Friday, January 30, 2009

Cake or Death!

It's late on Friday, and it's been a long week. So instead of something boringly serious I give you Eddie Izzard.

Plus a few interpretations of his work.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Hate to Say...

Perhaps the ground hasn't shifted as much as Obama thought. Despite having watered down the very important stimulus package to appease House Republicans, not a single House Republican voted for the President's plan.

Here's Maddow echoing my thoughts:

Sometimes I think Democrats in Washington are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bipartisan - Shmipartisan

Bipartisanship went hand in hand with hope during the campaign. At the inaugural we heard that the "ground has shifted!" But as expected, what remains of the Republican party has slapped Obama's hand of "bipartisanship" on the stimulus package.

The White House has told us that the stimulus package is crucial to our economic recovery, yet despite having enough votes to pass the plan, our new President insists on trying to get Republican support. Why? Compromise has resulted in watering down the legislation he says is key to getting America moving again. Republicans want massive corporate tax cuts, and caps on infrastructure spending. Obama appears to be willing to give it to them in the name of "bipartisanship."

In what bizarre parallel universe does this make sense?

Didn't Obama just win the election? Didn't America elect Democrats to a majority in both houses of Congress? Doesn't that mean the President can pretty much pass anything he damn well pleases without asking the Republicans? Why water down the legislation you claim is key to our future, if you don't have to?

As always, I have a few ideas:

1. Obama believes that bipartisanship is its own virtue and should be pursued at all costs;

2. Obama actually thinks he needs the elephants for some reason;

3. Obama is looking for political cover.

I find it hard to believe that a guy as smart as Obama is naive enough to believe options one or two. The answer lies in political cover. Like so many other experts, the President has no idea if the stimulus package will work. If it doesn't, he wants to be able to turn to his detractors two years from now and say; "but the Republicans voted for it too!" Politically shrewed, but a little cynical for the man with hope.

I have my concerns about the stimulus package. How do we massively increase spending while cutting taxes? Why are we giving money to private companies who managed themselves in to bankruptcy? Why haven't taxpayers gotten the benefit of voting shares in the companies who got funds? Why isn't most of the money going to a public works program?

Clearly the president doesn't share my concerns though. If Obama believes this package is the right thing to do, he can do it. Show some guts and do what you claim is right. This bipartisan approach is only going to get us half measures.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jesus Hates the Eagles!

Well we are just days away from Super Bowl Sunday. Some people might consider it a sign of the apocalypse that the Arizona Cardinals are going - but not Kurt Warner.

In what has now become standard post game interview drivel, Kurt told us after the NFC championship game that Jesus was the reason he was standing on the winner's podium. Does Kurt even think about what he says? If Jesus propelled the Cardinals to victory, doesn't that mean he also made the Eagles lose? How does Kurt explain that? Are there no good Christians in Philly? Is Donovan McNabb a heathen? (He always seemed so nice in the soup commercials with his Mom.)

But the real test is coming up. What happens if the Steelers win the Super Bowl? Will we hear Kurt bemoan the fact that Jesus loved Pittsburgh more than Arizona? Better yet will we hear something like this: "Every thing was going great until my lord and savior made me throw a pick six in the fourth quarter?"

Somehow I doubt it.

Have We Overcome?

This month Smithsonian Magazine is running an article on The Freedom Riders Then and Now. It is a fascinating look at the people who ran to the front lines in America's struggle for racial equality.

The stories are compelling, and reading them makes me realize just how far we have come as a country. Take, for instance, this quote from one of the riders:

"It's the right thing to do, to oppose an oppressive state where wrongs are being done to people," said William Leons, a University of Toledo professor of anthropology whose father had been killed in an Austrian concentration camp and whose mother hid refugees during World War II. "I was aware very much of my parents' involvement in the Nazi resistance," he said of his 39-day incarceration as a rider. "[I was] doing what they would have done."

Here is the story of a man whose own family suffered horribly under Nazi oppression. Yet he used that experience as a spring board to fight against the oppression of others. The quote is interesting not only for the obvious bravery he displays, but also because Mr. Leon clearly saw some correlation between America's racial policies and those of fascist Germany.

There was a time not so long ago when Americans could credibly compare their government to Hitler's.

That point is further driven home by the existence of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. I had never heard of this commission until I saw it mentioned in the Smithsonian article.

Following the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, aimed at desegregating schools, Mississippi and other southern states formed commissions aimed at shoring up segregation laws. The records of the commission are now available online, and provide chilling insights to the horrors of segregation and racism. The poster shown above - offering a reward for the body of Martin Luther King and others - is from the archive.

Having stumbled on this material, I'm once again struck by how unlikely it is that we have elected an African American as president. Given that these horrors are part of our recent history, it seems we have overcome a lot quickly.

Still, when I see the economic disparity between minorities and whites, combined with de facto segregation in my own city, I can't help but think we have a long way to go.

Is there a bus we can get on to fix these problems?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Honeymoon II

The honeymoon piece made me think of this:

No matter how long the Obama honeymoon lasts, let's hope it's as entertaining as the Haunted Honeymoon.

Gilda, you left us way too soon.

Honeymoon on Pennsylvania Ave

The wedding is over, but there's lots of talk these days about how long Obama's honeymoon will last. In fact, some are guessing it will last longer than most. Indeed, a recent Time/CBS News poll shows that Americans may be willing to give our new president up to two years to turn around the economy and end the war in Iraq.

It seems pretty unlikely that we are actually that patient. The country is riding a wave of good feelings about new leadership, and relief that W. is in Crawford rather than D.C. If six to nine months from now we aren't seeing some improvements though, Main Street is going to turn on Obama. It may not be realistic to expect much in less than a year, but people are hurting and need relief. They are rightly looking to their elected leaders to get them out of this mess. Realistic expectations for Washington don't mean much when you can't find work and are losing your home.

In other words, those big campaign promises are about to come due. I hope the campaign didn't write checks the presidency can't cover.

Personally I want a mercifully short honeymoon, especially with the media and Congress. We saw first hand over the last eight years what happens with a complacent or complicit media and legislative branch. The press corps and Congress treated Bush with kid gloves after 9/11. In many cases, they not only failed to ask the hard questions, but went along with policies that we now know were disastrous. While I don't expect the Obama administration to be nearly as irresponsible as the Bushies, we still need strong opposition asking tough questions.

I want to be damn sure we are honestly examining the choices we make.

America deserves it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Franken's Wisdom

We've seen plenty of reporting about Rush Limbaugh's statement of hope that Obama's presidency "fail." While I suspect the news coverage is exactly what Limbaugh was hoping for – and I seriously debated whether I should give him another potential internet hit – I just couldn't let this one pass.

So I can't be accused of taking things out of context, below is a large chunk of the transcript from which Limbaugh's comments originate. It is part of an interview with Sean Hannity reported by Fox News. (Not exactly a bastion of liberalism bent on misreporting a discussion between two of conservatism's flag bearers.)

"HANNITY: Coming off record-ratings year for you, but you — you are a passionate conservative. You've defined conservatives for many people in this country for years. He represents the antithesis in terms of his world view.
So then the question becomes, do you want him to succeed?

LIMBAUGH: Now — this — I am so glad that he asked me that question. That you asked me this question.

HANNITY: I'm glad to.

LIMBAUGH: I'll tell you why. I am hearing many Republicans say that — well, we want him to succeed and prominent Republicans. Yes, we wanted — they have laid down. They have totally — they're drinking the Kool- Aid, too. They have no guts to stand up for what their beliefs are because they're afraid of criticism, they're afraid of being called racists, they're afraid of not having gotten with the program.
Now success can be defined two ways. I said earlier I don't know about this guy. I really don't. I've got my — I've got my suspicions, and they're pretty close to convictions, but we're going to have to wait to see what he does. Now if he turns out to be a Reagan, if he adds Reagan to his recipe of FDR and Lincoln, and if he does cut some taxes.


LIMBAUGH: If he does not eliminate the Bush tax cuts, I would call that success. So yes, I would hope he would succeed if he acts like Reagan, but if he's going to do FDR, if he's going to do the new, new deal all over which we will call here the raw deal, why would I want him to succeed?

Look, he's my president. The fact that he is historic is irrelevant to me now. It matters not at all. I — if he is going to implement a far left — look it. I think it's already decided. $2 trillion in stimulus? The growth of government. I think the intent here is to create as many dependant Americans as possible looking to government for their hope and salvation.

If he gets nationalized health care, I mean, it's over, Sean. We're never going to roll that back. That's the end of America as we have known it because that's then going to set the stage for everything being government owned, operated, or provided.
Why would I want that to succeed? I don't believe in that. I know that's not how this country is going to be great in the future, it's not what made this country great.

So I shamelessly say, no, I want him to fail, if his agenda is a far- left collectivism, some people say socialism, as a conservative heartfelt, deeply, why would I want socialism to succeed?"

Let's leave for other posts the question of whether Obama really is a socialist. (A quick preview – he isn't.) My bigger question; why would Limbaugh phrase his statement like this:

"So I shamelessly say, no, I want him to fail, if his agenda is a far- left collectivism, some people say socialism, as a conservative heartfelt, deeply, why would I want socialism to succeed?"

Limbaugh is about as far to the right as you can get in American politics. He claims to sternly believe in "conservatism" and just as strongly opposes anything approaching "socialism." If he really believes he's right, and he really believes Obama is a socialist, why does he need to want Obama to fail? If conservatism is right, shouldn't he know that socialist policy will fail? Shouldn't he be predicting that implementing socialism will lead to economic and political failure? There is no need to want failure, if he really believes he's right he should know failure is coming.

Instead he has phrased this as a want – a hope – that Obama will fail. Doesn't that mean Limbaugh sees a possibility that the policies he so vehemently opposes might succeed for the American people, and therefore lead to political success? If that's the case, and you have the interests of your country at heart, why would you "want" failure?

Unless of course you oppose policies not because they are bad for America, but because they are bad for your pocketbook.

In fairness, it's at least possible that Limbaugh is trying to say that he "wants" Obama to "fail" in efforts to enact a "socialist" agenda. The transcript doesn't read that way though. It looks like he wants the president's policies to fail once enacted, causing yet more misery for the American people.

At least we've learned that the new Senator from Minnesota knows what he's talking about.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pining For The Fjords...

Monty Python has started it's own YouTube channel. As a bonus, they have announced it in that special Python way:

"For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It's time for us to take matters into our own hands.

We know who you are, we know where you live and we could come after you in ways too horrible to tell. But being the extraordinarily nice chaps we are, we've figured a better way to get our own back: We've launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube.

No more of those crap quality videos you've been posting. We're giving you the real thing - HQ videos delivered straight from our vault."

It's scientific fact - these guys are damn funny. This just never gets old:

I suggest getting a plate of "spam, spam, spam" kicking back with your favorite beverage and taking a trip through some of the Python classics.

I have to give a shout out to Unreasonable Faith for tipping me off to this.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Good Start

It looks like our new president is immediately taking steps to return us to some semblance of sanity. Closing Gitmo and "formally banning torture" has to be done to restore America's image in the world, and after all Obama promised to do it on the campaign trail.

More importantly it is the right thing to do.

Think about it, we actually reached a point where a federal judge (with a conservative pedigree) publicly stated that our government tortured people at Guantanamo. Including people we didn't have enough evidence to try for the crimes they allegedly committed. I think we stepped through the looking glass around 2001.

This was a no-brainer, but I'm glad to see it actually being done.

One interesting angle to this story is the push back military lawyers gave to the Guantanamo tribunals. Military defense attorneys and prosecutors refused to participate in the trials because they were rigged and based on flimsy evidence. That's pretty brave for people themselves subject to military justice. These men and women really are America's finest.

Recently I've read a few commentaries asking "how can we release these dangerous people?" I'm having a hard time understanding this. Last time I checked we judge whether people should be locked up based on whether we can prove they committed dangerous acts, not based on an assumption that they will. We don't just label people "dangerous" and forget about proving it. If these people really are criminals or terrorists - prove it.

If the proof exists, there are plenty of talented prosecutors capable of getting a conviction.

Obama is doing the right thing here. He needs to take it a step further though. It's not enough to stop the torture, we need to prosecute those responsible. Based on the administration's "look to the future" message I'm not hopeful we will though.

Hey You Guys!

I read this week that PBS is bringing back The Electric Company. I have really fond memories of the original version of this show. After all it introduced me, and a generation of polyester clad hipsters, to Easy Reader.

Hard to believe that guy went on to win an Academy Award

It also gave kids large doses of "That Lady from West Side Story." (As I once called her.)

Of course the other guy in that sketch went on to have a little bit of success too.

Apparently they are updating it to make it more relevant for kids today. Hopefully PBS will do its usual excellent job with this. The original helped instill a life long love of reading in Gen X. It would be cool if the new version helped do the same for their kids.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Number 44.

America finally has new leadership. The eight year nightmare of Bush is over, and America has a fresh face to represent it on the world stage.

It was funny that Roberts screwed up the oath. It's good to know that stage fright can get to even one of our leading legal minds.

The address itself was very good. Obama really is a gifted speaker, and the tone of this speech was appropriatley solemn but strong.

Here are a few quick thoughts

The High Points

There was a lot to like here. A few examples:

"Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers, and true to our founding documents."

The image of gathering clouds and raging storms set the right tone for an address in this time. It spoke well to the challenges we face, and dovetailed nicely with this:

" Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met."

Not quite the call to service I wrote about earlier, but nonetheless a serious discussion of sacrifice by the American people in order to change the way we do business. Let's hope this translates in to responsible policy.

I also have to give him some credit for this:

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."

As a non-believer it was at least nice to get a mention, but it felt a little token. Particularly in light of the rest of the speech. (See below)

The Low Points

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

- and -

"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply."

The constant drumbeat of "bipartisanship" and "new politics" coming out of this administration will eventually drive me insane. Old "dogmas" and "political arguments" exist because people have genuine disagreements about fundamental issues. They can't be wished away by a wave of "change and hope." Either people have principles or they don't. If they do they will have dogmatic arguments. The key to governing is convincing enough of America that your dogma is better than the other.

Finally, this was the greatest disappointment in the address. Unfortunately it wasn't unexpected:

" the words of Scripture..."

"...the God-given promise..."

"This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny."

"...and God's grace upon us..."

The last eight years gave us more than enough mixing of religion and politics. Please keep your god out of my statehouse.

In the end, the party is almost over, and its time for President Obama to lead. Please deliver the "Change We Can Believe In."

I desperately want my vote to be proven wrong.

Ask Not...

The cable news talking heads have spent hundreds of hours speculating about the contents of Obama's inauguration address. One persistent question seems to be whether, like JFK, he will deliver a call to service.

It's an interesting question. I'm not sure how America, or the world, would respond to a call to serve. We are different people, in a different time. Generally we are probably more apathetic than we were in 1961, but more importantly we likely have less time to serve. I suspect that in a bad economy Americans are working harder and longer than usual, and those who aren't working are probably putting their efforts in to finding work. That may not leave a lot of time for public service.

Still, it would be nice to see if we could collectively rise to "ask what we can do for our country."

Keith Gets It Right On Torture

I will admit a certain soft spot for Olbermann's rants, but this one is particularly good. In my view the incoming administration has an obligation to the American people and the world to prosecute war crimes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

History Comes to Washington

It's rare that I witness an event, as it is happening, and say with certainty that I am participating in "history." I'm hard pressed to come up with more than a few in my lifetime. (The Iran Hostage Crisis, The Challenger Explosion, The Fall of The Berlin Wall, The Clinton Impeachment, 9/11...) But I have no doubt that in less than 24 hours America will take part in an event of historic proportions.

On January 20, 2009, Barrack Obama will be sworn in as America's first African American president.

Read that again.

On January 20, 2009, Barrack Obama will be sworn in as America's first African American president.

The United States of America, a country built on the backs of African slaves; a country literally torn apart over race; a country that gave rise to lynchings and the assassination of Martin Luther King; has elected a black man to lead it. Extraordinary.

In this moment I'm proud of my country. I'm proud that we have in some way overcome the past to arrive at this place. I'm proud that my children will grow up in an America where it seems perfectly normal for an African American to be the leader of the free world. I'm proud that we are better than who we were.

I didn't vote for President Obama (or his major party opponent), because we see the world differently. I expect to disagree with him on many issues. But in this moment – in this historic moment – I can only offer my congratulations. Seize this moment President Obama, and know that America is proud of the way you have brought out the best in us.