Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blackburn and Alexander Can't Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Congressional Republicans - like Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn and Lamar Alexander - are working very hard to halt any useful duties their jobs require and instead they hold press conferences to promote the witless rantings of talk radio hosts like Limbaugh and Malkin.

Rachel Maddow again points out the lunacy and weird fantasies in the video below, as they echo the hollow and pointless obsessions on "Czars" (a term coined by the media during the Nixon administration as a shorthanded reference to jobs appointed by the president and confirmed by the Congress).

But first, some basic facts on the reality of what jobs are held and when they were created:

But perhaps the most controversial people labeled “czars” by [Glenn] Beck and by reporters have gone through Senate confirmations. Cass Sunstein, whom Politico labels the “regulatory czar,” is waiting for the end of a Republican filibuster so he can lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an office created in 1980. John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was confirmed by the Senate, unanimously, six months ago. But none of that seems to matter to their critics. Michelle Malkin, whom, again, Politico credited for making this an issue, relentlessly refers to Holdren as the “Science Czar” as if it was his actual title.

Let’s just go down the Politico list.

Pre-exisiting jobs:

“AIDS Czar” – Actually the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, created in 2001 by George W. Bush.

“Border Czar” – Actually the Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs, created in 2003 by George W. Bush.

“California Water Czar” – Actually the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, who was given this extra portfolio by Secretary Ken Salazar in June.

“Central Region Czar” – The Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the “Central Region,” on the Nation Security Council.

“Drug Czar” – Actually the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, created in 1989 by George H.W. Bush.

“Faith-Based Czar” – Head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, created in 2001 by George W. Bush.

“Intelligence Czar” – This is actually the Director of National Intelligence, a position created in 2005.

“TARP Czar” – Actually the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability of the United States Herb Allison, who was confirmed by the Senate in June.

“Weapons Czar” – Not actually an executive branch position, but the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

New jobs held by eminent people or people previously confirmed by the Senate:

“Afghanistan Czar” – Actually the United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the man holding that job, Richard Holbrooke went through a Senate confirmation hearing in 1999 when he became Bill Clinton’s U.N. ambassador.

“Economic Czar” – Actually the President’s Economic Recovery Board, chaired by Paul Volcker, the deeply uncontroversial former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

“Energy and Environment Czar” – This is Carol Browner, the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1993 to run the Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton.

“Guantanamo Closure Czar” – Actually the Special Envoy to Guantanamo, Daniel Fried, who was the final Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Bush administration.

There are other problems with the list. The so-called “International Climate Czar,” Todd Stern, is actually a special envoy who works in the State Department; several other “czars” were appointed to previously-existing institutions, like John Brennan, given a new portfolio in the 56-year-old National Security Council. But let’s read the list this way, and stop calling “czars” the people who were confirmed by the Senate at one point or given previously-existing jobs. That scary Politico list of 30 names is down to 15 names. It’s down to people like Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Adviser on Violence Against Women.

Now, President Obama has created several new offices and institutions: the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, the President’s Economic Recovery Board, White House Office of Health Reform, and the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, to name some. But when Pence says Congress must “examine the background and responsibilities of these individuals” and “determine the constitutionality,” what is he suggesting? Should Herb Allison and John Holdren, who were confirmed by the Senate, resign and go through hearings again, just to be safe? Does he wonder whether the job of Director of National Intelligence is constitutional? That would be a shame, because Pence voted for the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which created the DNI.

A debate about the power of the executive branch and the collapsing trust between the president and the Senate — it’s the constant filibusters of presidential nominees that really started this process of end-runs around confirmation hearings — would be healthy. But so far this “czars” debate seems like a witch hunt egged on by sloppy reporting.

Blackburn and Alexander - along with most of the nonsensical Conservative blather are offered here:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sen. Alexander Agrees - Domestic Violence is Pre-Existing Condition, Not Suitable For Health Insurance

I noticed this story yesterday via Enclave and again today at Silence Isn't Golden -- insurance companies in 8 states refuse to provide health insurance to victims of Domestic Violence, regarding such victims of spousal abuse as suffering from a pre-existing condition.

Back in 2006, a congressional committee took up the issue to forever change that exclusion, that being assaulted by a spouse was a pre-existing medical condition, but it failed to move out of the committee on a tie vote, with 10 for it and 10 against. Two of those who defeated the more-than-logical adjustment to health insurance were Tennessee senators Lamar Alexander and Dr. Bill Frist.

Protecting insurance companies and blaming victims for being assaulted - will that be a slogan on Sen. Alexander's next run for office?

After all, since the average cost of premiums for an family in America, tops $13,000 a year, maybe the family should save their money, separate and live in single apartments and gather only under the supervision of armed guards.
Perhaps marriage itself, or even just living together should likewise be viewed as a pre-existing condition which promotes assault.

Since 1991, the cost of premiums for health insurance for a family have risen 131%.

Year Single Family

2000 $2,471 $6,438
2001 $2,689 $7,061
2002 $3,083 $8,003
2003 $3,383 $9,068
2004 $3,695 $9,950
2005 $4,024 $10,880
2006 $4,242 $11,480
2007 $4,479 $12,106
2008 $4,704 $12,680
2009 $4,824 $13,375
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation; Health Research & Educational Trust

Perhaps marriage itself, or even just living together should likewise be viewed as a pre-existing condition which promotes assault.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sen. Alexander Writes Fairy Tales Heard From FOX and Glenn Beck

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has - as a friend of mine says, "Had the cheese fall off his cracker".

Sen. Alexander and a handful of other senators who seems to take all their marching orders from FOX news (see video below) sent a letter to President Obama wailing that our Constitution is on the edge of destruction because (as FOX and Glenn Beck told him) there are "czars" running national offices. And he it utterly wrong. Congressman Joe Wilson might use a different phrase ...

ACK at Post Politics mentioned Alexander's letter today, which says in part:

We write to express our growing concern with the proliferation of "czars" in your Administration. These positions raise serious issues of accountability, transparency, and oversight. The creation of "czars," particularly within the Executive Office of the President, circumvents the constitutionally established process of "advise and consent," greatly diminishes the ability of Congress to conduct oversight and hold officials accountable, and creates confusion about which officials are responsible for policy decisions."

The Senator (and all those who signed the letter, Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Chris Bond, Sen. Mike Crapo, Sen. Pat Roberts, and Sen. Robert Bennett) seems to be in dire need of a history lesson. At the least, he could read some of the writing of Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, who wrote on Sept. 7th:

On Fox News yesterday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the president's use of czars is "an affront to the Constitution."

I did some research last night, trying to find examples of Lamar Alexander criticizing the Bush administration's use of czars. After all, Bush/Cheney not only kept some of the czars left over from the Clinton and the H.W. Bush administrations, but also oversaw the creation of a "food safety czar," a "cybersecurity czar," a "regulatory czar," an "AIDS czar," a "manufacturing czar," an "intelligence czar," a "bird-flu czar," and a "Katrina czar." If Alexander is concerned about this "proliferation" of czars, surely he raised some concerns during the previous administration.

Except he didn't. As far as I can tell, Alexander never said a word. Apparently, Republican czars are fine; Democratic czars are un-American. Just because. Good to know.

I think I have a solution to this meaningless dust-up: stop using the word "czar." It's a meaningless word, anyway. It's not as if there's a single person in the executive branch with the word "czar" in their formal title -- it's just a colloquial political euphemism.

Take this report from last night, for example, and notice the "c" word isn't in it.

'President Obama has named Ron Bloom as the administration's senior counselor for manufacturing policy, the White House said Sunday night. The announcement came ahead of Mr. Obama's planned remarks at the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s annual Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati.

'Since February, Mr. Bloom has been a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. He sits on the president's automotive industry task force. The White House said Mr. Bloom would continue that position and would expand his role to coordinate the administration's manufacturing policy with the Commerce, Treasury, Energy and Labor departments.'

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? The president wants a special focus on the U.S. manufacturing sector, so he'll have a senior advisor who'll help oversee the White House manufacturing policy.'

"So, is Bloom the new "manufacturing czar" (a position created by George W. Bush)? Only if we choose to use the phrase. The alternative is to say that Ron Bloom will be advising the president on manufacturing policy. The "c" word has been deemed scary, but the job description is innocuous.

"This has broad applicability. The president has a "Guantanamo closure czar"? No, he has a guy at the Pentagon whose focus is on closing the detention facility there. There's nothing "czarist" about it. The president has a "Mideast peace czar"? No, he has a guy whose job it is to focus on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The president has a "Great Lakes czar"? No, he has a guy heading up the administration's efforts to improve water quality in the Great Lakes.

None of these jobs are controversial. It only becomes "an affront to the Constitution" when it's made to sound unnecessarily nefarious."

It's also worth a mention that it was the Press - not any of the presidents - who coined the term because the long job titles these officials have are awfully long words and long words may give them migraines or something. As for Beck, his goal is to scare the bejebus out of anyone and everyone who likes America and is cognizant of history.

Rachel Maddow notes that the deep-seated and greatly misunderstood ramblings of Sen. Alexander are more akin to a comedy skit via Saturday Night Live featuring the always confused Emily Litella:

Monday, September 14, 2009

South Carolina - State of Denial

"For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both.

The state that fired the first shot of the Civil War has now given us this: Senator Jim DeMint exhorted conservatives to “break” the president by upending his health care plan. Rusty DePass, a G.O.P. activist, said that a gorilla that escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle’s ancestors.” Lovelorn Mark Sanford tried to refuse the president’s stimulus money. And now Joe Wilson."

from Maureen Dowd

Lies Make For Constant Media Attention

--- Anti-Obama folks, like Michelle Malkin - depend on making you feel angry and weak if you agree with her. One way she does that is by plain-old South Carolina style lying:

I suppose it's one of the benefits of occupying a parallel universe like the right-wing blogosphere: facts are truly irrelevant. And I'm pretty sure partisan conservatives prefer it that way. They love just making stuff up.

As we've noted, this afternoon Malkin plucked out of thin air the bogus claim that ABC News reported the 9/12 protest crowd was 2 million strong. False. Nobody at ABC News ever made that claim, and no sane observer of the D.C. event today would claim with a straight face that somehow 2 million people overtook the nation's capitol.

It's pure fantasy.

But did that stop anybody on the right from repeating the hollow claim? Please. Did Newsbusters link to Malkin's phony claim? Check? Wizbang. Check. Gay Patriot? Check. Check. Right Pundits? Check.

I think Malkin should have just claimed 12 million protesters showed up. Because every one of her willingly gullible followers would have linked to her anyway.

UPDATED: More blogging comedy. Right-wing blogger Stephen Green first claimed that CNN reported the crowd was 2 million story. (CNN did no such thing.) Then later in a "correction," Green, following Malkin's phony lead, reported it was ABC News which claimed 2 million. Of course, ABC News denies that fact, and nobody can find any evidence that ABC News ever made the claim.

Psst Stephen, Malkin made that part up"

-- Others have noted this lie too, citing the fake pictures from this weekend's rally, which is really a photo from 1997's "Promise Keepers" rally.

-- More of the fakery here at DailyKos.

-- And a jewel of a comment from TN Congressman Marsha Blackburn, whose interview shows the crowd is there to express anger at Congress' horrible spending habits (pssst Marsha, that means you.)

And a long essay by Glenn Greenwald ponders why "protesters" and the endless gridlock from Republicans is cheered by the one group of folks who will receive nearly nothing if no changes in health care policy are enacted, the group which cheers to greedy who placed us in this economic nightmare to begin with:

This is the paradox of the tea-party movement and other right-wing protests fueled by genuine citizen anger and fear. It is true that the federal government embraces redistributive policies and that middle-class income is seized in order that "someone else benefits." But so obviously, that "someone else" who is benefiting is not the poor and lower classes -- who continue to get poorer as the numbers living below the poverty line expand and the rich-poor grows in the U.S. to unprecedented proportions. The "someone else" that is benefiting from Washington policies are -- as usual -- the super-rich, the tiny number of huge corporations which literally own and control the Government. The premise of these citizen protests is not wrong: Washington politicians are in thrall to special interests and are, in essence, corruptly stealing the country's economic security in order to provide increasing benefits to a small and undeserving minority. But the "minority" here isn't what Fox News means by that term, but is the tiny sliver of corporate power which literally writes our laws and, in every case, ends up benefiting.

It wasn't the poor or illegal immigrants who were the beneficiaries of the Wall St. bailout; it was the investment banks which, not even a year later, are wallowing in record profits and bonuses thanks to massive taxpayer-funded welfare. The endlessly expanding (and secret) balance sheet of the Federal Reserve isn't going to fund midnight basketball programs or health care for Mexican immigrants but is enabling extreme profiteering by the very people who, just a year ago, almost brought the global economic system to full-scale collapse. Our endless wars and always-expanding Surveillance State -- fueled by constant fear-mongering campaigns against the Latest Scary Enemy -- keep the National Security corporations drowning in profits, paid for by middle-class taxes. And even health-care reform -- which supposedly began with anger over extreme insurance company profiteering at the expense of people's health -- will be an enormous boon to that same industry, as tens of millions of people are forced by the Government to become their customers with the central mechanism to control costs (the public option) blocked by that same industry. That's why those industries are enthusiastically in favor of reform: because, as always, they will benefit massively from it.

This is what is so strange and remarkable about these tea-party protests. The people who win when government acts aren't the poor, minorities or illegal immigrants -- the prime targets of these protesters' resentment. Their plight only worsens by the day. In Washington, members of those groups are even more powerless than "middle-income Americans." That's so obvious. The people who win whenever the federal government expands its power are the ones who, through their massive resources and lobbyists armies, control what the government does: the richest and most powerful corporations. And yet -- in an extreme paradox -- those are the people who are venerated by the Right: they simultaneously spew rage at what's happening in Washington while revering and defending the interests of the oligarchs who are most responsible.

What's really happening with these protests is that the genuine rage and not unreasonable economic insecurity of these citizens is being stoked, exploited, distorted and manipulated by movement leaders for entirely different ends. The people who are leading them -- Rush Limbaugh, the Murdoch-owned Fox News, Glenn Beck, business-dominated organizations of the type led by Dick Armey -- are cultural warriors above everything else. They're all in a far different socioeconomic position than the "middle-income Americans" whose anger they're ostensibly representing. Their principal preoccupation is their cultural contempt for various groups (illegal immigrants, the "undeserving" poor, liberals) and their desire to preserve the status quo whereby the prime beneficiaries of government policies remain themselves: the super rich and the interests that control Washington. It's certainly true that many of these protesters are driven by the standard right-wing cultural issues which have long shaped that movement -- social issues, religious fears, cultural and racial divisions, and hatred for "liberals" as Communist-Muslim-Terrorist-lovers. For many, all of that is intensified by the humiliation of being completely thrown out of power, at the hands of the first black President. But much of it is fueled by the pillaging of the corporations and Wall St. interests which own their government.

Image via TPM