2009 - %3, June

Obama vs. CAP on DADT

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 4:22 PM EDT

Shortly after writing a post on a new Center for American Progress report that proposes a five-step plan for ending the Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy banning out-in-the-open gays and lesbians from the military (Step No. 1: the president signs an executive order imposing a temporary suspension), I strolled over to the White House to see President Obama deliver a Rose Garden statement in support of the cap and trade legislation due for a vote in the House tomorrow (more on that in a coming post) and to attend press secretary Robert Gibbs' daily briefing.

At the briefing, when it was my turn to pose a query, I cited the CAP report--quoting that first step--and asked Gibbs why the White House disagreed with the group's proposal. Gibbs replied that Obama has held assorted meetings with staff, legislators, and Pentagon officials on ending DADT. "This requires," he said, a "durable legislative" remedy.

It was the usual line: we need a law to overturn DADT for good. But there's an obvious follow-up, and I asked it: Why not issue an executive order that suspends DADT while this legislation is being pursued?

Gibbs said that "there could be differences in strategies." I wasn't sure what he meant by this. That it's best not to arouse (anti-gay) passions with a stop-gap measure, because this could interfere with a permament solution? He continued: the "best way to do it is through a durable and comprehensive legislative process." Perhaps that's the best way. But in the past months, hundreds of US military members have been kicked out of the service because of DADT. For these people--and others scared of a similar fate--a temporary suspension would certainly be much better than a long wait for congressional action. Whatever happened to the fierce urgency of now?

You can see my Twitter feed from the Gibbs briefing here.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann Cites War-Time Internments in Her Crusade Against 2010 Census

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 3:13 PM EDT

Just days after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told the world (or at least whoever reads The Washington Times) that she would not be completing her 2010 Census questionnaire in its entirety, she has decided to cite as rationale incidents from World War II, when the Census Bureau released confidential information to the Roosevelt administration to aid the government's effort to round up Japanese-Americans into internment camps.

Yes, the Census Bureau committed a major error during the 1940s. One assumes that such egregious offenses and violations of personal privacy wouldn't occur today. Right?

A better argument for Bachmann to make would have been to cite the Census Bureau's disclosure of Arab-Americans' demographic data to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era (Wouldn't that be a great coalition: The Arab American Institute Foundation, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Rep. Michele Bachmann?)

As if the 2010 Census didn't already have enough problems of its own, the continued politicization of this process will only be a greater detriment to the American people.

Bachmann, for your viewing pleasure:

Why Great Whites Are Scared of You

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 1:37 PM EDT

Sharks are lovely. They're 400-million-year-old, perfectly designed superpredators, and they're the only creatures tough enough to take down Samuel L. Jackson. But unfortunately, according to yet another new study, they should be afraid of us.

The new report issued today is the first global study of open-ocean sharks and rays, and it says that more than a third of them are threatened with extinction due to humans. The main ways they are killed is having their top fin sliced off for shark fin soup (after which they drown, being unable to swim properly), or they get caught in long-line fishing nets along with prey they're pursuing, often tuna.

Four of the species in the study were classified as endangered, the highest extinction-risk category: the ornate eagle ray, giant devilray, scalloped hammerhead, and great hammerhead. Many others were "vulnerable," including two kinds of makos and the Great White (above), one of the ocean's most formidable carnivores and star of Jaws. To learn more, you can read the PDF of the full 92-page report here.

An Inconvenient Report for Obama

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 12:40 PM EDT

Every few days at the White House press briefings, press secretary Robert Gibbs is grilled by a reporter (or several) on what President Barack Obama is doing to keep his promise to gay and lesbian Americans--particularly his pledge to deep-six the military's Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy and to press for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the awarding of federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples.

Earlier this month, Obama did sign an executive order to extend benefits to unmarried domestic partners of federal workers, including same-sex partners. But gay rights advocates are still grumbling that he's not been more proactive on the DADT and DOMA fronts--especially while hundreds of gay service members have been booted from the military since Obama became commander in chief. Obviously sensitive to the complaints, the White House has invited gay rights leaders to an East Room reception on Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the New York City protests that birthed the gay rights movement.

Responding to these queries about DADT and DOMA, Gibbs usually gives a version of the same reply: we're waiting for the Pentagon and/or Congress. He essentially has been suggesting that Obama cannot do much on his own.

Well, the Center for American Progress--the policy shop run by John Podesta, who oversaw Obama's presidential transition, says that's not so. This week, CAP released a report proposing a rather simple 5-step program for dumping DADT.

1. Signing an Executive Order banning further military separations based on DADT and sending a legislative proposal on DADT repeal to Congress.
2.  Forming a presidential panel on how to implement the repeal
3. Repealing DADT in Congress and changing the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, or UCMS
4. Changing other necessary military guidelines to conform to the new policy
5. Following-up to ensure that the armed forces implement the policy changes

Obama cannot do all of this on his say-so. But he sure could get the ball rolling by inking an executive order and creating a presidential panel.

Clearly, the White House is not eager to leap into this particular foxhole, perhaps recalling how Bill Clinton's early days as president were undermined by a DADT controversy. So the White House, for now, is hiding behind the process. And that's why CAP's report is rather inconvenient for Obama, for it shows that the president could take swift and unilateral action to start undoing DADT. His hands aren't tied. He's just sitting on them.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.
 

A Defense of Mark Sanford, Sort Of

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 11:29 AM EDT

Like David, I'd been feeling kind of sorry for Mark Sanford. But it took a while for me to figure out exactly why. It wasn't just his stream-of-consciousness confessional yesterday, with its cringe-inducing lack of modern political stage management and weirdly touching digressions on dinosaur sheets. Nor was it the fact that his plainly heartfelt emails to his mistress are now splattered all over the internet. Somehow, I realized, the details for which Sanford is being mocked actually made him seem more likeable to me.

Take, for instance, his professed love of digging holes for fun. There's a low-hanging joke there, obviously. But I was struck by this quasi-Waldenesque passage from his email correspondence:

Got back an hour ago to civilization and am now in Columbia after what was for me a glorious break from reality down at the farm. No phones ringing and tangible evidence of a day’s labors. Though I have started every day by 6 this morning woke at 4:30, I guess since my body knew it was the last day, and I went out and ran the excavator with lights until the sun came up. To me, and I suspect no one else on earth, there is something wonderful about listening to country music playing in the cab, air conditioner running, the hum of a huge diesel engine in the background, the tranquility that comes with being in a virtual wilderness of trees and marsh, the day breaking and vibrant pink coming alive in the morning clouds — and getting to build something with each scoop of dirt. It is admittedly weird but one of my more favorite ways of escaping the norms, constant phone calls and formalities that go with the office.

In other words, Sanford appears to be a rare creature among politicians: an introvert. Someone who needs a little solitude on a regular basis in order to stay on top of things. A textbook case, if you go by Jonathan Rauch's great piece in the Atlantic from some years back. Rauch notes that introverts typically don't fare well in national politics, citing Richard Nixon and Calvin Coolidge as examples, and Sanford is really not helping the introvert's cause.

Still, I found Sanford's oddball hobbies and totally self-annihilating honesty to be a strangely refreshing departure from the usual cast of chronic narcissists and sado-meglomaniacs and pathological glad-handers that typically dominate blockbuster political scandals. I'm setting the bar really low, I know. And I don't mean this as an excuse for Sanford's hypocrisy or his rigidly ideological economic policies, which lacked compassion for anyone down on their luck. But in the pantheon of politicians who have screwed up on a monumental scale, he seems a little more human than most.

Sympathy for Sanford? Nah.

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 10:44 AM EDT

I was feeling sort of sorry for Mark Sanford. His emails to Maria indicate he was deeply in love with her, and, thus, he was in a difficult situation. These things happen--even to conservatives. And, yes, he was a blazing hypocrite, voting for the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and claiming that he knew the true meaning of marriage:

As Jenny and I are the parents of four little boys, we've always taught our kids that marriage was something between a man and a woman.

Still, I wondered how tough we should be on a fellow caught in these circumstances. Until I watched the video of Sanford's speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference last March.

His address was red meat for empathy-free conservatives. Sanford, taking a Palinesque view, proclaimed to the crowd of conservative activists that the United States has reached a historic moment in which the "battle line" is between "government on one side" and "liberty...on the other." In what now comes across as a poignant observation, Sanford noted that the toughest problems to contend with are "internal problems," such as "your personal life." His contention was that the United States now has a serious internal problem:

We literally do live at one of the most pivotal points in American history. Every one of our threats, or pretty much all of our threats, have been external in nature. I mean, what were the British going to do to us? Or what were the Germans going to do to? Or what were the Japanese going to do? It was always what was somebody going to do to us. But the real quesiton of our times is, what are we going to do to us? I mean, it is a very different question, because as we all know external problems at times aren't all that difficult to deal with. Internal problems--whether in your personal life, whether in business, whether in government--are the real problems that are hard to get your arms around. And what we have right now is a problem of internal. [sic] And the question is, what do we do about it?

Sanford defined this internal problem as too many Americans depending on government for guidance and assistance. He pointed to the victims of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and asked, "Did you see people who saw themselves as lions or gazelles?" His point: too many of the Louisianan residents clobbered by Katrina and the failure of the levies viewed themselves as needy gazelles, not strong and independent lions, and actually expected government to help them. For Sanford, this sums up the "internal problem": Americans have become weak and unable to assist themselves because government has become too big.

His ideology-driven lack of sympathy for these people was not charming. After viewing this video, I lost any empathy I might have had for Sanford. If he's going to judge others so harshly on the basis of what he considers to be their weaknesses, then he deserves similar treatment. Yes, "internal problems" in one's personal life are hard to handle, but try dealing with 20 feet of water on your block.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Eco-news Roundup for June 25

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Stories from our other blogs you might have missed, on Blue Marble-friendly topics:

Stone cold: Quoting the Rolling Stones and talking about climate change, simultaneously.

Spin doctors: The healthcare industry's attempts to spin the media their way.

God works in mysterious ways: A climate change bill grows from 946 pages to 1,021 pages overnight without explanation.

P is for Piggie: Someone's been fattening up the Waxman-Markey climate bill with delicious farm subsidies. Soo-EY!

Sanford's speaking nixed: Apparently, people don't want you as a speaker on family values after you publicly admit cheating on your wife.

About Those Sanford Emails to Maria

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 11:23 PM EDT

On Wednesday evening, The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, published a series of steamy but well-written and mature-sounding emails between Republican Governor Mark Sanford and his gal-pal in Argentina. The paper also reported it had received these emails six months ago from an anonymous tipster. Why hadn't the paper rushed this hot stuff to press? It could not confirm the emails were real, and Sanford had no rep as a philanderer. So the paper sat on the hot docs all this time. Apparently, the newspaper did not ask Sanford about the material.

Journalists and others can--and will--debate whether the paper ought to have approached the governor. But this part of The New York Times report on The State's actions was particularly odd:

But with one mystery solved, another endures: Mr. [Leroy] Chapman [the political editor of the paper] said he still did not know who sent the e-mail to the paper in the first place. “It’s kind of a moot point,” he said, “but I’m still curious.”

A moot point? Not at all. Whoever had those emails had been in a position for six months to pressure--or blackmail--Sanford. An enquiring newspaper person might want to know more about that. Had Sanford even been aware that someone possessed these emails? If so, did he take any actions based on that realization? The State engaged in great traditional reporting to get the scoop on Sanford's secret trip to Argentina. But now it seems it's ready to turn the story over to bloggers.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Burger King, Carl's Jr. Remind Us: Burgers = Sex, Duh

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 10:50 PM EDT

Two sexy burger ad revelations today. First, the burger-as-blow-job Burger King ad burst onto the scene, second, The Hills' Audrina Partridge becomes the latest scantily clad lady to make love to, I mean, to lustily eat a Carl's Jr. burger. In the ad, that started airing today, Partridge pretends to eat a ginormous pineapple burger while lying on a beach in a bikini, alternately resting the burger on her toned tummy. The tagline: "More than just a piece of meat." The ad sends exactly the opposite message of course. Partridge, just like Paris Hilton and Padma Lakshmi before her, has every right to chow down on this burger, but to suggest they all do so on the regular is just silly. To make women envious, and men horny, well, that’s advertising for you.

The fine-print on this choice Burger King ad:

Mountaintop Removal's Fate Heads to Capitol Hill

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 8:35 PM EDT

On Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers in Washington, DC, will finally take up the fate of mountaintop removal mining, a type of surface mining that levels the summits of mountains to expose coal seams. The practice inflicts substantial damage to the surrounding environment and communities, mainly because the removed rock and soil is dumped into nearby rivers and streams, contaminating them and often burying water sources. The Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife will host the first legitimate hearing on mountaintop removal in nearly seven years, titled "The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia." Witnesses include leading experts on the subject, like Maria Gunnoe, a 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for her organizing against the mining practice; Dr. Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Sciences; and Randy Pomponio, the director of the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region, among others.

An outspoken opponent of mountaintop removal, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) called the hearing to more thoroughly review the effects of the practice, a decision that comes on the back of legislation he introduced in March with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to completely ban the mountaintop removal called the Appalachia Restoration Act. The hearing also has supporters and opponents of mountaintop removal fired up: Both coal industry-friendly and environmental groups have chartered buses to Capitol Hill for the hearing, while other organizations will be streaming video of the event. (Not to mention the recent arrests of NASA's James Hansen and others who were protesting mountaintop removal in Southern West Virginia.)