2009 - %3, June

Friday Garden Blogging - 5 June 2009

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 3:19 PM EDT

It's been a busy week and we all need a break.  So how about a nice, soothing garden to help everyone relax?  Here at Drum Central, the flowers are blooming, the upside-down tomato plant is thriving, our new redbud tree is growing, the sun is shining, and birds are chirping in the birdbath outside the kitchen window.

And, of course, Inkblot is admiring it all — as well he should since he's spent so many backbreaking hours supervising the gardeners.  It's exhausting!  And with that, I'm off to the car dealer to pick up my newly repaired and hopefully non-coolant-leaking wheels.  Have a nice weekend, everyone.

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Standing Up to the Imperial Presidency

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 2:49 PM EDT

House Democrats, led by Barney Frank, are finally standing up against the Obama administration's support for the Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — an Orwellian amendment that would retroactively bypass FOIA and allow the administration to unilaterally block the release of photos of detainee treatment with no justification except their own say so.  Good.  Nick Baumann has more.

More on Obama and Democracy

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 2:43 PM EDT

Via email, reader Dan R. reacts to my post this morning on George Bush and his failed democracy agenda:

The problem with Bush's so-called "democracy promotion" wasn't just that it was half-hearted or hypocritical, but that it was such a simplistic approach to democracy: Elections are all that counts. It showed little appreciation for the elements of civil society that are a fundamental requirement of a successful democracy, and that make U.S.-style democracy possible in the U.S. but might not make it possible in a lot of other countries.

Now, I don't think Obama wants to go out and say that some countries aren't educated enough or have the civil traditions and institutions required for American-style democracy. So he's treading a fine line. But the reality is that the things he talked about — rule of law, government transparency, lack of corruption, equal administration of justice, freedom of the press, minority rights — are more realistic goals for many countries and appropriate way-stations on the way to what we would consider a full-fledged democracy.

I think Obama is exactly right in focusing on the values that underly democracy rather than the external forms....By striking a middle ground between "idealists" who would make democracy and human rights the sole focus of foreign policy and "realists" who would ignore American values in favor of American interests, this kind of thinking represents a very sophisticated step forward in our foreign policy.

Sotomayor and the Media's Class Bias

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 2:24 PM EDT

"Sotomayor's finances look a lot like the average person's"—that's the headline on a McClatchy story about President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, a woman who owns (as the story notes) a $1 million Greenwich Village condo and is entitled to (as the story doesn't note) $2.5 million in guaranteed pension benefits. While Sonia Sotomayor has some credit card debt, and she's poorer than most of her potential colleagues on the court, she's far richer than the average American.

The national media frequently refers to people like Sotomayor—people whose wealth means they lead vastly different lives than the actual average American—as "average" or "middle-class." Often you get absurdities like the McClatchy story or Charlie Gibson suggesting that college professors making $200,000 in St. Anselm, New Hampshire are "middle-class." (The median household income in the US is under $50,000.) This happens because of class bias, which may play a bigger role than partisanship in determining what the media covers.

Watchdog Group: Liberals Right to Block Photo Suppression Bill

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 2:03 PM EDT

I just spoke to Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit government watchdog. She says she's glad Barney Frank and other* liberal Democrats in the House are standing up to President Obama by opposing Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham's bill that would exempt photos of detainee abuse from Freedom of Information Act requirements:

You can't make piecemeal exemptions to the FOIA. It's a slippery slope. You start with this and pretty soon there's a new law every time someone doesn't want to release something. In an era when we say we value government transparency and openness, there's no place for this bill.

Let's hope the House leadership can't get Frank and the others to cave.

*Update/Correction: Frank switched his vote, but the Lieberman-Graham bill will not pass with the war supplemental.

What's Worse: Urban Sprawl or Twinkies?

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 1:51 PM EDT

Some say Americans are too fat because we eat too many Big Macs and ice cream sundaes. But according to a policy statement released this month by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), modern city planners join McDonald's and Dairy Queen in shouldering the blame for childhood obesity.

The statement, published in the June edition of Pediatrics Magazine, found that urban sprawl contributes to childhood obesity by forming neighborhoods that are impossible for children to navigate independently. As a result, many children grow dependent on their parent’s chauffeuring rather than their bicycles or legs to get to school or the park. In coming-of-age television show terms, the ideal neighborhood to combat childhood obesity is closer to the densely urban, San Francisco model from "Full House" than the suburban, sprawling wasteland of "The Wonder Years." Of course, sprawl is not the only cause of childhood obesity. As Mother Jones has reported, the blame has been spread among unhealthy food, heredity, and non-diet sodas, just to name a few villians.

The AAP report also notes that abandoning sprawl could decrease our insatiatable appetite for fatty foods. In addition to parks and recreation centers, current densification efforts have included community gardens that produce fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables. So promoting condensed neighborhoods with amenities nearby could kill two birds with one public policy-laden stone: decrease the negative environmental effects of suburban sprawl—including vehicular air pollution—and start children on a de-facto exercise regime. If elected officials support legislation to allocate public funds to urban densification efforts, and provide parents with incentives to move their families to cities, we could see a drop in the childhood obesity rate without having to give up too many twinkies.

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Quote of the Day #2

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 1:26 PM EDT

From Bob Enyart, spokesman for Colorado Right to Life, on the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller:

"If a Mafia hit man gets killed, people recognize it's an occupational hazard."

According to the LA Times, this was his way of explaining that "his group doesn't condone Tiller's slaying."

Obama and Democracy

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 1:12 PM EDT

Yesterday Michael Rubin complained that Obama never mentioned democracy in his Cairo speech.  Today he corrects the record: in fact, Obama dedicated an entire section of his speech to democracy.  Then he adds this:

But, I stand by the point of my post: Obama stepped back from demanding accountability at polls....Bush embraced democracy and transformative diplomacy. Many progressives and liberals turned on democratization because they didn’t want to be associated with Bush.  Now that Obama is victorious, it would be a real tragedy for progressivism, liberalism, and human rights if the progressive movement embraced cultural relativism and convinced itself that liberty really didn’t matter.

This is really one of the most annoying of all tropes from the Bush-defending right.  The plain facts here are pretty simple: George Bush talked a lot about democracy, but he was in favor of it only when it produced results he liked.  He was fine with democracy in Ukraine and he was fine with democracy in Lebanon.  He loved the purple fingers in Iraq — though only after the UN and al-Sistani pretty much forced elections on him.  Conversely, when Hamas won an election in Gaza, it was not so fine.  When Musharraf and Mubarak conducted obviously rigged elections in Pakistan and Egypt, his adminstration tut tutted a bit and then went about its business.  To the small extent that Bush was ever truly dedicated to democracy promotion in the first place — and it was never more than purely incidental to the Iraq war project — he had plainly given up on it completely by 2006 at the latest.

George Bush's main achievement in this arena wasn't to promote democracy, it was to completely cement Arab cynicism about America's obvious lack of concern for democracy.  Whether Obama is "stepping back" from this I couldn't say, but he certainly can't do any worse on the democracy promotion front than George Bush.

House Liberals Blocking Photo-Suppression Bill

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 12:10 PM EDT

Finally some good news on the torture photos: top liberal Democrats in the House, led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)* are blocking the awful, Obama-supported Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009. The "records protection" law would allow the administration to unilaterally block the release of any photos of detainee treatment that it didn't want publicized, bypassing the Freedom of Information Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and the odious Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), passed the Senate by a voice vote earlier this week and was attached to the bill providing supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why do the House liberals have any leverage? Glenn Greenwald explains:

The votes of liberal House Democrats actually matter (for once) because most House Republicans are refusing to support the overall supplemental bill due to their objections to a provision for $5 billion in funding to increase the [International Monetary Fund's] lending capacity.  To pass the supplemental spending bill, House leaders need the votes of numerous House Democrats who are currently refusing to vote for anything that contains the photo suppression amendment.

The photo suppression bill is an abomination that is reminiscent of the worst Bush-era excesses. It gives the executive branch the power to withhold an entire category of information from public scrutiny without any review. This law is Example A of the theory of the Presidency that says citizens should just trust the benevolent executive to do the right thing. Even in you oppose releasing some of the photos, I don't see why you would want to give the White House the power to unilaterally decide what's best. It says a lot about the Congress that members are willing to give Obama this kind of power. It says a lot about Obama that he supports this bill. Thank God for Barney Frank.House liberals.

*Update/Correction: Ok, this requires some more explanation. Frank actually voted for the supplemental the second time it came up, but he told Jane Hamsher this: "I told them [the administration] that they have no chance of passing [the war supplemental authorization] if the pictures are in it. There are many Democrats who are very upset about that." It turns out he was right: the Lieberman-Graham bill was not attached to the final conference report. Sorry for the confusion.

The Bailout Swindle, Act II

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 12:07 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Fri Jun. 5, 2009 4:21 PM EDT

Numerous are the ways the government’s multi-trillion-dollar bailout has scammed taxpayers. One estimate, from the Congressional Budget Office, says the taxpayer-funded TARP could subsidize bailout recipients by a whopping $356 billion by 2010. Now, eight months into the bailout and on the back of the Treasury's much hyped stress-test results, several of the largest recipients are itching to return their bailout billions. Early next week, the Federal Reserve will announce which banks can begin repaying their TARP stock investments using the Fed's updated criteria.

But to completely extract themselves from government control, the banks will also look to buy back their government-held warrants. Warrants are basically stock options to buy shares at a set price over a certain period of time. (In this case, that period is 10 years.) The government initially purchased banks' warrants as part of its plan to recapitalize them and bolster their financial health. Banks now want to buy those warrants back—and it’s here that taxpayers could lose big again.