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Friday, November 28, 2008

All Fall Down


By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

I spent Sunday afternoon brooding over a great piece of Times reporting by Eric Dash and Julie Creswell about Citigroup. Maybe brooding isn’t the right word. The front-page article, entitled “Citigroup Pays for a Rush to Risk,” actually left me totally disgusted.

Why? Because in searing detail it exposed — using Citigroup as Exhibit A — how some of our country’s best-paid bankers were overrated dopes who had no idea what they were selling, or greedy cynics who did know and turned a blind eye. But it wasn’t only the bankers. This financial meltdown involved a broad national breakdown in personal responsibility, government regulation and financial ethics.

So many people were in on it: People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years; people who had no business pushing such mortgages, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business bundling those loans into securities and selling them to third parties, as if they were AAA bonds, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business rating those loans as AAA, but made fortunes doing so; and people who had no business buying those bonds and putting them on their balance sheets so they could earn a little better yield, but made fortunes doing so.

Citigroup was involved in, and made money from, almost every link in that chain. And the bank’s executives, including, sad to see, the former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, were clueless about the reckless financial instruments they were creating, or were so ensnared by the cronyism between the bank’s risk managers and risk takers (and so bought off by their bonuses) that they had no interest in stopping it.

These are the people whom taxpayers bailed out on Monday to the tune of what could be more than $300 billion. We probably had no choice. Just letting Citigroup melt down could have been catastrophic. But when the government throws together a bailout that could end up being hundreds of billions of dollars in 48 hours, you can bet there will be unintended consequences — many, many, many.

Also check out Michael Lewis’s superb essay, “The End of Wall Street’s Boom,” on Portfolio.com. Lewis, who first chronicled Wall Street’s excesses in “Liar’s Poker,” profiles some of the decent people on Wall Street who tried to expose the credit binge — including Meredith Whitney, a little known banking analyst who declared, over a year ago, that “Citigroup had so mismanaged its affairs that it would need to slash its dividend or go bust,” wrote Lewis.

“This woman wasn’t saying that Wall Street bankers were corrupt,” he added. “She was saying they were stupid. Her message was clear. If you want to know what these Wall Street firms are really worth, take a hard look at the crappy assets they bought with huge sums of borrowed money, and imagine what they’d fetch in a fire sale... For better than a year now, Whitney has responded to the claims by bankers and brokers that they had put their problems behind them with this write-down or that capital raise with a claim of her own: You’re wrong. You’re still not facing up to how badly you have mismanaged your business.”

Lewis also tracked down Steve Eisman, the hedge fund investor who early on saw through the subprime mortgages and shorted the companies engaged in them, like Long Beach Financial, owned by Washington Mutual.

“Long Beach Financial,” wrote Lewis, “was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking homeowners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, Calif., a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.”

Lewis continued: Eisman knew that subprime lenders could be disreputable. “What he underestimated was the total unabashed complicity of the upper class of American capitalism... ‘We always asked the same question,’ says Eisman. ‘Where are the rating agencies in all of this? And I’d always get the same reaction. It was a smirk.’ He called Standard & Poor’s and asked what would happen to default rates if real estate prices fell. The man at S.& P. couldn’t say; its model for home prices had no ability to accept a negative number. ‘They were just assuming home prices would keep going up,’ Eisman says.”

That’s how we got here — a near total breakdown of responsibility at every link in our financial chain, and now we either bail out the people who brought us here or risk a total systemic crash. These are the wages of our sins. I used to say our kids will pay dearly for this. But actually, it’s our problem. For the next few years we’re all going to be working harder for less money and fewer government services — if we’re lucky.

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Top 10 Sarah Palin Excuses For Turkey Slaughter (VIDEO)

David Letterman's "Top 10 List" tonight was Sarah Palin's top ten excuses. The list refers to the unfortunate interview that Palin gave right after she pardoned a turkey for Thanksgiving. As Palin answered questions, a worker right behind her was slaughtering turkeys in a turkey grinder. Palin seemed oblivious to the gruesome events as she continued talking for three minutes. Watch Letterman's top ten excuses Palin gave for the turkey massacre.


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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

10 Republicans Who Should Go Away

Ben Cohen

With a new political era looming, veterans of the old political arena will scramble to redefine themselves in order to make a living. Politicians, media commentators and analysts may be ill equipt to deal with the changing electorate, increased power of the blogosphere and massive discontent with the status quo. Who will survive in the modern epoch? Here are 10 who should really think about calling it quits:

1. William Kristol

There's no need to go on about how wrong Bill Kristol has been on just about everything, and what a spineless shrimp of a man he is. Just read this quote from an article he penned on the eve before the war in Iraq:
We are tempted to comment, in these last days before the war, on the U.N., and the French, and the Democrats. But the war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq, and expose the truth about Saddam's regime. It will produce whatever effects it will produce on neighboring countries and on the broader war on terror. We would note now that even the threat of war against Saddam seems to be encouraging stirrings toward political reform in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a measure of cooperation in the war against al Qaeda from other governments in the region. It turns out it really is better to be respected and feared than to be thought to share, with exquisite sensitivity, other people's pain. History and reality are about to weigh in, and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts.


Case closed.

2. Sarah Palin

Former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is the poster child of vacuous Republican imagery - hollow, loud and crass with no discernable talents other than an ability to attract stupid middle American house wives. Palin exploded onto the scene as John McCain's campaign started to wither, only for the 'Hockey Mom' to be exposed as a know nothing fraud. Claiming that Russia's visibility to Alaskans gave her foreign policy credentials and using sentences that even 'Dubya' would cringe at sealed her fate, plummeting McCain's campaign into the unelectable abyss. Unfortunately, Palin is doing the rounds on the media circuit, pumping her stardom for all its worth and priming herself for a run in 2012. The last thing America needs is another Bush style Republican, and Palin would represent that, but much, much worse.

3. Michelle Malkin

The Asian, female version of Bill O'Reilly, Malkin makes a living spouting hatred and idiocy to Fox News viewers. Malkin wrote a book called: In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror. The book essentially defends the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two and argues for more racial profiling of Arabs, which would be a bit like a Jew making the case for the holocaust in the name of German unity (OK, maybe not, but you get the point). Malkin's offensive views have earned her a spot on Andrew Sullivan's blog, where people can win 'Malkin Awards' for bigotry, prejudice or downright meanness. Malkin's crusade against liberals, gays and minorities means she will have a spot on Fox for the foreseeable future. As Matt Taibbi writes:
I'll say this about Michelle Malkin: she has a future in this business. I see her replacing Ann Coulter in that right-wing dipshit hierarchy. The last few times I've seen Coulter on TV, I haven't been able to take my eyes off her Adam's apple. By 2012 she's going to be doing ping-pong ball acts at drag clubs in Reno. Malkin, though, she's hardworking, dumb, and shameless, just like Sarah Palin, who I think has a big future four years from now. So get ready for more of this stuff. It's only just started and they've got four long years of target practice coming.

4. Dick Morris

A former Clinton political consultant turned Fox News 'Analyst', Morris made his living selling political imagery to ailing politicians, using his skills in lying, cheating and distortion to their maximum capacity. Morris backed John McCain for President, and was seen salivating over Sarah Palin on a regular basis, unable to disguise his creepy obsession with the 44 year old hot mom of many. Morris does his best to cozy up to his corporate pay masters in the Murdoch empire, and regularly publishes idiotic books like 'Condi vs Hillary- The next great Presidential race' (great call Dick). Thankfully, Dinosaurs like Morris are becoming irrelevant in the new political era, mostly because his lies are so egregious they are damaging to his party. While defending Morris from his jeering audience, John Stewart deftly put it "In fairness, Dick Morris is a lying sack of Shit".

5. Dick Cheney

The 'Dark Prince' of the Republican party, Cheney's obsession with American military prowess and fanatical dedication to the oil industry has made him the focal point of most liberal's rage. Cheney exists to service the needs of the rich and powerful, and is unafraid to put other people's lives at risk to ensure corporate profits and American hegemony. Cheney has always remained largely behind the scenes due to a distinct lack of personality and aura of extreme evil, but wields his influence expertly with his nuanced understanding of the dark arts of politics. Cheney is the epitome of a political hack, a gutless gray blob of a man with a record of detached violence and personal greed. We won't see much of him after next January, and hopefully someone will have the decency to arrest him should he venture out of the United States.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why America Feels Like it's Been Ruled by a Foreign Occupier

As Obama takes over the wreckage this country is in, one can't help but feel like something alien to America has been controlling it these past eight years. The wave of emotion that has erupted with the election of Barack Obama reminds me of the Allied victory in France in WWII. After a long foreign occupation in which foreign German interests occupied the agenda of France, French governance would once again be representing the concerns of it's populace. That hope seems to pervade America after it's long neocons occupation. Here are a few of the parallels that I see.

- American Public Opinion Has Been Ignored

Polling has consistently shown that the American government pursues an agenda far to the right of American public opinion. For the slight margin of victory that Bush had in both elections he won, the sweeping changes he pursued illuminate his disregard for the sizable chunk of our society that disagree with him.

When Dick Cheney was questioned on ABC about whether the fact that two thirds of Americans were opposed to the Iraq War had any influence on decision-making, he basically said that the American people get to make their input every four years and after that they can be ignored. The government is there to represent the people and now that it seems like that is returning; joy is understandable.

- Core American Values Overturned

America fought a revolution to have its opinions represented by it's government. That has faded in Bush's term. America set up the UN after World War II to set up international law and put an end to military aggression and imperialism. That went out the window. Habeas Corpus was inherited from England where it originated in the 12th Century. Bush in that sense has embraced the morals of the middle ages. Along that line, America reinstituted the use of torture. England discontinued its use in the 1600's Frederick the Great ended it in Prussia in 1740, Italy in 1786, France in 1789, and Russia in 1801. Besides moral reasons, the practice was written off as ineffective in terms of yielding useful information. This administrations moral conduct is clearly alien to the values of most Americans.

- Basic Infrastructure Neglected

Bridges, roads, and environmental standards have degraded these past eight years. What could be of more interest to a population than the upkeep of these vital elements of society? Clearly the vital interests of the population did not matter. You would have to be completely foreign to what America is not to see it, as basic infrastructure degraded tremendously in Bush's tenure.

- National Resources Diverted Overseas

If you study any foreign occupation, one common thread would be that national wealth would be diverted into foreign lands. While American healthcare, education, and infrastructure languished, we dumped billions of dollars into Iraq and pursued an otherwise aggressive and destructive foreign policy across the world at large at tremendous cost.

On top of that, national debt doubled the past eight years. It's like America lost a war, suffered an occupation and had to pay a 5 trillion dollar indemnity. We're in a similar position to France in 1870 or Germany in 1919 in that our common interests have been ignored, we've pursued an aggressive foreign policy to our own detriment and we are now deeply in debt.

- Propaganda Tuned Up

Bush took the stance of a foreign occupier in his governance- rational argument would never win the minds and hearts of the masses so crude propaganda such as Fox News was trotted out to scare and paralyze America into obedience. The same quest for obedience through misinformation and crude scare tactics are the same you see in the totalitarian governments from South America to Asia that have brought nothing but misery to their own people and the world at large.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Time for Him to Go

By GAIL COLLINS

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Gail Collins

Thanksgiving is next week, and President Bush could make it a really special holiday by resigning.

Seriously. We have an economy that’s crashing and a vacuum at the top. Bush — who is currently on a trip to Peru to meet with Asian leaders who no longer care what he thinks — hasn’t got the clout, or possibly even the energy, to do anything useful. His most recent contribution to resolving the fiscal crisis was lecturing representatives of the world’s most important economies on the glories of free-market capitalism.

Putting Barack Obama in charge immediately isn’t impossible. Dick Cheney, obviously, would have to quit as well as Bush. In fact, just to be on the safe side, the vice president ought to turn in his resignation first. (We’re desperate, but not crazy.) Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would become president until Jan. 20. Obviously, she’d defer to her party’s incoming chief executive, and Barack Obama could begin governing.

As a bonus, the Pelosi presidency would put a woman in the White House this year after all. On the downside, a few right-wing talk-show hosts might succumb to apoplexy. That would, of course, be terrible, but I’m afraid we might have to take the risk in the name of a greater good.

Can I see a show of hands? How many people want George W. out and Barack in?

A great many Americans have been counting the days all year on their 2008 George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown calendars. I know a lot of this has been going on because so many people congratulated me when the Feb. 1 Bush quote turned out to be from one of my old columns. (“I think we need not only to eliminate the tollbooth from the middle class, I think we should knock down the tollbooth.”)

This was not nearly as good as Feb. 5 (“We ought to make the pie higher”) or Feb. 21 (“I understand small business growth. I was one.”) But we do what we can.

In the past, presidents have not taken well to suggestions that they hand over the reins before the last possible minute. Senator J. William Fulbright suggested a plan along those lines when Harry Truman was coming to the end of a term in a state of deep unpopularity, and Truman called him “Halfbright” for the rest of his life. Bush might not love the idea of quitting before he has a chance to light the Christmas tree or commute the execution of one last presidential turkey. After all, he still has a couple more trips planned. And last-minute regulations to issue. (So many national parks to despoil, so many endangered species to exterminate ... .) And then there’s all the packing.

On the other hand, he might want to consider his legacy, such as it is.

In happier days, Bush may have nurtured hopes of making it into the list of America’s mediocre presidents, but somewhere between Iraq and Katrina, that goal became a mountain too high. However, he might still have a chance to avoid the absolute bottom of the barrel, a spot currently occupied by James Buchanan, at least in my opinion. Buchanan nailed down The Worst President title in the days between Abraham Lincoln’s election and inauguration, when the Southern states began seceding and Buchanan, after a little flailing about, did absolutely nothing. “Doing nothing is almost the worst thing a president can do,” said the historian Michael Beschloss.

If Bush gives up doing nothing by giving up his job, it’s possible that someday history might elevate him to the ranks of the below average. Better than Franklin Pierce! Smarter than Warren Harding! And healthier than William Henry Harrison!

The person who would like this plan least probably would be Barack Obama. Who would want to be saddled with the auto industry’s problems ahead of schedule? The heads of America’s great carmaking corporations are so dim that they couldn’t even survive hearings run by members of Congress who actually wanted to help them. Really, when somebody asks you exactly how much money you need, the answer should not be something along the line of “a whole bunch.”

An instantaneous takeover would also ruin the Obama team’s plan to have the tidiest, best-organized presidential transition in history. Cutting it short and leaping into governing would turn their measured march toward power into a mad scramble. A lot of their Cabinet picks are still working on those 62-page questionnaires.

But while there’s been no drama with Obama, we’ve been living a Technicolor version of “The Perils of Pauline.” Detroit is tied to the railroad tracks and the train is coming! California’s state government is falling into the sea! The way we’re going now, by the time the inauguration rolls around, unemployment will be at 10 percent and the Dow will be at 10.

Time for a change.

Original here

US officials flunk test of American history, economics, civics

US officials flunk test of Amerian history, economics, civics ISI – US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade …

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.

Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

"It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned," said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.

"How can political leaders make informed decisions if they don't understand the American experience?" he added.

The exam questions covered American history, the workings of the US government and economics.

Among the questions asked of some 2,500 people who were randomly selected to take the test, including "self-identified elected officials," was one which asked respondents to "name two countries that were our enemies during World War II."

Sixty-nine percent of respondents correctly identified Germany and Japan. Among the incorrect answers were Britain, China, Russia, Canada, Mexico and Spain.

Forty percent of respondents, meanwhile, incorrectly believed that the US president has the power to declare war, while 54 percent correctly answered that that power rests with Congress.

Asked about the electoral college, 20 percent of elected officials incorrectly said it was established to "supervise the first televised presidential debates."

In fact, the system of choosing the US president via an indirect electoral college vote dates back some 220 years, to the US Constitution.

The question that received the fewest correct responses, just 16 percent, tested respondents' basic understanding of economic principles, asking why "free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government's centralized planning?"

Activities that dull Americans' civic knowledge include talking on the phone and watching movies or television -- even news shows and documentaries, ISI said.

Meanwhile, civic knowledge is enhanced by discussing public affairs, taking part in civic activities and reading about current events and history, the group said.

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A Letter to My Brother Newt Gingrich

Dear Newt,

I recently had the displeasure of watching you bash the protestors of the Prop 8 marriage ban to Bill O'Reilly on FOX News. I must say, after years of watching you build your career by stirring up the fears and prejudices of the far right, I feel compelled to use the words of your idol, Ronald Reagan, "There you go, again."

However, I realize that you may have been a little preoccupied lately with planning your resurrection as the savior of your party, so I thought I would fill you in on a few important developments you might have overlooked.

The truth is that you're living in a world that no longer exists. I, along with millions of Americans, clearly see the world the way it as -- and we embrace what it can be. You, on the other hand, seem incapable of looking for new ideas or moving beyond what worked in the past.

Welcome to the 21st century, big bro. I can understand why you're so afraid of the energy that has been unleashed after gay and lesbian couples had their rights stripped away from them by a hateful campaign. I can see why you're sounding the alarm against the activists who use all the latest tech tools to build these rallies from the ground up in cities across the country.

This unstoppable progress has at its core a group we at HRC call Generation Equality. They are the most supportive of full LGBT equality than any American generation ever -- and when it comes to the politics of division, well, they don't roll that way. 18-24 year olds voted overwhelmingly against Prop 8 and overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. And the numbers of young progressive voters will only continue to grow. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning, about 23 million 18-29 year olds voted on Nov. 4, 2008 -- the most young voters ever to cast a ballot in a presidential election. That's an increase of 3 million more voters compared to 2004.

These are the same people who helped elect Barack Obama and sent a decisive message to your party. These young people are the future and their energy will continue to drive our country forward. Even older Americans are turning their backs on the politics of fear and demagoguery that you and your cronies have perfected over the years.

This is a movement of the people that you most fear. It's a movement of progress -- and your words on FOX News only show how truly desperate you are to maintain control of a world that is changing before your very eyes.

Then again, we've seen these tactics before. We know how much the right likes to play political and cultural hardball, and then turn around and accuse us of lashing out first. You give a pass to a religious group -- one that looks down upon minorities and women -- when they use their money and membership roles to roll back the rights of others, and then you label us "fascists" when we fight back. You belittle the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, and yet somehow neglect to explain who anointed you the protector of "traditional" marriage. And, of course, you've also mastered taking the foolish actions of a few people and then indicting an entire population based on those mistakes. I fail to see how any of these patterns coincide with the values of "historic Christianity" you claim to champion.

Again, nothing new here. This is just more of the blatant hypocrisy we're used to hearing.

What really worries me is that you are always willing to use LGBT Americans as political weapons to further your ambitions. That's really so '90s, Newt. In this day and age, it's embarrassing to watch you talk like that. You should be more afraid of the new political climate in America, because, there is no place for you in it.

In other words, stop being a hater, big bro.

Original here

Obama Set On Key Cabinet Nominees

President-elect Barack Obama has settled on nominees for two more cabinet positions, and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton accepted an offer to become secretary of state, a source close to the transition team told NPR Friday.

Obama tapped New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for U.S. secretary of commerce, and New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner has been asked to serve as Treasury secretary, the transition team member said.

Clinton's name surfaced as a possible secretary of state nominee shortly after the election. NPR confirmed that she accepted the post Friday, and The New York Times quoted two Clinton associates saying that the former first lady has accepted Obama's offer.

"She's ready," one of the sources told the newspaper, which said Clinton came to her decision after additional discussions with Obama about the nature of her role as the top U.S. diplomat and his plans for foreign policy.

Democratic Party sources have said Clinton was on track to be nominated, with an official announcement expected after the Nov. 27 Thanksgiving holiday.

Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador and energy secretary during President Bill Clinton's administration, had been an early supporter of Obama after dropping his own presidential ambitions.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Utah governor critical of GOP

Jon Huntsman, the Republican governor of the ruby-red state of Utah, stopped by Politico HQ this afternoon with some tough criticism of his own party.

Huntsman is in Washington this week in his role as chairman of the Western Governors' Association to promote the group’s bipartisan energy policy. Huntsman and the WGA’s vice-chairman, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D), are discussing their proposal with President-elect Obama's transition team tomorrow.

Huntsman has been one of the leading Republican voices on dealing with climate change, and he was blunt in criticizing elements of his party for ignoring the impact of global warming.

“If we’re going to survive as a party, we need to focus on the environment,” Huntsman said. “There’s a fundamental tone deafness with our party when it comes to the environment. ... The last place we can be as a party is be viewed as the anti-science party. That’s not a model for the future.”

Huntsman said that there’s some resistance in Utah from elements of the party base on his environmental views, but said Western conservatives also “feel deeply about the land and the legacy they’re leaving behind.”

“When you put it in words they understand like clean air, pristine lands, and pure water, they get it,” Huntsman said.

He also was critical of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, and advocated for a more multilateral approach. He attributed the Republicans’ recent political struggles to the lack of an “organizing principle” to drive voters to the party — something the Cold War accomplished for decades.

And he argued the war on terror can’t fill that role.

“The war on terror can’t be the organizing principle of the Republican party,” he said.

Huntsman, who has shown an interest in national politics, said that the future of the Republican party will come from the governorships, but declined to promote any specific names. He punted when asked if he was interested in running for president in 2012, saying he was more interested in promoting ideas over names.

“New ideas will emerge, and then the names will follow,” Huntsman said.

On Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Huntsman only said that “she’ll be in the mix” in 2012, adding that she will have appeal to some social conservatives.

Huntsman was easily reelected as Utah’s governor this year, winning 78 percent of the vote in his heavily Republican state.

Pamela Anderson's pot plea

Pamela Anderson wants marijuana to be legalised.

The former 'Baywatch' star has written an open letter to US President-elect Barack Obama, outlining ways to make the country better.

Pamela believes cultivating the illegal substance would "save children" and help the environment.

She wrote on her official blog: "I think we should legalise marijuana, tax and monitor - farm hemp etc. This would make our borders less corrupt and then I think eventually this will be a more secure option and save children in the long run - we should be able to farm hemp in America - it's just silly. It would create jobs and be good for the environment."

Pamela also controversially suggests anyone found guilty of molesting children or possessing child pornography, should be castrated for their crimes.

She continues: "Government must castrate every molester - potential molester - err on the safe side.

If any child pornography is found in anyone's possession, or anyone creating such atrocities, or if any child is brave enough to come forward (at any young age to bring attention to a potential molester - listen) they need to be taken very seriously and see that justice is served.

"The abuse is way worse than any trial could be - our children need more protection and justice seen. It needs to be PREVENTED not just punished."

U.S. attorney general back at work after fainting

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey returned to work on Friday after a "fainting spell" during a speech sent him to hospital the night before.

Mukasey walked out of George Washington University Hospital and waved to onlookers after getting what a spokeswoman called a "clean bill of health." He then rode by car to the Justice Department to resume work.

"I feel fine," Mukasey said in a written message to department employees. "As you may have heard, I collapsed briefly last night at the conclusion of a speech. All tests at the hospital have come back with good results."

Mukasey collapsed while defending the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies to a conservative legal group, the Federalist Society. Television footage showed him beginning to slur his words then slumping at the podium as his bodyguard and others caught him.

"It was a late-night speech under hot lights so all indications at this point are it was basically a fainting spell," Mukasey spokeswoman Gina Talamona said earlier.

Mukasey had undergone tests that ruled out a stroke-related illness or heart problems, she said, adding he had no pre-existing health issues.

Mukasey has been attorney general for about a year, dealing with issues such as terrorism, crime and corporate wrongdoing stemming from the financial crisis. He is expected to leave office in January when President-elect Barack Obama's administration takes office.

Talamona said Mukasey's power was never transferred after the incident on Thursday evening.

"Doctors have described him as fit," she said. "He is very active, you know he works out daily. He gets up early every morning and works out on the elliptical."

President George W. Bush spoke with Mukasey on Friday morning. The attorney general "sounded well and is getting excellent care," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Al-Qaida No. 2 insults Obama with race epithet

CAIRO, Egypt - Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader slurred Barack Obama with a demeaning racial term for a black American who does the bidding of whites in a new Web message posted Wednesday.

Ayman al-Zawahri's speech was al-Qaida's first reaction to Obama's election victory — and it suggested the terror network is worried the new American leader could undermine its rallying cry that the United States is an enemy oppressor.

Obama has been welcomed by many in the Middle East who hope he will end what they see as American aggression against Muslims and Arabs under President George W. Bush. Some believe his race and Muslim family connections could make him more understanding of the developing world's concerns.

Al-Zawahri dug into U.S. racial history to try to directly knock down that belief and argue Obama will be no more sympathetic than white leaders to what the al-Qaida leader called "the oppressed" of the world.

He said Obama was the "direct opposite of honorable black Americans" like Malcolm X, the 1960s Muslim African-American rights leader, who is known among some in the Arab world and seen as a symbol of anti-imperialism.

Al-Zawahri also called Obama — along with secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice — "house Negroes."

Reference to slavery
The video included old footage of speeches by Malcolm X in which he explains the term, saying black slaves who worked in their white masters' house were more servile than those who worked in the fields. Malcolm X used the term to criticize black leaders he accused of not standing up to whites and discrimination.

Speaking in Arabic, al-Zawahri used the phrase "abeed al-beit," which literally translates as "house slaves." But in the video message, posted on Islamic militant Web sites Wednesday, al-Qaida supplied English subtitles of the speech that translated the phrase as "house Negroes."

In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the tape is a reminder that al-Qaida is irrational.

" What we have here is more despicable and pathetic comments by al-Qaida terrorists," Perino said. "And in America, we are going to have a smooth transition from one administration to the next, and that will be a period of change in our country. What won't change is our commitment as a country to fighting terrorism. And I think that these comments just remind everybody of the kind of people that we're dealing with."

There was no immediate reaction from Obama's transition team.

'Heart full of hate'
The 11-minute, 23-second video featured an audio message by al-Zawahri, played over a still image of the al-Qaida No. 2.

The video graphics underlined the contrast al-Zawahri aimed to show: On one side of the screen was a photo of Obama wearing a Jewish skullcap and meeting Jewish leaders. On the other side was a photo of Malcolm X praying in a mosque. Interspersed was footage of Malcolm X talking of a "worldwide revolution" against the "Western power structure."

Al-Zawahri addressed "all the world's weak and oppressed," and warned them: "America has put on a new face, but its heart full of hate, mind drowning in greed and spirit which spreads evil, murder, repression and despotism continue to be the same as always."

Accuses Obama of turning back on heritage
He accused Obama of turning his back on his heritage to gain power.

"You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America," he said.

"It appears that you continue to be captive to the same criminal American mentality towards the world and towards the Muslims," he said.

Jeremy Binnie, an analyst with Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center, said al-Zawahri's message suggests al-Qaida leaders are worried "that Obama could be effective in rebuilding America's image."

"They hated Bush, but Bush was good for them in many ways because he was such a polarizing figure. But Obama seems at the moment to be a more uniting figure," Binnie said. "Al-Qaida very much would like the U.S. to stay with its old policies that put it in opposition to much of the Muslim world."

Warning on Afghanistan
Al-Zawahri proclaimed Obama's victory a sign that Americans had realized the failure of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He urged Islamic militants everywhere to continue their jihad, or holy war, saying, "Your enemy's stagger has begun, so don't stop hitting him."

Al-Zawahri said Obama's plan to shift troops to Afghanistan is doomed to failure, because Afghans will resist.

"Be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them," he said.

Al-Zawahri specifically addressed al-Qaida fighters in Iraq, saying, "your enemy has admitted defeat," and that as U.S. troops withdraw, "you must persevere, for victory is in an hour of perseverance."

He also told Islamic militants in Somalia, who have been capturing towns in an advance against the tenuous central government, "don't put down your weapons before the Mujahed state of Islam ... has been set up in Somalia."

Original here

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ted Stevens' defeat in Alaska marks end of an era



ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- Sen. Ted Stevens' election defeat marks the end of an era in which he held a commanding place in Alaska politics while wielding power on some of the most influential committees in Congress.

It also moves Senate Democrats within two seats of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority and gives President-elect Barack Obama a stronger hand when he assumes office on Jan. 20.

On the day the longest-serving Republican in Senate history turned 85, he was ousted by Alaska voters troubled by his conviction on federal felony charges and eager for a new direction in Washington, where Stevens served since Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

Alaska voters "wanted to see change," said Democrat Mark Begich, who claimed a narrow victory Tuesday after a tally of remaining ballots showed him holding a 3,724-vote edge.

"Alaska has been in the midst of a generational shift - you could see it," said Begich, the Anchorage mayor.

Democrats now hold 58 Senate seats, when two independents who align with Democrats are included, with undecided races in Minnesota and Georgia.

"With seven seats and counting now added to the Democratic ranks in the Senate, we have an even stronger majority that will bring real change to America," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

Stevens' pursuit of a seventh term was damaged by his conviction in federal court - just days before the election - for lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.

He was trying to become the first convicted felon to win election to the Senate. A survey of people leaving polling places conducted for The Associated Press and television networks found that two of three voters considered Stevens' trial a factor in their decision. Begich voters cited it as an issue more often.

Stevens' lawyer had demanded a speedy trial, hoping for exoneration in time to fight the first serious threat to his seat in decades. But the trial in Washington not only left Stevens a felon, it deprived him of time to campaign in his home state.

"I wouldn't wish what I'm going through on anyone, my worst enemy," Stevens told reporters in Washington on Tuesday before the vote count. "I haven't had a night's sleep for almost four months."

Still, he said he will not ask President George W. Bush to give him a pardon for his seven felony convictions.

Tuesday's tally of just over 24,000 absentee and other ballots gave Begich 150,728, or 47.76 percent, to 147,004, or 46.58 percent, for Stevens. There are about 2,500 overseas ballots yet to be counted.

A recount is possible. Stevens did not issue a statement, and campaign aides did not respond to calls for comment.

In Alaska, the losing candidate or a collection of 10 voters has three days to petition for a recount unless the vote was a tie, in which case it would be automatic. If the difference between the candidates is within 0.5 percent of the total votes cast, the state pays for the recount, to be started within three days of the recount petition. The state Elections Division has 10 days to complete the recount.

The crotchety octogenarian occupies an outsized place in Alaska history. His involvement in politics dates to the days before Alaska statehood, and he is esteemed for his ability to secure billions of dollars in federal aid for transportation and military projects. The Anchorage airport bears his name; to Alaskans, it's simply "Uncle Ted."

"He symbolizes Alaska's legitimacy, that Alaska is a player on the national stage as much as anybody else," University of Alaska Anchorage history professor Steve Haycox said.

His defeat could also allow Republican senators to sidestep the task of determining whether to kick out the longest serving member of their party in the Senate.

When counting resumed Tuesday, 1,022 votes divided the candidates out of about 315,000 ballots cast. Most of the those votes came from areas that had favored Begich - the Anchorage vicinity and the southeastern panhandle around Juneau.

It is a testament to Stevens' popularity - he was once named "Alaskan of the Century" - that he won nearly half the votes, even after his conviction. He routinely brought home the highest number of government dollars per capita in the nation - more than $9 billion in 2006 alone, according to one estimate.

In a state where oil and politics have always mixed, the conviction came as part of a long-running investigation into government corruption centered around VECO.

Following the trial Stevens said he wanted another term "because I love this land and its people" and vowed to press on with an appeal. Professing his innocence, he blamed his legal problems on his former friend Bill Allen, the former VECO Corp. chairman, the government's star witness.

Begich will be the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the Senate in nearly 30 years. He is the son of Nick Begich, Alaska's third congressman, who died in a 1972 plane crash.

Stevens refused pleas from his own party leaders to step down after the verdict, including Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee who said the Alaska senator had "broken his trust with the people."

Stevens' fall came shortly after another Alaskan, Gov. Sarah Palin, emerged as a national figure on the Republican presidential ticket. She called for Stevens to step aside at one point, but appeared to back away from that the day after the election, when returns showed Stevens with an edge.

"The people of Alaska just spoke," she said.

---

Associated Press writers Jesse J. Holland and Andrew Taylor in Washington and Rachel D'Oro in Anchorage contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.

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Sarah Palin is Not Secretly a Genius

Daniel Polansky

And other obvious truths that shouldn’t need proving.

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Some very smart, very serious people have been spending a lot of time lately working themselves into a tizzy trying to defend their ongoing romance with the Governor of Alaska. “Okay,” they seem willing to admit, “Palin might be a little weak on foreign policy, domestic policy, energy policy, financial policy, the economy in general, the fundamental workings of the state and federal government, geography, rhetoric, history and basic grammar, but these are just gaps in her knowledge, easily fixable by a spending a few hours in front of Wikipedia or flipping through flash cards. They don’t in any way cast doubt in some fundamental way on her intellect or character.”

This is such a bizarre and indefensible thesis that one almost feels bad responding to it, as one would the taunts of children or the developmentally disabled. I had hoped that as the election subsided the Governor’s defenders would shrink away chagrined, the bitter morning light revealing the object of their affaire de coeur a false Aphrodite, her nails pasties and her luxurious hair a weave. But the choruses of “Palin 2012” have not abated and thus it becomes necessary to dispense with this whole “Palin is smart but untutored” meme once and for all.

First, Gov. Palin may be young for a politician but she is not in fact actually young. Forty-four is a lot of years to have spent walking the earth without having learned all the countries involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement (there are three, and she’s a governor for one of them.) The suggestion that she’s some sort of prodigy who just hasn’t been exposed to basic civic information is absurd. If this woman were anywhere near sharp enough to be put in charge of any major undertaking she would have picked up this information solely by osmosis after nearly a half-century.

There is also the assumption that all of these nuanced policy-related questions are somehow out of her bailiwick, as if someone sprinted up to her and demanded in-depth information about how to caulk a faucet or snake a drain. But Palin isn’t ignorant as compared with say, the head of the CIA or the Secretary of Education—she seems to lack fundamental knowledge about basic information. Her inability to name a Supreme Court decision in the Couric interview, or obviously the whole is-Africa-a-continent thing—this isn’t like being unsure of the sub-chairmen of the Pakistani senate. Any reasonably intelligent individual, interested in the workings of the society in which they operate and the world in which they reside would have been able to pick most of this stuff up. To return to the previous analogy for a moment, this is the equivalent of expecting her to know that excrement goes in the toilet and not the sink—you don’t exactly need to be Joe the Plumber to have hashed that one out.

All this, of course, is putting aside the obvious truth that she is not only a politician but also an elected official, and thus expected to be capable of coherent speech about politics in general and the government that she serves in particular. The entire purpose of a representative democracy is that the people elect an individual of appropriate intellect and character who is (or at least becomes) an expert on the issues they face. Her ignorance therefore of political issues represents not simply a disturbing lack of intellectual curiosity for the executive of a state but an actual failure on her part to faithfully discharge the duties of her office.

Against these varied and reasonable objections her defenders can offer little. At best they mistake charisma for intellect, at worst they rant endlessly about elitism, as if only latte-sipping New York theater critics consider being able to present one’s thoughts coherently a prerequisite of leadership. If possible they prefer not to enter into the debate at all, fiating simply that by virtue of having obtained her post she must be an individual of substantive intellectual standing. This is a cheap form of argumentum ad populum, and its introduction into the debate is sophistry. I have no idea why the citizens of Alaska elected this woman governor—likely they intuited she wasn’t exactly the reincarnation of Isaac Newton but felt her sufficiently equipped to cut them their oil money check. Mass democracy is a poor method of assigning merit. Hitler was elected chancellor. The people of Washington, DC elected Marion Barry governor (twice). One does not accept consensus opinion over the reporting of one’s senses and the judgments of objective reason.

It is understandable that people like Gov. Palin; she's quite likable. I kind of like her. But it's unreasonable not to recognize that the qualities one finds attractive in Palin are not the qualities that would serve the country in good stead as a national politician. Foremost amongst those traits not in the meaty section of the Venn Diagram between “Successful Leaders” and “Sarah Palin” is the ability to process and synthesize raw information. While it is true in the abstract that intellect and knowledge are not identical, in practice they are two horses that generally pull in the same harness. Ignorant people tend to be stupid, and stupid people tend to be ignorant. In my mind, any reasonable observer watching Palin’s performance since entering the national stage would have to conclude that she is both.

Original here

* News * World news * Obama White House Hillary Clinton to accept Obama's offer of secretary of state job

Jonathan Freedland on the pros and cons of Hillary Clinton becoming US secretary of state Link to this video

Hillary Clinton plans to accept the job of secretary of state offered by Barack Obama, who is reaching out to former rivals to build a broad coalition administration, the Guardian has learned.

Obama's advisers have begun looking into Bill Clinton's foundation, which distributes millions of dollars to Africa to help with development, to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. But Democrats do not believe that the vetting is likely to be a problem.

Clinton would be well placed to become the country's dominant voice in foreign affairs, replacing Condoleezza Rice. Since being elected senator for New York, she has specialised in foreign affairs and defence. Although she supported the war in Iraq, she and Obama basically agree on a withdrawal of American troops.

Clinton, who still harbours hopes of a future presidential run, had to weigh up whether she would be better placed by staying in the Senate, which offers a platform for life, or making the more uncertain career move to the secretary of state job.

As part of the coalition-building, Obama today also reached out to his defeated Republican rival, John McCain, to discuss how they could work together to roll back some of the most controversial policies of the Bush years. Putting aside the bitter words thrown about with abandon by both sides during the election campaign, McCain flew to meet Obama at his headquarters in the Kluczynski Federal Building, in downtown Chicago.

Obama, speaking before the meeting, said: "We're going to have a good conversation about how we can do some work together to fix up the country." He said he also wanted to thank McCain for his service to the country.

Asked by a reporter whether he would work with Obama, McCain, who has long favoured a bipartisan approach to politics, replied: "Obviously".

Sources on both sides said Obama did not offer McCain a cabinet job, but focused on how the senator for Arizona could help to guide through Congress legislation that they both strongly favour.

Given Obama's status as president-in-waiting, the two met in a formal setting, a room decked out with a US flag, and were accompanied by senior advisers. Obama appeared the more relaxed of the two, sitting with legs crossed, smiling broadly and waving to reporters, while McCain sat stiffly, with a seemingly fixed grin.

Although the two clashed during the election campaign over tax policy and withdrawal from Iraq, they have more in common than they have differences. They both favour the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, an increase in US troops to Afghanistan, immigration reform, stem cell research and measures to tackle climate change, and oppose torture and the widespread use of wire-tapping.

Although Democrats made gains in the Senate in the November 4 elections, they fell short of the 60 seats that would have allowed them to override Republican blocking tactics and will need Republican allies to get Obama's plans through. This was highlighted today when the Democratic leadership in Congress announced that a broad economic stimulus package Obama sought was not likely to be passed because of Republican opposition.

Obama confirmed at the weekend that he would offer jobs to some Republicans. One of the names that crops up most often is Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator who is a specialist in foreign affairs and a critic of the Iraq war.

Original here

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Legalize It


With a recession in sight, the case for legalizing marijuana and taxing it for government revenue seems more practical than ever.

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Photo by The Equinist.

Any American, given about a minute, can tick off a list naming examples of disgrace in our 21st century society. You pick your hobbyhorse, I’ll pick mine, and let the free-for-all begin. It’s mind-boggling, at least in this corner, that there’s still actually a debate among politicians and citizens over the issue of medicinal marijuana use. In 1982, as a young man not yet 30, my mother was slowly dying of brain cancer, and one day she asked if I could purchase a small quantity of pot to relieve the pain of chemotherapy.

I hadn’t used the illegal substance for several years, but it wasn’t hard to find, and so on a visit to our house she was given a small bag of Mexican grass, and for the first time in her life she toked up. It wasn’t to her liking and so that experiment ended, but, after years of worrying about this sort of drug use among her five sons—my parents swallowed all the scare tactics from the government and media in the 1960s—she’d come to realize that in the scheme of things, smoking marijuana wasn’t, in the vast majority of cases, likely to derail a person’s life. As for her fellow cancer patients, Mom said, “Look, we’re dying, it’s not as if puffing on a joint [I’d never heard her say that word and was slightly taken aback] will be the ‘gateway’ to heroin.” None of my friends and acquaintances who are physicians disagree with that simple statement.

It’s my opinion that not only should marijuana be freely available to those suffering from ravaging diseases—as if the plant is any more harmful than the other drugs dispensed several times a day—but it ought to be legalized and sold at pharmacies and maybe even convenience stores. I understand this is an issue that no politician will touch—in the early 1990s Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, once considered a rising star in national Democratic circles did himself no favors by advocating decriminalization—but if you suspend immediate judgment and think about it, who would it harm?

Consider this: In 2007, according to the FBI’s “Uniform Crime Report [http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=7698], cited by The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a record number of 872,721 people were arrested for marijuana violations, and 89 percent of those Americans were nabbed for “personal use.” Violent crime ebbs and flows, often depending on locale, but someone please explain to me why people who favor smoking pot, which is arguably much less dangerous than excessive consumption of alcohol, are the prey of police officers across the country? Maybe it’s a matter of low-hanging fruit, but the waste of time in arresting offenders, court appearances and in many instances, incarceration, is a crime in and of itself. Does it make any sense at all to jail a 23-year-old, throwing him into a prison population that will likely result not in “rehabilitation,” but a needlessly disrupted life?

One significant fact that would grab the attention of federal and local office-holders (at least in private), charged with juggling budgets, is the vast stream of revenue each of the country’s 50 states would realize as a result of selling marijuana, like cigarettes, on the open market, with every pack or pouch of pot fetching several dollars in “sin taxes.” The government could regulate the potency and purity of the marijuana, and sell it for a reasonable, if high, price, nearly obliterating the black market, thus further making a significant dent in the ranks of those who profit from manufacturing and selling large amounts of the drug. Like alcohol and tobacco, vendors would be prohibited from selling marijuana to those under 21, and the requisite health warnings would be prominently placed on each unit sold.

It’s an unfortunate reality that the political bureaucracy, even if there was an eventual consensus on legalizing marijuana, would take years to implement such a dramatic change—one can only imagine the ballot propositions, constitutional amendments and the like that would have to be traversed, not to mention the harrumphing of cultural conservatives who’d like to lord over the private lives of citizens—and so any economic windfall is in the future. Which is a shame, since given today’s perilous financial climate, a new infusion of cash, every single day, would help shorten a recession. Then again, if legislators acted now the benefits could be realized in time for the next, and inevitable, economic downturn.

As for the “morality” of legalizing marijuana, I just don’t want to hear it. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity can stuff it. No one would force people to start smoking the stuff, just as no one forces people to take a drink, indulge in a tobacco habit or pop anti-depressants.

As Barack Obama prepares to occupy the Oval Office in January, this modest (in my opinion) proposal is worthy of his consideration, especially if he does intend to follow FDR’s example and set forth a very ambitious agenda for the first year of his presidency, before he begins his 2012 campaign. I’m not naïve and don’t expect Obama will even give a moment’s thought to the subject—hell, if he lifts the embargo on Cuba next year, that’ll be amazing, and long overdue, enough.

Nevertheless, the legalization of marijuana is an initiative that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand: correcting the travesty of arresting harmless and non-violent citizens, plus the monetary gain is extraordinarily compelling. All that’s needed is a group of politicians with vision and guts to bring the issue to the forefront of debate in the United States.

Original here

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Center-Right Myth

We have been hearing pundits saying this is a center-right country on television for the last couple of weeks, despite all available evidence (check out this video for a sample). Newsweek even did a whole cover story on it. CNN even did a poll a week after the election to ask people if they wanted the country to head in a Democratic direction. We already had that poll -- it was called Election Day!

What is it going to take to get through the dunderheads in DC -- this is not a center-right country! In the last two elections the Democrats picked up over fifty seats in the House. They also took commanding control of the Senate and have now taken the White House. How much clearer did the American people have to be?

There is a reason for this talking point that America is center-right -- it is a way for the Republicans to control the agenda even though they have been voted out of power. It is a warning to Democrats by the DC establishment -- you better not actually be Democrats.

They would have to be foolish to fall into this trap. So, it is likely that they will fall into this trap. You know how the Democrats are; they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The right time to buckle is always now. They're already doing it. After huffing and puffing, it looks like they are going to let Joe Lieberman keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Someone needs to send the Democrats a memo that they won the election. But the media is sending them the exact opposite one -- you better behave like Republicans because... this is a center-right country.

By the way, one more thing -- this has never been a center-right country. Of course, there are pendulum swings in the political spectrum and the country is more conservative at times and more progressive at other times. But overall, we built the United Nations, we started the idea of human rights, we expanded voting rights and civil rights for everybody, we spread the idea of individual rights throughout the world, and we even rebuilt our enemies after World War II. It is no exaggeration to say that America is one of the most progressive countries in the history of the world.

Original here

Did the NRA conspire to stimulate gun sales?


by Jim L. Cunningham


Wallet card supplied in NRA mailings and magazines.
No other issue, save for perhaps the abortion issue, is as fraught with propaganda (from both sides) as the gun issue. As a gun-loving Democrat, and perhaps the only informed moderate in the country on the subject, I’ve always been profoundly irritated with the sheer amount of lies, spin, propaganda and grossly misleading information on the topic. While “preaching to the choir”, so to speak, is commonplace among passionate political players, for no other issue is it as common to lie to the choir as it is with the gun issue.

The most macabre of reactions to this cycle’s election results has been the uptick (to say the least) in gun sales that is being widely reported across the country:

While this frenzy is entertaining to watch with eyebrow-raised fascination, I'm sure many people truly wonder how it is that these frantic firearms fanciers became so frightened to begin with.

Please observe the November issue of the NRA magazine, the American Rifleman where the NRA tells its members how to vote, and the handy “wallet card” contained therein:



If you’re like me, you’re surprised to hear about all these plans Obama has. I don’t remember hearing about them during his campaign or reading about them on his website. Clearly, they are what you would imagine: exaggerations, items taken out of context and spin based on the senatorial maneuvering and posturing that always goes on when one party tries to hang things on bills to intentionally kill them. It’s all cut using the same template as the “Obama voted to kill babies!” garbage you heard during the general election. And, obviously, some people believe it.

But didn’t it all end up being conveniently profitable for gun store owners and the gun industry that, along with the NRA, encouraged people to believe this nonsense. It appears some are doing quite well despite an economy where consumer spending is in the toilet. One wonders how many credit cards are, needlessly, being run up and if people are going into debt as a result of all this manufactured fear.
Jack Murray, owner of Alaska Shooters Supply, is quoted: "Obama is the best gun salesman we've had in the last 50 years." Murray added that the day after the election, he sold more guns than in any single day in 21 years. "I was crying all the way to the bank," he said.”

Even the most left-leaning among us would be surprised to see anyone in the Whitehouse or Congress make any attempt to turn this wallet card into a “to do” list. Only time will tell. I’m not blind to the fact that so many people are willing to scapegoat guns – to blame the evils of society on an inanimate object that, in the right hands, can be a tool for good and even save lives. The opposite side of the issue, too, spins, misleads and fear mongers. But even despite this, I’ve sensed a shift in the Democratic Party’s confidence in over-reaching on this issue. It’s true our Democratic leaders are a slow study, but one thing they do learn from is defeat. It’s no secret that the gun issue contributed significantly to Al Gore’s defeat in 2000. The Democrats have shied away from the issue ever since (with no small number of pro-gun Democrats like myself continually reminding them of our presence) and, consequently, have seen much better election returns in very pro-gun states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado.

Once a popular talking point for Democratic officials and candidates, gun control has been shoved to the background over the past six years, as the party -- trying not to alienate gun-owning voters in swing states -- has cooled its rhetoric on the issue and tamped down its action.”

I seldom underestimate the capacity for people to believe propaganda but, at some point, there has to be an awakening. The leadership at the NRA should be wondering what happens if, after an Obama term or two, it all turns out to be a false alarm and people are still in possession of their Second Amendment rights? When comes the boy-who-cried-wolf effect? At what point does the NRA finally provoke the inevitable response from its members:

“The NRA must think I’m stupid!”

Original here

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stevens trailing in Alaska Senate race

Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, the titan of Alaska politics convicted of felony charges last month, fell behind by more than 800 votes Wednesday as the count resumed in his re-election bid.

Democrat Mark Begich, the two-term mayor of Anchorage, began the day down more than 3,200 votes but went up by 814 as officials resumed their counting of early and absentee ballots. The tally was 132,196 to 131,382.

Neither side was claiming victory or conceding defeat, with tens of thousands of outstanding ballots.

"I've always said that this would be a close race," Begich said in a statement. "I'm confident that Alaskans, like the rest of the country, want a new direction in Washington, and ultimately that will be reflected in the results."

Stevens' campaign did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Last month, a federal jury in Washington convicted Stevens of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.

That might have spelled quick political doom for a lesser figure, but the 84-year-old Stevens is revered here for his decades of public service — and especially for scoring the state enormous sums of federal money.

Begich would be the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alaska since the mid-1970s and a win would put his party one step closer to a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate. Democrats are also trying to unseat Republicans in unresolved contests in Georgia and Minnesota.

Fellow senators have called on Stevens to resign if he wins, and he could face expulsion if he doesn't step down. In either case a special election would be held to determine his replacement. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, fresh from her failed run at the vice presidency, said Wednesday she'd be interested in serving in the Senate.

Should the result remain close a recount is possible. In Alaska, the losing candidate or a collection of 10 voters has three days to petition for a recount unless the vote was a tie, in which case it would be automatic.

If the difference between the candidates is 0.5 percent of the total votes cast, the state pays for the recount, to be started within three days of the recount petition. The state Elections Division has 10 days to complete the recount.

SC priest: No communion for Obama supporters

A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil."

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman said in a letter distributed Sunday to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote.

"Our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president," Newman wrote, referring to Obama by his full name, including his middle name of Hussein.

"Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation."

During the 2008 presidential campaign, many bishops spoke out on abortion more boldly than four years earlier, telling Catholic politicians and voters that the issue should be the most important consideration in setting policy and deciding which candidate to back. A few church leaders said parishioners risked their immortal soul by voting for candidates who support abortion rights.

But bishops differ on whether Catholic lawmakers — and voters — should refrain from receiving Communion if they diverge from church teaching on abortion. Each bishop sets policy in his own diocese. In their annual fall meeting, the nation's Catholic bishops vowed Tuesday to forcefully confront the Obama administration over its support for abortion rights.

According to national exit polls, 54 percent of Catholics chose Obama, who is Protestant. In South Carolina, which McCain carried, voters in Greenville County — traditionally seen as among the state's most conservative areas — went 61 percent for the Republican, and 37 percent for Obama.

"It was not an attempt to make a partisan point," Newman said in a telephone interview Thursday. "In fact, in this election, for the sake of argument, if the Republican candidate had been pro-abortion, and the Democratic candidate had been pro-life, everything that I wrote would have been exactly the same."

Conservative Catholics criticized Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 for supporting abortion rights, with a few Catholic bishops saying Kerry should refrain from receiving Holy Communion because his views were contrary to church teachings.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she had not heard of other churches taking this position in reaction to Obama's win. A Boston-based group that supports Catholic Democrats questioned the move, saying it was too extreme.

"Father Newman is off base," said Steve Krueger, national director of Catholic Democrats. "He is acting beyond the authority of a parish priest to say what he did. ... Unfortunately, he is doing so in a manner that will be of great cost to those parishioners who did vote for Sens. Obama and Biden. There will be a spiritual cost to them for his words."

A man who has attended St. Mary's for 18 years said he welcomed Newman's message and anticipated it would inspire further discussion at the church.

"I don't understand anyone who would call themselves a Christian, let alone a Catholic, and could vote for someone who's a pro-abortion candidate," said Ted Kelly, 64, who volunteers his time as lector for the church. "You're talking about the murder of innocent beings."