Archive for November, 2008

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Barack, Hillary and the trust thing

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

So it’s really going to happen: Hillary is going to Foggy Bottom. We’ve been hearing about it for weeks, of course. The idea has been beaten up, beaten down and beaten all around by the media, with the same questions asked and re-asked ad nauseum. 

What’s in it for Obama?

What’s in it for Clinton?

What’s in it for America?

How can Obama pick a Secretary of State who has disagreed with him on so many fundamental issues, including Iraq? How can Clinton, for that matter, agree to serve under a man she dismissed as unqualified such a short a time ago? What about Bill — how will he fit in? And what about the Clinton’s penchant for drama compared to No Drama Obama? And on and on.

But, to be honest, what strikes me as most remarkable about this is the degree of mutual trust it displays. An act of trust, actually quite an extraordinary one, entered into by two people who, not so long ago, showed every sign of not really liking each other all that much.

There have to be a thousand ways each of these two people could now screw the other. Obama could easily minimize Clinton’s role: it’s been done before, after all — a lot. Just cut State out of the loop and handle the important foreign policy stuff inside the White House. Get yourself a Henry Kissinger type as National Security Adviser: leave Hillary to stew in splendid irrelevance.

Clinton, on the other hand, could easily go rogue, ignoring Obama’s policy decisions and branching out on her own. Politically it would be almost impossible for him to fire her. She could get away with murder, undermining him at every turn.

Each in his or her own way, these two Democratic Party giants are taking a hell of a chance here. Yet both decided to risk it.

Time will tell if it was smart. But that it was gutsy is already a given.

And who knows? Maybe, as the man in the movie said, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The only difference is that here the man and the woman are getting onto the plane together. It should be a hell of flight.

Priests playing with fire

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

So the small trickle of Catholic priests insisting that parishioners who voted for Barack Obama committed a mortal sin continues. Kind of a sad state of affairs, when you stop to think about it: either vote to continue George W. Bush’s policies and to put Sarah Palin one heartbeat away from the presidency, or burn for eternity. Talk about a no-win situation. Either way you end up in the same place.

From the Modesto Bee:

Parishioners of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto have been told they should consider going to confession if they voted for Barack Obama, because of the president-elect’s position condoning abortion.

“If you are one of the 54 percent of Catholics who voted for a pro-abortion candidate, you were clear on his position and you knew the gravity of the question, I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion. Don’t risk losing your state of grace by receiving sacrilegiously,” the Rev. Joseph Illo, pastor of St. Joseph’s, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 21.

The bishop of the Stockton, Calif., Diocese has disavowed Illo’s statements, by the way. The church hierarchy in South Carolina did the same thing when a priest there made a similar statement. So this is hardly a fair basis for denouncing the Catholic Church as a whole (although the church’s frequent politicking for GOP candidates based upon the abortion issue remains very troubling).

Still, the historical irony hangs thick here. Back in 1960, one of John Kennedy’s biggest challenges, in running for the White House, was convincing people that as president he wouldn’t take orders from the pope. This led to Kennedy’s famous speech in support of the separation of church and state. Due largely to Kennedy’s success, prejudice against Catholic candidates has largely disappeared in this country.

It’s almost as though these priests want to bring it back.

Rich folks who’ll have no trouble getting into heaven

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Matthew 19:24

Here’s a story of some rich folks who should have no problem getting into the Kingdom of God:

CHICAGO - Dave Tiderman wondered if the decimal point was in the wrong place when he opened his $35,000 company bonus. Jose Rojas saw his $10,000 check and thought, “That can’t be right.”

Valentin Dima watched co-workers breaking down in tears over their bonus checks and didn’t trust his emotions. He drove home first, then opened his envelope: $33,000.

Year-end bonuses are rare these days. Rarer still is what the Spungen family, owners of a ball bearings company in Waukegan, Ill., about 40 miles north of Chicago, did as they sold the business.

They gave out whopping thank-you bonuses.

Cool, huh?

Read the rest here.

Deepish thought: Bush is like the flu

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Waiting for Jan. 20 and the end of the Bush reign is sort of like waiting for the 24-hour flu to be over. You know that the misery will be over fairly soon, but somehow that doesn’t make hugging the toilet all that much more palatable.

Losing sleep over India and Pakistan

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Ripples that are only just beginning to spread out from the Mumbai terrorist attacks will, almost certainly, soon lead to an extraordinarily dangerous situation in the region. India is likely to take a very tough line with Pakistan, especially if, as early speculation holds, Pakistani groups turn out to have been involved in the attacks. 

At a minimum, the Indian government will demand the Pakistan leadership take drastic action against any groups suspected of complicity, probably with US support. And if Pakistan fails to respond to its satisfaction, the two nuclear powers may soon find themselves in a showdown. On the other hand, if the Pakistani government gives in to Indian demands there is the very real risk it could be destabilized domestically, perhaps even leading it to become a failed nuclear state.

Plainly, this is a situation that cries out for a delicate and nuanced response by the United States.

Thank God we still have a president who is notoriously good at that delicate and nuanced stuff.

To state the obvious, January 20 can’t get here fast enough.

I’m flexible enough to bitch and trust at the same time

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

The liberal web is full of two competing, but obviously interrelated, story lines:

First, we have the “all hope is lost” thesis. Connoisseurs of this worldview hold that Barack Obama’s appointment of so many Washington and Wall Street insiders to his administration proves his change mantra was a lie.

Second, we have the “just trust the man” thesis. Devotees to this view respond that everyone is getting ahead of themselves. The appointments so far tell us nothing, they insist, since it’s programs and policies that will determine the ideological tilt of the new administration, not who’s appointed to administer those initiatives.

Not surprisingly, Obama himself is pushing the second interpretation. This from TPM:

A very interesting moment at Obama’s presser on the economy today: He made a strong “buck stops here” statement, and offered perhaps his most extensive response yet to concerns in some quarters that his hiring of people with Washington and Clinton administration experience undercuts his administration’s promise of change.

His remarks at the presser — which was held to announce the appointment of Paul Volcker as chair of a new President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board — came in response to a question about his hiring of Washington insiders.

Obama said that the American people would be “deeply troubled” if he didn’t hire people with governing experience at a moment of such crisis, said they were merely tasked with implementing his vision, and placed the responsibility for creating that vision squarely on his own shoulders.

“That’s my job,” Obama said, adding that it “is to provide a vision where we are going and to make sure that my team is implementing it.”

Speaking for myself, I intend to be a faithful adherent to both of these competing schools of thought, and see no inherent conflict in doing so. Yes, I do trust Obama. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to bitch at him a lot.

If there’s one thing the right wing loudmouths should have taught us over the last decade or two, it’s that the squeaky wheel really does get the grease. Or at least it gets a modicum of attention.

I’m fully capable of steadfastly supporting Obama, while regularly squeaking at him at the same time, thank you very much.

Random thoughts about Ralph Nader

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Have you heard that Ralph Nader is thinking of running for president again in 2012?

I always thought Nader was on his way to becoming the new Harold Stassen.

It turns out, instead, he’s become the new Pat Paulsen.

On a somewhat serious note, I’ve never hidden my anger at Nader (but not at his voters who had the right to vote however they chose) over election 2000. It isn’t just the fact Nader holds some culpability in giving us George W. Bush’s rein of ruin: it’s the contemptuous way he treated those of us who supported Al Gore, the way he ridiculed our concern over things like the Supreme Court (can anyone say Alito and Roberts?).

But being mad at Ralph is getting kind of boring after all these years.

What I feel now is more like a faint sadness — sadness that someone who did so much for this country as a consumer advocate has made the apparently conscious decision to turn himself into a bad joke.

Great philosophical quandaries of our time

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

If change falls in a forest and nobody hears, is it really change?

How many Clintonites can you dance on the head of a pin, or in the bowels of a new administration?

If keeping the same Secretary of Defense is change, exactly what is staying the course?

Oh well, at least we can take comfort in knowing that Joe Lieberman is happy.

And I’m one of the folks who is still giving Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt. I hate to think what the cynics are saying now.

The smart pardon Bush probably won’t give — Don Siegelman

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth going on right now over the subject of pardons. People want to know which of a long list of well-connected Republican malefactors — which few lucky duckies out of a sky saturated with wayward fowl — George W. Bush will decide to pardon on his way out the door. It’s get out of jail free card time in Republican World, and everyone wants to know: who will get the golden ticket? And who will be left holding the bag?  

Much of this concern, of course, relates to the possibility Bush may try to shoot the moon, issuing one all-encompassing pardon protecting everyone who’s ever participated in torture. For what it’s worth, I don’t see that happening. It’s too much like an admission of guilt by people who are too dumb — and morally deficient — to realize just how guilty they are. Besides, they know Obama doesn’t have the stomach to prosecute.

Then, of course, there’s Scooter Libby. A pardon for the Scootinator would seem an almost certainty, no doubt part of the original deal under which he took the fall for Uncle Dick.

How about Ted Stevens? Hell, I might even be willing to sign onto that one. Now that he’s out of the Senate, who really wants to see the Alaskan octogenarian in an orange jumpsuit anyway? Sure, he’s a mean SOB and a crook to boot, but somehow I just don’t see him doing time at age 85. Besides, the DC Circuit will likely find a way to cut him loose anyway (it tends to decide cases in Republican friendly ways), so we might just as well save the taxpayers the cost of the appeal.

Once you get past Scooter and Ted, however, things start to get interesting. There’s clearly a veritable swamp of illegality festering in the White House. Much of it will soon see the light of day. But who among the likely suspects will be lucky enough to receive a pardon?

Dick Cheney? Karl Rove? (Slate has a list of some of the possibilities). We probably won’t know the final answer until Jan. 20.

But if Bush were smart (yeah, I know, if pigs could fly and all that) there’s another name — one that appears on no one’s list of likely Bush pardons — which would make it to the top of the list: former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. The shamefulness of the politically motivated prosecution of Siegelman, a Democrat, has been thoroughly established.

As I said in a post a number of months ago, there is simply no room left for doubt that the Bush Administration, in a glaring violation of well established ethical precepts, not to mention common decency, used the Justice Department to take down the former Governor of Alabama for political reasons. And in the process, it appears very likely they sent an innocent man to prison.

In that same post, I suggested that Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey’s reputation was on the line with Siegelman. If he failed to aggressively investigate this injustice, and failed to end the cover-up at Justice, he would face devastating long term damage to his professional standing.

Well, that pig seems to have already flown the coop, hasn’t it?

Still, even though Mukasey (not unexpectedly) crapped out as the champion of justice in the Siegelman case, Bush still has a chance. It would be an act of utter genius. He wouldn’t have to actually admit that the Justice Department engaged in a political prosecution (at the behest of Karl Rove). He could say it was a humanitarian gesture: a desire to put any questions as to the fairness of the prosecution to rest.

Then, having pardoned a former Democratic officeholder, he’d have some cover for cutting a few of his own buddies loose. Better still, if the Democrats were to then continue to push the investigation into the politicization of Justice (as they should), Republicans could accuse them of a shameful political witch-hunt after Bush’s “statesman-like” action.    

Siegelman, who looks likely to score a reversal of his conviction, might not even want a pardon from Bush. But that’s the beauty of the thing: it’s not his choice. And for Bush, it would be a masterful play.

He won’t do it, of course. He’s neither bright nor flexible enough. But he’ll be passing up a hell of a bet.

I’m so old . . .

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

I can remember back when $700 or $800 billion was real money.