Monthly Archives: January 2009

Cheney wanted full pardon for Libby

George W. Bush’s commutation of “Scooter” Libby’s (in photo) 30-month prison sentence in the Valerie Plame case wasn’t enough for Dick Cheney. On the day after the Bush-Cheney era ended, the former vice president told the Weekly Standard, speaking of his former chief of staff: “Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and honorable men I’ve ever known. He’s been an outstanding public servant throughout his career. He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush’s decision.” According to the magazine, this was the fifth time Cheney publicly disagreed with his boss. The other four issues: a federal gay marriage ban, firing Donald Rumsfeld, D.C.’s gun ban and North Korea.

Is it unpatriotic to hope that Obama fails?

Rush Limbaugh was deliberately trying to stir up outrage when he said that he hopes Barack Obama fails, columnist Leonard Pitts acknowledged. Nevertheless, Pitts argued that it is important to hold the statement up to the light. “Do you ever say that about your president if you are an American who loves your country? Would you say it about George W. Bush, who was disastrous, about Bill Clinton, who was slimy, about Jimmy Carter, who was inept, about Richard Nixon, who was crooked? You may think he’s going to fail, yes. You may warn he’s going to fail, yes. But do you ever ‘hope’ he fails? Knowing his failure is the country’s failure? Isn’t that, well . . . disloyal? The irony is that Limbaugh and the other clowns would have you believe they are bedrock defenders of this country, that they love it more than the rest of us, more than anything. That’s a lie. Limbaugh just told us so, emphatically. It’s not the country they love. It’s the attention. The ideology, their perversion of conservatism, is but a means toward that end.”

No more foot-dragging on emissions

President Barack Obama showed a welcome new seriousness about the environment today by ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider whether to allow California and 13 other states to regulate automobile tailpipe emissions. The Bush administration rejected the request in 2007, the first waiver denial by the EPA in the then-37-year-old history of the Clean Air Act. Obama also ordered that the Transportation Department issue guidelines to ensure that the nation’s automobile and light truck fleet reaches an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. President Bush signed a law in 2007 establishing the fuel-efficiency standard, but his administration never wrote any regulations to enforce the law. The Bush White House even refused to open e-mails from the EPA about the harmful effects of greenhouse-gas emissions, because doing so would have forced it to take action.

Kansas has organic farms, too

At Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s recent confirmation hearing, the tart-tongued Sen. Pat Roberts (in photo), R-Kan., irked promoters of alternative agriculture with an unflattering characterization of organic farmers:
“That small family farmer is about 5’2″ . . . and he’s a retired airline pilot and sits on his porch on a glider reading Gentleman’s Quarterly – he used to read the Wall Street Journal but that got pretty drab – and his wife works as stockbroker downtown. And he has 40 acres, and he has a pond and he has an orchard and he grows organic apples. Sometimes there is a little more protein in those apples than people bargain for, and he’s very happy to have that.”
Roberts also offered a few descriptive words about what his critics understood to be a “real” farmer in his view – with “10,000 acres. And his tractor costs about $350,000. It’s amazing, in terms of the costs. But these folks are the folks who produce the food and fiber for America and a troubled and hungry world.” One critic called Roberts’ statement “knuckle-dragging”; another termed it an “imaginatively gift-wrapped cow pie.”

Open thread 1/26

New way to look at slave reparations?

The issue of slave reparations is “political dynamite,” acknowledges writer Paul Devlin of TheRoot.com, but now may be the best and only time to make the case for them. Not because the nation’s first African-American president has been sworn in, but because of the bailout bonanza. As Devlin explains: “Call it a belated bailout of the Freedman’s Savings Bank, chartered by Congress in 1865 as a financial haven for freed slaves and failed in 1874 because its white board lost all the money after a spree of wild speculation. . . . That combination of real assets lost and hundreds of thousands of people involved (to whom most African-Americans today could claim an ancestor) provides a legitimate cover for, or different way of looking at, reparations. It’s not a giveaway; it’s a bailout, you know, just like the kind white people get today.”

Is Parkinson ‘hottest’ politician in Kansas?

In meaningless news: Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson (left) was named the “hottest” male politician in Kansas last fall by the Web site Lemondrop.com. The politicians were picked “not for their successes or their policies but for their hotness,” the Web site explained. State Rep. Joshua Svaty (right), D-Ellsworth, was named as a reader pick. “This curly-haired Kansan is the son of a preacher man and was just 23 when first elected to the House of Representatives,” the Web site swooned.

Obama off to good start with Kansans

Talk about a snap judgment: In SurveyUSA polling Tuesday and Wednesday for Wichita’s KWCH, Channel 12, and Kansas City’s KCTV, 62 percent of Kansans said they approved of the job President Barack Obama was doing. Not bad for a guy who won just 41.6 percent of Kansans’ votes on Election Day. In December, by the way, President George W. Bush’s approval rating in Kansas was 38 percent. And in a poll earlier this month, 37 percent of Kansans variously gave his overall job performance either a D or an F.

Open thread 1/25

Fewer Americans see racism as big problem

The percentage of Americans who see racism as a “big problem” has dropped in half in the past dozen years, from 54 percent in 1996 to 26 percent in the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey. But there hasn’t been much change in the amount of racism people perceive in their local communities. “There are two levels of identity with racism,” Wichita native Ron Walters (in photo), a University of Maryland political scientist, told the Post. “One is the national level, which is more symbolic. And the other is how they parse it in terms of their lives.” Not surprisingly, the latest poll also show disparity in how people of different races view the issue, with 44 percent of blacks and 22 percent of whites seeing racism as a large problem.

Leaders reacting to recession

It’s good to see local leaders taking significant steps to respond to the economic conditions. As each day’s news confirms, this is no time for government as usual. Mayor Carl Brewer (in photo), United Way of the Plains and others want to set up a one-stop assistance center for laid-off workers by late February, like the one that helped after Sept. 11. The hiring freeze at USD 259 and hiring slowdown at the city of Wichita also are appropriate, given the darkening clouds over the state budget process in Topeka. Might the school district’s freeze apply to the open superintendent job, especially since interim superintendent Martin Libhart is doing such a solid job?

So they said

“We may have lost an election, but we have not lost the war. We will continue to fight for life, no matter how long it takes, no matter how many marches it takes.” – Sen. Sam Brownback (in photo), R-Kan., at Thursday’s March for Life in Washington, D.C.
“Who knows what song would have been written, or book. Or (what) cure for disease that would have been given from that young mind. We lose that through abortion. I think we just push it to the back of our mind under the false pretense that women have the right to choose.” – Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, to a Philadelphia newspaper
“Depends on how you get there.” – Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, asked what he thought of the GOP’s goal of cutting $300 million from the state budget

Inaugural address was weak on economics

“I ended Tuesday less confident about the direction of economic policy than I was in the morning,” wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman. His problem with the economic part of the speech was its conventionality. “In response to an unprecedented economic crisis – or, more accurately, a crisis whose only real precedent is the Great Depression – Mr. Obama did what people in Washington do when they want to sound serious: He spoke, more or less in the abstract, of the need to make hard choices and stand up to special interests. That’s not enough. In fact, it’s not even right.”
Krugman said that “this is, first and foremost, a crisis brought on by a runaway financial industry. And if we failed to rein in that industry, it wasn’t because Americans ‘collectively’ refused to make hard choices; the American public had no idea what was going on, and the people who did know what was going on mostly thought deregulation was a great idea.”

Open thread 1/24

Pro-con: Did President Bush keep America safe?

President Bush achieved the one big thing he and all Americans demanded of his administration. Not a single man, woman or child has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil since the morning of Sept. 11. A measure of the administration’s success is the criticism it has drawn. Bush made a choice to take no chances with American lives, and to live with the liberal backlash over waterboarding. His most controversial and difficult decision, the war in Iraq, was consistent with his post-9/11 doctrine to regard “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism . . . as a hostile regime” and pre-empt threats to America from rogue regimes and proliferators. The failure to discover WMDs gave opponents the opening to claim the war was fought on false premises, but Bill Clinton, Democrats on Capitol Hill and every major intelligence service also believed Saddam had WMDs. The world remains a very dangerous place. Yet thanks to Bush’s post-9/11 willingness to act decisively, and at the risk of his own popularity, Americans are safer today than on Sept. 10, 2001. – Wall Street Journal editorial

Bush said little of interest (in his farewell address). He dwelled mostly on 9/11 and the so-called war on terror, characterizing the invasion of Iraq as part of his effort to take “the fight to the terrorists.” He suggested that although the Iraq war was the subject of “legitimate debate,” there “can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil.” Was the nation’s safety ensured because Bush invaded Iraq and did not finish the fight in Afghanistan? No doubt, he and his ever-dwindling band of defenders will continue to insist that it is so – just as a rooster might insist there is a connection between his crowing and the rising of the sun. And Bush defended himself for having been willing to make the tough decisions – as if making hard choices is the same as making wise ones. Given that he is passing to Barack Obama a country burdened with two unresolved wars and an economy in severe decline, Bush certainly would rather look forward than face the present-day consequences of his actions and inaction. – David Corn, CQPolitics

Hillary isn’t so divisive these days

Maybe it really is a new era, judging from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 94-2 confirmation vote in the Senate. The New York Times’ Gail Collins marveled: “Can you remember back when Hillary was first elected to the Senate eight years ago, and the Republican majority leader made the wistful suggestion that she might be hit by lightning before she was sworn in? Do you remember that just last year she was supposed to be the most divisive figure in American politics? Now, the Republicans can find only two people cranky enough to vote against putting her fourth in line of succession to the presidency.”

Nation’s capital shone Tuesday

Washington, D.C., did a remarkable job coping with an Inauguration Day crowd estimated at 1.8 million. There were reports of temporarily lost children, medical emergencies and suspicious packages. And investigations are under way of the checkpoint problems that kept thousands of ticketholders from their seats. But there were no fatalities connected to the four-day celebration, and the Secret Service-led security operation involving 50,000 law enforcement and military personnel made no arrests Tuesday – quite a feat for a city long ago dubbed the nation’s “murder capital.”

Bush used pardon power sparingly

Praise is due former President George W. Bush for commuting the prison sentences of the two former U.S. Border Patrol agents who had shot a Mexican drug smuggler in 2005. Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean (in photo) should not have tried to cover up their actions, but many Americans have defended the agents for having just done their jobs in the shooting.
Meanwhile, Bush also deserves credit for resisting the temptation to pre-emptively pardon former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or any other members of his administration relating to torture or other anti-terrorism measures. Nor did he pardon convicted Republican felons such as Ted Stevens or Randy “Duke” Cunningham. In the end, Bush granted 189 pardons and 11 commutations, fewer than half those of Presidents Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan.

Open thread 1/23

Here’s hoping that Obama is a radical

“I hope Obama really is a closet radical,” wrote columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman. “Not radical left or right, just a radical, because this is a radical moment. It is a moment for radical departures from business as usual in so many areas. We can’t thrive as a country any longer by coasting on our reputation, by postponing solutions to every big problem that might involve some pain and by telling ourselves that dramatic new initiatives – like a gasoline tax, national health care or banking reform – are too hard or ‘off the table.’ So my most fervent hope about President Obama is that he will be as radical as this moment – that he will put everything on the table.”

Closing Gitmo is crucial step

Barack Obama took a crucial step in restoring America’s reputation around the world by ordering Thursday that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be closed within a year and that the United States stop torturing detainees. These moves should aid the fight against terrorism by helping us form stronger alliances with other countries and removing a recruitment tool used by terrorist groups. Intelligence experts also have said that torturing detainees has hurt the war effort, because the information extracted is unreliable and inadmissible in legal proceedings. The challenge will be determining what to do with some of the detainees now held at Gitmo, especially when lawmakers in Kansas and elsewhere are trying to block prisoners from being moved to military facilities in their home states.

More budget cuts are prudent but difficult

Kansas Senate Republican leaders announced Thursday that they want to cut $300 million from the state’s current-year budget – though they didn’t say how or where they would cut. State tax revenue dropped dramatically the past two months and may continue to do so, so more budget cuts likely are needed. But cutting $300 million would be difficult, given that the current fiscal year is already more than half over and schools and state agencies signed contracts for this year based on their promised funding. State budget director Duane Goossen argued that it would be better to wait until January revenue numbers are in before deciding to make cuts that drastic.

Even Microsoft is laying off

You know the economy is wobbling when even Microsoft is laying off. Microsoft announced today that it will lay off up to 5,000 of its 94,000 employees over the next 18 months, including 1,400 people today. These are the first large layoffs in company history.

What’s up with Caroline Kennedy?

The soap opera of the New York Senate seat selection took a unexpected turn when Caroline Kennedy announced in a statement early this morning that, for personal reasons, she was withdrawing her name from consideration. This after she spent weeks lobbying for the job. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo may now be the front-runner to replace Hillary Clinton.

Reasons to be skeptical about Obama’s chances

With all the hope created by the Obama presidency, it is out of fashion to be cynical. But Jim Vandehei and John Harris of Politico offered reasons to be skeptical about Obama’s chances, including:
– Some of Washington’s biggest blunders occur when the government moves to do big things with big support. Bush won the much-regretted Iraq war resolution of October 2002 with strong Democratic backing. The current economic crisis produces similar pressure to get on board the train – never mind for sure where it’s going.
– No matter how much confidence Obama or other politicians project, the reality is the current economic crisis has totally scrambled the intellectual assumptions of almost every policymaker. Improvisation is the only proper response. But the chances that improvisation will take the country to exactly the right destination – without some serious wrong turns along the way – seem very slight.