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Monday, January 31, 2011

Rubio Part of CPAC Boycott

Not that it has anything to do with a gay group being there. But Marco Rubio is sitting out the right-wing convention that made him a star.

Roll Call is reporting that Rubio will skip CPAC this year. Which is funny, since the American Conservative Union still has the senator's picture on its banner ads. In case it "disappears," here it is.


Readers of this blog probably notice Allen West also appears on the banner ad, and for now, it appears he is still set to speak at the event.

This whole CPAC boycott is just amusing to watch for liberals. The notion the tea party, apparently unsatiated by simply devouring the Republican, is apparently eating itself now just serves up a side of irony for spectators to enjoy.

But let's see how a little bit of perceived homophobia treats a Senator who hails from South Florida. I suspect America is moving much faster to the left on gay rights issues than many of these wingers realize, and Rubio is following the tea-partiers toward certain doom.

I thin more savvy politicians realize this. Sarah Palin, who seemed to Twitter-flirt with supporting a Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal earlier this month, will attend CPAC this year, despite NOT appearing on that banner ad above. Update: Palin has now declined a keynote speaker spot, but SarahPAC will still be at the event.

The GOP, which is supposed to be the party of personal freedom, really needs to find its footing on gay issues. But if this CPAC brouhaha is any sign, the party as a whole seems to be moving closer to the party-of-hate brand than it is away from it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Challenger: The Remembered Moment

The loss of the Challenger was somehow one of those moments everyone who lived through it seems to remember the same as 9-11 or, from what I have heard, the deaths of JFK and FDR. We all know exactly where we were when we learned the disaster had happened. Growing up in Florida, I was among those who had a front-row seat to the national tragedy.

My mother recalls watching the shuttle break apart on her way to lunch, not knowing what was going on until one of her students saw the splitting streaks of smoke and said 'Something is wrong.' I have a friend who recounted online today sitting with his first-grade class 30 miles from the launchpad and watching the shuttle go up, then turn into a fireball and crash back down.

I didn't watch it happen. My second-grade class at Beverly Shores Elementary had watched other launches, but this one occurred while we were at lunch. But we were all interested in the flight. My teacher had met Christa McAuliffe and we were planning to watch the video lessons the teacher would beam down to Earth. It was something we were all looking forward to, and living just an hour from Kennedy Space Center, the whole affair was something with which we were all connected in a more real way than, say, kids in Wisconsin.

When we came back from lunch, the teacher was crying. She sat us all down and explained to us what had happened. Things were quiet at first, then we started asking questions. How did this happen? Nobody knew yet. We had to wait. What about the astronauts? How were they? Somehow, we all presumed the astronauts could just hit the eject button and escape. She explained to us there was no way any of them could survive, and that they had all died.

I doubt many in the rest of the country realize the degree to which this tragedy was felt by the state of Florida. Like all students at the time, we had read our Weekly Readers and were anxiously awaiting the launch of a teacher into space. But when disaster struck, we saw the lingering streaks of smoke in the sky that seemed to last all day. The local news replayed the tape again and again, even when the national news had tired of it.

We also waited for the successful launch that would put this tragedy out of our minds, but which would not come for a long and painful two years. Instead of another shuttle launch, we just got to hear reports about O-rings. I was just a kid, so I certainly didn't understand the devastation the shuttle loss caused to the local economy, but the loss of life and a presumably safe orbiter was on the top of most minds for a long time.

This anniversary snuck up on me, which is a little odd since I was just at Kennedy last weekend. I took my son there for the first time on a Cub Scouts campout where we slept under the Saturn V. My son was really struck by the stories of astronauts who had lost their life in the pursuit of space exploration. Tales of Apollo I, of Columbia and, of course, the Challenger were among the space stories that seemed to resonate the most with the 10-year-old child.

I've been hard on NASA sometimes since I launched this blog. The program can be defensive, acting like it should be exempt from the fiscal constraints of government. And I maintain our best chance at accomplishing truly successful space travel is by encouraging private sector involvement in spaceflight.

But there is no question mankind would not have accomplished what it has in outer space if not for the drive of the people at NASA. The fact astronauts are willing to put their lives on the line, even after the disasters which have destroyed 40 percent of our orbiters, is a huge part of that. We owe everybody who has ever ridden these high-powered dynamite sticks into orbit a huge debt of gratitude.

I think that is why losing Challenger is such a memorable experience for every American who lived through it. We all could feel, as those smokescreens besmirched out skies, that a sacrifice had just been made, but that our eyes still needed to focus on the stars. It was a soul-searching moment when, as an entire human race, we had to weigh the price of life against our wish to reach beyond the limits of our atmosphere.

The astronauts on that orbiter would never want the dream abandoned. I hope that never happens.

Having Their Cake...

How incredibly stupid is this? From The Buzz:
Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam's daughter, Abigail, caused a stir when fertilizer giant Mosaic paid $10,000 this week for a chocolate hazelnut cake she entered into a Youth Fair Auction in Polk County. Fair officials said it was an unprecedented sum for an auction cake.

First off, it does not appear that Adam Putnam did anything wrong. In fact, it appears he is handling the situation pretty well. My problem here is the clear and foolish behavior on behalf of folks at Mosaic. The article says Mosaic has launched an investigation, and that the woman who made this bid didn't talk to her bosses first.

I would like to know, then, where she came up with $10,000 to purchase a fair cake. That has to be question No. 1.

After that, we can see what branch of the company she works for, who may have been involved in this little stunt and whether she is connected to any specific dealings in which Mosaic will very shortly be dealing with the Agriculture department.

This is the type of blatant, unabashed bribery that has given government as a whole a bad name. And for a company already reviled by environmentalists for its wetlands-discounting ways, this is a move sure to do far more damage than good on the publicity front.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

West: Muslim Represents Antithesis of US Principles

Well, this will make the next Congressional Black Caucus meeting more fun.

Rep. Allen 'Wild Wild' West told the Shalom Show that Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, 'really does represent the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.'

This is offensive beyond words, but at this point is no surprise. West, who is insane on most issues, has utterly bigoted views about any member of the Islam faith. The man has derided "Coexist" bumper stickers, called Islam a "fifth column" infiltrating our universities and believes Arabs have been damned by God for being descendants of Ishmael.

All this from a man who cries racism whenever he is politically criticized but who has declared that institutional racism is dead.

But the real irony to me is that Ellison, most famous for his religion, is deeply involved in efforts to improve civility in politics. He is a long-opponent of negative advertising, which he says does more to diminish voter participation than improve a candidate's chances of winning, and he has a history of sincere bipartisanship.

So if fighting low voter turnout and working with leaders of all political ilk are the antithesis of America's founding principles, then I guess West has a point.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dear Tea Party. It Was Fun, But...

Dear Tea Party,

I don't know how to say this, but I don't think I can continue our relationship at this point in my life. I wanted to tell you in person, but didn't have the courage to attend your caucus, so I have to say goodbye here.

It isn't you. Heck, you supported me when no one else thought I would amount to anything. Back when Senate Republicans were ignoring me, you held me up, and kept alive a campaign which by all convention accounts had no right to exist. Even when everybody seemed to like Charlie Crist more than me, you saw something special in me. Someone who wouldn't "listen to all sides," but would run on the right and against any and everything the Obama White House ever proposed.

And boy did we run. We had some great times: driving Crist from the party, comparing Obama's policies to Communist Cuba, and of course, winning the election.

But right now, I need a little 'Me' time. I just got to Washington, and it turns out you guys aren't nearly as popular in the beltway as you were on the campaign trail. In fact, people here think you are a little weird and scary. I need to make new friends now, and frankly, having you guys hanging around all the time is kind of bringing me down.

Let's not pretend things have been perfect. You really put me on the spot about that whole Arizona law. My folks still think that was really uncool, by the way. It has been obvious since November that this wasn't going to work out. I can't govern as an extremist. I'm a Senator now, and that means I have to work with people on both sides of the aisle. And I run statewide in a purple state. The whole tea party mantel may have worked in a wave year, but I have a future to think about. Does anyone really think people will care about a tea party caucus in 2016?

So like Fergie would say, I've got to get a move on with my life. I've got to be a big Senator now, and big Senators don't cry. But I hope we can still be friends, especially if someone asks me to run for vice president in two years. I don't want things to be too strange when we run into each other at political party events. And even though I know I am hurting you now, and have only been in office less than a month, I hope this doesn't discourage you from sending me checks.

With love and respect (but from a safe political distance), I tell you goodbye.

Sen. Marco Rubio,
The Distinguished Gentleman from Florida

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Changing Nature of Media

Keith Olbermann has apparently been fired. (I am linking to CNN not out of scorn, but because MSNBC has bizarrely put an unrelated Rachel Maddow clip behind its link to Olbermann's goodbye, though that may get fixed

Just in case anyone was going to ask, I think this was stupid, but am not as angry as the entire rest of the liberal blogosphere about it.

Keith had the highest rated show on the network, as did Phil Donohue, and that makes this something the network will regret for some time. Probably forever. That raises the question, 'Why?'

My guess is that the execs are continuing to misunderstand the changing nature of political news in this country. It was just a few months ago that Olbermann was suspended for donating money to Democratic candidates. That move actually prompted many right-wing commentators to jump to Olbermann's defense. The reason was two-fold: first, because all commentators realize they live on the fundamental principles of free speech, and second, because most of them were donating the Republicans and the action gave them the heebie-jeebies.

I didn't blog about it then, but when people asked, I said I thought it was wrong to suspend Olbermann, but noted that five or six years ago, he likely would have been terminated for donating the money. So would Joe Scarborough, who I mention only to justify writing up a media issue on a Florida blog.

The thing is that the press for most of the last 100 centuries has held to the mantra of objectivity as if it were essential to reporting the news. When one takes a big picture glimpse, though, unbiased reporting is a relatively new concept. Since Gutenberg invented the printing press, it has been used to spread ideas, not bare and dispassionate facts. Joseph Pulitzer today is remembered as the champion of objective reporting, but was also a Congressman, activist and political delegate. The founding fathers famously funded newspaper endeavors to disparage one another.

I have always told people that a political reporter without any political opinions is as worthless as a sports writer without a favorite team. Yes, we need to present facts from all sides, but if you believe the best reporting comes from dispassionate observers with no particular feelings about policy, then you probably haven't met any reporters in person. The best government reporting is from journalists who want to see the best possible job done by government. Yes, most of us are liberals, though more are conservative than many believe, but the quality which separates good reporters from lousy ones is whether we care about the subject which we cover.

At this point in my career, I feel fortunate not to be working for a major media corporation which has guidelines on political speech. I have worked for such a corporation before, and even though I never put a sticker on my car or a sign in my yard, the notion of being barred from doing so was stifling. It also was backward, and a policy unfit for the modern world of journalism.

Keith Olbermann understands that. So too does Bill O'Reilly, for what that's worth. They both realized the public at large wants facts reported, but doesn't want someone putting up the illusion that the anchor has no concern one way or the other which side wins the day in Washington. Both have reputations as shrill, and are hated by politicos on the other side of the aisle. And both too get hammered when they make mistakes, a consequence of taking sides and developing such a rabid opposition.

But both are ratings gold. Consider the voices who get heard the most of cable news today. Glenn Beck. Rachel Maddow. Sean Hannity. Anderson Cooper. I think few people doubt how any of these individuals cast their ballots in the voting booth. Yet, their viewership worships them. If you don't trust these people, you don't watch their shows. But plenty of other people do.

When I started my career in journalism 10 years ago, I never told politicians my own political beliefs out of fear they wouldn't trust me. Over time, though, I learned people judge your credibility based on the accuracy of your reporting. It doesn't matter whether you cover politics, sports or Miley Cyrus' every waking move, what matters is whether you get your facts right. When you don't, sources get angry, and usually you get in trouble with your bosses. Sources sometimes get angry if you don't spin stories their direction, but a seasoned reporter can sense when a politician is disingenuously trying to guilt you into promoting their point of view. After years covering politicians, that, it seems, is the greatest problem a government reporter faces day-to-day.

In some ways, our sources saw this change in journalism before the media did. Cable for more than a decade has been dominated by talking heads who get on TV promoting sometimes wild points of view, then finding the exposure was gaining them capital both with audiences and their professional peers.

Perhaps the departure of Olbermann from the airwaves shows MSNBC would still rather be had by operatives than to control their own editorial voice. I suspect it won't take them long to learn their lesson though. Pandering to media concern trolls who demand unbiased reporting and then freely ignore all information which fails to support their worldview is like deer stopping by a local gunshop to ask directions to the best grazing grounds.

I am not angry Olbermann was fired. I know he will land on his feet. But I am a little astounded that MSNBC is still this far behind the learning curve, and wonder how long it will take them to catch up.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Only a Matter of Time with Rivera

I honestly don't know why a man like this chooses a career of public scrutiny.

The illustrious Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, is under investigation almost immediately upon being sworn in. From the Palm Beach Post:

State authorities said Thursday they are investigating financial dealings by South Florida U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who failed to report loans from his mother's gambling-related marketing company before the election.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Spokesman Keith Kameg said his agency is leading the investigation involving the freshman Republican congressman. Kameg said the department received a complaint from the State Attorney's Office in October related to Rivera and opened an investigation into the then-candidate. He declined to provide details or say when his agency took over the probe.

I almost think it doesn't matter if this investigation results in charges. The next one will. Whether it is failing to report all of his offshore income properly, letting properties unnecessarily slip into foreclosure, running vehicles full of opposition campaign material off the highway, or simply hitting women.

I remain amazed that Rivera coasted to the House this year, but things like happen in a wave election. As much as I'd like the chance for us to defeat him at the ballot box in two years, I think the authorities will remove him first.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hypocrisy on Cuban Policy

Whenever any change in U.S. Policy is considered regarding Cuba, we as a nation must endure the same hypocritical moralizing from extremists. Castro is a terrible ruler. The Castros treat political prisoners badly. We can't appease a corrupt regime.

A round of such inanity was fired this week because President Obama was easing travel restrictions for Americans who want to go to Cuba. This is no bold move, mind you. There is still an embargo on Cuba. We still apply the bizarre wet foot-dry-foot policy for refugees. But now certain organized and authorized missionary and school groups, in licensed charter flights, can travel there, and non-family members can send $500 remittances to people there.

This has been labeled by Fox News as a slap in the face of political prisoners, by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as an undermining of foreign policy and security objectives and by Sen. Marco Rubio as an "unthinkable" enrichment of a totalitarian regime.

Now, let me make clear I do not think Cuba is better off for the fact Fidel Castro was ever born. The accusations against him, while typically relayed in a histrionic fashion, are true. The regime has historically been intolerant of dissent and has done more to disempower people living on the island than it has ever done to empower them.

So why do I find such objections regarding Obama's policies so offensive? Because so little regard is shown with similar despots around the world.

Ros-Lehtinen, now the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, proudly boasted her her credential as a hawk to the St. Petersburg Times, and noted her relentless support of Israel, a nation hated everywhere but America for its ethnic segregation policies and unapologetic smothering of dissenting voices. She has also continued to support propping up a corrupt administration in Afghanistan.

Rubio, while far newer to the foreign policy debate in Washington, just returned from a trip to Afghanistan where he said supporting the regime there was a top priority so that denizens don't see the "bad guys" back in power. As if the drug-peddling, vote-rigging administration of Hamid Karzai is the pinnacle of good leadership. On the campaign trail last year, he suggested America wasn't propping Israel up enough.

It is amazing to me that fiscal conservatives would want America acting as policeman for every wicked regime in the world, but if that is the stand they want to take fine. That said, you cannot scream full-throated about the evils of the Castro regime while propping up governments who are far more corrupt and guilty of more heinous human right violations.

And then there is America's alleged ongoing abuse of its foreign prisoners. In Cuba.

Rubio opposes using the American court process to bring those prisoners to justice and favors military tribunals conducted in a country where American civilians aren't allowed to travel. Ros-Lehtinen went further last year and said the administration it was a waste of taxpayer dollars to provide human treatment to Guantanamo prisoners. "It is time for the president to focus on the security and economic needs of the American people, rather than on the needs of those dangerous extremists who seek to do us harm," she said in a statement last February.

Every politician says the endgame of the Cuban embargo is to force Cuba to be a humane regime, yet they support policies which are inhumane on their face, both for our more questionable allies abroad and for our own military if the mood fits. Even though the Raul Castro regime has been far less onerous than Fidel, the rhetoric of American politicians hasn't changed at all.

If we truly want to end such practices in Cuba, we should start with our own actions there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Slapping NASA

I appreciate when officials who are fighting so hard on NASA's behalf also decide to hold their feet to the fire. As I have noted before, the rocket scientists on the Space Coast can get a little noisy. That usually doesn't matter to officials fighting for the program because the squeaky O-ring gets the grease.

But when NASA suggested they can't build rockets on schedule, it pissed off Sens. Bill Nelson and Kay Bailey Hutchison. I am happy to see the two acting with a strong bipartisan voice. But it is noteworthy Nelson is the one spending more political capital here. Hutchison isn't seeking re-election, and while her credibility on this issue is a good thing to have in the debate, Nelson is expected to seek another term in the Senate in 2012.

But he also knows the space program only has credibility with the public if it can work in an efficient manner. When it issues reports suggesting it can't meet its budget and accomplish anything on schedule, that hurts the agency in the eyes of a public that questions all government spending. From the Senators' letter, all of which is available here via 13 News, notes that billions have been spent on the programs at NASA, and that the law requires they get the job done.

From the letter:
"By building on current capabilities and previous investments, and making effective use of NASA's existing workforce and contracts to focus on the immediate development of a heavy-lift rocket and crew vehicle, NASA can reach initial operating capability much more quickly than it can by conducting another vehicle study."

The point is that NASA has to operate with the fiscal responsibility the public is demanding of all other facets of government. This is part of the great American paradox in viewpoints. We love the idea of sending rockets into space, but we don't want it to cost anything. Jeff Greenfield once called this the American Ice Cream Sundae Diet.

I have made my views known on this. I want space flight privatized with ports government-run. But those who support complete government-controlled space exploration should demand the agency work within the same constraints as our schools, transportation departments, and military.

Well, not the military. Fiscal conservatives for some reason give them a pass.

Many on the right also give NASA a pass, but that won't last if the program can't finish its work on time and on budget. And support among the public at large is frankly waining every day. And if NASA can't fulfill its promises to the American people, politicians should stop letting those promises be made.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Frustrating Existence of Rick Scott

I spent a lot of time on this blog in advance of the election saying Rick Scott shouldn't be governor because he was a lousy crook. I stand by that, but since taking election, it has become clear that Scott has a much bigger problem. He simply cannot come to grips with the fact that the election didn't make him king of Florida.

Or more appropriately, CEO of Florida.

As detailed in the linked Herald article, Scott has spent his first few weeks in office trying to reach far beyond the legal confines of the governor's mansion. He believes other elected members of the Cabinet should cede spending authorization to his office, that he should have veto power over regulations introduced by agencies within Florida and that he alone should get the final call on major incentive expenditures.

There are many reasons, of course, why government doesn't work this way. What Scott tacitly suggests through his governing style is that all checks and balances be eliminated in Tallahassee so that he can more swiftly and purposefully enact an agenda. That probably sounds good to any governor, but in practice could lead to abuse and careless waste, as opposed to the considered and careful waste government produces today.

The notion that government should run more like a business is a tried and true message on the campaign trail, but is impossible to enact in real life for a number of practical and political reasons. The most obvious example in Florida is that the balance must be budgeted every year, whereas private companies interested in doing something bold will dip into debt to make a big move. Interestingly, eliminating debt is also something those pro-business conservatives also say government should do better. Of course, any leader who put the entire state budget at risk in a make-it-or-break-it venture would likely be punished at the polls regardless of outcome, hence the political problems of running like a business.

The other big issue, though, is corruption. A governor given free reign over the state budget can to easily take an undue share of tax dollars and direct it to certain private interests who lack scruples about stealing from taxpayers.

In other words, how Rick Scott ran HCA.

Or at least how the Feds said he ran HCA. Which brings up the funniest part of this, because if we are to believe Rick Scott's sworn testimony in various court encounters, he actually delegated a lot of decision-making when he actually was a CEO. This was a man who didn't always recall signing paperwork, and simply wasn't paying enough attention to his own employees as they committed fraud. At least, that was his story before.

Now that we get to see his style in the governor's mansion, he seems to have changed completely from the man described in depositions. This is a CEO who does not wish anyone, even other statewide leaders elected by more voters in the same election, to weigh in on spending decisions for the state. Time will only tell what he thinks of the Legislature once they start tinkering with his proposed budget.

So is Scott the type of leader described in depositions, who delegates often and oversees very little himself, or the type we have seen come into Tallahassee, huffing and puffing and reaching for more power? I guess we will have to see.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Real Victim Here

I know I haven't written much about Florida this week and have devoted a lot of space to the Giffords shooting, but I just wanted to make an observation here. Ever since the news first broke of the events in Arizona, the right-wing blogosphere and media have been focused far less with the tragedies of the day than they have been with the supposed attacks coming from the right. As the generator of some of those attacks, I just want to say hogwash.

Bill O'Reilly has gone ballistic over the coverage in the supposedly left-wing coverage from MSNBC and the New York Times.

Redstate was worrying about the blame game less than an hour after news broke of the shooting, and decided to come after Sheriff Clarence Dupnik politically for daring to suggest incivility was getting out of hand in this nation.

Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck had a digital pow-wow to fret for each other's safety and so Palin could complain about how the "politicos just capitalize on this."

So let us make sure everybody remembers the real victim in this terrible tragedy. It wasn't a Democratic Congresswoman who was meeting with her constituents. It wasn't a nine-year-old girl whose life was cut short for wanting to learn more about government. It wasn't a federal judge elevated to chief of his circuit by his peers. It wasn't a husband who gave his life so his wife wouldn't be killed by the gunman.

The real victim is the right's feelings.

They shouldn't have to suffer through all this talk of incivility. They shouldn't have to hear cries for gun control because that makes them angry. They shouldn't here complaints about being mean, because they have every right to be mean, even if they are more thin-skinned than most schoolchildren. They complain about political correctness when someone catches flack for shouting the N-word repeatedly on the radio, but nobody better suggest vitriol has consequences.

There has been so much more defensiveness on the right about this than there have been actual attacks on the right regarding this shooting. And when the defensiveness comes before the supposed onslaught of criticism even begins, I don't know if it can be called defensive at all.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Mainstreaming of Extremism

It is so easy to hope that cooler heads will prevail. Things are so much more complex than that. What happened this weekend was beyond the pale of standard political discourse, but it was not an event that no one saw coming.

What will come of this? I don't know for sure. I hope we see someone examine if an individual turned away from the Army in wartime because he was unfit to serve deserves the right to buy a semi-automatic pistol, but then, I've never been crazy about excessive gun control and we shouldn't go off the deep end. Of note, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords never was a big proponent of gun control herself.

What is far more significant than any legislation passed a result of all this is the change in the sort of conversation we engage in on the national I have debated with friends for days now about whether Jared Laughner is the result of violent rhetoric from the right, and hear repeatedly that this man does not fit well in the idea of right and left politics. Fine, but in a world where it is perfectly acceptable for Sarah Palin to tell supporters "don't retreat, instead reload", and where Sharron Angle can defend a call for "second amendment remedies," it shouldn't be surprising when a nutjob shows up with a pistol in hand intent to do harm.

Of note, this shooting happened a day after a birther disrupted the reading of the Constitution on the House floor. The birthers are an easy group to laugh at because they spout utter nonsense, but it is stunning that so many people would argue so fiercely that a president elected in a landslide is ineligible to serve. Sadly, Sarah Palin has palled around with birthers herself. The terrible state of affairs is that any type of challenge to an elected officials integrity is considered today as an acceptable raising of issues.

I want to say I don't believe many members of Congress have been so entrenched in this type of nonsense as those pundits who play around with voters for sport. Perhaps that is because every member of the U.S. House knows their own town halls could have easily turned out this way.

But even the lamest of sources have ways to reach millions today, and I fear the mainstream outlets fearful of being marginalized by Internet competition are willing to offer a megaphone to more crazies just so they keep tuning in. Does anyone recall the Truthers, for example, getting as much press nine years ago as Orly Taitz receives today?

And while cable people are falling over themselves to say all sides are guilty of ramping up the rhetoric, I will go out on a limb here and say such insanity is far more acceptable from the right in the eyes on national media. G. Gordon Liddy has his own nationally syndicated radio show despite calling for Waco folks to shoot federal agents in the head a whopping 17 years ago (not to mention the whole Watergate thing). Glenn Beck's bizarre grudges launched an attempted attack on a philanthropic foundation just last year, but he still keeps his spot on radio and on Fox News.

Since the election of Barack Obama, outright bigotry, attacking everything from his birthplace to his parents to his childhood education, has become acceptable fodder for critics to lazy to study his policy. We had a Republican Party of Florida leader suggest just two years ago that a presidential address to school children was actually a taxpayer-funded attempt to indoctrinate children with a socialist agenda.

The problem isn't simply that extremism exists in America. Like terrorism, drugs and crime, it will never disappear entirely whatever we do.

But the mainstreaming of extremism can be stopped tomorrow. It can be stopped by the mass media outlets who today lend space on their edit pages and talk show panels for absolute sociopaths.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I Just Can't Say What I Want to Say

Not right now. It's too soon.

But I genuinely hope the motives for what has happened today get intense scrutiny, and that nobody shames the honest members of the media into getting off message. Those on the right who demand we hold all of Islam responsible for the actions of organized nuts need to pay very close attention to all that comes out of this.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why West Should Be Welcome

Readers of this blog know I see little value in Allen West beyond pure entertainment, but I am pleased he was sworn in today as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. I think it was both classy of the traditionally-liberal group to welcome him in, and wise of him to accept the invitation.

I realize some respectable liberals have a major problem with his inclusion, especially when white liberals with black constituencies like Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, have not been allowed within the group. I also get why Cohen and others would like in the group, and for that matter, why other black conservatives like Tim Scott and J.C. Watts have declined membership.

But ethnic caucuses exist for more reason than simply promoting an agenda favorable to a minority groups. The Congressional Black Caucus stands as a symbol that blacks have a voice in the halls of Congress that is very real. No longer must blacks rely on the Northeastern liberals to fight for their cause. The days when the strongest voice for minorities in Congress had a last name like Kennedy is long-gone. And the blacks holding office today were elected, usually in majority black districts but sometimes - as with West - by white voters. They were not appointed, as the black Congressmen during Reconstruction had been.

If I may, let me quote Allen West from a statement he made to the Daily Caller, back when the suspicious tea bagger never imagines he would get an invite to caucus with the CBC:

"I would be in Congress, and I would be black and so I should be able to sit with them, and again, bring a different perspective."

Now, I think Allen West brings a perspective so different from logical common sense I remain confused how the voters of Southwest Florida could elect him, but they did. And he was rightfully sworn into Congress today. There is not only good reason why he should be allowed in the CBC, but importance to his acceptance in the group.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Let's Get to Work

The sky hasn't fallen. Florida hasn't been swallowed by the Earth. Planet-raping oil companies have not been given an OK to put a rig off the shores of Miami Beach.

But Rick Scott is now the governor of the state of Florida, and for the next four years progressives, and really anyone interested in responsible and sensible government, must be vigilant in watching what happens in Tallahassee.

The excruciating and close election is over, and it is only proper that Scott be judged now on his job performance. Even those of us pessimistic about how he will handle himself must wait and see how this man deals with policymaking, politicking and crisis management.

And so we wait. And we will see. In a state with the most open government in the nation, we will watch everything closely.

It's a new day in Florida. Let's Get to Work.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Moving the Agenda Leftward

The new NY Times interview with Alan Grayson is great reading, but it also is important in reminding what is at stake in the next two years politically for House Democrats. I want to take issue with a certain tone of the story that suggests Grayson's thinking is not shared through the beltway, but I fear it may be true.

Let me point at a statement by writer Michael Barbaro instead of a line from Grayson to make my point.

"While surveying the wreckage of the November elections that cost him his seat and looking to the Congressional term ahead, Mr. Grayson posits that many Democrats have not been acting Democratic enough.

Judging by the results of the midterm elections, it does not exactly seem to be a widespread sentiment.

But at a moment when centrism seems to be the party’s antidote to a redrawn political landscape, Mr. Grayson is setting forth a radically different playbook of sharp elbows and unapologetic liberalism.

If the lesson that Beltway Democrats take away from the November elections is that they should be more meek, give greater latitude to the right and demonstrate a greater level of spinelessness, then they will be part of an ineffective minority forever. I am afraid many of those left standing in Washington will ignore both the frustration among its base for failing to deliver results and the effectiveness of the GOP minority in becoming more strident in opposition.

Now, I am the first to acknowledge Grayson did not run a very good campaign this year. I noted in September that his Taliban Dan ads did far more to make Dan Webster look like a sympathetic figure and himself appear a raving lunatic. After a couple runs as the insurgent challenger trying to tear down an incumbent, I am afraid Grayson never learned how to run as the incumbent himself.

But his actions in Congress turned him into a national hero among the left, and helped generate financial support from across the country. That should mean something to Democrats looking at their own re-election campaigns in two years.

More importantly, though, is that voters will have zero incentive in two years to return the Democrats to power if the party is spending its days in Washington watering down its own agenda to satisfy a party in the majority. More than ever, Democrats in the House must be acting as the loyal opposition. They shouldn't join in with John Boehner's army. They should expose the overreaches by a tea-party driven GOP at every possible step.

It always strikes me that the GOP is better at being in the minority. They use procedure to stop actions they find heinous. They demand a place in the national debate even if they are losing legislative battles. They compromise little, and refuse to let their brand get tarnished with legislation they don't believe in.

Now, the Democrats are entering a session in which they are the minority. They ought to learn more from the GOP which just took over, and they ought to appreciate the fact placating, compromising Blue Dogs took the greatest hit of any Democratic group this fall. As Daily Kos noted immediately after the election, more than half of the Blue Dog caucus was fed their dogfood on Election Day and sent home with nothing but a congeniality award for their work across their aisle.

Alan Grayson lost, but so did Allen Boyd. And while Boyd was quick to blame the liberals, playing to the center earned him no points with conservative Panhandle voters interested in having a predictable Republican representing them. Even as it became clear Boyd would lose, the press was wringing its hands over how a conservative Democrat could be in trouble. In truth, it's obvious. Conservative voters didn't care how often Boyd sided with them on issues as long as he continued to go on the field in a blue jersey, vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker and stand with President Obama during the president's expected visits here two years from now.

Now, no one is talking about Boyd running again, but many are urging Grayson to make a fresh run at the seat. I suspect redistricting will make that a hard go, and would rather Grayson find a career in punditry, but it says something that enthusiasm still exists for a candidate supposedly ousted because he was too liberal, but none exists for a seven-term incumbent who promised to be just conservative enough.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Drill, Ricky, Drill

It astounds me how quickly Republicans forget about the most incredible of disasters when political expediency demands it. Gov. Voldemort has decided the first major policy announcement he makes on the environment is to stand up for big oil just a matter of months after the worst environmental disaster in American history.

Rick Scott's statement on oil drilling is not only wrong, but rings of amnesia. The Gov.-elect's statement via Naked Politics:

"The Obama Administration's offshore drilling ban is yet another example of government regulation impeding economic growth. Florida is committed to pursuing energy independence, which is essential to national security. With sound policies in place, we could expand domestic drilling and eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. Furthermore, I am disappointed that the White House has chosen to unilaterally impose a policy that threatens job creation and economic growth in Florida without consulting our office."

Read more:

Wonder where this man would have stood on drilling within 10 miles from the coast.

Of course, like so many of Rick Scott's public statements, this goes way beyond his jurisdiction as a state official can only affect what happens in state waters. But this does send a disturbing picture of what Scott thinks should be driving the conversation on oil. That was why it was so important to pass a drilling ban before this man took office, but alas, that was not to be.

But just as when he announced plans to mesh the Department of Community Affairs, Environmental Protection and Transportation into some sort of growth-steroid dispensing agency, this outlook shows that Scott is willing to take nothing into account in policy-making besides the ambitions of rich men who wish to get richer.

Getting back to oil for a second, one cannot underestimate the enormous amount of financial damage which the BP oil spill did to the state of Florida. In oil-stricken areas like Desdin, the environmental and economic damage has been huge. BP has paid out more than a half-billion to local businesses, but as the linked article in the Desdin Log notes, that is just a drop in the tar-sickened waters there. But even in regions that were never realistically at risk of being hit by oil, the damage was huge. International visits to Florida are down. Our reputation as a destination to vacation or retire has been deteriorated significantly.

But Scott says stopping drilling is "impeding economic growth"?!

The other thing Scott completely ignores is that Florida has never reaped any job benefits from oil drilling. Because of our long-standing (and very wise!) ban on near-shore drilling, combined with heavy bipartisan lobbying against deepwater drilling in our neighborhood, we have never become financially dependent upon drilling the way Louisiana or Mississippi have. It's worth noting again that Jeb Bush, a Republican's Republican if there ever was one, fought hard against offshore drilling in Florida at precisely the time BP was installing the Deepwater Horizon rig. So Rick Scott is defending financial interests with no stake in the future of Florida, and standing for not a single Florida job.

That's not even getting into a babyish complaint that President Obama didn't consult with a transition team when the sitting governor supports the White House 100 percent on a drilling ban.

It also largely ignores the severe environmental ramifications. I know Rick Scott doesn't believe in global warming, or even in saving the Everglades, but he really needs to take a deeper look at the issues than consulting with some CEOs who got rich off a single industry and then basing his entire position statements on the desires of those industries. If he did, he would realize offshore drilling has cost the state more than it has ever done for the state, and that Florida will be better off financially if Big Oil is restricted more, not less.

Unfortunately, I believe we are seeing right now an opening salvo from a governor determined to be the worst environmental disaster to ever move into the Panhandle, and six years after Ivan, that's a lofty goal.