Saturday, May 14, 2011

No 2012 presidential run for Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas governor, current Fox News star, fundamentalist preacher, "Christian Zionist," anti-gay bigot, Obama-conspiracy-theory spinner, single-mother hater, and Chuck Norris Republican Mike Huckabee announced this evening that he will not -- repeat: NOT! -- be running for president in 2012.

His heart just isn't into it. Or so he says.

He could perhaps have been a formidable candidate in an embarrassingly weak Republican field, and he certainly could have challenged for right-wing social conservative support against Newt Gingrich and (relatively) more moderate figures like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, but at the same time he may not have enough anti-government, anti-tax cred to appeal to the Tea Party.

His heart may or may not be into it, but I suspect he took a look at his chances and found them wanting. 

Which means he can stay at Fox, rake in the money, prepare for the Rapture, and do shit like this.

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Is Disney really going to trademark "SEAL Team 6"?

By Richard K. Barry 

Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice has a short mention today of the fact that Disney has trademarked Seal Team 6. He wisely introduces the story by indicating that it is not parody. It's real:

In a perfect example of a big media company looking to capitalize on current events, the Walt Disney Company has trademarked Seal Team 6, which happens to be the name of the elite special forces team that killed Osama bin Laden.

The trademark application came on May 3rd, two days after the operation that killed bin Laden and two days after Seal Team 6 was included in thousands of news articles and TV programs focusing on the operation.

Disney's trademark applications for Seal Team 6 covers clothing, footwear, headwear, toys, games, entertainment and education services among other things. 

A couple days ago I wrote about being uncomfortable with the thought of grotesque pictures of bin Laden's body on T-shirts and in other public displays as a business proposition, had the pictures been released.

I want to be really careful here because I am not anti-soldier. I have said before that I think bin Laden had to be killed and that I am glad we had people trained to do the deed. Their bravery and resolve is to be lauded. Medals, commendations, our gratitude and respect. Absolutely.

There is just something about Disney, the standard in family entertainment, selling stuffed animals or whatever with a Seal Team 6 logo on it. There is nothing warm and cuddly about what had to be done. There is nothing clean and easy about it. Pretending that we don't compromise our humanity by committing or supporting violent acts is folly, no matter how necessary they may be. This was not a Disney moment and trying to make money off of it, especially by these people, is kind of sick.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Rick Scott 2012

From Adam C. Smith of the St. Petersburg Times via the Miami Herald:

Rick Scott for president in 2012?

Absurd as it sounds, people who have talked to Florida’s tea party governor about the Republican presidential field are convinced Scott has a bid lurking in the back of his mind.

“I’m not running for president,’’ Scott declared last week.  Probably he won’t.

But let’s say the field of Republican candidates still looks muddled and uninspiring come November. Let’s say no one has managed to persuade Jeb Bush or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to get in the race. Let’s say fed-up tea party activists still dominate the GOP primary electorate and show no enthusiasm for the “electable” Mitt Romneys, Tim Pawlentys and Jon Huntsmans of the world.


Any normal politician would recognize the ludicrousness. One of the nation’s most unpopular governors, not even a full, rocky year into the job, running for president?

Remember, though, Scott is no normal politician. A lot of people thought it nuts for a fellow known mainly for running a company that paid the biggest Medicare fraud fines ever to think he could win statewide office — in Florida.

Scott pulled it off, though it took spending more than $70 million of his own money. That was only about one-third of his net worth last year, so he still has plenty to self-finance a formidible campaign operation in early primary and caucus states.

Another consideration: Scott often appears to care much more about his perception in national circles than in Florida.

He appears constantly on Fox News. He’ll show up for the opening of an envelope in Washington if it involves hob-nobbing with Beltway celebs. He caught the political bug founding Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a group to combat healthcare reform, and constantly frames issues in a national context. Barack Obama was more of a foil in his gubernatorial campaign than Democrat Alex Sink, and he still frequently criticizes the president by name.

Folks outside of Florida may laugh, but here in Florida this dude has been doing his business for five months, and by any objective measure, he's a disaster. I know card-carrying life-long Republicans who shudder at the mention of his name. One of them said the reason Mr. Scott is bald is because he can't comb his hair; his image won't appear in a mirror.

There's no doubt that he has always had his eye on national office. Why not? In Republican circles, his record of shady business and corruption is a feature, not a bug. And while he campaigned on putting Florida to work, he and the GOP legislature decimated the state budget for schools and the environment, gave a lot of tax breaks to his rich friends, ran roughshod over the rights of doctors and women, and passed a bill regulating baggy pants in high school and outlawing sex with "dumb animals." (So the legislature took a vow of celibacy?) He's teabagger catnip.

There's a move afoot to amend the state constitution to recall the governor. It would be an arduous process, and by the time it's actually done, Mr. Scott's first term will be up, he'll be in the joint, or he'll be Michele Bachmann's vice presidential running mate. One way or another, his reign of terror in Florida will be over.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Bob Dylan in China - same as he ever was

By Richard K. Barry 

Bob Dylan just released a reply of sorts to those who considered his concert in China last April as not in keeping with whatever mythologized idea they have of him.

This is actually pretty funny for those who have followed Dylan's career with even passing attention. On a date now etched in popular music history, July 25, 1965, Bob Dylan performed with a rock band at the Newport Folk Festival. The folk music establishment (interesting oxymoron that) criticized him for turning his back on political song writing. There are varying interpretations as to what really happened. Did he get booed by the audience, were there sharp words back stage? Whatever happened, it was clear that for some, Bob Dylan would forever have to meet their expectations or suffer the consequences, and their expectation were that he would forever be a protest song singer.

Rather famously, Dylan has always run screaming in the other direction from other peoples' expectations of what he is supposed to say and be and represent, which, to my mind, is a pretty radical message to send the world.

So, Maureen Dowd at The New York Times thought that Dylan should have gone to China, maybe sang "Blowin' in the Wind," and "The Times They Are a-Changin'."Then he should have made a political speech about China's woeful record on human rights. In other words, he should have been the Dylan we think we remember but who, if he ever existed, hasn't for a long time.

Apparently Dylan was asked to supply a set list to the Chinese authorities and did so, but he also claims that nothing in his performance changed as a result. I guess we'll have to take his word for it. But I have seen the man in concert over the past many years and I don't find that hard to believe. His concerts are not a '60s retrospective road show. Sorry Maureen.

If Dylan was still writing the old protest stuff and performing it every day and then went to China and censored himself then fine, get all high and mighty. But that is not what happened. That is not who he is anymore and if you want to talk about freedom, freedom is getting to decide for yourself who you are.

Isn't that what the '60s was supposed to be all about?

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Bachmann on civics? Bet on the kid!

Oh boy, forget pay-per-view, this should be on Prime Time, Must-See TV!

Our inaugural Ignorant-Dolt-of-the-Week is up for the fight of her life.

In expounding upon the Constitution, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) rarely troubles with reading it. Her musings on the subject have earned her yet anotherPolitifact “pants on fire” award and ensured the employment of fact-checkers everywhere. Now, the Minnesota Independent reports that one American —a high school sophomore — wants to take the Congresswoman head on. 

Rep. Bachmann, the frequent inability you have shown to accurately and factually present even the most basic information about the United States led me to submit the follow challenge, pitting my public education against your advanced legal education:

I, Amy Myers, do hereby challenge Representative Michele Bachmann to a Public Forum Debate and/or Fact Test on The Constitution of the United States, United States History and United States Civics."

Hopefully, we will be able to meet for such an event, as it would prove to be enlightening.

Go to the link to read Ms. Myers's full letter.

She could challenge Batshit Crazy Bachmann on the American Revolution as well. I'll bet this high schooler knew that the Revolution didn't start in New Hampshire.

Please, please God, make this happen!

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Blogger problems, blogging consequences

As some of you know, Blogger was down for an extended period of time. Blogs including this one could still be seen, but we couldn't post anything. And, what's more, for some of that time all posts beginning at some point on Wednesday weren't there anymore. They had simply vanished. Thankfully, Blogger finally fixed whatever it was that was ailing the system and restored the posts, which brings us to now, the very-early-morning hours of Saturday.

We haven't had any new content since Thursday, but I assure you we'll be back at it later today. So keep checking back.

Now I'm going to get back to watching Gasland, the outstanding Oscar-nominated documentary about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," the extraction of natural gas from shale rock deep under the Earth's surface, a process used throughout the United States thanks to Dick Cheney, Halliburton, various other energy companies, and Bush's 2005 Energy Policy Act, legislation formulated largely by the oil and gas industry at Cheney's behest.

These wells are everywhere, it seems, from Wyoming to West Virginia, California to Georgia, contaminating drinking water (which can be flammable!), polluting the environment, uprooting the landscape, and poisoning the people and animals who live near them.

Gasland is enraging and terrifying -- and exceptional. I highly recommend it.

More posts on their way later. Have a good night.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Freedom is slavery

By Capt. Fogg

A mind is a terrible thing to make up, uncertainty being a fundamental building block of nature, but I've come close to making up my mind that a mind is, unlike all other things, not really subject to change and so those who spend their time trying to change minds damn themselves to a great deal of suffering.

So then, I'm not going to try to convince you that Rand Paul is having another one of his captious fallacy fests by trying to convince us all that if one believes that Americans have a right to have a certain degree of health care, one believes, ipso facto, in slavery.

Why try to go through his tortuous logical progressions and attempt to refute them as factually or logically false? Why indeed, since humanity runs on a blend of unconscious bias and packaged rationalizations. Who would read the list of ingredients on a pack of cigarettes anyway and who bothers to question politicians who mock people you don't agree with? We just inhale and we like it and we come back for another pack.

So, to reiterate the claim that freedom from untimely death is slavery will be enough for me this sunny morning when I should be enjoying life instead of following the lives of celebrity idiots. I'll just leave it to you. You may think of Orwell and smile, you may dream of being the only man in the world and growl in approval, you may jump off a cliff, you may do as you please. I've got mine and screw all y'all, as it says on the Tea Bag and if my wake upsets your boat, or you're thrashing about in the water, screw you twice, loser -- I'm nobody's slave.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Was He Or Wasn't He?

By Carl
So Osama bin Laden was a terror-mastermind who micromanaged every single Al Qaeda terror plot.
And Osama bin Laden was isolated and uninvolved, a figurehead of authority that barely communicated with his major domos.
U.S. officials say Osama bin Laden's journal contains information about future terror plots, and shows the al-Qaida leader was communicating with other terrorists.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday the notebook details the terror network's doctrine, potential targets and how to carry out attacks against them.  It describes plots against the U.S. rail system and the importance of attacking the United States.

Bin Laden is believed to have personally written the journal, which U.S. Navy SEALs seized from his compound in northern Pakistan during the May 2 operation that killed him.
I wish they'd make up their minds.
Under either circumstance, I'm not sure it matters how involved he was. Al Qaeda's ability to perform large-scale attacks was probably long gone, since even the small attacks they were planning were thwarted (or bumbled, as in the case of the Times Square bomb last year.)
Bin Laden's journal bears this out. Featured within were attacks designed to terrorize smaller cities in America, and that's something I want to focus on.
One thing about these attacks that were called for on smaller cities (such as the Underwear Bomber on a flight to Detroit). These are not tourist cities for middle Americans. They may be destination cities, the kind of city that someone from Alpena, MI might go to for shopping, or from Harrisburg, PA for a romantic weekend.
In other words, accessible. They are a concrete thought in peoples' heads, not an abstract like NY or LA. Those attacks would most certainly have terrified Americans who arrogantly believed that being hundreds or thousands of miles from a coast would somehow insulate them from the horror of picking thru wreckage and rubble.
Osama bin Laden was many things, but it appears diabolical and cunning are right at the top of the list. Terrorism is less about death than it is about fear and intimidation. It's a form of extortion, designed to get some larger goal out of forcing the hands of the terrorized.
The thinking behind bin Laden's terror was to force Americans out of the Muslim world. Ironically, with his death, this may happen faster than while he was alive, although it's too soon to tell whether his death will spark renewed interest in his dreams of a fundamentalist Islamic world or whether he truly had become philosophically irrelevant in an age of the Arab Spring, and the move towards democracies.
Bin Laden accomplished much of what he set out to do, from bringing down the World Trade Center towers (or so Ramzi Yussef espoused) to wrecking the American economy, to possibly ending American imperialist aspirations. Like bin Laden and Al Qaeda, that last may have died after one vainglorious last stab in Iraq.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Rand Paul

For likening health care to, yes, slavery:

With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It's not an abstraction. I'm a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you're going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses.

Basically, once you imply a belief in a right to someone's services — do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have right to food? — you're basically saying you believe in slavery.

I'm a physician in your community and you say you have a right to health care. You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That's ultimately what the right to free health care would be.

This is crazy -- and almost unfathomably stupid. (It's only fathomable at all because of who said it and what party he belongs to.)

It would mean that not just health care but democracy itself, with its right to vote, is slavery, not to mention the judicial system, with the Sixth Amendment's rights to trial by jury and representation by counsel.

It would mean, even more broadly, that anything that requires anyone to do anything is slavery.

This may the reductio ad absurdum of Rand's Tea Party brand of extremist right-wing libertarianism, or it may just be a reflection of the man's own personal brand of ideological insanity. Whatever the case, it shows him, once more, to be one of the craziest of a truly crazy lot.

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Sarah Palin wants Corporate America to pillage and plunder even more than it does already

On her Facebook page -- where else? -- Sarah Palin argues, or rather "argues," that President Obama should remove "the boot from the throat of American businesses." (This assumes, of course, that there is in fact a boot on, in, or in some way blocking the throat of American businesses.) Her primary concern, supposedly, is about "keeping jobs for working class families in America."

This is bullshit, of course. Her primary concern has nothing to do with working class families and, as is the case with Republicans generally, everything to do with deregulating the market and reducing taxes so that the rich can get richer and the powerful can get more powerful.

And, what's more, it's just plain wrong. There is no boot anywhere near Corporate American, not even with the supposedly socialist Obama in the White House, who is nothing if not a free market enthusiast. Consider how he bailed out the auto industry and let Wall Street off the hook almost entirely for almost destroying the country.

And as The New York Times reported last year (via Chait):

The nation's workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever.

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms.


Corporate profits have been doing extremely well for a while. Since their cyclical low in the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have grown for seven consecutive quarters, at some of the fastest rates in history. As a share of gross domestic product, corporate profits also have been increasing, and they now represent 11.2 percent of total output. That is the highest share since the fourth quarter of 2006, when they accounted for 11.7 percent of output. 

Read that number back to yourself: $1.659 trillion. This while unemployment continues to be a huge problem and while ordinary working families are having trouble paying the bills and putting food on the table.

And the problem is that businesses are somehow not just being held back but actively throttled? How much richer does Palin want them to be? How much more able to make massive profits on the backs of, and at the expense of, working Americans?

Palin is an idiot, sure, but she offers us a pretty clear view of the Republican soul. Take a good look, America. It's an ugly, ugly thing.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The commodification of Osama bin Laden's death

By Richard K. Barry 

Okay, forgive the 25-cent political philosophy graduate school word, but commodification is a very useful term. If you don't know, it refers to the selling of something that normally would not or should not be thought of as something to be sold. Sex is one of the most common concepts that fits this category. And if Glenn Beck is reading this, yes, Karl Marx is associated with the word. Too fucking bad.

Some Washington pol was on television yesterday saying something that had not occurred to me. It should have, but it didn't. It was that if the president released pictures of bin Laden's dead body, the image would be appearing on t-shirts and in other weird public ways almost immediately. I'm not even sure I can articulate why that would be awful, but it would be, and it would happen.

If you insist, I will say again that I am glad bin Laden is dead, but I don't want to see grotesque pictures of a famous dead person silk-screened on cotton Ts as someone's idea of a political statement or even a twisted sense of art. Do you?

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Could the Tea Party break up into warring factions?

By Richard K. Barry

If one part of the plan for Democrats to hold onto the Senate in 2012 is for them to retain the seats they already have, Nebraska may present a problem.

Democrat Ben Nelson was first elected to the Senate from Nebraska by a slim margin of 50.9 to 49.1 in 2000 and then held the seat in 2006 with a more comfortable split of 63.9 to 36, but in 2012 the early indications are not good as Nelson is considered by many to be one of the more vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

To make matters worse, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning is in the race for the Republicans and as of Wednesday has the endorsement of the Tea Party Express, which not only makes him the obvious front runner for the GOP nomination, but could make it less likely that there will be a split on the right between a Tea Partier and a more mainstream Republican candidate. Or will it?

Turns out that local Tea Party activists in Nebraska are pretty grumpy about the way the Tea Party Express swooped in and endorsed Bruning without much or even any consultation with the locals. From my perspective that breaks one of the central tenets of politics: don't piss off your friends unless you absolutely have to. Yup, new political movement making rookie mistakes. Good to see, at least in this case.

You may recall that the Tea Party Express is a national organization with money and some political clout that has become heavily involved in the national political scene over the past couple of years for the hyper-conservative side.

According to Jim Mason, Nebraska state coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots:

They didn't talk to any other candidates that we are aware of, they sure as heck didn't talk to any other Tea Partiers in Nebraska. This was kind of an out of the clear blue sky type announcement. Actually, I think this endorsement is going to hurt Bruning in a way.

What is interesting about this is that in 2010 the Tea Party Express backed a group of quite marginal candidates who had radical ring-wing ideas, even loony positions. As we know, this led to defeat for some of their handpicked candidates, people like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, as well as Joe Miller in Alaska. All three took what could have been easy wins and turned them into loses.

Clearly the national power behind the Tea Party Express doesn't want this to happen again as is apparent by comments made by a spokesman for them, Sal Russo, who hinted to the National Journal that they were enthusiastically backing Bruning because they see him as electable. In other words, they don't want to make any mistakes with wacko candidates and they are willing to be seriously heavy-handed to make sure.

So, the folks from out of state are trying to tell the locals who their Republican candidate should be, this in a seat they may well be able to take from the Democrats.

One of the first things that happens when a political movement has some success is that some group from elsewhere wants to come in and push people around. Then the natives get pissed off and push back, either by sitting on their hands during the campaign or maybe backing a third party candidate, in other words, by not doing what they are told.

Is the resentment in Nebraska going to lead anywhere? I don't know. Tea Partiers certainly pride themselves in their independence -- isn't that the whole Revolutionary War-loving ethos of the movement? Is the national group going to come into other states and do the same things, creating resentment and an even more fractured conservative movement in their wake?

Up until now we thought the split on the right would be between the Tea Party and establishment Republicans. I don't know if I saw the possibility for an additional split between national and local organizations of Tea Party activists.

Maybe Ben Nelson has a chance after all.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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This day in history - May 11, 1927: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is founded

On this day in 1927, the very same organization that gives us the
Academy Awards and the statue pictured above came into existence. I was interested to learn that Louis B. Mayer came up with the idea initially as an organization that would mediate labor disputes and improve the industry's image.

The notion of giving out awards came not long after with the first event on May 16, 1929.

Hey, I like movies.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Bigotry in Buffalo

A feud between two Transit Road neighbors -- a homeowner and a mosque -- turned ugly this weekend when the homeowner staked a sign on his front lawn insinuating that the new 11,600-square-foot Islamic worship site is home to a "bomb making" operation.

Michael Heick, who lives next door to the Jaffarya Islamic Center of Niagara Frontier, put a small sign that reads "Bomb Making Next Driveway" to northbound traffic on Transit Road. The next driveway on the same side of the road as Heick's home heading north is the Jaffarya Center, at 10300 Transit.

Given the culture of anti-Muslim bigotry that has sprung up all over American, with conservatives -- and, yes, leading Republicans -- stirring up fear and hatred, are we surprised?

But this guy has an excuse:

Heick said he put up the sign because he was frustrated with how the mosque and Amherst town officials have handled his concerns about the building, which opened in November.

"The place is too close. I don't care what people think. It doesn't matter what people think," he said Monday evening from his front porch. "This is a way to get answers now. I get none from the town. The intent was to catch the eye of the people who I have a problem with."

Really? He objects to the mosque's bright lights and so puts up a sign saying it's a haven for terrorists? (Because, of course, all Muslims are either active terrorists or would-be terrorists. Isn't that what we are being told?) He's certainly managed to get some attention, but he's really just exposed himself as a bigot.

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Democrats can DREAM

Following upon President Obama's immigration speech in El Paso yesterday, Senate Democrats will re-introduce the DREAM Act (in full, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), which would give undocumented young people a path to citizenship if they go to college or serve in the military. The bill passed the House in December but met obstruction in the Senate, where, of course, Republicans will again do their utmost to block it.

So what's the point? Well, it's the politics, not the policy (although the policy is good), and it's all about the Latino vote and its possible inclusion in a long-term Democratic majority.

In this case, it isn't just that the DREAM Act is broadly popular, or that the military supports it, it's that Latinos (or Hispanics, as the two terms are generally used interchangeably), perhaps the key emerging demographic group in the U.S., see it as essential.

As Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, wrote about the House vote in December, this vote is "defining," meaning that it will be remembered. And what will be remembered is that Democrats supported the legislation and Republicans opposed it.

For more on this, and specifically on how Democrats and Republican stand in stark contrast to one another on immigration, see my post from last December.

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I'm starting the campaign to draft Hillary Clinton for 2016

Jonathan Alter has a generally glowing article about Hillary Clinton in the June edition of Vanity Fair. The piece starts with the phrase: "In her ninth year as America's most admired woman..."

On March 16th of this year, she told CNN that she was not going to look for a second term as secretary of state, saying:

You know, I had a wonderful experience running and I am very proud of the support I had and very grateful for the opportunity, but I'm going to be, you know, moving on.

And she has been equally clear that she is not running for president in 2016. But what else could she possibly say at this point?

The inevitable comment is that Hillary Clinton was born in November of 1947, so, if she were elected president in the 2016 election, she would be 69 years old at her inauguration. Ronald Reagan was 69 at his inauguration. John McCain was born on August 29, 1936, which would have made him 72 the day he took office if he had been successful. In other words, the age argument doesn't work for me, especially given the fact that women typically live a bit longer than men.

Clinton is a very dynamic and youthful 63 and shows no signs of slowing down.

And God knows the world is still rotten with sexism, as the 2008 Democratic nomination race proved, but I have no idea why an older woman should be given less consideration than on older man. No idea.

I will say at the outset that I was one of those who thought that Hillary would have been a better pick for the Democratic nomination. I still feel that way. I support my Democratic president, but I wanted someone more experienced in the job on day one, someone who didn't have to feel his way for too long. Sorry.

Hillary was a very popular and effective senator. She is now a very popular and effective secretary of state. Her abilities are well documented. Her political prowess legendary. I know she is not perfect. Few people who have been around politics for any length of time are. I know that her pragmatic streak has her moving too far to the right on too many issues for my comfort. But I hardly see President Obama as the flaming socialist some paint him to be. Not by a long shot.

If there are other candidates who can step up and prove their worth for the Democrats in 2016, that will be fine with me (though at this point I have no idea who they might be). I just hope we don't pick some photogenic youngster better suited for Hollywood than Washington because our culture values youth over experience on most days.

I'm not surprised that Hillary is saying she would not run in 2016. It's too early to say anything and it would be too distracting to the work that Democrats have to do right now. But I would also not be surprised if she ends her tenure as secretary of state in 2012, does a couple years maybe doing some fine charitable work, and then raises her head to see if the White House might still be a possibility.

If she is as talented as everyone seems to think, including me, I hope she thinks about it and is given half a chance to give it a shot.

The challenges ahead are going to be daunting. We need our best people.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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The decline and fall of Donald Trump

You knew it was going to happen. But maybe you didn't think it would happen so soon:

Donald Trump has had one of the quickest rises and falls in the history of Presidential politics. Last month we found him leading the Republican field with 26%. In the space of just four weeks he's dropped all the way down to 8%, putting him in a tie for fifth place with Ron Paul.

A lot of it no doubt has to do with the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate, a blow to Trump's ridiculous Birther campaign, as well as the killing of Osama bin Laden, which made Trump's self-absorbed shenanigans look even sillier and more irrelevant by comparison, but regardless it was really only a matter of time before even Republicans came to realize he's an arrogant, spotlight-hogging blowhard whose only loyalty is to himself.

For the rest of us, it's been an unpleasant joke. But now we can turn back to a thoroughly underwhelming and indeed embarrassing (for Republicans) Republican presidential field, which today will welcome another arrogant, spotlight-hogging blowhard, if a more determined ideological one, Newt Gingrich.

Good times.

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Democrats lead Republicans in generic 2012 House poll

It may not mean all that much, not with so much time before November 2012, but Democrats are up on Republicans 50-46 in a new CNN generic ballot poll for the House.

And what's encouraging is that some of the trends we saw in 2010 appear to be reversing (and returning to normal), with Democrats regaining support with some of their core constituencies.

Last year's midterms were driven largely by the bad economy and related anti-incumbent sentiment (and right-wing fear/rage), with voter turnout low overall, as is usually the case for midterms, but dominated largely by whites and seniors, who went solidly Republican.

The economy will still be a key factor next year, of course, but the composition of the voting electorate will change back more or less to what it was in 2008, when Obama won the presidency and Democrats solidified their hold on Congress.

Local factors will be key as well, as will whatever national issues define races across the country, but it isn't out of the question that Democrats will significantly reduce the Republican majority in the House -- and possibly even win back the House should current trends continue and various other factors break their way, and should Obama recover the enthusiasm of 2008.

It may not be likely, but there is reason for cautious optimism.

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Sean Avery... Hero?

By Carl
A really interesting dilemma is bubbling up on the New York sports scene right now, centered around one of the most controversial athletes to play here and creating a nexus between social issues confronting all of us and our desire for escape and entertainment.

The idea that Sean Avery has an unusual personality for a professional athlete is nothing new. Famous for once spending a summer as an intern at Vogue, infamous for the crude comments about ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert that got him run out of Dallas and traded back to New York, the Rangers winger long has been known for being anything but the typical jock.

That image was further reinforced over the weekend when Avery became the first New York professional athlete to endorse same-sex marriage, releasing a video for the Human Rights Campaign's New Yorkers for Marriage Equality drive.

A little background on the athlete: Avery is anything but an Alan Alda type, in case the description of his comments about Elisha Cuthbert escaped you (they were more directed at her then-boyfriend, to be honest). He's what you would call an "instigator," a title I aspire to often enough. For example, he once elbowed a goaltender in the back of the head while the play was elsewhere.

Perhaps "cheap shot artist" is a better title.

Anyway, he's not the kind of guy you would figure to take the side of the weakling. And yet, he's come out (er, no pun intended) in the past in support of gay rights, mentioning how his stints in New York and LA saw him interacting with gay men and lesbians regularly.

And hello!? Interning at Vogue was not exactly the most macho thing a hockey player could do!

But I get it. A lot of my instigation in various places is about defending people who can't defend themselves easily. I understand nuance and explanations, where many people assume that if you have to explain, you've lost the debate.

I suspect there's a large measure of "stop bullying" here.

It's sad that there is not one openly active gay athlete playing in any of the major professional sports in North America.

I emphasize "openly," because we can be certain there are plenty who are either deeply in denial about their orientation or feel they have to hide in a closet. And damn, closets are not fun.

Imagine school-yard bullying on a grand scale from people who really can harm you. And those are just the fans!

Now toss on top a heaping spoonful of lost product endorsements and the ability to put a few extra bucks for the eventuality of a forced early retirement from the sport, and you have enormous pressure for an athlete to pretend to be something he or she is not.

My position on gay marriage is a simple one: yes. Gay men and lesbians should be allowed to marry each other. Period. The snark is that why should straights like me be the only miserable ones, but in truth, the issues run very deep. This world is a brutal nasty savage place, and only humans seem to have the capacity to make it even MORE brutal and savage, so wherever and whenever possible, we ought to find moments where we can help make it sublime.

There's little downside to same-sex marriage, and enormous upside for society. Even accepting the insane, outrageous and militant fundamentalist Christian position that God hates teh gheys, do you really care that they won't be getting into heaven for two reasons instead of one?

Meanwhile, couples can pay taxes and take vacations and openly be with each other. They can be happy. Or miserable. They can be human.

It makes you uncomfortable to see two men or two women holding hands or kissing?

Then you know how it feels for me to see a couple from some town in Pennsyltucky riding their Hovarounds down 42nd Street straining to lean over their enormous bellies to rub lips together to lick the last bit of barbecue sauce off. But I accept that as a gospel truth.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Mitch Daniels wants to run for president. (yawn)

According to The Huffington Post:

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels wants to run for president and is not in the process of convincing himself to do it, a close adviser said. The last hurdle remaining is ongoing discussions between him and his wife, Cheri Daniels, over whether she is ready to face questions about their past.

"I think he would like to do it," the Daniels adviser told The Huffington Post by phone. "I actually think he'd have a decent chance of getting the nomination."

Daniels is relatively sane by Republican standards and his emphasis on economic policy would certainly play well to voters' primary concerns these days, but there's no way he wins.

Whatever his conservative cred on the economy, he's an old-school sort of Republican, a moderate (of sorts, at least by current GOP standards) in the style of George H.W. Bush, or perhaps Jack Kemp and that ilk, the sort of Republican who used to run the party. As I wrote back in February:

In terms of the Republican nomination, this isn't 2008, when a moderate could win as the sitting vice president to continue the Reagan presidency (Jeb's dad), or 1996, when a long-time leading establishment figure could win to face a popular president at a time of economic health (Dole), or 2000, when a safe conservative could win after eight years of Clinton and things generally looking good both domestically and internationally (Jeb's brother), or 2008, when another long-time establishment figure, if also something of a former maverick, could win with the party bitterly divided after eight years of Bush II, defeating a fairly weak primary field (McCain).

This is, or will be, 2012, and, as we saw last year, and as we continue to see now, the Republican Party has changed. It has moved, and is moving, further and further to the right and the Tea Party has become a major player across the country, booting out even credible hardcore conservatives who haven't met their far-right agenda or conspiratorial predilections. The Tea Party has its members on Capitol Hill now, but it's bigger in the base -- and you have to win the base to win the nomination. And it's not just the Tea Party. While there is significant overlap, the Republican Party is also the party of the Birthers. And of course it's not just fiscally but socially conservative in the extreme.

And Daniels just doesn't cut it. He's raised taxes, after, even going so far as to propose a tiny tax increase on the wealthy (a one percent increase for one year) that was rejected by his own party. And while he's socially conservative, he's not an activist social conservative. 

So, yeah, good luck.


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Doing the right thing: Justice, law, and the killing of Osama bin Laden

From the Times:

The adult sons of Osama bin Laden have lashed out at President Obama in their first public reaction to their father's death, accusing the United States of violating its basic legal principles by killing an unarmed man, shooting his family members and disposing of his body in the sea.


Look, I realize that in a perfect world Osama would have been put on trial for his "alleged" crimes. But in a perfect world there never would have been the attacks of 9/11, and in the real world how would any such trial have been conducted to anyone's satisfaction?

I also realize that the question of whether or not Osama's assassination (for that is what is was, let's be clear) was legal is an open one. As Glenn Greenwald wrote the other day, we just don't know enough, specifically the details of the mission and how it was carried out, "to assess the justifiability (or legality) of what took place." He continued:

I think what's really going on here is that there are a large number of people who have adopted the view that bin Laden's death is an unadulterated Good, and it therefore simply does not matter how it happened (ends justify the means, roughly speaking). There are, I think, two broad groups adopting this mindset: (1) those, largely on the Right, who believe the U.S. is at War and anything we do to our Enemies is basically justifiable; and (2) those, mostly Democrats, who reject that view -- who genuinely believe in general in due process and adherence to ostensible Western norms of justice -- yet who view bin Laden as a figure of such singular Evil (whether in reality or as a symbol) that they're willing to make an exception in his case, willing to waive away their principles just for him: creating the Osama bin Laden Exception.

If I had to choose, I would put myself in the latter category, though I don't think Greenwald allows for enough nuance here. It's not so much an Osama "exception" that provides me with the justification for the killing but an understanding (I would like to think) that the world is a messy place and occasionally requires departures from our accepted standards of right and wrong, just and unjust, however flexible. In this case, I'm just not sure the alternative -- putting Osama on trial -- was workable. Ultimately, this, his killing, was the only way it could end.

I understand that we enter upon a slippery slope here. If killing Osama is okay, what about killing the next guy, and the next guy, and the next guy. If you make an exception here, what about there, there, and there? If it's all about some "greater good," where do you draw the line with respect to protecting that good? -- And suddenly we become torturers and executioners.

But allowing for a certain amount of flexibility, carefully monitored, also allows us to avoid absolutism. As Richard Barry wrote last week, "I would like to think we are the kind of people, with the kind of leadership, able to make hard choices, perhaps sometimes ugly choices, because it will lead to a better moral outcome." Again, it is easy to see this as the thin end of the wedge, and Richard acknowledges that. But I agree with him that in the real world we must make difficult moral choices, and I would add that absolutism (this is always right, this is always wrong) gives us an easy way out by making those choices for us regardless of context or nuance. This is why people gravitate towards absolutism. It's morally easier than the alternative, keeping in a state of infantile submission.

I'm not saying that Greenwald is an absolutist. I agree with much of his reaction to Osama's killing and, needless to say, he is a serious and profound thinker. But defending the killing (even while probing into what actually happened, which is what we should be doing) is not necessarily about making a singular exception, even if it may be to some, but rather, to some of us, about rejecting absolutism and making, or allowing others to make in our name (specifically our democratically-elected leaders) the challenging, sometimes gut-wrenching, moral choices that allow us to lead fully realized human lives. Do I feel good that a human being, however "evil," was killed? No, I don't. But given everything that had happened and taking into consideration the various options open to President Obama, I'm just not sure any alternative would have been any more just.

Obviously, though, this does not excuse anything and everything the U.S. did -- and, again, we don't yet know, and may never know, all the details. Were it to emerge that Osama was captured, tortured, and then executed, if, that is, we are being grossly lied to and what happened was even worse than a simple assassination, some re-evaluation would be in order. Which is to say, we should not close the door on this story. We do need to know more. But for now, assuming that what happened is more or less as we are being told, I do think it is acceptable to think that Osama's killing was justified given the circumstances.

Now, to get back to what Osama's sons, was it legal? I'm hardly an expert on international law, but it seems to me that this question will never be definitively answered. Some will say it was, some will say it wasn't. And so the question isn't really about law but about justice, and specifically about justice in a time of war. (And whatever we may think of the so-called "war on terror," there is no doubt that what has been going on since 9/11 amounts to war.) And, to me, and I say this with enormous reluctance, justice required this action.

"We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems," say Osama's sons. Maybe not, but this wasn't just some political problem. This was about tracking down and dealing with the world's leading terrorist, a man who declared war on the United States and its allies around the world, including much of the Muslim world (the parts that rejected his fundamentalist extremism). And while I certainly prefer that the U.S. adhere to its purported legal principles as absolutely as possible, sometimes justice, situational justice, requires flexibility with respect to the application of those principles.

No, America is not perfect, far from it, but neither is the world, and given the circumstances, given the tough moral choices that had to be made, I just don't think Osama's sons have much of a case, let alone much credibility.

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