'/> Uncommon Hours: January 2009
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Uncommon News and Commentary for the weekend

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hope of its children."
--President Dwight D. Eisenhower

"At once complementary and adversarial, this intragovernmental squabbling probably makes the conflict-averse Obama uncomfortable. But the “make him do it” dynamic could finally bring the center of Washington’s political debate closer to the progressive center of American public opinion."

"The chemistry is so fundamental and changes so rapid and severe that impacts on organisms are unavoidable," said James Orr, a researcher at the Marine Environment Laboratories in Monaco."The questions are now how bad will it be and how soon will it happen."

Mickey Rourke’s incredible comeback!

Even if you detest the very idea of professional wrestling, go see Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.” (My wife was reluctant to go, but fortunately, “Slumdog Millionaire” was sold out that night and “The Wrestler” was about to start--and she loved it!) This is a story about a vulnerable man, teetering at the edge of the abyss. Rourke is simply amazing! He gained about 35 pounds for the role and did most of his own stunts. Here’s the link for his interview on CBS News.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike: 1932-2009

John Updike
March 18, 1932 - January 27, 2009

"Light had felt its way in under the dry green window shade above the spines of the radiator and was standing beside her bed when the unhappy tangle of her dream fell away and she dared open her eyes. Like a leak in a great tank of darkness the light had seeped into all the familiar things of her room--varnished pine bureau, painted straight chair, staring doll sitting on the chair with the oval soles of her cardboard shoes showing, radiator (which under its flaking silver paint had ivylike designs in a low raised pattern like a kind of secret), dark-green window shade with its pinholes of light, shelf Daddy had put up with a hammer and nails and hitting his thumb so the nail turned blue, framed pictures of Jack and Jill falling downhill in stiff surprise and a lady in white with pink ribbons taking a step toward you. Essie's eyes touched each of them, and then the four corners of the ceiling."

--from In the Beauty of the Lilies, by John Updike

Uncommon Headlines

Paul B. Farrell:
Peak oil? Global warming? No, it's 'Boomsday!'
Five reasons 'population explosion' is world's biggest economic problem

US Arrests Financier in Purported $400 Million Scam
It's the cockroach theory: if you've seen one, there are bound to be more.

John Thain: Corporate Jerk of the Moment
Maybe John Thain, the guy who demanded $30 million after screwing up Merrill Lynch, should be our Secretary of Treasury.

House Judiciary chairman subpoenas Karl Rove

Thom Hartmann: Two Santa Clauses or How The Republican Party Has Conned America for Thirty Years

Palin: Don't Save the Whales

Obama Gives First TV Interview to Arab Network
''My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,'' Obama told the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel.

Unchecked global warming may lead to greater 'dead zones' in oceans

Report: Some Climate Damage Already Irreversible

Paul Krugman: Bad Faith Economics

Monday, January 26, 2009

John Dean: Legal Jeopardy For American Torturers Here and Abroad? A Q & A Session With An Expert on the Issue, Philippe Sands

By John Dean
Posted at FindLaw
Jan. 23, 2009

Remarkably, the confirmation of President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, is being held up by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who apparently is unhappy that Holder might actually investigate and prosecute Bush Administration officials who engaged in torture. Aside from this repugnant new Republican embrace of torture (which might be a winning issue for the lunatic fringe of the party and a nice way to further marginalize the GOP), any effort to protect Bush officials from legal responsibility for war crimes, in the long run, will not work.

It is difficult to believe that Eric Holder would agree not to enforce the law, like his recent Republican predecessors. Indeed, if he were to do so, President Obama should withdraw his nomination. But as MSNBC "Countdown" anchor Keith Olbermann stated earlier this week, even if the Obama Administration for whatever reason does not investigate and prosecute these crimes, this still does not mean that the Bush Administration officials who were involved in torture are going to get a pass.

With few exceptions, the discussion about what the Obama Administration will do regarding the torture of detainees during the Bush years has been framed as a domestic matter, and the fate of those involved in torturing has been largely viewed as a question of whether the Department of Justice will take action. In fact, not only is the world watching what the Obama Administration does regarding Bush's torturers, but other countries are very likely to take action if the United States fails to do so.

Bush's Torturers Have Serious Jeopardy

Philippe Sands, a Queen's Counsel at Matrix Chambers and Professor of International law at University College London, has assembled a powerful indictment of the key Bush Administration people involved in torture in his book Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. He explains the legal exposure of people like former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney's counsel and later chief of staff David Addington, former Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, the former Department of Defense general counsel Jim Haynes, and others for their involvement in the torture of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and CIA secret prisons.

After reading Sands's book and, more recently, listening to his comments on Terry Gross's NPR show "Fresh Air," on January 7, 2009 I realized how closely the rest of the world is following the actions of these former officials, and was reminded that these actions appear to constitute not merely violations of American law, but also, and very literally, crimes against humanity – for which the world is ready to hold them responsible.

Here is what Professor Sands told Terry Gross on NPR: "In talking to prosecutors around the world, as I have done, they all recognize the very real political difficulties of taking on someone who has been Vice President of the United States, or President of the United States, or Secretary of Defense of the United States. But those arguments melt away as you go a little down the chain. And I don't think the same arguments would apply in relation to the man, for example, who was Vice President Cheney's general counsel, at the time the decisions were taken, David Addington…. I think he faces a very real risk of, you know, investigation for complicity in an act that amounts to torture…." Later, referring to "international investigations," he added that Addington (and others) were at "serious risk of being investigated."

These are remarkable statements from a very well-informed man. Because we have a common publisher, I was able to contact him in London, and pose a few questions. I find his book, statements and responses to my questions chilling.

Q & A With Professor Philippe Sands

The following is my email exchange with Professor Sands:

QUESTION: When talking to Ms. Gross you said you were not calling for such international investigations because we all need more facts. Given the fact that Judge Susan Crawford has now made clear that torture occurred, do you – and others with your expertise and background – have sufficient information to call for other countries to take action if the Obama Administration fails to act?

ANSWER: Last week's intervention by Susan Crawford, confirming that torture occurred at Guantanamo, is highly significant (as I explain in a piece I wrote with Dahlia Lithwick: "The Turning Point: How the Susan Crawford interview changes everything we know about torture"). The evidence as to torture, with all that implies for domestic and foreign criminal investigation, is compelling. Domestic and foreign investigators already have ample evidence to commence investigation, if so requested or on their own account, even if the whole picture is not yet available. That has implications for the potential exposure of different individuals, depending on the nature and extent of their involvement in acts that have elements of a criminal conspiracy to subvert the law.

QUESTION: If yes, can you share what you and others might do, and when?

ANSWER: I am in the process of completing the epilogue to my book Torture Team, which will be published in May 2009. That will set out, in detail, what I learned when I made a return visit to the European judge and prosecutor with whom I met in the summer of 2007, as described in the book. Watch this space.

QUESTION: If no, what would it take for those like you to call for all countries with potential jurisdiction to take action?

ANSWER: More than 140 countries may potentially exercise jurisdiction over former members of the Bush Administration for violations of the 1984 Torture Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including the standards reflected in their Common Article 3. Whether they do so, and how they might do so, turns on a range of factors, including their domestic procedural rules. In the United Kingdom, one criminal investigation is already underway, in relation to the alleged treatment of Binyam Mohammed, a Guantanamo detainee who is a British resident. I doubt it will be the last. That said, having set out the relevant facts in one case [in my book], to the best of my abilities, I feel it will now be for others to take this forward as they consider appropriate.

QUESTION: Also, when talking to Ms. Gross you said that you did not think that David Addington and others involved in torture were likely to be travelling outside the United States. Do you know for a fact that any country might take action? Have you discussed this with any prosecutors who could do so?

ANSWER: This will be addressed in the epilogue to Torture Team.

QUESTION: Do you believe that a failure of the Obama Administration to investigate, and if necessary, prosecute, those involved in torture would make them legally complicit in the torture undertaken by the Bush Administration?

ANSWER: No, although it may give rise to violations by the United States of its obligations under the Torture Convention. In the past few days there have been a series of significant statements: that of Susan Crawford, of former Vice President Cheney's confirming that he approved the use of waterboarding, and by the new Attorney General Eric Holder that he considers waterboarding to be torture. On the basis of these and other statements it is difficult to see how the obligations under Articles 7(1) and (2) of the Torture Convention do not cut in: these require the US to "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution". What happens thereafter is a matter for the prosecutor, who may decide that, in accordance with applicable standards ("authorities shall take their decision in the same manner as in the case of any ordinary offence of a serious nature under the law of that State") and the facts of the case, including the prospects for a successful prosecution, that proceeding to actual prosecution is not justified.

QUESTION: Finally, you mentioned the case proceeding in the UK regarding possible torture of a British national. Is it possible that even an American ally like Great Britain could seek extradition, and undertake prosecution, of US officials like Addington and Yoo for facilitating the torture of a citizen of Great Britain – if the US fails to act?

ANSWER: It is possible. The more likely scenario, however, is that which occurred in Senator Pinochet's case: the unwitting traveller sets foot in the wrong country at the wrong time.
What Will The Obama Administration Do?

As all who have followed this issue know, President Obama hedged after he was elected as to what he may or may not do. So too did his Attorney General nominee. After Eric Holder declared waterboarding to be unlawful, no one on the Senate Judiciary Committee truly followed up as to what he was going to do, but it appears they are going to now press him on that point.

My question is how can the Obama Administration not investigate, and, if appropriate, prosecute given the world is watching, because if they do not, other may do so? How could there be "change we can believe in" if the new administration harbors war criminals – which is the way that Philippe Sands and the rest of the world, familiar with the facts which have surfaced even without an investigation, view those who facilitated or engaged in torture?

One would think that people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Gonzales, Yoo, Haynes and others, who claim to have done nothing wrong, would call for investigations to clear themselves if they really believed that to be the case. Only they, however, seem to believe in their innocence – the entire gutless and cowardly group of them, who have shamed themselves and the nation by committing crimes against humanity in the name of the United States.

We must all hope that the Obama Administration does the right thing, rather than forcing another country to clean up the mess and seek to erase the dangerous precedent these people have created for our country. A first clue may come when Holder resumes testifying.

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the president.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Robert Burns, born 250 years ago today

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

"A Man's a Man for A' That"

Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave - we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a' that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that,
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that,
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that,
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
That man to man, the world o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cuckoo Conservatives Clog Confirmations

From Sierra Club Raw, Issue #279
Jan 23, 2009

In his inaugural address, President Obama (President! Obama!) said "we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics."

While this spirit seems to have taken the country and even most of official D.C. by storm, there's one group of people who seem entirely immune: Senate conservatives. If the confirmation proceedings for Obama's cabinet nominees is an early indication, looks like these old dogs are up to their same old tricks. With the exception of seven nominees (including Energy Secretary Steve Chu and Interior Secretary) confirmed by voice vote just after the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, most of the rest have been subjected to various petty objections and delays.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 94-2 confirmation vote was delayed a day by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Delayer-in-Chief. (It should be noted in his favor that John McCain got up and made an appeal to his colleagues to stop being petty and immediately approve Clinton by a voice vote.)

Attorney General nominee Eric Holder has also been held up by Cornyn and others for committing the grievous sin of saying waterboarding is indeed torture, torture is indeed illegal, and that perhaps those who did so might have to face consequences for their actions.

The blockade parade was stepped up on Wednesday when it was revealed that an unnamed senator or senators had placed one of the Senate's notorious "anonymous holds" on the nominations of Lisa Jackson for EPA and Nancy Sutley for Chair of White House Council on Environmental Quality. We learned yesterday that the culprit was Sen. John Barasso of Wyoming, a fossil fool who told Jackson during her confirmation hearing that following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Mass. v. EPA and actually using the Clean Air Act to do something about global warming was a "disaster waiting to happen."

(Jackson and Sutley were finally confirmed by voice vote last night.)

And it doesn't stop there. Conservatives are also stepping up their assault on Sierra Club BFF and green jobs/environmental justice/workers' rights champion Rep. Hilda Solis, Obama's choice for Secretary of Labor. As with the environmental nominees, this fight has little to do with Solis herself. It is merely a proxy war in a larger conflict -- the upcoming battle royale over the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill, which the Sierra Club strongly supports, would turn back the tide of assaults against workers' rights by making it easier for labor unions to organize. It has become latest obsession of wingnutopia (see also: abortion and gay marriage). Business interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are preparing to spend upwards of $100 million to defeat it and their allies in the Senate are using Solis' strong support of the bill to hold up her confirmation.

Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, Obama's blockbuster choice to coordinate energy, environment and climate issues from the White House, is not subject to Senate confirmation, but has been subjected to perhaps the most bizarre and unwarranted assault of all. In a banner, front page above the fold headline touting its ridiculous hatchet job on Browner, the conservative Washington Times attempted to bring back everyone's favorite bogeyman from the presidential campaign: international socialism. Apparently, Browner attended one meeting -- at 10 Downing Street no less -- on international climate issues that happened to be convened by an organization that convenes the world's center-left parties, including Britain's Labour Party, on sustainability. The article, which was merely the culmination of a week of increasingly insane ramblings from wingnuts in the blogosphere, led folks to believe that soon we'd all be singing the Internationale in the streets.

Who knew that being green could have so many people seeing red?

More on domestic spying by the NSA: They were collecting the credit card data of American citizens!

"So, lucky American citizens, tens of thousands of whom are now on digital databases at NSA, who have no idea of this, also have that information included in those digital files that have been warehoused," said Russell Tice, a former NSA analyst, last night in an encore appearance on Countdown.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's not paranoia if they really are watching you!

In an exclusive interview on Countdown, Russell Tice, a former analyst for the National Security Agency, revealed the extent of government surveillance on American citizens who were not deemed to be associated with terrorism by the Bush administration.

Watch the full interview.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama!

Olbermann: Bush guilty of torture

It seems an appropriate moment to bring this up this morning, as the Supreme Court justices file into their places for today's inauguration ceremony.

Keith Olbermann offered an excellent perspective last evening on why President-elect Obama should prosecute Bush and others in his administration for war crimes, in particular for torturing prisoners: the precedents for compromise or allowing criminal actions to pass quietly into history have not ended well.

"Sadly," Olbermann said, "as commendable as the intention here might seem, this country has never succeeded in 'moving forward' without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past. In point of fact, every effort to merely ‘draw a line in the sand' and declare the past, dead, has served only to keep the past alive—and often to strengthen it."

The text and video are available here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

“The Fierce Urgency of Now”: From the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building

By Bob SommerUncommon Hours

So near, yet so far, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building.

On the steps of the former, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963; on the latter, Barack Obama will be sworn in as president of the United States tomorrow, almost 46 years later. And what a stunning serendipity it is that Inauguration Day falls on the day after we remember Dr. King.

But perhaps more evocative of our time and the dream’s fulfillment—or as civil rights activist, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia said, a “down payment on the fulfillment of that dream”—than King’s speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is his address before a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” He gave this address on April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he died.

This speech is usually regarded as King’s first major public statement of opposition to the war in Vietnam, which without question it is. But the title suggests that it is more than that: “Beyond Vietnam.”

Here King described what he believed to be the fundamental flaws in how Americans lived and viewed the world that led the country into a conflict in which it had no business:

“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit...and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing ‘clergy and laymen concerned’ committees for the next generation.”

He continued, quoting John F. Kennedy:

“Five years ago [Kennedy] said, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

King drew criticism for this speech on every front, including from the NAACP and the Urban League, where the leadership believed it was a mistake to align the struggle for racial justice with the antiwar movement—and especially to criticize the Johnson administration while American troops were deployed overseas.

The Washington Post editorial page said, “He has diminished his usefulness to the cause, to his country and his people.” Time magazine went further, calling the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” And the New York Times patronizingly accused him of being out of his depth. The FBI also took a renewed interest in King, reopening his file and describing him as “an instrument in the hands of subversive forces seeking to undermined our Nation.”

But just as we have seen in the presidential campaign—and career—of Barack Obama, King took a view that was not non-racial, but that moved beyond even race to the very question of who we are and what this democracy—this “experiment,” as the historian Henry Adams liked to call it—is all about. And King found it wanting because the injustices of bigotry and poverty and inequality were rooted in misguided values.

“The Western arrogance,” he said, “of feeling that [the United States] has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”

How eerily prescient are those words of the period through which we have just lived, in which arrogance seemed to define everything about the American character, from a jingoistic foreign policy to the angry nationalism that manifested itself in fear-mongering and gratuitous flag waving, and all played to the tune of explosive consumption and reckless borrowing that was encouraged by the Bush administration under the rubrics of “free-market capitalism” and “the ownership society.”

King might have been describing Iraq instead of Vietnam, Bush instead of Johnson:

“This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

He called, rather, for a “true revolution of values”:

“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”

Barack Obama frequently quoted King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech as the rationale for his candidacy. Here’s the full context, with Obama's favorite phrase cited in bold:

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood – it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.’”

Now, almost five decades later, as we struggle through a perfect storm of calamities, from the financial crisis that has infected every home and business in the United States, to our wars and entanglements and occupations overseas, to the threats against the very fabric of our country brought about by the Bush administration’s reckless disregard for the Constitution, to the crisis of climate change that threatens our very existence, Obama’s election represents all that it does for racial justice for the very reason that it was not about race.

Seven and a half years ago, George W. Bush failed to unite the country in the single moment that he might have brought people together in an effort that could have exceeded that of World War II. It is the greatest failure of his administration—and the reason his administration failed. Americans wanted to sacrifice, wanted to do the right thing. For a brief period, people were polite to one another, compassionate even; they wanted to give of themselves. But Bush chose the divisive road. His base meant more than the country. Republican hegemony at home and American hegemony abroad meant more than asking people to spend less, invest in infrastructure, curtail oil consumption—consumption of any kind, for that matter—and conserve resources for our own sake and that of our children. The damage of that decision, which was central to all the bad decisions and mismanagement that followed, came with profound consequences.

Obama’s election, thus, has been a volcanic eruption of the good will and opportunity Bush left behind when he handed the bullhorn back to the fire chief and climbed down off the rubble. That powerful lava flow burned its way through the question of race and beyond, and Obama was there to tap it. He understood its source. Its flow is what we see on the Washington Mall today.

The full text and a recording of Dr. King’s address at Riverside Church are available at American Rhetoric: Martin Luther King, Jr: A Time to Break Silence (Declaration Against the Vietnam War).

Friday, January 16, 2009

So long, farewell!

Photo by Jason Reed, Reuters.

By Bob Sommer

And so, it’s almost…nearly…just about…a few days away – over!

W’s farewell address last evening had about the same impact as a performer who’s taken one too many curtain calls, with the applause dying and house lights going up before he’s even off the stage.

It had the look of a living room recital, of the Von Trapp children singing their goodnight song. Proud family members surrounded and encouraged the little tyke, who grinned through much of his recitation—the little poem he learned, the little speech. The speech itself was as predictable as the monthly bills arriving in the mailbox and as transparent as a kid in a Halloween costume thinking he’s fooled you into believing he’s really Superman.

He paid homage to democracy, neglecting to mention what an inconvenience the Constitution proved to be during his tenure, and he wished the incoming president well, though last May he wasn’t above stoking the politics of fear by comparing Obama to Neville Chamberlain and claiming that he’d follow a policy of appeasement toward terrorists—and saying so while standing in the parliament chamber of a foreign government.

Of course, he was barely through the greetings and pleasantries before he brought up 9/11: “I remember standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center … surrounded by rescuers who had been working around the clock.” And didn’t the camera just happen to pan, at the very moment, to the face of the fire chief who stood with a cocky president’s arm slung over his shoulder while Bush uttered his threats of vengeance through a bullhorn.

But with bin-Laden still on the loose and uttering his own threats just days ago, one would think W might show some humility, maybe not want to bring our attention to all that machismo that amounted to just so much talk. But no, there he was, reciting the familiar litany, his greatest hits of the past eight years, which echoed from the altered reality in which he’s lived—and in which he's tried to convince the rest of us that we lived also:

“Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored al-Qaida and stoned women in the streets to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school. Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States.”

No remorse, no perception that none of this is true, that acid attacks on women occur commonly in Afghanistan, where teachers risk life and limb; that Iraq isn’t quite the stable little democracy – a quaint little place, like, say, Belgium – that he imagines it to be, or wants us to imagine.

Vice President Darth sat up front, proud grandpa; wife Laura sat across the aisle, smiling, hands folded on her lap, also proud. Throughout the room were the people he would recognize – soldiers, a charter school principal, an ex-con who runs a faith-based counseling program. “Good” versus “evil” was still the theme of American diplomacy, sanctioned, of course, by “Almighty God.” “Freedom” would be delivered throughout the world, force-fed, if necessary, whatever the cost, and if you listened carefully, you could hear the code: just insert free-market whenever you heard freedom.

Well, in an irony that not even the most clichéd and maudlin made-for-TV movie could have rivaled, Bush was upstaged by a plane flying low over Manhattan yesterday afternoon. Only this time it landed safely, even if in the cold waters of the Hudson River, and thanks to the experience and ability of a pilot who has a lot of new friends this morning, everyone survived with little more than a few bruises and some badly shaken nerves.

So, whatever chance Bush had of making the front page of today’s papers evaporated as he was bumped not even to below the fold but right off the front page in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and even my local paper, The Kansas City Star.

So long, farewell, Mr. Bush!

An added note: The farewell address was such a non-event that Obama apparently didn't watch it, and interns were needed to fill in the seats not occupied by journalists expected to cover the speech.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bush Unplugged!

W’s final press conference had one benefit that’s been overlooked in the coverage I’ve seen thus far: it gave us a reminder—a brief refresher, if you will—of how nasty and smug, and defensive, his tone has been for the past eight years. With little at stake and now fully off the leash and out of reach of his handlers, Bush ranted and playacted for 47 minutes yesterday in front of the press. He slumped from one side of the podium to the other in his classic faux-folksy posture while bouncing through the low-lights of his tenure in a sort of concentrate-thick performance of the defensive, hectoring style that became so familiar as the death toll mounted in Iraq, the disaster of Katrina unfolded, and the Constitution was shredded. His old-reliable strawman arguments were on display as he claimed that “the elite” and “the opiners” were the only ones who thought America’s moral standing had fallen in the world. It was vintage Bush—a revival of his greatest hits and a firm reminder that this was the worst president the country has ever seen and that he leaves even more clueless than when he arrived. So now he rides off into the Texas sunset, arrogantly believing that landing in the Oval Office somehow meant that he knew what he was doing there.

Monday, January 12, 2009

AP: Obama preparing to close Gitmo

According to a report by Lara Jakes, "Advisors to President-elect Barack Obama say one of his first duties in office will be to order the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

There's no such thing as "clean coal"

"The 'clean coal' campaign was always more PR than reality — currently there's no economical way to capture and sequester carbon emissions from coal, and many experts doubt there ever will be. But now the idea of clean coal might be truly dead, buried beneath the 1.1 billion gallons of water mixed with toxic coal ash that on Dec. 22 burst through a dike next to the Kingston coal plant in the Tennessee Valley and blanketed several hundred acres of land, destroying nearby houses. The accident — which released 100 times more waste than the Exxon Valdez disaster — has polluted the waterways of Harriman, Tenn., with potentially dangerous levels of toxic metals like arsenic and mercury, and left much of the town uninhabitable."

By Bryan Walsh, from "Exposing the Myth of Clean Coal Power," in this week's Time.

Billions Face Food Shortages, Study Warns

Climate change may ruin farming in tropics by 2100 • Record temperatures to become normal in Europe

by Ian Sample

(Published on Saturday, January 10, 2009 by The Guardian/UK)

Half of the world's population could face severe food shortages by the end of the century as rising temperatures take their toll on farmers' crops, scientists have warned.

Harvests of staple food crops such as rice and maize could fall by between 20% and 40% as a result of higher temperatures during the growing season in the tropics and subtropics. Warmer temperatures in the region are also expected to increase the risk of drought, cutting crop losses further, according to a new study.

The worst of the food shortages are expected to hit the poor, densely inhabited regions of the equatorial belt, where demand for food is already soaring because of a rapid growth in population.

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A heavy dose of integrity

Twenty-seven year CIA veteran Ray McGovern likes Obama’s selection of Leon Panetta to head the CIA.

“In choosing Leon Panetta to take charge of the CIA,” McGovern writes in an editorial for Consortium News, “President-elect Barak Obama has shown he is determined to put an abrupt end to the lawlessness and deceit with which the administration of George W. Bush has corrupted intelligence operations and analysis."

Rachel Maddow had an intriguing take on why Obama neglected to notify Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that he’d selected Panetta, calling her one of the “failed overseers” on whose watch torture and warrantless wiretapping became routine under the Bush adminstration.

What's wrong with Dr. Sanjay...

Paul Krugman offered a sharp reminder of why Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s potential nomination as Surgeon General should be greeted skeptically: the hatchet-job he did on Michael Moore when his film Sicko was released. Click here to read Krugman’s blog.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The environmental president?!

"Since 2001, we have put common-sense policies in place, and I can say upon departure, our air is cleaner, our water is purer, and our lands are better protected."
—President George W. Bush, who threw his shoulder out as he reached over to pat himself on the back following his announcement of a new maritime sanctuary in the Pacific.

Not so fast, Mr. President! You've run the most environmentally hostile administration of modern times, attempting to undo conservation efforts that go all the way back to the Theodore Roosevelt administration.

Let’s review:
  • The Arctic Wildlife National Refuge has been a target for drilling since you took office. “Drill, baby, drill” wasn’t a spontaneous inspiration of the McCain campaign. Under the 110th Congress, at least 24 drilling proposals were put forward, all of which you were eager to sign. Fortunately, a few sane Republicans joined the minority Democrats to protect the ANWR from devastation.

  • In the eleventh-hour of your administration, you gutted the Endangered Species Act, which has protected vulnerable wildlife for over thirty years.

  • Soon after you took office, Vice President Darth assembled a klatch of oil executives to develop an energy policy that to this day no one can (or will) elucidate, but which clearly amounted to the most brazen case of lobbying inside the White House in American history.

  • Kyoto Protocol – not so much.

  • Millions of acres of public lands have been sold off for drilling and mining during your administration. (I can’t count the number of petitions from the Wilderness Society and other groups that I’ve signed during your administration to prevent these reckless sales of sensitive regions.)

  • Roadless rules to protect our national forests from ravaging by ATVs, loggers, and those whacko Jeepsters in the TV commercials who think our public lands are roller coaster rides: gone with the pristine forest winds in 2005.

  • You have advocated throughout your tenure for building more nuclear plants, even going so far as to recommend using spent fuel, an untested and potentially dangerous technology. (And let’s not forget Yucca Mountain!)

  • And not last or least, your administration has systematically misled the public by suppressing and editing the work on climate change by scientists like Dr. James Hansen of NASA.

Your track record, Mr. President, is nothing short of abysmal.

So yes, it’s great that a vast marine sanctuary has been established in the Pacific--which you transparently did for your legacy and not because you care about the planet--but this hardly evens the balance sheet on the environment of the past eight years. Not even close.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Barack Obama could do worse than keep "The Education of Henry Adams" on his nightstand while he stays at the Hay-Adams Hotel

By Bob Sommer

“He felt quite well satisfied to look on, and from time to time he thought he might risk a criticism of the players….”

So wrote historian Henry Adams in his Pulitzer Prize winning The Education of Henry Adams to describe his view of politics and politicians, both literal and figurative. Literal because he could “look on” the big White House which stood just across the lawns and gardens of Lafayette Square from his “little white house,” as he called his home at 1607 H Street. Adams and his wife Clover took up residence there in 1878. Their good friend, diplomat and writer John Hay, lived in the house next door. Both houses were later razed, but the hotel built on that site, the Hay-Adams, is named for them, and that is where President-elect Barack Obama and his family will stay until the current occupants of the White House clear out.

The grandson and great-grandson of presidents, and the son of a diplomat, Henry Adams understood the workings of power sufficiently to “risk a criticism” when he felt moved. His skepticism about government in the late 1870s resulted, at least in part, from seeing the disasters of the Grant administration. “The moral law had expired,” he wrote in the Education, “like the Constitution.” (How prescient his words now seem!)

Adams would have been delighted to know that Barack Obama had the opportunity to observe the White House from his own vantage point for a couple weeks before he occupied it. He would have disagreed with elements of the Obama agenda - for instance his sympathy for unions and labor. A Lincoln Republican – one might say a “liberal Republican” – Adams, like his great-grandfather, John Adams, still nurtured doubts about whether Jeffersonian democracy would succeed and “the great beast of the people,” in Alexander Hamilton's words, could rule itself. The fact of Obama’s race would have been greeted by Adams for the triumph it represents, but he would have parted ways with Obama on the idea of economic equality.

But mostly, Adams would have enjoyed the spectacle of the First Family-elect having to settle here temporarily, as a second choice because the Bush administration refused to make Blair House available to them. Just the sort of amusement to remind him of how petty politics can be. The spectacle mattered more than the policies to Adams; amusement came first.

That was a favorite term of his – amusement – capturing at once his sense of ironic detachment, his dry wit, and the entertainment value of watching the world unfold, especially the world of politics, with only a few hundred yards between himself and the seat of power. He would have been amused at the ideals of the Obama campaign, given the monumental tasks ahead and the thorny paths and dark forests filled with troglodytes disguised as Southern Republicans through which he’ll tread in the coming months. He’d find it amusing, too, that Obama had also flouted his own supporters by voting for the FISA bill and then selecting Rick Warren to give his administration its first blessing.

Adams might have interpreted such gestures as evidence – early signs – that even for Obama, politics would outweigh ideals. “I suppose every man who has looked on at the game,” Adams wrote to his friend Henry Cabot Lodge, “has been struck by the remarkable way in which politics deteriorate the moral tone of everyone who mixes in them….There is no respectable industry in existence which will not average a higher morality.”

But what Adams might have thought of Obama matters less now than that Obama take this moment to look on the White House with a similar detachment to Adams’ – from so close yet still so far. Given Obama’s intellectual temperament, and his willingness to feast on the literature most suited to the moment – as he did reading in the history of the Lincoln and Roosevelt administrations in the weeks following the election – he could do worse than to keep The Education of Henry Adams on his nightstand for the next week or two.

Adams himself experienced a charge of idealism when he moved to 1607 H Street: he was in a new home, happily married (his wife Clover would tragically commit suicide only seven years later), and there was still hope for the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, who’d taken office only months earlier.

“I belong to the class of people,” he wrote to Charles Milnes Gaskell on first moving to Washington in 1877, “who have great faith in this country and who believe that in another century it will be saying in its turn the last word in civilization….”

It would be interesting to know what Adams thought of the results a little over a century later.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

NASA scientist Hansen warns Obama that current environmental policies are failing

"We write to you as fellow parents concerned about the Earth that will be inherited by our children, grandchildren, and those yet to be born … Jim has advised governments previously through regular channels. But urgency now dictates a personal appeal."