2010/07/31

Proposed piece: "Where's the peace movement?"

Backstory: Couple of years ago, an executive from the Inky advised us to write articles for the paper. I composed one and sent it in, but it was rejected and they never even told me why, so I stopped. A few days ago, a right-winger in the online comments section of the paper stated that we weren't out in the streets protesting because Obama was a Democrat. When I said that wasn't true, he asked me "Where's the peace movement? I haven't seen a protest since Obama became president." I wrote out an answer, but the Inky didn't see fit to post it, so the following is my answer.

What's the peace movement doing these days? Are they quiet because the peace movement was always just a way to attack a Republican President and now that the President is a Democrat, they're demobilized?

Actually, there was a march back in October 2009 in Philadelphia and another one in Washington DC in March 2010. The NorthWest Greens of Germantown continue to do a weekly vigil at the Borders Bookstore there and the First United Methodist Church of Germantown and other peaceniks do a monthly vigil a few blocks North of City Hall. But yeah, okay, there aren't that major street actions these days. Why would that be?

Well, the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq proceeds on the schedule agreed upon by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former US President George W. Bush. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is expected to end by August 2010, the troop level is scheduled to be 50,000 by September 1st and US forces are expected to withdraw completely by the end of 2011. There's really nothing for the peace movement to complain about here as the withdrawal schedule is a matter of an international treaty between two sovereign nations and neither nation appears to have any desire to renegotiate anything about it.

Withdrawal from Afghanistan appeared to also be on schedule until late July 2010 when Vice-President Joe Biden suggested that in July 2011, the scheduled date for the beginning of the withdrawal of US forces from there could see as few as “a couple of thousand” US troops depart. Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, testified as to the benchmarks that the US will be utilizing to track the progress towards a full US withdrawal and those benchmarks appear to be awfully vague and frankly, just plain unmeasurable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also recently suggested that US troops will be departing as late as the end of 2014.

So, until just a few weeks ago, there may have been suspicions, but there was no real proof that the Obama Administration was planning to overstay its welcome in Afghanistan. Anti-war groups in Philadelphia had already agreed to hold actions in early October 2010 and they're sure to call attention to the administration's plans for remaining in Afghanistan.

But no, I think we can safely say that the relative quiet of the peace movement for the past two years has nothing to do with the president being a Democrat and everything to do with conditions on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2010/07/20

The Obama Administration should hang its head in shame

Shirley Sherrod, the USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, told a story from 24 years ago, the heavily-edited tape from that speech was shown and the Obama Administration acted like a bunch of hysterical children, firing Sherrod immediately. Did they get her side of the story first? They say they did, but that appears to an after-the-fact butt-covering excuse. The statement by Tom Vilsack, the US Secretary of Agriculture, said:

The controversy surrounding her comments would create situations where her decisions, rightly or wrongly, would be called into question making it difficult for her to bring jobs to Georgia.

But if her statements were completely fair and appropriate, and the statements were made at an NAACP Freedom Fund dinner, and somehow nobody there got the impression that there was anything controversial about them, then I dunno, but it seems to me that the Cabinet member, and most likely the President who backed up the decision, overreacted to a smear job.

A right-wing blogger, the Anchoress, suspected right off the bat that there was a lot more to the speech by Sherrod than the heavily-edited tape that was released by Andrew Breitbart was letting on:

Doesn't it seem like, after all of that sort of winking, "you and I know how they really are" racist crap wherein Sherrod-intentionally or not-indicts her own narrow focus, she was heading to a more edifying message? What did it open her eyes about? Was she about to say "I took him to one of his own, but it shouldn't have mattered about that; my job was to serve all the farmers who needed help."
Was she about to say, "I learned about myself and about how far we still have to go?" [all emphases in original]

At the same link, MMFA reviews Breitbart's frequent problems with the truth, which of course makes the Obama Administration look even worse. They apparently took the word of a known con man over that of one of their own employees. Speaking from my own experience, I was in the Navy for almost a decade. If I had been caught in an embarrassing posture like Sherrod was, the procedures for my supervisors to have followed would have been crystal clear. My immediate supervisor would have been called. My supervisor would have huddled with me. He/she and I would have gone up the chain of command and would have spoken to the Department Head or the Executive Officer. After that, various huddles would have been held, with people bringing their viewpoints to the Commanding Officer and would probably have resulted in a meeting of myself, my supervisor, my Department Head, the XO and the CO. The final decision would have been something that more or less everybody would have been satisfied was the right thing to do. If I had been right, the chain of command would have stood by me. Had I been wrong, they would have dumped me overboard. But this kind of hasty, panicked decision? This kind of unhinged hysteria?

Sherrod told CNN on Tuesday that she was told repeatedly to resign Monday afternoon after the clip surfaced. "They harassed me," she said. "I got three calls from the White House. At one point they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and do it because you are going to be on Glenn Beck tonight."

Seriously, the White House needs to hang its collective head in shame.

Update by Susan (DailyKos): And some rollback and apologies begin, according to Bloomberg:
The Obama administration apologized to a black USDA employee who was forced to resign after an edited video clip of her remarks suggested she acted with racial bias in dealing with a white farmer 24 years ago.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack acted without having all the information about the speech by Shirley Sherrod at an NAACP banquet in Georgia in March. Vilsack is trying to contact Sherrod to discuss whether she will return to the agency, he said.
“A disservice was done,” Gibbs said at a White House briefing. “The secretary will apologize for the actions that have taken place over the past 24 to 36 hours.”
"Disservice" is putting it mildly.
Update: Shirley Sherrod has accepted the apology.

2010/07/17

The New Black Panther Party non-story

Stick a fork in it, it's done. Abigail Thernstrom is hardly a liberal on voting issues, but even she agrees that the New Black Panther Party and their antics during the 2008 election aren't worth all of the durm and strang that Fox News has applied to the complete non-story (Fox has featured the non-story 95 times as of July 16th). Fox News person Megyn Kelly defends paying so much attention to the non-story on the grounds of "fidelity to the law," but this concern of hers was something that suddenly appeared on January 20th, 2009. It was nowhere in evidence concerning Bush's warrantless surveillance or on the Bush/Cheney torture policies. So naturally, the WaPo Ombudsman is now convinced that his paper needs to start covering the story!

2010/07/15

The timidity of our press corps

Back during the 2008 campaign for the Presidency, Obama, Biden and McCain all found their religious viewpoints examined in great detail. In March 2008, ABC News felt comfortable covering the religious viewpoints, and specifically the religious advisers of, Democratic primary opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as well as those of John McCain. In September 2007, the Pew Research Center said frankly that Mitt Romney's Mormon faith was held against him to a degree, but in general, the public was inclined to see a mildly-religious candidate as a better one.

Knowledge Resources provides a guide to all of the 2008 candidates' views. Here are some of Sarah Palin's:

Palin’s Pentecostalism and strong social conservatism were among the factors that made her a controversial figure as the election progressed. She spoke about the role her faith played in helping her deal with criticism and her confidence that God would guide the election. She was criticized for stating that U.S. soldiers were on “a task from God” in Iraq, which she later qualified by explaining that she meant that she believes “there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good.” In her interview with Couric, Palin also affirmed her commitment to teaching evolution in school as an accepted scientific principle while allowing for discussion of creationism in classroom debates. However, Palin largely shied away from speaking about religion, discussing her beliefs and their influence on her politics almost exclusively when she was asked about them.

Pentecostalism was developed from 1913 to 1918 and modified in 1946. One of its primary tenets is:

...the Godhead does not consist of three distinct Persons with one substance. Instead, the single Person performs various roles to which He assigns the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As a direct result of this belief, Pentecostalism believe in "Jesus only" baptism and not baptism in the Holy Trinity and they also believe that the speaking of tongues during baptism indicates a "true" baptism. Did the media in general cover these rather unusual beliefs? In September 2008, PBS did a quickie, once-over-lightly survey of Palin's viewpoints, stating only that

Well, we've been reporting that evangelicals and conservative Catholics who were very lukewarm about John McCain have been thrilled with the selection of Sarah Palin, and so they're working harder, and they are energized.

Granted, most of the short piece focused upon how abortion and religion intersected and not upon religion per se. A Columbia Journalism Review piece from the same month goes over the various controversies over religion and Palin that occurred during the campaign and is notable for the fact that it mostly cites blogs and fairly low-profile reporters. The Washington Times and Rachel Maddow are the highest-profile sources that get cited. So no, the media in general did not cover Palin's beliefs the way they did Obama's, McCain's, Clinton's and Biden's.

The same type of shying away from uncomfortable topics is apparent in the media's coverage of race, specifically, in the way that the right wing treats it and our President. That there's racism being expressed by right-wing Republicans and especially by the Tea Party, is getting harder and harder to deny. The blogger Digby says, concerning Sarah Palin's use of the very racially loaded term "half-black":

That Palin would use this particular description in this particular discussion is revealing. Nobody other than right wingers with racist baggage describe him that way. I give her a break simply because I don't think she's sophisticated enough with language to necessarily know what she's saying.

Media Matters surveys the recent racist behavior and speech of prominent right wing figures like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and wonders why their views aren't really being covered by the media. The Washington Post/CNN media critic Howard Kurtz recently spoke about Rush Limbaugh's commentary, but MMFA noted some interesting sides to the story that Kurtz politely overlooks:

But please note the recent race-baiting comments that Kurtz could have highlighted on the same Reliable Sources show -- the ones in which Limbaugh claimed Obama was destroying America on purpose in order to make it pay for its historical sin of slavery and discrimination. Kurtz had nothing to say about the jaw-dropping attack that Limbaugh had made, claiming Obama was some sort of black Manchurian Candidate who ran for office because he hates America and specifically, because he resents white America. I wonder if Kurtz failed to highlight those dark, hateful comments because it would be virtually impossible for anyone to suggest that a case could be made that Limbaugh's race-baiting Obama comments were correct.

The problem appears to be that, as with Palin's apparently-heretical religion, it's simply not possible to really discuss racial issues and how Republicans are talking about them without getting, well, judgmental. Kurtz simply can't quote Limbaugh's more jaw-droppingly outrageous comments without appearing to be taking sides against him.

There are two kinds of objectivity. There is the kind where one holds one's fire and carefully considers both or more sides and then delivers a carefully-considered judgment, a judgment that one can comfortably back up with the facts. Then there's the other kind, where one simply doesn't take any position at all and holds ones' fire indefinitely. When one is asked for an opinion, one mumbles or engages in the equivalent of mumbling by delivering a fuzzy or an incoherent opinion.

Unfortunately, our traditional media press corps appears to have gotten very comfortable with the latter kind of pseudo-objectivity that only appears to be objectivity. I call it cowardice.

2010/07/14

Funny polling

"Funny" of course means suspicious here. The WaPo begins by asserting that President Obama's approval rating is seriously down "Public confidence in President Obama has hit a new low." The very first question asks for approval/disapproval and the "net" number is 50. Which is about where it's been since December of last year. Sure, confidence (Question 7) was 49 in August of last year and has declined to 43 now. In neither case are we looking at abrupt or massive changes.

I was accused of using a blog post that provided me with an "incorrect reading" and that led me to "publish falsehoods." Not so sure it does either. I quoted Question 26. The WaPo combines that with the previous question to arrive at a combined answer. I strongly disagree with them combining the two questions because they're very different questions. Question 25 asks whether the US should rely on the private sector or the government to pull the economy out of the ditch it's in. Question 26 asks if the US should spend lots of money regardless of whether or not it increases the deficit. Natcherly I agree with the 80% of the public who in Question 26 say "Yeah, go ahead and spend whatever" as the deficit is a vague, abstract concept that hasn't mean much of anything under Republican Presidents since Reagan, but which was regarded as tremendously significant under Carter, and then again under Clinton and then Obama. In any event, it really shouldn't mean a whole lot when we're trying to pull ourselves out of the kind of economic situation we're in.

Nah, this doesn't strike me as a poll designed to get objective measurements on public attitudes.

2010/07/11

Silliness from the opposition party

My, my, so what ideas for the nation are being proposed by today's Republican Party? Well, we've got this neat new website being touted as a way for citizens to tell the party what they want. Slight problem with how the idea is being executed, though:

Last week, the top five entries in the "Liberty and Freedom" category were: ban handguns, "drop the idea that we're a 'Christian' country," declare abortion "none of the government's business," allow gays to serve openly in the military and legalize marijuana.
Republican leaders mentioned none of these when they began highlighting proposals from the project.

Nothing wrong with saying certain citizen proposals are unacceptable, regardless of how popular they are with the public. Does kinda raise the question of why the party is even bothering to pretend that citizen input is even being solicited if party leaders are just going to cherry-pick the proposals they like anyway.


Sarah Palin starts off well:


"Something has to be done urgently to stop the out-of-control Obama-Reid-Pelosi spending machine, and no government agency should be immune from budget scrutiny."

Hmm, okay. I'll go with that. Sure, we can always find fraud, waste and abuse to cut out. How's things on the defense procurement front?


"Secretary Gates recently spoke about the future of the U.S. Navy. He said we have to ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 [billion] to $6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines and $11 billion carriers. He went on to ask, 'Do we really need . . . more strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?' " Palin said. "Well, my answer is pretty simple: Yes, we can and yes, we do, because we must."

Um. So let me get this straight. The "Obama-Reid-Pelosi spending machine" is "out-of-control" and allow me to emphasize this phrase here "...no government agency should be immune from budget scrutiny." But cutting unnecessary weapons systems is completely off the table.


Got it.


How's tax policy going? How is this whole "pay as you go" idea working out when it comes to the Bush tax cuts that did nothing to boost the economy?


WALLACE: We’re running out of time, so how are you going to pay $678 billion just on the tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year?

KYL: You should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes. Surely congress has the authority and it would be right, if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increased spending. And that’s what republicans object to. But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.

In other words, let's not cancel the useless Bush tax cuts, but the Minority Whip Senator John Kyl had zero problems voting against extending unemployment benefits for Americans who still don't have jobs. *Sigh*, so nice to see that some folks are so concerned about their fellow, less fortunate Americans.