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.
I can just imagine this guy's thought process.
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."
LONDON -- LONDON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton has supported Saudi women who this week defied their kingdom's ban on female driving.
The former U.S. secretary of state told an event in London: "I'm all for it. It is an issue that is symbolic." She added that the ban is "hard to even rationalize" in today's world.
The last government shutdown in 1995 offers cautionary lessons for both sides in the current standoff.
The two men at the center of the last shutdown, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, shared a closer, but also more explosive, personal relationship then the protagonists in the current Washington drama. Yet even they managed to stumble into an unwanted shutdown.
Then, as now, miscalculation and misunderstanding -- and a large degree of hubris -- helped create the crisis. For all of their superficial pleasantries and private conversations, Gingrich and Clinton did not really understood each other, and they remained supremely confident in their ability to dominate the other. Gingrich accepted the popular view circulating among Republicans that the president lacked backbone. Privately, he dismissed him as "a frat boy who reads books." Fresh off winning a major victory in the 1994 midterm elections, he believed he could force a chastened president to accept a balanced budget in seven years. His whole strategy was based on the unquestioned belief that Clinton lacked the backbone for a budget battle and that the public supported his conservative agenda -- even if it meant painful sacrifice.
For his part, Clinton was confident that he could manipulate Gingrich's ambition and grandiosity and turn it to his advantage. He understood that Gingrich needed to be seen as a rebel, but that he also wanted to be taken seriously as a member of the Washington establishment. He sensed that, despite his tough public posture, Gingrich was in many ways very needy and eager to please.
Their mutual misunderstandings led to two government shutdowns. Clinton proved more resourceful and stubborn than Gingrich had expected. Anyone who had studied Clinton's career would have known that his affable exterior disguised a tough and resilient core. Against the advice of liberals in his own party, Clinton embraced the Republican goal of achieving a balanced budget, but he insisted that basic Democratic programs be protected. At the same time, while Clinton may have accurately diagnosed Gingrich's private psychology, he failed to appreciate the fervor and anger of the Republican caucus that was in no mood for making deals.
We all know that Gingrich and the Republicans paid a heavy political price for their miscalculations. After two shutdowns, public disapproval of the Republican House dropped 20 points, and Gingrich's unpopularity ratings rivaled Richard Nixon's at the depth of the Watergate crisis. Speaker Boehner could confront a similar backlash. Clinton entered the contest as a weak president, but he emerged invigorated and strengthened. Many in the White House are hoping for a similar bump from this confrontation.
The 1995 budget shutdown, however, holds cautionary lessons for President Obama as well. He lacks the ideological wiggle room that Clinton used so brilliantly to frustrate and eventually defeat Gingrich. In the weeks leading up to the shutdown, Clinton triangulated and coopted the Republican message, agreeing to a balanced budget while promising to fight for popular middle class programs. Obama lacks that same flexibility. He cannot embrace the Republican goal of gutting his most significant legislative achievement.
The White House should avoid the mistake of assuming that history will repeat itself and that Obama will be able to dominate Boehner the same way Clinton bested Gingrich. The outcome of that struggle was by no means inevitable. When the government shut its doors for the first time in mid-November 1995, many in the White House, including President Clinton, feared that the public would blame him for the impasse. "I was afraid they'd get away with it," Clinton reflected, "given their success at blaming me for the partisan divide in the '94 election."
Both sides were playing a high stakes poker game. It was unclear who would win.
The 1995 budget showdown could have had a very different ending had Newt Gingrich not made one colossal mistake. While in the final hours of the debate over the budget, Clinton took a delegation of American leaders, including Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, to Israel to attend the funeral of assassinated Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin. Gingrich assumed that they would use the 25 hours trapped on a plane to hammer out a compromise. But Clinton's advisors plotted to keep them apart, fearing their boss would go searching for a deal. When they landed back in Washington, Dole and Gingrich were forced to exit Air Force One by a rear ramp.
Gingrich was furious. Meeting with reporters after they returned, Gingrich lashed out at Clinton. He told startled reporters that he took a tougher line in the final round of budget negotiations because of the rude treatment on Air Force One. "This is petty," Gingrich confessed. "I'm going to say up front it's petty, but I think it's human. When you land at Andrews and you've been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off by the back ramp . . . you just wonder, where is their sense of manners, where is their sense of courtesy?"
Gingrich's childish verbal tirade was a public relations disaster for the Republicans. "Cry Baby," screamed the New York Daily News, next to a picture of Gingrich in a diaper. That afternoon, the White House released a photograph of Clinton, Dole, and Gingrich chatting on the plane.
Coming in the second day of the shutdown when public opinion was still malleable, the outburst made Republicans seem petulant and stubborn, while allowing Clinton to appear presidential by comparison. Polls shifted dramatically in the president's favor. Gingrich emboldened the president, angered the pubic, and destroyed the morale of his own troops. The shutdown lingered for a few more days, and another ensued, but the Republicans had lost the debate.
Had the Gingrich temper tantrum not taken place the budget shutdown could have had a very different result. There seems to be a misplaced confidence in the White House today that Republicans always get blamed. That may not be true. Its unlikely that Speaker Boehner will repeat the mistakes of his temperamental predecessor. That means that the political consequences of the shutdown in 2013 could be very different from 1995.
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."