Friday, May 29, 2009


Open Thread

Your supreme thoughts for the week and beyond!

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Robert A (Disgrace) George

Last fall's economic meltdown had such an impact on New York City's fortunes that it required a change of the city's term limit laws that had been twice affirmed by voter referendum. Michael Bloomberg asserted that the public should be given the right to vote for someone of his financial caliber to keep the city from collapsing into the abyss.

Got that? Awful economic circumstances require a learned hand on the ballot in the fall -- even if it means turning over term limits. That was the Bloomberg rationale. The City Council voted 29-22 to overturn the law (extending their own terms too, of course).

Well, on Thursday, Bloomberg declared (mimicking Barack Obama) that New York's economy was beginning to "turn around." So, said Azi Paybarah, enterprising reporter of The New York, does that change the rationale for getting rid of term limits? The mayor's calm, well-thought response?

This is what you get when you have a billionaire who -- eight years after being mayor -- still has a default gene that brooks no public disagreement from those he deems his lessers.

Ironically, as the Daily News' Elizabeth Benjamin points out, Bloomberg's previous use of the word "disgrace" in this context was in describing an early trial balloon by City Council members to overturn term limits. Then, Bloomberg thought it outrageous to do so given the previous referendum votes. So, you see? A true definition of "disgrace"? Anything or anyone that offends Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

If it's considered disgraceful occasionally to hold a politician to his own words, well, just call me Robert "A Disgrace" George.

UPDATE: AP's Sara Kugler provides some more background on New York's petulant mayor.

UPDATE II: If you're on Facebook, consider changing your middle name to "A Disgrace" to show some solidarity over a principle of holding politicians accountable. Hey, it worked for the "Hussein" family last year!     

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Madness A-Parent To All

A week or so back, former magazine editor Bonnie Fuller took People magazine to task for essentially making teen motherhood look a heck of a lot more glamorous than it is in reality:

She may not intend to encourage other teen girls to follow her example, but with her picture perfect looks and adorable baby son, she is absolutely now the poster girl for teen momhood.

The inside article, with dreamy full page photos, might as well be titled, "I'm 18, a mom and HOT...and you can be too!" There's not one photo of an exhausted, haggard, harried, unkempt-looking Bristol, reeling under the enormous responsibilities of raising an infant, working part-time — which she is — and hoping to somehow continue her studies. Instead, Bristol appears tanned, rested and already fitting back into her skintight jeans.

Visuals are a powerful force. And more than words, they produce visceral reactions! So while Bristol talks in the exclusive piece about how "girls need to imagine and picture their life with a screaming newborn baby," there's nothing in the People magazine spread to visually suggest that life isn't one big happy bed of roses in the Palin household, where Bristol and Tripp still reside. There's not even a dish out of place, let alone a pile of laundry or an unmade bed.

Gratuitous slaps at Palin's ideology aside, Fuller's overall point is a good one. Despite what the text of the article might say, the pictures make teen motherhood a lot more alluring than it is. Fuller could also add that, one area where criticism for Gov. Palin is fair is in allowing her 18-year old daughter to become a "spokesperson" against teen pregnancy. Earlier this month, Bristol attended a town hall for Candie's Foundation, hosted by NBC Heroes star Hayden Panetterie. Bristol is Candie's "teen ambassador." She's eighteen and has a one-year old child. How is she giving "insights" on teen pregnancy, when there's no way she's figured out how to raise the child herself. But as its spokesperson, the Foundation undoubtedly flew her from Alaska to New York for the event. As Fuller suggests, an impressionable teen-age girl might think, "Hey, having a child right now isn't so bad -- you can get on People magazine, hang out with Hollywood celebrities and fly to New York as a celebrity spokesperson! Cool!"

Talk about mixed messages.

Could it get any worse? Of course!

If teen motherhood can be cool, how about making teen fatherhood sexy? Enter GQ, which makes a cover boy out of Palin baby daddy Levi Johnston in its next issue. The spread includes several pictures of Levi stripped to the waist as he changes baby Tripp's diaper! The feature -- near-Biblical in length -- makes Levi into a hunting stud who's coulda-been father-in-law Todd Palin offered Bristol a car get Levi out of their lives.

Levi got the first brush of fame when he was all cleaned up and introduced to the world at last year's Republican National Convention. After the split with Bristol, not surprisingly, both families traded pot shots at each other. So, he's figuring he's going to maximize his 15 minutes of fame.

Lessons for guys here: If you have to knock a chick up, make sure she's politically connected. At one time, that could have meant a death sentence. In today's culture, it means that you become a celebrity yourself, with appearances on Larry King and a full feature in GQ.

And then there's the most famous baby (not born to Hollywood celebrities) in the world. Tripp gets to appear in two major magazine spreads (one tastefully nude), while his parents present decided mixed messages on what his presence in their lives means. Well, in between the photo shoots, interviews and gala appearances, they do.

Any guesses on how regular and functional his childhood is going to be.

Somebody tell these kids that the best thing they can do for Tripp is to "just say no" -- to the media that is. The only hope for a normal life for Bristol and Levi's child is for his parents to try to start living normal themselves.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009


The Sotomayor Record

SCOTUS Blog has a nice rundown of Sonia Sotoymayor's circuit court rulings.  

As Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings points out, the Pappas vs. Giuliani case shows that Sotomayor isn't necessarily locked into a PC "minority grievance" mindset.  Sotomayor wrote a dissent, supporting the plaintiff -- a staff support employee for the New York City police department who was fired for sending anonymous  racist material to a charity.  Sotomayor argued that the NYPD's action violated the plaintiff's First Amendment rights. She also didn't accept the majority argument that NYPD's action was warranted for broader public policy reasons -- that it would hamper the organization's ability to keep order if it were learned that an avowed racist was employed there.  

Sotomayor argued that this wasn't an on-the-beat cop or anyone who had regular interaction with the public.  

One can disagree with Sotomayor's conclusion. But she clearly has an interesting, nuanced view that calls for a wide preference toward First Amendment claims.  

Just one case, but an intriguing one.

Meanwhile, here is the complete text of the speech the judge gave with the controversial line that has some people -- including a certain former boss of mine -- calling Sotomayor a racist. Read the full speech yourself. It may not win any awards for eloquence, but I think the broader argument that she makes -- that it is impossible for a judge (or, arguably, anyone) to completely divorce one's experiences when making a decision -- is actually a fair one. Sotomayor concludes, however, that it is better to be aware of all of those biases -- or baggage, one might say -- when bringing them to the task at hand.  And, yes, that means working within the law to come to correct decision.  

Anyway, that's how I read it. I wouldn't call her a racist, though her view on how much of a role experience might/would/should play in decision-making is a more than reasonable line of inquiry for a Republican -- or any -- senator to pursue in confirmation hearings.  As for Newt, of all people, he should know better than to take one line out of a speech and make a complete assertion about someone's mindset. Remember, "wither on the vine," Newt?  That was a line in a speech where he said that he thought the Health Care Financing Administration  bureaucracy running Medicare needed to be gotten rid of.  

That, of course, ended up getting reported as Gingrich -- and, by extension, Republicans as a whole -- wanted Medicare to "wither on the vine."  Funny how context matters.  

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009


What Do You Do With A Girl Like Sonia?

In the perfect world, the Republican Party should have no problem strongly criticizing Judge Sonia Sotomayor. She appears to be a fairly consistent liberal judge on the circuit court; the New Haven firefighters racial discrimination case seems to be what could be considered low-hanging fruit to go after her (indeed, the Supreme Court could very well overturn her own decision before the confirmation hearings begin); she's got more than few problematic public statements that suggest either a bias toward activism or identity consciousness. 

That's the perfect world attack GOP senators could follow against the judge. 

But while some of those issues will undoubtedly come up, Republicans are unlikely to lay much of a glove on the judge?  Why?  Because while judicial nominations should be argued over questions of the Constitution and legal theory, in fact it invariably comes down to narrative.  As Ken Duberstein writes in The Daily Beast, it's usually how the narrative of the nominee is framed before the public and the media.  Sometimes, however, the narrative can be turned on the opposition.  That's what Clarence Thomas did to some great effect in 1991.  After the Anita Hill story broke, Thomas declared in the hearings that he was the victim of a"high-tech lynching." With interlocutors like heavily-accented Alabama Sen. Howell Heflin leading the battle against Thomas, the words stung. Democrats were thrown for a loop. 

The Sotomayor hearings aren't likely to have a moment like that because Republicans won't let them get that far.  Because the judge is a lady -- and a Latina lady -- the party is acutely aware of its problems with the Hispanic vote.  RNC Chairman Michael Steele was, surprising for him, rather muted in his reaction to Sotomayor

"You want to be careful," he said when asked about juggling Hispanic outreach with potential opposition to Sotomayor, "You don't want to be perceived as a bully."

Indeed, Steele was mild in his initial jabs, calling Sotomayor an "interesting pick" with "overwhelming political overtones to it."  

Perhaps his caution reflects the fact that his party is in one of its most vulnerable positions ever in terms of identity politics. A few days earlier, one of last year's candidate for the nomination basically said that having Steele as chairman made the party "immune" racism charges.   

"I think [Steele] has sought to be, first of all, a very strong spokesperson," Mike Huckabee told The Tennessean on Saturday, before speaking at a church service. "I'm not sure anyone else could be as effective in challenging the Obama policies any more so than Michael."

Asked why that's the case, Huckabee answered: "Well, I believe that that no one is gonna be able to use the racism charge."

 So, Huckabee says that Steele's race makes it easier for the GOP to go after Obama -- without being called racist. This statement came not too long after Steele himself made the claim that Obama wasn't properly vetted by the press because Obama was black.  And so, a heavily white party finds itself hamstrung in launching what could be considered completely legitimate lines of attack on a judicial nominee.  Even in the best of circumstances, given the GOP's depleted numbers in the Senate, this would be a losing battle, but with the demographic element thrown in, it seems a hapless task.  And, of course, it doesn't help when Huckabee can't even get the nominee's name right

Heck , the GOP doesn't even have a female senator on the Judiciary Committee which will be questioning Sotomayor (there are two female Democrats on the committee). So, recognizing that they don't have a Senate conference -- to use Bill Clinton's phrase -- that "looks like America,"  Senate Republicans will have to tip-toe around a Supreme Court candidate they might otherwise would love bring down.


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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Sonia Sotto Voce

So, the fact that Barack Obama's SCOTUS pick, Sonia Sotomayor, is a homegirl from around the Bronx-way is nice. That she helped re-start major league baseball after the disastrous 1994-95 strike is a non-ideological plus in her favor. (FWIW, I thought her Maurice Clarett/NFL ruling was way too much of a favor the labor unions and a failure to consider the rights of an individual who wasn't subject to the collective bargaining process.)

Her being a Latina (the first appointed to the Supreme Court) from a struggling background impresses me very little -- and I would love for all this bio stuff to be dropped. Is she smart and does she operate with something approaching common sense. After all, as George Will
aptly put it this weekend, both the left and the right like judicial activism and "empathy" on cases -- if only the ruling is eventually in their favor (Will pointed out that the 2005 Kelo decision affirming the power of eminent domain -- which outraged conservatives -- was arguably an example of judicial restraint: The liberal cohort -- plus William Kennedy -- aceded to the power of the local legislative body, which conservatives usually argue for.)

Alas, the up-from-poverty/tough middle-class struggle is a bipartisan game now -- especially when the nominee is from a minority group -- or non-male (see a previous rant about this on the Republican side

Still it would be nice to hear the demographics stuff toned down and the jurisprudence issues be elevated. Yeah, I know.

Dream on.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009


The Powell Polictical Doctrine

Based on Sunday's Face The Nation, Barack vs. Dick. vs. Colin vs. Rush may be a Final Four better than the NCAAs

And, on another Sunday talk show, my old boss demonstrates that he is a bit more inclusive than either Limbaugh or Cheney:  
Powell also found a less likely ally in former House Speaker Newt Gingric, who said on "Meet the Press" that "I don't want to pick a fight with Dick Cheney, but the fact is, the Republican party has to be a broad party that appeals across the country," adding, "To be a national party, you have to have a big enough tent that you inevitably have fights inside the tent."

Pointing to President Ronald Reagan's at appealing to Democrats and independents as he carried 49 states in 1984, Gingrich 
– himself a potential 2012 contender for the party's presidential nomination – concluded, "I think Republicans are going to be very foolish if thy run around deciding that they're going to see how much they can purge us down to the smallest possible space."
For those wondering about Colin Powell (full Face The Nation clip right here) and party loyalty, here's an interesting anecdote. 

Because Powell had been a career military man, he never officially declared his party affiliation when he was national security adviser under Ronald Reagan and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  After retiring from the service, he wrote the best-seller, My American Journey. There was a frenzy around the country when the book came out in 1995, with lines around the bookstores when he had signings.  Much of it was attached to the possibility that he might run for president: Now that he was a free man and could enter politics, would he enter the GOP primary?   

When these questions were dominating the media, what did several movement conservatives do?  Before Powell made any decision, conservatives launched a pre-emptive strike to keep him out of the race. Then-head of the Family Research Council Gary Bauer labeled him "Bill Clinton with ribbons."   At a November National Press Club press conference, the pile-on began:  Paul Weyrich called him too "risk-averse" to be president.  Frank Gaffney called him "too cautious."  Morton Blackwell pushed the line that Powell was getting attention because he was black (horrors!). 

The entire spectacle was fascinating that a handful of politcally-minded individuals -- none of whom had actually served in combat-- were labeling a popular decorated veteran, essentially, a coward.  

In any event, Powell ultimately didn't run -- reportedly because he didn't have his wife's blessing.  

Nonethelees, the following summer, Powell still came to '96 GOP candidate Bob Dole's aide and spoke -- for the first time -- at the GOP Convention, proudly started, "My fellow Americans, my fellow Republicans." He could have sat out that convention -- given how the so-called base treated him. Appearing at the convention was hardly going to sell him any more books.  

Four years later, he also addressed the 2000 convention. By then, of course, there was something of  a quid pro quo. It was basically understood that Bush was would name him secretary of state: He was providing Bush as much "adult" foreign policy cover as Dick Cheney was providing "gravitas" in the vice president's slot. 

Point is as much as Limbaugh or Cheney might want to call Colin Powell disloyal, he's been there for his presidents and his party.  While he's never backed down from his moderate beliefs on domestic issues (except for gays in the military), conservatives opened war on him 14 years ago. 

Good for him for demanding a a place at the table of his party -- whether it wants him or not.  

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Open Thread

If you're enjoying a three-day weekend, have a great time. If you have the chance to thank someone in uniform for their service to the country, please do so. 

Otherwise, drop other weighty and not-so-weighty observations here. 

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Steeling Defeat

Has RNC Chairman Michael Steele lost his ever-lovin' mind?  Or does he have a death-wish for his job?  Ya gotta ask, because no sooner does he get out of sticky situation with his own committee members, than he lets his mouth toss him back into the fire. 

On Tuesday, Steele gave a rousing speech at the RNC's organizational meeting:  he said that it was time for Republicans to stop apologizing for past mistakes and now had to take President Obama "head on." But, he said, that it had to be done in a way that showed the dignity and "class" that Democrats didn't when criticizing President Bush.  So far, so good.  Then, on Wednesday, Steele convinced the RNC members not to try to brand the Democrats as the "Democrat Socialist Party."  Great.

But then, on Friday, while filling in for Bill Bennett -- a role that has, arguably, gotten him into trouble before -- Steele declared that Obama was not properly vetted by the press because he was black

"The problem that we have with this president is we don't know him. He was not vetted, folks. He came out of nowhere," Steele told listeners to Bill Bennett's radio show Friday morning. "….We don't know his political background, we don't know his political philosophy, the ideology that shapes his thinking on policy.

"He was not vetted, because the press fell in love with the black man running for the office. 'Oh gee, wouldn't it be neat to do that? Gee, wouldn't it make all of our liberal guilt just go away? We could continue to ride around in our limousines and feel so lucky be alive and in an America with a black president,'" said Steele. "Okay, that's wonderful — great scenario, nice backdrop. But what does he stand for? What does he believe?

"And that's why I keep going back to the point, the missed opportunity was dissecting and understanding Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright," he added. "It wasn't about Rev. Wright, it was about the philosophy that emerged and the directions that he was given, the lessons he learned at his knee. We never got a chance to understand that. People got lost on what Wright said about America instead of focusing on what Obama understood from what Wright was saying, so that you could understand and track that political philosophy. So we don't know. We just don't know."

OK, let's follow this train of thought:  What does Steele think this line of attack gets him? Is this his idea of an attack that shows "class" and "dignity"?

Does he think that it will lessen Obama's popularity -- which Steele admits?  Does he think the public will suddenly turn against the press and Obama for being "duped, bamboozled, hoodwinked"?  Instead of looking ahead and taking on Obama's policies, Steele is inviting a look backward -- on what the press woulda, coulda, shoulda done.  Even worse, this politically-charged speech is playing with fire in Steele's own house.  

Does he really believe that people in the media -- and a growing number in his own party -- don't believe that he became chairman because he was black?  And, controversial as some of Obama's decisions may be, he is still seen as basically competent and good leader -- that's more than can be said for Steele's rocky tenure so far.  Would another chairman who had committed so many faux pas -- including hiring friends for six-figure salaries -- still managed to have held onto their job? So, who's the one getting a pass because they are black?

This is vitriolic language that Steele should never have introduced -- taking the usual GOP claim that the press is liberally biased and introducing a race element into it.  But, again, this is what happens when someone feels that they have to be a regular fill-in host for a radio show.  You forget what your day job is and just roll into the host position. Statements that are perfectly fine to proffer as a conservative talk show host become decidedly problematic when they are uttered by the head of a party. 

Steele should decide what he wants more: to be the leader of the Republican Party or just Rush Limbaugh with a better tan. 

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