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Are There No Standards For Punditry?

Last Sunday, ABC’S “This Week” turned to none other than Donald Rumsfeld, the former Bush administration defense secretary, to get his informed judgment of the mission in Libya. Last month, the journal International Finance featured former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan commenting on what is “hampering” the economic recovery.

Fox News trumped even that, trotting out retired Marine Col. Oliver North, the former Reagan security staffer who orchestrated the secret war in Nicaragua, to indict President Obama for — you can’t make this stuff up — failing to get a congressional resolution in support of the mission in Libya.

Next we’ll see a cable talk show inviting the former head of BP to tell us what it takes to do offshore drilling safely.

Are there no standards whatsoever for punditry? Do high government or corporate officials suffer no consequence for leading us into calamity? Public officials who have failed spectacularly in office should have the common decency to retire in disgrace. But even if modern-day officials know no shame, why in the world would opinion pages, network talk shows and reputable journals give them a forum to offer their opinions, when they have shown that their advice isn’t worth the air it disturbs?

On ABC, Rumsfeld criticized Obama for “confusion” in the Libyan mission, noting that the coalition “is the smallest in modern history.”

As Bush’s defense secretary, Rumsfeld played a lead role in perhaps the worst foreign policy calamity since the British burned down the White House in the War of 1812. He helped cook the books that justified the war of choice in Iraq, costing thousands of Americans their lives and limbs and the government a projected $3 trillion. His war squandered the global goodwill in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, left millions of Iraqis dead or displaced, and strengthened our adversaries in Iraq and the terrorists of al-Qaeda.

Rumsfeld personally approved the torture techniques that despoiled the nation’s reputation when they were revealed at Abu Ghraib prison. He is now hawking his unrepentant and disingenuous memoir, which concludes that the Bush administration “got it right” on the big things in Iraq and elsewhere. Why would any rational news show invite his opinion on anything except maybe how to live with yourself after screwing up big-time?

Greenspan, the ex-Maestro Chairman of the Federal Reserve, argues that “the current government activism is hampering what should be a broad-based, robust economic recovery, driven in significant part by the positive wealth effect of a buoyant U.S. and global stock market.”

But Greenspan hasn’t got a clue. His ruinous policies at the Federal Reserve helped drive the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression. He cheered on the housing bubble while denying its existence; touted the benefits of subprime mortgages; turned a blind eye to reports of pervasive fraud and abuse in mortgage markets; and opposed the regulation of derivatives that, he claimed, were making the system more stable.

Greenspan admitted he was “shocked” that his worldview had a “flaw.” An apology, penance, self-reflection and even a memoir describing what he did wrong are in order. Surely we can be spared Mr Greenspan’s opinion of what impedes recovery from the Great Recession that his own blind market fundamentalism did so much to produce.

And do we really need Oliver North’s views on the Constitution and the law? “[I]t’s unparalleled in my entire experience in the military going all the way back to the 1960s,” North said. “Every president has gone to the Congress to get a resolution to support whatever it is he wanted to do.”

This from the White House operative who ran a secret war not only without congressional authorization, but also despite a congressional prohibition — a folly that ended in his indictment and nearly in the impeachment of his president.

There is a striking double standard operating in America. We hear much about enforcing “accountability” from the powers that be. Teachers, students and schools are judged in high-stakes tests. Minority students particularly are subjected to “no excuses” school punishments. Punitive “three strikes and you’re out” prison sentencing disproportionately snares those caught for drug possession or other nonviolent offenses.

At the top of society, bankers, CEOs and hedge funders enjoy increased license, prestige and lavish rewards. Yet when their excesses, lawlessness, ideological blindness or simple incompetence result in calamity, there seems to be no consequence. When Charles Ferguson received an Oscar for his riveting documentary “Inside Job,” he reminded the audience that “not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.” Wall Street bankers haven’t been prosecuted.

Rumsfeld and the neo-cons still enjoy plush chairs in think tanks as well as high visibility and high speaking fees. Greenspan is allowed to pose as the Maestro, even after his reputation has been completely shredded.

In Japan, high officials who failed so spectacularly would be contemplating seppuku. In Britain, they’d resign, repair to drink and end up in the House of Lords. In America, they become pundits and are offered a stage to argue the same ideas that earlier brought the nation to near-ruin, rewriting history to fit their theory.

As Talleyrand said of the restored French monarchy under Louis XVIII, they have “learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” It is a pity that these discredited pundits are offered a stage to project their inanity on the rest of us.

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 29, 2011

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Constitution, Economic Recovery, Journalist, Journalists, Pundits | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Wants To Pay For Health Care After All

Well, well, well.

Remember how Republicans have been whining that using federal tax dollars to pay for health care is some kind of evil Hitlerian Kenyan socialism that has all our Founding Fathers spinning in their graves? Turns out it’s bullshit.

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones reports:

A bill that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) introduced in January would provide federal funds for the purchase of sonogram machines at organizations that counsel women against having an abortion (the American Independent reported on this bill last week). These crisis pregnancy outfits, sometimes called “pregnancy resource centers,” are often run by religious groups; many have been found to provide women with false and misleading information to dissuade them from having an abortion.

The bill, H.R. 165, laughably called the Informed Choice Act, appears quite simple:

To authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make grants to nonprofit tax-exempt organizations for the purchase of ultrasound equipment to provide free examinations to pregnant women needing such services, and for other purposes.

But of course it doesn’t allow all organizations to apply for funding. There are a few restrictions, according to Mother Jones.

To be eligible for this grant, a facility would have to show every woman seeking services the ultrasound image and describe to them the “general anatomical and physiological description of the characteristics of the fetus.” The facility would be required to provide women with “alternatives to abortion such as childbirth and adoption and information concerning public and private agencies that will assist in those alternatives.” It also must offer its services free of charge. That last condition would disqualify abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, which charges on a sliding scale based on a woman’s income.

Crisis pregnancy centers are nothing more than religious centers that try to dissuade women from obtaining abortions by using false and misleading information.To review:

Such centers have repeatedly been found to give women false medical information for the explicit purpose of preventing them from obtaining, or even learning about, abortions.A 2006 Congressional report, False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers, concluded:

Pregnant teenagers and women turn to federally funded pregnancy resource centers for advice and counseling at a difficult time in their lives. These centers, however, frequently fail to provide medically accurate information. The vast majority of pregnancy centers contacted in this investigation misrepresented the medical consequences of abortion, often grossly exaggerating the risks. This tactic may be effective in frightening pregnant teenagers and women and discouraging abortion. But it denies the teenagers and women vital health information, prevents them from making an informed decision, and is not an accepted public health practice.

The bill’s sponsor is the same Cliff Stearns who wanted to investigate Planned Parenthood over the O’Keefe-style sting videos that tried to show Planned Parenthood covering up a prostitution ring. That would be the same Cliff Stearns who last month said that “defunding Planned Parenthood should be a fiscal and moral priority for Congress, and for the American people.” Why?

Our national debt exceeds $14 trillion and after running a federal deficit of $1.3 trillion last year, we will see a $1.5 trillion deficit this year.  I get one clear message in talking with the American people – promote job growth and control government spending.The federal government funds thousands of programs and projects, and Congress must look at all federal expenditures and reduce or eliminate those that do not meet the needs of the American people.

So while Rep. Stearns and his fellow Republicans think there’s just no room in our budget for the nation’s largest women’s reproductive health care provider, there is, apparently, $5 million a year to fund fake health care clinics run by religious zealots.

No word yet from Stearns on how this will “promote job growth and control government spending.”

By: Kaili Joy Gray, Daily Kos, March 29, 2011

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Abortion, Congress, Conservatives, Equal Rights, Federal Budget, GOP, Health Care Costs, Jobs, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Pro-Choice, Public Health, Religion, Republicans, Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Without the Campaign Donors, This Wouldn’t Be Possible

Even by Washington’s low standards, the House’s Republican freshmen are turning pandering into a high art. At a recent transportation hearing in his home district, Representative James Lankford of Oklahoma heaped praise on a panel of private sector witnesses. Three of the four executives so publicly favored were later discovered to be donors to Mr. Lankford’s campaign.

Nothing illegal in that, nor in the enthusiasms of another freshman, Mike Pompeo of Kansas, dubbed the Congressman from Koch for championing the conservative agenda of the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David. They contributed handsomely — $80,000 worth — to Mr. Pompeo’s campaign kitty. Once elected, Mr. Pompeo hired a former Koch Industries lawyer as his chief of staff.

Mr. Pompeo said he ran for Congress because as a businessman (whose business included some Koch investment money) he saw “how government can crush entrepreneurism.” His contributions to the House Republicans’ budget-slashing legislation included two top priorities of Koch Industries: killing off funds for the Obama administration’s new database for consumer complaints about unsafe products and for a registry of greenhouse gas polluters at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The congressman said he was concerned that the database would encourage false accusations about good products and that the registry would increase the E.P.A.’s power and cost jobs. Those arguments are nonsense, but Mr. Pompeo represents an early warning of the shape of things to come when the Supreme Court’s misguided decision to legalize unfettered corporate campaign donations fully kicks in next year.

The Koch brothers are planning to spend tens of millions in the 2012 campaign, as are Democratic power brokers and unions. Ordinary voters may be making a show of demanding real political change, but they are being increasingly outbid at the big money table where American politics happens.

By: Editorial, The New York Times, March 30, 2011

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Koch Brothers, Politics, Public, Republicans, Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congressional Budget Proposals And Why We’re Fasting

I stopped eating on Monday and joined around 4,000 other people in a fast to call attention to Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry.

By doing so, I surprised myself; after all, I eat for a living. But the decision was easy after I spoke last week with David Beckmann, a reverend who is this year’s World Food Prize laureate. Our conversation turned, as so many about food do these days, to the poor.

Who are — once again — under attack, this time in the House budget bill, H.R. 1. The budget proposes cuts in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted “Welfare Reform 2011” bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)

These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending.

Beckmann, who is president of Bread for the World, made me want to join in just by talking about his commitment. For me, the fast is a way to demonstrate my interest in this fight, as well as a way to remind myself and others that there are bigger things in life than dinner. (Shocking, I know.) I expect I’ll learn something about patience and fortitude while I’m at it. Thirty-six hours into the fast, my senses are heightened and everything feels a bit strange. Odors from the cafeteria a floor away drift down to my desk. In the elevator, I can smell a muffin; on the street, I can smell everything — good and bad. But as hungry as I may get, we know I’ll eat well soon. (Please check my blog for a progress report.)

Many poor people don’t have that option, and Beckmann and his co-organizers are calling for God to create a “circle of protection” around them. Some are fasting for a day, many for longer. (I’m fasting until Friday, and Beckmann until Monday. And, no, it’s not too late to join us.)

When I reminded Beckmann that poor people’s hunger was hardly a new phenomenon, and that God hasn’t made a confirmed appearance recently — at least that I know of — he suggested I read Isaiah 58, in which God says that if we were more generous while we fasted he’d treat us better. Maybe. But a billion people are just as hungry, human, and as deserving now as the Israelites were when they were fleeing Egypt, and I don’t see any manna.

This isn’t about skepticism, however; it’s about ironies and outrages. In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food — and still run out monthly — and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time.

It’s those people whom Beckmann and his allies (more than 30 organizations are on board) are trying to protect. The coalition may be a bit too quick to support deficit reduction, essentially saying, “We understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but we don’t want to sacrifice the powerless, nearly voiceless poor in its name. As Beckmann knows, however, deficit reduction isn’t as important as keeping people from starving: “We shouldn’t be reducing our meager efforts for poor people in order to reduce the deficit,” he told me by phone. “They didn’t get us into this, and starving them isn’t going to get us out of it.”

This is a moral issue; the budget is a moral document. We can take care of the deficit and rebuild our infrastructure and strengthen our safety net by reducing military spending and eliminating corporate subsidies and tax loopholes for the rich. Or we can sink further into debt and amoral individualism by demonizing and starving the poor. Which side are you on?

If faith increases your motivation, that’s great, but I doubt God will intervene here. Instead, we need to gather and insist that our collective resources be used for our collective welfare, not for the wealthiest thousand or even million Americans but for a vast majority of us in the United States and, indeed, for citizens of the world who have difficulty making ends meet. Or feeding their kids.

Though Beckmann is too kind to say it, he and many other religious leaders believe that true worship can’t take place without joining this struggle: “You can’t have real religion,” he told me, “unless you work for justice for hungry and poor people.”

I don’t think you can have much humanity, either.

By: Mark Bittman, The New York Times Opinion Page, March 29, 2011

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Corporations, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Human Rights, Income Gap, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Boehner Must Shut Down The Government

How should Republican leaders deal with the dilemma of being caught between a base that will view any budget deal with President Obama as a sellout and independent voters who are likely to turn on them if they shut down the government? Jonathan Bernstein thinks they should bite the bullet and cut the best deal they can, figuring they’ll get hit by the base no matter what:

what Boehner has to do is to convince Republican Members of the House that the hit they’re going to take from the right for compromising is inevitable. They’ll be seen as sellouts if they cut a deal before a shutdown. They’ll be seen as sellouts if they cut a deal after a six week shutdown. True believers will always be convinced that complete and total victory was just a week away if only the cowardly politicians had been willing to hang in there. They can’t win that game.

Not a bad argument. The counter is that it’s one thing to cut a deal with Obama, and another to be perceived as cutting that deal without really fighting. If Boehner shuts down the government and then cuts a deal, at least he’s demonstrated some willingness to go to the mat and fight, right? Bernstein is right that he’ll have angry Tea Partiers regardless, but I do think he needs to show that he’s fought the good fight. A deal with Obama is bad no matter what, but a deal without a shutdown looks like surrendering the fort without firing a shot.

The other quibble I have with Bernstein’s analysis is that I don’t think he’s really thinking about this the way Boehner is, or even should, be thinking about this. What is the downside to a shutdown? Republicans get less popular, have a lower chance to win the presidency in 2012, and maybe a higher chance of losing the House as well. What is the downside to cutting a deal? GOP backbenchers revolt against Boehner and depose him as Speaker of the House.

If I’m Boehner, I’m more worried about the guns pointed at my back then the guns pointed at my face. A shutdown increases the small chance that he goes from Speaker to Minority Leader in 2013, but a deal increases the chance that he goes from Speaker to (R-OH) in 2011. The right-wingers do not trust Boehner, and he has very little slack. He also lived through a series of purges and attempted purges in the late 1990s, always taking the form of purists complaining that the leadership had gone soft.

Boehner’s top priority is probably staving off internal revolt. That means shutting down the government.

By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, March 30, 2011

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , | Leave a comment

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