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Dear Mr. President,

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Remember this scene?  That was a really cool day wasn’t it?  Today it seems more like a scene from an event that occurred in a parallel universe.   It was an incredible scene; I can’t say that I’ve seen anything like it before.

Presidential Inauguration, January, 2009

We’re not likely to see anything like that again, especially now that you’ve become yet another Democratic presidential incarnation of Republican Lite.  It’s an amazing phenomenon that you’ve become part of, one we’ve witnessed since the late 1980’s, when someone, somewhere, decided that the only way to become a successful, two-term Democratic president was to broker deals with right wing Republicans from an acquiescent position.  Even as these policy deals have pushed the country farther and farther to the right, we receive the spin that such behavior comes from a “Centrist” position.  Bill Clinton was a master at this, and I can see how someone like you would see his two-term success and, desiring such success yourself, decide to hop aboard that train.  There is just one problem, sir.  The train track hasn’t been running down the middle, it’s been curving in a more and more extreme fashion toward the right wing, and toward the most rich and powerful in our society.  The notion of a political/cultural center has been pushed so far to the right, that we’re now beginning to consider folks in the Eisenhower Republican camp as modest liberals.  President Nixon looks like a Democrat when you match his domestic policies alongside those of George W. Bush.

Mr. President, let me get to the point.  That big crowd you looked out upon while you were being inaugurated our President, they didn’t come to see the man who just participated in this Grand Charade your handlers call the Great Compromise.  They, along with the many millions more who worked behind the scenes to get you elected, didn’t celebrate because they thought you would become so impotent in standing up to the extremists on the right.  They certainly didn’t celebrate the continuation of the Bush presidency torture practices, the continued sacrifice of blood and treasure in the unnecessary Iraq war, the capitulation to the hawks and war profiteers in Afghanistan, the continued renditions of people without accountability, or the continued moral bankruptcy of Guantanamo.   That huge crowd came to celebrate the inauguration of someone who promised to be a strong advocate of our very best principles of liberty and justice; they came to see someone they believed would offer the best possible response to the ruinous, devastating politics practiced under the previous administration.  You, Mr. President, here in the summer of 2011, bear little resemblance to that man standing on the inaugural platform.

I’m sure there are smart people, very smart people, who tell you you’re shrewdly navigating the tightrope of governing this roiling and dysfunctional system of ours.  I’ll bet they’re even telling you how well you’re positioning yourself for re-election in 2012.   I can see how tempting it is to buy what they’re selling.  But stop buying it, Mr. President, because in my own experience I know that it just isn’t true.

I know some of the people you’re counting on in the next election, folks who call themselves Independents, many of whom seem to be pleasantly surprised that you’re not the Marxist, Kenyan, Sleeper-Cell Terrorist that they kept hearing about.  You’re thinking you might pull a few from their numbers this time, adding to a prodigious base of people that runs the spectrum from semi-left, to center, to semi-right.

Guess what?  I know some of these people, Mr. President, and you can count on them to vote against you every time.  Oh, they might talk about how their minds aren’t made up until they enter the voting booth, but once they do, they always vote Republican.  Always.  Unless they’re really feeling that the Republican is too much of a tool, then they vote Libertarian.   Reach out to them all you want, sir; you’re wasting your time.

Meanwhile, Mr. President, you’re losing precious energy and support among the true believers in Obama, v.2008.   Those folks expected a bold man who would act in ways that backed up his bold rhetoric.  I met so many of these people during your campaign, and they weren’t just formerly burned-out, re-energized relics from the closet where they keep all the Kennedy-era liberals.  Speaking of Kennedy, how do you think Teddy would apprise your presidency if he were still with us?  Just wondering.

Your campaign brought together this amazing amalgamated groundswell of support.  I met older folks who were once Republicans–Eisenhower Republicans and Reagan Republicans–who just couldn’t take it anymore.  I met young people who were not only first-time voters, they were first-time activists.  There were people from all walks of life who had come together in the awareness that we needed dramatic change and that you seemed to offer the boldness and courage that would pull us back from the precipice of economic and social ruin.  Now I wonder how many of those folks would recognize the man at the microphone in the White House Press room, the one who resigns himself to the notion that the Radical Republicans didn’t get everything they wanted and reasons that this is the  best possible outcome.  Never mind the cost to the people who saw you as their standard bearer, the one who could best stand up for them because you came from them.

I’m not sure what you expected at your inauguration, Mr. President.  Was it some tidal wave like we’ve seen roll through Wisconsin, one that would continue to lift you up and carry you along?  Did you think you could stand above the fray and through sheer force of decency and determination, convince your opposition to give in to you?  Clearly,  it’s not working.   The Mitch McConnell strategy IS working.  They’re winning, and the public perception is that they’re winning.  So guess what that makes you?

I doubt you can do this–it just doesn’t seem to be part of your nature–but now is the time to roll up your sleeves and hop down into the pit to do a little wrestling alongside the liberals and progressives that are doing all they can to prevent the roll back of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, programs that helped boost our overall standard of living the last few decades.  The union-busters are out in full force, clubbing away at teachers, firefighters, and any other group they decide to take down.  You might want to change the perception that you are watching all of this like you would a pay-per-view boxing match.

Speaking of boxing, you ducked and dodged that whole 14th amendment thing with skills I haven’t seen Muhammad Ali, and indeed you had pundits thinking you were engaged in some sort of masterful rope-a-dope strategy.   The bad news appears to be that the Dope is still landing good body shots, and even when the Dope shows signs of fatigue or weakness, you show little interest in getting off the ropes to land a few shots of your own.

Well, Mr. President, you’re a busy man and I’m sure you’ve got more important business requiring your attention, so I’ll cut this short.

Look at that inaugural picture, sir.  Look at it for the miracle it was.  Enjoy it and celebrate it.  It’s likely the last such crowd you and I will ever again see drawn to an inauguration ceremony.  What a time it was.

Obama Speaks to the Vitriol in Our National Discourse

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While he names Beck and Limbaugh, he also calls on people of all political/ideological stripes to be more conscious of the corrosive power of high-strung invective and roiling polemic.  As Miss Maureen O’Hara and I have  discussed on several occasions,   there too often seems to be little difference in tone between those on the rabid right and those on the self-righteous left.

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Obama’s State of the Union Message: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Bizarre

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For a complete transcript of the State of the Union Speech as Obama delivered it, go here.

Overall, the President  was effective in retrieving the rhetorical spotlight from the doom ‘n’ gloom bunch and from the recharged Republicans, who took a huge swig of swagger from the elixir of their Massachusetts election victory.

The Good

President Obama spoke to the employment gains made through the Recovery Act, aka, “The Stimulus.”

Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.  Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, first responders. And we’re on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.

He also took dead-aim at the people living in the bubble:  the “wunderkinds” of  Wall Street, Bank CEO’s,  Beltway villagers, and other oblivious, narcissistic people in government and the media.

In the end, it’s our ideals, our values that built America — values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values that they’re living by; business values or labor values. They’re American values.

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions — our corporations, our media, and, yes, our government — still reflect these same (American) values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates to silly arguments, big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.

No wonder there’s so much cynicism out there. No wonder there’s so much disappointment.

Here is one proposal that seemed to get scant attention from pundits, but drew stone-cold stares from Republican lawmakers:

I’m proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.

This seems to follow up on the grass-roots movement to move money away from the colossal banks to smaller, community banks and credit unions.  Expect stiff resistance from the GOP on this one.

Then came the call to focus attention on clean energy businesses and jobs.  Tucked into this proposal was the call to put an end to tax breaks for companies that take jobs outside the country.  Again, there was nothing but a glacial response from Republicans:

We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs.  And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs.  And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America.

The Bad

The President’s initiatives in Afghanistan tend to gloss over, if not deny, the dismal, disappointing realities already encountered in attempting to train an Afghan security force.  Here’s President Obama:

And in Afghanistan, we’re increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.

Here’s another view from Juan Cole, whose expertise on the Middle East and ongoing assessment of the goings-on in Afghanistan paint a very different picture:

Reserve Col. Lawrence Sellin, a Ph.D. and a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, summarized the problems with training the Afghan army:

a. The US has already spent more than $17 bn. since 2001 building the Afghanistan National Army, but without much success.

b. Although the government of President Hamid Karzai claims that the army numbers 100,000 now, in fact some battalions are at half strength and not combat ready. The chance that the ANA can be expanded to 240,000 effective soldiers for another $16 bn. in a year or two is slim to none.

c. If a new Afghan army can be built at all, it will take at least 4 years, and it is not plausible that US troops will withdraw beginning in 2011. Moreover, Memos of US ambassador Karl Eikenberry in Kabul insist that President Hamid Karzai is unreliable and refuses to try to take command of the country, so that he is not deploying the army he already has. The profound divisions within the Obama camp, among the most experienced Afghan hands, make it anything but certain that the counter-insurgency strategy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to which Obama committed himself, can succeed.

d. Veteran NBC war correspondent Richard Engel maintains that staff officers work short hours and are corrupt. Only some of the small companies of troops deployed in the countryside can effectively be said to be at war. Even these are 90% illiterate, and some have received only 2 weeks of ‘show and tell’ training. Drug use is rampant among troops, and some 25 percent go AWOL.

Why haven’t we learned the lessons taught us in Vietnam, which included the fallacy that we could go in and raise up our own version of that country’s army?  How does that classic line from “Full Metal Jacket” go?   “I’ll make you a deal on a genuine American M-16 rifle, ARVN issued;  never been fired and only dropped once.”

The Ugly

The President appealed for the redevelopment of America’s nuclear energy program and called for more offshore drilling.

And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.

Safe, clean nuclear power is still an oxymoron.    And this talk of new oil and gas development is merely a more eloquent way to say, “Drill, baby, drill!”

The Big Ugly came after the speech during punditry time.  MSNBC’s Chris Matthews made the stunning remark that Obama’s speech was so good, “I forgot he was black.”   Seriously.   It’s  Matthews’ penchant for popping such phrases off the top of his head (where the air must be very, very thin) that causes people to wonder things like, “what the hell is this guy doing with his own cable show?”    This is the same Chris Matthews who also bubbled over when he saw George W. Bush strut around the aircraft carrier wearing his codpiece enhanced flightsuit before declaring victory in Iraq.  “We’re ALL Neocons now,” he gushed.   The rest of the Big Ugly came courtesy of the chattering classes dissecting the speech and its reaction.

The Bizarre

The Big Bizarre came along as a surreal post-script in the form of the Republican response to the State of the Union address.  The good news for Republicans is that they’ve come a long way from Bobby Jindahl.  The weirdness, however, was in the staging of the response by newly elected Virginia governor Bob McDonnell in the chamber of  the Virginia legislature.   The image of a packed room, with people sitting in legislator’s desks, flanking the governor in a carefully balanced mixture of black and white faces, and breaking into applause at key points in his speech, no doubt was designed to offer up a mirror image of the State of the Union, Republican-style.  “Hey, y’all!  Folks get all excited and clap when McDonnell speaks too!”  However,  the more this alternative image flooded the TV screen, it began to seem as if the Republicans were offering up an image of an alternative government, set up in opposition to the image of government projected from Washington.  Their government; of, for, and by their people.    Hmmmm.  Virginia.  The state that held a secessionist convention soon after seven southern states had seceded to form the Confederacy.   I wonder if the GOP considered this historical significance and symbolism of their stagecraft.

Based on the general reaction to Obama’s SOTU speech, it seems he may have recaptured some of the energy of his presidential campaign and galvanized folks to get busy in response to his call for action.   The question becomes whether the energized can sustain that energy over time.   Overall, it was a good speech, though he’ll still need to show people that he’s committed to breaking away from the Bush-era desecration of the constitution.   Afghanistan may yet become his Achilles heel, as Juan Cole suggests.   Gitmo remains a seemingly irremovable stain on the American character.   Unemployment is at 10 percent and may hang in double digits for the foreseeable future.   We are nowhere near the edge of the dark woods, we’re still in them.  And it may need to get worse before it gets better.

Sorry, Mr. President, I’d like to wrap this review up on a high note, like you did in your address.  I do think you’ve rejuvenated some new energy and hope.    Exhibit some of the steel you showed last night in the coming days and months and you may very well keep that energy moving.  You’ll need to step into the healthcare reform process in ways that get a decent bill passed and signed.  What we have now just isn’t going to cut it.  You’re going to have to use your leverage to start getting trials up and running for the detainees we’ve held for years without any sort of due process.  You’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to handle your generals, especially when it comes to Afghanistan.  And perhaps most importantly, you’re going to have to accept that a good number of people are going to be mad as hell and will not be appeased or defused.

Hard to Claim This High Ground While Wrestling in a Mud Pit

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From the AP:

OSLO – President Barack Obama, accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, says all nations must follow standards on the use of force.

The president, who last week ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan, says he reserves the right as commander in chief to act unilaterally to defend the U.S. But he also said he is convinced that sticking to standards strengthens the countries that follow them — and isolates and weakens those countries that don’t.

Even when confronted with an adversary that doesn’t follow any rules, Obama said the U.S. must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war.

Obama spoke Thursday during a ceremony at city hall in Oslo, Norway, where he formally accepted the peace prize he was awarded in October.

Ex-Bigwig Southern Baptist Prays For God to Whack Obama

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And he thinks the shooting of George Tiller in a church narthex was divinely inspired.

From The BEattitude:

Former Southern Baptist Convention officer Wiley Drake claimed on Fox News Radio that he is praying “imprecatory prayer” against Obama. In other words, he is praying for God to kill President Obama.

Drake said on “The Alan Colmes Show” that unless Obama repents, he is praying that God will kill the president. He believes that is what happened to slain abortion provider George Tiller. It worked on Tiller, why not the president?

The good news:

  • Drake is a former officer and not a current officer.
  • There is push-back being led by a heavy-hitter in the SBC, Pastor Dwight McKissic, a prominent leader serving at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

The more light that shines on people like Drake, combined with the necessary push-back from more clear-headed and decent people like McKissic, the better our chances are to move away from this dark, dangerous place that bears such toxic fruit.

While I don’t often engage in polemic, it must be said, again and again, that the sentiments of people like Wiley Drake and the actions of people like George Tiller’s murderer, are Anti-Christ.

More Such Apologies Needed

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And People Still Think We Live in a Christian Nation?

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Ain’t nothin’ Christian (that would be Christ-like) about this:

Liz Sidoti, AP, reports:

WASHINGTON – Just over half of Americans say torture is at least sometimes justified to thwart terrorist attacks and are evenly divided over whether to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, according to a poll that underscores the challenges President Barack Obama faces in selling his terror-fighting policies.

hat tip: AngryBlackBitch