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Clinton in Brussels: she’s got them eating out of her hand

Friday, March 06, 2009

By Tony Barber
The Financial Times

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just finished a question-and-answer session with a group of so-called “young Europeans” at the European Parliament in Brussels. Even though her performance lasted less than an hour, by the end she had them eating out of her hand and she received a standing ovation.

The best moment came when she caught sight of a semi-shaven man sporting an “I love Hillary” T-shirt. She said she simply had to take a question from him because of what he was wearing. The guy turned out to be an English-speaking gay rights activist from Moldova, and he wanted to know what the Obama administration would do for the world’s gays and lesbians. Putting on her best stateswoman-like face, Clinton replied: “Human rights is and always will be one of the pillars of our foreign policy. In particular, persecution and discrimination against gays and lesbians is something we take very seriously.” Lots of applause followed.

Clinton’s performance was brilliantly executed in that she pitched her message at exactly the level the European audience wanted. They wanted to hear an American talk like a European, and that’s what they got....(Click for remainder.)


The Big Dither

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Last month, in his big speech to Congress, President Obama argued for bold steps to fix America’s dysfunctional banks. “While the cost of action will be great,” he declared, “I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade.”

Many analysts agree. But among people I talk to there’s a growing sense of frustration, even panic, over Mr. Obama’s failure to match his words with deeds. The reality is that when it comes to dealing with the banks, the Obama administration is dithering. Policy is stuck in a holding pattern.

Here’s how the pattern works: first, administration officials, usually speaking off the record, float a plan for rescuing the banks in the press. This trial balloon is quickly shot down by informed commentators.

Then, a few weeks later, the administration floats a new plan. This plan is, however, just a thinly disguised version of the previous plan, a fact quickly realized by all concerned. And the cycle starts again.

Why do officials keep offering plans that nobody else finds credible? Because somehow, top officials in the Obama administration and at the Federal Reserve have convinced themselves that troubled assets, often referred to these days as “toxic waste,” are really worth much more than anyone is actually willing to pay for them — and that if these assets were properly priced, all our troubles would go away....(Click for remainder.)


Who Is the Real Charles Krauthammer?

By Scott Horton
Harper's Magazine

I have long found Charles Krauthammer one of the more fascinating figures on the neoconservative right. He’s intellectually and analytically gifted, so much so that I often read through one of his columns and come away suspicious. He’s too smart to actually believe this vacuous drivel. And he’s from French-speaking Canada to boot but he writes as if he hailed from the American heartland. But then who knows? I don’t know Krauthammer personally.

On the other hand, Rick Hertzberg does. He has a post up at The New Yorker that makes for a fascinating read and confirms a lot of what I long suspected about Krauthammer’s political trajectory.
In 1978, when I first met Charles, he had recently left the practice of psychiatry and was in the process of landing a speechwriting job with then-Vice-President Walter Mondale. Charles’s political views back then? I’d estimate them at 70 per cent Mondale liberal, 30 per cent “Scoop Jackson Democrat,” i.e., hard-line on Israel and relations with the Soviet Union. During the nineteen eighties, Charles and I were colleagues at the New Republic. By halfway through the decade, he was 50-50: still fairly liberal on economic and social questions but a full-bore foreign-policy neoconservative. Since foreign policy was all he really cared about, he might as well have been 70-30. We argued a lot. The whole staff argued a lot. The quality of the arguments was fairly high. I have to say this for working for TNR: it was intellectually bracing.
(Click for remainder.)


Blaming The White House For The Limbaugh Flap?

By Steve Benen
Washington Monthly

Time's Michael Scherer has a provocative piece today, arguing that the White House is not only wrong to criticize Rush Limbaugh, it's also largely responsible for the recent controversy surrounding the right-wing radio host.
President Obama won the presidency by promising to be a different, more substantive, less gimmicky leader. He said he would not waste our time on "phony outrage," like fulminations on the meaning of "lipstick on a pig," or silly characters like "Joe The Plumber," a guy who was actually named Samuel and was not even a licensed plumber. No, Obama said he was going to solve problems instead. Now that he is in the White House, he still makes this case, almost every day. On Wednesday morning, during an address about contracting reforms, he referred dismissively to the "chatter on the cable stations."

But what is the chatter on the cable stations? For most of this week, and for much of the last month, it has been about Rush Limbaugh. Hour after hour, daytime pundits are asked a litany of banal Rush questions: Does Rush really run the Republican Party? Why did RNC chair Michael Steele apologize to Rush? What does it mean that Rush addressed conservatives last weekend? As Jonathan Martin makes clear in the Politico today, this entire controversy has been cooked up and force fed to the American people by Obama's advisers. In other words, it's not the kind of change you can believe in.
I think Scherer's mistaken for a few reasons here. First, it's true that President Obama hopes to elevate the discourse, but I don't think the Limbaugh discussion is evidence to the contrary. Indeed, while the White House has an interest in undermining the president's critics, Obama and his aides have invested very little energy into this.

Second, it's also true that Limbaugh has been a major topic of conversation, but Scherer pointing the finger at the president doesn't make sense. Obama doesn't decide what becomes cable fodder, has nothing to do with the remarks uttered at CPAC, and he certainly doesn't dictate the intra-party disputes among conservative Republicans. (If the president orchestrated the Steele-Rush back and forth, Obama is far more talented than I give him credit for.)...(Click for remainder.)


Accountability Debate: Less Amnesty, More Prosecution

By Scott Horton
Harper's Magazine

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee looked into the idea of a commission to investigate possible criminal conduct by the Bush Administration. It was a curious affair, with Republicans joining together to criticize the commission concept on the grounds that it might get in the way of efforts to prosecute the Bush team. Daphne Eviatar of the Washington Independent summarized it this way:
“If there’s reason to believe that these Justice Department officials have given approval for things that they know not to be lawful and sound, go after them,” [Ranking Member Arlen Specter] said, referring to recent memos released from the Office of Legal Counsel that authorized extreme and arguably illegal executive powers. “Some of the opinions that are now disclosed are more than startling — they’re shocking.” The revelations, said Specter, who’s a former federal prosecutor, are “starting to tread on what may disclose criminal conduct,” he said. The witnesses called to support the Republican position seemed to agree.

David Rivkin, a former Justice Department official in the Reagan and first Bush Administrations, called a truth commission “a profoundly bad idea, a dangerous idea, both for policy and for me as a lawyer for legal and constitutional reasons.” Such a commission “is to establish a body to engage in what, in essence, is a criminal investigation of former Bush Administration officials,” he said. Matters such as the interrogation and treatment of terror suspects and domestic warrantless wiretapping, however, are “are heavily regulated by comprehensive criminal statutes.” Any such investigation, then, “ensures that the commission’s activities would inevitably invade areas traditionally the responsibility of the Department of Justice.” Rivkin went on to strengthen the case for a criminal prosecutions by arguing that if a commission were to unearth evidence of criminal activity and not prosecute it, it would leave former Bush Administration officials open to prosecution abroad.
Of course, the Federalist Society and its network have adopted it as an article of faith that inquiries into abuses of presidential power by Republicans are a bad idea–which makes sense given how often these inquiries tend to come to a focus on Federalist Society members. But Rivkin is plainly correct that a commission and a team of federal prosecutors are likely to cross paths and get in the way of one another in sorting through the Bush mess....(Click for remainder.)


Sen. Whitehouse Interrogates David Rivkin About Establishing a Commission to Investigate Bush Crimes


Fox News Poll: Obama's Economics More Popular Than Ronald Reagan's

By DemFromCT
Daily Kos

Fox News ran a poll showing Obama's job approval is at 63% (down from 65% in January up from 60% in Feb), and he's running 61-24 approval with independents, similar to other polls. But the more interesting poll numbers are these:

Do you support or oppose raising taxes on households earning over $250,000 a year and, at the same time, lowering taxes for most other households?

Support Oppose (Don’t know)
total 66% 30 3
Democrats 86% 13 2
Republicans 41% 53 5
Independents 71% 27 2


What do you think the nation's economy needs more of right now -- the economic policies of Ronald Reagan or the economic policies of Barack Obama?

Reagan Obama (Don’t know)

total 40% 49 11
Democrats 14% 78 9
Republicans 76% 16 9
Independents 35% 50 15

(Click for remainder.)


The NAACP Takes a Stance Against Prop. 8

Last week, the national office of the NAACP took its first stance on gay-marriage rights. The move thrusts the debate over gay rights in the black community back into the spotlight.

By Adam Serwer
The American Prospect

Back in November, the wounds in the black community over California's Proposition 8 were still fresh. The community was divided between more conservative leaders, often clergy, who oppose marriage equality for religious reasons, and civil- and human-rights activists who saw the ballot initiative to prohibit same-sex marriage as a civil-rights violation they could not countenance. While the California chapter of America's oldest civil-rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had come out in opposition to Prop. 8, the national office had remained silent.

The NAACP has been walking a tightrope on gay rights. Polls show that African Americans overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage, but much of the high-level leadership of the nation's oldest civil-rights organization opposes legal efforts to deny gays the right to marry. Last week, the national office of the NAACP leapt into the fray when it sent a letter to California legislators urging them to support legislation that would repeal Prop. 8. After meeting with the National Black Justice Coalition, a black LGBT-rights group, and the leadership of the California State Conference, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and NAACP President Ben Jealous agreed to come out publicly in support of repealing Prop. 8.

The move thrusts the NAACP into the middle of a fight that, until now, it has largely avoided, because of the risk of alienating both board-level leadership and rank-and-file members. The California legislature approved a nonbinding resolution yesterday describing Prop. 8 as an improper revision of the state constitution. The resolution contends that Prop. 8 should have passed a two-thirds majority of the legislature before being placed on the ballot. The California Supreme Court is scheduled to hear challenges to Prop. 8 on Thursday.

Jason Bartlett, deputy director of the National Black Justice Coalition, was excited by the NAACP's move: "It's the boldest thing I've seen in some time, definitely the boldest thing that they've done on gay rights. … It's historic." Bartlett argues that the NAACP intervening on behalf of gay rights will give other black leaders and organizations cover to do the same. At a meeting of the Caucus of Black State Legislators in December 2008, Bartlett, who is also a state legislator in Connecticut, unsuccessfully tried to get the CBSL to take a position on gay rights. He was rebuffed.

"An executive board member said, 'We will not be the first mainstream black organization to take a position.'" Bartlett says. "In other words, we're not going alone."

With cover from the NAACP, black organizations moving toward support of LGBT rights won't have to go it alone anymore. At the same time, the NAACP still has to deal with opposition to gay rights from within its own ranks. "There is a lot of homophobia in the NAACP," says California Conference President Alice Huffman, who was also a paid consultant to the "No on 8" campaign. "There are a lot of Christians who feel threatened."...(Click for remainder.)


Jon Steward Defenistrates The "Pig Man", YAY!


Shuster Neuters Ari Fleischer Over GOP Hypocrisy Over Limbaugh Dust Up

Ah, it's a beautiful thing when these knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathers get their asses handed to them by their intellectual betters. (Well to be honest, any good nematode is the intellectual better of 99.9% of conservatives; but this is still great).


House Strikes Deal for Rove Testimony

The House Judiciary Committee cut a deal with representatives of ex-President George W. Bush that will result in aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers testifying in Congress’s long-running investigation into the firings of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006. But the testimony, at least for the time being, will not be public.

By Jason Leopold
Consortium News

Democrats in Congress have been seeking testimony from Miers and Rove about the Bush administration’s firing of the nine U.S. Attorneys, who were deemed not “loyal Bushies.” Bush barred the witnesses from cooperating by asserting a broad claim of executive privilege. Before leaving office, Bush insisted that his executive privilege extended into his post-presidency.

Rove and Miers will provide “transcribed depositions under penalty of perjury,” the panel’s chairman, John Conyers said in a statement released Wednesday. Conyers said an agreement was reached "that invocations of official privileges would be significantly limited."

Conyers said the Judiciary Committee reserves the right to have Rove and Miers testify publicly in the future, but he did not indicate when that might happen.

"I have long said that I would see this matter through to the end and am encouraged that we have finally broken through the Bush administration's claims of absolute immunity,” Conyers said. “This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight.

“It is also a vindication of the search for truth. I am determined to have it known whether U.S. Attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for political reasons, and if so, by whom."

Conyers said the Judiciary Committee also had reached an agreement with the Bush administration to secure White House documents that may contain information about the U.S. Attorney firings....(Click for remainder.)


The White House's secret strategy to destroy Rush Limbaugh. So secret that no one told any of us

By John Aravosis

Our corporate media is in a tizzy today, accusing the White House of coordinating the entire media blow up over Rush Limbaugh this past week. Well, that's an interesting bit of fantasy. Let me dissect this for our friends in the media who are a tad too stupid and gullible for our own good.

1. So you mean, Barack Obama is behind GOP chair Michael Steele exploding the Limbaugh story in the news this past week by calling Limbaugh an ugly and incendiary entertainer. Wow, he is powerful, that Obama. Even controlling the head of the entire Republican party, and getting him to say something characteristically stupid. How does Obama do it?

2. And Barack Obama is behind Limbaugh publicly responding to Steele, suggesting that no one should donate to the Republican party, and suggesting that maybe Steele should just kill himself. Again, damn powerful, that all-knowing Oz.

3. Barack Obama is the reason the media, including FOX News, jumped on the Limbaugh-Steele feud and rode it for days. Please explain this one to me. How does it work? A reporter says to his editor, "Hey, did you see the head of the Republican party savaged Rush Limbaugh, right as he was speaking at the largest gathering of conservatives in the country, as their number one speaker, and then Limbaugh responded by suggesting that the head of the party kill himself." Your editor says, "not a story." You say, "Barack Obama?" Your editor says, "Oh my God, print it! But make sure you don't mention anything about Obama in the story because Obama is really the one behind the entire story!"

4. And apparently Barack Obama made Rush Limbaugh say, a good month ago, that he hopes Obama fails at trying to save the economy. You'll recall that this is the reason Rush has been in the news the past month. Obama is so all powerful, he somehow forced Limbaugh to say something stupid. Uh huh. Yeah, that was certainly an unexpected first for Limbaugh, saying something ugly and incendiary. Clearly, Obama was behind it all.

I suppose that Barack Obama was also behind my co-blogger Joe Sudbay and me suggesting to a number of our non-administration political friends this past week, in private, that we all ought to really jump on this Limbaugh story. Joe and I had this discussion many days before Rahm mentioned Limbaugh on the Sunday shows. (And let's not forget, Rahm mentioned Limbaugh AFTER Limbaugh and Steele started publicly savaging each other.) So was Obama secretly sending microwaves into our brains to get us to push the story?...(Click for remainder.)


Staving off another Great Depression

With housing and investment plummeting and unemployment soaring, Americans are firmly behind Obama's economic agenda.

By Dean Baker
The Guardian UK

The Washington policy debates of the last week would almost make a casual observer believe that the nation's political leadership is in fact nostalgic for the good old days of the Great Depression when the country suffered double-digit unemployment for a decade.

The two big news items last week were a batch of absolutely horrible economic reports and the release of President Barack Obama's budget. The media almost completely ignored the former and focused its attention primarily on the latter. So, let's start with the bad news.

As can be expected, much of the bad news centred on housing. The National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales fell below 4.5 million for the first time since the mid-90s. They also reported that the median house price dropped another $5,400 in January or 3.1%.

Since July, this series shows a drop in the median home price of 18.9%. Other data also showed house prices in a free fall, most notable the commerce department's series on new home sales, which showed a drop of 10% in the median price between December and January. With vacant housing units at record levels, and many potential home buyers no longer having the equity in their current homes for a down payment, it is difficult to see how this free fall stops any time soon.

Housing isn't the only sector that's plummeting. Investment fell at a 28% rate in the fourth quarter, the sharpest rate of decline in more than 50 years. New orders have fallen more than 5% in each of the last two months....(Click for remainder.)


My Dearest, Darling, David Brooks ...

By Nance Gregg
Democratic Underground

I am prompted to respond to your most recent column – because I can’t help but wonder where the fuck you’ve been for the past eight years.

“You wouldn’t know it some days, but there are moderates in this country — moderate conservatives, moderate liberals, just plain moderates.”

Yeah, please forgive we liberals for forgetting you were out there – a situation undoubtedly triggered by the fact that you so-called “moderates” were busy plastering “Support the Troops” bumper-stickers on your cars, and affixing flag-pins to your lapels while the Bush administration was being – oh, yeah, what’s the word? – IMMODERATE in every policy and action. Where were you then?

“But the Obama budget is more than just the sum of its parts. There is, entailed in it, a promiscuous unwillingness to set priorities and accept trade-offs. There is evidence of a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.”

Right off the top, forgive me, but the use of the word “promiscuous” coming from anyone on the other side of the aisle (even you moderates) is laughter-inducing. Vitter, Foley, Craig – ring a bell? Oh, that’s right – you were too busy being moderate to have noticed that “promiscuous” thingy going on. And Jeff Gannon – remember him? – funny how you and your ilk didn’t notice him.

As for being “…caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once,” let me set you straight. President Obama hasn’t been called upon by history – he’s been called upon by the American citizenry to, as best he can, undo the absolute fuckin’ mess YOUR pResident [sic] created – yes, YOUR president – the one you couldn’t be bothered to criticize or admonish in any way....(Click for remainder).


Kill The Filibuster

The Senate's supermajority rule for ending filibusters is standing in the way of progress and needs to be eliminated.

By George Kenney
The Los Angeles Times (Opinion)

During a time when the nation will need a lot of legislation quickly, it seems absurd that the Senate binds itself to an obsolete supermajority rule requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster and force a vote. What's so magic about the number 60? Why should 41 senators -- coincidentally the current number of Republicans -- be able to block public policy indefinitely?

It's not because the Constitution requires it. It's because of Senate Rule 22 on cloture, adopted in 1917 and changed in 1975 (requiring a three-fifths vote instead of two-thirds) -- and it's merely a Senate tradition. (In contrast, the House, which originally also practiced filibusters, found them cumbersome and, by 1842, eliminated them.)

Once the Senate has a quorum, a majority vote on any issue carries the day, with five exceptions enumerated in the Constitution: impeachment, expulsion of members, veto overrides, confirmation of treaties and constitutional amendments. Otherwise, all that the Constitution tells the Senate is that it is free to make up its own rules.

However, the Senate has its reasons for keeping a supermajority requirement, and here are two they will say out loud: It preserves fellowship among the senators, and delayed legislation often results in improved legislation....(Click for remainder).


Hoping For Failure

Limbaugh: "The dirty little secret ... is that every Republican in this country wants Obama to fail, but none of them have the guts to say so; I am willing to say it".

Watch the three videos below to see Rush Limbaugh talk about wanting Obama to fail:



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