Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gun violence at Toys "R" Us

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So... yeah.

In my last post, written just a couple of hours ago, a SOTA post on the trampling death at Wal-Mart, I wrote this: "And don't think it was just the 2,000 or so people who lined up before 5 am at that particular Wal-Mart. There are countless more just like them, brutally rapacious and more than willing to storm and trample and kill in search of that must-have sale item, or whatever it is they need, or have been told they need, whatever it is they think will make them happy, common decency and everyone else be damned."


Two people have died in a shooting incident at a Toys "R" Us store in Southern California on the busiest U.S. shopping day of the year.

Seriously. I came across this story shortly after posting on the Wal-Mart incident.

Merry Christmas.

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Sign of the Apocalypse #59: Trampling death at Wal-Mart

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Capt. Fogg wrote about the Wal-Mart trampling death yesterday -- and I'm calling it yet another Sign of the Apocalypse -- but I couldn't resist posting this headline from the AP:

Here's the deal:

Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of post-Thanksgiving shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down.

Criminal charges were possible, but identifying individual shoppers in Friday's video may prove difficult, said Detective Lt. Michael Fleming, a Nassau County police spokesman.

Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man, and customers stepped over him and became irate when officials said the store was closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

At least four other people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries. The store in Valley Stream on Long Island closed for several hours before reopening.

It's a horrible story, obviously. And, to me, it's even worse when it's juxtaposed with the recent horrific events in Mumbai. Not because, in and of itself, it's worse than the attacks in Mumbai, and certainly not because the Wal-Mart killers are worse than the Mumbai killers, but because while there is serious shit going on in the world, both serious violence and serious suffering, serious shit that deserves our serious attention and our serious efforts to fix the problems that cause it, the Wal-Mart incident, an incident of lethal violence, however unintentional, was, at its core, a display of disgusting, out-of-control greed. It's like, with all the serious shit going on in the world, of which the attacks in Mumbai are a stark, news-dominating example, all these pathetic people care about is themselves -- about consuming more and more and more, about filling up their meaningless lives with material goods, with no apparent concern for others beyond their narrow, self-absorbed existences.

And don't think it was just the 2,000 or so people who lined up before 5 am at that particular Wal-Mart. There are countless more just like them, brutally rapacious and more than willing to storm and trample and kill in search of that must-have sale item, or whatever it is they need, or have been told they need, whatever it is they think will make them happy, common decency and everyone else be damned.

As George Costanza once shouted, when confronted with anti-social behaviour, "We're living in a society!"

But are we?

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Friday, November 28, 2008

The Reaction in Review (Nov. 28, 2008)

A week's Reactions that deserve a second look:


By Capt. Fogg: "The nightmare before Christmas" -- Fogg's ironic post, on the death by stampede of a Long Island WalMart store employee, engendered an interesting comment dialogue.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Terror in Mimbai" -- Like many of us, Michael is trying to learn more about the terrible news of the past few days coming out of India; his post rounds up a number of helpful links.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "An argument for keeping Gates at the Pentagon" -- Like all good bloggers, Michael posts the other side of this issue, though he still "can't overcome [his] doubts."


By Carl: "For Thanksgiving" -- Carl's topical gratitudes to political leaders is an interesting variation on the usual Thanksgiving theme.

By LindaBeth: "West Wing turkey pardon and thoughts on Thanksgiving" -- This provocative post on the historical origins of Thanksgiving is food for thought.


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Perspective, please: Obama is not an establishment centrist" -- Michael's great post concludes with the sentiments of many of us, "Give him time. He may just turn out to be far more progressive than progressives think."

By Mustang Bobby: "Doing Something" -- Bobby's insight, on why and how markets move, makes for a good read from a good writer.

By Creature: "Gates" -- Here is a view that many progressives could share: "I'm not thrilled, but I'm not angry either."


By Michael J.W. Stickings: "BREAKING NEWS: Gates to remain at Pentagon" -- An excellent exploration, including several useful links, of President-elect Obama's apparent decision to keep our current Secretary of Defense.

By LindaBeth: "Commercial critique: Guitar Hero World Tour" -- An excellent post that looks at what drives the different treatment of men and women in this latest in a series of commercials.

By J. Thomas Duffy: "Breaking ... Mukasey fainting due to deep introspection" -- Creature rightly calls this great post "brilliant;" (includes video and "Bonus Crony General Riffs)."


By Libby Spencer: "My take on the Citibank bailout" -- Libby's indignant post no doubt speaks for many of us who can only shake our heads in disbelief.

By Michael J.W. Stickings: "Rumsfeld is right, believe it or not, about Afghanistan" -- Michael begins, ". . . once you get past the pro-Bush, pro-Iraq Surge self-aggrandizing, he actually had some interesting, and correct, things to say about what is needed in Afghanistan."

By Carol Gee:"How do we get from here to there?" -- A metaphorical post on the Obama Transition journey looks at the difficult road ahead for the President-elect.

By Carl: "An interesting test" -- Prepare for more such clever writing as this prescient gem, "Given that the market has basically spit up the Bush recovery scheme like a cat with a poisoned furball, Obama's plan should see some welcome positive reaction in the market place."

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Dear Mr. Blitzer

By Capt. Fogg

If you would kindly stop "looking for the fingerprints of al Qaeda" and limit your wild speculations about who is doing this, we might have a better chance of understanding what is actually going on in Mumbai and taking you to be a serious journalist.

At this point there is no evidence that points more toward al Qaeda than toward the enemies of India, yet you go on and on and on trying to coerce an endless string of experts into backing up your obsessive conjecture while "Possible Al Qaeda connection" scrolls across the screen. It's quite possible that this is not primarily about us at all.

Please remember that it isn't terrorism unless we are terrified and your hysteria serves only to blow this incident up disproportionately. Were you screaming about the human tragedy while we were blowing the hell out of Baghdad? No, you were like an excited schoolboy asking "Is this the shockinaw? Are we in the shockinaw yet?" Your credibility with regard to the dramatic lament over lost American lives has long since been sullied.

When you have nothing to say, which is a good deal of the time, please shut up.

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The nightmare before Christmas

By Capt. Fogg

No one expects this to be a Christmas season retailers will celebrate. Even people with reliable income are cutting way back and when I read that local stores would be open as early as 4:00 AM today, I pictured yawning employees drinking coffee, trying to stay awake.


A Wal-Mart on Long Island had its doors literally blown off the hinges just before 5 o'clock this morning and the stampeding mob trampled anyone who got in the way. A 34-year-old stock clerk tried to control the crowd and was trampled to death. Merry Christmas, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis -- and we don't mean you, Wal-Mart shoppers.

We don't mean the commenter on either, who wasted no time before blaming it on the liberals and African-Americans who will, no doubt, now that Obama is waiting to go to Washington, make this sort of thing commonplace from now on:

Get used to this folks. These are the kind of people that liberalism has created. After four years of Obama and the food, power shortages, and gas shortages that will be engineered by the Marxists in order to take down this country, this kind of thing will become routine.

Joy to the world.

(Cross-posted from
Human Voices.)

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Terror in Mumbai

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm sorry I haven't posted yet on the situation in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), but I just haven't had much to say about it. Without any specific expertise in the matter, and without any specific knowledge of what's going on, or of why, I find that I'm just trying to take in as much as possible, reading and watching what I can, captivated by first-hand accounts and deferring to experts.

I'm sure I'll have more to say as more is known (and as I narrow down my list of links), but, for now, here's the latest from CNN: The death toll is up to 125, with over 300 wounded, and the fighting continues, including at a Jewish center. (For the latest on the specific buildings under attack, see here.)

See also the coverage at the Times: "Indian Forces Fire at Jewish Center."

The BBC has more, plus some solid background and analysis: "This points to either a major shift in strategy by an existing group or the influence or direction of outside parties, perhaps even al-Qaeda, whose style of attacks this mimics."

Finally, Joe Gandelman, my boss at TMV, has an excellent post up on how the attacks are being covered, in real time, by Indian bloggers and on Twitter.

"Horrible" is the word that comes most often to mind.

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An argument for keeping Gates at the Pentagon

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'm still not terribly thrilled about the prospect of Obama keeping Robert Gates at the Pentagon -- I expressed my displeasure here and here -- but, like Creature, I'm just not all that angry about it. The arguments against it, some of which I noted in my posts, are still valid, but I do concede that there is a good argument for it -- and it comes from Slate's Fred Kaplan, hardly a right-wing wacko, who calls Gates, assuming "the reports are true," "an excellent choice" and Obama's "move... a stroke of brilliance -- politically and substantively."

First, he is good for the military and for national security:

In his nearly two years at the helm of the Pentagon, Gates has delivered a series of speeches on the future direction of military policy. He has urged officers to recognize the shift in the face of warfare from the World War II legacy of titanic armored battles between comparably mighty foes to the modern reality of small shadow wars against terrorists and insurgents.

More than that, he has called for systematic adjustments to this new reality: canceling weapons systems that aren't suited to these kinds of wars and building more weapons that are; reforming the promotion boards to reward and advance the creative officers who have proved most adept at this style of warfare; rethinking the roles and missions of the individual branches of the armed services; siphoning some of the military's missions, especially those dealing with "nation building," to civilian agencies.

Second, he won't "take his reappointment as a mandate for autonomy" or otherwise challenge Obama authority:

Gates is not the freelancing type. Though hardly a passive servant, he spent most of his career as a staff officer. Even as secretary of defense, he has constantly been aware -- and has emphasized many times, in public and private -- that the president is the decider.

Basically, then, if Obama wants Gates, and thinks he can work with him (just he apparently thinks he can work with Hillary), fine. Perhaps we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt -- which is what I have done throughout the campaign (over FISA, for example) and the transition (over Lieberman, for example) whenever I have found myself in serious disagreement with him. Is it stupid to do so? Maybe. But, then, maybe Gates is the right man to reform the military and to extricate the U.S. from Iraq (and to shift the focus back to Afghanistan).


I still don't buy it -- is there no Democrat who could do the job just as well, if not better? are we sure that Gates, not to mention his far more ideological subordinates, will accede to Obama's authority? what if Obama succumbs to Gates's influence and shifts further to the right, abandoning his commitment to withdraw from Iraq and ramping up the war in Afghanistan with no exit plan in sight? -- but I suppose it's a compelling possibility.

Maybe Obama and Gates will prove their doubters wrong. As for me, I just can't quite overcome my doubt.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

For Thanksgiving

By Carl

We're often asked to
reflect on this day, set apart to acknowledge whatever bounty we've gotten in the past year's harvest, and give thanks for our blessings.

This year, it's been pretty tough to come up with much.

First, let's thank America for waking up to what's happened to this nation in the past eight years and having the guts and determination to do something about it. And so long as we're thanking America, let's thank her for not tumbling into the abyss in the past eight years. Despite our loss of freedoms and respect, she has managed to provide us a bulwark from tyranny beyond that which Bush & Co. have managed to steal.

After all, we aren't forced to keep our two-way televisions on 24 hours a day. There's something to be thankful for there.

We should be thankful that America isn't going thru what is happening in Mumbai and if that means some petty minded bigot of low expectations wants to grab the credit for Bush, so be it. I disagree, of course: Bush has only inflamed a situation, and the only reason we haven't been attacked has been logistical. They *want* to attack us and want to, badly.

It has just been dumb luck they haven't bothered to try very hard. As I said, we
should be thankful that George Bush didn't buck history and become the first President to have TWO Al Qaeda attacks on his watch, but it seems small beer to be lowering the bar that far.

So long as we're thanking Bush, I want to thank him for the past eight years, which have served as a reminder to the American people that we aren't that far evolved from the muck and mire that most nations have to live under. We aren't that superior, because our system only works really well when we put smart people in places of power. I'll have a post in January that details this more.

When we put venal, petty, partisan, short-fingered vulgarians in charge, we suddenly turn into a banana republic without the umbrella drinks.

We must thank Barack Obama, for making us see the possible again. Politics has been called "the art of the possible," so now let us pray that President-designate Obama (the electoral college doesn't meet for a few weeks) is a true artist.

Too, let us thank Hillary Clinton for pushing thru the glass ceiling that made Obama's candidacy and election less likely. 18 million cracks later, and we see a black man and a white woman standing as examples to our children that say "Yes, you can".

I want to thank John McCain, too, but I'm not sure for what. For selecting Sarah Palin and in one step rendering the Republican party irrelevant for decades? Possibly, but I think it's important to have two strong parties. Just look at the past eight years to see what happens when one party can dominate the other.

I guess, finally, we thank everyone in our lives who has helped us get to this day, alive and able.

And from me, thank you for reading this drivel on a daily basis.

(crossposted to
Simply Left Behind)


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West Wing turkey pardon and thoughts on Thanksgiving

By LindaBeth

I was a West Wing junkie, so I thought I'd share this charming scene from the episode Shibboleth:

On a less humorous note, I want to share a portion of an article from last year about our continual denial about American history when we celebrate our glossy version of "Thanksgiving Day." I quite like Robert Jensen's suggestion for a "National Day of Atonement"; his reasoning, via Alternet, and I suggest you read it in its entirety:

Of course people often struggle for control over the meaning of symbols and holidays, but typically we engage in such battles when we believe there is some positive aspect of the symbol or holiday worth fighting for.
But what is positive in the historical events that define Thanksgiving? What tradition are we trying to return to? I have no quarrel with designating a day (or days) that would allow people to take a break from our often manic work routines and appreciate the importance of community, encouraging all of us to be grateful for what we have. But if that is the goal, why yoke it to Thanksgiving Day and a history of celebrating European/white dominance and conquest?
After years of being constantly annoyed and often angry about the historical denial built into Thanksgiving Day, I published an essay in November 2005 suggesting we replace the feasting with fasting and create a National Day of Atonement to acknowledge the genocide of indigenous people that is central to the creation of the United States.

Happy thanksgiving to all, and as we give thanks, make a pledge to be honest about our history and to seek out ways to do something about it.

(Cross-posted to Smart Like Me)

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Some People Will Be Hungry This Thanksgiving - Reprise

By Carol Gee

Thanksgiving Day 2008 -- Bountiful tables, full tummies, excess leftovers characterize many of our Thanksgiving feasts. On one of our favorite holidays in the United States, we give thanks for all we have. Today's post is an updated republication of a post that has remained popular since it first appeared in 2005. I begin with an update:

An economist's view -- "The world financial, food and hunger crisis" by Lane Vanderslice from World Hunger Notes (updated Nov. 11, 2008). Some points:

  1. The world food crisis has been replaced in large part by the world financial crisis.

  2. . . . food prices have soared. . . rice, the staple food of billions of people, more than doubled from 2003 through March 2008. . . This is a crisis for the poorest people in the world. 2.6 billion people live on $2 a day or less. They spend approximately 50 percent of their income on food.

  3. [Causes] What are key factors affecting the supply of food? [On] Demand side: There has been strong economic growth for the world economy over the past 10 years or so. . . the quantity people demand of food does not vary much with changes in prices. . . Commodity speculation has been widespread.

  4. Supply side: A major factor affecting the supply of food has been the diversion of crop land to fuel production. . . the agricultural production of developing countries is now directed to a greater extent toward producing for export to developed countries rather than to producing goods for their own people. . . There have also been certain shortfalls in production. . . Assistance to agriculture by developed countries and multilateral development banks has been minimal, and, though some countries have adequately supported their agriculture sector including India and China, others have not, including many and perhaps most countries of Africa. Agricultural producers, especially the poorest, in Africa and elsewhere have been exploited or neglected by governments. Assistance to agriculture by developed countries and multilateral development banks has fallen dramatically.

Wikipedia page "Malnutrition" 2008 -- has what appears to be some good entries. For example:

Some environmentalists claim that the fundamental issue causing malnutrition is that the human population exceeds the Earth's carrying capacity;[5] however, Food First raises the issue of food sovereignty and claims that every country (with the possible minor exceptions of some city-states) has sufficient agricultural capacity to feed its own people, but that the "free trade" economic order associated with such institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank prevent this from happening. At the other end of the spectrum, the World Bank itself claims to be part of the solution to malnutrition, asserting that the best way for countries to succeed in breaking the cycle of poverty and malnutrition is to build export-led economies that will give them the financial means to buy foodstuffs on the world market.

World Hunger Notes is a fabulous resource for the latest news about world hunger. For example:

The original post -- Some Will Be Hungry This Thanksgiving -- Nov. 23, 2005

How does it feel to be hungry, really hungry? It is not the kind of hunger that comes with having missed a meal. It is also not the kind of hunger one feels when doing a very purposeful "cleansing fast," or fasting on Fridays, in the old days of an observed liturgical holy week.

This hunger is that which comes from not getting anything to eat, or very little to eat, on a regular basis for days, weeks, months or years at a time. It comes from not getting a nutritionally balanced diet. This kind of hunger makes it difficult, if not impossible for mothers to nurse their infants. Infants do not grow and thrive if they live. People - adults and children - starve to death, or they die of diseases brought on by malnutrition. There are entire nations starving or desperately endangered today; right now. And there far too many people in these United States that are also hungry. This week, this coming Thanksgiving Day, the weekend following , millions are hungry. For many of the rest of us, we will be trying to figure out what to do with all our leftovers.

A recent Reuters story focused on the just published United Nations report on hunger in the world which states that 6 million children a year die from hunger related causes. (see also the terrific pop up map in the title link above) Quoting Reuters,

Most of the 6 million child deaths a year are not due to starvation but
rather to neonatal disorders and diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and measles which would be easily curable if the victims were not weakened by lack of nutrition.

The food crisis brought about by climate change is also part of the larger hunger picture. The BBC article begins,

Climate change threatens to put far more people at risk of hunger over the next 50 years than previously thought, according to new research. Scientists say expected shifts in rain patterns and temperatures over that time could lead to an extra 50 million people struggling to get enough food.

(BBC image) In Africa people in Malawi face a maize crisis. Quoting,

The worse harvest in a decade and failed rains are being blamed for what aid agencies warn is a rapidly emerging food crisis. What is making matters worse is HIV/Aids. One in seven people in Malawi is affected and it is fueling the problem of extreme hunger. Money that households would normally spend on buying seed and fertiliser, is being spent on transporting the sick to hospital and buying basic medicine instead.

In Zimbabwe even their own soldiers are hungry enough that there are shortages of food in the barracks and forced leaves. High food prices are a factor in Niger's hunger problems, because of the high demand for food in the surrounding countries. The crisis of African hunger was debated in this BBC feature; some of the discussion comments were excellent. Millions are at risk in Africa, but so are millions in southern Asia.

Earthquake survivors face winter hunger in the Kashmir area. It is a major crisis for the millions left homeless by the quakes in Pakistan, Kashmir and India. The article states, "As of 16 October, food had reached 440,000 people but an estimated 560,000 remained in "desperate need of assistance".

In our own hemisphere hunger is a major problem in several contries. The BBC reports that Guatemalans face hunger as a result of the recent natural disaster, Hurricane Stan. Rats ate the crops of many people in Nicaragua, one of the poorest nations in the Central America. The BBC article headlines, "The UN is to send 230 tons of emergency food aid to thousands of Miskito Indians facing hunger in Nicaragua."

Here at home, the Food Research and Action Center is an excellent site for exploring hunger in the United States. America's Second Harvest, the nation's food bank network, has excellent material on hunger in the U. S. The Children's Defense Fund explores the question of U.S. children's hunger in this 6-page PDF document. Here is what the USDA site has to say about "food security" in the U.S.:

Eighty-eight percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year 2004, meaning that they had access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households were food insecure at least some time during that year. The prevalence of food insecurity was 11.9 percent in 2004, up from 11.2 percent in 2003. The prevalence of food insecurity with hunger was 3.9 percent in 2004, up from 3.5 percent in 2003.

Since our population was 290,342,554 in July of 2003, the "3.9% of food insecurity with hunger" translates into 11, 323,360 hungry people in the United States. Is there anything that can be done about the recent increase in hunger? The above paragraph on hunger in America includes several references in the linked articles to organizations that endeavor to feed people who go to bed hungry. In your own city, there is probably a food bank, a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter that could use some help, either volunteering or donating. And many churches, synagogues and mosques as well as other faith based organizations focus of food pantries or feeding programs.

World wide, diminishing poverty and the predominance of violence and war will help. Improvements in agriculture are key to the long term solution. For example, unraveling the DNA code of the rice genome may be an answer for many countries where rice is the predominant staple.

Reference: Wikipedia's excellent section on hunger discusses many aspects of the problem and includes links to many organizations that work on hunger.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Humorous link: Obama's controversial use of grammar

By LindaBeth

As a college instructor who cringes every time I read students' writing, I had to share this Onion-like humor piece!

From TruthDig.

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Perspective, please: Obama is not an establishment centrist

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In a couple of recent posts -- here and here -- I have defended Obama against charges that he is not, and is not being during the transition, progressive enough. While I never considered him to be the sort of radical some took him to be, I continue to believe that, while more progressive on some issues and less on others, he is a

Much of this criticism is coming from the left, from likes of Chris Bowers, Jane Hamsher, Digby, and David Sirota. And I have been critical myself, particularly of Obama's support for Lieberman and of his still-unofficial decision to keep Gates at the Pentagon. As Obama is far more pragmatist than ideologue, though, and building a diverse, dynamic team around him, the criticism is coming from all sides. Too liberal for some, too centrist for others, it depends so much on perspective. Is he progressive? Not progressive enough? Yes to both questions. It depends on the issue, it depends on expectations, and it depends on individual preferences and biases.

On Sunday, Glenn Greenwald wrote a post on "progressive complaints about Obama's appointments." I've been stewing over it ever since. It's not that I disagree entirely with Greenwald's assessment, just that I think Obama is being misrepresented by some on the left.

Essentially, Greenwald's view is that progressive shouldn't be disappointed or surprised that Obama has proven, thus far, to be, well, less than progressive:

So many progressives were misled about what Obama is and what he believes. But it wasn't Obama who misled them. It was their own desires, their eagerness to see what they wanted to see rather than what reality offered...

Barack Obama is a centrist, establishment politician. That is what he has been since he's been in the Senate, and more importantly, it's what he made clear -- both explicitly and through his actions -- that he intended to be as President. Even in the primary, he paid no price whatsoever for that in terms of progressive support. As is true for the national Democratic Party generally, he has no good reason to believe he needs to accommodate liberal objections to what he is doing. The Joe Lieberman fiasco should have made that as conclusively clear as it gets.

I certainly agree that the Democratic Party often ignores liberal-progressive "objections." Nationally, the party is very much part of the anti-progressive, right-tilting Beltway establishment. And there are certainly issues on which Obama himself is something of a "centrist." But what he has proven himself to be is not really an establishment politician but a simultaneously cautious and ambitious one. And, to be sure, many of his appointments so far, and certainly to his economic team, have been products of stay-the-course caution.

Now, I think it is true, as Greenwald notes, that "the vast majority of Obama supporters were perfectly clear-eyed about what he is and voted for him for the standard unremarkable reasons -- that they perceived him as better than the alternatives." (This is the point Creature made the other day.) I also think it is also true that many of his supporters were misled by "their own desires."

But I do not think Obama is a "centrist" or that he will govern from the center or center-right, as some have been suggesting. His support for Lieberman is not nearly as meaningful as Greenwald suggests it is. Indeed, while I may have opposed it, I think it was a reflection not just of Obama's desire to be inclusive (and to have Lieberman's vote) but of his strength. Reaching out to one's foes, after all, is not necessarily an indication that one agrees with them. On the contrary, it can be an indication of magnanimous leadership. Instead of moving to the right, I would argue that Obama is actually trying to pull the country left -- and that he is doing so by reaching out to the center, as well as to the right.

(I do understand, of course, that some progressives feel that Obama has been ignoring them, especially over the whole Lieberman saga, but I think it's imperative that we give Obama the benefit of the doubt -- again, because I don't think he's an establishment centrist but rather a cautious liberal who knows that he can't go too far too fast -- and appreciate his calculations. Just as he was careful not to come across as an "angry black man" during the campaign, both primary and general, lest he feed and be devoured by that noxious stereotype, so is he taking care during the transition not to come across as anything but

Furthermore, there are positive signs Obama could actually be a progressive president, perhaps even a genuinely transformational one. There will be some foreign and military policy hawks around him, but, given his positions on health care, energy, and global warming, his respect for the rule of law, his emphasis on diplomacy and rebuilding America's image around the world, and his activist response to the economic and financial crisis, I simply do not think he will govern as a "centrist," let alone a right-leaning one.

All of which is to say, there will much for liberals and progressives to like, even if some of his appointments so far admittedly warrant concern. As BooMan put it in response to Greenwald:

Obama's agenda is farther to the left than anything we've seen since at least Lyndon Johnson, and Congress has never in its history seen a Democratic Party so united in its leftward tilt. It doesn't matter whether Obama has centrists and moderate Republicans as part of his coalition. What matters is if he can unite (enough of) this country behind a common purpose to get things done.

And I think he can.


Let me quote John Cole in response to Obama's appointment of his economic team. I think it captures some of what I'm getting at here:

[W]hile I have little clue who most of them are, I feel duty bound as a blogger to express my shock that his choices are not progressive/moderate/conservative enough, and I will do my best to write a hysterical 2,000 word post saying that if he would only listen to me, things would be better. Also, I will, without irony, note that he is appointing too many Clinton re-treads, failing to acknowledge that if Obama had not won, Clinton would have, and probably would have appointed more… Clinton people. Finally, I will whinge incessantly that I was misled during the election. I thought he would be much more progressive/moderate/conservative than he is acting now, and I wish I had voted for the alternative (the crazy old man McCain).

Why oh why will he just not listen to me?

Oh yes. I forgot. He also has not fixed the economy, brought our troops home, or closed Gitmo yet. I read in the WSJ thast one of his many advisors has a different opinion than me on one of those issues, so I reserve this space to freak out about that, too.

I do not want to suggest that my progressive friends are just moaning and groaning and whining and whinging, but I do think that what is needed is some perspective. Obama hasn't even taken office yet. It's far too early to make judgements as to how he will govern other than to note that some appointments may be better than others. And I certainly do not think that his appointments prove he is a centrist and will govern as a centrist.

Give him time. He may just turn out to be far more progressive than progressives think.

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Doing something

By Mustang Bobby

What I don't know about economics and monetary theory could fill several large volumes, and if someone asked me what we should do about the current financial crisis, I'd probably stare at them like a Shropshire sheep, then come up with something along the lines of "homina-homina." Fine; my reaction -- or lack of it -- doesn't mean anything to the global economy. But when people we've entrusted with running the country and the economy display the same kind of indecisiveness and incoherence, it can lead to all sorts of unpleasantness. It's not that they don't have the answers; economists will argue about the granular stuff, but it's the appearance of confidence and having a solution at hand that matter.

Stock markets are like herds of cattle or flocks of pigeons; they respond to input -- either positive or negative -- without really thinking; they just take off in a flurry before processing the news. But they also pay attention to the attitude, and when the leaders -- or the presumptive leaders -- actually do something that indicates they will take charge and do something, the markets respond positively, even if the ideas and stimulus come from President-elect Obama, who has no power whatsoever. Action brings confidence and relief.

There's been a lot of discussion about whether or not this financial situation is comparable to 1932 when Herbert Hoover did too little too late to try to bring the nation out of the Depression. The nation and the world waited on the verge of panic for the new administration to come into office in March 1933, and when Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office and declared that we had nothing to fear but fear itself, it was almost cathartic. It wasn't his solutions that worked -- many of them put in place in the first 100 days and the years after didn't do all that much. It was just his attitude of confidence and belief that Americans would be able to get through it, and he was the leader to get us going again. As Will Rogers noted at the time, "If he burned down the Capitol, we would cheer and say, 'Well, we at least got a fire started somehow.'"

Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

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A tale told by idiots

By Carl

[I]t is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

-- Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

So, the latest desperate attempt by the anti-Obama forces focuses its depleting energy on...
Hillary Clinton:

If President-elect Barack Obama nominates Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, many legal scholars believe it would be the former law professor's first violation of the Constitution as president.

Why? Because the Constitution forbids the appointment of members of Congress to administration jobs if the salary of the job they'd take was raised while they were in Congress. (Article I, Section 6: "No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office... the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time." Emoluments meaning salaries and benefits.)

True enough, the language is clear. And yet, this is one of those clauses of the Constitution that seems quaint, antiquated, and woefully out of touch, like, say, the Second Amendment. Indeed, as Pete Williams points out, this clause has been violated repeatedly over the past century. Taft named Sen. Philander Knox, Nixon named Sen. William Saxbe, Carter named Sen. Edmund Muskie, and Clinton named Sen. Lloyd Bentsen.

The solution was to roll back the pay hikes in order to fulfill the spirit of the clause.

Now, we're not talking about a massive raise here. It was a
cost of living adjustment, and one could make the case that, indeed, emoluments were not raised at all, merely restored to their 1990s' level. However, a case could be made that any senator who sat in this past Congress would forever be barred from serving as secretary of state or any other Cabinet post.

It seems pretty clear this clause was designed to prevent a quid pro quo situation.

But, noooooooooooooooooooooo, that's not how the
insane wing of America wants to play this! An example:

"Is Hillary Clinton Unconstitutional?" In a word, Yes -- or, to be more precise, a Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be unconstitutional.

Torture? Constitutional.

Patriot Act? Constitutional.

Abandoning habeas corpus? Constitutional (until the SCOTUS overrules it).

A senator taking a personal pay cut (given that Hillary would have to seriously cut back on her speaking commitments and Bill would have to stop advising foreign governments)? UNconstitutional.


(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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By Creature

Battles must be chosen when it comes to Obama's picks. Putting a torture-and-rendition enabler in a top spot, a fight worth having. Robert Gates staying on as Defense Secretary, not so much. It's clear continuity is needed. It's clear, with two active wars, that these are not normal times (though maybe Orwell would disagree). I'm not thrilled, but I'm not angry either. What I'll be watching for is how many of Gates' underlings get to stay (and if they were holdovers from the Rumsfeld regime). That will tell me far more about the deal Obama struck with Gates than the Gates pick itself.

For more on Gates, see Michael's, not as accepting, post below.

(Cross-posted at State of the Day.)

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Minnesota Senate Recount -- update 3

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, it goes on... and on... and on...

With 82 percent of ballots recounted, Norm Coleman has a lead of 231 votes over Al Franken. (Check out the Star Tribune's recount news page here. County-by-county results are here.)

And it's a long way from being over. So far, there have been 3,626 ballot challenges (1,853 by Coleman, 1,773 by Franken).

And there's still the question of rejected absentee ballots. This morning, the State Canvassing Board "unanimously voted... to deny the Franken campaign's request that rejected absentee ballots be included in the recount." However, "the board members stressed that they weren't rejecting the merits of the arguments made by Franken's attorneys. They also made it clear they expect the issue to be litigated separately from the recount procedure."

In other words, there's the recount... and then the litigation. Ultimately, this race may very well be decided in the courts.

(For our previous posts on the recount, see here.)


This photo from the Star Tribune seems to capture the whole process: "Ramsey County election judge Ann Berres took a moment upon hearing her table would need to count again."

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White House actively opposing limits on greenhouse gas emissions

By Michael J.W. Stickings

He may be the lamest of lame ducks, but George W. Bush -- Our Current President (OCP), as our Carol Gee calls him -- is still doing immense damage. Consider:

As the Bush administration prepares to issue its ruling on whether to limit greenhouse gases, it's sending out a message to some of its allies: Tell us how much you don't want us to regulate emissions linked to global warming.

Last week, the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs sent an e-mail to mayors reminding them that time was running out if they wanted to comment on the proposal the administration issued in July, which laid out how the government might curb greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. A 2007 Supreme Court decision required the Environmental Protection Agency to issue such a ruling, but the White House made it clear in its e-mail that it does not think that is a good idea.

In other words, the White House (i.e., OCP) is actively marshalling support for its long-standing opposition to limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Some mayors may actually be concerned, but the White House is not just encouraging them but inciting them to tow the line.

As S. William Becker, executive director for the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, put it: "It appears there is no bottom to the administration's pit of disdain for regulating greenhouse gases. On the eve of the comment deadline on one of the most important environmental issues of our time, the White House is resorting to scare tactics, including rhetoric from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to incite opposition among elected county and city officials."

Inauguration Day cannot come soon enough.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Gates to remain at Pentagon

By Michael J.W. Stickings


Several officials close to President-elect Barack Obama's transition tell CNN that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to stay on the job for at least the first year of the new administration.

One source called it "all but a done deal" that the announcement could come as early as next week.

"It's now pointing in that direction," one of the sources close to the transition said of Gates being part of Obama's national security team, which may include Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

"It's likely to happen," a second source close to the transition said of Gates staying on.

This source noted that Gates could stay for longer than a year if he and Obama end up working well together.

Well, we'll see if these anonymous sources are right. I suspect they are. This has been rumoured for some time, after all, and, as far as I know, no other names (e.g., Nunn) have been leaked or floated.

As I put it a couple of weeks ago, this is not change I can believe in. Why? Because it's not change at all. Yes, I understand that Obama wants continuity and stability, but Gates is a long-time member of the Republican foreign, military, and intelligence establishment (even if he's nominally an independent). Of course, he's been a vast improvement over Rumsfeld, but the bar was pretty low, and, to me, keeping Gates just means more of the same, specifically, more war in Iraq a ramping up of the war in Afghanistan. (And then there's his past, littered with dirty laundry.)

If I may go off on a tangent for a moment, I have been more than willing so far to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. He is being criticized by some on the left, among the Netroots, for being insufficiently progressive, but, to me, he is being, so far during the transition, admirably pragmatic, not least in building what seems to be a fantastic team around him. In fact, as I put it a few days ago, there are positive signs he could actually be a progressive president, perhaps even a genuinely transformational one. Yes, he supported Lieberman, and, yes, there will be some foreign and military policy hawks around him, but, given his positions on health care, energy, and global warming, his emphasis on diplomacy and rebuilding America's image around the world, and his activist response to the economic and financial crisis, I simply do not think he will govern as a "centrist," which usually means right-leaning, let along from the supposed center-right, unless -- and this is what I hope will happen, in time -- he pulls the center to the left. If anything, he has the opportunity to make liberalism the center once again.

And yet, when it comes to keeping Gates at the Pentagon, I just can't give him the benefit of the doubt. As Chris Bowers points out at Open Left, after all, "keeping Gates on... only worsen[s] Democratic image problems on national security, as he would be the second consecutive non-Democratic Secretary of Defense nominated by a Democratic President [after Bill Cohen by Bill Clinton]. The message would be clear: even Democrats agree that Democrats can't run the military." As well, while Gates may not be a right-wing ideologue, neocon or otherwise, many of his key people certainly -- and they are likely to remain with him at the Pentagon.

In short, this seems to be a terrible move on Obama's part. Maybe it will work out better than expected -- with Obama and Gates not just working well together but working well in the right way and towards the right ends -- but, as of right now, I'm not impressed.

(For more, see the Politico, ABC News, and Reuters, as well as all the reaction at Memeorandum.)


For an interesting analysis of bipartisanship as building an "outside-in" coalition, see Ed Kilgore at The Democratic Strategist:

There is... one form of "bipartisanship" that Bush never took seriously, and that is very consistent with everything Barack Obama has said on the subject. Back in 2001, I described it as an "ouside-in" coalition:

This variety, typically used by incoming Presidents during their "honeymoon" period, involves the aggressive, direct stimulation of public opinion to push members of the opposing party, especially those from states or districts where the President is popular, to come across the line.

This is essentially bipartisanship (or if you wish, post-partisanship) from the ground up, which reaches out to rank-and-file Republicans and independents to mobilize support for big national initiatives. I contrasted this with the "inside-out" coalition -- often known later as High Broderism -- which involves deal-cutting in Washington across party lines.

I raise this distinction partly because it's important in and of itself, and also because it provides the essential context for the decisions Obama makes on appointments. It's one thing to appoint Republicans to positions as a signal that the new administration is interested in a broader agenda of bipartisan deal-cutting in Washington. It's another thing altogether to appoint a diverse team of officials who are all pledged to implement a clear progressive agenda.

For more on this, see Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central. To me, it does look like Obama is building just that sort of "diverse team." The question is whether he is committed to implementing "a clear progressive agenda." He may very well be, and, yes, I retain the hope that he is.

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Commercial critique: Guitar Hero World Tour

By LindaBeth

I was initially pretty pleased at the Guitar Hero World Tour commercials. I liked that the first one, at least, showed a group of guys hanging out in comfy, even kinda sexy, clothing, rocking out like dorks. Typically representations of masculinity perform "boundary maintenance" (see "Fraternal Bonding," which interestingly enough specifically talks about athletes), which is about displaying masculinity through sexism and homophobia; so often in commercials, the "cool guys" are the womanizing-objectifying type (not that the first GH didn't have at least one of those in there), not the male bonding through semi-sexy fun type. So the initial commercial, at least, thwarted my expectation by not giving into the the sexist-homophobic construction of masculinity typically seen. The first one featured several male athletes (Phelps, A-Rod, Tony Hawk, Kobe Bryant) rocking it out in someone's living room à la Risky Business, and several more have followed including American Idol stars David Archuleta and David Cook, High School Musical singer/actor Corbin Blue, and most recently model Heidi Klum. Except they're not really à la Risky Business.

In Risky Business, Cruise dances around the living room in a long-sleeved button-down t-shirt, barely long enough to cover his ass, and nothing else is visible until the end when you see he has skimpy tighty whities on. In the GH commercials, the guys are dancing around in replica dress shirts and long, white boxers. Not 100% authentic, but I didn't think anything of it because it's a daytime commercial, and I figured they probably didn't want it too seductive. That logic only held until I saw the Klum ad, where she wears (big surprise!) only the barely long enough dress shirt--no white shorts.

Why the discrepancy? Does this go back to the idea that sexualizing women's bodies is acceptable for general consumption, but men's bodies are (generally) off limits? What's especially interesting to me here is that the original context of the parody was the sexual one -- it's not like they changed the commercial to make the one with the woman more sexual; rather they specifically desexualized the men's commercials, and in doing so, deviated from its original context. It doesn't bother me that they deviated; it's that they deviated from, and desexualized, only the ones with the men.

But wait--it gets better. Because they actually did make the women's one more sexual. The version of Klum's commercial aired during Monday Night Football featured Klum with the button-down shirt unbuttoned, displaying black lingerie underneath. During her GH "performance", she strips her shirt off, gyrating around, shakes her boobs while leaning back -- all very stripper-like moves; again, this version is way off from the original they are supposed to be parodying. Celebrity Smack has this characterization of the commercial:

Close-ups of her ass and her boobs come next, followed by Heidi jumping down on the couch and holding the guitar between her legs as though it were a 2-foot long sex toy.

It is indeed a very sexualized commercial. Klum is turned into a quasi-porn star and the guitar seems more like a phallus than a fake guitar. This still is particularly telling:

Before anyone points out that "it's not that bad," the point is that for a series of commercials that are supposed to be citing a famous film scene, the ad makers go out of their way to increase the sexualization of the one commercial featuring a woman, and decrease the sexualization of the many commercials featuring a man or men. The only ad they made that is an accurate representation of the film is the "family-friendly" Klum ad. And until now, I haven't even pointed out the 3:1 male:female ratio of the ads, nor the vocations of the genders represented (athletes and musicians: supermodel, how original!).

Let me point out, that there have been more "successful" replications of the Risky Business scene. Exhibit A: one of my favorite shows, Scrubs, had a JD fantasy sequence with the guys imitating Cruise. Now they don't go through and dance--the fantasy is cut short--and the scene is much more goofy than sexy, but there we had 4 guys on non-cable TV early prime-time (and syndicated now during the day) with the same shirt and some much Cruise-like skimpier undies. No reason GH couldn't follow suit.

But maybe our only women's-bodies-should-be-objectified/men-looking-at-men's-bodies-makes-you-gay society can't handle the swooning that would ensue if we were able to see as much of A-Rod, Phelps, and Kobe's athletic physiques as we see of JD, Turk, Dr. Cox, and The Todd. For a game that appeals quite equally to female as well as male players, GH sure didn't aim to give men and women equal ad time and representation.

(For other posts in this series, click here.)

(Cross-posted to Smart Like Me.)

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Top Ten Cloves: Things about Citigroup keeping stadium sponsorship after getting government bailout

By J. Thomas Duffy

News Item: Heckuva Bailout: Citi and AIG Still Pay Hundreds Of Millions In Sports Sponsorship

10. Instead of "Fan Appreciation Day," now will be called "Hank Paulson Appreciation Day."

9. Make fans give back foul balls hit in stands, because Citigroup needs to "tighten belt and save money."

8. When starting pitcher is relieved, now will be referred to as being "bailed out."

7. Soon becomes evident ... free agent signing season on one hand ... Major layoffs at Citigroup on the other hand.

6. Citigroup making one concession: Killing plans that would allow execs to fly to stadium in their private jets.

5. "Casey at the Bat" now gets reworked to "Casey at the Bank" and it's a happy ending: Casey doesn't strike out, but walks away with billions.

4. Citigroup to sub-contract parking lot to AIG ... AIG hires people to vandalize cars ... AIG then sells fans new "Vandalism Insurance Policy."

3. Instead of ceremonial "first pitch," Citigroup execs will do ceremonial reenactment of receiving bailout check from government.

2. New 7th-inning stretch tradition: Players and Citigroup shakedown fans in stadium, making them fork over money to see the game finished.

1. Using its "expertise," Citigroup to make millions working on packaging troubled batting averages and selling them to investors.


Bonus Bogus Bailout Riffs

Think Progress: Bailed-out companies AIG, Citibank have no plans to cancel expensive sports sponsorships

Michael Winter: Citi, AIG will continue sports sponsorships despite bailouts

Robert Reich: Citigroup Scores

Tyler Cowen: Whoops! Back to TARP after all...

Brilliant at Breakfast: So why DID we just throw a truckload of money at Citigroup then?

The Wonk Room: Citigroup Bailout: ‘A Lousy Deal For The Taxpayers’

Mark Thoma: The Citigroup Bailout

Bonus Bonus

Special Essay - Play Ball! ... Batter Up! ... Could You Please Tell Me, What Is This Thing Called Baseball?

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Portrait of an epic failure

By Libby Spencer

Is it me or does Paulson look like he's seriously considering bolting out of camera range? Or maybe he's weighing the political cost of slapping Bush upside the head for dragging him into this pathetic photo op?

[via mikevotes]

(Cross-posted at The Impolitic.)

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He's so vain: What's the deal with those presidential pardons?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As you may have heard, President Bush yesterday issued 14 pardons and commuted 2 sentences. This is what presidents do near the end of their terms, and, of course, Bush is no exception.

According to the Times, there are "2,000 pending petitions," but there were no big names among the 16. Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence last year, while others, like disgraced junk bond king Michael Milken, disgraced ex-Congressman Randy Cunningham, disgraced track athlete Marion Jones, and the disgraceful Conrad Black, haven't (yet) been granted clemency.

"Those issued reprieves had been found guilty of mostly garden-variety offenses," including "income tax evasion, unauthorized acquisition of food stamps, drug offenses and bank embezzlement." Thankfully, Bush did not "issue blanket pardons to government officials and intelligence officers who took part in counterterrorism programs like Qaeda interrogations, to protect them from the threat of criminal prosecution." (But, of course, there is still time for Bush to do what he does best, which is the wrong thing.)

So... nothing special. But this stood out:

The closest any of the defendants came to celebrity was John E. Forté, a hip-hop artist and backup singer to Carly Simon who was convicted of aiding and abetting in the distribution of cocaine. (Ms. Simon put up the bail of $250,000 for Mr. Forté when he was arrested in 2001 at Newark International Airport.) Mr. Forté was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but Mr. Bush commuted the remainder of his sentence.

Okay, but why him? What is Bush's connection to such a relative unknown? Is he just a big Carly Simon fan, or what? It doesn't seem like Bush to make nice with hip-hop artists for nothing.

I'm not insinuating anything here -- Bush connected to Newark drug network!

I'm just curious.

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