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CO-SEN: Bennet Has Time for D.C. Reporters But Not for Colorado Voters

Thursday, March 26, 2009

By David Sirota
Open Left

I've been hosting the big drive-time progressive radio show here in Colorado for the last month, as regular host Jay Marvin has been out sick. In the last two weeks, callers have been increasingly venting their frustration with appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), both for his refusal to take a public position on the Employee Free Choice Act, and with his decision to join the "Conservadem" caucus whose "stated goal is to protect business interests," as the Wall Street Journal reports. Every day, AM760 producer John Turk has been calling Bennet's office, asking him to come on the show - even for 5 minutes - and explain his rationales to the audience. And unfortunately, everyday Bennet's office has told us he's too busy with Senate business.

That's fine - I get that senators can be busy, and even in a relatively small state where the press corps is manageably small, not every request can be fulfilled. However, what I don't get is an appointed senator in a swing state who has never faced voters having plenty of time to schmooze with Beltway reporters, but no time to explain himself to his constituents.

What am I talking about? Check out this Twitter note I caught from Chris Cillizza, the Washington Post blogger, just now:
Just back from lunch with Sen. Bennet (Colo.).
So evidently, Bennet has no time to get on the phone and join a public, 50,000-watt forum for tens of thousands of Colorado voters, but plenty of time to lunch with a Washington Post blogger.

Obviously, this is pretty telling on a number of levels....(Click for remainder).


The Wheels Have Completely Come Off Michelle Bachmann Wagon

By Steve Benen
Washington Monthly

For a while, it was fun to watch Republican lawmakers offer legislation to resist the non-existent push on the Fairness Doctrine. Maybe now we can shift to the Republicans' fears of a non-existent push for a global currency.
The madness continues as Michelle Bachmann introduces legislation that "would bar the dollar from being replaced by any foreign currency."

What the Chinese were proposing, of course, was to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency. I would take the view that a move away from near-exclusive reliance on the dollar is probably inevitable irrespective of what we do. But whether or not you agree with me about that, this isn't something congress can ban -- it's a decision by foreign countries about what they do with their reserves.
There's no way Democratic leaders are going to let Bachmann's proposal go forward, but the Minnesota Republican is apparently quite serious about this. She issued a press release this morning "demanding" that President Obama categorically rule out "abandoning" the U.S. dollar "for a multi-national currency." (That the president already addressed this in his prime-time press conference this week was apparently insufficient.)

Given that the real policy discussion here is about a foreign reserve currency, Greg Sargent asked Bachmann's press office whether Congress has the authority to legislate the financial decisions of foreign countries....(Click for remainder).


Why I Have No Sympathy for Jake DeSantis

By Mitchell Bard
The Huffington Post

On Tuesday the New York Times ran on its op-ed page the resignation letter written by Jake DeSantis, a vice president of AIG's infamous financial products division. DeSantis essentially argues that he had nothing to do with the credit default swaps that nearly brought down the company (and the world economy), and that since he agreed to work for a $1 salary plus his bonus, AIG CEO Edward Liddy should have stood up for him and "innocent" executives like him.

The lawyer in me (I should really say "recovering lawyer," since I haven't practiced in 15 years) understands his point. He contracted to work with his salary essentially being his bonus, and after fulfilling his obligations (he argues that it was a form of public service, but let's just stick to the idea that he served the company), the CEO is asking him to forgo his pay. It's an argument, in strictly letter-of-the-law terms, I could comfortably make to a judge or jury.

But as a person, I am not the least bit moved by DeSantis's point of view, because over the last several years, he has tremendously profited from a larger financial culture that is completely out of whack. Those working in the financial industry made untold sums of money from a bubble that was bound to burst, and they did so in an environment that rewarded risk with no consequences for failure....(Click for remainder).


Excerpt From Pres. Obama's Internet Town Hall


Why I Called Justice Scalia A Homophobe

By Rep. Barney Frank
The Huffington Post

While responding to questions from journalists about my characterization of Justice Antonin Scalia as a homophobe, I realized that the fact that I made that comment in conjunction with a potential lawsuit about the Defense of Marriage Act created some confusion as to my basis for that characterization.

My view that Justice Scalia is prejudiced against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is based, not on his position on marriage, but entirely on the angry minority opinions he wrote in two Supreme Court cases in which the majority held that gay and lesbian people had certain rights against discrimination regarding private consensual sex and political activity. In those two virulent dissents, Justice Scalia denounced the court majorities not simply for finding that it was unconstitutional to discriminate based on sexual orientation in cases involving political rights and the right to private consensual sex, but he also made it clear that in his view sex discrimination is not only permitted by the Constitution but is very much in society's interest because homosexuality deserves to be treated with not only disapproval, but legal disability.

This comes out most clearly in his very vigorous abjection to the court's decision to block a criminal prosecution against two men who had consensual sex in the privacy of their bedroom. And it is made very vivid in the passage in which he affirms society's right to treat homosexuals unequally by citing other categories which deserves such treatment -- beginning with murder....(Click for remainder).


GOP Budget Proposal: Massive Tax Cut For Wealthy

By Ryan Grim
The Huffington Post

House Republican leaders called a press conference Thursday to unveil their "alternative budget." While it was thin on specifics, it does include one major policy proposal: a huge tax cut for the wealthy.

Under the Republican plan, the top marginal tax rate would be slashed from 35 to 25 percent, facilitating a dramatic transfer of wealth up the economic scale. Anyone making more than a $100,000 would pay the top rate; those under would pay 10 percent.

"Two nights ago, the president said, 'We haven't seen a budget yet out of Republicans.' Well, it's just not true, because here it is, Mr. President," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), waving a blue document in the air.

"Today we're introducing a detailed road-to-recovery plan," he told the reporters. Other than the tax proposal, however, the plan was absent any details. Instead, it hammered the Democratic budget as too expensive.

Reporters -- mainstream, liberal and conservative -- greeted the Republican document with a collective scoff.

"Are you going to have any further details on this today?" the first asked.

"On what?" asked Boehner.

"There's no detail in here," noted the reporter....(Click for remainder).


The Party of No (Ideas)

By Steve Benen
Washington Monthly

About nine years ago, then-Gov. George W. Bush was asked about his budget experience. Bush said he was proud of what he'd put together: "It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."

Keep that quote in mind when considering the "budget" House Republicans unveiled this morning.
Stung by their stereotyping as the "party of no," House Republicans eagerly promoted the unveiling of their alternative to President Obama's budget today -- but when they finished speaking, reporters had one big question: Where's the actual budget? You know, the numbers that show deficit projections and discretionary spending?

There certainly was no hard budgetary data in the attractively designed 18-page packet that the House GOP handed out today, its blue cover emblazoned with an ambitious title: "The Republican Road to Recovery." When Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) was asked what his goal for deficit reduction would be -- President Obama aims to halve the nation's spending imbalance within five years -- Boehner responded simply: "To do better [than Obama]."
And that's really all we got. House GOP leaders held a press conference this morning to prove a) they could put together a budget; b) that they could be the "party of yes"; and c) that their agenda is about more than just saying the opposite of whatever President Obama wants.

Instead, they unveiled a "budget" with no numbers or even budget estimates, and spent most of the press conference criticizing the president....(Click for remainder).


Obama's Toxic Advisers

By Robert Scheer

Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont who is independent in spirit as well as party label, has placed a hold on President Obama’s nomination of Gary Gensler to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Sounds like a minor issue to get worked up about, but the senator is right. Like most Americans, I am eager for Barack Obama to succeed, but I see this appointment as further evidence that the president has entrusted his economic policy to the wrong people.
Gensler helped create this financial crisis when he was in the Treasury Department back in the Clinton era, when bipartisan cooperation with Wall Street lobbyists was all the rage. Sanders gets right to the point: “Mr. Gensler worked with Sen. Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan to exempt credit default swaps from regulation, which led to the collapse of AIG and has resulted in the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history.”

Sanders’ hold will not stop the Gensler nomination, because Congress and the president, recognizing the nation’s mood, want to give Wall Street whatever it wants to make the stock market go up. And Gensler is a reassuring figure to the moguls of finance; he was a partner at Goldman Sachs before being brought by Goldman honcho Robert Rubin to the Clinton Treasury Department.

After Rubin left to take a $20-million-a-year job at Citigroup, which he helped run into the ground, Lawrence Summers, his protégé and replacement at Treasury, elevated Gensler to be an undersecretary. Gensler then performed as Summers’ point man in advocating for deregulation legislation that enabled the current debacle....(Click for remainder).


Piyush "Deep Thoughts" Jindal Assertes He Is Not A Traitor

By Hunter
Daily Kos

Jindal, in a new "deep thought" from his speech last night in front of the NRCC. Apparently being against natural disaster preparedness wasn't working out for him, so he's moved on to more abstractly declaring himself against things, and stealing lines from Limbaugh to do it:
The suggestion behind the "do you want the President to fail question" is this -- If you don’t answer their question with a loud "NO" immediately, if you don’t express instant obedience to the question, then you are not really a patriot, and you are essentially trying to undermine America.
Oh, for the love of...

Jindal, you four-star general in the media army of conservative emptyheads, that's exactly what you, your party and the very people you're giving a speech to did during Bush's entire freakin' reign.  Whether it was attacking Iraq, or submitting to self-evidently asinine interpretations of international law, or U.S. law, or torture, or wiretapping, or privatizing social security, or even the freakin' debate over S-CHIP -- and that one was a challenge, but not one that went unmet -- there was always a moaning chorus of Republican assholes asserting, on the TV and radio, that if you didn't accept the most conservative Republican view of whatever-the-hell-the-thing-was (not just the president's view, mind you, but whichever conservative Republican was asserting the point), you maybe Were Not Really A Patriot.

It was said on the floors of the House and the Senate. It was said by pundits galore, from Rush Limbaugh on his radio show to Glenn Beck on CNN. It was the defining principle of Republican support -- that no matter what spectacular f-up the Republicans wanted to subject the country to, from war to economic parlor games, you were or weren't a patriot based on which side of the aisle you were on, and whether or not you were willing to put up with the notion that the conservative notion of blah-blah-blah was the only thing standing between us and destruction, and it was obvious that people who thought differently did not love their country enough to see it.

And on Fox News, on the radio, and on websites galore, it's still happening. Does Obama love America enough, if he's not willing to torture people in violation of the Geneva Conventions, or if he's going to "undermine capitalism" and bring on "socialism", through the monsterous travesty of returning to the nearly communistic American tax policies that existed during the Clinton or Bush I or Reagan administrations?...(Click for remainder).


Hemp Is Not Pot: It's the Economic Stimulus and Green Jobs Solution We Need

We can make over 25,000 things with it. Farmers love it. Environmentalists love it. You can't get high from it. So why is it still illegal?

By Dara Colwell

While Uncle Sam's scramble for new revenue sources has recently kicked up the marijuana debate -- to legalize and tax, or not? -- hemp's feasibility as a stimulus plan has received less airtime.

But with a North American market that exceeds $300 million in annual retail sales and continued rising demand, industrial hemp could generate thousands of sustainable new jobs, helping America to get back on track.

"We're in the midst of a dark economic transition, but I believe hemp is an important facet and has tremendous economic potential," says Patrick Goggin, a board member on the California Council for Vote Hemp, the nation's leading industrial hemp-farming advocacy group. "Economically and environmentally, industrial hemp is an important part of the sustainability pie."

With 25,000 known applications from paper, clothing and food products -- which, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal this January, is the fastest growing new food category in North America -- to construction and automotive materials, hemp could be just the crop to jump-start America's green economy.

But growing hemp remains illegal in the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Administration has lumped the low-THC plant together with its psychoactive cousin, marijuana, making America the planet's only industrialized nation to ban hemp production. We can import it from Canada, which legalized it in 1997. But we can't grow it....(Click for remainder).


The Right’s Twisted Blame Game

By Joe Conason

 As Barack Obama's economic advisers confront choices that vary from bad to worse in their mission to revive the financial sector and the broader economy, it is worth remembering that those choices were in essence inherited by the president, who is still new to his office. Listening to his critics, especially on the right, it would be easy to believe that the president is personally responsible for ballooning deficits, gigantic bailouts, ridiculous bonuses, nationalized institutions and careening markets. It would be easy to believe but it's entirely false—and merely the latest episode in an old political con game that is all too typical of Washington.

Ever since Election Day 2008, the usual suspects have been hard at work, deflecting responsibility from the Bush administration (and the Republicans in Congress) for the catastrophic effects of conservative policy enacted during the past eight years. Within days after Obama's victory, as stock prices fell, radio host and ideological commissar Rush Limbaugh exclaimed that we were already in the "Obama recession."

In fact, the economy had been shrinking for nearly a year by then, and the market was responding to bad economic news rather than the election result.

But facts are inconvenient for propaganda—especially when politicians and pundits are seeking to escape blame for policies that have failed.

Among the boldest perpetrators of this con game over the past few decades is Limbaugh, who shares with his fellow Republicans a peculiar method of timing the blame for economic woe. When he was flacking for the first President Bush back in 1992, he wrote: "The worst economic period in the last 50 years was under Jimmy Carter, which led to the 1981-82 recession, a recession more punishing than the current one." But of course the president during the 1982 recession was not named Carter; that president was the sainted Ronald Reagan....(Click for remainder).


Obama Rebuffs Texas' GOP Senators on Judicial Nominations

By Maria Recio
McClatchy Newspapers

 WASHINGTON — The White House has thrown down the gauntlet to Texas' Republican senators in the ongoing skirmish over control of nominations of judges, marshals and U.S. attorneys by saying that the state's 12 U.S. House Democrats will be central to the selection process.

"The Texas Democratic members of the House of Representatives have, at the request of the White House, engaged in a process that involves interviewing potential candidates for federal judge, U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal," the statement said.

"The White House supports the Texas Democratic delegation's established process for reviewing and submitting candidates. Individuals seeking these positions should utilize this process to ensure full consideration by the White House."

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who gave the White House release to reporters, has led the effort by Texas Democrats to play a deciding role in nominations, a role traditionally played by a state's senators.

Both Texas senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, are Republicans, but Democrats control the White House, as well as both chambers of Congress, leading Doggett to insist that House Democrats have a say....(Click for remainder).


Earth Hour 09 Video with Flagship Cities - Vote Earth


GOP Senator: Stimulus Working Already

By Ryan Grim
The Huffington Post

Federal stimulus dollars have begun to flow, initiating an "amazing" number of projects and creating jobs, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said Wednesday.

Snowe was one of three Republicans to support passage of the $787 billion stimulus package and has taken a beating form conservatives for doing so. But now that the checks are going out, she said, people can feel the benefits.

It's "paramount [for people] to see that activity, creating jobs or averting job losses," she said.

"Even those who were opposed to the stimulus spending will see some of the projects that are underway in their communities as they're initiated," she added. "I've just been meeting with a lot of municipal officials and really it is amazing the number of projects that are getting under way."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, predicted weeks ago that the terms of the debate would shift when the money went out.

"The anti-spending argument is at its strongest right now, because we've got the criticism without the benefits," he told the Huffington Post.

"If we're right, that spending is going to be more popular three and four and five months from now, because the economy starts to turn around, maybe at the end of the year, and there are police working and there are schools built. I expect to be taking credit for that all year."...(Click for remainder).


AP's Ron Fournier Concerned By Obama's Teleprompter "Crutch"

By Jason Linkins
The Huffington Post

You know, chances are, the Associated Press's Ron Fournier doesn't want to be thought of as weird or an ignorant guy, but he's not helping his cause any by pretending to be mystified by the existence of a device known as the Teleprompter. This is a device that has been around in some form since the 1950s, and which is now commonly used by people who give speeches for a living. Like, say, Presidents. Like, say, last night. But Fournier is strangely bemused by this reverse-engineered Martian technology that allows words to sinisterly dance in midair. His analysis piece is titled, "Teleprompter telegraphs Obama caution."

To be fair, the Teleprompter also telegraphs "words" that were written by "speechwriters" as a means of assisting the President to "explain" stuff "clearly." Before the advent of the Teleprompter, a President might have to "read" his remarks from "notes" written on "paper." Obama, however, apparently likes to face forward while reading the speeches he gives, like a goddamned Bolshevik.

Fournier characterizes the "Teleprompter" as Obama's "familiar crutch." That's strange. See, I would describe the Teleprompter as a "ubiquitous device used in virtually all political oratory." I might go so far as to suggest that it's the preferred tool of political orators in the delivery of political oratory. But for an alternate take, here's Jim Newell at Wonkette:
It seems that Ron Fournier and many others have forgotten the basic format of every single presidential press conference ever, which is for the President to read a prepared statement for 5 minutes or so and then take questions. Would they be happier if Obama spent five hours of his workday trying to memorize his remarks?
(Click for remainder).


Budget Deficits and Blow Up Dolls: It's the Economy Stupid!

By Dean Baker
The Huffington Post

In the movie Lars and the Real Girl, the main character imagines that a female blow-up doll is his fiancé. To humor Lars, his brother and sister-in-law go along with the charade. Over the course of the movie, more people are drawn into the circle, until eventually the whole town is treating Bianca the blow-up doll as one of its leading citizens.

This seems to pretty well describe the debate over the budget deficit, except it's not clear that many people realize it's a charade. The main story is that Lars' budget hawk counterparts are upset that the deficits projected for 2013 or 2019 are too large. They want President Obama to commit to spending cuts and/or tax increases in order to bring these deficits to levels they consider acceptable.

The unreality of this picture is striking because the budget hawks seem not to notice that we are in the middle of an economic meltdown.

People are losing their homes through foreclosures at the rate of more than 100,000 a month. The default rates on credit cards, car loans and other debt is at record levels. Most of our major banks are effectively insolvent.

Home and stock prices have plummeted, destroying most of the wealth of the baby boom cohort as they stand on the edge of retirement. The economy is shedding almost 700,000 jobs a month, with the unemployment rate rapidly approaching the highest level since the Great Depression....(Click for remainder).


While the Nation is in Crisis, Conservative Democrats Are Busy Building a New Bridge to a Mythical Place Where Everyone Gets Along

By Joe Sudbay
America Blog

Evan Bayh wants to be in charge of something. He's tried the Democratic Leadership Council, but that group is tanking. He'd like to be president, but his campaign couldn't get off the ground. He would have settled for V.P., but there were too many corporate conflicts. So, he's set up his own group of so-called moderates, who are actually more like conservatives, in the Senate. Now that he's officially a "leader," today, Bayh along with two of his sidekicks, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post titled, "Building Bridges on The Hill." This is just another bridge-to-nowhere idea from the corporate-supported Democrats who have no problem undermining Obama's agenda. They put their interests and egos first:
As moderate leaders, it is not our intent to water down the president's agenda. We intend to strengthen and sustain it. Moderation is not a mathematical process of finding the center for its own sake. Practical solutions are practical because they offer our best chance to make a difference in people's lives today without forcing our children to pick up the tab tomorrow.

The stakes are too high for Democrats to fear a policy debate. Such debates produce better legislation. On nearly all important votes, a supermajority of 60 senators will be needed to pass legislation. Without Democratic moderates working to find common ground with reasonable Republicans, the president's agenda could well be filibustered into oblivion.
Um, when was the last time there was a productive debate in the Senate? And, um, where are those reasonable Republicans? Bayh is living in a world doesn't exist anymore. From what I can tell, the bridge these folks are building is just a place for them to negotiate with themselves. That's a classic move from this new spineless caucus. We were hoping those days of caving in to the GOP were over when the Democrats had such big wins last November. Not to be....(Click for remainder).


Progressive Think Tank Tells Obama to Escalate

By Tom Hayden
The Huffington Post

The Center for American Progress has positioned itself as a "progressive" Washington think tank, especially suited to channel new thinking and expertise into the Obama administration. It therefore is deeply disappointing that CAP has issued a call for a ten-year war in Afghanistan, including an immediate military escalation, just as President Obama prepares to unveil his Afghanistan/Pakistan policies to the American public and NATO this week.

It is likely that Obama will follow most of CAP's strategic advice, assuming the think tank to be the progressive wing of what's possible within the Beltway.

That means a long counter-insurgency war ahead, with everything from massive incarcerations and detention to Predator strikes that amass increasing civilian casualties. CAP begins by calling on the president to meet the request of his commander in Afghanistan for another 15,000 troops in addition to the 17,000 Obama already has committed, which would bring the near-term US total to 70,000. To pay for these additional troops, CAP proposes redirecting $25 billion annually from combat in Iraq to Afghanistan. In addition, CAP favors up to $5 billion annually for diplomatic and economic assistance, also from a redirection of Iraq spending....(Click for remainder).


Sen. Bunning Still Wants You Off His Lawn

By Arjun Jaikumar
Daily Kos

More hilarity from America's best-loved lizard: as usual, Senator Jim Bunning has absolutely no use for the press.

Or his Republican brethren Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn.

Or anyone.
Asked whether he thought McConnell and Cornyn were actively recruiting candidates, which they have denied, Bunning left the answer open to interpretation.

"Where in the hell have you been lately? They brought in David Williams," Bunning said. "Is that active?"

Bunning also claimed McConnell's chief of staff somehow forced the meeting between Williams and NRSC officials.

"It doesn't need an answer, it's too obvious," Bunning told a reporter. "If you're not smart enough to understand how obvious that is, that's not my problem."

Bunning is, however, starting to rethink his options as this happy little thing called reality starts to set in. Maybe, just maybe, he'll give in to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, and not run for reelection after all....(Click for remainder).


Diebold's Chief Financial Officer, VP Steps Down Under SEC Investigation

By Brad Friedman
The Brad Blog

It's been a bad month for Diebold (DBD), what with the findings in CA that their voting machines drop votes and their audit logs allows deletion of records; their admission that all of their voting machines fail to record ballot deletions, and that their ATMs were hacked, likely by insiders, just to point to a few of their recent embarrassing headlines.

But things are getting still worse by the minute, it seems. This, from Cleveland's Plain Dealer today:
Diebold Inc.'s chief financial officer has stepped down in the wake of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into possible violations of federal securities laws.

Kevin Krakora, 53, who also stepped down as executive vice president, will remain in a nonfinancial reporting capacity until the matter is resolved, Diebold said Wednesday in a filing with the SEC.
There are more details at the Dealer (though caution is advised: most of their reporting is based on statements given by Diebold, so bring plenty of grains of salt!)...(Click for remainder).


Cities Deal With a Surge in Shanty Towns

By Jesse McKinley
The New York Times

FRESNO, Calif. — As the operations manager of an outreach center for the homeless here, Paul Stack is used to seeing people down on their luck. What he had never seen before was people living in tents and lean-tos on the railroad lot across from the center.

“They just popped up about 18 months ago,” Mr. Stack said. “One day it was empty. The next day, there were people living there.”

Like a dozen or so other cities across the nation, Fresno is dealing with an unhappy déjà vu: the arrival of modern-day Hoovervilles, illegal encampments of homeless people that are reminiscent, on a far smaller scale, of Depression-era shantytowns. At his news conference on Tuesday night, President Obama was asked directly about the tent cities and responded by saying that it was “not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours.”

While encampments and street living have always been a part of the landscape in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, these new tent cities have taken root — or grown from smaller enclaves of the homeless as more people lose jobs and housing — in such disparate places as Nashville, Olympia, Wash., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

In Seattle, homeless residents in the city’s 100-person encampment call it Nickelsville, an unflattering reference to the mayor, Greg Nickels. A tent city in Sacramento prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to announce a plan Wednesday to shift the entire 125-person encampment to a nearby fairground. That came after a recent visit by “The Oprah Winfrey Show” set off such a news media stampede that some fed-up homeless people complained of overexposure and said they just wanted to be left alone....(Click for remainder).


What's With the Czechs?

I couldn't agree with Josh more on this point.  Please bring back Havel.

By Josh Marshall
Talking Points Memo

A bunch of right-wing sites are crowing about a speech by the President of the European Union harshly criticizing President Obama's Stimulus spending and claiming his policy is paving a "road to hell."

The Czech Republic currently holds the six month rotating EU presidency. And thus the president is Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. But is he really Prime Minister? Apparently one of the triggers for Topolanek's outburst was that fact that just one day earlier the Czech parliament had ousted his government with a no-confidence vote. And his high-profile freak-out was a way to demonstrate his continued relevance.

And remember, with Topolanek's government tossed into the ash heap of history, that leaves the next decision to Czech President Václav Klaus, who is one of world's most outspoken global warming deniers, and darling of right-wing websites everywhere. Earlier this month he was the keynote speaker at a big global warming deniers ho-down in New York.

Whatever happened to Vaclav Havel? Can they bring him back?

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Tipping Back the Scales

How Obama can reverse justice’s long slow slide to the right.

By Rachel Morris
Washington Monthly

In 2003, a thirty-two-year-old lawyer named Bradley Schlozman became deputy assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. He wasn’t very popular—career lawyers called him "The Schloz" behind his back. But that didn’t matter, because Schlozman was their boss, and he didn’t like them either. Voting rights attorneys were "mold spores," he complained to an associate. "My tentative plans are to gerrymander all of those crazy libs right out of the section." What he wanted instead was to recruit some "good Americans."

So Schlozman took control of the hiring process, screening all of the applications for career positions. Senior managers in the department soon spotted a pattern in the resumes he selected. His candidates were often poorly qualified—one was only a paralegal—but they were affiliated with conservative groups like the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, or the Republican National Lawyers Association. In fact, one senior lawyer wondered whether Schlozman knew that it was illegal to hire or fire career lawyers for political reasons—he kept appending applications with chirpy notes like: "this has lib written all over it. let’s discuss," or, "just spoke with [the attorney] to verify his political leanings and it is clear he is a member of the team." In particular, Schlozman frowned on candidates who had experience with civil rights organizations. "When we start asking about what is your commitment to civil rights … how do you prove that? Usually by membership in some crazy liberal organization or by some participation in some crazy cause," Schlozman explained to a senior staffer in a voicemail message. "I just want to make sure we don’t start confining ourselves to, you know, Politburo members because they happen to be a member of some, you know, psychopathic left-wing organization designed to overthrow the government."

Schlozman’s influence wasn’t confined to personnel—it infected policy, too. The division vets election legislation to make sure that it complies with the Voting Rights Act, and Schlozman approved a Georgia voter identification law and Tom DeLay’s redistricting plan for Texas over the objections of career staff. Both plans benefited Republicans at the polls, but (as courts later found) they illegally disadvantaged minority voters. Morale in the division plummeted, and in 2005, nearly 20 percent of the career staffers left. The following year Schlozman moved on as well, to become a U.S. attorney in Missouri. He wrote to a friend that he missed "bitchslapping" the voting rights attorneys, but he was proud of what he’d accomplished in Washington. An investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general later found that Schlozman had violated civil service laws, and that sixty-three of the ninety-nine attorneys he played a part in employing were known to be Republicans or conservatives....(Click for remainder).


Reid Open To Fast-Tracking Health Overhaul

By Erica Werner
Associated Press via The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated Wednesday he's willing to move sweeping health care legislation through the Senate with a procedural maneuver that would block a GOP filibuster. The prospect of the controversial tactic has already ignited Republicans' ire, and key Senate Democratic chairmen have said they don't want to do it.

Reid, D-Nev., took a different position on a conference call with reporters.

"I think it's something we need to consider," Reid said.

At issue is a so-called reconciliation bill, which could pass with a simple majority of 51 votes and without Democrats fearing a GOP filibuster. Democrats would struggle to gather 60 votes needed to break a filibuster for something as complex as a plan to meet President Barack Obama's goal of overhauling the nation's health care system to cover 48 million uninsured Americans.

Revising health care via reconciliation has been viewed favorably by House Democrats. The House Budget Committee included language providing for the method in its annual budget resolution released Wednesday. Reconciliation is not favored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and was not part of his committee's plan.

White House officials reiterated Wednesday that it's not their preferred method but they don't want to take it off the table.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is attempting to write a bipartisan health care bill with his committee's top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Baucus has said he doesn't want to resort to reconciliation....(Click for remainder).


Obama and the Tyranny of Now

The president is right to ignore the daily barbs from the media and emphasise patience and persistence on the economy

By Ian Leslie
The Guardian UK

In an attempt to capture the experience of living in the age of mass media, the cultural critic Frederic Jameson talked of being trapped in a "perpetual present". Bombarded with endless information, images from the past and dreams of the future, we live each day as if it's our first and our last.

Jameson's diagnosis may be hyperbolic, but those who followed 2008 election will have at least an inkling of what he was getting at. During the primaries and the general election, it was difficult to discern the underlying state of the race from the media coverage, because all that seemed to matter was WHAT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.

Almost every day, a new story would tear through the media ecosphere, gathering velocity and heat as it went, dominating the chatter on the web and on TV and radio. Hillary didn't tip a waitress! Obama said something about lipstick on a pig! SARAH FRICKIN' PALIN! Within hours of any "incident", headlines blared, pundits pronounced, bloggers unloaded, campaigns sniped and counter-sniped. Each media node would feed off every other node, creating what scientists call "positive feedback", the most familiar example of which is what you get when you move a live microphone too close the speaker: an ear-splitting noise.

The candidates' supporters became prone to a kind of political manic depression: either things were going unbelievably well, or all was lost. But just occasionally the dust would settle, the smoke would disperse and a stubbornly familiar political landscape would reveal itself....(Click for remainder).


Israeli Army Rabbis Criticized for Stance on Gaza Assault

Some Israeli soldiers say military rabbis cast the offensive against Hamas rockets as a fight to expel non-Jews.

By Richard Boudreaux
March 25, 2009

Reporting from Jerusalem -- The winter assault on the Gaza Strip was officially portrayed in Israel as an attempt to quell rocket fire by militants of Hamas. But some soldiers say they also were lectured about a more ambitious aim: to banish non-Jews from the biblical land of Israel.

"This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness," a reserve sergeant said, recalling a training camp encounter. "His message was clear: 'This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.' The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic."

As armies elsewhere use chaplains, the Israeli military inducts rabbis to serve religious soldiers. Their traditional tasks include ensuring that kitchens are kosher and religious services are available.

But soldiers now going public with allegations of misconduct in Gaza portray the military rabbinate as a corps of self-appointed holy warriors whose sermons and writings demonized Palestinians.

"The army itself is a battleground of conflicting ideals in Israeli Jewish society," said Avi Sagi, a Bar-Ilan University philosophy professor who in the 1990s was a co-author of the military's code of ethics, which obliges soldiers to avoid killing innocents.

On one side, he said, are universal values that call for respecting all human life equally and are largely shared by Jews who seek accommodation with the Palestinians. On the other side are more nationalistic passages of the Torah, cited by religious thinkers who liken the Palestinians to Old Testament invaders and place a premium on Jewish life.

In the Gaza conflict, the argument has focused on how to fight Islamic militants who for years have fired rockets indiscriminately at Israeli communities, causing scores of civilian casualties....(Click for remainder).


The Vast Depression

By Andrew Lehman
The Public Record

I'm becoming one of those people that believe that there is no such thing as random chance.  I don't believe in god in any of the Western traditional senses.  I don't believe in reincarnation.  I don't believe each person's life is preordained.  I believe in what I've personally experienced, and then I take that with a grain of salt, figuring there are unconscious agendas.  In a way, I live my life inside a big "as if" frame, believing many things tentatively based upon the information that I have.

Part of this revolves around my belief that my unconscious is aware of everything my conscious is aware of, except earlier and with more information, and it is less distracted than my conscious mind.  I take my conscious machinations as sort of the froth at the edge of big waves hitting shore.  Lots of sound and fury, but most significant is the depths that it implies.

My feeling that there is little random chance is revolving around the sense that I as an individual and we as a society are living lives that are guided by the stories we create.  I often have the sense that as compulsive story makers we are constructing layers and layers of realities that engage in a sort of evolutionary selection process.  We tell stories about stories struggling with stories.  This process goes on in our heads and across the scale of our societies.

It's almost as if there's a whole level of evolutionary unfolding happening at a level outside of perception.  Similar to the concept of Dawkins' memes, this concept is different in that the pure survival of a story is not the focus of the struggle.  What is important is that the story offers an efficient bridge between the human imagination and the sense-based world.  Those stories most effective at reproducing an infinite, interconnected, everything-influencing-everything reality offer the holders of those stories an advantage when integrating with sense-based reality.

In January of 2008 when Obama won the Iowa caucus, a story unfolded as a possibility.  In the story I saw forming, Obama wins the Democratic nomination, the economy crashes, Republicans are blamed for the crash (and the other Bush debacles) and Obama enters office with a mandate.  The story made sense if our society understood (at the unconscious level) the environmental emergency taking place and needed a powerful story to compel compliance with coming changes....(Click for remainder).


Congress Approves Landmark Conservation Bill

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON - The Democratic-led U.S. Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to sweeping land and water conservation legislation that environmental groups praised as one of the most significant in U.S. history.

The measure, a package of more than 160 bills, would set aside about 2 million acres -- parks, rivers, streams, desert, forest and trails -- in nine states as new wilderness and render them off limits to oil and gas drilling and other development.

The House of Representatives approved the measure on a vote of 285-140 a week after it cleared the Senate, capping years of wrangling and procedural roadblocks.

It now goes to President Barack Obama to sign into law, which he is expected to do swiftly.

"I can't think of a single bill that has ever done more to ensure the enjoyment of, and access to, wilderness areas (and) historic sites," said Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Opponents, most of them Republican, complained the legislation would deny access for oil and gas drilling and said House Democrats refused to consider changes.

The 2 million acres that would be designated as new wilderness are mostly in California, followed by Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Virginia, West Virginia, New Mexico and Michigan....(Click for remainder).


Dean Smacks Down Scarborough: Budget Criticism 'Total Nonsense'

By David Edwards
The Raw Story

Two days after joining CNBC as a contributor, former DNC chair Howard Dean tangoed with the conservative leaning host of a morning show on a sister network.

On his Morning Joe show, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough criticized President Obama's budget proposal Wednesday morning, claiming that it was similar to what the GOP did during "eight years of recklessness."

"Did we choose this? He always talks about moving this in a new direction. Fiscally, this is going down the same path that George Bush and Republicans took us down eight years," Scarborough asserted.

Dean interrupted, "Joe, that's total nonsense."

"In your heart that the spending proposed in this budget, what we are bailing out Wall Street, is unsustainable," argued Scarborough.

Dean disagreed.

"First of all, there's -- there's no federal balance sheet affected by the Geithner proposal to deal with getting the toxic assets off," explained Dean. "They very wisely put a lot of private money into that and that's guaranteed by the federal government and we are going to end up making money off that."...(Click for remainder).


US Hits Back at Czech PM's 'Hell' Remark

By Press TV

The White House sharply returns Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's scathing remark that the US stimulus plan paves the "way to hell."

Topolanek on Wednesday warned President Barack Obama's plan to allocate almost USD 2 trillion to boosting the troubled US economy is what that European Union governments must avoid.

"I think that the United States is not on the right path," Topolanek told the European Parliament. "All of these steps, their combination and their permanency is a way to hell. We need to read the history books."

Later in the day, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs pointedly referred to domestic political problems the central European republic is faced with.

"From what I can tell, the speaker has some domestic political problems that might speak more to what he was talking about," Gibbs said.

"I think the Czech people and the American people can stand assured that the president of the United States of America is going to do all and everything in his power to get our economy moving again and to restore confidence in that economy," he added....(Click for remainder).


Clinton: U.S. Shares Blame For Mexican Drug Violence

By Warren P. Strobel
McClatchy Newspapers

MEXICO CITY — The U.S. bears much of the blame for violent drug wars roiling Mexico because of its demand for drugs and its failure to stop illegal weapons from crossing the border, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday, accepting "shared responsibility" for the problem.

Clinton, on an inaugural visit to Mexico to pave the way for an April trip by President Barack Obama, rejected the notion — put forward by some of U.S. government intelligence analysts — that Mexico could lose control of parts of the country to the drug cartels.

"I don't believe there are any ungovernable territories in Mexico," she told a news conference, while lauding Mexican President Felipe Calderon's "great courage" in battling the drug traffickers.

She announced that Obama would seek $80 million, most of it in an upcoming supplemental budget request, to provide Mexico with three Blackhawk helicopters. Mexican officials, along with some members of Congress, complain that U.S. anti-narcotics aid under a program called the Merida Initiative has been slow to arrive....(Click for remainder).


EU leader condemns US ‘road to hell’

By Tony Barber and Edward Luce
The Financial Times

European Union hopes for a new era in relations with the US were thrown into chaos on Wednesday when the holder of the EU presidency condemned American remedies for the global recession as "the road to hell".

Barely a week before Barack Obama is due to arrive in Europe on his first official visit as US president, Mirek Topolanek, the Czech Republic's prime minister, put the 27-nation EU on a collision course with Washington.

His attack compounded the confusion that has engulfed EU policy after the Czech leader lost a no-confidence vote in the country's parliament on Tuesday, forcing him to offer his government's resignation midway through its six-month EU presidency.

Mr Topolanek said EU leaders had been disturbed at a summit in Brussels last week to hear calls from Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, for more aggressive policies to fight the global downturn.

"The US Treasury secretary talks about permanent action and we, at our spring council, were quite alarmed at that . . . The US is repeating mistakes from the 1930s, such as wide-ranging stimuluses, protectionist tendencies and appeals, the Buy American campaign, and so on," he told a European parliament session in Strasbourg. "All these steps, their combination and their permanency, are the road to hell."...(Click for remainder).


Democrats 'agree' on Obama budget

By Al Jazeera English

Barack Obama, the US president, and Democratic members of US congress say they are largely in agreement over the government's proposed $3.6 trillion budget.

On Wednesday Obama held talks with members of the Democratic party from the House of Representatives and senate as budget committees from both chambers discussed his 2010 financial plan.

Harry Reid, the US senate majority leader, said he largely backed the plan as it "will protect President Obama's priorities - education energy, health care, middle class tax relief and cut the deficit in half".

However changes had been made to the budget following concerns that too large a budget would add to the US's record deficit, congressional sources said.

Media reports have said the US government could owe $1.4 trillion by next year.

Obama's congressional visit comes a day after he urged patience over his plans to boost the country's ailing economy.

"We will recover from this recession. But it will take time, it will take patience," Obama told a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.

Joe Biden, the US vice-president, said on Wednesday that he was "confident" the budget would be passed by the Democrat-controlled congress, in a vote likely to be held first in the senate next week.

Since taking office in January, Obama has introduced an economic stimulus package, announced the proposed budget and pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into US financial markets....(Click for remainder).


Ed Stein: Import



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