Saturday, July 18, 2009

More Reflections Thanks To Cronkite's Passing

What is more striking when thinking about the current abysmal state of our national media when reflecting upon the achievements of Walter Cronkite, and others from that bygone era, is what an ugly sinkhole it has become. Just a quick perusal will suffice:

Pat Buchanan: "This Has Been A Country Built, Basically, By White Folks"

Dobbs: Obama Needs To "Produce A Birth Certificate"

Coulter: "Boxer sees a black testifying before her, and she thinks it's appropriate to cite other blacks"

Hour 2: Limbaugh: Sotomayor Has A "Minority Mindset"

Beck "Lose[s]" His "Mind;" Screams At Caller Over Health Care

Almost makes me yearn for the days of three national networks with the willingness to take a hit to the bottom-line to provide serious coverage of events.

Saturday Rock Show

I should probably put "rock" in quotes. Loverboy was Canada's revenge for all the insults we've hurled their way over the years.

I've mentioned that this weekend is my high school graduating class's 25 plus 1 year reunion, and that I cannot attend. When I was in high school, almost every weekend, there was a dance in the junior high gymnasium. A classmate of mine, Chris Davis, had a DJ service, complete with big, old panel lights and a huge sound system, two turntables - yes, turntables - and some favorite songs he would play over and over again. "I Like The Nightlife" by the Cars. "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey. And this song, that for some inexplicable reason he played early on pretty much every weekend. It has few virtues other than being not too long as to overtax the listener. As my mind has turned back to those days with a combination of fondness and embarrassment, it is this song that keeps cropping up, no matter how hard I try to stop it. I suppose it's just that we were all white, from a small town in the middle of nowhere, so we didn't know any better. Youth can be forgiven much, I suppose.

For the WHS Class of 1983, at least those who have survived to this point, I hope you all have a great time.

And That's The Way . . . Ah, Hell

Walter Cronkite has passed. The last vestige of an era when television journalists had integrity, intelligence, and understood their role has gone. The last in a line of superb journalists that included Edward R. Murrow and John Chancellor and David Brinkley . . . we will never see his like again.

It is unfortunate for Cronkite that he was "the most trusted man in America" when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam in 1968. The roots of the right-wing joke known as "liberal media" lie in his vocal opposition after a visit toward the end of the Tet Offensive. When Vice President Spiro Agnew spoke of the "nattering nabobs of negativism", he was talking about . . . Cronkite, of course. I don't know Cronkite's politics, nor do I care all that much, to be honest. It was enough that he had the guts to face the reality of Vietnamese tenacity in the face of defeat during Tet and realize that, even though the United States scored an overwhelming strategic, military victory, politically, the war was untenable because the Vietnamese were quite willing to die en masse rather than be whatever it was the United States wanted them to be. Combined with the many domestic shocks we were facing, our military venture there was doomed, not by pointy-headed bureaucrats or peacenik anti-war protesters, but the inability to form a coherent strategy and the tactics to achieve those goals. It was to Cronkite's credit that he had the guts to sit before a national audience and tell them the war was unwinnable.

Other great moments in Cronkite's career included his steadiness before the camera when he received the report from a young Texas newsman named Dan Rather that Pres. Kennedy had died at Park Hospital in Dallas. I have seen tapes of that broadcast and still marvel that Cronkite managed to maintain his professional composure at that moment of national shock and grief. Contrasted with the stunned look in the eyes and voices thick with tears of so many television journalists on September 11, 2001, it is a model of how a TV News anchor could become a source of strength. I have no doubt that Cronkite, like the rest of America, wanted to weep that November afternoon; yet, he managed to intone the words, "Pres. Kennedy has died" without flinching, choking up, or tearing on camera. When the red light went off, I have no doubt he wept like a child.

It is also fitting that he passed near the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, because Cronkite covered the space program from the first pre-orbital flight right on through the Skylab missions. He loved the space program. His reporting provided context and significance without overt melodramatization or cliche. He was the go-between for the three men in the capsule a quarter million miles away and the millions watching at home. He was as much a part of that event as Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong.

The nation is much poorer today. We have lost not just a great television journalist, an icon of a bygone era, a voice of surety from a time when nothing else seemed certain. We have lost someone who knew who he was, and was humbled by the trust placed in him by his viewers. His example has not been followed by those who filled his shoes, the glare of the lights and the thrill of seeing one's name overwhelming discretion, professional standards, and even common sense. His passing reminds us that, just like the possibility of remounting a program to return to the Moon would take years, regaining the credibility of televised journalism will take even longer, just to get back to where we were 40 years ago.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Somebody Else Says It, And Says It Better

And that's OK. Kudos to ER for the forum, and to Alan who summarizes Grace.
It is through that Grace alone that we are saved, through faith alone. We don't earn our salvation through our works. And all our works are equally condemned because sin taints them all. If you think you've earned salvation because of what you do or do not do, or what you believe or do not believe, you are quite simply an ungrateful fool.

I wouldn't go so far as to condemn your repudiation of Christ's sacrifice as blasphemy because quite frankly, I couldn't care less what you think or believe. God will save you or not, regardless of how incorrect and unBiblical your theology. And thanks be to God for that!

That's it, and that's all. The multiple volumes of dense theology all boil down to these two simple paragraphs.

Getting Loony

We are closing in on the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, an achievement all the more amazing in retrospect considering the level of technology at the time, and our current inability to escape terrestrial orbit for all but the smallest robotic satellites. When Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder, leaving a foot print on another planet, we seemed to be entering a new era.

Except, rather than signaling the beginning of an era, it was, in actual fact, the end of an era. From the moment the beeping of Sputnik was first heard, America's eyes and minds were turned toward the skies. That the obstacles toward something as relatively simple as getting off the ground safely had yet to be overcome (the newsreel footage of various rocket explosions on the launchpad reminded Americans that, at least at this stage, we hadn't, quite, got it right). With the orbit of Yuri Gragarin and the beginning of human space flight (or, at least, low earth orbit), the challenge was as much political as it was technological.

The captive imaginations of young people is difficult to remember over four decades later. My older brother, born two years after Sputnik, was fascinated by space travel. He even has a little cast iron bank in the shape of the moon with a tiny molded Apollo spacecraft attached. The introduction of the Mercury 7 astronauts, and their careful stage managing by the military and Life Magazine made heroes of test pilots willing to risk their lives in a venture that, as of yet, had not been successful.

Pres. Kennedy's 1961 speech that launched the race to the moon set the goal not as part of a larger endeavor for exploration for resources, but as a goal worthy in and of itself. Had space exploration been offered as part of a larger program of a search for exploitable minerals and other resources, the moon landings would most assuredly have been only the beginning. They were not. Set, rather, in the context of a Cold War alpha male pissing contest, the entire Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs existed for no other reasons than to go to the moon and come back. Period.

The times were also against further exploitation of the technology developed for space travel. From the assassination of Pres. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963 to the resignation of Pres. Nixon in 1974 were some of the most socially and politically turbulent times in our history. While it should not have been difficult to transform the space program from seeking a single goal - getting to the moon and back - to many goals - exploration not only for its own sake, but as a larger, practical search for resources for economic exploitation (the real reason for all those ignoble "voyages of discovery" in the 16th-18th centuries) - the various social, cultural, and political upheavals of the times pushed such a discussion further and further from the consciousness of the politicians whose job it was to make such a case. By the time Apollo 11 splashed down, the general feeling was, "Well, that's done, then." The original plan of 20 Apollo missions was trimmed down, funding continued to be cut, and the last human being left the moon in 1972 and we haven't been back.

In a practical sense there's no real reason to go back. While there have been interesting discoveries, such as water ice just below the surface to possible plate tectonics, there is little to attract human beings to the moon. It has no deposits of minerals that are rare on earth, and exploitable for economic gain. Furthermore, the lack of atmosphere restricts the time human beings can safely spend outside the confines of spacecraft. The twin assaults of no breathable air and various cosmic rays make the place uninviting, to say the very least. Lower gravity, combined with the zero-g environment of open space, plays havoc with muscle tone and bone mass, problems that have yet to be overcome.

In talks over the years, I have often heard proponents of a return to the moon use the phrase "terraforming", and I can only cringe. First of all, we have no idea what terraforming the Moon would mean in any practical sense. Second, even if we did, it would only be attempted if there would be a return on such an investment. At present, there are enough iron and nickel mines on the earth to serve our needs; mining on the moon would not exactly be an economic boon. Even the notion, floated a couple years ago by then Pres. George W. Bush that a return to the moon would be part of a larger project of an American Mars mission (why is it always Mars when there are other, far more interesting places humans can go?) was ridiculed by former NASA officials and others who do not see the need for such an extraterrestrial platform.

In the decades since Apollo 17 blasted off the lunar surface, America has become quite adept at the robotic exploration of space. We have orbited Venus, Mercury, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, sent robots past all the planets except Pluto, and landed on Mercury, Venus, Mars, and sent small information-gathering robots in to the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn. When the Mars rovers landed in the 1990's, the entire country was galvanized as the small wandering robots rolled down the ramps of their transports, took a look around, and started their very slow trundling way across the Martian landscape. The cost of the various robotic orbiters and landers is minuscule compared to the cost of sending human beings to these places. Until we discover a reason to go there in person, as it were, we have wonderfully adept remote eyes and ears and even noses (in a sense; both the 1976 Viking landers and the Rovers two decades later had chemical sensors that tested the fatally thin Martian atmosphere) that can check these places out for us, with the risk being only to the reputations of those who are in charge of the various programs.

I see no reason at all to send human beings back to the moon. I have heard, over the past 20 years, that both the Japanese and the Chinese are planning on going. The Russians growl occasionally about doing so. While some people have pointed to these various statements and said, "See? We need to do so, also," my response is, "Why? Let 'em go and discover that, for all the effort, there's just no 'there' there." It should be pointed out that all these plans have come to naught, for a variety of reasons, so none of the arguments matter all that much.

I am not against the human exploration of space, per se. I do think that exploiting robotic exploration is far safer, cost efficient, and has yielded far more information than any trip burdened by the needs of keeping a group of human beings alive and in shape enough to do anything other than crawl out of a lander could have done. While I admire the twelve men who, alone among the billions of human beings who have ever lived, have walked on another planet, as a political and technological project, I just see no reason to go back. Find something worth going for, and I'd be all for it.

Otherwise, not so much.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Six Months Later

We are approaching the six-month mark of President Obama's first Administration, and I wanted to offer some reflections on his approach to governance, what I see as his view of the role of the Presidency, and what the prospects for the future of his Administration might be.

First, it should be said that not only was his election historic, considering his race and his relative youth; it was historic because it came at the end of eight of the most disjunctive years in the American Presidency. Far from "conservative" in the Edmund Burke/Russell Kirk tradition, the Bush years represented nothing more and nothing less than the attempt to make the Executive Branch of the federal government, and the office of the President of the United States in particular, in to a legally transcendent office. From the very beginning of the Bush's first term, when Vice President Cheney refused a legal order to turn over information on who was advising the Administration on energy policy (there were rumors, of course, but without the information in hand, there was no way to move forward). I remember those summer days of 2001, when Karl Rove managed through ham-handedness to insult a Senate backbencher enough to hand power back to the Democrats; when the burning issue was the poorly framed discussion of embryonic stem-cell research (I mean poorly framed from a scientific point of view), and Bush's decision to withhold federal funding for such research, in essence creating a scientific research vacuum that will take decades to restore; and the weird confrontation with China when an American military airplane was forced to land after violating Chinese airspace. I remember just days before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, telling my wife that Bush's Presidency was already lame-duck. Having lost the popular vote, and only narrowly winning a Electoral College majority in an election still unclear, Bush's poll numbers, after an initial bump thanks to American long-suffering, were sinking fast. Had the events of that beautiful, clear late-summer morning not occurred, my guess is American voters would have turned Bush, and the Republican Party, out of power four years earlier than they did.

With the events of that fateful day, however, and the public cowardice of too many Democrats in elected office to challenge the Bush Administration on any number of matters, we were faced with, and had to cope with, eight years of the last gasp of the Imperial Presidency, ignoring the legal strictures placed upon the Executive Branch (including the oversight role of Congress as the Executive manages public policy), and doing all it could to manage the country through an odd mixture of secrecy and judicious information leaking. The Republicans in the Bush Administration seemed to believe that what was key to governance, the currency of true power, was information; who had it, what other might do with what was out there, and so forth. It was, for all intents and purposes, governance by bureaucracy at its worst, with those who understood how to manipulate the flow of information being in the position of having the most power.

With little public information leading to no way to hold anyone accountable, the Executive went about its business without restraint, without concern for the ramifications of certain actions (or, in the case of the destruction of New Orleans in 2005, lack of action), the end result was the financial collapse, the crumbling physical infrastructure, a lack of trust in the good faith and word of our elected representatives and executive office-holders (thanks to myriad scandals, from sexual exploitation and their attempted cover-up to wide-ranging financial and influence-peddling), and a country on the brink of the worst crisis in national confidence in decades.

Against this backdrop, Barack Obama's candidacy of hopeful American resurgence struck a chord that swept him and the Democrats in to power in both the Executive and Congress. The first piece of major policy was the crafting and passing of an economic stimulus package to help revive our floundering economy. With even a few months hindsight, the management of that bill by the President should be seen as one of the keys to understanding his view of the Presidency. For decades, the President has been seen not only as the Chief Executive, carrying out the laws passed by the people's and state's representatives in Congress, but as a crafter of legislation. As a student and teacher of Constitutional Law, one of Barack Obama's first goals was a restoration of the balance between the Executive and Legislative Branches of the federal government. To that end, rather than create some kind of New Deal style alphabet soup of new federal programs and agencies to dole out money directly, the President insisted the legislation use existing legal and regulatory structures for granting federal construction contracts to the states. In other words, while the Republicans were quite correct that the stimulus bill was nothing more and nothing less than the largest pork-barrel spending bill in the country's history, it was done with one-and-a-half eye's on a respect for the inherent Constitutional limitations on federal power.

As the months have passed, even as the President has made good on many of his campaign promises (his record of follow-through is unprecedented, really; he does as he said he would when he campaigned, a tribute to his personal and public integrity, as well as his belief in the necessity of restoring faith in elected officials), the President has been so restrained in his dealings with Congress that many of his liberal supporters have become frustrated with his relative reticence on many matters. Health care reform and the cap-and-trade bill would fare much better if only he would speak out in favor of them; not only his poll numbers, but the poll numbers of measures he favors jump every time he speaks. Yet, precisely because he respects the different roles of the executive and legislative branches, he maintains a certain silence as legislation is moving through Congress, seeing them as the chief arbiters of legislation. They know he may or may not support this or that measure, this or that law, but he is not a legislator, and his role is circumscribed by the Constitution.

In that sense, he has already gone a long way toward righting a very badly listing ship of state. For the first time in decades, we have a President who understands and practices the limitations of the Office of the Chief Executive.

By respecting that limitation, and moving toward a renewed respect for the law, however, part of his government is angering a key group of supporters. LGBT activists are seeking not only an overturning of the Clinton-era Don't As, Don't Tell regulation on gays in the military, but repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Sexual minorities should know they have their first serious supporter in the White House, ever, yet are frustrated because Obama seems to be dragging his feet on setting DADT aside, and has actively defended the DOMA in federal court. Why, they ask, would he do so if he truly supports the rights of sexual minorities?

The answer should be clear, at least as far as DOMA is concerned. The President takes an oath to faithfully execute the laws. DOMA, for all it is a piece of silly legislation, is still the law of the land. In essence, Obama is trying to get supporters to work on Congress to repeal the law. His hands are tied with respect to enforcement; he has no choice. If the LGBT community wishes DOMA to be set aside, it is the business of Congress to do so. All he can do is carry out the law, not ignore it (again, something the Bush Administration did far too much of; while I am not happy with the way the current DoJ is defending DOMA in court, I understand why it is doing so, and have to nod in agreement, even as I cringe over the context).

On DADT, the problem is a bit more difficult, but my guess is that Obama, having some of the best political instincts I have ever seen (his are far better than the master of politics, Bill Clinton), understands he needs to move carefully, avoiding the kind of circus that erupted in 1993, when Bill Clinton signaled he was going to open military service to sexual minorities. I well remember Bob Dole and Sam Nunn having photo-ops on a submarine to show the close quarters, the implication being that a straight man might be uncomfortable being so close to a gay man (why, I don't know; the idea that gays are on the prowl for every man who comes within their vision is quite silly, really). In order to get DADT repealed, Obama is most likely courting key members of the Defense Department bureaucracy, including most especially those in uniform, who would be most resistant to change. When Harry Truman integrated the armed forces, while it seemed radical, the upper reaches of the uniformed ranks were not only ready for it; they had been advocating it. With a military campaign ongoing in Afghanistan and the continued occupation of Iraq still a festering national sore, Obama does not need an internal squabble with senior military officers. While this may seem unfair, I would hazard a guess that once health care reform has passed, in whatever form, he will move forward on these issues sitting on back burner.

The first six months of the Obama Administration have shown us a new style of Presidency, a renewed respect for the rule of law and limitations of the Office of the Presidency, and a reticence to overstep Constitutional boundaries between the Executive and Legislative Branches. By example, he has shown us his respect for the rule of law, even those laws he does not like, and his understanding that he is tasked with enforcing those laws, not ignoring them at whim and will.

Without a doubt, his chances for a second term hinge on restoring the national economy. One thing in his favor is that most of the Bush-era tax cuts were passed with sunset provisions, passing out of law and restoring some taxation to pre-2001 levels in the next 12 to 18 months. While hardly a panacea, they will offer some fiscal relief to a federal government struggling to find ways to fund even the most basic programs, let alone new innovations such as national health care reform. While the prospects are still grim, my guess is that things will be looking better in the next 18 months or so, and by 2012, he will be able to point to a reviving national economy, an improved physical infrastructure, a health care sector where costs have been reduced even as care has expanded and improved as key components of his accomplishments. It won't be easy, and there are even some Democrats out there wary of come of his goals, but I believe that, even within the newly respected boundaries of a far less Imperial Presidency, Barack Obama will succeed, and the nation will be far better for it.

You, Madame, Are No Judge Bork . . . Thank God

There's a line in this analysis piece in The Washington Post that sums up the way the Republicans do Supreme Court nomination hearings:
[Judge Sotomayor's] nearly two-decade record has yielded few decisions that Republicans can exploit.

Now, if we go back 22 years, to Ronald Reagan's nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the US Supreme Court, the Democratic Party, led by Sen. Edward Kennedy, had plenty of rhetorical, philosophical, and judicial ammunition to use against the nominee. In retrospect, some of the comments from Kennedy, especially those made prior to the hearings, were both over the top and inflammatory. Yet, Kennedy and other Democrats had the advantage that Bork not only had a judicial record that can only be called extreme. He also had a publishing and speaking record that could also only be called extreme. His position on the role of the judiciary, on law in society, could hardly be called a model of judicial restraint. On the contrary, he saw the law as reflective of a particular set of social values (which is true, as far as it goes) that can be used to construct certain desirable social and cultural ends (which may or may not be true). Judicial restrain, the hobgoblin of conservatives since the Warren Court of the 1950's, is a truly conservative legal approach; it is respect for precedent, the refusal to use a law, or legal or Constitutional principle, for anything other than the stated goal contained within the plain text. While this or that social or cultural end may be desirable, it is not the business of the law to do what the democratic process has failed to do. Thus, judges should be about making sure the law is applied today as it was applied yesterday.

Bork's position - and, I should add, Chief Justice Robert's, and Associate Justice's Scalia's and Alito's as well - is that the law should be a tool for social and cultural control. The social status quo is a good worthy to be protected; our traditional values are a good worthy to be protected; a legal or Constitutional principle that does not have some basis in a particular reading of the text of the Constitution can be destructive of the social contract as it exists, to the extent that it threatens the power structure that upholds society. While one could argue that this is certainly "conservative" in the sense that it is an approach to the law that sees it as a bulwark against unwanted, unnecessary, innovation that could threaten social stability, it is actually a kind of reactionary view of the law.

Judge Sotomayor continues to insist that, if one of the Senators on the panel wants to know what kind of Justice she would be, to look at her record. They want to know what her judicial philosophy is. John Cornyn of Texas wants, for a reason known only to him, to reconcile her judicial record and her public pronouncements. The reason for this need for reconciliation should be clear to anyone with more than a few brain cells to rub together, yet seems to have escaped the keen intellect of the junior Senator from Texas - Judge Sotomayor's record, including her public pronouncements and speeches, is reflective of her judicial record to the extent that, in keeping with the best of American traditions, she sees the law as a sometimes positive good, sometimes obstacle to be overcome, but the glue that holds our society together. Our social contract is rooted not in this or that principle, whether it be something called Judeo-Christian values or something else. Adherence to some a priori set of principles or philosophy only distorts the reality that, in the end, what binds us together as Americans is the rule of law, passed by Congress, interpreted and applied by judges, whether they are a local traffic cop or a Supreme Court justice.

The other problem the Republicans are having is the reality that Judge Sotomayor isn't the radical bogeyman - Pat Buchanan's racist Latina woman - that public rhetoric has created. Hardly a judicial radical, she observes time-honored principles of respect for precedent and the careful application of those principles to cases. Even in the much-talked-about Ricci case, she was only applying a previously existing Supreme Court legal standard to a set of facts. It was the Supreme Court that changed that set of standards when it overturned her decision, not Judge Sotomayor who somehow was coming to the aid of privileged minorities trying to stick it to whitey.

In the end, Judge Sotomayor will be confirmed. The net result for the Republicans, at least those who have been most outspoken on the Judiciary Committee, will be they will look like what they are, tired old white men attempting to set up and knock down a caricature of a radical activist judge who doesn't exist. They are the last vestiges of a dying social and cultural elite, the last remnants of a power structure that not only no longer exists, but far outlived its usefulness decades ago. That the Republicans put a person with the racist record of Jeff Sessions as the point-man in this process should tell anyone with a modicum of sense all they need to know about who they are, what they are defending, and how much better Judge Sotomayor will look because of it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Manifesto I Like

Courtesy of ER, I love this:

The Generation M Manifesto

Dear Old People Who Run the World,

My generation would like to break up with you.

Everyday, I see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. I think we have irreconcilable differences.

Read the whole thing.

When Worlds Collide - More Thoughts On Facebook

As my "Friends" list grows and diversifies, I have had more than a few occasions to ponder something odd. As various people from different times in my life - high school, seminary, local folks, folks I've come to know through the internet, even some family - comment on this or that status update, I realize not only how rich and diverse are the people I have called "friend", or the people I have at least called "acquaintance", but that this kaleidoscope of difference, from people with whom I grew up but lost contact, only to reconnect all these years later to a few people who I came to know at what was the most emotionally and intellectually vital and stressful (yet wonderful for all that) time of my life (my time in seminary), to some whom I have yet to "meet", formally, yet have come to know at a much more sedate, quiet, thoughtful time in my life.

It's kind of weird, in other words, to have your oldest sister, a friend or two from high school, an old seminary pal, a member of Lisa's church, and a fellow blogger, all commenting on this or that status update. Yet, it also is an opportunity to see oneself through various lenses, crafted at different times in ones life. Those with whom I went to school, a few at least, I can honestly say I have memories stretching back to kindergarten. The folks with whom I went to seminary are, in many ways, the people whose memories I cherish most, because I often think I came alive, really came alive, when I started at Wesley Theological Seminary in September, 1990. Everything in my life I measure pre- or post-1990. Those four years (the three years I was a student, and the year I was a student's spouse) set the tone and tenor for the rest of my life, so much so that Lisa and I have already decided that, once she retires, we are finding a nice little place in DC and settling down there.

I always try to keep things light at Facebook. I do not talk about politics. I do not talk about religion (except mentioning that I go to church, my wife is a minister, etc.). It's about keeping touch with others, letting others know about your day, something funny, occasionally sad, that happened, and best of all (to me) reconnecting with people you once thought were lost for good to your past. Yet, it also offers an opportunity to reflect on just how interesting it would be to actually have a selection of these people sit and a room and chat.

The Senate And Sonia Sotomayor

Watching and reading about and listening to various old, white, and occasionally racist white men harrumph and shake their heads in disappointment at this phrase or that quote from Sonia Sotomayor would be comical if not for one simple fact - these men, especially Lindsay Graham, Orrin Hatch, and Jeff Sessions, can't hold a candle to her. Oh, I'm sure on a personal level Hatch, Graham, and Sessions are fine people. In this setting, though, they can't really touch her.

What it looks like more than anything is a group that knows their days of running things is over. Sonia Sotomayor is the face of the future, not just of the Supreme Court of the United States, but of the United States in general. She is smarter than they are, and each set of questions makes that more and more clear. She is articulate, measured, careful where they run the same, tired, rhetorical constructions that boil down to one simple thing - "We're going to vote against you because Pres. Obama nominated you, and if we can destroy your professional and personal reputation in the process, why that's OK, too, because you're Puerto Rican and a woman." I heard on NPR yesterday afternoon, as the first day of questions began, that Judge Sotomayor had the task of "convincing Republicans to vote for her." Since they aren't going to, all she really has to do is run their gauntlet of stupid, racist, attacks. Since she comes out the other side looking better and better while they just look smaller, I think this isn't a problem. As long as she doesn't really humiliate them, this should be a cake walk.

While I feel bad for her having to go through this process, the only ones who should realize how bad they look to the public are those three men I named. This is their swan song, and their true colors are shining through.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Cap And Trade Legislation And The Economy

Like Bill Clinton's economic/tax proposal in 1993, the carbon cap and trade legislation that Rep. Henry Waxman of California managed to get through the House of Representatives is being attacked as an economy killer. First, since our economy is currently in a vegetative state, I'm not sure how a measure designed to encourage innovation and investment in new technology, as well as provide liquidity to companies that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by trading their permits to companies that are less efficient is somehow damaging to the economy. I suppose its all those college courses I took at the same university; unlike Sarah Palin, I didn't diversify my education experience enough or something.

At the heart of the matter, however, is this. While hardly a cure-all for our environmental woes, this is a good first step toward changing the physical infrastructure of the manufacturing and energy sectors of the economy. I heard today that even Exxon-Mobil, Global Warming Denier No. 1 and still a profitable corporate giant even in our difficult times, is investing in renwable bio-fuels techonology in a big way because even they recognize oil reserves are running out. Rather than get left behind, they are using their enormous financial and market power to invest in new, what can only be called green technology, not because the Board of Directors is filled with tree-huggers, but because they want to survive in the long run.

For all those folks screeching about the end of the American economy as we know it I can only say, "You're right." Our entire economic superstructure is based on petroleum. We use it to produce the energy to run our factories, homes, automobiles. We use it to produce products we use all the time, from plastic shopping bags to the dashboards of automobiles. Yet, the reserves are running out. If we sit around and insist that we cannot change because change will only hurt us economically, my retort is a simple one - if we don't change, the result will be even more catastrophic. Since all these so-called conservatives (who aren't "conservative" in the Edmund Burke/John Adams/Russell Kirk fashion at all, but reactionaries and proto-fascists) are so obsessed with the whole "U.S.A! We're Number 1!" business, I should point out that not restructuring our economy in a way that is less dependent on carbon-based fuels (including not just petroleum but coal as well) will leave us far behind the curve as other industrialized nations begin encouraging their corporate and manufacturing entities to begin the process of switching to a post-carbon future.

I realize this may be difficult to grasp. Every time the subject comes up, you hear, "But there's oil in Alaska! Under the Rockies! Drill!" The reason these fields have not been utilized before now is not some vast conspiracy by environmentalists and liberals burrowed deep in the bureaucracy. Rather, Exxon-Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and other companies aren't exactly beating each other up to get contacts for drilling in these and other places for sound economic reasons. The cost of extracting oil, whether from Alaska's north slope, from under the Rocky Mountains, or further out on the Continental Shelf in the oceans, is the cost is prohibitive compared to the potential financial gain. The fact that even during the Bush years, government incentives for companies willing to drill in northern Alaska (just a form of corporate welfare) were needed to get companies to accept the idea should tell anyone paying attention that this isn't a good idea for more reasons than just caribou migration.

The reality is that our grandchildren will not live in a petroleum-based economy 100 years from now. Even if the US does nothing to encourage altering our dependence on fossil fuels, other nations will, and fifteen or twenty years down the line, we will be hurting, left behind, and it may be too late to make up the difference in the long run. You want to be competitive in a decade? Then, encourage everything from cleaner industrial physical plant to the development of new technologies!

I realize that change, especially the kind of change discussed whenever the issue of the roots of our economy comes up, is kind of scary. Yes, there will be a shake-up of our economy. The alternative, however, is a kind of relatively quick demise of the US to Third World status.

If that happens, at least we will know who to blame.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Simple Answers To Rhetorical Questions

Jamison Foser asks:
Brzezinski wasn't criticized for saying many people agree with Palin; she was criticized for saying real Americans agree with Palin -- and thus implying that if you don't agree with Palin, you aren't a real American. Is it even possible that Brzezinski doesn't understand this?(emphasis added)

It's not only possible, it's likely.

Never underestimate the power of stupidity.

Music For Your Monday

The early '80's have been on my mind a whole lot lately. My 25 years plus 1 high school reunion is thhis coming weekend. While I cannot (sadly) attend, connecting with folks I grew up with, and then grew apart from in the past quarter century, has been quite nice. At the same time, a tiny fit of nostalgia has dredged up memories I haven't paid attention to much over the years. One of those was the introduction of MTV to our little community my senior year in high school. Even though it debuted in major metro areas a year or so earlier, it didn't make it to our cable provider until sometime in late 1982.

For some inexpicable reason, this song was an early high-rotation song. Unlike the arty-farty Euro-pop and New Wave, it signaled the musical direction the American music industry would take through much of the decade, a kind of watered down hard-rock, differing from the arena rock of the mid- and late-1970's in that the former had the virtue of being kind of new and having the occasional really talented individual or band. I just can't say that about the following . . .

Along with promoting a kind of silly AOR playlist, MTV had to rely on what was at hand, and British bands had been creating interesting promo videos for a while. So while Pat Benatar may have been helped by MTV, so was Duran Duran.

Had I but known when I first saw this video that I was witnessing the emergence of one of the great bands of the rock era . . . "New Years Day" by U2, with a 12"-remix audio . . .

What are your memories, good and bad, of the early 1980's music scene?

Foreign Policy From Tom Clancy Novels

I was perusing this bit on Think Progress, reporting an interview Al Jazeera held with Newt Gingrich, and came across this little bit of blood-lusting doofishness.
Al Jazeera’s Avi Lewis told Gingrich, “In the past, you’ve called for the bombing of Iran’s oil refineries.” Gingrich clarified, “I called for sabotage, not bombing. … Fundamental difference.” Gingrich explained that the U.S. should use “covert operations” against Iran’s refineries because they “have only one refinery that produces gasoline in the entire country.” (According to the Energy Information Administration, Iran has nine refineries operated by the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company.)

It jogged something in my memory, and then I realized where he must have received this little bit of policy wisdom. Tom Clancy's farcical "novel" Red Storm Rising! A war between the Soviet Union and NATO breaks out because a group of Muslim terrorists in the southern oil producing regions destroys the one big refinery. See, the Reds were going to invade Iran and the Persian Gulf, but first had to neutralize NATO. Kind of like the Germans had to neutralize France before turning their attention to the Russians back in 1914 (I kid you not, that was the plot and strategic thinking of Clancy's book; the Russians decide to go to war with NATO so they can go to war with Iran and Iraq, because a refinery is destroyed by terrorists).

So, Newt wants the US to become like a group of Muslim terrorists in an ill-informed, badly written old book; messes up on some kind-of-important facts (there's a big difference between 1 and 9 refineries, Newt. . .) and somehow sees the destruction of Iranian refining capacity - upon whom would the Iranians place blame for such acts, certainly not Muslim terrorists - as leading to the end of the current Iranian regime.

I ask again, as I am quite sure I will be doing for years to come, why does anyone care what this guy has to say? His facts are wrong, the things he says exist on the border of crazy and stupid, and he has zero authority and power.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Good One From Britain

It seems that the British Methodist Church has declared that no members of the British National Party, a racist, far-right party, can be full members of the denomination. In the course of the article, the author writes:
Is this good theology or just PC theocracy?

First of all, it is very good theology. Second, since the British Methodists are not an established Church - that would be the Church of England - the word "theocracy" has no place here.

The author of the piece does ask a legitimate question, however:
Should the U.S. Catholic Church prohibit its members (including Sen. Edward Kennedy) from joining the Democratic Party, because of its support for legal abortion? Should the United Methodist Church preclude its members (including George W. Bush) from joining the Republican Party, because of its support for Bush's doctrine of preemptive war?

The issue, however, is one od denominational practice, rather than political ideology. Different denominations would draw different lines on acceptable public advocacy, one supposes. While the article makes clear that BNP members would not be barred from attending Methodist worship services, for very good reasons, it is also clear that by joining a party rooted in hatred of other human beings, there is a direct conflict with the Gospel inherent in publicly aligning oneself with such a group.

As to the abortion issue and Democratic politicians, I can only say that if the Roman Catholic Church seeks to excommunicate those who are pro-choice, then it would also have to deal with the pro-war, pro-death penalty crowd. Shoot, it might as well go through the wallets and purses of folks coming to mass to check for conception control. Compared to its public stance on abortion, the issues of war and state-sanctioned murder in the form of capital punishment are far more important, and of a far longer-standing interest to the Roman Catholic Church than abortion. Yet, if it chooses to behave this way, it needs to face the very real possibility that its membership would decline.

There are always trade-offs, but the British Methodists have declared that some practices in their country are not in keeping with the message of grace. Good for them.

Virtual Tin Cup

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