The Conservative Political Action Committee has chosen a Big Fat Idiot as the recipient of their Defender of the Constitution Award.  Tomorrow night at their annual conference Rush Limbaugh, the bigoted hardline-conservative mouthpiece for the GOP, will deliver the closing speech and then receive his prize.  They couldn’t have picked a nicer guy.  I mean really, only a great statesmen and defender of the Constitution can come up with stuff like this:

Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.

“The difference between Los Angeles and yogurt is that yogurt comes with less fruit.”

“He is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He’s moving all around and shaking and it’s purely an act. … This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn’t take his medication or he’s acting.”–on an ad by Michael J. Fox endorsing Claire McCaskill for Senate for supporting embryonic stem cell research.

“This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation…I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of the need to blow some steam off?” –on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

“I’m just watching Sen. ‘Dick Turban,’ ah, Dick Turban is doing his — from Illinois — he of Club G’itmo fame. Ha! I wish Roberts would have shown up in the Club G’itmo T-shirt today.  Maybe, maybe a Club G’itmo java coffee cup, just for Dick Turban. Ah, but anyway, Dick Turban.”

“It’s called Operation Chaos. The dream end, I mean, if people say what is your exit strate… strategery, the dream end of this is that if this keeps up to the convention, and we have a replay of Chicago 1968, with burning cars, protests, fires, literal riots, and all of that, that’s the objective here.” — On the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

“You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray [the confessed assassin of Martin Luther King]. We miss you, James.  Godspeed.”

“Let me leave you with a thought that most honestly summarizes my sentiments: I love the women’s movement…especially when I am walking behind it.”

Thinking ahead to next year… Who would want the award after it was given to Rush Limbaugh?  Ann Coulter is the only other person I can think of that would be worthy of such a “prestigious” award.

I’ll leave it to Scott Horton at Harper’s to explain.

It’s because they are…

“The Stupid Party”

How do Americans view Barack Obama and his relationship with the Republican minority? Nearly 80 percent say that Obama is outstripping their expectations as a President; nearly 70 percent say he is delivering on his promises; roughly two-thirds of Americans approve his performance. Republicans do not fare so well. Their approval numbers come in at half or less of Obama’s, and the public believes, also by a large margin, that Obama has stretched out a hand of cooperation to the Congressional G.O.P., and they have responded by spurning him. The public, it seems, is forming a very harsh judgment on the performance of the Republican leadership, which in time of crisis has reduced itself to a simple mantra: just say “no.”

The poll also offers us a chance to understand how Republicans view the world. The Washington Post reports: “74 percent of Republicans in the new poll expressed grave worry about the deficit, 29 points higher than in December when George W. Bush held the reins.” Nothing has changed about the deficit—it is still a deficit that George W. Bush created. But the Republican Party’s attitude has been dramatically transformed. Telling indeed.

My theory is that the American public would be happy with an opposition party that plays a constructive role in governance by forcing the exploration of the government’s proposals and putting forward its own alternatives. Our experience as a democracy is that such a process of lively public debate helps us move to correct answers. But the Republicans are not behaving as a responsible opposition party. Their behavior reminds us of John Stuart Mill’s label for the unconstructive Tories: he called them the “stupid party.”

Moreover, the hallmark of contemporary Republican thinking really is stupidity. Consider Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, who responded to a question about whether Obama was a legitimate president with this blather “Well, his father was Kenyan and they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate… You have to be born in America to be president.” Shelby, of course, supported John McCain, and there’s no dispute as to where McCain was born: in Coco Solo, Colón Province, Panama. Shelby is apparently vying to become a leader of the party’s rampant Neoconfederate bloc.

Read the rest of this excellent critique of the R’s including Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, S.C. Governor Mark Sanford,  and Ohio Congressman Steve Austria.

Okay so I am at two days late blogging about Obama’s first speech to a joint session of congress.  Too busy.  Anyway…

I must say that Obama exceeded my expectations again Tuesday night.  I don’t know how he keeps doing that, but he does.  It was a really great speech delivered with perfect pitch.  Exactly what the country needed to hear right now.

Anyone who had doubts about his ability to lead had to be convinced by that speech that he really does understand the problems we face and he is confident that he has chosen effective solutions. 

Republicans, on the other hand, are betting their future that he is wrong and that he won’t be able to lead us out of the hole we’re in.  They say they don’t believe government spending is right, they say it’s wrong to borrow money to spend on government sponsored programs that create jobs. 

They of course know that they borrowed trillions for the war that helped get us into this mess.  Bush never once booked the cost in his budgets or raised a single tax to fund it.  The Republicans approved of that debt spending every lockstep of the way.  Now they say that it’s wrong to spend money on tangible improvements to our own infrastructure that will lay the groundwork for a robust economy in the future. 

The people are on Obama’s side.  His approval ratings are in the high sixties to seventies, and everyone, including Republicans that voted for McCain gave his speech extremely high ratings.

The only time the “red line” ratings dropped at all were when Obama put the Republicans in their place.  But even when he did that, he did it in a nice way, and he made it clear that his administration has inherited many problems from the previous administration – problems that began with policies the Republicans in congress helped Bush implement.  And he also made it clear that it’s the government’s job to solve the problems and that he is eager to work with both parties to find the best solutions.

The question then is whether or not the Republicans understand that the people are not on their side and don’t really like their policies or how they go about presenting them. 

Bobby Jindal, their “rising star,” gave the Republican response on Tuesday night and he came off looking like a huckster with his distortions and attempts to completely flip what Obama said just minutes before him.  People gave him low marks because they did not agree with him and, because he was so obviously distorting the truth, they did not trust him.

I think they just don’t get it.

I boutht the new N.A.S.A. (it stands for North America/South America) album, The Spirit of Apollo, on Tuesday, and have been listening to it during the commute for the past few days.  It’s a fun record.

The album is on the ANTI label, home of many of my favorite artists such as Tom Waits, Neko Case, Devotchka!, Spoon, Nick Cave, Michael Franti, and Mavis Staples.

The ANTI page for this album describes it as follows:

The Spirit of Apollo was born with the righteous goal of bringing people together through music and art, and that is exactly what masterminds Sam Spiegel (Squeak E. Clean) and Ze Gonzales (DJ Zegon) have done. Brazilian funk provides the roots of the songs and binds them together into a cohesive whole, but from there, the imagination behind The Spirit of Apollo ranges far and wide. Unexpected collaborations abound on the eighteen track release.

I bought it because I had heard the Kool Keith/Tom Waits collaboration “Spacious Thoughts” on KEXP last week.  I loved it. 

Listen and learn.

If you liked that, then you’ll probably like the David Byrne/Chuck D song, “Money” too.

After hundreds of billions given and hundreds of billions more promised to the financial industry, its CEOs, its private jets, and its inconceivable multi-million dollar bonuses, benefits, and compensation plans, the Obama stimulus has hit the one hurdle that resonates with the average American: the guy next door.

Like the guy who spent a couple thousand last summer installing an above ground pool. He also poured thousands of gallons of chemical-laden water into it. Then dumped it, further polluted with his kids’ waste and slime, into the sewer. 

The other neighbor, on the other side, with the two car garage, still parks his cars on the street, in front of your house. You hear them shouting at each other as though they’re the only people on the street. As though this is their cul-de-sac, and theirs alone.

Then there’s that one across the street. They probably moved here from Idaho. That state pays so little into the federal tax grid that they actually make a profit, then just tells anybody who’s unhappy with the standard of living there to head on over to a hippy socialist commune in Oregon or Washington. And when they moved here with their countless kids, big hair and big trucks to enjoy the benefits of the big city suburbs, they never changed their small pond, big fish values to fit their new situation.

Now these idiots can’t pay their mortgages because they never learned how to live within the system. They never calmed their frenzied consumerism, they never even figured out that Wednesday was garbage day or that their lids would disappear if they didn’t bring the cans in after work.

Things work differently in the world you’ve inhabited long enough to consider yourself a successful member of it. People live here in a well defined balance of give and take. You don’t move in with nothing to give and then get the federal government to come in and rescue you when you’ve simply taken so much.

It’s like the gentrification of the gentry. Welfare for the goateed. And that is a gentrification up with which one can not put.

The prospects for a peace agreement based on a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians have never seemed bleaker.

In the decade following the failure of Bill Clinton’s mediation effort between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak in 2000, the Israelis have been subjected to suicide bombers, random shootings and more recently to unguided rockets from Gaza that targeted innocent civilians.  And an organization that is sworn to destroy the State of Israel now controls half of the Palestinian territories.

If Israeli dead and injured number in the hundreds, those of the Palestinians are counted in thousands as Israel has unleashed its military might, sometimes brutally, to crush first the Intifada and more recently the Hamas rocket barrage.  Gaza is beleaguered and in ruins, a testament to the callousness of both Hamas towards its own people, and of the Israelis who seem to think that not targeting civilians absolves them of moral responsibility when they’re killed “collaterally.”

The Palestinians in the West Bank have yet to see much concrete benefit from choosing the more moderate Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas.  They are, as ever, subjected to daily humiliations by Israeli military roadblocks; they see extreme right-wing Jewish zealots building new and expanding existing settlements on the West Bank often on the best available land. There are roads the Palestinians are not permitted to use and water sources that are for the Jewish settlers alone.

A recent devastating segment on the CBS network’s 60 Minutes highlighted the reality of the second-class status of Palestinians in the West Bank.  In one part it showed a Palestinian family whose house was regularly occupied without warning by Israeli troops because it happened to be situated on a rise affording good observation over the surrounding area.  During these temporary expropriations, the homeowner (a bank manager) and his wife are kicked out of their bedroom for the duration, and must live with their children downstairs.  The Israeli soldiers refused to be filmed or to answer questions; perhaps they were ashamed, as well they should be, but probably not.  When the 60 Minutes crew arrived a second time at the house coincidentally with the children returning from school, they were told the latter would not be admitted until the film crew departed.  Such is the daily life of one Palestinian family.

CBS showed a lot of courage airing this piece because it was sympathetic to the Palestinians.  Unlike in the rest of the world, that’s not a popular thing to do in the United States.  Despite the fact that Israelis have the strongest military in the region, Americans perpetually labour under the illusion that it’s the former and not the Palestinians who are the underdogs.  The plight of the Palestinians receives short shift in the media and American public opinion; and politicians of both parties take note.

A few years back, Jimmy Carter received a good deal of flak here for using the word “apartheid” in the title of his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. In the book, Carter made a compelling case that Israel had essentially imposed a sort of apartheid  on the Palestinians of the West Bank.  Although pilloried in America, his opinion is widely shared throughout the rest of the world, and for good reason as anyone who saw the 60 Minutes segment would see.

The Bush administration did virtually nothing to reconcile the two sides in eight years.  On its watch the bitterness and hatred between Israelis and Palestinians after so much violence has only hardened attitudes. Politically, the Palestinians are now disastrously split with the dreadful Hamas in control in Gaza; Israelis meanwhile have now given the hard-line Benyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud a better than even shot at forming a government.  The prospects for a lasting peace have surely never seemed worse.

Yet there is hope even in the very hopelessness of it all.  Israel is faced with three unpalatable choices in its relationship with the Palestinians.  If the two-state solution is rejected, it has two other choices: It can drive the Palestinians out of the territories or at least try to make life for them so unbearable they that will leave of their own accord to go… where? Jordan?  Egypt?  In the alternative, it can continue on its present course towards an apartheid state in which its Jewish citizens enjoy a privileged existence whilst Arab and Palestinian inhabitants live as second-class nobodies with few rights.  In either case it is Israel’s soul that will be destroyed.

Sooner or later Israel and the Palestinians must come back to the table because the status quo is simply not sustainable.  And in the Obama administration, let’s hope Israel finds it has a true friend and not one that sycophantically tells it only what it wishes to hear.

As long as we’re on the subject of comics, it’s worth getting around to noting that both Seattle weekly newspapers, The Seattle Weekly and The Stranger, have dropped their featured weekly comics.  The Seattle Weekly ran This Modern World, and The Stranger ran Troubletown.

So now when you go to your local coffee shop or cafe and pick up the alt-weeklies expecting to at least get a chuckle from two of your favorite comics, you will be disappointed.  Well, if you don’t have your laptop with you anyway.  You can still read them on the internet.  (That’s the place where in the not-too-distant-future you will be reading all of your print media, so charge up that laptop before going to the cafe.)

Tom Tomorrow and Lloyd Dangle have written many posts about how they’ve been shafted by papers all over the country that used to run their comics.  The papers claim they stopped running the comics as part of their cost-cutting efforts designed to help keep them in business.  One link I followed led to me to this story that pointed out it typically costs most papers about ” $20 to $35 a week” to run the comics or about $3,500 a year.   Wow… what a savings. 

I don’t think cutting content is going to improve their circulation and, in turn, increase their ad revenue, so I think the weeklies are making a big mistake.  We’ll have to wait and see.

For more about the missing comics I recommend this post by Tom Tomorrow and this one by Lloyd Dangle.

Funny how the sick work of Sean Delonas will continue to be available in Rupert Murdoch’s rag, and two really good comics that are actually funny won’t be available in my local papers.

And I thought that the writer of the first comment on the post below was a racist.

Well I guess there are sick racist sons of bitches and their are professional racist sons of bitches.  Sean Delonas gets paid for the offensive stuff that gets published in the New York Post.

And if you are overly generous with your giving of “the benefit of the doubt” and think maybe Delonas is making fun of Congress, the “author” of the Stimulus Bill, the New York Times points out that:

The cartoon was on Page 12 of Wednesday’s edition, next to the paper’s Page Six gossip column. On Page 11, the reverse side, was a photograph of President Obama signing the stimulus bill into law in Denver.

If you want to see some more of this man’s fine work go here.

Oh, and Sean Delonas’s website is “temporarily unavailable” for some reason…

The economy has been getting worse and worse every day, and while President Obama was juggling with the problems of filling his cabinet positions, minority Republicans in congress seized on the opportunity to play politics with a much needed economic stimulus package.  The “conservatives” who gave us three trillion dollars of added debt during their man’s failed terms as president are now crying foul about spending money right here in the U.S. to create much needed jobs and repair our crumbling infrastructure. 

Paul Krugman explains just what is at stake:

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to economic recovery. Over the last two weeks, what should have been a deadly serious debate about how to save an economy in desperate straits turned, instead, into hackneyed political theater, with Republicans spouting all the old clichés about wasteful government spending and the wonders of tax cuts.

It’s as if the dismal economic failure of the last eight years never happened — yet Democrats have, incredibly, been on the defensive. Even if a major stimulus bill does pass the Senate, there’s a real risk that important parts of the original plan, especially aid to state and local governments, will have been emasculated.

Somehow, Washington has lost any sense of what’s at stake — of the reality that we may well be falling into an economic abyss, and that if we do, it will be very hard to get out again.

It’s hard to exaggerate how much economic trouble we’re in. The crisis began with housing, but the implosion of the Bush-era housing bubble has set economic dominoes falling not just in the United States, but around the world.

So what should Mr. Obama do? Count me among those who think that the president made a big mistake in his initial approach, that his attempts to transcend partisanship ended up empowering politicians who take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh. What matters now, however, is what he does next.

It’s time for Mr. Obama to go on the offensive. Above all, he must not shy away from pointing out that those who stand in the way of his plan, in the name of a discredited economic philosophy, are putting the nation’s future at risk. The American economy is on the edge of catastrophe, and much of the Republican Party is trying to push it over that edge.

Krugman and several other columnist were wondering when Obama “the orator” was going to speak passionately about why congress needs to pass the bill right now.  Obama answered the call last night:

NYT article here:

“Don’t come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis,” Mr. Obama told a gathering of House Democrats in Williamsburg, Va., referring to Republican demands for more tax cuts.

“We are not going to get relief by turning back to the very same policies that for the last eight years doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin,” Mr. Obama said. “We can’t embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face, that ignores critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, or the soaring cost of health care, or falling schools and crumbling bridges and roads and levees.”

“The scale and scope of this plan is right.  If we do not move swiftly,” the president said, “an economy that is in crisis will be faced with catastrophe.”  He added, “Millions more Americans will lose their jobs. Homes will be lost. Families will go without health care. Our crippling dependence on foreign oil will continue.  That is the price of inaction.”

Republicans, including John McCain will have none of it.  They have but one solution for every economic problem:  Tax Cuts. 

Republican efforts to drastically alter the package, by eliminating huge blocks of spending in place of expanded tax cuts, continued Thursday morning as Senator McCain proposed yet another substitute bill, including a plan to slash corporate and personal income taxes.  Democrats defeated his proposal and others.

John McCain needs to go back and watch his own speech that he gave on the night of November 4, 2008 – His CONCESSION speech, the one where he said:

“The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.”

That’s right Johnny.  You lost.. by a lot.  The American people did speak clearly. They are tired of the Republicans’ failed economic policies that favor only the very richest among us.  In fact, even the very richest among us are tired of the reckless Republican tax cuts.  Here’s a snippet from a column that Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, wrote for the New York Times today:

I’m the chief executive of a publicly traded company and, like my peers, I’m very highly paid. The difference between salaries like mine and those of average Americans creates a lot of tension, and I’d like to offer a suggestion. President Obama should celebrate our success, rather than trying to shame us or cap our pay. But he should also take half of our huge earnings in taxes, instead of the current one-third.

Then, the next time a chief executive earns an eye-popping amount of money, we can cheer that half of it is going to pay for our soldiers, schools and security. Higher taxes on huge pay days can finance opportunity for the next generation of Americans.

So take note people.  If we want to get this economy back on track, the government needs to start spending money right now on projects that will put people back to work and improve our future economic prospects.  How will we pay for it?  By raising taxes on the very richest among us who got a free ride while Bush added trillions to our national debt.

President Obama has made our commitment to Afghanistan a central plank of his foreign policy.  Everyone agrees that the reinvigorated Taliban, helped by al-Qaida in  Pakistan, represent a formidable foe in their mountainous home.  And whilst it is widely recognized that building a stable Afghanistan will require much more than the application of military force, it is equally clear that we cannot make substantive progress whilst the Taliban controls large swaths of the countryside.  

Yet there is not a single brigade-sized or larger unit in either the United States Army or Marine Corps that is specifically trained for the sort of mountain warfare that would help prepare them for combat in rugged Afghanistan. The Army’s 10th  Mountain Division, unlike its illustrious World War II predecessor, is a mountain division in name only.  It lacks any particular training or expertise in mountain warfare.

To be sure both services have mountain warfare schools but these primarily are for individual rather than unit training. No major US ground force unit is based at or regularly trains at a high elevation camp or post. This in contrast to the WWII era 10th Mountain Division which was based and trained at Camps Carson and Hale in the Colorado Rockies. 

Specialized unit training of troops for mountain warfare is both expensive and resource intensive.  It requires them to be able to become acclimated to high elevation movement and maneuver; to be equipped for the bitter cold and very possibly with new weapons, such as artillery, that are specially designed for being packed in to otherwise inaccessible terrain. Yet the rewards of training our conventional troops well enough  to go toe-to-toe with the fleet-footed Taliban warriors even in their most inaccessible redoubts and sanctuaries could be enormous.

It’s no secret that the Marines are keen to be redeployed from Iraq to the campaign in Afghanistan, where they believe their talents will better utilized..  To date, Secretary of Defence Gates has resisted the idea of having the Marines take the lead force there although a small number has already been deployed.  In fact having the Marines as the principal conventional force in Afghanistan is an excellent idea.  To win their point the Marines should immediately expand the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center in California and ensure that every battalion slated for deployment in Afghanistan is given lengthy and sustained mountain warfare training and altitude acclimation before shipping out. 

If the Army continues to have the principal role in Afghanistan, why not make the 10th Mountain Division a mountain warfare specialist in more than just name?

We are likely to be battling the Taliban for years to come in the mountains they know so well. It is long past time we treated the challenge with the seriousness it deserves by adequately preparing our troops for what will be a long and arduous struggle.