Friday, January 30, 2009


While I deliberately chose to stay out of the intramural pissing match between lefty bloggers over Caroline Kennedy, now that Hillary Clinton’s former Senate seat has been filled by Kirsten Gillibrand, I couldn’t help notice some sharply contrasting assessments of her selection.

Consider Paul Begala’s glowing description of Gillibrand as a “star” and potential future female version of Barack Obama:
Listening to Gillibrand speak of how Hillary Clinton inspired her, I couldn't help but see parallels to Barack Obama. Our new president has described himself as part of the Joshua Generation -- the African American leaders who have come after pioneers like John Lewis, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps Kirsten Gillibrand is part of the Joshua Generation of women leaders, inspired by Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and so many others who blazed the trail Gillibrand is now following.
Then compare with Lawrence O’Donnell’s Huffington Post piece, where he raises questions about how Gillibrand’s political history actually meshes with Obama’s policy goals:
The accidental governor of New York ended his relentless daily display of incompetence in choosing a successor to Senator Hillary Clinton by offering this praise for his choice, Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand: "She also introduced legislation that would require that our federal budget be balanced annually.

Introducing "legislation that would require that our federal budget be balanced annually" is as childish as Congressional behavior can get. If Gillibrand had her way, Obama would have no tools to use to get us out of this recession/depression. Nor would we be able to continue paying soldiers in Iraq or buy the jet fuel to fly them home or enact any version of health care reform.

All the adults in Congress agree that we need a deficit-financed stimulus package--the Democrat v. Republican disagreements are only over the precise size and shape of the package. How long will it take Kirsten Gillibrand to grow up?
One thing is certain: at least one of these characterizations is complete spin! While it’s possible that the truth is somewhere in the middle, I think there are a couple of signs that one is on target and the other is complete BS.

One is what I’ll call the logic gap: Begala offers nothing to back up his assertions, except to say he's seen her impress both both city folks and cows (slight exaggeration!) In fact, Begala writes as if he’s filling out the word count around an opportunity to set forth how much Gillibrand admires Hillary Clinton. O’Donnell, on the other hand, makes a point that is consistent with nearly every credible economist and with observable economic facts.

The other is Begala’s history as a Clinton loyalist and operative, while O’Donnell’s history is one of a bold, controversial, and occasionally very prescient, truth-teller.

Although I was neutral throughout much of the drama surrounding Caroline Kennedy’s potential appointment, these two alternative views of Gillibrand have created the suspicion that Kennedy was attacked so viciously in the media because her appointment would somehow not be deferential enough to Hillary Clinton, and that Gillibrand is a very disappointing choice! (for additional reasons, see Al Giordano here)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

And the Award For Most Shameless Advertising Campaign Goes to . . .

Talk about misunderstanding the message!

If PepsiCo really wants President Barack Obama to Refresh Everything for the good of the country, I’m guessing they would rather not include a refreshing change to America’s food policy - one that would de-emphasize consumption of soda pop - as is recommended by noted authorities like Michael Pollan and many others. I really don’t think that part of the hope and change represented by Obama’s ascendance on the political scene really involves refreshing America’s preferred source of diabetes-producing, obesity serum from Coca Cola to Pepsi!

But then, perhaps I’m being a little too cynical about PepsiCo’s motives. If only the nine million plus who supported Barack Obama can resist the underwhelming temptation to associate his message of hope and reformative change with the consumption of Pepsi products; and can just sit back and sip their Perrier while watching the wingnuts fall all over themselves gorging on Coca Cola in protest of PepsiCo’s “leftist” leanings, perhaps the goal of moving the country toward a new, more productive and sustainable long-term future will come even faster and last longer, thanks to the negative health effects of PepsiCo’s new ad campaign!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Here’s Obama’s New Mantra Against GOP Sniping [Updated]

Barack Obama set the tone perfectly when he responded to GOP criticism of his economic stimulus plan with the simple admonition, “I won!”

Paul Krugman apparently agrees, as he suggests that the response reflects the fact that the majority of Americans who elected Obama are no longer inclined to listen to the same old conservative arguments anymore.

In fact, Krugman considers their desperate attempts to stall Obama’s spending-based plan as a series of disingenuous “bad faith” cheap shots intended to fool the public into regressing into primal instincts cultivated over the last few decades of failed conservative supply side economics that began with Ronald Reagan.

Of course, the next step for Obama, assuming his initial conciliatory gestures toward bipartisanship are met with more whining and obstructionism, is to start beating the drum with polished regularity that November 5, 2008 was a crossroads moment when the country chose bold change and new ideas over stubbornly clinging to the failed ideas of the past.

He should create a clear choice for conservatives: Get on board and help make the new policies a success; or be seen, front and center, as relics of the past who are trying to barricade the door to progress for all of us and stifle the hope of a better future for our children and grandchildren.

The stampede has already started! The GOP can choose to run with the bulls and perhaps help achieve a euphoric, life changing, accomplishment. Or they can choose to stand in the way and be gored by a movement that Barack Obama understands is the reason he’s already won!

[Update] House GOP members vote 100% against the Economic Recovery Plan! Wow! The ship is sinking and these clowns unanimously agree that the best strategy is to keep clinging to the anchor!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Keeping the Powder Dry on the Public’s Tolerance for Pardons

It’s interesting that Bush 43 seemed to be quite reluctant to issue a flood of pardons on his last few days in office, despite eight years of practically shoveling money to his friends and cronies. Dick Cheney even criticized Bush for a “miscarriage of justice” in not pardoning Scooter Libby.

The most obvious explanations for the lack of pardons are either he was too lazy to actually work on his last few days on the job; or as this post suggests, that he simply lacked empathy or the capacity to feel loyalty toward even those like Libby who sacrificed their own credibility (and careers) to protect him.

Personally, I think the reason may be that he heard the public call to hold him accountable for his own crimes, and President Obama’s seeming inclination to look beyond Bush’s actions toward “focusing on the future,” and he decided that if the public were to become oversaturated with his own outgoing pardons, they may be less likely to accept a call to “let bygones be bygones” when it comes to Bush himself.

Perhaps it’s a fitting miscalculation for a man who graced us with an eight year string of miscalculations!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama’s Top Ten Supremely Subtle Inaugural Jabs at Conservative Ideology (and Bush!)

Boy, does it feel good to have a president who is not just smart, but smart enough to point out the hypocrisy and outright failure of his political opposition without them even knowing what hit them! Al Giordano once referred to it as the Mack the Knife Technique and it was in full display during President Obama’s inaugural address. Looking over the transcript of the speech, here are the top ten sharp jabs I found (that Bush 43 undoubtedly just chuckled through), along with my own comments:

10. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. (Perhaps the most subtle of all, this one served as a reminder of what’s been ignored for the last 8 years!)

9. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. (Take that, Karl Rove!)

8. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works. (AKA: Nobody cares what Grover Norquist thinks!)

7. As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. (And we reject those who have given us this choice, so take a hike!)

6. (Earlier generations) understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. (A bully always eventually gets his ass kicked!)

5. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. (GOP RIP!)

4. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government. (Nobody trusts Dick Cheney!)

3. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. (The hard choices of holding the greedy and irresponsible accountable, perhaps?)

2. (Our economy’s) power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. (Our economic crisis is due, almost entirely, to a GOP ideology of embracing negligence to allow looting by the “have mores”)

1. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. (This is my favorite, because it says not only that Bush 43 and his supporters are children, but that further GOP obstructionism will be childish and untimely . . . and it says it to those who believe in Scripture!)

It was a thing of beauty, and a signal to the World, if not to oblivious Bush apologists, that President Barack Obama will be a force to be reckoned with for conservatives determined to attack him the way they attacked Bill Clinton!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

These images aren’t great because all I had was my phone, but they do capture the wonderful setting and the crowd at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. The scene took place right below my office window, where I am now back at my desk watching the lingering crowd slowly dispersing after Obama’s inspirational call to “put aside childish ways” and help America re-establish greatness through shared community and responsibility.

I’d like to comment on the few close-up shots of Bush 43 as he sat listening to Obama’s speech and the crowd reaction . . . but I guess that would be childish of me!

So I’ll just skip right to the pictures:

The sun rises over a perfect backdrop:


The crowd eager with anticipation:


The moment that Barack H. Obama becomes the 44th President of the United States:


Link to the full text of President Barack Obama's inaugural address.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Colbert Report of its Era

Back when I was in high school, the most innovative, cutting edge, television comedy on the dial was Fernwood 2Nite, which later became America 2Nite. Every day, my friends and I would come to school and rehash the previous night’s antics of phony talk show host Barth Gimble (played by Martin Mull) and his dumbass sidekick, Jerry Hubbard (played by Fred Willard).

While it wasn’t overtly political, like The Colbert Report, it mocked the cultural sensibilities of the times in much the same way that Stephen Colbert does today. It was smart, edgy, often politically incorrect, and absolutely hilarious! Just as Colbert pushes the envelope by combining TV comedy with modern technology and audience interaction, Fernwood blurred the lines between reality and fiction by combining real life guests and fictional characters interacting with the pompous, condescending Gimble and the stunningly dense windbag Hubbard.

Additionally, I’m reminded by this tribute by Steve Clemons, that Fernwood’s creator, Norman Lear, has long had a political sensibility that played a large role in developing the new progressive media that helped make shows like Stephen Colbert’s possible.

I had not thought about Fernwood for many years decades, when I heard that Mull and Willard were reuniting for a live reunion performance as a part of the San Francisco Sketchfest. Not about to miss out on the fun, I just got my tickets yesterday!

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I was able to find a couple of vintage clips that demonstrate what I’m talking about. Enjoy!

Gimble and Hubbard at their Finest:

Classic Interview with Tom Waits:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sometimes Focusing on the Future Starts with Reparation [Updated]

I’ve been thinking about the Obama team’s response whenever questions arise about holding the Bush Administration accountable for potential war crimes. Repeatedly, Obama’s response is always to point out the importance of “focusing on the future” and “looking forward not backward.”

This mantra was highlighted again recently when the top question voted up by citizens using Obama’s website was the following:
Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?
The Obama team’s response was to point out that this question had already been addressed, and to refer to this previous comment by Joe Biden:
The questions of whether or not a criminal act has been committed or a very, very, very bad judgment has been engaged in is — is something the Justice Department decides,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he was not ruling prosecution in or out. “Barack Obama and I are — President-elect Obama and I are not sitting thinking about the past. We’re focusing on the future.
Obama himself was later asked the same question by George Stephanopoulos, and gave a similar answer:
We’re still evaluating how we’re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.
But, as Arianna points out, looking forward and looking backward are not mutually exclusive! In fact, one of the widely accepted principals in making positive changes for the future is the act of making amends as a step toward repairing the damage caused by negative past behavior. Every variation of a twelve step program starts with recognition and understanding of the destructive behavior, and positive action to make things right. From Wikipedia:
As summarized by the American Psychological Association, the process involves the following:

• admitting that one cannot control one's addiction or compulsion;
• recognizing a greater power that can give strength;
• examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
• making amends for these errors;
• learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
• helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions.
I’m all for the idea of turning the page on the bad behavior of our government officials. However, this does not mean we should sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened. Part of the healing process necessary to look forward and focus on the future will come from examining exactly what happened, and demonstrating that our new code of behavior involves enforcing the laws, no matter who broke them and when.

[Update] Here's Jonathan Turley on Countdown, saying it even better:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When All We Had Was the Traditional Media . . .

When all we had was the traditional media, we might have gotten a picture like this and the basic story around it, but we never would have had the opportunity to read commentary like this highly entertaining and insightful connection of military imagery among conservative bloggers, 24’s Jack Bauer, and Joe the Plumber. It almost makes me sympathetic, in a “feeling sorry for the lepers” sort of way, for what it must be like to be a conservative in America today.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Idiot’s Guide to Chicken Soup for Dummies.

Sometimes I hear a comment that is so ridiculously simple-minded and downright stupid that it leaves me slack jawed.

Here’s Sarah Palin, in an interview with a conservative filmmaker who has chosen “to devote his life to correcting the historical record” regarding criticism of Palin, explaining how she thinks the media would have treated her much differently – in fact, would have “loved her” - if she had just had the seemingly random good fortune of choosing to run as a Democrat rather than as a Republican!

Um, sure Sarah!

And I would have been treated much differently in my dream of playing in the NBA if I hadn’t had the random misfortune of choosing to be born a short, slow, white guy who can’t jump!

Sarah also chose to berate the media for treating Caroline Kennedy “with kid gloves,” while they were more critical of Palin during her campaign, suggesting that the difference highlighted “a class issue.”

Finally, Palin expresses an opinion that I can agree with! She has been criticized more than some other political figures - like Caroline Kennedy for example - because other political figures occasionally demonstrate that they have some class, while Palin repeatedly demonstrates that she doesn’t have any!

Panetta for CIA Chief a Victory for Intelligence Over Experience (in Intelligence)

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

With a bold stroke, Barack Obama validated much of the confidence I placed in him throughout the Democratic primary, as I became convinced that he was the candidate who could bring intelligence and basic human decency back to our government.

How do I know this? Two reasons: one personal, and the other, simply obvious. Let me start with the latter:

If the choice of Leon Panetta to head the CIA drew such a harsh, defensive, and petty initial reaction from my bad senator, Diane Feinstein (D-War Profiteering), then it has to be a good choice! Although she quickly changed her public tune after intense criticism and outright mockery of her response to the news, first impressions usually tell the real story much better than the political damage control that follows. Al Giordano provides the details as only he can, including a link to this article Panetta wrote for Washington Monthly that sets forth the values of the man that have been so lacking at CIA for as long as I can remember.

The personal reason comes from an experience I had with Panetta when he was a State Senator representing the Monterey area on the Central California Coast. Through my work, I had the misfortune of becoming embroiled in a dispute with one of Panetta’s constituents who was, quite literally, insane. She apparently was determined to air her complaints demands whatever the voices in her head told her to say through a series of letters to Panetta’s office.

Instead of throwing his weight around and demanding that I comply in order to get this constituent off of his back, Panetta wrote me a thoughtful letter asking me to provide my side of the story. Without going into the details, I’ll just say that Panetta not only considered my response carefully, he wrote back (or at least had a staffer write) to express appreciation for my handling of the situation. It was a small gesture, but one that seemed to me at the time to be coming from someone who cared about doing the right thing, in the right way.

More of this in government, please!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Three Alternative Theories on Sanjay Gupta

Considering that Barack Obama has taken great pains to demonstrate his desire to return science to a position of respect and value in our government, I was pretty shocked to see that he was considering nominating Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General.

Even putting aside criticism that Gupta has been a shill for the pharmaceutical industry, and that he knowingly used false data to attack Michael Moore regarding Sicko, I found the choice to be very strange simply for the fact that it seems so gimmicky to nominate a guy primarily known as a TV doctor!

Sanjay Gupta may be a highly qualified physician, just like Letterman’s Paul Schafer may be a highly trained musician (and I don’t really know about either), but the overall impression when you see both of them is that they are likable media creations who thrive more on attention than competence.

Selecting Gupta sends a message that appearance is more important than substance, because appearance is what he’s best known for. Selecting Gupta doesn’t fit with the type of competence-driven administration Obama has been methodically putting together. In fact, if I don my tin foil fedora, selecting Gupta almost seems like the kind of appointment Karl Rove might recommend to George Bush to cover up some insidious plot to allow cronies to profit from a health care crisis! It just doesn't make sense that Obama would nominate him.

So why all the talk of nominating Sanjay Gupta? Here are three potential theories (not mutually exclusive) that all seem more plausible to me than the thought that Obama really wants Sanjay Gupta to be his Surgeon General:

1. By putting out word that Gupta is under consideration, Obama can count on a media frenzy over the idea that “one of their own” will join the administration, which helps "turn the page" from the prior media frenzies over Rick Warren and over possible links between Obama and Rod Blagojovich.

2. By nominating Gupta and giving congressional dems someone relatively meaningless to reject, Obama can get full support on his more critical appointees without the appearance of a democratic version of the Bush rubber stamp Republicans.

3. Gupta was likely one of many potential nominees to be contacted, but because he is such an eager self-promoter, he quickly realized the PR value of being seen as Obama’s choice so he quickly used his insider status to spread the “news,” knowing that even if he doesn’t get it, he has a huge microphone with which to convince America that he was the one who rejected Obama.

All in all, I will be very, very surprised if Sanjay Gupta ends up being nominated.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Karl Rove: Bush Failed Because He Was Too Busy Reading!

I like to read books. At any given time, I have a small stack of unread books that I hope to find time to begin. The one in progress sits for months near my bed, as the only time I can find to get through another chapter or two is on those occasional evenings when I’m able to retire before I’m completely exhausted and in need of immediate sleep.

You see, I also have a full-time job, and family obligations that take up much of my time. I also make a point of engaging in recreational outdoor activities (like bike riding), and home maintenance activities (like brush cutting in the yard). The only way I could possibly read one book per week would be if I limited my reading exclusively to volumes like those penned by Dr. Seuss, if I were to give up most of my other personal activities, or if I were to sneak in my reading when I should be doing my job!

Yet, in a column published by the WSJ, Karl Rove wants us to believe that George W. Bush is such a voracious reader that he tries to read one book per week, and has competed with Rove for years in trying to finish not just the largest number of books, but books with the most and biggest pages!
The president jumped to a slim early lead and remained ahead until March, when I moved decisively in front. The competition soon spun out of control. We kept track not just of books read, but also the number of pages and later the combined size of each book's pages -- its "Total Lateral Area."
According to Rove, these weren’t quickie children’s books. The contest started as they were both supposedly reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals!” Now I’ve seen a copy of “Team of Rivals,” and I’ve heard Kearns Goodwin discuss it on numerous television shows. It has 944 pages! Frankly, I think Kearns Goodwin is capable of writing a sentence longer than the combined works of Dr. Seuss. If I were to try to read “Team of Rivals,” it would undoubtedly sit on my bedside table for many months, if not a year or more, before I finally got through it.

But Bush apparently finished it and went on to read another 94 books that same year, all while holding the important job of “leader of the free world” and being Commander in Chief during two wars.

By contrast, I’d have to take a two week vacation from my considerably less demanding job just to get through “Team of Rivals” at the consistent pace required to be competitive in a reading contest! And I don’t even come close to matching Rove’s description of Bush’s “extra credit” reading:
Each year, the president also read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a daily devotional.
So I guess this explains a lot! While he was president, Bush read, according to Rove, 95 books in 2006, 51 books in 2007, and 40 books in 2008 (plus his annual laps through the Bible!) Combine that with his regular bicycle rides and frequent brush cutting trips to Crawford, and perhaps it’s not surprising that during that time the economy went to hell, the countries’ infrastructure crumbled, and the Middle East became an even bigger disaster than before.

If Rove’s account is to be believed (and, of course, it's not!), then it seems pretty obvious that Bush was too busy reading, counting and measuring the pages of his books to do his damned job!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Worst Timed Marketing Campaign Ever!

I took this shot of a billboard just outside my window in San Francisco. I’m guessing the person who thought up this marketing campaign didn’t have the current week’s news in mind. If the slogan, "Different From the Israel in the news," was the best idea to reach the drawing board during the planning sessions for the campaign, I couldn’t help but wonder what slogans they rejected.

Thanks to the wonders of the Google, I was able to track down them down so I can share them at Left-Over. So here are the four rejected slogans from the top five in the “Visit Israel” marketing campaign:

There was this:
Visit Israel: Not as many mortar blasts as you think!
and this:
Visit Israel: Like Beverly Hills, but with less rhinoplasty!
and this:
Visit Israel: Because you can’t vacation in a JC Penney catalog!
and, finally, this:
Visit Israel: Shlameel Shlamazel Hasenfeffer Incorporated!
I'll keep you posted on how long the billboard lasts!

Friday, January 02, 2009

To Quote George W. Bush, “Bring ‘Em On!”

OK, so I have very little hope that Harry Reid will actually take my advice, but if the GOP leaders are really willing to filibuster any attempt to seat Al Franken on a provisional basis, while Norm Coleman tries to force the courts to overturn the results of the Minnesota recount, I say let them talk for days!

The Dems can even help them out by using a little of their filibuster time to remind everyone of the details of how Bush became president in the first place. At least in his case, Franken will have the credibility of a completed recount on his side!

They can rehash the details of the Brooks Brothers Riot, in which GOP staffers tried to force the process to a premature halt while Bush still had a dwindling lead in the never-to-be-finished recount in Florida.

They can also refresh our memories of the former arguments made by James Baker about how “endless legal wrangling” can “unduly prolong” the “orderly process of transition” after our elections.

Yeah, if John Cornyn and the rest of the GOP leaders want to filibuster, I say bring ‘em on!