Friday, February 27, 2009

Bobby Lied But Nobody Died Except Maybe Jindal

It appears that Bobby Jindal made up his key anecdote about how he and the New Orleans sheriff stood up to rigid federal bureaucrats during Katrina.

For those who don't have photographic memories, here's the anecdote.

During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office, I'd never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: "Well, I'm the sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me!" I asked him: "Sheriff, what's got you so mad?" He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters.

The boats were all lined up ready to go -- when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, "Sheriff, that's ridiculous." And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: "Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!" Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.

After Jindal's altogether disastrous speech, Daily Kos and TPM--God bless the left-wing media--started questioning whether this key story. Specifically, they started questioning whether Jindal could have been at the Sheriff's "make-shift office" at that particular time because "no news reports we could find place Jindal in the affected area at the specific time at issue."

And it turned out that Bobby Jindal wasn't there at all. Now Jindal's office is claiming that he overheard Sheriff Lee tell this story over the phone "days later."

I wouldn't be surprised if that line didn't pan out either.

Unlike the case of Bush and Cheney, Bobby Jindal's lying didn't result in more than 100,000 deaths. But it's hard to imagine him as the candidate of a national political party anytime soon.

Maybe Jindal should run on the Ayn Rand ticket instead.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Talking About Life with Miss Teen RSI

Someday, I'll be smart enough to realize that spending so much time carting around my daughters is the best thing about being a father.

That's because we get a chance to talk about life.

Today's topics while I was driving my older daughter--Miss Teen RSI-- back to school were piano, getting old, and race. It's a twenty minutes drove to the county school in rural Kentucky. During these kinds of time, I tell her what I think and observe and she measures my "wisdom" against her own experiences and observations.

Today, the bottom line was race and I learned as much from the conversation as Miss Teen. As we stopped in the BP convenience store for some gum (for her) and candy (for me), I realized that African-Americans had a particular interpretation problem--how to deal with white people who are as nice as they can be but also extremely racist. The issue came up when I was telling Miss Teen RSI about a retired colleague and neighbor who is extremely gracious and friendly but also a determined racist and misogynist. I emphasized to Miss Teen RSI that this guy's general friendliness made it necessary for me to keep reminding myself of his poisonous bigotry.

That's when I stopped to think that this must be a big problem for African-Americans for whom determined racists pose much more severe difficulties than they create for a white guy like me. How do black guys and women deal with white people who are overtly very friendly but also might be racial bigots. What about figuring out how genuine friendliness, unthinking racial stereotypes, and determined racism might be mixed together in the white people they meet?

I certainly don't know the answers to these questions and it's not like I'm going to come up with good answers in a 98% white town like Morehead, KY. But this is the general thread of what I want to import--an interest in the conundrums that people face in life and what they choose to think and do about them.

Now if I can only get her to be nicer to her sister.

Rick Santelli Stands Down

It looks like Rick Santelli has decided that he didn't like the heat that came with his 15 minutes of fame. After ranting up a storm at the Chicago Board of Trade and accusing Robert Gibbs of "threatening" him, Santelli slowly but completely surrendered to Matt Lauer on today's Today Show.

It was funny to see. First, Santelli retreated from the idea that Gibbs threatened him but only retreated to an idea that his wife felt threatened. But that didn't work. Who hides behinds their wife's skirts in our hyper-macho era anyway.

Certainly Matt Lauer didn't take it seriously and kept attacking on the point that Santelli didn't really feel threatened at all.

So, Rick Santelli tried another tack. Instead of saying that Gibbs threatened him, the CNBC broadcaster tried to argue that Gibbs was going off the reservation because he referred to Santelli by name than "the media" in general.
Well, listen, I’m not saying threatening. And just to be pinpointed specifically, I find very unusual, and I think that it’s more of a decision for you as the press or all the people on the lawn that giggled at the joke about caffeine — and it was funny — but how would they like to be pinpointed specifically? I think that’s the issue at hand. I don’t want to make more out of this. You know, here I am, and I want to continue to do what I’ve always done, and that is, question motivation, whether it’s the Fed chairman, and we know–

Unfortunately for Santelli, Lauer wasn't any more impressed with Santelli saying he was persecuted than he was with Santelli saying he was threated. At this point, Santelli just gave up trying to advance his position and decided to try "patriotic lying" as a way to worm his way out of the situation.

Everybody that’s talking right now, we want all of this to succeed. We just want to make sure that as we spend the money we don’t have, we’re getting a return and people have a chance to look at it and understand where it’s going

Talk about total nonsense. Santelli doesn't want Obama to succeed any more than Limbaugh wants Obama to succeed.

Speaking of Rush Limbaugh, he gets this interview wrong. Limbaugh's idea is that the Obama administration "got to Matt Lauer" and made Lauer adopt the Today version of an Elliot Ness personality while interviewing Santelli.

"Matt Lauer sounds like Robert Gibbs' 'butt boy,'" Robert Gibbs and Barack Obama's butt boy. Matt, you do. In the sound bite you sounded like a butt boy. You sounded like somebody carrying out orders. You sounded like somebody defending the realm against one of your own colleagues, against one of your own colleagues who's out there simply asking a question about, what the hell are we doing having to pay for people who aren't going to pay their mortgages? It strikes me as much more likely that Matt Lauer and other media heavyweights have decided that the Obama administration represents "the moderate consensus" that the media views as the political ideal. If guys like Santelli are going to take right-wing positions, they're going to have to work extremely hard to justify their "extremism" against the media consensus.

That's not much of a surprise. Matt Lauer and the people at the Today Show can read the polls and their audience response as well as anyone. But it's very bad news for the right-wing. It means they've completely lost the "benefit of the doubt" in relation to the Obama administration and that they're going to have to swim against a very strong media current for a forseeable future that could last more than a decade.

That's no problem for Rush Limbaugh. Bucking the Obama tide probably increases his ratings and puts money in his pocket.

But Rick Santelli had a vision of his career going down the toilet. So he decided to just surrender.

The Treasury Department Isn't Alone

Paul Volcker is worried about the understaffing of the Treasury Department in a time of crisis.

"The Secretary of the Treasury is sitting there without a deputy, without any undersecretaries, without any, as far as I know, assistant secretaries responsible in substantive areas at a time of very severe crisis. He shouldn't be sitting there alone."

Volcker is a former Federal Reserve chair under Carter and Reagan who is now working in the Obama administration as chair of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. So, he would have a special interest in the Treasury Department.

But there's little doubt that the Treasury Department is not the only department that was significantly weakened during the Bush years.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Republicans and "Freak Show" Racism

One dimension of Republican politics that needs to be canvassed is "freak show racism." It's important to emphasize that racism is far from freakish in many ways. For a not insignificant percentage of white people, racism is still the norm. Blacks are viewed through the prism of racial stereotypes, white people occupy a fair amount of their time exchanging racial jokes, and e-mails, and acknowledgement of the worth of black political figures like Martin Luther King or Barack Obama is either non-existent or grudging in the extreme. In these kinds of environments, it's any kind of overt opposition to racism that is stigmatized as snobbish, unusual, weird, obnoxiously self-righteous, or "politically correct" in the pejorative sense of the word.

Just to give a couple of examples of "racist normality," George Packer reported in The New Yorker before the Democratic primary last year that racism was pretty much the norm in rural Martin County in Kentucky. In my town of Morehead, KY there's a strong undertow of "normal" racism. Blacks refer to Morehead as one of the worst places for African-Americans to drive. Somebody burst into a convenience store and announced that "we've elected a monkey for president" the night Obama won. Just today, there was a group of Confederate re-enactors with Rebel flags waving at my university. To be fair, there aren't as many Confederate flags (Confederate flaggers are all racists!) as there used to be, but the battle flags are still all over the place.

One of the things that's happening now is that the "normal" white racism of figures like Rush Limbaugh or places like Martin County, KY is being brought into the mainstream media as part of an on-going conservative "freak show."

What I mean by "freak show" is that the manifestations of racism are being brought into the mainstream media as examples of the "bizarreness" and "strangeness" of the Republican Party in general and conservatives in particular. Unlike the Glenn Beck and Alan Keyes dimensions of "freak show" politics that emerge from the conservative movement itself, "freak show racism" is pulled into the public arena by African-American political figures, African-American bloggers and the progressive media for a variety of reasons. Whether it's protesting racism, scoring points against the Republicans, or entertaining liberal audiences with bizarre examples of racism, reports on the "freak show racism" of Republicans and conservatives are becoming a standard element in the repertoire of the progressive and mainstream medias.

This is certainly the case with the "watermelon" card sent out by the Republican mayor of Los Alamitos, CA to an audience that included an African-American businesswoman. For the mayor, Dean Grose, this kind of card is evidently part of his "normal" run of racist comments and jokes and he doesn't see anything wrong with it.

Grose confirmed to the AP that he sent the e-mail to Price and said he didn't mean to offend her. He said he was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons.

He said he and Price are friends and serve together on a community youth board.
"Bottom line is, we laugh at things and I didn't see this in the same light that she did," Grose told the AP. "I'm sorry. It wasn't sent to offend her personally - or anyone - from the standpoint of the African-American race."

Yeah, right. I bet Grose wasn't aware of the relevant racial stereotypes. But seriously, the key thing here is Grose saying that "we laugh at things" which I take to mean that he and his buddies laugh at this kind of racial humor all the time.

But times have changed and what's funny to Republican mayors like Dean Grose and his buddies is morally objectionable, strange, and bizarre to the rest of the country. Somebody reported Grose's e-mail to the Orange County Register, the report was picked up by Huffington Post, and now it's all over the African-American blogosphere (here and here), the liberal blogosphere, Yahoo, and CBS as Dean Grose becomes yet another exhibit in the on-going freak show that's become the Republican Party.

Bobby Jindal and Freak-Show Politics

The Jindal Problematic. The conventional wisdom is that the GOP needs to expand its appeal beyond hard-core conservatives and the South. But the conventional wisdom is wrong. What the Republicans need to do is stop their spiraling decline into freak-show status. They really need to get Republican politicians back in charge of the Republican message and draw public attention off Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Alan Keyes, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, and other hard-right media freaks. All of these figures attract attention by being "strange" and "bizarre," and the fact that they become the best known spokespeople for the Republican Party makes the Republicans into the party of outlandish spectacles--in other words, a "freak show." If the Republicans don't watch it, they'll sink into Ross Perot, American Independent Party, or Dixiecrat numbers as they go the way of the Whigs.

The conventional wisdom was also wrong about Bobby Jindal. Both the Republicans and the mainstream media have represented Jindal as the Republican "competition" to Barack Obama. But the Republicans really need to become credible as a serious political party once more before they can become genuinely competitive with the Democrats.

This is seemingly what Jindal seemingly promised, a re-assertion of GOP credibility. Being a Fulbright Scholar and a policy-wonk, Jindal was supposed to be an ideas guy, a guy who could present conservative views in a sophisticated way, somebody who could be taken seriously. This is the kind of thing that Republicans need to get out of the rut of over-reliance on conservative spectacle, appeals to racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and the rejection of science, education, and culture.

The Jindal Failure. This is why the grotesquely entertaining failure of Jindal's response was highly significant. Chris Matthews sniffed out a plantation atmospheric in Jindal's self-presentation even before Jindal began speaking and Jindal goofed up right away by referring to Barack Obama right off the bat as "our first African-American president" and thus racializing Obama. Obviously, Jindal is just as tone-deaf on race as other Republicans and seems to think that Obama won because of "white guilt" (bias alert: I supported Hillary during the primaries).
In fact, Jindal was tone deaf on everything. The sing-song unctuousness in his voice, his rejection of a government role in Katrina, the demagoguing of high-speed rail and volcano research--it was all terrible. David Bro0ks hit the nail on the head when he referred to Jindal's speech as a form of "nihilism" in which Jindal seemed to reject any effort to deal with the financial crisis. But Brooks forgot to mention that there's a nihilism in everything the Republicans are doing these days. In the final analysis, that nihilism is the core value of the Republican freak show, a reveling in the prospect of failure and disaster.

Conclusion. Both Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal achieved something like bi-partisan consensus last night. Obama's speech was viewed positively or somewhat positively by 92% of the audience while Jindal's response was panned by all sides of the political spectrum. It's been a long time since public opinion has been that unanimous on anything.

Interestingly enough, the only significant voice defending Jindal was uber-freakmeister Rush Limbaugh himself.

But that comes as no surprise.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How Bad Was Bobby Jindal?

Bring back Rush, Sean, Alan Keyes, and freak show Republicans like my Senator Jim Bunning.

Bobby Jindal is unbelievably awful. What were the Republicans thinking when they assigned him the response?

I can't believe that Jindal is using Katrina as a salutory lesson for dealing with the current fiscal crisis. How dumb can you get?

Jindal sounds like he's talking down to people and reads the teleprompter in a very mechanical manner. Jindal also has this flat accent like he's trying to avoid sounding like he has an accent.

It's very disconcerting.

Overall, Jindal sounds just as bad as John McCain did in his "green background" speech when Obama clinched the Democratic nomination.

Finally, Jindal ends with a version of the Galaxy Quest anthem--Never Give Up/ Never Surrender.

What a flop.

Something tells me that Obama's not going to lose any sleep over the prospect of running against Jindal in 2012.

Maybe the Republicans should nominate Sarah Palin.

Live-blogging the Obama Speech

Ok, Obama's going to come on soon.

Let's see if I can make this fun as well as insightful.

CNN is showing some Republicans. I caught Susan Collins first. She was a year ahead of me at St. Lawrence in the frozen tundra of northern New York. She probably moved to Maine for the weather.

There's turncoat squared Judd Gregg-- betrayed the Republicans, then betrayed Obama to rejoin the Republicans.

Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are on. They look like Oscar presenters. Politics isn't "Hollywood for Ugly People" like Jay Leno says. It's more like Hollywood for "Not Unbelievably Pretty People."

There's nothing quite as boring as the pomp and circumstance for presidential speeches to Congress. The Sergeant at Arms introduces the diplomatic corps, the Supreme Court, and the Cabinet. Eric Holder stayed behind. It's all a tremendous bore.

One interesting point is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg shook the hand of my tactless Senator Jim Bunning. Bunning's a mega-embarrassment.

But yeah! The nation really wants to see Rahm Emmanuel shake hands with the rest of the political class.

Whoa, Hilda Solis is tiny--Solid handshake though.

So what's Obama going to say? I think they've released the text of the speech but I didn't get a chance to read it.

But first, he's got to come in and show off his handshake.

Madame Speaker, The President of the United States!

Yep, there's President Obama enjoying a moment of s0lidarity with the political class--shaking hands, asking people how they're doing, hugging guys. He seems pretty at ease. Everybody wants to touch.

The speech is for us, but it's also important to understand that Obama is the political establishment's official representative to the nation.

Obama finally gets to the podium. The majesty of the moment is interrupted by an argument between my daughters. After losing Obama's opening lines in the hubbub, I had to help the family get back on track.

Obama starts off by reassuring the country--we've still got the mojo but we need to confront the crisis and be responsible.

Now, all the sins we've committed and challenges we haven't met--the focus on short-term gain, energy, health care, and debt.

Addresses jobs first-lauds stimulus package.

Teachers and police officers able to keep jobs because of stimulus package. If teachers and police lose jobs on a mass basis, we're really sunk.

My daughter says John McCain looks high. I think he's high on life.

Now Obama's talking about accountability in spending the stimulus money.

Onto the credit crisis.

Somebody's nodding off--that makes me feel better about people nodding off during my lectures as a college professor.

Speaking of college professors, Obama sounds like one now.

Creating new "lending fund" for consumer loans

Part II of Obama's speech to Congress
Now Obama is on to banking--sounds like a pretty comprehensive approach to the credit crunch.

Wants to hold banks accountable for increasing their lending--finally. Emphasizes the end of CEO abuses--Take that John Thain.

Pres. Obama holds up the prospect of a decade of economic sputtering if nothing is done.

He gets it on the unpopularity of banks, but emphasizes need to solve the problem, and govern "with a sense of responsibility."

"It's not about helping banks; it's about heloping people." Hey, Pat Leahy is happy about that line. I wonder what Bristol Palin is thinking.

Obama lays out the line to returning confidence and recovery.

Then Obama moves on to calling for regulatory overhaul and long-term investments on alternative energy, health care, oil, and public debt.

Obama's budget is going to be a vision. That's great but everybody in education is suspicious of "vision" these days. But Obama's not listening to me. He wants bold visions and big ideas.

Actually, I think the GI Bill was a good idea.

Obama wants to catalyze private enterprise through investments in energy, health care, and education.

Time for American to lead again on energy technology--Standing "O" for that one.
More power lines? Maybe they'll be "green power lines."

Nancy Pelosi stood very quickly at the end of that line.

Now for the big downer--the auto industry and health care.

Obama's committed to a re-tooled and re-invented automobile industry but he doesn't say how he's going to do that.

I sure as hell hope Obama can get health care reform. I'm okay with curing cancer, advancing technology, and preventive medicine.

But I want to hear about legislating universal health insurance.

Health care reform can not wait, must not wait, and will not wait another year.

This speech is pretty easy on the ears even though it's 45 minutes long.

Onto education.

Cradle to college diploma education? I like cradle to grave better.

Schools need more resources and more reform--investing in improved teacher performance, and charter schools.

This is interesting. He wants everybody to commit to one year of education beyond high school as a form of patriotism.

Obama wants the U. S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Gives a little tribute to Orrin Hatch, Teddy Kennedy, and responsible parenting. How many politicians actually put their children first . . . or second . . . or third.

As soon as Obama starts saving money, he talks about agribusiness and defense--the two big sources of waste in federal government spending.

Now Obama addresses taxes. He's going to let taxes increase on two of my younger brothers who earn more than $250,000. But my taxes are going down even though my family's income is over $100,000.

Sorry little brothers.

Ooh. Obama is going to put war on the budget. The Bush administration seemed to be committed to "maximum possible dishonesty." Change for the better isn't too difficult on this issue.

I can't remember Obama shouting out to any special guests. Pelosi did though.

I have to admit that Obama has more endurance as a speaker than I have as a blogger. I'll keep slogging though.

The military. There's expanded health care for veterans, closing Guantanamo Bay, and foregoing the temptation to torture. But will he admit that the Bush administration tortured?
Obama also wants a foreign policy that engages the world instead of giving everyone else the finger.

Ok. Obama is now shouting out to a Miami banker who distributed cash to employees and former employees of his bank--a guy who didn't feel right keeping his profits himself.

Not a popular guy among bankers right now though.

Now Obama's telling a story about a student from an extremely poor school in South Carolina who wrote to him for help. "We are not quitters," the student said.

That's great politics because it shows up South Carolina's "neo-nullification" governor Mark Sanford.

Nice speech.

Nothing really momentous though. Obama's just going to carry through on the vast majority of his campaign promises. That's what he needs to do.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Freak Show Republicans

That was my impression as I watched a Glenn Beck segment on the "coming civil war."

How I Became An Alpha Cat

It's true, I'm the alpha cat of our Kentucky home. God knows, I never wanted to be an "alpha cat." But here I am. "Big B" has looked toward me for meals ever since he changed from "outdoor" to "indoor" status last year. Now, he's also greeting me in the morning and laying at my feet while I'm reading on the couch. Isn't laying at the owner's feet a dog thing. I wouldn't say "Big B" is giving me love. It's more like he's giving me respect and looking to me for leadership . . . especially in the area of feeding him.

So what have I done to induce "Big B" to treat me as the Alpha Cat in our household. Personally, I think it's my gibberish that he respects. From "Big B's" perspective, I have the magical capacity to induce other people to feed him. The basic scenario is that "Big B" will approach me, he'll hear me talk some sort of human gibberish, and then somebody--usually one of my daughters--will feed him. It's like I have the magic capacity of turning gibberish into action.

If only the other humans I know had so much respect for gibberish.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kate Winslet Wins!

I was glad to see Kate Winslet win an Oscar. She's certainly deserving. I was just as glad not to see any of the nasty fashion commentary from the likes of the disgusting Kay Giantis.

Mark Sanford's Fringe

The problems for the Republican Party and the conservative movement keep getting deeper as more people come to view "mainstream Republicans" as "wackos."

That problem was on display yesterday as Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley of Washington characterized opposition to the stimulus among Republican governors as a "fringe" phenomena.
"All of us are committed to working with President Obama to pull our nation's economy out of the ditch that George W. Bush ran it into," O'Malley said. "If some of the fringe governors don't want to do that, they need to step aside and not stand in the way of the nation's interests."
This is where it's interesting. The governors most critical of the stimulus package--Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina--are three of the most prominent Republican governors not named Schwarzennegger. So, it's not like the governors are fringe people.

But their wholesale rejection of the stimulus does put the governors in the same league as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, ("depression and revolution") Glenn Beck, ("civil war") Alan Keyes, and other fringe figures. It's not just liberals who are dismissing them, Arnold Schwarzennegger himself mocks the "neo-nullification" governors by telling them to send money to California.

Sanford recognizes the imputation and makes a fringe kind of comment in response:
"I think in this instance I would humbly suggest that the real fringe are those that are supporting the stimulus," Sanford said. "It is not at all in keeping with the principles that made this country great, not at all in keeping with economic reality, not in keeping with a stable dollar, and not in keeping with the sentiments of most of this country."
In fact, Sanford's delusional. The stimulus package represents the kind of Keynesian counter-cyclical economic thinking that's been government orthodoxy in both Republican and Democratic administrations since the New Deal. Likewise, more than 50% of the public supports the stimulus package.

Of course, people on the fringe right don't have a lot of contact with the rest of the country.

That's part of life on the fringe.

Could Bunning Get a Job as a WalMart Greeter?

Here's Jim Bunning making some classy comments about Ruth Bader Ginsberg's cancer at a dinner in Elizabethtown:

U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning predicted over the weekend that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would likely be dead from pancreatic cancer within nine months.

During a wide-ranging 30-minute speech on Saturday at the Hardin County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner, Bunning said he supports conservative judges "and that's going to be in place very shortly because Ruth Bader Ginsburg ... has cancer."

"Bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from," he told a crowd of about 100 at the old State Theater.

"Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody
would live after (being diagnosed) with pancreatic cancer," he said.

In the "comments" section on the Louisville Courier-Journal story, kywildcatfan71 raised the question about whether Bunning would have the personal skills to land a job as a Walmart greeter if he wasn't in the Senate.

That's a very good question.

Broder and Ifill: Cliches "Stacked Like Cordwood"

I hope Gwen Ifill's book on Obama is better than David Broder's praise of her in today's Washington Post.

But I doubt it.

Like Broder, Ifill stacks up her cliches "like cordwood" anytime she's in front of a camera.