Month: January 2010

Howard Zinn, Dead at 87

I don’t have many heroes, but Howard Zinn was one. As a historian, he insisted that the voices of the powerless be heard. As an activist, he lived his beliefs. The term “populist” is currently used and abused in the media. Howard Zinn understood what the term should mean.

If you haven’t heard of Howard Zinn, I doubt anything I can say will make him live for you and I am sure the obituaries will turn his life into a sound bite. So, my suggestion would be to go here and by a copy of A People’s History of the United States. Even if you have read it at some point in the past, read it again. It will put some of today’s craziness into perspective.


Mr. Freeze Panders to the Dodos?

The early reports are that President Obama will call for a three-year spending freeze in his State of the Union address Wednesday. According to Jonathan Zasloff,

The move, intended to blunt the populist backlash against Obama’s $787 billion stimulus and an era of trillion-dollar deficits — and to quell Democratic anxiety over last Tuesday’s Massachusetts Senate election — is projected to save $250 billion, the Democrats said. The freeze would not apply to defense spending or spending on intelligence, homeland security or veterans.

I can’t think of anything more dangerous than making policy decisions based upon polls. Supposedly, Obama would rather be a really good one-term President than a mediocre two-term President. I don’t think so. A spending freeze based upon a “populist backlash” is the action of a President who is willing to pander to critics in order to get reelected.  This is particularly ill advised when the outraged public is so misinformed about the stimulus package it is against.

Times Magazine’s Joe Klein, pulls no punches in a post on the blog “Swampland” called “Too Dumb To Thrive”

Absolutely amazing poll results from CNN today about the $787 stimulus package: nearly three out of four Americans think the money has been wasted. On second thought, they may be right: it’s been wasted on them. Indeed, the largest single item in the package–$288 billion–is tax relief for 95% of the American public. This money is that magical $60 to $80 per month you’ve been finding in your paycheck since last spring. Not a life changing amount, but helpful in paying the bills.  The next highest amount was $275 billion in grants and loans to states. This is why your child’s teacher wasn’t laid off…and why the fire station has remained open, and why you’re not paying even higher state and local taxes to close the local budget hole.

It turns out that what people are really upset about is all that wasteful money that has gone to political public works projects…except that the overwhelming portion of that money hasn’t been spent yet. Remember all those “shovel-ready” projects? Well, they didn’t exist. The big jobs-creating projects like the rebuilt “smart” electric grid, major highways and fast trains will come on line during the next year. (Although these projects might have gotten greater public support if they’d been chosen by a National Infrastructure Bank–a panel of experts, like the fed–that would have picked them according to their value added, rather than by the bozo appropriators in the Congress.)

It is very difficult to have a democracy without citizens. It is impossible to be a citizen if you don’t make an effort to understand the most basic activities of your government. It is very difficult to thrive in an increasingly competitive world if you’re a nation of dodos.

A nation of Dodos? It seems to me the real problem is a nation misinformed by a main stream media. It isn’t just Fox news and Rush Limbaugh either. The model of all news programs is to give equal time to extreme partisans more intent on spin than truth. Even when there is an expert on a subject, she or he is “balanced” by a talking head willing to out shout the opposition. The “moderator” makes little or no attempt to correct inaccuracies either out of ignorance or out of a misplaced desire to appear impartial.

One expert that is willing to appear on the main stream media even though he has to endure constant abuse is Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. Here is his response to a spending freeze.

A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

It’s appalling on every level.

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

I think I am too depressed to actually watch the SOTU.

The Eminent Tribunal

After the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott decision, which ruled that slaves were property, not persons, and effectively made slavery legal in the territories, Lincoln declared in his first Inaugural Address that

The candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court . . . the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.

In a letter written in 1820 to William Jarvis, Thomas Jefferson expressed his deep reservations about judicial review,

You seem … to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps…. Their power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.

Jefferson and Lincoln understood the dangers of a Supreme Court intent on activism. For those who think the latest outrage by the Roberts Court is an aberration, I suggest reading Packing the Court, the latest book by Pulitzer Prize winning historian, James MacGregor Burns.

Burns argues that, with the exception of the Warren Court, the Supreme Court’s historic role has been “as a choke point for progressive reform,” and that in “the Gilded Age of the late 19th century” and the “Gilded Age at the turn of the 21st,” the justices “fiercely protected the rights and liberties of the minority of the powerful and the propertied.” The American people, he concludes, “cannot expect leadership from unelected and unaccountable politicians in robes.”

Burns sees the Roberts Court for what it is, but, of course, no one listens to historians.

Friday afternoon, while listening to NPR on my car radio, I heard David Brooks explain to concerned (liberal) listeners that the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was nothing to be concerned about because corporations are as likely to back Democrats as Republicans. Later that evening, while watching PBS NEWSHOUR, here, again, was Brooks telling us,

I do not necessarily think it is great for the Republican Party and terrible for the Democratic Party, because when you look at who is willing to subsidize corporations and erect regulatory barriers, both parties actually do that. So, I think it will have bad effects, but not necessarily partisan effects.

I can’t wait to read David Brook’s column in the New York Times so I can find out what he really thinks about this landmark court decision.

Why is David Brooks, the “go-to” conservative pundet of the main stream media?  Because his analysis is always framed around partisan politics. The Citizens United ruling will have “bad effects”, but not partisan effects, so no need to worry.

Fortunately, there are some in the media who, like Burns, understand the import of those “bad effects.”  For example, the editorial in The New York Times The Court’s Blow to Democracy does a nice job of putting the decision into historical perspective.

With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.

Ruth Marcus explains the “shoddy scholarship” that was used to argue the “brazen power grab”. This by the same court that brought you Bush vs Gore.

In opening the floodgates for corporate money in election campaigns, the Supreme Court did not simply engage in a brazen power grab. It did so in an opinion stunning in its intellectual dishonesty.
Many of those commenting on the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission have focused on the power-grab part.
I agree with them. It was unnecessary for the court to go so far when there were several less-radical grounds available. It was audacious to seize the opportunity to overrule precedents when the parties had not pressed this issue and the lower courts had not considered it. It was the height of activism to usurp the judgments of Congress and state legislatures about how best to prevent corruption of the political process. As bad as the court’s activism, though, was its shoddy scholarship.

In The Washington Post, Michael Waldman considers the implications of the Court’s power grab,

The Supreme Court on Thursday upended a century’s worth of campaign finance law. An immediate question raised by the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision is whether this will flood elections with suddenly legal corporate money. Less understood but deeply significant is what this shows about the court and its relationship to the Obama administration and Congress.

This far-reaching ruling augurs a significant power struggle. For the first time since 1937, an increasingly conservative federal judiciary faces a progressive and activist Congress and president. Until now, it was unclear how the justices would accommodate the new political alignment. The Citizens United decision suggests an assertive court, eager to overturn precedent, looming as a challenge to President Obama’s agenda.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious recourse to the activism of the Bush/Roberts Court. Burns anticipated a “coming crisis” where an “conservative, obstructionist” court would confront a liberal President and Congress. His radical suggestion is that the president should “announce flatly that he or she would not accept the Supreme Court’s verdicts” unless the people pass a constitutional amendment explicitly authorizing the justices to strike down unconstitutional laws.

Even though Burns makes a convincing case that “Judicial Review” was not the intent of the authors of the Constitution and is, in fact, unconstitutional, it would be political suicide for Obama, or any other contemporary President, to challenge the Court in that manner.

FDR, frustrated by the “nine old men” on the conservative court blocking New Deal legislation tried to pass legislation reforming the court. The political backlash was such that he ended up withdrawing the bill before it went down to overwhelming defeat.

Coco “Je Refuse!”

With the tragedy in Haiti, the war in Afganistan and all the other important news events, it is a bit silly to obsess the late-night talks show wars, but now that Conan has reached an agreement with NBC to leave for $45 million and tonight will be his last show, we can look at the events of the past few weeks through the objective lens of history.

Not a Good Week for Progressives

This has not been a good week for the American people. Thanks to the election of Scott Brown, it now appears that health care is dead. Air America has declared bankruptcy.

But, really, those concerns pale compared to what the activist Roberts court did today.  See here here here here and here.

Below is President Obama’s response.

With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

I wonder how the “populist” Republican tea baggers will respond?  After all, the say they are against Wall Street and the powerful self interest groups that silence the voice of the average American. Get ready for another giant tsunami of hypocracy.

Otter the Incrementalist?

Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman thinks Gov. Butch Otter has lost his bite. The one-time anti-goverment political reformer has lost his nerve. What Popkey seems to forget is that Otter is using a tried and true strategy that has a deep tradition in the Idaho Republican party.

The first step is to get elected and the quickest way to get elected in Idaho is to claim you will “take a bite out of government”. Symms, Hansen, Chenowith, Craig, Kempthorne, Sali, Crapo and Risch jump immediately to mind, but the list goes on.

Of course, once elected most of them have absolutely no political power and can continue their anti-govenment rant with no practical effect. Just look at the list above and ask yourself what legislation any of them passed that had a positive effect on Idaho or the Nation.

Butch Otter practiced that exact same strategy as a Congressman (at both the state and national level)- lots of anti-government, libertarian wind, but no power and no legislation to show for it.

The problem is that once one of these windbags actually is put into a position of power they are forced to confront the fact that they have to govern. The draconian measures they spouted from the sidelines are, of course, not really possible.

Does that mean that Otter has become a moderate? Hardly. The current economic crisis is his perfect excuse to start to dismantle those aspects of government that provide essential support for the average Idahoan while keeping intact all of the advantages handed out to corporations, the wealthy and those other special interests that fill the coffers of the Republican party. He and his political cronies will practice that time honored method- death by a thousand cuts as they dismantle public education, health and welfare and public television.

The giveaway to Popkey’s article is that he quotes two of the most pathetic mouthpieces of the loony libertarian right, Darrel Deide and Wayne Hoffman. They both feel Otter missed an opportunity to slash, burn and completely gut state government. So compared to those two, Otter is an incrementalist.

Craig James story gets more interesting

Craig James’ involvement in the firing of Texas Tech coach Leach seems to be taking a new twist. Yesterday James announced that he was planning to run for the seat held by Texan Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is retiring.

Today, SportsbyBrooks claims that James has hired the PR firm Spaeth Communications to represent him. Not only did Spaeth help James with the announcement of his political plans, they also coordinated the campaign to get Leach fired. As you may recall, Spaeth Communications is the firm responsible for the reprehensible “Swift Boat” smear against Presidential candidate John Kerry.

If you’re a political junkie, Spaeth Communications might ring a bell. More likely, you’ve heard the term “swiftboating,” which is derived from a p.r. campaign led by Spaeth CEO Merrie Spaeth to damage the 2004 presidential candidacy of John Kerry.
Prominent Texas Tech alumni and media sources have told me the past week that Spaeth Communications allegedly played an integral role in the firing of Mike Leach. In addition to the video of Adam James that Spaeth circulated to the media, I’ve heard growing sentiment that Spaeth was behind much of the anonymously-sourced information about Adam James’ alleged plight reported by the media.

Interesting, if true.

Craig James, Poster Boy for What is Wrong with College Football

Craig James is feeling his oats. The former football player turned “analyst” for ESPN college football has decided to abuse whatever power his national megaphone gives him.

He precipitated the firing of Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and, according to Leach, his “meddling” was largely responsible for the action the College took in firing him. Rece Davis interviewed Leach after his firing. Leach describes James as constantly meddling, calling the coaches so often that they had to institute a policy of ignoring his calls, and raising a spoiled son who felt entitled to playing time he hadn’t earned.

I am sure Leach shares some responsibility for his firing, but anyone who has spent much time around coaching recognizes the deadly combination of an athlete with a poor attitude and a meddling parent with clout.

Leach on Adam James’ attitude:
“I think he’s lazy. I think that there’s a sense of entitlement and really this isn’t an independent thought on my part. It’s pretty well documented in a number of statements by teammates and both of his position coaches. I can assure you that everybody in our program wants to win badly enough that it’s far, far, far too important to all of them to play the best one instead of: A.) show preferential treatment or B.) deliberately cheat somebody that’s got a father looking over our shoulder all the time, but also has a lot of money and influence and a big microphone.”

On how he defines meddling:
“When you call coaches, you call me, call his position coaches, both of them, you call other administrators on campus or you come to practices and want to have constant discussions on your son and their playing time. Craig James required more time than all of the other parents combined.”

The power of influential boosters in those football programs where the sport is “big business” is hardly new. If fact, James played his college football in a program that is infamous for flaunting the rules, SMU. The corrupt SMU program is the only one in the history of college football to receive the NCAA’s “death penalty.” Crain James was one of the star running backs during those corrupt years. Explaining the problem of meddling and influence to James is like explaining water to a fish.

Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden listed the top ten embarrassing episodes in the history of college football and ranks the SMU scandal number two.

SMU gets the death penalty: Feb. 25, 1987

The history and mythology of modern college football are papered with examples of programs whose keepers and boosters flaunted NCAA rules by building quasi-professional programs with marginal student-athletes. But only one has received the NCAA’s death penalty: Southern Methodist University. The Mustangs rose to the top of the high-powered Southwest Conference in the early ’80s, riding on the back of the Pony Express backfield (Eric Dickerson and Craig James), and twice finished in the top five in the nation. At swank parties all over Texas, where football is big business, SMU alums bragged to their Longhorn and Aggie brethren. Then the bubble burst: SMU was found to have made approximately $61,000 in payments to athletes from funds provided by a booster, with the approval of university officials as high up as former — and future — Texas governor Bill Clements, who was then chairman of SMU’s board of governors. NCAA officials did not levy the penalty lightly, but, said Dan Beebe, the lead investigator on the case, “I’m not sure what else would have gotten the message across to those people.” It has been nearly two decades since the NCAA took down SMU; 16 schools have since been eligible for the death penalty, but none have received it.

Layden wrote the article in 2004 because the scandal at the time was:

Let’s be frank here. The BCS is a mess every year. But it was in 2003 that the system came crashing down in one big heap of absurdity. LSU, Oklahoma and USC each finished the season with one defeat. USC was ranked No. 1 in the media and coaches’ polls but would not be invited to play in the BCS national-title game because the BCS rankings listed the Trojans at No. 3, keeping season-long leader Oklahoma at No. 1 despite its 35-7 thrashing at the hands of Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game. Ergo, LSU defeated Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, one day after USC pounded Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Here we are again with the “big boys” excluding teams like Boise State and TCU from receiving the credit they earned on the field. I am reluctantly willing to accept BSU ranking number two behind Alabama even though the so-called National Championship game was pretty much an exercise in ineptitude with both team proving that their success depended upon one player. Texas was impotent without quarterback Colt McCoy and Alabama was less than one dimensional when Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram was out with cramps during the third quarter.

What does this have to do with Craig James? As Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statement points out, by his “outlier” vote of BSU ranked 7th in his final poll, James almost single handedly skewed the results, dropping the Broncos to 4th.

James, who had voted Boise State No. 11 in his final regular-season rankings, moved the Broncos up to No. 7 in his final poll. The Broncos were behind Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa on his ballot. No voter put Ohio State, Penn State or Iowa higher on their ballots than James did.

Boise State received 19 points from James’ ballot. Had James voted the Broncos No. 4, they would have earned three more points and closed the gap with Florida to a single point.

It’s not just Boise State. James also voted TCU No. 14, the lowest among all voters.

Of the 60 ballots, Boise State was No. 2 on 22 of them. The Broncos were No. 3 on six. The Broncos were No. 4 on 30. They received a fifth-place vote (Kirk Bohls, Austin American Statesman) and a seventh-place vote (James).

Bohls voted Ohio State No. 4 and Boise State No. 5.

The difference between Florida and Boise State is that Florida did not have any low voters. All 60 placed the Gators No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4.

Had James and Bohls vote the Broncos No. 4, then Boise State ties for No. 3 in the country.

Thanks to “pollspeak” we can see the voting record of the AP voters.

Note that you can choose a “good” and “bad” voter. Not that it really makes any difference, but I did get a small amount of pleasure making James my “bad” voter. You can make your choices here.

Any guesses as to the next career move for Craig James?  Think about it- a right wing Republican from Texas with a degree in “Liberal Arts” from SMU.  Isn’t it obvious?

ESPN football analyst Craig James has had a raised profile for the past few weeks with his son being in the middle of the events that led to Mike Leach being fired at Texas Tech. But he may raise his profile even higher. The former SMU running back may run for the seat that Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison is resigning.
“I’m a Texan. I’m concerned for our country,” James said. “I disagree with the approach that we’re having, things that are taking place, and so whatever door opens up, I’ll look at it, if and when it opens up.”
James would like to see less government involvement. “I think Americans today, if you placed us back in 1765, it would be the same scenario,” James said. “We’ve got the American revolution taking place again.”

He is a Texan concerned about his country who disagrees with “the approach we are having”.  Does his way with words remind you of anyone?

Boise State National Champions

A couple of 13-0 teams, Texas and Alabama, will meet for the Citi BCS Championship game in the Rose Bowl this Thursday.  At the end of the day, there will be only two teams to have a perfect 14-0 record, the winner of the Championship game and the Fiesta Bowl winner, Boise State.

It seems to me that Boise State has the right to call themselves National Champions.  I am not alone in having this outrageous thought. Joe Posnanski has an interesting article at, titled “After undefeated season, why can’t Boise State be national champion?

The Broncos went undefeated. They pounded an Oregon team that went to the Rose Bowl. They rolled through the year undefeated — only one team all year stayed within one score of them. And, finally, the Broncos won a gritty 17-10 game against No. 3 Texas Christian Monday night in the Fiesta Bowl. They have the resume. They had the perfect season.