Roméo Dallaire should be the hero of an opera. His story certainly has all hallmarks of genuine tragedy -- and it embodies many of the key themes of the last century and evokes the Syrian debacle as well.
Dallaire was Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeper in Rwanda (UNAMIR) before and during the 1994 genocide. He warned UN headquarters in New York about the planned massacre and sought permission to intervene. The UN bureaucracy did not want to impinge upon "sovereignty" and refused to act without the government -- which in reality was planning the massacre.
The bloodbath was presaged by a massacre of Belgian peacekeepers, which led the Belgian government to withdraw its surviving troops, despite the increasingly manifest need as the slaughter of more than 800,000 Rwandans began and continued for more than three horrifying months. Dallaire, along with a small contingent of Ghanaian soldiers and military observers, disobeyed orders to withdraw and remained in Rwanda to protect those who sought refuge with the UN forces and to deter at least some of the killings.
Dallaire's unwillingness to obey orders and refusal to take the expedient way out cost him dearly. He was shunned by Canadian military colleagues, and, haunted with the memories of the horrors he had seen in Rwanda, had a nervous breakdown. Ethics and a conscience are uncomfortable attributes to have in hierarchies that only have such qualities in homoeopathically diluted quantities.
In customary anti-heroic mode, Bill Clinton had signed Presidential Decision Directive 25, which not only limited the involvement of the United States in peacekeeping operations, but in effect led to a US veto on UN peacekeeping resolutions where the US did not have "a dog in the fight," in the dismissive words of former Secretary of State James Baker.
Clinton was displaying his customary spinelessness, pandering to conservative obsessions about the UN. In these days of obsession with stopping their co-citizens having access to health care, it is hard to remember the conservatives' previous preoccupation with the UN's threat to American sovereignty. France, that great pillar of human rights in Syria, and upholder of international law over Iraq, was, of course, on the side of the genocidal regime in Rwanda. The UN simply buried the memo from Dallaire and left him swinging, and eventually endorsed a French peacekeeping effort, "operation Turquoise" which was actually a rescue mission to save the murderers from the advancing rebels. Dallaire protested unavailingly.
The left in general stayed silent, although with the enthusiasm of idiocy some, such as Ramsey Clark, rallied to the defence of the genocide, just as they later supported Slobodan Milosevic and excused Srebrenica. Since US imperialism was so ostentatiously absenting itself from the fray, the simplistic left had no point of reference on Rwanda and the deaths at the sharp ends of machetes left the members of it unmoved. It is a sad comment that massacres such Rwanda and Bosnia are not seen as inherently abhorrent but need some sort of litmus test to put them in political context. One can only assume that all the years of apologizing for Bolshevik terror and massacres have attenuating the ethical senses of the Leninising left and its fellow travelers.
Dallaire's ethical senses were more refined. Despite being career military he knew killing people is wrong, and that wherever possible it should be stopped. His heroism is reminiscent of Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, who landed his helicopter during the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and threatened to shoot the US troops intent on massacring children. He, too, was shunned by his own command and took years to get recognition.
It is not just luxuriating in hindsight to affirm that, if Dallaire had had the go-ahead to seize the weapons and planners of the Rwanda massacre, it would have averted untold suffering.
Similarly, Dallaire recently said that the world should have intervened much sooner to stop events in Syria spiralling out of control. The form of that intervention is a subject worthy of intensive debate. But there can be little doubt that Bashar al Assad's regime has been emboldened by all those who have peremptorily ruled out any intervention at all.
This post originally appeared on tribunemagazine.org.
It's three years away, but the punditocracy is already discussing 2016 candidates, and while the Republican field is already loaded with possible candidates (Rubio, Cruz (!), Paul, Walker, Bush III (!!) and Jindal) the Democratic field is apparently sealed: Hillary Clinton. RealClearPolitics finds Hillary getting 61 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary against Biden (11), Warren (7), Cuomo (2), Warner (1) and O'Malley (0). There is a Super PAC (with 1,000,000+ Facebook "likes") designed to lay the groundwork for a Clinton presidential run.
There is certainly a strategic reason for Democrats to play down Clinton: three more years under press scrutiny will only make her less appealing. But there are other reasons to question whether America needs another Clinton presidency.
I remember asking a Republican friend over dinner to name a single policy of Bill Clinton that they opposed and seeing them stumble (oral sex in the oval office isn't a policy). The left has far more to despise about Bill than Republicans: he deregulated the banks, thereby setting the stage for the financial crisis; he passed the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, shredding the social safety net and forcing many poor women into the workforce; he signed into law economy-crushing free-trade agreements without environmental or labor protections; he escalated the War on Drugs, flooding American prisons with poor blacks and funneling billions to law enforcement agencies that abandoned practical policing in favor of SWAT-like tactics.
Hillary, is not her husband, but there is reason to fear her presidency would devolve into the same govern-by-polls center-right market-friendly neoliberal toxic sludge her husband dumped on the left.
The left must ask itself some crucial questions: Could Clinton really tackle inequality by strengthening unions, raising the minimum wage and instituting a highly progressive tax system? Could the a member of the family who rented out the Lincoln bedroom to donors really tackle campaign finance reform? Could the woman who made the case for Iraq keep us from the next neo-con fraud? Will Clinton work undermine the overwhelming power of corporations and regulate the big banks that have financed her campaigns? I'm skeptical. America doesn't need more establishment candidates; we need a fearless leader who will turn us away from the greedy consumerism that is tearing apart our society in a favor of empathy and sustainability.
This isn't to say that Hillary Clinton would make a bad president. I'm just not sure she would be more than a repeat of the establishment. Democrats used to stand against big banks and big corporations and stand for the little guy. Democrats used to talk about expanding social security, not cutting it. Democrats used to regulate big banks, not suck up to them for campaign cash. George McGovern may have gotten "trounced," but at least he knew a shitty war when he saw one. Michael Dukakis may have lost to H.W. Bush but at least he defended the rights of prisoners.
Has the left been so castrated that we run directly into the arms of the most banal corporate candidate without even considering the possibility of a Warren, Sanders or, dare I say it, Kucinich run? The first has fought tirelessly for a higher minimum wage and a new Glass-Steagall. The second has spent decades tacking on amendments to bills and the Constitution (among his goals: protect undocumented workers, undermine the Patriot Act, and strip corporations of First Amendment rights).The final drew opprobrium from the mainstream press for his plan to build a "Department of Peace" and a healthcare plan that should make any true liberal ecstatic. All would have passed a financial reform bill with actual teeth and guaranteed a public option.
It's time to move away from the "New Democrat"/Third way-style of governing. Americans are thirsty for real change. Dukakis and McGovern lost because they tried to sell peace to a war-hungry society. Now Clinton and Obama are selling Neo-conservatism to an America ready to cede control to the international arena. With blacks, Latinos and Millennials (to use that dreadful word) preferring "socialism" to "capitalism" it may time to move from the neo-liberalism that brought us the financial crisis toward a kinder, gentler society. We need a new New Deal, with full employment, strong unions and a powerful role for government. We need to question whether brutal free-market capitalism will erode liberal democracy, whether the short-termism of greed should be replaced by a sustainable economy. I don't think Clinton can legitimately foment such a radical re-envisioning of American society.
Democrats can be fairly certain that they'll win the Oval Office in 2016; the only question is which Democrat will hold that office. Should it be the establishment candidate to the right of Obama or someone truly revolutionary, a new left candidate the nation needs?I'll conclude with the words of the always blunt Christopher Hitchens, "Indifferent to truth, willing to use police-state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security: The case against Hillary Clinton for president is open-and-shut."
As we creep ever closer to a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act (ACA - affectionately known as Obamacare) Republicans and Democrats alike are pressing their version of events hoping to shift public opinion. Michigan Representative Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, recently used the Detroit News Opinion section to assert the Republican case.
His narrative hits on familiar themes: The legislation was jammed though Congress, people don't like it, the implementation is not going well, and, of course, it kills jobs. It should be noted that Republicans have jammed though plenty of legislation using the reconciliation process -- which is credited for the "jamming" of the ACA -- 14 times including the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. And while the ACA may have a slightly unfavorable rating it polls better than shutting down the government to defund it, which all but one House Republican voted to do.
It can certainly be argued that the implementation has not gone as planned, however, there are plenty of individual items within the ACA that poll very well. At this point the House has attempted to repeal the ACA 42 times. But they have not once voted to fix the bill and keep the parts that people like while making the implementation process easier.
The most ironic argument against the ACA is that it kills jobs. While most Republicans would argue that the government can't create jobs, apparently government can destroy them.
It is certainly true that austerity measures have cost nearly 600,000 public sector jobs, which stands in stark contrast to the recessions under Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush where public sector hiring helped stabilize the economy instead of creating a drag. According to the New York Times, the U.S. government employs around 22 million Americans -- or 7 out of every 100 people -- which is below the 7.3 per 100 that we have averaged since the late '80s.
So while the recession and subsequent government response certainly offers a glimpse of how the government can kill jobs and cost the economy nearly 2 million jobs, the ACA will have very little impact on jobs. Data shows that of the companies that would be impacted by the ACA 95.7 percent already offer health care insurance. These companies will not suddenly face a new burden that will require drastic changes to their current systems.
On the other hand companies that are close to the 50 employee limit where cutting staff or pushing people to part-time could help them avoid the ACA requirements, represent only 1 percent of job growth. The head of the right-leaning Small Business Chamber of Commerce for South Carolina says that the insistence that Obamacare will negatively affect small business is "strictly a talking point by those who want to kill off the ACA."
If concern about government spending and jobs is truly the reason for a full repeal, then one assumes Congress could find better uses for the $1.45 million it costs per symbolic repeal vote or the $109 billion repeal would add to the deficit.
Is it possible that some companies will be negatively affected by the ACA? Sure it is. But anecdotal evidence doesn't prove a systemic problem.
No one is arguing for fewer jobs, so if there is a way to insure more Americans, reduce the deficit, and create jobs, Democrats would be more than happy to have those conversations. Unfortunately, Republican legislators would rather push the government to the brink in petulant gamesmanship than provide a single solution. Perhaps this is good for their position in the Republican Party but if any jobs are going to be lost due to Obamacare it would be poetic justice if it was that of the congressmen that put the will of their party ahead of the good of the people.
Conversations at the Clinton Global Initiative tend towards the congratulatory -- the set piece events around which CGI revolves are the announcement of a major new partnership "commitment" between a philanthropy or business and a development charity, accompanied by progress reports on, typically, the most successful partnerships from previous years. Fireworks are rare.
So former President Clinton was visibly startled at this year's opening plenary. Clinton had asked African mobile phone mogul Mo Ibrahim, sitting next to Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, "What can technology companies do for Africa?" Ibrahim fired back, "Well, pay their taxes for a start." Global anti-poverty activist Bono then piled on, calling out CGI sponsors Exxon and Chevron to use their influence to reverse the campaign by the American Petroleum Institute (which they effectively control) against the foreign investment transparency rules embedded in Dodd-Frank. These rules required U.S. resource extraction companies to disclose the terms of their energy, timber or mining concessions overseas, shining a spotlight on kleptocrats who siphon off huge parts of the payments. Bono argued that until API intervened, the U.S. was playing a major positive role in combating corruption in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but that the API lawsuit had undone enormously beneficial rules. "We know corruption is killing more kids than TB, AIDS, and malaria put together. There is a vaccine and it's called transparency," said Bono.
Ibrahim agreed, saying, "Look, there are countries in Africa where the Finance Minister doesn't know how much money the oil companies are paying to drill. We all know what's that's about and who is getting the money."
Clinton, with a gentle assist from IMF President Christine Lagarde, tried to deflect the spotlight from its focus on the corporate sector, arguing that cooperative action by corporations and governments was needed, but as Bono pointed out, when the US Congress did its bit with Dodd-Frank, big oil simply went to court to undo it.
This wasn't the only opportunity last week to watch how what human rights activists call "the culture of impunity," typically associated with vicious dictators like Liberia's Charles Taylor, is extended globally, often with virtually no debate, to the world's richest corporations. The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives decided that, in addition to holding the good faith and credit of the US government hostage to the repeal of Obamacare, they would also hand out a fistful of get out of jail free cards. The House bill suspends clean water standards for the coal companies and utilities that have dumped coal ash along America's rivers, safety rules for the Canadian sponsors of the Keystone XCEL pipeline, and environmental reviews for oil and gas companies operating on public lands. All of these wealthy players would, in the Republican play-book, be exempted from environmental regulation and enforcement -- a proposal given an ironic twist by the reality that if the federal government does shut down, the national parks will be closed to visitors, but oil and gas extraction will continue -- there just won't be as much oversight to make sure it is done properly.
There is an underlying cultural lunacy to this kind of special favoritism: We cheerfully allow domineering corporations, which are not in fact living human beings, the kind of bailout that outrages us when we reward flesh-and-blood tyrants with the same privilege -- impunity for the damages they cause to others.
Such lunacy, Paul Krugman argued intriguingly on Saturday, is intrinsically associated with fantastic inequality. The outsized financial rewards of our richest plutocrats, he suggests, has made them sociopaths, creating a sense that they are entitled not only to riches but to popular adulation and a status above the law. What they really have come to expect, he maintains, is not free markets, but the aristocratic privileges of the ancient regime. Krugman doesn't connect this attitude of plutocratic narcissism to the corporate structures which generate the inequality -- but if you look at the self-confidence with which companies from Apple to Exxon duck their taxes, pay-off government leaders, and insist on being allowed to destroy public property and common resources without consequence, the two phenomena resonate eerily.
Real live kleptocrats, sometimes, don't get away scot free. This week Charles Taylor's 50-year sentence for human rights abuses was confirmed by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which rejected his defense that he didn't personally direct the atrocities -- the same defense corporate CEOs normally use.
No multinational corporation has ever faced anything like that level of accountability -- even though it was timber and diamond companies that funded Taylor's rule of terror while looting both Liberia and Sierra Leone. It took UN sanctions against the illegal timber trade in Liberia to eventually bring him to justice. Taylor went to jail for life. Timber and mining companies just had to find another country to rape.
So far corporate criminality lacks a serious forum holding its masterminds accountable. Even simple transparency or modest regulations are too much for API and the oil industry. And the idea of paying taxes where he made his money was more that Steve Jobs could accept -- after all, other companies were ducking, so it became his duty to do so. In that simple, but utterly everyday logic, the sociopathy of today's corporate culture comes through.
A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope spent the last 18 years of his career at the Sierra Club as CEO and chairman. He's now the principal advisor at Inside Straight Strategies, looking for the underlying economics that link sustainability and economic development. Mr. Pope is co-author -- along with Paul Rauber --of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, which the New York Review of Books called "a splendidly fierce book."
NEW YORK — Hillary Rodham Clinton outlined plans Thursday for an $80 million effort to curb the poaching and trafficking of elephants in Africa, warning that the continent's elephants could face extinction without swift action.
The former secretary of state and her daughter, Chelsea, announced the three-year project at the Clinton Global Initiative, telling activists and supporters that the killing of elephants to support the sale of ivory around the globe had reached a crisis point.
WASHINGTON -- Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton outpaced President Barack Obama last year in receiving lavish gifts from foreign leaders.
Clinton received gold jewelry worth half a million dollars from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The State Department said the gift included a necklace bracelet, ring and earrings. The white gold was adorned with teardrop rubies and diamonds. Clinton also got gold, sapphire and diamond jewelry worth $58,000 from Brunei's queen.
Last week the Republican National Committee (RNC) unanimously passed a resolution to prevent NBC and CNN from hosting Republican primary debates unless those networks halt production of films about former first lady, senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In response to this news I have three words, "get over it."
The RNC believes that both projects will essentially be endorsements of Clinton, a possible (likely? probable? almost certain?) Democratic candidate for the 2016 presidential election, and that therefore NBC and CNN will not be able to fairly host Republican presidential debates. It is worth pointing out that at least in the case of NBC's planned miniseries, the entertainment division of the network would be responsible for the project, and the news division would be in charge of any debates. Will viewers appreciate the difference? Maybe not.
Still, the RNC's move is more than a little ironic for a number of reasons.
I would like to remind the readers that it is typically those on the right side of the political aisle who oppose campaign finance restrictions. Many conservatives and Republicans celebrated the United States Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United in which the Court held that corporations can spend unlimited sums to support or oppose federal candidates. One of the rationales behind the Court's decision was that more speech (in this case spending) is always better. The idea is that it is for the public, not the government, to decide how much weight (if any) to give campaign speech.
In Citizens United the Court further found that even though the law at issue -- the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (commonly known as McCain Feingold) -- explicitly did not limit spending by the media, there would be little way to defend this media exemption if the Court were to uphold the restriction on spending by other corporations. This reasoning strikes me as incorrect for a number of reasons, but it is interesting to note that it was largely Republicans who argued that the Court would be putting the freedom of the press at issue if it were to uphold restrictions that by their terms did not apply to the press. It is now the RNC that is seeking to curtail the media, either by preventing the production of films about Clinton, or by preventing two major networks from airing debates between Republican presidential candidates.
Now of course the RNC is not the government, and if the RNC wants to prevent NBC and CNN from hosting debates that is not nearly the same as Congress passing a law to prohibit those networks from airing debates. However, if it is true that more speech is always better for the public, particularly for the electorate, then this is a curious position to take. It is, after all, true that many Republicans favor a system of unlimited spending on campaign advertisements, and do not necessarily favor disclosure of those behind the spending. In this case the public already knows who is behind these films, NBC and CNN respectively. If both films truly are the equivalent of campaign advertisements, something that absolutely remains to be seen, then let's trust the public to realize that for themselves and give Republican candidates as many opportunities as they want to respond.
So what is this move by the RNC really about? The most likely explanation is that Republicans think a protracted "debate season" will harm their chances in the general election. It is no secret that the RNC wants fewer primary debates in the next election. Certainly the intraparty fighting did not appear to help Republicans much in the 2012 elections. However, a decrease in the number of debates deprives the voters of the opportunity to hear from candidates in a variety of formats. If the Republican candidates believe that NBC and CNN are trying to stack the deck in favor of a Clinton candidacy then those candidates should say so, particularly on NBC and CNN.
Lest readers think this is about my support of Clinton and/or opposition to Republican candidates, let me say that I would feel the same way if Fox decided to air a film about Governor Chris Christie and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) voted to prevent Fox News from hosting Democratic presidential debates. This should not be about politics, although of course it always is, this should be about allowing entertainment companies to air anything they want without fear that their "sister" news networks will suffer retribution. This should be about giving the voters a chance to hear from the candidates in a variety of debate formats, not just in stump speeches and other campaign events. It is long past time for the public to hear an actual dialogue between those vying to represent them.
This post originally appeared in The Hill.
We begin today with some awfully short memories, from both the Right and the Left, on the crossover subjects of presidential debates, television, and Hillary Clinton. It all stems from the news that the Republican National Committee has announced it will not sanction 2016 Republican candidate debates on CNN and NBC, because the two stations are both putting together movies about Hillary Clinton. The RNC feels that this will unacceptably prejudice the networks in the 2016 presidential race, in which Clinton is likely to be a Democratic candidate.
But in all the fulminating (both pro and con) over this decision, both sides seem to be suffering from memory loss -- specifically, the inability to harken back to the 2008 presidential race. On the Right, the hypocrisy stems from their previous support of a Hillary Clinton movie, and on the Left, the hypocrisy stems from not remembering when Democrats pulled out of a debate on Fox News.
We all know the term Citizens United, right? But how many remember that the case stemmed from a negative film titled Hillary: The Movie? At the heart of the court case where the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for money in politics was a film aired on DirecTV that portrayed Clinton in a very unflattering light. The Right, back then, fully supported not only the film, but the film's right to air during the campaign season. It was, they informed us, nothing more than the sacredness of "free speech." Now, the Right seems to be against the idea of Hillary Clinton films during a campaign. Haven't heard a single Republican stand up for the free speech rights of the filmmakers or CNN and NBC lately, have you?
But the Democrats have their own hypocrisy to face, as well. Sure, it's easy to slam the RNC for being afraid of holding debates on channels not to their liking, but it wasn't always the case. In fact, the two sides' positions were reversed, not so long ago. In February of 2007, Harry Reid announced his support for a Democratic presidential debate to be held in Reno (in his home state) to be hosted by Fox News. Here's a quote (all these quotes were taken from the book Bloggers On The Bus by Eric Boehlert, I should mention) from Harry: "This is more great news for Nevada. I'm happy Fox News will be a partner for the August  presidential debate." What followed was an uprising online from the "netroots." By flexing their grassroots muscles, the online Left shamed the Nevada Democratic Party into reversing its stance and (helped by some extraordinarily bad jokes from Roger Ailes at a dinner speech), forced the Democrats to pull out of the debate by early March, 2007. Why allow Fox, after all, to host a debate for a political party they were so hostile towards? Fox pundits reacted by calling the grassroots effort "junior-grade Stalinism" and (from Bill O'Reilly) "propaganda techniques perfected by Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of information." Roger Ailes himself bizarrely taunted: "The candidates that can't face Fox can't face Al Qaeda."
But the larger point remains: online bloggers and activists forced the Democrats to cancel a debate scheduled to air on Fox News. The Left cheered this as a victory. So it's a little hard to take seriously denunciations of the RNC's move this week to deny NBC and CNN debates. Once you've set the standard of "we get to choose which stations are friendly enough to us to air our debates," you can't very well turn around and denounce the other side for doing exactly the same thing.
Moving onward, there were a number of odd legal stories in the news last week. When torture victims from Abu Ghraib were denied their right to sue the contractor responsible for the torture, that was one thing. But, disgustingly, the contractor turned around and decided to sue the victims, for daring to sue them in court. That's right, they want $15,000 as "damages" from each of the torture victims. If that wasn't bad enough, the news that sexual assault cases in the military justice system are being dismissed because President Obama said he wanted such cases prosecuted was pretty shocking news as well. One final bit of legal news was a poll which showed that Americans overwhelmingly want to see the head of the National Security Agency prosecuted for perjuring himself in front of Congress on the whole "spying on our own citizens" thing, but I'm not exactly holding my breath waiting for that to happen, if you know what I mean. Haven't exactly heard the usual "rule of law" politicians clamoring for this to happen, either -- no surprise there.
To end our weekly wrapup on a more positive note, the police in Seattle, Washington deserve commendation for their tactics on the pro-pot "Hempfest" celebration. They've announced (are you sitting down?) that they'll be handing out Doritos to the crowd, with a message on the packets directing people to a web page titled "Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle." How cool is that? A department spokesman truly got into the spirit with the quote which ran in the article: "I think it's going to be a lot of fun. It's meant to be ironic. The idea of police passing out Doritos at a festival that celebrates pot, we're sure, is going to generate some buzz."
Heh. He said "buzz." Heh heh.
Seriously, though, with every passing week marijuana is getting more and more acceptable by the mainstream of political thought in America. Sanjay Gupta not only said he had been wrong about medical marijuana, but actually apologized for his previous stance. And the demographic group of pot smokers which is growing fastest seems to be the Baby Boomer seniors.
While we have plenty of caveats (which were outlined in a column earlier this week) to add, we have to admit that Attorney General Eric Holder certainly took a bold step forward in ending the abuses of the War On Drugs in a speech he gave on Monday.
For the first time since the days of Nancy Reagan, a Democrat publicly stated that parts of the Drug War should be scrapped. This is a big deal, in other words. Holder's main target was the problem of mandatory minimum sentences, which have led the United States to now have 25 percent of the world's prison population, despite being only 5 percent of the world's population.
Holder's speech was followed later in the week by the U.S. Sentencing Commission voting to review all federal drug sentencing guidelines with an eye towards getting rid of the mandatory minimum problem -- showing the impact and reach of Holder's new policy ideas.
Eric Holder still has a long way to go in terms of reviving sanity in Washington on the subject of the War On Drugs, but he has taken a valuable first step on that path. The next step he really needs to take is to announce how the Justice Department is going to react to the states of Colorado and Washington, who are currently implementing legalized recreational marijuana -- and about which, Holder has been mum for the past nine months (and counting).
But for now, for the first step he announced this week, our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to none other than Attorney General Eric Holder. Let's keep moving along this path, Mr. Attorney General, and not just stop at the first step.
[Since he doesn't provide direct contact information, you'll have to congratulate Attorney General Eric Holder via the White House contact page, to let his boss know you appreciate his efforts.]
Sigh. He just won't go away.
Our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week is really self-explanatory. As the count of accusers grows to 15, the following headline really shoveled the last load of dirt on the political career of the current mayor of San Diego:
"Great-Grandmother Accuses Bob Filner Of Harassment."
There's really not a lot more that needs be said, with a headline like that.
[Contact San Diego Mayor Bob Filner on his official contact page , to let him know what you think of his actions (and, you know, suggest that he immediately resign).]
Volume 269 (8/16/13)
Kind of a mixed bag this week. August is always a slow month, what with everyone being on vacation to escape the Washington miasma.
The establishment GOP strikes back
Republican-on-Republican fear-mongering is such a treat to enjoy. In this case, establishment Republicans versus the Tea Party.
"I see that many Republicans are now arguing -- with their own party -- that a government shutdown over funding Obamacare is not just a bad political move, it could in fact cost them their control of the House of Representatives in 2014. Will Republicans go over the shutdown cliff? Who knows, at this point. But if they do, it's interesting that some of them realize that this would not exactly be popular and would, in fact, cost them a whole lot of votes next year. It'll be interesting to see whether saner heads will prevail among House Republicans next month."
GOP fear-mongering itself (part two)
I wrote about this in much more detail earlier in the week. It's debatable whether Democrats should pile on this one or not, but I thought I'd offer it up anyway.
"Marco Rubio seems to be having a problem convincing the House Republicans to move on the immigration reform bill which passed with a large bipartisan majority in the Senate. He's now threatening them by warning that President Obama will just wave a magic pen and legalize all eleven million undocumented immigrants if his bill doesn't pass. He's telling his fellow Republicans that it would be far better for the bill to pass with all the things he and his fellow Republicans added to it, rather than do nothing and watch Obama give everybody amnesty anyway. I don't know if this will work, but Republicans are usually pretty good at fear-mongering, so hopefully Rubio's argument will be convincing over in the House."
I guess Stalin and Goebbels are OK, when our side does it
It'd be pretty easy to research this one to mine plenty more quotes from the period (February/March 2007).
"When the Democratic party pulled out of a presidential primary debate to be held on Fox News, back in 2007, rightwing commentators went apoplectic. This week, the Republicans announced they won't be having any debates on CNN or NBC. Back then, people on Fox were calling the move, quote, junior-grade Stalinism, unquote, and Bill O'Reilly compared the move to 'propaganda techniques perfected by Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of information.' So what, exactly is different now? Are the Republicans now exhibiting the characteristics of Stalin and Goebbels? Or were they just being blowhards, back then?"
Fleeing the sinking ship
This one should really strike fear in Republican hearts, so feel free to point it out as often as possible.
"Republicans lost the African-American vote decades ago, with their Southern Strategy. They lost the gay vote back in all the "marriage protecting" of the 1990s. They've lost the Latino vote in the past few elections. They've been doing their damnedest to drive women away from their party in the past few years, with the ongoing War On Women. But the final nail in the coffin may now be showing itself -- Republicans seem to now be losing one of their last demographic bastions: seniors. A recent poll showed that pretty much across the board, seniors' support of the Republican Party is fading fast. Seems all that talk about cutting entitlements is having a big impact. If I were a Republican, I would be extremely worried about this trend, because if it continues, the Republican Party is never going to win another national election again."
The deficit keeps falling
Obama is (one year late, but still...) about to fulfill a big campaign promise he made. So point it out!
"Republicans are going to return to Congress next month and try to argue that the federal budget is getting worse. In fact, what is happening is the annual budget deficit is coming down at a record rate. This fiscal year's deficit is now on track to do exactly what President Obama promised he would do out on the campaign trail -- halve the federal deficit. He inherited a budget which had a record-high $1.4 trillion deficit when he entered office. If the next few months happen as predicted, the 2013 budget deficit will be less than half that. This is something to keep in mind when Republicans start their usual rending of shirts over the deficit while pushing unpopular austerity measures -- because the deficit is already falling at a record pace."
Let the sun shine in
This one's just a feel-good story, really. Or a monument to wasted time, perhaps.
"I see that the White House is getting outfitted with solar panels. Of course, this isn't the first time solar panels were installed on the building -- because that happened under Jimmy Carter. Let's hope this time that some Republican won't come along later and rip them out in a fit of pique, the way that Ronald Reagan did."
Pass the munchies, man
Give credit where credit is due.
"I think the police department in Seattle deserves recognition this week for their brilliant public relations move. The cops not only participated in the first Hempfest in Seattle since Washington state legalized recreational marijuana use, they did so with a public awareness campaign which pointed people to a website which clearly explained how the new laws will work, and what is allowed and not allowed. But it wasn't just a good idea to spread the word, the real brilliance was in how they went about doing so. They passed out bags of Doritos with the website's information on them. This should be taught in the future as a textbook example of good PR -- how to both have fun with a subject while spreading public awareness as widely as possible. Whoever in the Seattle police force came up with the idea of a 'pass the munchies' campaign deserves a hefty raise."
I've always believed that leadership is a collaborative process.
That's the idea behind #ThePurpleCouch campaign. It's a way to remind us that government is about serving the people, and that it should be accessible and available to all.
We have been traveling throughout the district putting the #PupleCouch down on street corners and public spaces and inviting residents of Chelsea, the West Village, Hell's Kitchen, Clinton, and Flatiron to take part.
Most New Yorkers aren't members of the inside political game, and can't write the big Real Estate checks that open doors to access. That's why we're reaching out directly in this campaign. It's also what I will do as a City Council member.
Check out this short clip below. I'll post more as they come in, and then #JoinTheConversation.
Chelsea Clinton told CNN Monday that she's purposely shifting towards a more public life.
“I had very much led a deliberately private life for a long time, and now I’m attempting to lead a purposely public life," Clinton said when discussing her recent work with the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative.
When asked if this move implied budding political plans, Clinton said, "not now."
"I’m also grateful to live in a city and a state and a country where I really believe in my elected officials, and their ethos and their competencies," she continued. "Someday, if either of those weren’t true, and I thought I could make more of a difference in the public sector, or if I didn’t like how my city or state or country were being run, I’d have to ask and answer that question."
Speculation over Clinton's intent to run for public office has been a topic of conversation for some time. In fact, she gave an almost identical response to the "Today" show when asked about her openness to running for public office in April.
"Right now I'm grateful to live in a city, in a state and a country where I strongly support my mayor, my governor, my president, my senators and my representative," she said. "If at some point that weren't true and I thought I could make a meaningful and measurably greater impact, I'd have to ask and answer that question."
The idea that Barack Obama would still consider appointing Lawrence Summers to head the Federal Reserve rather than order an investigation into this former White House official's Wall Street payments, reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal, mocks the president's claimed concern for the disappearing middle class. Summers is in large measure responsible for that dismal outcome, and twice now, after top level economic postings in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, he has returned to gorge himself at the Wall Street trough.
As Clinton's Treasury secretary, he pushed for radical deregulation allowing investment bankers to take wild risks with the federally insured deposits of ordinary folks, a disastrous move compounded when he successfully urged Congress to pass legislation banning the effective regulation of the tens of trillions in derivatives that often proved to be toxic.
The first direct result of those new laws was the mammoth merger that created Citigroup. Eight years later, the federal government had to save Citigroup from bankruptcy brought on by its leading role in the sale of those toxic mortgage-based derivatives, to the tune of $45 billion in taxpayer funds and backing $300 billion of the bank's bad paper.
At that time, Citigroup paid Summers -- teaching at Harvard and yet hustling as a Wall Street consultant -- $45,000 for a lecture, a piddling amount compared with the $135,000 he got per talk from Goldman Sachs. In all, while he was advising candidate Obama during the 2008 election season, Summers made off with $8 million in Wall Street compensation, with the lion's share coming from the D.E. Shaw hedge fund.
Some might argue this is ancient history, but as the Wall Street Journal reported, Summers, after serving as a top economic adviser to Obama, has done just as well on his second passing through the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street. He rejoined the D.E. Shaw hedge fund, not having done anything to inconvenience its operation while in government, and got a gig with the operator of Nasdaq and other heavy hitters.
The Journal also revealed that Summers re-entered service with Citigroup, but neither he nor the bank has revealed his current rate of pay. The Journal did report that Summers has been paid more than $100,000 per speech for some of his recent talks to the financial industry goliaths. The newspaper also noted that at one Citigroup forum in March, "Mr. Summers expressed surprise about the persistent backlash in Washington toward big banks. ... "
Speaking of lectures, Obama should deliver one to Summers, detailing why his prior record renders him unfit for future public service. As Obama pointed out in his speech on the economy Wednesday, "The income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, while the typical family's barely budged." Eight of those years of income stagnation occurred during the Clinton presidency, when Summers was designing policy that led to the derivative-induced housing bubble that exploded on George W. Bush's watch.
Nor did it get better when Obama brought Summers into a key economic role in his administration. As Obama conceded in his speech last week, "Nearly all the income gains of the past 10 years have continued to flow to the top 1 percent. The average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40 percent since 2009, but the average American earns less than he or she did in 1999. And companies continue to hold back on hiring those who have been out of work for some time."
That's because Obama, following Summers' advice, adopted the save-the-bankers-first philosophy of his predecessor, with outrageous publicly funded bailouts of the same financial conglomerates that had put the economy into a deep tailspin. It is a policy that continues to this day, with an outlay of $85 billion a month by the Federal Reserve to purchase toxic assets from the banks' books in the hopes that they will reinvest that largess. But as the president's jobs critique noted, they haven't.
Trillions have been passed on to the banks to relieve them of the burden of the toxic derivatives they created, derivatives that then-Treasury Secretary Summers testified to Congress were no threat to the "thriving market" that "has assumed a major role in our own economy and become a magnet for derivative business from around the world." No threat there because, "given the nature of the underlying assets involved ... there would seem to be little scope for market manipulation. ... "
This is an idiotic statement by someone Obama considers brilliant, or as the president put it when Summers left the White House in September 2010 to get back into the big money game: "I will always be grateful that at a time of great peril for our country, a man of Larry's brilliance, experience and judgment was willing to answer the call and lead our economic team."
What leadership? According to last week's McClatchy-Marist poll, 54 percent of Americans think the U.S. remains in a recession, and 60 percent see the country "going in the wrong direction." Further, an Associated Press survey released Sunday concludes that "Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream. Survey data exclusive to the Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend."
That is what Obama conceded in his speech last week, which underscores how outrageous it is that he would consider bringing back brilliant Larry, who caused so much of that misery.
Yes, that's former U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner getting all the attention in the New York City mayoral race. Yes, that's former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer running for New York City comptroller. Yes, that's former U.S. Congressman and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford once again sitting in the House of Representatives. And yes, that's Bill Clinton who's emerged as an emeritus force in the American political landscape.
So who's next? Should we expect to see Gary Hart, John Edwards, Pete Domenici, Herman Cain, Mark Souder, Larry Craig, Mark Foley and/or any of a hundred or so other politicians of note who've been caught with their pants down (both figuratively and literally) suddenly back in the limelight? In other words, has the "permanently ruinous political sex scandal" gone the way of the dodo bird?
Well, yeah, it pretty much has.
The Weiner Wangle
Let's take a look at one politician in particular, Anthony Weiner, since he's the one getting the most ink, tweets, and airplay these days. In case you've forgotten, Weiner is the former U.S. congressman who resigned from office in June 2011 after he was caught sending a series of digital sexts -- some of which were actually taken in the congressional gym's locker room -- to half a dozen (or more) women. According to Weiner, he'd been engaging in this type of behavior for about three years. And now he's admitted that his sexting activities continued even after his resignation from Congress.
In recent days I've spoken with numerous major media outlets about Weiner's latest revelation, and the basic question is always the same: Why did he continue with his inappropriate sexual behavior even after he was caught? The answer is simple: He might be a sex addict. Think about the gambler who tosses away his kid's college fund at a casino, gets confronted by his wife, and then takes out a loan the next day to gamble some more. Why does he do this? He does it because he's addicted to gambling. Think also about the drinker who gets thrown in jail for drunk driving and then, immediately after being released, heads to the liquor store. Why? Because that's what alcoholics do. The story is no different with Anthony Weiner, except his probable addiction is to sex rather than gambling or booze. The simple, sad truth is that even after they've been caught and are facing potentially severe consequences, addicts typically continue with their problematic behavioral patterns because that is how they cope with life. At best, being "found out" will drive someone with a self-destructive addictive disorder into treatment, where the lengthy and somewhat arduous process of eliminating compulsive behaviors can begin.
So is Weiner's recent revelation the death-knell for his political career? We'll have to wait and see. But let's face it, just two years after sneaking away with his tail between his legs, he's returned and become a mayoral frontrunner in our nation's largest city. And he's achieved this status without the support of the city's Democratic power brokers! That, in and of itself, is utterly amazing. Yes, this recent revelation will likely hurt his cause, but it's not likely to bump him from the race.
So how the heck has Weiner accomplished this remarkable comeback? Amazingly, he's used the same social media networks that led to his downfall. For instance, he announced his mayoral candidacy with an online video. In the video he is seen with his wife and new baby, looking more than a little bit domestic, apparently attempting to create the impression that he is "cured" of whatever it was that ailed him and everything is now just fine, perfectly normal, thank you for asking. His underlying message seems to be: My wife trusts me now, so you should too.
Rather interestingly, very few people seem willing to challenge him on this. He has stated that after his 2011 resignation, he spent three days at the Gabbard Center, an outpatient psychiatric evaluation facility specializing in the assessment of high-end professionals in crisis. The center's website lists "sexual disorders" as being among the major diagnostic groups it assesses. Nevertheless, he adamantly denies having an addictive or compulsive sexual disorder, despite the fact that his highly problematic sexual behavior continued for many months after first being discovered. Regardless of the diagnosis Weiner may or may not have received at Gabbard, a three-day evaluation hardly qualifies as "treatment" for a three-years-plus repetitive pattern of sexual misbehavior. An evaluation simply identifies the issues that need to be worked on and suggests a pathway for change -- no more, no less.
Sadly, Weiner's post-scandal behavior mirrors that of many of the powerful men (and women) we treat in sexual disorders programs. Nearly always these clients are neck-deep in denial about their actions. They create any number of rationalizations to justify their behaviors (in their own mind). Sure, they agree that anybody else engaging in the exact same behaviors would be crazy to do it, but somehow they see themselves as unique, different and entitled. And this sort of misguided thinking often continues even after they've been caught and scandalized, as they stubbornly tell themselves and others any number of lies to justify what they've done (and very often are continuing to do). In the biz, that's what we call DENIAL.
This misguided denial is what we all saw from Anthony Weiner two years ago, and it's what we are continuing to see today. "I'm a new man," he says, but somehow this doesn't ring true. In my professional experience, men and women whose sexual behavior leads them to crash and burn as badly as Weiner did nearly always need intensive residential treatment followed by long-term outpatient recovery, and that needs to occur in an addiction (rather than an analytic or family therapy) setting. This is especially true if the behavior that derailed the person continues after the initial crisis! At the very least, Anthony Weiner should have a solid understanding of the demons he is battling and the recommended path toward recovery. In this regard, he seems to have no clue. Instead, he has called his sexual acting out "a blind spot" that is "in the past."
Seen It, Bored Now
It appears that the American public has become desensitized to the political sex scandal. The more it happens, the less that people seem to care. In many ways this is part and parcel of the digital onslaught. Nowadays cable news stations, websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook, and the like provide an endless barrage of news -- much of it salacious in nature. People seem to require a constant array of "new and different," meaning that our collective memory and our ability to hold a grudge are greatly reduced. Once we were elephants, remembering everything, but nowadays we're gnats and fruit flies. The only reason any of these scandals has a shelf-life longer than a few days or weeks is that the media must sometimes wait for the next indignity to occur. Without something new to report, content-starved media mavens tend to rehash the old stuff in ever-more-titillating ways, even if the public no longer cares. Such is the case with this summer's "Weiner Roast."
There also seems to be a growing realization, with so many people living such large chunks of their lives in the online (hence, public) universe, that the only reason most of us are not in the news like Weiner, Spitzer, Sanford, Clinton and the like is that we're not as famous as they are. In other words, we're beginning to understand that almost everyone engages in regrettable behavior at least occasionally, so judge not lest ye be judged. Or whatever. Basically, if we have jobs and health insurance and the schools are open and taxes aren't too high, we seem to be relatively willing to overlook whatever it is our elected officials are doing between the sheets.
So can politicians do whatever they damn well please and get away with it these days? Probably not. Infidelity seems to no longer be a big deal, even with prostitutes. An abuse of power, however, such as Nevada Sen. John Ensign's affair with an aide, still draws quite a bit of public ire, as does dallying with someone who is underage or a member of the same sex (especially if the politician's power base is conservative).
That said, it seems like almost anyone can make a credible comeback these days. The formula seems to be: acknowledge your mistake (but not that you might have an ongoing problem), insist that your issues are in the past, get your wife or minister to corroborate this, and then take advantage of the name recognition you earned in the midst of your ignominy. And this recipe really does work! In fact, one study of post-Watergate congressional scandals found that nearly three-quarters of the disgraced politicians who decided to run for office again survived their primary, and of those who made it to the general election, 81 percent won.
So here we are. Sanford is back in office, Clinton is a respected elder statesman, and both Weiner and Spitzer have pulled a Stella and gotten their New York groove back. Essentially, it appears that we no longer care all that much about the sexual peccadilloes of our elected representatives. To be honest, I think it's pretty cool that America has gotten a lot more forgiving lately, but can we really trust these guys with our political well-being? Only time will tell.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. He has served as a media specialist for CNN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others. He is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and the upcoming 2013 release, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships.
WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to strike the right balance between staying out of the daily political maelstrom and setting herself up for a possible second presidential run. But her fans and foes are making that difficult.
Nearly six months after departing the State Department, Clinton finds herself in the middle of an early effort by both parties to prepare for her return to politics even as she keeps to a schedule of highly paid private speeches, work on her book and her family's global foundation.