bent on redistribution (Obama’s words, not mine), updated with the postmodern belief that race/class/gender oppressions require government affirmative reactions (which also abroad explains why we reach out to enemies and shun allies), all energized by an ends justify the means Chicago bare-knuckles apparat.
These true believers, then, don’t really care that the Blue Dogs (if such really exist) bite the dust in 2010, if Harry Reid goes up in smoke, or indeed, if Barack Obama is reelected. Instead, they will institutionalize an agenda that will affect America for generations, move it sharply to the left, and earn a spot in the academic pantheon of American heroes.
Asking why would Obama & Co. be so self-destructive to push through an array of proposals that have no more than 45% of the public’s support is like asking whether the English Prof who teaches incomprehensible Foucauldian theory worries whether he has only 2 students, or whether the well-off union boss is all that upset that membership has sunk to 30% of the workforce, or multimillion-dollar-earning Sarah Palin-interviewing Katie Couric is worried about her sinking ratings, or whether the New York Times columnists are upset that their mother paper is broke with subscription and readership down, and laying off thousands of blue-collar employees.
Instead, for the true believer, it is all about the self, and the sense of the self—and damn all other considerations. (We saw that with Jimmy Carter as well; that he destroyed liberal Democrat politics for a generation meant nothing; that he won prizes and jet-setted the world for thirty years meant everything. For these people, it is always about them—all the time. Let us eat cake as they end up liberal icons for the duration).
The good news is that the self effacing Sarah Palin and the corporate sponsored Freedomworks stand ready to step in and save the country.
In this photo released by the San Diego Zoo taken Monday Dec. 21,2009 showing Giant Panda mom Bai Yun playing with her four-and-half-month old baby boy, Yun Zi, at their enclosure at the San Diego Zoo. Yun Zi has been reluctant to leave the comfort of his den, but Monday's successful venture outdoors means it is likely that within a month the cub will go on exhibit to the public
On Tuesday, Andrew Breitbart's Big Government blog got its knickers in a twist over one of the Obama White House's myriad Christmas trees. (Big Government is a sibling to Breitbart's Big Hollywood blog, which cranked up a paranoid fantasy about the National Endowment for the Arts a few months back.) The blaring "EXCLUSIVE" led with a blurry photo of a decoupage Christmas ornament adorned with the face of Chinese Communist dictator, Mao Zedong.
"Of course, Mao has his place in the White House," Big Government wailed about the GCOS, taking the Obama-as-socialist meme out for a yuletide spin.
Except, it wasn't exactly Mao. It was Andy Warhol's "Mao."
"Gary, you and your team will work on the Blue Room tree."
What? I had been "fired" two years before from the Blue Room tree, the first lady's tree, for complete decorative incompetence.
"They must have forgotten," I thought.
I went out to unload a truckful of ornament boxes. They had been received at another location and then X-rayed and examined to make sure nobody sent the White House a ticking bomb. We brought the boxes into the hallway just north of the Green, Red, and Blue Rooms, between the State Dining Room and the East Room.
The GSA, the Park Service, and the Residence maintenance staff had erected all the trees. Some staff were on high ladders, hanging evergreen garlands. We gathered around folding tables to unpack the ornament boxes.
It took about ten seconds to get the first reaction. "What in the world?"
Then another: "What the hell?"
Then another. "Look at this things! What is it?"
"Hillary's ornaments is what!"
From one end of the hall to the other, about forty people were picking up these "things," staring at them, turning them around, trying to figure them out or stifle their embarrassed laughter. I turned to one of my team members. "What are these things?"
"I heard the theme is The Twelve Days of Christmas, as interpreted by art students from around the country. Hillary sent a letter out just two months ago, really late actually, asking budding artists to send in an interpretation of The Twelve Days of Christmas, and this is what they came up with."
I couldn't believe what I was looking at. "This stuff is just childish garbage! We can't hang this stuff on any White House Christmas tree! This is a bad joke."
"Gary, the orders from the First Lady's Office are to hang these. It's what she wants, so we have to hang them. Anyway, many of them are from 'blue ribbon' art schools, as designated by the Secretary of Education. The whole administration has a stake in this."
"Well, if this is blue ribbon, then we're in serious trouble, educationally." I pulled out one ornament that was five real onion rings (five golden rings) glued to a white styrofoam tray, with a hook attached to the back so it could be hung. But where? Maybe in Bill Clinton's bedroom so he could rip off a midnight snack?
I was disgusted but some of it was actually pretty funny.
"Gary, come here, look at this!" It was a mobile of twelve lords a-leaping. They were leaping al right. The ornament consisted of tiny clay male figurines. Each was naked and had a large erection. My friend said, "Whoops!" and he dropped it on the floor. Then, "Oh, no," as he stomped on it. He joked, "Man, I hope I don't get in trouble with Hillary for that!"
Some of the ornaments were silly and some were dangerous, like the crack pipes hung on a string. We couldn't figure out what crack pipes had to do with Christmas no matter how hard we tried, so we threw them back in the box. Some ornaments were constructed out of various drug paraphernalia, like syringes, heroin spoons, or roach clips, which are colorful devices sometimes adorned with bird feathers and used to hold marijuana joints.
Two turtle doves became two figurines that had the shells of turtles but the heads of birds; there were many of these. Four calling birds were--you guessed it--birds with a telephone, and there were at least two miniature phone booths with four birds inside using the telephone. There was a partridge in a pear, without the tree--a clay pear with a partridge head sticking out of it. Three French hens were French-kissing in a ménage à trois. So many of the ornaments didn't celebrate Christmas as much as they celebrated sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Several of the birds had dark glasses and were blowing saxophones.
"Hey, Gary. Come over here." I walked over. It was another leaping lords ornament. Each "lord" had a wooden body with a photograph of Rush Limbaugh for a head. A dozen ditto-heads, suitable for hanging, but nobody had the guts to hang Rush Limbaugh on Hillary's tree, so back in the box it went.
First, though, I held the Limbaugh ornament up, while someone took a picture of me. It was like holding twelve sticks of dynamite in my hand, because with my bad luck, I expected one of the Clinton folks or maybe the Clintons themselves to walk around the corner just as the camera flash went off. But I was lucky this time.
I went over to one of the tables I hadn't looked at yet. What's this? Of course. Two turtle doves, but they didn't have shells this time--they were joined together in an act of bird fornication.
I picked up another ornament that was supposed to illustrate five golden rings. One of the male florist volunteers grabbed my arm and laughed and laughed.
"What's so funny? What are you laughing at?"
"Don't you know what you're holding?"
No, I didn't, but he was happy to explain it to me: the golden rings I was holding were sex toys known as "c*ck rings"--and they had nothing to do with chickens.
Another mystery ornament was the gingerbread man. How did he fit into The Twelve Days of Christmas? Then I got it. There were five small, gold rings I hadn't seen at first: one in his ear, one in his nose, one through his nipple, one through his belly button, and, of course, the ever-popular c*ck ring.
I couldn't believe the disrespect that these ornaments represented. Many of the artists invited to make and send something to hang on the tree must have had nothing but disgust, hatred, and disrespect for the White House and the citizens of the country, a disgust obviously encouraged by the first lady in the name of artistic freedom.
I thought of all the children, grandmothers, and grandfathers waling past the White House's Blue Room, looking at the first lady's Christmas tree and wondering what in the hell had possessed the White House.
Here was another five golden rings ornament--five gold-wrapped condoms. I threw it in the trash. There were other condom ornaments, some still in the wrapper, some not. Two sets had been "blown" into balloons and tied to small trees. I wasn't sure what the connection was to The Twelve Days of Christmas. Condoms in a pear tree?
When we were through, the first lady's tree had all the beauty and majesty of a landfill.
Hillary's social secretary, Ann Stock, came down, carefully looked at the tree and its decorations and pronounced it "perfect" and "delightful." My shoulders sagged. Stock had been our last, best hope to clean up this "mistake" But instead, she thought it was "neat." At least we had turned the gingerbread man around so that his golden rings didn't face the tour line. I came back later and took some pictures of the tree and "Mr. Gingerbread Man" with rings side out. I knew nobody would believe this without photographic proof.
While I was working on the tree, Craig Livingstone happened to stop by. He was surprised to see me placing ornaments on Hillary's tree, but I told him I was an old hand at this decorating business. Livingstone was leading Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas in a tour around the White House. Stone was making Nixon, and Douglas was making An American President. Stone looked stoned to me, as he gazed around, obviously thinking of this "shot" or that. I wasn't impressed. Still, this must have been a great moment for Livingstone, our White House security director, whose goal in life was to become a Hollywood producer.
But the cameras, surprisingly enough, soon fell not on Michael Douglas or on the dazed Oliver Stone or the photogenically challenged Craig Livingstone; they fell on me. I was interviewed by Martha Stewart, who was doing a Christmas special to be aired later on a major network morning show. She promised she would not blow my cover when she learned I was an FBI agent.
As she looked around the tree she made "hmmmm" sounds. If she didn't like the tree, she was very diplomatic about it. I wondered what she really thought. It seemed to me most people could have only one thought: "Throw a tarp over it!"
Aside from displaying sex toys and self-mutilation devices on the nation's Christmas tree, there was another "change" in the way the White House celebrated Christmas. Hillary decided to delete spouses from the invitation-only staff Christmas party. This caused a bit of a stir, not only because it broke with tradition, but because it raised a question I had heard several permanent staffers ask: "Why is Hillary so hostile to families?"
I think it's because they represent a sphere of loyalty outside her control. And Hillary likes to be in charge.
Different ornaments, same old crap. Wingnuts will believe anything.